BBC Scotland on spying. Some of the same issues and questions as New Zealand

I heard part of this BBC Scotland report by Eamonn O’Neill as he “explores the world of contemporary espionage” this morning and recognised several of the same talking points about increased state security agency surveillance keeping us ‘safe’ as are deployed here in New Zealand — it’s right there in the title: ‘How safe are you?’

Beyond the interesting discussion of UK spy recruitment, the distinctions between ‘agents’ and ‘officers’, and questions about the potential impact of future Scottish independence, further into the report, there are a number of parallels with the controversy in New Zealand about such matters.

There are echoes of the tensions our own nation faces: being part of a bigger ‘alliance’ or network of electronic spy agencies; economic spying on allies and neighbours; the insatiable hunger of state spy agencies to ‘make the haystack bigger and bigger’ by bringing in more data (and retaining it) – supposedly in an effort to pick up terrorism ‘clues’; the shift of the field of engagement to the ‘cyber frontier’ i.e. electronic communications, with ‘human intelligence’ discounted in favour of electronic information/surveillance — all making computer boffins GCHQ and their equivalents the ‘lead agencies’.

Also, listen to what they say about the burgeoning cost of surveillance of computer and communications networks, and the public’s innocent ignorance of the ‘risks the country faces’ (epitomised here recently by MP Jami-Lee Ross’s reported comment to a select committee submitter on the ‘Countering Terrorist Fighters’ Bill: “If you knew what we know you’d support this legislation”. Oh, god.) And its corollary, the self-proving justification: “Look, the lack of attacks shows just how effective we are!”

The whole episode (28 mins) is definitely worth hearing, if these topics interest you, as they do me.

You can listen here at the BBC website using iPlayer (Flash required) for the next month. After that, drop me a line by email (address on the ‘About’ page) and I’ll point you to a friendly MP3 archive of it. :-)

click to visit BBC to listen

click to visit BBC to listen

At the beach over the Christmas break I read a couple of books about the fairly paranoid intelligence and counter-intelligence efforts of the British and Americans during the Cold War (MI5′s Peter Wright and CIA’s James Jesus Angleton). I was struck by how routine it was for these agencies to burgle and bug foreign embassies, consulates and various delegations … and to spy on other countries (even allies) purely to gain economic advantage. No such fig leaf excuses as ‘War on Terror’ were deployed.
nsa octopus
Human nature hasn’t changed. Then it was just a case of “if we can do it, we should do it”. Ask Angela Merkel. The same gung-ho attitudes to spying on ‘friends’ and domestic political organisations or ‘activists’ apply just as much now. Edward Snowden’s revelations and others show that increasingly the key resources have become ‘taps’ on computer networks.

For instance, remember this NSA spy satellite launch rocket logo? This was real.

'Nothing is beyond our reach' - click to enlarge

‘Nothing is beyond our reach’ – click to enlarge

Fletcher resignation ‘welcome’

There was a very good editorial (translation: I agree with it) in the Dominion Post recently about the sudden announcement of Ian Fletcher’s imminent departure from the post of GCSB Director. The Dom writer makes the point that Fletcher’s appointment was controversial for several reasons (family friend of our ‘forgetful’ PM) and those reasons weren’t going away. Also, the editorial calls for a politically bipartisan approach to appointing the next GCSB director (assuming there is such a post after the proposed ‘statutory review’ of security agencies, I guess. (Mr Key has scotched as ‘speculation’ the idea of a GCSB-SIS merger.)

Read the Dominion Post editorial here:

click to read at

click to read at

- P

Nicky Hager on protecting sources

Investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager was part of the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s recent Logan Symposium …

Check out CIJournalism’s YouTube channel for more.

Update: If you’re a journalist, don’t miss John Pilger’s blistering presentation on media vs propaganda & news ‘agenda’. An important message. Pilger’s speech notes War by media and the triumph of propaganda are available at his website too, but the speech is definitely worth a watch.

So why say it, Mr Cameron?

Very odd.

click to read at the Guardian

click to read at the Guardian

See also Cory Doctorow’s article at Boingboing: ‘What David Cameron just proposed would endanger every Briton and destroy the IT industry

From ‘News of the World tactics’, journalists as ‘little henchmen’ to … #hypocrisy

Context is everything.

Context is everything.

See earlier: Teapot tape saga sputters out with withdrawal of ‘costs’ action against cameraman.

Another deceitful photoshop fail

One more in my occasional series highlighting Photoshop deceit… this time showing the unreality of distorting body images using Photoshop — i.e. bulking up Justin Bieber.

Before and after

Before and after – bulging in all the right places?

via @caffiene_addict

Of course, as previously noted, women generally get slimmed down …



“We love surveillance”

On the day it’s announced that Ian Fletcher is to depart from the GCSB, a few thoughts about surveillance …

(click to read at NZ Herald)

(click to read at NZ Herald)

British PM David Cameron is already making the appropriate noises … nicely framed by John Gruber at


click to read the Independent’s report

And, for context, here’s Mr Fletcher’s rather soothing speech to the 2014 Privacy Forum …

The escape of exnzpat, Part 27


The Magus on the couch remained catatonic, lost to the past and to her charges in Wormwood and too, her sister in the Shadow Lands.  Lester on the bed, almost dead, and we:  Maxwell, Lilith, Becky, the Chaldean (for that was his race), and I walked out from under the living umbrella of the Hive Mound of the Chora.

Mia, the Magus-She, gasped aloud, and coughing, drew back from her England and saw the pattern clearly before her eyes.

It was that which had brought her here to begin with:  Ben!  Her curiosity aside, she saw the net unfolding and Ben floundering in blood at its center.  And suddenly awake and aware.  Her essences and powers flooded back into her like an overfull river and pushed the crushing pain of her heart aside.

Ben.  Ben.  It began with Ben and not the ghost in her kitchen. Continue reading →

The escape of exnzpat, Part 26

Magus Young, Magus Old


The couch, the couch, the couch, my God… thank God for it.  The Magus sunk back in its softness but found little comfort in her collapse, for she felt monumentally sick to her stomach.  The confusion between the worlds she thought she would walk with the golem and the Eidolon and that of the reality of Wormwood was extraordinarily exhausting and wholly unexpected. Continue reading →

Alexa O’Brien, Amnesty International, testimony to Catalonia Parliament re Chelsea Manning

This testimony by Alexa O’Brien provides a good, compact ‘highlights’ package/history of the treatment whistle-blower Chelsea Manning received at the hands of the US Military judicial system. The video features her speaking with a translator (21 mins) while in the audio below (mp3 10 mins) the translator has been trimmed out.

Worth paying attention to, in my opinion. See what you think.

click to watch bi0lingual video [or listen to trimmed English-only audio below]

click to watch bi-lingual video [or listen to trimmed English-only audio below]

Speaking to the Parliament of Catalonia, Alexa O’Brien outlines whistle-blower Chelsea Manning’s treatment at the hands of the US Military judicial system and appeals for ‘pressure’ on the Obama administration.
MP3 file

- P

Lawmakers and ‘leaders of our community’ in action

“Pungent aroma of dickwad” — not my most eloquent criticism, but it will suffice.

When they’re not busy enabling warrantless spy agency surveillance powers (under urgency) these lions of the Parliament, Peter Dunne and Jami-Lee Ross take potshots at opposition MPs as ‘muppets, cult-followers, hillbillies, bigots and racists’. How ignoble.

Peter Watts at Canada Privacy Symposium — ‘Burn the Data to the Ground’

A surprising and very interesting presentation about authoritarian surveillance — its link to fear, and being aware of hard-wired responses including dominance and anti-predator behaviours … with a side swipe at the roots of ‘religious belief’. I like Peter Watts’ approach to the topic, looking back at the powerful and another take on ‘only the paranoid survive’ (not a reference to the Andy Grove book) …

I watched this a month ago, and have been thinking about it. He makes sense to me.

The embedded video doesn’t include his slides, but they’re here in an imperfect but very worthwhile transcript (PDF) which is worth following along as you listen to the video.

h/t @SixthColumnist

Dedicated to no-one in particular …

‘Cool Kids’ by Echosmith — on Jimmy Fallon’s show (Update: that Jimmy Fallon link ‘expired’, so here’s a new ‘live’ version… albeit somewhat tightly produced & cut … I really did like the Fallon show live version)

‘Official’ music video here

John Pilger on the shabby persecution of Julian Assange

I have respected John Pilger since before I trained and entered journalism in the 1980s. I respect his courage and his tenacity, his willingness to show up and tell the truth as he sees it. He’s also no fool.

So, although it may not be a popular stand, in terms of some people’s interpretation of the ‘sex crimes’ kinda sorta alleged that Julian Assange may have possibly committed, I have tended to see him as the victim of a stitch-up. He has been a target of character assassination of the most cynical type. As I said somewhere here, about this: intelligence agencies tell lies for a living.

Documents leaked by NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden led me to ask: ‘Does anyone else think this spy agency ‘Discredit a target’ strategy might have been used against Julian Assange?

Well, John Pilger has more. Read his investigation

click to read at

click to read at

I hope Pilger won’t mind me stealing a little of his thunder by previewing one of his points (emphasis added):

On 18 March 2008, a war on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was foretold in a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch”. It described a detailed plan to destroy the feeling of “trust” which is WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising this rare source of independent journalism was the aim, smear the method. Hell hath no fury like great power scorned.

Assange has been smeared in an effort to neutralise him and his organisation, as I have tried to say pretty consistently. The pity of it is when I see former collaborators in the media used as tools. ‘Useful idiots‘.

Seriously, read the full John Pilger article. I commend it to you.

- P

She’s a hard road finding the perfect instrument to manipulate the market, son.

Another post from the Colliding Worlds department, here’s an article I just posted at the Empower Education website …


Click to read at Empower Education

Comments & discussion welcome there.

- P

Leaving ‘Dirty Politics’ questions hanging. (It’s a PR strategy)

This recently published wrap of one aspect of the PR attack blog activities of Cameron Slater1 on behalf of his clients idealogical soulmates illustrates a couple of things.

News item Hager book

1) Calls to ‘seek answers’ from corporate groups (like the Ports of Auckland, or even Auckland Council) to ‘questions raised’ will often be ignored. People and organisations under fire as the result of revelations of unsavoury or unethical behaviour (such as those in Nicky Hager’s book ‘Dirty Politics‘) can just go to ground or ‘go dark’ as Jason Ede did. Just brazen it out and rely on a lack of public/media attention span. Which leads to …

2) Even an implausible-sounding bald denial in the face of quite credible allegations will sometimes be quite sufficient. Just go through the motions.

Observe this overt stonewall from the Ports of Auckland Head of Communications:


Riiiight. And the settlement of those privacy breach complaints …? Oh, never mind.

NZ Herald writer John Drinnan’s lack of progress with his attempts to ‘raise questions’ about the photogenic Food & Grocery Council CEO Katherine Rich’s [alleged] involvement in the deployment* of Carrick Graham’s pet hate blogger Cameron Slater** to demean and smear health advocates and critics of sugar and fat illustrates the same principle:

click to read at NZ Herald

click to read at NZ Herald

It seems some people don’t want to talk about their ethics … or, perhaps better put: they don’t want their claims of good ethics questioned. No matter how ludicrous those claims seem in the face of evidence.

- P
1 And his tag-team wrestling buddy David Farrar, of course.
* Commercial deployment? Yes, I think so, probably.
** Well, in name only. From Dirty Politics it seems clear Carrick Graham was the true author of much of Cameron Slater’s … er, output.