Leigh, Assange, BAE and Saudi Arabia

March 12th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Telegraph reports a (not yet public) wikileaks cable) discussing the massive corruption in BAE’s Al-Yamamah arms deal to Saudi Arabia.

BAE has earned more than £40 billion from the deal, by selling military planes to Saudi Arabia. There’s long been strong evidence of corruption — but the SFO abandoned an inquiry into the deal, quite possibly under political pressure.

Now, via Wikileaks, we have more details both of the evidence, and on how the SFO were pressured to drop the case. The SFO had evidence that:

  • BAE paid £73 million to a Saudi prince who had “influence” over the Al-Yamamah defence contract and that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe another “very senior Saudi official” received payments;
  • The contractor was being covertly investigated by the SFO for carrying out a “potential fraud” against a government department;
  • BAE allegedly circumvented anti-bribery laws by making “substantial payments” to overseas agents employed by the Saudi government;
  • Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, then British ambassador in Riyadh and now a BAE Systems’ director, “had a profound effect” on the decision by Robert Wardle, then SFO director, to end the investigation.

There’s also some media politics going on here. The Guardian was long the most active newspaper following the Al-Yamamah deal. Much of their investigation was conducted by David Leigh, who also led the Guardian’s Wikileaks coverage, and is now publicly squabbling with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.

So David Leigh has seen another newspaper get a scoop connecting two of his biggest investigations — surely the result of some kind of personal politics. It also makes me wonder whether the Guardian does have all the Wikileaks documents. Surely Al-Yamamah is one of the first things David Leigh would have looked for, once he got his hands on the cables?

Or perhaps I’m over-thinking this, and the Telegraph just happened to read the relevant cable before Leigh did.

December 10th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

What is Anonymous

What does anything have to do with the other? People are dead. Other people are rich. Some people’s day was ruined. Other people were embarrassed. Some people laughed. What is the end result? Human history. The world, every damn day. Welcome to the never-ending old sick twisted mostly unfunny joke that is life. The human mob, again and again and again. Until there are none of us left.

So what is Anonymous? Whatever you want. In my definition, the closest that a boring and trite platitude can get to summing up human existence while still missing it completely. Sorry. Add your own politics/doom/disappointment/enthusiasm/distrust/anger/fear/love. It’s jokes, all the way down.

In other words, it’s the mob. we got a little less used to the mob in the era of Fordism, when people were more regulated and had to get up at 9am. Now, the internet is in many ways bringing us back towards the pre-industrial. And 4-chan is the new mob.

Wikileaks, Mr Miyagi, cells and mass movements

December 8th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

This is the key question for the long-term impact of wikileaks:

Assange’s hypothesis may or may not be true, but his belief that WikiLeaks will lead to greater government transparency is blinkered in the extreme. Governments do not respond to security breaches by surrendering themselves to the fates. American foreign-policy bureaucracies have and will continue to respond to WikiLeaks by clamping down on the dissemination of information.

The effect of wikileaks is to clamp down on all partially-secret information. If you want to act, you now must make a choice: either you act entirely in the open, or you keep it all locked down*. Keep things partialy secret, but not entirely, and you’re going to experience the worst of both worlds.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s how political groups must act under threat from a repressive government. Choose transparency, act like Aung San Suu Kyi. Depend for your survival on public support domestic and international, on the efficiency of open communication, on having a morally-defensible public face. Or act as cells. Be small, be secretive. Renounce the possibility of building a mass movement. Be a small group of committed citizens, maybe not even knowing the names of one another.

But don’t choose a path in the middle. To adapt Mr. Miyagi:

Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, [makes squish gesture] get squish just like grape. Here, karate secrecy, same thing. Either you karate secrecy do “yes”, or karate secrecy do “no”. You karate secrecy do “guess so”, [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?

The same applies to governments, lobbyists, firms worried about leaking secrets to one another. The latest leaks were visible to 3 million Americans. It’s a reasonable bet that Russia and China had already gained access to them. Similarly I wouldn’t be at all surprised if big corporations already knew about some of what the State Department were secretly saying about them. You can easily imagine somebody in Bradley Manning’s position going on to work for Halliburton, bringing with him any documents discussing the corporation.

The bulk of the leaks consists of political analysis, gossip, pen-portraits of powerful figures. It’s the kind of commentary that circulates pretty freely among journalists, lobbyists, activists, civil servants and other politics nerds. People in power already had it, albeit not in written form. What’s new is letting the public into it, warts and all.

* The effect isn’t total, but it’s heading in that direction. In the specific case of the Bradley Maning leaks, some half-competent database management would have cut them off at the pass.


Anonymous take down mastercard.com

December 8th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

This is a pretty impressive success for Anonymous, taking down a very prominent site.



In an attack it is calling “Operation: Payback”, a group of online activists calling themselves Anonymous appear to have orchestrated a DDOS (“distributed denial of service”) attack on the site, bringing its service to a halt for many users. Attempts to load www.mastercard.com are currently unsuccessful.


Interestingly, this is sandwiched half-way between being a mass action, and being merely the work of a small, elite group of hackers. I’m not sure what system they’re using, but the ‘distributed’ element of the DDoS almost certainly comes from thousands of /b/tards running some code on their own machines. For that matter, it could well be that a bunch of them are sitting on mastercard.com and hitting refresh. 

Mastercard statement: “MasterCard is experiencing heavy traffic on its external corporate website – MasterCard.com. We are working to restore normal speed of service

December 7th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

oddly decent article by John Naughton in the Guardian:

Consider, for instance, how the views of the US administration have changed in just a year. On 21 January, secretary of state Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about internet freedom, in Washington DC, which many people welcomed and most interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyberattack on Google. “Information has never been so free,” declared Clinton. “Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”

She went on to relate how, during his visit to China in November 2009, Barack Obama had “defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity.” Given what we now know, that Clinton speech reads like a satirical masterpiece.

November 30th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Timothy Garton Ash

the professional members of the US foreign service have very little to be ashamed of… what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation’s interests and their government’s policies.

In fact, my personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches. .

The name of Macedonia

November 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I’d never realised the massive importance in Greece of the name of Macedonia. Wikileaks cable:

Regarding Macedonia, Errera said the GOM underestimates the seriousness of the name issue for Greece and that the U.S. should not make the same mistake. France will not pressure Greece on this issue. Furthermore, if Athens were to give in on the name issue, the Greek government could fall

Privacy and terrorism

November 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

The terrorism threat in Germany has been being hyped recently, through warnings from the Interior Minister and a false alarm over a bomb on a plane in Namibia.

German politicians have been impressively willing to call bullshit on this, in some cases openly suggesting that it’s fearmongering as a political tactic.

In particular, the idea is already widespread that it’s an attempt to build public support for increased surveillance and for weakening of privacy laws.

This wikileaks cable from February gives more fuel to that view. It shows that the US links German support for privacy with the lack of terrorist attacks in Germany: “the German public and political class largely
tends to view terrorism abstractly given that it has been
decades since any successful terrorist attack has occurred on
German soil

Also, a little schadenfreude at the US saying that “ We need to also
demonstrate that the U.S. has strong data privacy measures in
place so that robust data sharing comes with robust data

German documents on wikileaks

October 15th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Wikileaks seems to be getting a steady stream of German political documents, at the moment particularly concerning coalition talks. Unfortunately I’m no longer following German politics closely enough to figure out the backstory and meaning of the leaks.

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