Work takes me away for a few days and then on the weekend I shall be talking at the TUC summer School in Bradford. Maybe see some of you there.
In the meantime some thoughts for you to consider.
We are all now sadly familiar with the role of Off-shore tax havens. They allow companies to avoid having to pay tax. They also allow companies to hide any dealings they may not want scrutinized by prying regulatory authorities. Tax havens are, as Nicholas Shaxson in his wonderful book Treasure Islands has suggested, better thought of as ‘secrecy jurisdictions’. They are purpose built for shrouding in impenetrable and legally protected secrecy any morally dubious financial arrangements which might be embarrassing or costly if revealed to regulators or governments. The world of Off-shore provides a legal and moral nul-space in where most things can be arranged for a price.
But that nul-space is growing and more than simply growing it is maturing.
Recently Off-shore havens have added to financial secrecy another valuable service – data and communications secrecy. There are now companies based in off-shore havens which offer to protect emails and data caches from prying regulatory or legal scrutiny. Take this company for example – Private layer. Private Layer operates out of Panama and Switzerland. It’s purpose? This is from its web site.
In the recent years, the amount of frivolous litigation that companies face has grown exponentially,…In many of these cases, companies are irreparably damaged when their private communications and company data is exposed to competitors and the public by frivolous blanket subpoenas. This problem can be easily circumvented by locating your communications and data in a jurisdiction that protects that corporate privacy and by choosing a hosting company that actually cares about your privacy.
If News International had used their services there would be no phone hacking scandal and certainly no Leveson enquiry. An enquiry would have been impossible for the simple reason that Leveson would have got zero compliance. Private layer would have got their lawyers to write to Mr Leveson pointing out that he had no jurisdiction whatsoever over data held in Panama and that Panama had no treaty with the UK, or anyone else for that matter, obliging them to hand over data or to cooperate with any other nation’s enquiries. And that would have been the summary end of that.
All News International would have had to have done – all they need to do in future – is have the server that handles the emails of their more senior execs, be located in Panama, on a server belonging to a company in Panama. News International journalists and editors would be able to type emails about phone hacking from their desks in London, but the email server and thus the data itself would, legally, be in Panama and thus subject to Panamanian not UK jurisdiction. With the speed and bandwidth now available this is an entirely workable solution.
Suddenly not only is it possible for corporate finances to be moved beyond the reach of national oversight and regulation, but now corporate emails and other data can also be removed from national democratic and legal oversight. Corporation can now operate within any nation, making their profits there. but without the elected government, the tax officials, financial regulators, courts or police having any power to see what the corporation is doing. The police could not force the disclosure of emails because those emails would not be under UK jurisdiction. It would be entirely possible for a company to be breaking the law, exactly as News International did, but now most if not all (depending on how careful they were) the evidence required to bring their illegal activities to light, would be beyond the reach of any authority in this country.
Now let’s add in one more recent development which might seem at first glance to be somewhat unconnected.
In the week of May 21st of this year in Tampa Florida, Special Operations Forces from 90 countries got together at a Special Forces Convention. You can see a video of what they got up to here.
The purpose of convention, which is a regular thing now, is (from their web site),
The International Conference objective will be that U.S. and International SOF leaders recognize USSOCOM as a Global Command and gain a better understanding on how to become active partners in that partnership.
Who is USSOCOM? It is the umbrella US military command for all US Special forces. So here we have a programme the purpose of which is to integrate the operations and even the command structure with the US at the top, for the Special Forces of 90 nations. Is this anything to be concerned about? Well on one level, if you have Special forces why not have them work together well? Seems sensible. Except that Special Forces are by design the part of any nation’s armed forces which operate routinely and as a matter of course, outside of the law and beyond democratic oversight. Did you know, for instance that elements of the British SAS operated as a virtually freelance force in South America during the Dirty Wars? Did anyone ask you if you thought that was OK?
Special Forces are quite unlike the rest of the military. They work far more closely with the Intelligence agencies than they do with the regular army and its command structure. While there is some democratic oversight of the regular military there is very little for Special forces. Their operations are covered by Intelligence secrecy and most parts of a civilian government, even those parts which might be privy to most other military operations, would not have any knowledge of, nor oversight of, Special forces operations. Who knew that certain elements of the SAS were on the ground in Libya long before any official admission of any military involvement, acting as spotters and target painters for all those ‘precision’ strikes? Now you might think such secrecy is necessary and even a good thing. I do not share that view. I think about rendition and torture and how the intelligence organizations coordinate and plan while the special forces provide the muscle.
I look at it and think to myself – so now we have vast financial power shielded from any national, democratic regulation or legal oversight. We have data similarly hidden away from the pesky prying eyes of civilian democratic and legal accountability and we now also have the parts of the global military that routinely operate outside of democratic oversight and who regularly break the most fundamental national and international laws, being organized to operate together under an aspiring supra-national command.
What does that International Special Forces Command do? From their web site.
SOF Core Activities
- Direct Action: Short-duration strikes and other small-scale offensive actions taken to seize, destroy, capture or recover in denied areas.
- Special Reconnaissance: Acquiring information concerning the capabilities, intentions and activities of an enemy.
- Unconventional Warfare: Operations conducted by, through and with surrogate forces that are organized, trained, equipped, supported and directed by external forces.
- Foreign Internal Defense: Providing training and other assistance to foreign governments and their militaries to enable the foreign government to provide for its country’s national security.
- Civil Affairs Operations: Activities that establish, maintain or influence relations between U.S. forces and foreign civil authorities and civilian populations to facilitate U.S. military operations.
- Counterterrorism: Measures taken to prevent, deter and respond to terrorism.
- Psychological Operations: Operations that provide truthful information to foreign audiences that influence behavior in support of U.S. military operations.
- Information Operations: Operations designed to achieve information superiority by adversely affecting enemy information and systems while protecting U.S. information and systems.
- Counter-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Actions taken to locate, seize, destroy or capture, recover and render such weapons safe.
- Security Force Assistance: Unified action by joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational community to sustain and assist host nation or regional security forces in support of a legitimate authority.
- Counterinsurgency Operations: Those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency.
- Activities Specified by the President or SECDEF
What this this and other documents now clearly indicate is that through this command and others the US can now commit troops to hostile actions without the Congress having to give its consent or even be informed. Now of course we all know this happens. SO what is new. In a sense nothing. In another sense it clearly shows how our governments, or at least elements within them, are keen to follow global finance’s lead in being able to operate outside of democratic oversight, outside its own laws and outside of any democratic accountability. This I think is, if not a new desire, a new maturation of the capability.
There is a clear disdain for democracy being voiced among those who run and own global finance, who make up the supra-national world of the IMF, the WTO and other non-national, non-democratic global technocratic bodies. We all know what disdain the global financial and media companies have for the laws which ‘regulate them’. We know how far outside their own laws and international law our governments have gone in rendition and torture of civilians.
It seems to me you don’t have to subscribe to any conspiracy theory to find this enough to worry about.