Well, what a week we’re having at Going Underground – wrapping up stories for Christmas and New Year that are really quite unlike anything on the main news outlets here in the UK.
The London HQ has a commanding view of the London skyline – perhaps the best of any UK news operation - so it’s conceivable that one can get delusions of grandeur. It may be early days for the show, but we’ve been noticing a mainstream spin that often follows the items on our show, days or hours after we broadcast each episode.
For instance, take our running a story about how the British Ministry of Defence was involved in a contract for drones which had been tested on the men, women and children of Gaza (episode 19) . Thanks to War on Want’s Rafeef Ziadah, viewers could begin to understand that the UK taxpayer is involved in some arms contracts that were not only inefficient on a utilitarian basis but that are deeply disquieting on a moral one too. Within days, the Ministry of Defence was launching a PR operation for journalists (we weren’t invited) at the UK drone base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. Soldiers were selling the efficient use of drones to UK journalists and the redoubtable Paul Mason of ITN’s Channel 4 news actually interviewed the UK Secretary of State for Defence in front of a drone emblazoned with the logo for “Thales”. Thales’ UK subsidiary is the very company we featured in episode 19 of the show about drones and incompetence.
Then there was our interview with former MI5 officer, Annie Machon in episode 22 which offered viewers a deeply disturbing look at UK intelligence agencies and their use of torture and kidnapping nee rendition. Within 24 hours, elder statesman Ken Clarke who is now Minister without Portfolio, was at the dispatch box explaining to MPs that there was no evidence of direct involvement in rendition by the UK security services. He spoke just as news broke of the guilty verdicts meted out to two men who murdered British soldier, Lee Rigby. The sub judice laws in Britain mean that commenting on court cases that are in progress represents contempt of court punishable by an unlimited fine or imprisonment for up to two years. That means Britain has been treated to daily gruesome reports of the appalling acts carried out by Michael Adebolajo without any context and without any ability to report that context. When Adebolajo was a suspect, UK newspapers had printed claims that it was the British security services that freed Adebolajo from a Kenyan jail and flew him at the taxpayers’ expense to Britain where he murdered Rigby. In effect, the murderer of Lee Rigby was an MI5 agent.
During the trial, an impression was created by the media (as well as the reporting restrictions that exist in the UK) that Adebolajo was a British Al-Qaeda warrior, free of historical or foreign policy context. But it may well have been worse than that. This wasn’t so much a case of UK foreign policy being a recruitment sergeant for terrorism as we covered in episode 21 of the show with veteran of Afghanistan, Joe Glenton . This was a case that could well have involved the SAS and MI6 begging MI5 not to try converting Adebolajo into “an asset” because they knew exactly how he had been tortured for being a member of an Al Qaeda-linked group trying to get into Somalia from Kenya.
Any detergent advertiser will know how the drip-feed news of the court case created a complete illusion about the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Lee Rigby. The public imagination is bereft of knowledge that it might be possible that the UK is torturing UK citizens, flying them round the world, giving them money and then trying them after they kill British soldiers. Sub judice theoretically only kicks in after a person has been arrested or charged in criminal proceedings but when Adebolajo was just a suspect – albeit one videoed holding the murder weapon – the British press was quoting Kenyan immigration sources, saying that British High Commission officials were the ones who intervened to help secure the release of Adebolajo.
What we’d like on Going Underground, of course, is to speak to the special forces soldiers that were reportedly furious about the actions of MI5. The home secret service had only just installed its new Director-General, Andrew Parker, when Lee Rigby was murdered. Parker had taken over from Sir Jonathan Evans, under whose watch Rigby’s murderer was presumably recruited. We’d also love to speak to Andrew Parker but not even the UK parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee could summon him. That became clear when Home Secretary Theresa May said on Monday that it wasn’t the job of the Home Affairs Committee to talk to people like him. One of the members on that committee is civil liberties campaigner Julian Huppert who is MP for Cambridge. He’s on the show on Saturday (Episode 23) talking about why he wanted the head of MI5 to come and give evidence in their ongoing inquiry into counter-terrorism operations. One specific operation they are concerned with is why the head of Britain’s civil service went into the offices of a national newspaper with some heavies. The editor than had to watch while some of his computer equipment was destroyed – all because the newspaper had published some articles. The journalism in question was of course all to do with the Edward Snowden revelations which according to former Defence Secretary Liam Fox hugely damaged British national security. On Episode 20, Fox explained why he had written to the Department of Public Prosecutions about the conduct of The Guardian newspaper which he believes contravened the Terrorism Act (2000). A Scotland Yard investigation into The Guardian continues.
One thing’s for sure, though. When punk band The Damned released “Smash It Up,” they weren’t talking about computers belonging to a national newspaper being smashed up. And that completely gratuitous segue is to signal to you, dear audience, that we have none other than Rat Scabies from The Damned – the first band to release a punk single – on the show on Saturday. His views on X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent are none too complimentary. But he does have some advice for any budding recording artists our there about what to do when your new label tells you not to engage with politics or austerity on your first single.
Afshin Rattansi is host of RT’s new UK Political series, Going Underground broadcast every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday - only in Britain.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.