Wednesday 3 November 2004

This United Satrapy

Sometimes some things make one more angry than it is easy to express. This morning I am faced with one of these.

The issue

First, a bit of background. There is an organisation called 'indymedia'; it is a journalists collective, which reports stories not generally covered by the mainstream press, specifically including reporting on the demonstrations at G8 summits and such things. On October 7th this year, officers of the United States of America's Federal Bureau of Investigations, acting on behalf of the Italian Government, entered RackSpace's supposedly secure colocation facility in London and removed two servers belonging to indymedia.


Yes, just as I say. The servers have been returned, but that is rather beside the point; and in any case, who is to say what was copied off them (or loaded onto them) in the mean time?

An exchange of notes

So on the 14th October I wrote the following email to my MP:

On Thursday of last week, two computers belonging to an organisation called 'Indymedia' were removed from the premises of a London ISP, Rackspace, apparently by
 the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, allegedly following a request by the Swiss government. Further detail of this action may be found here:

I should be grateful if you could ask the Home Secretary:

  1. On what legal theory was it proper for the agents of one foreign power, whether or not acting at the behest of another foreign power, to seize property within the United Kingdom?

  • What UK court, or other UK legal authority, authorised this seizure?

  • If it is the case that the seizure was made under the 'Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty', what terrorist information was supposed to have been held on these computers?

  • What evidence of such supposed terrorist information was supplied to the UK authorities in order to justify this seizure?

  • What action is he taking to prevent such seizures or property by agents of foreign powers in future?

  • This action cuts to the very heart of civil society in Britain: to the right of
    free speech, of citizens to publish news and opinion. Without this, democratic governance is impossible. For foreign powers to thus interfere in the democratic
    process in the United Kingdom is utterly intolerable, and wholly undermines the theory of a sovereign UK government.

    My MP duly forwarded this to the Home Office and this morning I received via him a response from Caroline Flint MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, doubtless dictated with a tongue still brown from licking American arses. I shall quote it in full:

    Thank you for your letter dated 18 October 2004  addressed to the Home Secretary, stating concerns expressed by one of your constituents regarding Indymedia. I have been asked to reply as the Minister responsible for international crime.

    Unfortunately, I am not in a position to comment on this particular matter, but I can provide general information. It is standard Home Office policy neither to confirm nor deny the existence or receipt of a mutual legal assistance request. I can also make the following observation to clarify the non-case specific issues raised.

    Mutual legal assistance treaties are not just restricted to cases of international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering. They can cover all types of crime or be crime specific. For example many states have treaties that relate solely to the issue of combating drug trafficking. Others, have all crime treaties, which provides a basis for mutual legal assistance generally. The treaty between the UK and the US is an all crimes treaty.

    I hope you find this useful

    Yours, Caroline

    Why does this matter?

    Qui bono?

    I'd like you to just pause a minute, hold onto your anger, and consider the things the Minister did feel able to write. She wrote "The treaty between the UK and the US is an all crimes treaty". Well, it may be. Blair's poodles may feel that it is fine for US government agents to walk jackbooted into any home in the United Kingdom in order to sieze such property as they see fit. But - allegedly - the FBI were not acting on behalf of the US government.

    Initial reports say that the FBI was acting on behalf of the Swiss government; later reports said, on behalf of an Italian court in Bologna. It scarcely matters. The point is that the Americans were not acting on their own behalf, so a treaty between the US and the UK should be moot.

    If the request came from a fellow member of the EC, why did the Metropolitan Police not not make the raid? If it was not legal for the Metropolitan Police, how could it be legal for a foreign power? And if it was legal for a foreign power, how come it was the FBI and not the Polizia?

    The suspicion in my mind is that there is no treaty in place which allows the police forces of fellow EU states to force their way into premises in the UK in order to sieze property. It would be intolerable if there were. And, indeed, can you imagine the headlines in the Daily Mail if it were even suggested?

    What recourse?

    As you'll know, I host on my personal website mirrors of censored documents which I consider important or valuable. I am my own ISP, and the server which hosts those documents is behind me as I write this, in my home. The documents I serve are censored in various jurisdictions around the world but inevitably the majority of them are censored in the United States. Suppose, at 4am one dark morning, I get a knock on the door and find myself faced with half a dozen burly Americans claiming to be from the FBI, what am I expected to do? What recourse have I if they choose to sieze my property? Who do I call to resist the invasion of my home by foreign forces? To whom do I complain?

    Civil and uncivil society

    Britain is, at least in theory, a democracy. Citizens (yes, my passport explicitly states I'm a 'British Citizen', not a 'British Subject') in theory freely discuss matters of politics and freely elect representatives to our national parliaments. Indymedia and organisations like it are a vital part of that process; they provide an means for unpopular opinions to be expressed, for events the mainstream media chooses to ignore to be reported. They give a voice to sections of our body politic which otherwise might not have one.

    We don't know, of course, why Indymedia's servers were seized. Caroline Flint won't even confirm (or deny) that they were seized. We can't see the order which authorised their seizure, because it's secret.

    But allegedly Indymedia's offence was that it published a photograph of an Italian policeman taking photographs of protesters at a G8 summit.

    So this is a very clear story about press freedom and press harassment; about an attempt by a foreign power to suppress free speech within the United Kingdom. We cannot conduct a civil society if we cannot freely communicate.

    The myth of sovereignty

    Part of the popular myth of Britain is that Britain is a sovereign nation. We cannot, we are repeatedly told, surrender that sovereignty to Brussels. Well, no, we can't; not now. We don't have it to surrender. What possible use are the civil protections of Scottish (or English) law if an American agent acting on behalf of an Italian court, without any due process in any United Kingdom court, without any warrant issued by any United Kingdom authority, can simply walk into my home and sieze my property? What possible protection can a United Kingdom government offer its people if a Minister of the Crown is unable even to 'confirm or deny' that this has happened?

    The truth is that Blair's Britain is not a sovereign nation. Not when the US President can order a movement of the Black Watch - a regiment of the British army - in order to help with his election campaign. Not when FBI agents can kick down any door in Britain without authorisation from the British courts and without a murmer - without a whimper - of protest from the UK 'government'. The truth is that Blair's Britain is no more than a satrapy of the American Imperium. Not so much a poodle as a cur to be kicked when it won't behave. A cur to be kicked when it won't grovel.

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