Mother Jones Daily: Briefing

London’s Secret War
The (Anti-) Privacy Czar

London’s Secret War

A 14-year investigation by the London Metropolitan Police reveals that British officials knew of and endorsed Protestant paramilitary activities that resulted in anti-Catholic killings in Northern Ireland, United Press International reports. According to the study, British security forces deliberately did not prevent many instances of loyalist terrorism, including the murder of prominent civil rights lawyer Pat Finucane, who was shot in front of his wife and children, Dominic Cunningham and David McKittrick of the Irish Independent report.

The full report is over 3,000 pages long, but Cunningham and McKittrick write that even the 20-page, publicly released report is a huge blow to the credibility of British Security:

“The end result of this vast investigation, even in the terse summary Stevens has released to the public, is political dynamite. It is the biggest public breach in the previously impregnable wall of secrecy that has surrounded British counter-terrorism and security operations in Northern Ireland for the last 35 years.”

Jimmy Burns and John Murray Brown of London’s Financial Times report that top British officials argue that their actions were necessary in a time of war, calling them “the inevitable consequence of a necessarily lethal war on terrorism that drew on a range of agents… where terror had to be met with terror.” But the report focuses on the tactics used by British Forces, referring to them openly as collusion. The creation of a secret army unit, the Force Research Unit (FRU), placed agents in both British Loyalist and Irish Republican organizations — which led to prior knowledge of their planned attacks. Though sources defending the British role in paramilitary organizations argue that they were saving the lives of potential IRA victims, Burns and Brown report that the extensive evidence shows that “of the people named and targeted according to FRU files, most were innocent Catholics.”

At a time when fears of international terrorism run high, the report is an official concession that, Brown and Burns write, “the main lesson for politicians today is that at a time of a global fight against terrorism, the reputations of even the most robust democracies can be tainted.” Indeed, perhaps more tainted is Britain’s claim that its occupation of Northern Ireland would aid political policy decisions in building democracy in Iraq.

For background on Northern Ireland, visit BBC’s Special Report.

The (Anti-) Privacy Czar

In the debate over the limits of personal privacy in post-Sept. 11 America, the Bush administration has sided, time and time again, with those willing to severely restrict individual privacy in the name of security. From the full-tilt expansion of surveillance powers to the use of credit data to screen airline passengers, the administration’s actions have prompted outrage from civil libertarians across the country.

Against this backdrop, the appointment of the White House’s new privacy czar isn’t likely to quiet those fears. Nuala O’Connor Kelly, who became the top privacy officer in the Department of Homeland Security last week, is a former executive for controversial Internet ad company DoubleClick, the Washington Post‘s Jonathan Krim reports. DoubleClick, privacy advocates will recall, was caught compiling personal profiles of web surfers — matching names with individual computers in the process — without their knowledge. As Krim reports, while some observers have adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward Kelly, others are worried.

“‘She may do an excellent job, but the choice of someone who was doing PR cleanup for one of privacy’s greatest monsters may be a bad sign,’ said Jason Catlett, head of Junkbusters Corp., a privacy and anti-spam organization.”

Web log pundits like Billmon, however, are less circumspect in their assessments.

“Can’t you just picture Ms. Kelly, storming into John Ashcroft’s office and banging her fist on his table: ‘Dammit, John, you can’t let the FBI do this. It’s unconstitutional!’

I can’t, either.'”


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