Britain is slithering down the road towards a police state

The pretence of oversight has been ripped aside by the Khan bugging affair: the security apparat has become a law unto itself

By: Simon Jenkins The Guardian, Wednesday 6 February 2008

The machine is out of control. Personal surveillance in Britain is so extensive that no democratic oversight is remotely plausible. Some 800 organisations, including the police, the revenue, local and central government, demanded (and almost always got) 253,000 intrusions on citizen privacy in the last recorded year, 2006. This is way beyond that of any other country in the free world.

The Sadiq Khan affair has killed stone dead the thesis, beloved of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, that any accretion of power to the state is sustainable because ministers are in control. Whether this applies to phone tapping, bugging devices, ID cards, NHS records, childcare computer systems, video surveillance or detention without trial, it is simply a lie. Nobody can control this torrent of intrusion. Nobody can oversee a burst dam.

Khan, an MP and government whip, was allegedly targeted by the police for having been a “civil rights lawyer” and thus a nuisance, though the recording of his meetings with a constituent in prison was supposedly directed at the inmate. Either way, the bugging destroyed the “Wilson doctrine”, that MPs cannot be bugged. It appears that they can if ministers, or the police, so decide.

Security machismo claims that in the “age of terrorism”, real men bug everyone and everything. The former flying squad chief and BBC dial-a-quote, John O’Connor, implied this week that it would be negligent of the police not to bug anyone they – repeat they – thought a threat. The Blair thesis that “9/11 changes everything” has been a green light to every security consultant, surveillance salesman and Labour minister wanting to flex his – or her- muscles in the tabloids.

Years ago a lawyer gave me unassailable evidence that a call with a client had been tapped by the police and handed to the prosecution. Such tapping allegedly required a personal warrant from the home secretary who, when tackled on the subject, flatly denied it could have happened without his approval, which he would never give in such a case. I checked back with a police chief, who roared with laughter. “The home secretary is absolutely right. He must authorise all taps sent to him for authorisation. But not, of course, the rest.” Orwell’s cuttlefish were squirting ink.

The grim reality of the past week alone is that it has seen a substantial section of the British establishment allowing itself to believe that private dealings between lawyer and client, and between MP and constituent, should no longer be considered immune from state surveillance. A cardinal principle of a free democracy is thus coolly abandoned. It is not a victory for national security. It is a victory for terrorism.

The monitoring organisation Privacy International now gives Britain the worst record in Europe for such intrusion, indeed the worst among the so-called democratic world and on a par with “endemic surveillance societies”, such as Russia and Singapore. The Thames Valley policeman, Mark Kearney, who bugged Khan’s conversation in Woodhill prison, claims to have protested that it was “unethical” but was overruled and placed under “significant pressure” from the Metropolitan police. He has since had to leave the force. The saga reads like a script from the film about East German espionage, The Lives of Others.

Britain’s poor record is the result of government weakness towards the security apparat. Even among supposed liberals, the response is to demand not less surveillance but more oversight. David Davis, the Tory spokesman, said yesterday: “It’s got to be controlled; it’s got to be accountable.” Civil rights champion Liberty wants “simpler and stronger surveillance laws, with warrants issued by judges, not policemen nor politicians”.

People have been saying this for years. Britain has a Kafkaesque oversight bureaucracy ranking with the one it purports to oversee. Some six separate surveillance monitors trip over themselves. All operate in secret and appear to be one gigantic rubber stamp. The distinction drawn by the justice secretary, Jack Straw, between “intrusive” and “directed” bugging, illustrates the prevailing mumbo-jumbo. The chief surveillance monitor, Sir Christopher Rose, has been asked by Straw to investigate the Khan affair, which appears to be a failure by the chief surveillance monitor. Is this to be taken seriously?

When the council can bug you for fly-tipping, when prisons can record conversations with defence lawyers, when any potentially criminal act can justify electronic intrusion – and when ministers resort to the dictator’s excuse, “The innocent need not fear” – warning bells should sound.

There is no “balance” to be struck between civil liberty and national security. Civil liberty is absolute, security its handmaid. Measures are needed to protect the public, but a firm line needs to be drawn round them. The line must accept a degree of risk, or a police state is just around the corner.

A quarter of a million surveillances in Britain are beyond all power of politicians or overseers to check. It is state paranoia, justified only by that catch-all, the “war on terror”. In truth it is not countering terror, but promoting it. Mass surveillances one of the poisons that the terrorist seeks to inject into the veins of civil society.

It is clear the overseers have gone native. Even the “independent” security watchdog, Lord Carlile, has bought 42-day detention. More oversight will not cure surveillance but mask its spread. The extension from terrorism to benefit fraud, fly-tipping and trading standards demonstrates how the official mind flips to Stasi mode at the least excuse.

To claim that Britain is a police state insults those who are victims of real ones. But I have no doubt that feeble ministers are slithering down just this road, pushed by the security/industrial complex. It is not oversight that must be increased, but rather the categories and boundaries of surveillance that must be drastically curbed.

Of course there are people who want to explode bombs in Britain. Taxpayers spend a fortune trying to stop them. But how often must we remind ourselves that the bomber need not kill to achieve his end when we appease his yearning for the martyrdom of repression? The amount of surveillance in Britain is grotesque. It is a sign of the corruption of power, and nothing else.


How many people died since you came on here?

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? Onassis Killed Bobby Kennedy ?

“I know who was behind Bobby Kennedy’s murder”, says his actor friend Robert Vaughn.


When Bobby Kennedy’s death was announced that day in June 1968, I cried myself to sleep. It was months before I was able to function normally again.

I had deeply admired Bobby since I was first introduced to him in 1960. Ironically, we met at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where, eight years later, he would be assassinated.

We ran into each other again at the University of Southern California in 1965, when I was concluding work on my PhD in communications and my show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., was at the height of its popularity.

I was asked if I would host Bobby and his wife Ethel when they visited the campus for a speech.

After that, I stayed many times at Hickory Hill, the family’s estate in Virginia, with Bobby, Ethel and their children, all big U.N.C.L.E. fans.

Aristotle Onassis with Elsa Martinelli in Paris

The accused: Tycoon Aristotle Onassis and glamorous friends at a party in Paris in 1974

For years, I had been actively involved in the civil rights movement and Democratic politics, speaking out against American involvement in the Vietnam War and trying to persuade Bobby to stand against Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Indeed, a short time before Bobby announced that he would run for the Democratic nomination in 1968, he even suggested I try for a Senate seat. I was flattered.

‘When you’re sitting in the Oval Office having stopped the war, we’ll talk again,’ I said. He smiled and replied: ‘We’ll see.’ I never saw him privately again.

Like the murder of his brother John almost five years earlier, Bobby’s shooting was a watershed for America. Most people believe a lone assassin – a Palestinian refugee Sirhan Bashara Sirhan – was responsible for his death.

I shared that assumption until my continued involvement in political debate brought the real questions about Bobby’s killing to my attention.

After studying documents, talking to experts and interviewing a crucial witness, I believe there is strong evidence that Bobby’s killing was carried out by more than one gunman. And, more shockingly, that the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis paid for the assassination.

This is not to say there is no evidence linking Sirhan to the crime. He was seen by many people at the Ambassador Hotel firing his .22 pistol at Kennedy as the Senator walked through the kitchen on a shortcut between meetings.

Sirhan was arrested, charged and convicted of the crime. He was sentenced to die in the electric chair. But California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and today, 40 years on, Sirhan is still serving a life sentence.

So was Bobby Kennedy’s shooting a non-controversial, open-and-shut case with a single, obvious suspect? Here’s a summary of the facts.

Firstly, Sirhan was apparently not in the right place to fire the bullets that killed Kennedy. The autopsy shows Kennedy was shot from behind, from below, from the right and with a gun positioned no more than three inches from his head.

Yet all the eyewitnesses said they saw Sirhan between one-and-a-half and five feet in front of Kennedy – a completely different location to the one he would have needed to be in to fire the fatal shots. This information was withheld until after Sirhan’s lawyers conceded his guilt.

Using the US Freedom of Information Act, Bernard Fensterwald, a Washington lawyer, obtained an FBI report on the shooting in 1976. It indicated that at least 12 bullets were fired in the hotel kitchen that evening.

Two were recovered from Bobby’s body and five from the bodies of wounded bystanders. Two more passed through Kennedy’s body, while three were found lodged in ceiling panels.

Robert Vaughn, left, with Bobby Kennedy, right, and Norman Topping, president of the University of Southern California, in 1965

Meeting of minds: Robert Vaughn, left, with Bobby Kennedy, right, and Norman Topping, president of the University of Southern California, in 1965

Yet the Sirhan theory relies on the notion that his gun, which held a maximum of eight bullets, was the only one fired. It just doesn’t add up.

What’s more, criminologist William Harper swore in an affidavit that the bullets that killed Kennedy could not have been fired by Sirhan’s pistol because the ballistic characteristics did not match.

Finally, there are reasons to believe the Los Angeles police obstructed or neglected aspects of the case.

For example, although an armed security guard stated he was standing behind Kennedy at the time of the shooting – the location from which the fatal shots must have come – and even admitted dropping down and pulling his gun when the shooting began, his weapon was never checked to see if he might have fired any of the bullets that killed Kennedy, whether deliberately or accidentally.

New evidence has recently come to light. Dr Robert Joling, a past president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists, and sound expert Philip Van Praag concluded that, based on exhaustive analysis of audio tapes from that fateful night, at least 12 shots were fired using at least two guns.

What about the mental state of Sirhan? Is it possible he could have been programmed to take the fall for Bobby’s murder?

This may sound implausible, but Dr Herbert Spiegel, a New York psychiatrist who teaches at Columbia University and is considered an expert on hypnosis, supports this theory. He believes Sirhan was probably acting in response to hypnotic directives when he fired at Kennedy.

Sirhan appeared badly disorientated after his arrest, and when he was given a psychiatric examination before his trial, he was found to be susceptible to hypnotic suggestion, even climbing the bars of his cell like a monkey upon command.

In all probability, Dr Spiegel suggests, Sirhan was still in a state of hypnotically induced amnesia.

These questions continue to attract interest from a few intrepid researchers. Was there a second or even a third gunman? If so, who was it? Could the security guard behind Kennedy who admitted pulling his gun have had something to do with the killing? And, assuming that more than one gunman was involved, who was the mastermind behind the plot?

Even those most eager to blame the crime on Sirhan do not pretend he had the intellect, resources or the organisational ability to pull together an assassination conspiracy.

Investigative journalist Peter Evans suggested in his 2004 book Nemesis that Onassis was responsible in part for Kennedy’s murder.

According to Evans, Onassis and Bobby first crossed paths in 1953, when Bobby became assistant counsel to Roy Cohn, the chief investigator working for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade.

Assassination of Bobby Kennedy

Riddles remain over the murder of Bobby Kennedy, pictured a moment after he was shot

One of Bobby’s assignments was to study what McCarthy called the ‘blood trade’ between certain American allies and Red China, whose soldiers were fighting US troops in Korea.

Bobby found that more than 300 New York Greek shipping families were trading regularly with China. None of Onassis’s vessels was involved, but he was afraid anyone prying into his business would discover he was secretly negotiating with Saudi Arabia to supply tankers to transport oil under the Saudi flag.

Onassis’s fears were realised in October 1953 when sealed indictments were handed down to seize any ships owned by Onassis that came into an American port. He blamed Bobby for his predicament.

Despite – or perhaps because of – his resentment of Bobby, Onassis gradually became socially and romantically entangled with the Kennedy family.

He met then-Senator John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie in 1956 when he invited them aboard his yacht, the Christina. Shortly after JFK became President, Onassis began an affair with Lee Bouvier Radziwill, Jackie’s sister.

But Onassis wasn’t satisfied with Lee – he wanted Jackie herself. He took advantage of the First Lady’s vulnerability in August 1963, shortly after the devastating death of her two-day-old son, Patrick. Jackie accepted his invitation to stay on the Christina while she recuperated.

For Bobby, the way Onassis thrust himself into the Kennedys’ personal drama heightened the hostility between them. Onassis, of course, went on to marry Jackie in October 1968, five years after JFK’s death.

According to Evans, the notion of killing a Kennedy did not take shape in Onassis’s mind until early 1968 when he met Mahmoud Hamshari, a follower of Yasser Arafat and a fanatical anti-American and anti-Israeli activist.

Enraged by US support for Israel during the Six Day War in 1967, Hamshari suggested killing ‘a high-profile American on American soil’ would make the US government ‘think twice about backing the Jews’.

When Hamshari had an opportunity to meet Onassis, he used it to shake down the Greek magnate for money to carry out the plot.

Evans provides extensive detail about the dealings between Onassis and Hamshari. He describes the apparent involvement in the conspiracy of Dr William Bryan, an expert in hypnosis based in Los Angeles.

He quotes a defence witness from the trial of Sirhan describing the accused killer as being ‘out of control of his consciousness and his own actions [and] subject to bizarre disassociated trances in some of which he programmed himself to be the instrument of assassination’.

And he describes pages from Sirhan’s notebook, once in the possession of Christina Onassis, that seem to implicate Onassis not just in Bobby’s killing but also in two other business-related murders.

Jackie Kennedy with Onassis after their 1968 wedding

Jackie Kennedy with Onassis after their 1968 wedding. His intrusion into the Kennedys’ lives was deeply resented by Bobby

Then there is Hélène Gaillet, one of the players in Evans’s story, whom I have interviewed myself. On an autumn afternoon in 2007, I met Helene at her apartment on New York’s Upper West Side.

Statuesque and elegant, Hélène had worked as a photographer for The New York Times and New York magazine.

Hélène met Onassis for the first time at the Coach House restaurant in New York in the early Seventies. As the dinner came to a close, he raised the palms of her hands to his lips and said: ‘The next time you are in Paris and need a place to stay, call me.’

In 1973, she was due to cover the fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in Zaire. But when it was postponed for a month, she found herself in Paris with time on her hands.

Hélène remembered Onassis’s invitation and called him. Fifteen minutes later, he invited her to his estate on the Greek island of Skorpios.

Onassis’s daughter Christina was there. She was worried about her father’s welfare and made Hélène promise not to take any pictures of him. Onassis was dealing with some difficult business issues, Christina said, and she was worried that any unflattering pictures would make him more vulnerable to his enemies.

During her visit to Skorpios, Hélène stayed on Onassis’s yacht while he remained at his estate. One day, they went skinny-dipping and he came on to her. Helene reciprocated enthusiastically. It was the first and last time that happened between them.

A few days later, Hélène dined with Onassis at his beach house. They talked about many things, including religion. Hélène had been raised a Catholic and Ari questioned her closely, saying he was fascinated by confession and absolution.

In the course of the conversation, she asked Ari whether he agreed with Hemingway’s famous remark about the difference between rich people and the rest of us – ‘They have more money’.

With a laugh, Onassis replied: ‘The rich get laid more, I know that … Even that little runt Bobby Kennedy got laid more.’

More disturbingly, Onassis went on to speak freely about Bobby. According to Hélène, Onassis’s hatred for him was still vivid and intense.

In the small hours, Onassis walked Helene to the beach from where a launch would take her back to the Christina. They stood together, gazing out to sea, for a long time.

After a while, Hélène realised Onassis was talking to himself, in low, murmuring tones, like someone deep in prayer.

Finally, as she strained to hear what he was saying, he turned to her and, clearly and simply, said: ‘You know, Hélène, I put up the money for Bobby Kennedy’s murder.’

I spent almost two hours with Hélène at her apartment. I was most impressed with her ability to place herself in the time and emotions of some of the world’s most powerful and famous people and her conversations with them.

Not once did I feel that Hélène, now in her 70s, was anything but honest. I’m convinced her story is a faithful rendition of what happened to her.

Does Hélène’s story settle forever the question of who killed Bobby Kennedy? Not in a legal sense and perhaps not even in a moral sense. But along with the other evidence, it makes abundantly clear that one of the greatest crimes of the 20th Century remains unresolved by the official verdict, even to this day.

• A Fortunate Life, by Robert Vaughn, is published by JR Books priced £18.99. To order your copy for £17.10 inc p&p, call the Review Bookstore on 0845 155 0713.

Reform plan raises fears of Bank secrecy

The Bank of England will be able to print extra money without having legally to declare it under new plans which will heighten fears that the Government will secretly pump extra cash into the economy

The Bank of England will be able to print extra money

The Government is set to throw out the 165-year old law that obliges the Bank to publish a weekly account of its balance sheet – a move that will allow it theoretically to embark covertly on so-called quantitative easing. The Banking Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament, abolishes a key section of the law laid down by Robert Peel’s Government in 1844 which originally granted the Bank the sole right to print UK money.

The ostensible reason for the reform, which means the Bank will not have to print details of its own accounts and the amount of notes and coins flowing through the UK economy, is to allow the Bank more power to overhaul troubled financial institutions in the future, under its Special Resolution Authority.

However, some have warned that it means: “there is nothing to stop an unreported and unmonitored flooding of the money market by the undisciplined use of the printing presses.”

It comes after the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee cut interest rates by half a percentage point, leaving them at the lowest level since the bank’s foundation in 1694.

With the Bank rate now at 1.5pc, most economists suspect the Government and Bank will soon be forced to start quantitative easing – directly increasing the quantity of money in the economy – in a drastic attempt to prevent a recession of unprecedented depth.

Although the amount of easing is likely to be limited, news of this increased secrecy will spark comparisons with Weimar Germany and Zimbabwe, where uncontrolled use of the central banks’ printing presses ultimately caused hyperinflation.

The Bank said it will still publish details of its balance sheet, but, significantly, the data – the main indicator of the extent of quantitative easing – will not be presented until more than a month has elapsed. For instance, under the new terms of the law, if the Bank were to have embarked on a policy of quantitative easing last month, the figures on this would not be published until the end of this month.

The reforms, which are likely to be implemented later this year, will make the Bank of England by far the most secretive major central in the world, experts said.

In the US, where the Federal Reserve has already cut rates to close to zero and started quantitative easing, the main way to track its purchases of securities and the expansion of its balance sheet is through precisely these same weekly accounts.

“Quite why the Bank has to keep its operations so shrouded in secrecy is a mystery to me,” said Simon Ward, economist at New Star. “This [reform] will make it much more difficult to track what the Bank is doing.”

Among the details which will no longer be published are those revealing the extent to which London’s banks are using the Bank’s deposit facilities – a yardstick of pressure in the financial system.

Debating the issue in the House of Lords recently, Lord James of Blackheath, a Conservative peer, said: “Remove [this] control and there is nothing to stop an unreported and unmonitored flooding of the money market by the undisciplined use of the printing presses.

“If we went down that path we would be following a road which starts in Weimar, goes on through Harare and must not end in Westminster and London. That is the great fear that the abolition of that section will bring about – but the Bill abolishes it.”

Aaron Russo Blog

Website dedicated to the Great humanitarian Aaron Russo

Greece: 2009 Budget Too Good To Be True

Source: Forbes
Oxford Analytica, January 7th 2009

Economic targets for the new year appear optimistic, if not unrealistic

Before the Christmas recess, the New Democracy government pushed through parliament a revised budget estimate for 2008 and projection for 2009. The 2008 numbers included a general government budget deficit of 2.5% of GDP, based on 3.2% growth, 4.3% annual average inflation and 3.1% real average wage growth. The 2009 forecast included a 2% deficit, 2.7% growth, 3% inflation and 3.5% wage growth.

The targets appear optimistic, if not unrealistic–growth, to this point, has been driven by strong consumption and investment, both of which are in decline, and the budget revenue and expenditure projections appear tenuous.

Doubtful Data
Estimates from December 2007 forecast a general government deficit of 2.7% of GDP in 2007 and 1.6% in 2008. Last spring, Eurostat challenged the Greek statistical service’s data, and the figures were revised upward to 3.5% and 2.5%, respectively. These figures put the Greek 2007 deficit in excess of the 3% ceiling set by the euro-area’s Stability and Growth Pact (Athens was under surveillance from May 2005 to June 2007 for breaching the SGP).

The surveillance process could be repeated, particularly as Eurostat is reportedly considering challenging 2008 data, so that the deficit could exceed 3% of GDP for a second consecutive year.

Dubious Deficit
The 2009 deficit target depends almost entirely upon ordinary budget revenues increasing by 15%–nearly 2.5 times nominal GDP growth. The government expects a significant boost from new taxes on real estate transactions, the harmonization of the special consumption tax on heating and motor fuels, plus special arrangements for settling arrears.

But key to attaining the target will be a significant clampdown on tax evasion, something the government has regularly promised, but like all its predecessors, singularly failed to accomplish.

Extra Expenditure?
The 2009 budget forecasts ordinary primary expenditure rising by 8%, about half the increase in projected revenues, but spending is routinely revised upward at year’s end. Nearly three-quarters is inelastic, going toward public-sector wages and pensions, which are to rise by about 10% in 2009, as the government buys civil service cooperation at a time of political uncertainty.

The authorities have forecast a reduction in the central government deficit by the classic tactic of reducing spending on the public investment budget (PIB), partly because E.U. aid transfers are forecast to run down by more than one-fourth.

The government had some 2 billion euros in Third Community Support Framework aid it was to have spent or lost by the end of 2008. But the Barroso economic stimulus package announced in late November allowed all CSF III aid recipients a six-month extension to help combat unemployment. It also has a special one-year extension to spend some aid in areas damaged by forest fires in August 2007. Greece could therefore draw down all the aid monies that it stood to lose, but to utilize that funding, the government must put up project co-financing, and that prospect is incompatible with the PIB cuts.

The beleaguered Conservative government is gambling that the Greek economy is sufficiently insulated from the global financial crisis that strong GDP growth will continue with only a modest budget deficit, but the economic climate may well deteriorate, depressing its electoral prospects even further.