Panama Papers. 

So people who have never spoken to me about international relations and politics have started asking me about what I think about the Panama Papers. Well, firstly, I’d say, it’s not like we all didn’t know is it. Same with the Snowden revelations, I’d been reading about what he said for years before he blew the whistle. My father even warned me of some of the things, so he must have known at least 20 years or more ago. 

The interesting bit is what happens next. Are we seeing the mass awakening that many people have spoken of? The Arab dawn but in the west. And if so, what mechanisms will be used by the people to assert their power? Will we see Bernie and Co get in, in the states? Or will fear prevail and Trump make his mark? How about Corbyn? That would be an interesting turn of events, but I have no idea what the outcome would be like. 

The revolutionary in me would love for it to happen, the realist wonders what exactly would happen if it did. Interesting times ahead and great stuff for book three!

The End of Empires

OK I admit, I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. No excuse really. Just busy with trying to get the next book first draft finished before the end of the year. As ever, many other things appear to get in the way, but I will not be beaten!

I’ve been carrying on my usual interest in ancient Rome, and this past week been looking at the causes of the collapse of their empire.

Now like most things, there is not one main cause. More a list of small changes that made the empire untenable. I’ve condensed my list to the following 8 points

1. Invasion by outside military forces. (perhaps too obvious)
2. Collapse of economy and reliance on slaves (which were running out).
3. The split of power to an eastern capital.
4. The empire getting too big to manage, cost too much to militarily control.
5. Government corruption, lack of trust by population
6. Internal immigration fleeing ahead of military invasions.
7. Loss of traditional (pagan) values.
8. Lack of quality of Roman Army (use of mercenary forces).

Well, as I read, I had a chilling thought. Many of these reasons could be attributed to our western society now.

1. OK we (Western Europe and USA) haven’t been properly invaded since WW2, but that being said there are some parts of Eastern Europe currently very near an ISIS attack. And they have wild claims of getting to Rome. (Don’t get me started on how the 12th Century crusades, which is the cause of ISIS’ current warlike intentions, are actually a legacy of ancient Rome)

2. How many times do we need to be told that our economy is at a standstill, capitalism isn’t working, big unemployment and then in the same breath be told it is to do with immigrants (bullshit, it’s the banks). When the immigrants are actually doing the menial jobs that no one in the country wants to do. (work in coffee shops, pick crops etc). What happens when they get fed up and leave?

3. OK this one doesn’t really work, but there is an argument that could be made that with the Trans Pacific and Trans Atlantic Partnerships, sovereign rights of countries will now be split and weakened.

4. Again not directly relateable as most countries now have no military to speak of. But perhaps in the case of US and NATO the world peacekeeping is now starting to wear thin.

5. Totally, totally a current problem. Lack of trust in politicians and big corporations is a daily fact of life.

6. Europe is under a massive strain due to the middle eastern wars driving people to escape the conflict. This one is so similar to ancient Rome it is almost laughable.

7. OK we’re not pagan, but countries (mainly UK, USA) although notionally Christian countries, do not exclaim this, nor do their inhabitants all toe this line. Personally I do not think this is a bad thing, but that is my view on religion. In counter to this, not having a uniting force for a country does tend to leave to fracture. If we don’t all fall in behind a religion, or a government or leader, then what exactly do we fall in behind to be patriotic? Is patriotism a dirty word now? If so, how long until the countries collapse? Could one argue that ones allegiance is now to their company rather than their country?

8. Private security forces operate all over the world. Here’s a list of private armies. Blackwater is probably the most (in)famous, rebranded as XE and now as Academi. When the military become beholden to their pay rather than their country. You know you have problems like this and er, this.

Well, I just scared myself again. End of Western Europe / USA? I have said in previous blog posts that we are perhaps now all part of the corporate “Empire” We’ve had about the same run as the Romans did timewise. So perhaps it is coming?

What do you think?

September 11th – The beginning of the post modern world?

Today is the 14th anniversary of the horrific attacks on the world trade centre in New York. Without doubt the largest world changing event since the world wars. For the first time the USA was attacked on home soil, finding its nose bloodied and we are still reeling from its retaliation.

I’ve often pondered on this event and what it means for the world. We have been living inside the war on terror since it occurred and are affected by its impact almost every day. Does anyone remember what it was like to go through airport security before we had to almost strip off the privilege?

Now, like everything else in the world, once things start happening they won’t ever stop happening. So these security measures will be with us forever. Or maybe until the end of the war on terror. But what will signify the end of the war on terror? The end of Christianity, the end of Islam? Both of these are terrifying concepts, as they inherently mean the end of whole civilisations. The war on terror isn’t a war between two countries. It is a war between two complete ideologies and one of those ideologies defines its enemies as anyone that does not believe in its own peculiar brand of religious fundamentalism. Even Hitler got along with other fascists with slightly different beliefs.

We have recently seen the rise of the Islamic State. We can’t quite fathom in the west how they have managed to achieve what they have achieved. We are shocked at the footage of executions and unbridled destruction of historic monuments they deem to be against their chosen world view. It hurts my heart to know that irretrievable records of human history are being erased. There is no way to get this history back. To lose it in the name of religion is just awful, horrendous and deeply saddening.

So how do we combat this new threat? Well let’s take a look. Option one, a military response. We have proven time and time again that a military response does not work. In fact it simply adds more martyrs to the cause, driving new recruits to the Islamic state. It seems our leaders are beginning to understand this and we now support local troops via airstrikes, training and intelligence. Our troops stay at home. Option two, we do nothing. This actually may be a good idea. Unfortunately we require oil and most of our oil comes from the middle east, which is where most of the Islamic countries are. So we won’t be leaving the region any time soon. This western impingement on traditionally Islamic countries will be seen as an occupation that needs to be defeated and will continue to irritate the Islamic State. Option three, we respond with peace and love. I like this response. But unfortunately this means that the western world will have to suck it up and take whatever is thrown at it, and I am not sure that we are mature enough as a society to be able to pull together and do this. The desire for retaliation is still too strong.

I will finish on this. We in the west may be thinking that this period of our existence has been going on for long enough now and hope that both sides may forget this whole thing. In the west this may be possible, but for those who choose to fight for Islamic State this is simply not going to happen. The Islamic timeline is far longer than that of Christianity. Islam talks of the Christian crusades of the 11th to 13th century as recent history, whereas this is ancient history to Christianity. Many of those leading the Islamic State see this conflict as a continuation of the battles started during those crusades.

We’re in for a long ride.

Snowden and beyond.

Edward Snowden is a matter of months younger than me, in his early thirties. Yet the impact he has made on our modern, or are we now in the post modern world is almost unfathomable. In fact it is so unfathomable that it is almost too large an idea to be appreciated by the normal human brain. So we just don’t process it. If we did then I feel that it would be being talked about by more people. Not just the Glen Greenwalds of this world.

Snowden’s documents confirmed that government agencies such as GCHQ and the NSA were and still are collecting information from everyone. Everyone. Not just the perceived “enemy” but everyone. Allied countries, their own citizens, foreign diplomats on diplomatic trips. The breadth and depth of the revelations are quite breath taking.

Now, let me refocus, what does this mean for GCHQ? I think in reality, probably very little. Due to the nature of “The War On Terror” and how communication technology works in the modern world. The only way they can do their job, is by collecting data the way we know they do. All of us normal citizens don’t deny that we like what the security services do. I don’t really want to be blown up and I’m sure you don’t either and they help stop that. That being said, I’m not sure I want the government of any country having free unbridled access to my communications without any legal backing, even if that is my own country and I have nothing to hide.

GCHQ was once an outward looking operation. Focusing purely on foreign actors. Now we live in a world where e-commerce and communication render physical borders largely pointless. As such it will have to spend time looking at those it is trying to protect to ensure that it catches everything.

Let’s not beat about the bush here. GCHQ is watching, that is an insoluble fact. We have seen the level of access they have in to the very backbone of the communication networks and organisations we all use. By watching films such as Citizen Four or reading The Intercept, or Salon, or the Guardian we can see the capabilities they have to fight those they perceive as against them. The biggest battle GCHQ and its companions will have as we rumble in to the twenty first century, will be how it defines its enemies and how the law defends those choices.

More Reading

The end of the Bloc to the beginning of Snowden.

With the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the security services begin trying to justify their role in this new world. The target had changed, it was no longer a single sprawling enemy, but smaller fast moving organisations, crossing the boundaries between “state” actors and criminal. Furthermore the internet revolution was changing how everyone communicated. Previously security services had to intercept a single stream of data moving between two points. With the introduction of packetised communication utilised in the internet, there was no single point of intercept.

Put simply, whilst GCHQ was dealing with restructuring to validate its role post Soviet Union, it also had to completely alter its intelligence gathering methods to adapt to this new technology. A truly awesome challenge. 

In 1994, GCHQ was also placed on a statutory footing for the first time with the putting in to law of the Intelligence Services Act. This stated.

“An Act to make provision about the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters, including provision for the issue of warrants and authorisations enabling certain actions to be taken and for the issue of such warrants and authorisations to be kept under review; to make further provision about warrants issued on applications by the Security Service; to establish a procedure for the investigation of complaints about the Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Headquarters; to make provision for the establishment of an Intelligence and Security Committee to scrutinise all three of those bodies; and for connected purposes.” (From Wikipedia)

For the first time, the security force were accountable.

However, with the outbreak of hostilities in the Balkans, it was made clear to UK government that some element of traditional SIGINT was required and GCHQ came to the fore. A massive investment in a new building in Cheltenham, colloquially called “the donut” was made, with the intention of bringing all GCHQ staff together geographically for the first time. Then 9/11 occurred. This attack and the following wars in Iraq and Afghanistan showed the need for good intelligence, and this new building was already too small for those needs.

Personally, I remember being at University in 2002 – 2004 as the Iraq war was beginning. Spending too may late nights sat in the I.T. labs going down the rabbit holes surrounding conspiracy theories. Treading the strange world, where words like PRISM, New World Order, and Bilderberg Group came together. I remember talking to friends and family at the time about it and being told I was crazy. My Dad the only exception to that rule and I now know why. Then in 2013 an NSA contractor called Edward Snowden appeared and blew everyone’s minds wide open.

More Reading.

The Future of Targeted killing

I was reading the internet recently, as I do, and found this.

“According to a Teal Group report more than $6 billion is spent each year on developing drone technology worldwide, a number that is expected to double over the next decade.  Almost 90 percent of this spending is expected to be on military applications.  The RAND Corporation notes that 70 nations already have acquired drones, while 50 countries are developing them.  Defense One noted predictions from some experts that “virtually every country on Earth will be able to build or acquire drones capable of firing missiles within the next ten years.” From here

And it blew my mind. What blew my mind further, was that non state actors will have access to drones too. By this I mean, terrorists. Actually I don’t just mean terrorists, I mean police forces, border patrols, any one, they will probably all be armed and in the not too distant future may well be autonomous. How long until we get autonomous drone to drone warfare? Now thats an interesting thought. Watching drones have dogfights above our heads, oh wait no it isn’t, it is terrifying. I can’t help but be led to think of the Terminator movies. The US government already kills people on how they behave, how long until that idea is wholesale around the world and any of us who is deemed to be behaving against the norm gets taken out by an unannounced drone strike?

OK I may be exaggerating, but the next few years to a decade will be a massively pivotal moment in this arena. Unlike nuclear weapons, which assured peace through mutual destruction, the idea of selective killing in fact increases conflict. The process becomes almost risk free. As long as your target selection is good enough, or hidden behind enough layers of bureaucracy to be unaccountable to the average citizen.

We also need to think of non airborne drones. Autonomous submarines patrolling our shorelines, (bye bye boat people). Land based devices such as this. Designed to carry equipment for soldiers, but could be mounted with a rocket launcher or a machine gun fairly easily I would assume. Not to mention the insect sized drones that could hover near you your whole life, watching over your shoulder, ready to call on its big brother to launch a hellfire down on its GPS signal, the minute you accidentally click on that link you shouldn’t have. Or at least call the police on you.

Hold on to your butts, sh*ts about to get crazy.

—AMENDED 12th August 2015—-

Just found this great powerpoint

Wonderful Power Point presentation about the future of unmanned air power. In fact anything by Richard James Aldrich’s site is very interesting on this whole topic. I’d have a read if I were you.