Category Archives: Propah Books

Like, growed ups’ novels and stuff

Doing Ladybird

What a great resource: an index of all the Ladybird books put out by Wills & Hepworth from the 1940s through to the 1980s – including classic series like Talkabout (721 and 734), How-it-Works (654), Learnabout (634) and of course Children’s Classics (740).

That last one saved me (and, I am sure, countless others) the effort of having to actually wade through great, fat tomes of Dickens, Verne and Dumas. Top work by the Ladybird Fly Away Home website.

Used in concert with vintage Ladybird bookseller The Arran Alexander Collection‘s site, and you will be dropping down into the nostalgia wormhole faster than it takes to flick through a 641.

Unredacted version of Ali Soufan’s ‘war on terror’ memoir released

‘Black Banner’ comparison (excerpt)

Spotted in the New York Times that former FBI counter-terrorism agent Ali Soufan’s book about his involvement in interrogating al-Qaida suspects has been re-published minus the many redactions insisted upon by the CIA.

The original version of The Black Banners (Declassified): How Torture Derailed The War On Terror After 9/11 (previously released as The Black Banners: The Inside Story Of 9/11 And The War Against Al-Qaeda) was struck through with thick black lines covering up much of the text at the insistence of US government lawyers keen to cover up details of the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture programme.

Nearly two decades’ of whistle-blowing, leaking, investigative reporting, committees and inquiries has somewhat coloured that particular obfuscation effort several shades of pointless, so here we are.

I mean, Soufan’s perspective of the Bureau-Agency turf war even got integrated into a big budget Amazon Prime series complete with romantic sub-plots and stuff (The Looming Tower, based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Wright), so this isn’t exactly a big reveal.

But it is rather interesting to see the two versions side-by-side, and instructive in a reverse-mosaic effect kind of way to see what kind of information, and particularly what kind of aggregated information, these types of state actors prefer to keep hidden in the shadows.

» ‘The Black Banners’ excerpt (side-by-side comparison) (PDF)

‘Undercover’ book: lists revisited, and thoughts on a first flick through

Undercover - The True Story of Britain's Secret Police

So, I have been flicking through Undercover, the spy-cops book by Paul Lewis and Rob Evans. Some interesting stuff in there, much of it unfamiliar – notably the material on Mike Chitty AKA ‘Mike Blake’. They certainly kept him under wraps for a long time.

But first – the numbering issue. The best I can make out is that the Dispatches methodology excludes ‘Rod Richardson’ and both ‘Officer 10’ (who reportedly had a child) and ‘Officer 11’ (who reportedly took on the identity of a child killed in a car crash). This may be on the grounds either that there was not enough corroborating evidence to confirm that they were a police spy (in the case of ‘Richardson’, who in the book is referred to only as a “suspected police officer”), or for other reasons, such as not wanting to implicate a source. ‘Wellings’ appears to be the unnamed tenth officer in silhouette. It may be that there were rights issues over using the existing pictures of him, all of which appear to have been taken by Globalise Resistance people. That takes our twelve down to nine; then we add Chitty/‘Blake’ to take us back up to ten.

Of course, it may be that Chitty/‘Blake’ (presumably the “South African resident” mentioned in the acknowledgements) is either ‘Officer 10’ or ‘Officer 11’ (though more likely the latter than the former given the lack of any reference to a child fathered by him whilst on deployment).

Undercover - The True Story of Britain's Secret PoliceSo, the book. Of interest to many will be exactly whom the SDS, NPOIU and other police units were targeting.

In terms of anarchist groups, the book claims (at least) three in the early 1990s – one in the Direct Action Movement (a key component of Anti-Fascist Action, it should be noted), and two in Class War. Peter Francis/‘Pete Black’/‘Peter Daley’/‘Officer A’ was also to have been deployed into the anarchist milieu, but was retasked to anti-fascist/anti-racist groups at the last minute:

As Black prepared to start his covert mission, senior officers in the SDS were deciding on his future undercover role. They were constantly working out which political groups needed infiltrating and which officers would make suitable spies. Initially, Black was lined up to become an anarchist. At least three SDS officers had already been embedded in anarchist groups in the early 1990s. One was in a small anarchist group called the Direct Action Movement (DAM), which had existed since 1979. Its associates believed capitalism should be abolished by workers organising themselves at the grassroots level, a political philosophy known as anarcho-syndicalism dating back to the late 1890s. Oneconfidential Special Branch document states that a detective constable who worked as an SDS spy ‘successfully’ infiltrated DAM between 1990 and 1993.

Another group of interest to the SDS was the better-known Class War, which achieved some notoriety after it was set up in the 1980s.

…The SDS viewed [Ian] Bone and his friends as considerably more sinister. The unit posted at least two undercover police into the group.

There then follows a chortle-worthy reference to former MI5 ‘whistleblower’ David Shayler, who ruffled feathers in the late 1990s with his various claims. Adopting the stance of a courageous campaigner for a more efficient, more effective spy service, Shayler – who along with his girlfriend Annie Machon had worked on the counter-subversion F Branch desk – had characterised Class War as being very much full of crustie-with-a-dog-on-a-string types (suggesting ineffectiveness or dilettantism), whilst at other times claimed it had been riddled with informers.

When those such as Larry O’Hara (and others) have called on him to back up his claims, or asked him to explain the issue of the proven attempts of sometime-fascist Tim Hepple AKA Tim Matthews to infiltrate the orbit of Green Anarchist, and the interconnected targeting of effective Class War organiser Tim Scargill through smears and other such activity, Shayler has never responded satisfactorily.

Anyway, let’s continue with the story:

One was in place in February 1992 when he had a meeting in a London safe house with David Shayler, the MI5 officer later jailed for breaking the Official Secrets Act after leaking details of alleged incompetence in the secret services. Shayler had at that time been assigned to investigate whether Class War posed a threat to British democracy. The SDS officer supplied intelligence to the Security Service, and had become an official MI5 informant, designated the code number M2589.

According to Shayler, the ‘peculiar arrangement’ in which the SDS officer lived the life of an anarchist for six days a week, returning only occasionally to his friends and family, had ‘affected the agent psychologically’. Shayler recounts: ‘After around four years of pretending to be an anarchist, he had clearly become one. To use the service jargon, he had gone native. He drank about six cans of Special Brew during the debrief, and regaled us with stories about beating up uniformed officers as part of his “cover”. Partly as a result, he was “terminated” after the 1992 general election. Without his organisational skills, Class War fell apart.’

According to Black, the true story was a little different. He says the SDS officer in question was a ‘top end’ operative who served the unit well. During the encounter with the MI5 officer, he acted the part of a coarse anarchist because he had little time for Shayler, who was perceived to be a ‘desk wanker’ – though Black concedes that ‘some MI5 desk officers who came out to talk to us were superb and we had a very, very good relationship with them’. A second SDS officer was later sent into Class War, but it became apparent the group was fading out. Rather ignominiously for the anarchists who wanted to tear down the state, the SDS concluded they could no longer justify spending money to infiltrate them.

Ultimately Francis found himself (via the ‘stepping stone’ method) in Militant’s Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) group. This was at a time when the SWP had resurrected the Anti-Nazi League, and even the Labour Party had its own front, the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) (notable for calling for a pointless Trafalgar Square demonstration on the same day that YRE and the ANL announced their ‘Unity’ demo would ‘shut down the BNP bookshop’ in Welling). And, of course, the aforementioned AFA – which was definitely of interest to the state for both its willingness to engage in physical conflict with fascists on the streets and its robust, resolutely working class politics.

There is very little mention of AFA in the book – which is strange, really, considering how effective its record was on the streets at this time, and how much more ‘of interest’ it became when members of Red Action (another constituent part of AFA) were convicted for involvement in Irish Republican bomb campaigns. But then the small mention that there is does seem to be rather illuminating:

The key group the SDS believed was involved in confronting the far right was called Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). Formed in the mid-1980s through a loose alliance of anarchists and left-wingers, the SDS said it was now subject to a political rift. In a trait painfully familiar to radical politics over the decades, there was an alphabet soup of competing organisations campaigning against racists. To make matters more complicated, each group was often just a front, controlled by another political faction.

Beating The Fascists - The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist ActionIt doesn’t betray a great deal of understanding of AFA or what was going on in the organisation at the time (for that see Beating The Fascists), but it does give an indication of why Francis was deployed where he was, and what the ultimate objective – in a best case scenario – was.

The book continues:

Black was told he should penetrate Youth Against Racism in Europe, better known by its acronym YRE. It was a front for the revolutionary left-wing group, Militant. The head of the SDS believed there was a new anti-fascist alliance forming ‘within the loose confederation’ of the YRE, a second Trotskyist group and ‘sundry ad-hoc student and Asian youth groups’. The SDS boss identified an obscure anti-fascist group at a further education college in Camden, north London, as a possible stepping stone into the YRE.

The SDS technique was to identify a key individual within a political group and get close to them. In Black’s case, the target was an anti-fascist campaigner at Kingsway College. Black was instructed to attend the college and befriend this particular individual, who had connections with the YRE. ‘This allows an entry into the YRE and possibly AFA,’ his boss wrote.

Again this lends itself to the interpretation that deployments were not defined by a single target organisation, but by political currents. London Greenpeace appears to have been infiltrated in order to build up legends for the spycops involved as much as it was a specific target of interest in itself. From that platform the infiltrators could then explore other groups and tendencies – such as those acting under the ALF banner.

Similarly whilst not doubting the sincerity of YRE activists, and notably their stewards’ group, clearly AFA was an even more prime target – as also suggested by the targeting of DAM. Trying to reach AFA both through having a pedigree within the physical anti-fascist left, and through DAM, seems entirely plausible given the evidence here and elseewhere.

Another intriguing titbit comes directly after this:

If this failed, there was a plan B: Black could penetrate ‘an autonomous group of anarchists’ based in Hackney, east London who had been previously infiltrated by the SDS.

As we have seen, Hackney – and Stoke Newington, and then also Haringey – was a prime hunting ground for the spycops. I feel certain we shall be returning to this issue.

Support your friendly local ex-Angry Brigader!

I haven’t posted for ages. Very busy with home and work and all that jazz.

But this is worth your time – and your money, I think.

John Barker – former Stoke Newington Eight defendant and convicted ‘Angry Brigade‘ prisoner – wrote a novel called Futures. It was about the 1987 Great Storm, the subsequent Black Monday stock market crash, criminals, corrupt cops and cocaine. It was published in French and German.

Now he and publisher PM Press (which in 2010 republished the classic Gordon Carr text The Angry Brigade with extensive new material, and has also published an impressive twovolume account of the Rot Armee Fraktion amongst many other interesting titles) wish to release it in English for the first time.

To do this they need to raise £5,000. In one lump sum, that’s a daunting task. But crowdfunded by dozens or hundreds of donors – each of whom will be rewarded in kind – it is much more easily achievable.

The pot is nearly full, but there are only 24 hours to go. So please consider throwing a fiver or a tenner or more into the pot at the Futures Kickstarter page.

Occupy Everything – Reflections on why it’s kicking off everywhere

From the introduction:

Penned in February 2011, Paul Mason’s blog post “20 Reasons Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere” responded to the recent wave of student unrest, the European anti-cuts struggles, and what was fast becoming known as the Arab Spring. In his short post Mason offered 20 tentative forays into these globally disparate yet somehow connected struggles.

“20 Reasons” was warmly received within the social movements it commented upon, albeit not without criticisms. What resonated for us, was its lack of certainty as to where these movements were headed, and a pronounced distance from either ideological interpretation or “off the shelf” solutions.

It seemed that many in the social movements were content to carry on with business as usual, attaching longheld ideological certainties onto these developments. However some in existing activist groups, networks and organisations, began to question whether ideas, assumptions and certainties held from previous cycles of struggle could stand up to present challenges.

We saw “20 Reasons” as a chance to start an enquiry, a framework around which to better discuss our understandings of the present and as a means to gauge the effectiveness of movement responses to the crisis’s facing capitalism and the nation state.

“20 Reasons” itself highlighted a series of political, economic, social, communicative and technological developments and suggested how these were being appropriated in struggle. The emergence of new or often ignored social subjects were also central to the piece – be that the “graduate with no future” or the socially excluded.

Understanding the present became an issue of importance and urgency for those interested in radical social transformation. As such, we commissioned a series of essays, responding to Paul’s “20 Reasons”, as a means to do just that.

Tip o’ the titfer: Dan Hancox on Twitter

Green Scare book – sample chapter now available!

Will Potter has been following with interest and writing about the ‘Green Scare’ – by which governments, police agencies and corporations characterise non-violent environmental direct action as ‘eco-terrorism’ or similar – for several years now, and in April his book about the subject, ‘Green Is The New Red’, will be published.

If you are in the Washington, DC area on either Tuesday 19th or Saturday 23rd April, then you may want to crash a reading event or the launch party – more details on Will’s blog.

For the rest of us, there’s a sample chapter available for free

If you’re not quite sure what this ‘Green Scare’ really is – or suspect that it’s a hullabaloo about nothing, then you’d be as well to check out Will’s intro to the subject:

“The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat,” says John Lewis, a top FBI official, “is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement.”

The animal rights and environmental movements, like every other social movement throughout history, have both legal and illegal elements. There are people who leaflet, write letters, and lobby. There are people who protest and engage in non-violent civil disobedience. And there are people, like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front, who go out at night with black masks and break windows, burn SUVs, and release animals from fur farms.

Animal rights and environmental advocates have not flown planes into buildings, taken hostages, or sent Anthrax through the mail. They have never even injured anyone. In fact, the only act of attempted murder in the history of the U.S. animal rights movement was coordinated by corporate provocateurs. Yet the FBI ranks these activists as the top domestic terrorism threat. And the Department of Homeland Security lists them on its roster of national security threats, while ignoring right-wing extremists who have bombed the Oklahoma City federal building, murdered doctors, and admittedly created weapons of mass destruction.

…Fear. It’s all about fear. The point is to protect corporate profits by instilling fear in the mainstream animal rights and environmental movements—and every other social movement paying attention—and make people think twice about using their First Amendment rights.

Industry groups say “this is just the starting gun” for the Green Scare. But this could be the starting gun for activists as well. I’ve talked with hundreds of activists around the country over the years. There’s a lot of fear. But there’s also a lot of rage. And that’s a very good thing.

Because today’s repression may mimic many of the tactics of the Red Scare, but today’s response cannot. It’s not enough to cowardly distance ourselves from anyone branded a communist, I mean, terrorist. Naming names and making loyalty oaths didn’t protect activists then, and it won’t protect activists now.

The only way activists, and the First Amendment, are going to get through this is by coming out and confronting it head-on. That means reaching out to mainstream Americans and telling them that labeling activists as terrorists wastes valuable anti-terrorism resources and is an insult to everyone who died in the twin towers. That means reaching out to other activists and saying loud and clear that these activists are just the canaries in the mine.

Together, we can stop they cycle of history repeating itself.

When Craig met Tim

When on my second day in my new office I received a friendly phone call from Lt.-Col Tim Spicer saying he wished to come and see me, it rang no alarm bells with me. The defence industry is full of newly retired military personnel, and we provide military training to governments all around the world. I should confess that I didn’t yet on 6 January 1998 mentally attach the word “mercenary” to Sandline, and I did not connect Sandline with Executive Outcomes during that initial telephone conversation with Spicer.

As Spicer briefly explained it, Sandline were involved in providing security to expatriate companies in Sierra Leone and training to forces loyal to the legitimate government of Sierra Leone. Spicer asked if he could come to see me and brief me on what his company was doing, and I readily agreed. I felt I could do with all the briefing I could get.

The next day I mentioned Spicer’s call to John Everard, my predecessor as Deputy Head, who was engaged in a week’s handover with me. John asked if I was sure I wanted to meet Spicer. He said that as our policy was to avoid further military conflict in Sierra Leone, he had thought it best to avoid direct contact with Spicer, and to have only telephone contact with him.

It had not occurred to me that there could be a problem, and I was a bit taken aback by what John had said. But it would be difficult now for me to cancel the appointment I had agreed.

I thought it through, and decided that I really couldn’t see the moral difference between having a conversation on the telephone, as John Everard did, and having it face to face. Indeed you could sum someone up much better if you could see their body language rather than just hear their voice. I spoke to Tim Andrews, head of the section which included Sierra Leone, who told me that it was indeed very sensitive, but that Spicer had been chasing a contract to train forces loyal to President Kabbah. Tim agreed with my suggestion that we should see Spicer, as we needed to know what was happening. But Tim did mention he believed Sandline were connected to Executive Outcomes. That put me on my guard.

Perhaps I should have researched further. But I was in just my second
day in a big new job. I had 21 new countries to update myself on, involving thousands of pages of material to read through. I worked over a hundred hours that first week. I decided Spicer could wait until I met him. I didn’t particularly see him as a danger to me.

I underestimated Spicer. That was a bad error of judgement. 19 January, the day that Tim Spicer arrived, was extremely busy. We had ministerial briefings and parliamentary questions on Sierra Leone and a consular crisis in Nigeria. So when I was informed that Colonel Spicer was here to see me, it took me a few seconds to recall who he was.

As he was shown up, I asked Tim Andrews to come and sit in with me and take a note of the conversation. You would normally only do this for important visitors – otherwise you would just make a brief note yourself after the meeting – but given John Everard’s words of caution, I thought it was probably wise to have Tim Andrews present. Besides, he knew the subject much better than I yet did.

Tim Spicer was short for a soldier, but well built and exceedingly well manicured and coiffured. His conventional good looks were marred by a slight hooding of the eyes or squint. He wore the thin, inch apart pinstripes that seem to be universally favoured by the British military out of uniform. He smelt of expensive after-shave.

Spicer told us that Sandline now had a contract to provide training to the Kamajors, a militia force loyal to Sam Hinga Norman and currently prepared to fight for President Kabbah. He said that the aim was to prepare the Kamajors for a quick campaign, in support of the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces, to retake Sierra Leone from the RUF and military junta. The contract covered training and “non-lethal” equipment. Spicer used the phrase “non-lethal” several times, and I took it as his intention to stress that he was not providing weapons and was therefore acting legally.

I told him that we did not favour a military solution and that any armed intervention by ECOMOG would require prior agreement from the UN Security Council; it was essential that any such military action be as quick and limited as possible. The laws of armed conflict and the human rights of civilians must be respected.

I asked Spicer, who was funding the Sandline contract, and why? He replied that he was not free to tell me who was funding it, but that it related to the securing of some mineral assets within the country. I asked him who Sandline were? I had heard that they were related to Executive Outcomes, whose reputation in Africa was not good. Were Sandline related to Executive Outcomes, and was Mr Tony Buckingham involved in Sandline?

Spicer replied that he did not have authority to discuss Sandline’s corporate structure or confidential business matters. He was here to brief me on the wider situation with regard to their strategy on Sierra Leone.

Spicer then said that he had intelligence that the junta may be attempting to acquire Eastern European weapons, shipped via Nigeria. I said that we could ask the Nigerian government to intercept any such weapons shipments under UN Security Council Resolution 1132. I asked Tim Andrews to show him the relevant passage.

Tim Andrews did not have a copy of the resolution on him, so he went back to his own office to get one. He took it down from where it was pinned, on the cork board behind the desk officer Linda St Cook’s desk. He returned to my room and read aloud the appropriate clause:

Decides that all States shall prevent the sale or supply to Sierra Leone, by their nationals or from their territories, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of petroleum and petroleum products and arms and related matériel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territory;

Spicer responded to this by saying that he had understood that the UNSCR applied only to the RUF, and not to the government. I said that this was wrong, and that it was a geographic prohibition covering the whole country.

Spicer then asked whether the prohibition applied to ”dual-use” items, which could have either a military or a civilian application. He gave the example of night vision equipment, which he said could be used by the military or in mining. I said that such “dual-use” items would be subject to export control licensing by the Department of Trade and Industry, who would consult other departments including the FCO and MOD.

Spicer then asked if military items could be exported to a neighbouring country such as Guinea, and then on to Sierra Leone. I said no, they couldn’t.

While it was now obvious to me that Spicer was really considering the potential for himself to export arms to the government of Sierra Leone, I felt that Tim Andrews and I had made it plain that this was not allowed. The language of the Resolution which Tim Andrews read out to Spicer is admirably plain. I was surprised that a former British Army Lieutenant Colonel, who must by training have been familiar with UN Security Council Resolutions in conflict situations and how to interpret them, appeared to be quite so ignorant of the basic rules governing his operations in a theatre in which he was already involved. But I took it that this was because his existing contract covered only training and non-lethal equipment, as he had stated, and he was just making preliminary enquiries about the possibility of expanding this to include arms.

I am quite certain that, when Tim Andrews read Spicer the Security Council Resolution, he did not say anything like “Well, that’s awkward, because the contract we expect to sign does include the sale of weapons”.

It was not only to Tim Andrews and I that Spicer went out of his way to stress that his contract was for “non-lethal” equipment. My first day in the Department had been 5 January, but as is FCO practice I had a few days “handover” from my predecessor who was still doing the job for the first few days. On 5 January John Everard had sent a minute to Ann Grant to say that Spicer had told Everard that his contract would include medical and communications equipment “and nothing higher profile”.

It has been put to me, not least at the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, that I must have realised that a £10 million contract included arms. But in fact such contracts, not including arms, were an established feature of the region. In particular, the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces which were occupying Liberia, and which we believed might be going on to invade Sierra Leone, received their supplies, training, transportation and logistic support from the United States government via a company called Pacific and Atlantic Engineering. Their role specifically excluded the provision of weapons. Their funding, totalling some US$40 million a year, included contributions from the German and Dutch governments.

I presumed that Spicer was indicating a prospective contract with Kabbah that would be similar in scope to the Pacific and Atlantic contract, and took that to be what he meant when he kept emphasising the term “non-lethal”. [Spicer gives a quite different account of this meeting. See Tim Spicer, ‘An Unorthodox Soldier’, pp198-200]

Nonetheless, I felt worried by my meeting with Spicer. He had refused to clarify Sandline’s ownership, and his repeated questioning on the possibility of sending arms to Sierra Leone led me to think that he was looking to add arms to training in the future. All in all, I had found him not straight. I therefore nipped three doors along the corridor to see Ann Grant, and told her that, having met Spicer, I was worried about his intentions and didn’t trust him, and that I proposed to tell the Department to break contact with him. Ann agreed with my proposal, and I went immediately to let Tim Andrews and Linda St Cook know of my decision.

Spicer later claimed that he informed the FCO at our meeting that he was exporting arms, and that the FCO (i.e. I) gave approval. But both Tim Andrews and I were to make formal, independent statements to Customs and Excise in which we both stated that Spicer had emphasised that he was exporting non-lethal equipment. We both also independently stated that, when Spicer raised questions over arms exports, Tim Andrews read him the Resolution to show that any arms exports would be illegal. John Everard had minuted that Spicer had told him that he was supplying medical and communications equipment “and nothing higher profile”.

Yet much of the media and most of the political establishment preferred to take the unsupported word of a mercenary – that he had told us about supplying arms – against all three of us.

Why would that be?

Well, the Conservative Party saw the “Arms to Africa affair” as their first real chance to hit the Blair government – still only seven months old – with a scandal. They desperately wanted Spicer to be telling the truth and the FCO to have connived at breaking the law, preferably with ministerial knowledge. Conservatives were comforted in this view by the fact that Tim Spicer was a public schoolboy and a former Lt Colonel of a Guards regiment. He was a gentleman, and socially very well connected, with friends in the royal family. Such people never tell lies, while John Everard, Tim Andrews and I were all irredeemably middle class.

This struck me forcibly when I was talking to a friend of mine, an officer in the Ministry of Defence. I told him that Spicer was not telling the truth when he said that I had approved of the shipment of arms. My friend (I believe it was Colonel Andrew Jocelyn, but it may have been another) winced and said “But he’s godfather to one of my children.” To many influential people in Britain, the idea that a senior Guards officer might lie was unthinkable – it struck at the root of their entire belief system.

Support for Spicer from Conservatives was predictable. But I had not realised that influence would be exerted on behalf of Spicer from 10 Downing Street. Our policy on Sierra Leone was to seek a solution by peaceful means. I am sure that was what Robin Cook favoured; I discussed it with him several times. But in No. 10 and in parts of the FCO, particularly the United Nations Department, they were starting to formulate the Blair doctrine of radical military interventionism that was to lead Tony Blair to launch more wars than any other British Prime Minister. [See John Kampfner; ‘Blair’s Wars’]

A fundamental part of this new Blair doctrine was to be the ultimate privatisation – the privatisation of killing. Mercenary troops were seen as having many advantages for quick aggressive campaigns in third world countries. Regular government forces had been configured to fight huge battles against other regular forces. Mercenaries were more flexible and less constrained by regulation.

If you consider what “less constrained” really means in terms of shooting up civilians, it is remarkable that this was viewed as an advantage. Still more remarkably, this policy of military intervention in the developing world had many adherents in DFID, where it was being promoted under the slogan that “Security is a precondition of development”.

The “Sandline” or “Arms to Africa” affair has been presented by its proponents as a noble attempt to restore democratic government to Sierra Leone, hampered by pettifogging bureaucrats. In fact, it was nothing of the kind, but a deeply squalid plot to corner the market in Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds.

pp19-25 of Craig Murray’s new book, The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and Other Conflicts I Have Known, the full text of which he has just posted on the internet. You may download a 226 page PDF of it here, or, indeed, here. (It’s only 1.1Mb big.)

It is a book which libel lawyers Schillings managed to persuade original publishers Mainstream to drop after flexing its muscles on behalf of client Tim Spicer, the freebooting mercenary boss. Murray insists the book is not libellous and has stood firm, offering both the free PDF and a privately printed physical version in defiance of the lawyerly intimidation.

I look forward to reading the whole thing.

Wikipediaphile: Force de frappe

The Samson Option by Seymour HershFifteen years ago, I borrowed a book called The Samson Option from a friend called Mike. I’ve finally got round to reading it. It’s written by the My Lai dude, Seymour Hersh, and it’s about Israel’s pursuit (and cover up thereof) of a nuclear weapons programme.

It’s rather interesting, and Hersh does name a few names when it comes to his sources (something that The Observer might like to try). Reading back about the book’s publication I’m reminded of the furore surrounding Robert Maxwell’s connections with the Mossad, and of then-Mirror foreign editor Nicholas Davies’s alleged involvement in dobbing in Mordechai Vanunu. Journalists actively conspiring with spooks? Who’da thunk it?

Anyway, whilst reading through it, I came across a phrase used to describe France’s strategic policy of independent nuclear deterrence: ‘force de frappe‘:

The decision to arm France with nuclear weapons was made in the mid-1950s by the administration of Pierre Mendès-France under the Fourth Republic. Charles de Gaulle, upon his return to power in 1958, solidified the initial vision into the well-defined concept of a fully independent force de frappe capable of protecting France from a Soviet attack independently from NATO, which de Gaulle considered to be dominated by the United States to an unacceptable degree. In particular, France was concerned that, in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, the United States, already bogged down in the Vietnam War and afraid of Soviet retaliation against the United States proper, would not come to the aid of its Western European allies.

The strategic concept behind the force de frappe was the so-called dissuasion du faible au fort (Weak-to-strong deterrence), i.e., the capability of inflicting to a more powerful enemy more damage than the complete destruction of France would represent. The enemy, having more to lose, would therefore refrain from proceeding further (see MAD). The principle was summarized in a statement attributed to De Gaulle himself:

Within ten years, we shall have the means to kill 80 million Russians. I truly believe that one does not light-heartedly attack people who are able to kill 80 million Russians, even if one can kill 800 million French, that is if there were 800 million French.

De Gaulle’s vision of the Force de Frappe featured the same “triad” of air-based, land-based, and sea-based means of deterrence deployed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Work on these components had started in the late 1950s and was vigorously accelerated as soon as De Gaulle became president.

France conducted its first nuclear test in 1960 and operational weapons became available in 1964.

Poděkujte mým jménem kuchaři!

It's all about the pork and cabbage, baby

Been busy the last week or so, redecorating and whatnot here at the BunKRS, but it’s pretty much done for the moment.

I just have to show off the top present the LLF got me for my birthday: Food Of Eastern Europe* edited by Lesley Chamberlain. I love my Mitteleuropan grub, and have long wanted to do a grub & glug tour from the Baltic to the Balkans, with a touch of eastward expansion into the Rus’ too, so I’ve been salivating over the recipes in it all day (I even woke up from my siesta dribbling 😮 ). We’ll be getting in some practice at the weekend – we’re off to sunny Praha!

* Not sure the Czechs, Hungarians, Austrians etc would appreciate being called East Europeans, though 😉

Frayling at the edges

The other day I watched a programme in a series called Nightmare: The Birth Of Horror*, in which Christopher Frayling looked at the creation and success of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Today on Shadowlands I noticed a reference to “Sir Christopher Professor Frayling”.

This led me to have a quick look on Wikipedia to find out more about Frayling.

Apparently, when Frayling was knighted, he

chose “PERGE SCELUS MIHI DIEM PERFICIAS” as his motto, which translates as “Proceed, varlet, and let the day be rendered perfect for my benefit”. In more modern English, the phrase would say: “Go ahead, punk, make my day”.


* This programme also taught me the word ‘bibliogenesis’ (in Frayling’s words, “birth by books”).

The world of modern policing

The Ladybird Book of Modern Policing

From a recent eBay auction (tip o’ the titfer: Bristol Graffiti)

Kentish Ken, The Dark Duke & The Wonder Boy

Ken Tappenden, ‘David Hart’ & Paul StainesI never realised that infamous rave-busting Kent copper Ken Tappenden had entered showbiz

It seems the former CID head honcho in the Garden of England – who first made a name for himself harassing pickets during the Miners’ Strike – has entered into a second career as, and I quote:

a fully trained toastmaster and Master of Ceremonies having undergone a rigorous process of training


He’s put his lethal toastmastering skills to the test at a wide range of events, from royal galas to private wedding functions, and has celebrated the likes of Thatcher (her 80th birthday), GMTV (its 10th anniversary), and even Nelson Mandela at a dinner hosted by the ‘Jewish Board of Deputies’*!

It all makes something of a change from his most celebrated work as a police officer, setting up the Pay Party Unit, which was tasked with monitoring and then destroying the nascent rave scene in the late 80s and early 90s:

Tappenden was eager to take on the ravers on their own terms. As he’d shown during the Miners’ Strike, he wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty, maybe stretching the spirit of the law a little.

…If this was a high-tech war, he wasn’t going to be the one fighting with obsolete hardware. If they used phone lines, he’d counter with phone taps; if they used pirate radio, he’d monitor it; if they sent out spotters to find remote warehouses, he’d have helicopters and light aircraft out after them…

“After three months we had started 20 major investigations. The HOLMES database held 5,725 names and 712 vehicles. We had monitored 4,380 telephone calls and made 258 arrests.” The work went on all week, relentlessly. “We weren’t using the lads on the ground, we were using very experienced, hardened detectives,” says Tappenden. “At any one time we were running over 200 intelligence officers through the country. Now that is a colossal amount of intelligence, and it was banging down these computers 24 hours a day. We never stopped, we went through the night, through the day. The database was unbelievable.”

(pp101-2, Altered State by Matthew Collin and John Godfrey)

PS Whilst I was flicking through Altered State, I came across a rather interesting reference – one which I don’t remember picking up the first time I read the book ten years back – to spooky right-wing nutjob and Lord Lucan lookalike, David Hart. You may remember him as the chap who styled himself as an informal adviser to Thatcher.

Anyway, one of the principal rave organisers was one Paul Staines, who had been a member of the Federation of Conservative Students (and is now a political blogger). He ended up as Hart’s political aide, and got involved in all manner of shonky business (Brian Crozier gets a mention) under Hart’s tutelage, before taking his first E and immersing himself in rave culture. I like the touch about becoming Sunrise’s publicity officer and “at first running the operation out of Hart’s premises”!

Staines’s past political involvement came back to haunt him when a ‘Home Office official’ tried to put the screws on him:

He said, ‘look, I know who you are, we know all about you’, because I had a Special Branch record from being in politics, working in extreme groups. They couldn’t work it out: ‘You’re a right wing Tory, why are you doing this?’ Because I’m doing loads of E and having a great time!

He’s also got a rather nice description of Hart:

He’s completely charming and can charm senior people like Thatcher and appear sane for a while. But any close proximity to him for a prolonged period of time, you know he’s completely off his fucking head.

A nice touch of circularity there: Staines, the protegé of Hart (architect and financier of the scab National Working Miners’ Committee), duelling with Tappenden, strikebreaker-general. Oh happy days.

PPS Staines also mentions working on World Briefing and British Briefing, the propaganda rags-cum-political newsletters published by Hart for the benefit of any powerbroker into whose ear he could whisper; according to Staines, George Bush (the elder) was on the mailing list 😮

PPPS I finally got round to putting together a proper triptych picture of the trio mentioned, but I had great difficulty finding (okay, I *couldn’t* find) a picture of David Hart. I trawled the interweb, all the usual places; couldn’t find a chipolata. I waded through all my miners’ strike and spook books; nothing. But I know I’ve seen at least one published picture of the dude…

So if any of you out there can point me in the right direction, I’d be most grateful.

In the meantime the Richard John Bingham snap shall act as a placeholder…

* I think Our Ken means the Board of Deputies of British Jews, but hey, when’s accuracy ever been all that to a senior copper, eh? 😉

How to make a home made feature film about the Nazi invasion of Britain (and only take eight years doing it)

‘How It Happened Here’ by Kevin Brownlow (cover)

How It Happened Here is a memoir by Kevin Brownlow, about the making of the extraordinary ‘what if’ film, It Happened Here.

If you are not familiar with It Happened Here, then I encourage you to become so. The premise of the movie is that Germany defeated Britain early on in World War Two, and we enter the movie two years into occupation, when a resurgence of anti-Nazi partisan activity causes one woman, Pauline, to leave her rural home and move to London. Once there she discovers that she is not permitted to carry on her work as a nurse unless she joins Immediate Action, the domestic version of the Nazi Party. So she joins IA. Not because she is pro-Nazi, or even particularly ‘right wing’; but simply as a pragmatic, resigned act of passivity… Except such passive acts naturally lead only to active acts of collaboration.

The film began in 1956 as the amateur project of Brownlow when he was an eighteen year old film buff, with designs on becoming a ‘proper’ film director. He had a basic idea for his film – the ‘what if’ speculative fiction angle of German Occupation – and managed to rustle up various volunteers to perform both in front of and behind the camera. The camera, along with everything else in the production (certainly to start with) was begged or borrowed, if not ever actually stolen. Well, not stolen by Brownlow, though the first camera lent to him was stolen from him.

Soon Brownlow met the sixteen year old Andrew Mollo, as an enthusiastic an amateur in the field of military history as Brownlow was in the field of moving pictures. Together they managed to forge a film which drew on historical accuracy, featured astonishingly effective action sequences, and was brutally convincing in portraying how ‘decent’ people can allow themselves to be drawn into committing indecent acts – or at least tacitly condoning them. And it only took them until 1964.

And this is Brownlow’s own account of the making of the film. Tradition dictates the use of the phrase “warts and all”, but that would suggest this is a more lip-lickingly sensational book than it is. Instead, we have Brownlow frankly admitting to mistake after mistake, and yet clearly with each mistake compounding upon the previous, he finds himself learning more and more, both about his craft and his subject matter. He freely admits that his earliest conception of the film was thoroughly naïve in the way the political aspects – of Nazi ideology, of collaboration – were treated; so when one compares the descriptions of the genesis of the film with the finished project, one can clearly see how those eight years helped bring a maturity to its message, to the way the themes are handled, to the way it is shot and acted and edited.

The book was originally published in 1968, but this year it was reprinted by UKA Press.

The film is available on DVD from Film First (UK edition) and also Milestone Films (US); you can obtain VHS copies from the BFI (in PAL format).

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Back to Baxendale

‘Beano’-style cover of ‘The Big Issue South West’ (1999)

The opening programme of the BBC4 ‘Comics Britannia’ season – which focused on the DC Thompson humour titles – boasted a whole lot of inky fingered comic genius Leo Baxendale, creator of the Bash Street Kids, Minnie The Minx, Little Plum, Willy The Kid, Sweeny Toddler and many other classic strips.

The programme was better than I feared it would be, but alas fell short of what it could have been, especially in the way the final twenty minutes dashed through the late sixties onwards, giving only cursory mention to major players and omitting dozens of significant comics. But I’m sure we expected this.

Nevertheless, we did have Leo fucking Baxendale! Leo Fucking Baxendale!!! And doesn’t he speak so wonderfully? Is not his head screwed on properly? I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone who has had the immense pleasure of reading his autobiography, A Very Funny Business – in which his righteous anger, his creative passions, his humanity, are all projected across a history which most of us know only from one side, that of the reader – but sadly this book is not well known.

‘A Very Funny Business’ by Leo Baxendale

The documentary also featured Kevin O’Neill, who also gave a good, conscious account of himself. I’m not sure the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, Nick Park or Michael Rosen really added anything to the programme; I would have preferred to hear more from O’Neill and Baxendale. Such is life, though.

Anyway, I’m drifting… The programme spurred me on to dig out an old issue of The Big Issue South West (from July 1999!), which contains an interview with Leo Baxendale, who lives (or lived) in Gloucestershire.

I remember my friend Tony, who was the designer at TBISW back then, and a big fan of Leo’s work, getting very excited at the time, and tagging along with the photographer to Chez Baxendale, just to meet him and ask him some questions of his own. He was chuffed to bits, and said that Leo was a lovely chap, and told him some great stories (including about his hard fought for settlement with the Dundonian overseers 😉 ).

I suspect Tony may have threatened to break the editor’s legs or some such (as was his wont, Tony being Tony, and this particular editor being the sort of person who would tend to drive you to wanting to break legs) in order to get the Leo interview bumped up to cover story instead of Tracey bloody Emin, because, well, the Leo interview was duly given the front page. I think you’ll agree, Tony did a great job with the ersatz Beano-style masthead.

In the end Tony was wholly vindicated for his leg-breaking threats, because that issue was for a long time – a very long time – the top selling edition of TBISW. It may well still hold the record, 8 years on, I don’t honestly know. But people responded to that cover, and to the Baxendale feature.

So, as a special treat for you, dear reader, I have uploaded a 4 page PDF of the interview and magazine cover for you to read at your leisure. I’ll also leave it in my Box (which is accessible from the sidebar on the right, near the bottom), too.


Other Comics Britannia related posts:

Miners’ Strike Redux

Yorkshire NUM

A recent thread on TCTE asked the question “Did the Welsh scab on the Geordies?” in relation to the 1984-5 UK pit strike. Behind the bald generalisations lies an interesting point, though: the strike – and the response of the state and the National Coal Board – did help fracture an organised labour force, one which many times had exercised leverage on the political system for the benefit of its members and the communities around them.

Whilst rewatching the excellent epic drama serial Our Friends In The North (sort of a British Heimat with the focus on Tyneside instead of the Hünsruck), I was reminded of this thread, and this question, and this point.

Episode seven is set during the strike, in 1984. Two north-east England MPs, one a Conservative minister, one a Labour backbencher, cross swords over the issue of the strike. In 90 seconds of sparring I think they (and the playwright who puts the words in their mouths, Peter Flannery) pretty much boil the marrow out of the bones of the whole issue:

PS The picture comes from a fine book called Yorkshire’s Flying Pickets In The 1984-85 Miners’ Strike by Silverwood miner Bruce Wilson with Brian Elliott, published by Wharncliffe Books.