UN Criticism Over Britain’s Anti-terror Strategy Two Days Before Manchester Bombing
By Graham Vanbergen: Reuters reports that: Britain has been undergoing a subtle but alarming shift towards criminalising peaceful protest and free expression, said a U.N. report on Monday that likened it to a “Big Brother” state of surveillance and suspicion.
I’ve been saying this for a few years now. Now the United Nations have confirmed the trajectory of Britain’s surveillance state. They simply haven’t gone far enough though. They are being diplomatic, of course.
The report was highly critical of Britain’s surveillance state and especially of Theresa May, who in her capacity as Home Secretary pushed through many pieces of legislation that makes up today’s current rather confusing domestic spying puzzle. Unfortunately, it also failed to fully point out that there simply is no privacy whatsoever in Britain and that our online security has been fully compromised by the actions of the government leaving everyone open to hackers and cyber-criminals.
However, the report does make some valid points when it comes to matters of national security. No reference to the Manchester bombing was made as the report was dated two days before.
At the time of the Manchester bombing, Britain’s security services were either distracted or simply not at the wheel at all when it came to suicide bomber Salman Abedi who murdered 22 and injured many more. America’s FBI knew Abedi was a dangerous individual. They were tracking Abedi and informed MI5 that he was not just going to kill but was a suicide bomber looking to take out an iconic target. As we reported yesterday:
“The claims by Prime Minister Theresa May that Abedi acted as a “lone wolf” and was known by Britain’s security services only “to a degree” lie in shreds. It is simply not credible that an individual planning to assassinate a British “political figure”—that could conceivably include the prime minister, foreign secretary or the queen—would be allowed to “slip” under the radar.”
Since that awful event, MI5 have confirmed not just one but two internal probes into ‘lapses’ in the security services. This is itself a rare self-admission – of failure.
It is becoming clear that the FBI who leaked Abedi’s name to the press, just a few hours from the bombing, leaked that he was a suicide bomber and leaked images of the terrible scene before the British police were even investigating the bombing were seriously frustrated. It is almost as if the American’s knew more or less what Abedi was about to do and when.
Soon after the attack, Manchester police sources told Reuters they believed security in London had been prioritised while budget cutting in other cities saw police staff cut close to dangerous levels, especially given today’s known security risks.
The report was written by Maina Kiai, who was U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly until last month. He referred to Britain’s civil society as a “national treasure” and that now it was at risk “from police tactics, anti-terrorism legislation and curbs on charities and trade unions.”
Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy, known as “Prevent”, was inherently flawed, the report went on to say.
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“Overall, it appears that Prevent is having the opposite of its intended effect: by dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it,” Kiai wrote.
“Students, activists, and members of faith-based organisations related countless anecdotes of the program being implemented in a way that translates simply into crude racial, ideological, cultural and religious profiling, with concomitant effects on the right to freedom of association of some groups.”
The report was also critical of the fact that the security services had cast the net far too wide in their hunt for potential terrorists. In other words, the wrong strategy had been adopted to be effective.
Kiai wrote that he had been provided with information that the police had used “International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers” to gather intelligence from protesters’ phones during peaceful protests in Birmingham, London, Leicester and in Wales last year, which he said was a violation of their right to privacy.
It was also concentrating effort more on groups criticising the government than finding dangerous terrorists. One area of concern is that Britain’s security services were more focused on what was happening with the election than with national security, such is the extent of their surveillance capabilities.
The report, to be debated at the U.N. Human Rights Council next month, follows a critical report on British policing that Kiai wrote about in 2013.
“In many instances, these moves have been subtle and gradual, but they are as unmistakable as they are alarming,” he wrote.
“The spectre of ‘Big Brother’ is so large, in fact, that some families are reportedly afraid of even discussing the negative effects of terrorism in their own homes, fearing that their children would talk about it at school and have their intentions misconstrued.”
In the meantime, a spokesman at Britain’s Home Office declined to comment on the damning U.N. report, citing restrictions on the civil service during an election campaign period.
Just six months ago, Britain’s new Investigatory Powers Act became law. It includes the deep surveillance of legitimate activities carried out by civil society and political activists, whistle-blowers, organisers and participants of peaceful protests. In all other democratic countries this form of protest is seen as exercising a healthy right to fundamental freedoms and democratic principles – the British government by contrast views these activities and suspicious and a direct threat to power.
In addition, the report urged Britain not to pass a proposed Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill, which was “highly problematic”, with a vague targeting of “non-violent extremism”.
“Government officials themselves seemed to have trouble defining the term, which signals vast potential for arbitrary and abusive interpretation” Kiai wrote.
The United Nations privacy chief has called the situation “worse than scary with Britain now regarded as an endemic surveillance society.