Blog Archives

Secret State 21: government’s covert military commitments are damaging public trust


Mark Shapiro, a reader living in California, draws attention to the work of Emily Knowles, leading the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme.

She reflects that one of the major warnings from the Iraq Inquiry was that public trust in politics had been damaged through misrepresentation of facts by the government.

Yet RWP’s research suggests that there is a rising trend of secretive military commitments in areas where the UK is not considered to be at war.

  • A precedent has been set for the use of armed drones to carry out targeted strikes in regions where parliament has not authorised military engagement.
  • The use of Special Forces to carry out covert operations bypasses the need for parliamentary authorisation or notification.
  • By providing behind-the-scenes support, UK troops can be involved in military combat without the government having to declare engagement in offensive missions.

Relying on such tactics to counter threats allows the government to avoid the usual parliamentary oversight required in the deployment of conventional troops. 

This has resulted in a worrying lack of oversight. Emily (left) adds:

“As modern concepts of warfare continue to evolve, I believe it’s vital that government policy keeps pace and is open to debate.

“That is why my team is working to promote greater transparency around remote warfare and uphold the scrutiny that is so pivotal to a healthy democracy”.

Remote Control’s 2017 report by Emily and Abigail Watson, ‘All quiet on the ISIS front: British secret warfare in an information age’ (Mar 2017), tracks the UK’s secretive but growing military commitments abroad by analysing the rise in the use of drones for targeted killing, the use of Special Forces, and the provision of capabilities such as intelligence and embedded troops to allied forces.

The deniability of these operations brings a flexibility, which can create opportunities when it comes to dealing with fluid and complex security threats.

However, it questions the notion that greater secrecy is always better strategy, in an age when leaks of information are seemingly inevitable, demand for political accountability is high, and trust in politicians and the wider expert community is low.





US government legalises drone technology for commercial purposes as well as illegal slaughter

The leader of the ‘free world’ insists drones are safe, despite 400 major accidents, and governments salivate as the drone industry, which lobbied Congress to pass the new law, predicts $82 billions in ‘economic benefits’ and 100,000 new jobs by 2025.

Two crashes were recorded at the Seychelles International Airport

Two crashes were recorded at the Seychelles International Airport

Mark Shapiro draws our attention to news of more than 50,000 pages of accident investigation reports and other records obtained by the Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act. The link he sent led to other information, including a detailed 2012 Business Mega account. Documents obtained by the Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenge the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.

Under the 2012 law passed by Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration is to issue rules by September 2015 allowing commercial drone flights drones in civilian airspace. There is a wide demand:

  • Law enforcement agencies already own a small number of camera-equipped drones,
  • Businesses see profitable possibilities for drones, to tend crops, move cargo, inspect real estate or film Hollywood movies.
  • Journalists have applied for drone licenses to cover the news.
  • chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos (who owns the Washington Post) wants his company to use autonomous drones to deliver small packages to customers’ doorsteps.

Disrupted by smart phones?

An Australian triathlete was injured after a (non-military) drone crash in April. She and spectators said the UAV crashed into her but the drone’s owner said she was merely startled. Someone else in the crowd of spectators had briefly taken control of the drone. The cameraman said it would be difficult to find out who had done this, because smartphones could easily be used to carry out such an attack.

This is another immature technology. Nuclear systems were installed well before there was any appreciation of the problem of long-lived toxic waste and research scientists were deceived into thinking they were devising a clean and cheap energy source. The most principled left the industry when they learnt that their brainchild was to be used to make highly lethal and toxic weapons.

Read more here:


Serious plans for an American, British assisted assault on Iran?

A few hours ago a reader sent a link to another lucid and powerful article by Simon Jenkins 

Plans for British support for an American assault on Iran, revealed in today’s Guardian, are appalling. 

Iran like Pakistan, Britain or Israel, craves the status, prestige and vague security apparently conferred by nuclear weapons 

Iran is a nation of 70 million people, an ancient and proud civilisation with a developed civil society and a modicum of pluralist democracy. Certainly its insecure leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wants a weapons-ready nuclear enrichment programme, as next week’s United Nations report by the International Atomic Energy Authority is expected to repeat. But he leads a country which, like Pakistan, Britain or Israel, craves status, prestige and the vague security that these unusable weapons seem to convey. 

Warheads cost a fortune to develop and keep in service 

Modern anti-western aggression finds it cheaper and more effective to plan terrorist outrages. Nuclear bombs have not made Israel more secure. They have been useless to Pakistan in confronting India, and to North Korea against the south. They did not save apartheid in South Africa, or the Soviet Union from itself. 

Attack plans: missiles and drones to be deployed against nuclear and military targets 

The planned attack on Iran is familiar in form. It is declared exclusively aerial, with missiles and unmanned drones deployed against nuclear and military targets . . .The enemy then digs in and fights back, the tempo of attack has to mount, and ground forces are sucked in . . . 

Mission creep 

The mission will creep from wrecking Iran’s nuclear capability to ensuring it cannot be rebuilt, and then to securing regime change and “freedom”. 

By what right are two nuclear powers using violence to stop someone else joining their club? 

 . . . the rest of the world would ask by what right are two nuclear powers using violence to stop someone else joining their weirdly exclusive club . . . Anyone watching last month’s Republican primary debate in Las Vegas will have been shocked at the belligerence shown by the six candidates towards the outside world. It was a display of what the historian Robert D Kaplan called “the warrior politics … of an imperial reality that dominates our foreign policy”. 

The wars of choice that followed 9/11 have acquired a rhythm of their own – they are a gigantic, historic tragedy 

The outcome might make Israel feel temporarily a little safer, but it would render both Israel and the west more vulnerable to terrorist and other retaliation. 

These wars have not advanced western security one jot.

Read the whole article: