Tag Archives: UK

Use Your Intelligence

Just like the tip-off which led to the MPs’ expenses scandal in the UK, it was a simple telephone call to The Telegraph that started the political drama that has blown Whitehall, Westminster and the media ‘commentariat’ apart. Former Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson, hotly denies leaking any details of the Government’s dealings with Huawei, but amid the uproar over the sacking we seem to have entirely lost sight of the real scandal it exposed.

If ever there was a case for leaking something – whoever was responsible – the Huawei telecoms scandal is it. This is a case that goes to the heart of the UK’s national interest: awarding a fat contract, with serious security implications, for the new 5G (fifth generation) high-speed advanced communications systems, to an unreconstructed Communist state. The UK is offering a potentially hostile government the chance to infiltrate our most sensitive national communications. Theresa May, against the advice of her senior defence and security Cabinet ministers, wants to hand over the development of Britain’s digital infrastructure – including sensitive intelligence traffic – to a company that is nothing less than a front for Chinese intelligence.

Much worse, the decision stinks of political corruption. It turns out that the three fat cats of Huawei in the UK – Lord Browne, Dame Helen Alexander and Sir Andrew Cahn – will all benefit financially from being hired by the company. Palms have been greased. Huawei has bought its way into Britain’s elite: all three have close links to the cosy Westminster and Whitehall political-financial cabal, as well as both Tory and Labour party leaders.

The main cheerleader lobbying for Huawei turns out to be a Tory MEP, Nirj Deva, who encourages Huawei to turn up in MEPs’ offices uninvited, handing out cards and invitations. ‘It’s unbelievable; full on lobbying …’ complained a Brussels insider.

There is no doubt that Huawei has serious form over collecting secret intelligence and mis-using its computer hardware.

The battle over the latest 5G technology is becoming a 21st-century arms race. These new systems are much quicker than the current networks, allowing for rapid data downloads and controlling the sophisticated AI robots and self-driving cars that will dominate our future.

The fear in Washington is that if China, through Huawei, can gain access to these networks, it will give the PRC the capability to attack and disrupt UK communications. There are already concerns over the networks being used for spying and surveillance, as well as Huawei handing over critical information about Western countries to the Chinese government

Vodafone recently revealed that Huawei had supplied it with computer hardware with secret ‘backdoors’ that allowed Huawei unauthorised access to the carrier’s communications network in Italy. Vodafone asked Huawei to fix the backdoors. Huawei said the problem was accidental, but the backdoors weren’t fixed the next time Vodafone checked.

These computer ‘backdoors’ are easy to understand. You can put anti-virus software on to your computer or smartphone to prevent anyone from accessing your data or spying on you. But if the hardware has been built to respond to its maker, then your ‘front of house’ software apps are worthless. The machine is nicking your information out of the backdoor and spying on everything you do or say without you realising. That’s what Huawei does.

Worse, Huawei works directly for the Chinese government. Last December their Chief Financial Officer, Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Vancouver. She was charged with covering up Huawei’s links to a firm that was secretly trying to sell equipment to Iran in defiance of US sanctions. She now faces extradition to America.

The arrest of Meng and calls for her extradition quickly involved officials in Beijing. What was a supposedly ordinary businesswoman’s arrest suddenly became an international incident. China issued a formal diplomatic protest and the official Xinhua news agency attacked Canadian PM Justin Trudeau for ‘letting this nasty thing happen’

Washington knows what is going on. ‘Communications now networks form the backbone of our society and underpin every aspect of modern life,’ said Garrett Marquis, the spokesman for the National Security Council. ‘The United States will ensure that our networks remain secure and reliable.’

The USA has urged its allies not to use Chinese equipment. Washington fears that Huawei’s equipment would enable China to spy on the USA or its allies and use cyber attacks to disrupt industries like power, transportation and manufacturing. Rob Joyce, a senior adviser at the US National Security Agency, warns that allowing Huawei to supply 5G technology was like handing China a ‘loaded gun’. The USA has even threatened to withdraw from cooperation with its allies if they install Huawei equipment on telecommunication networks. Australia quickly banned Huawei, citing the fact that Chinese law forces technology companies to hand over network data to help the Chinese government with ‘intelligence work.’

A recent study by London’s Royal United Services Institute said it would be ‘naive’ and ‘irresponsible’ to allow Huawei access to Britain’s 5G networks. But tin-eared, soon-to-be-replaced Prime Minister May thinks she knows better – or she has been got at. The big danger is that her decision is risking UK’s national security – and the country’s special relationship with the USA – because the Huawei scandal has already thrown Britain’s unique relationship with US intelligence into jeopardy

The USA means business. The State Department raised the stakes by threatening to stop sharing intelligence if the UK pushed ahead with Huawei’s involvement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns that America, which is the lead member of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing group, will refuse to share information with the UK if it decides to use Huawei technology in sensitive areas. Washington ‘would not be able to pool its findings with countries that decide to use Huawei equipment for fear it would not be secure.’

This development is a bombshell. To journalists, the ‘special relationship’ conjures up all kinds of ill-informed drivel. However, to professionals it means just two deadly serious things: intelligence and nuclear policy.

The ‘special relationship’ started in August 1941 with the Atlantic Charter, an agreement between Churchill and Roosevelt to share intelligence. Since then those intelligence links have become deeply entrenched.

The secret treaty was renewed by the BRUSA Agreement (1943) and the UKUSA Agreement (1946) between the UK and the USA. Since then, this alliance of intelligence operations has widened to include Australia, Canada and New Zealand, cooperating with the UK and the USA, mainly in signals intelligence, and known as the ‘Five Eyes.’

Britain ‘punches above its weight’ globally for two principal reasons: as a victor in 1945, plus its nuclear and intelligence power. That guarantees a seat at the UN Security Council. Take away access to global intelligence and that looks vulnerable. Britain gets access to the US Fort George G Meade’s above top-secret signals intelligence and shares its own sigint ‘take’ with the USA. Ironically a lot of that comes from the British Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus, with their extraordinary reach and propagation over the Middle East and Russian Federation. GCHQ officers are deeply embedded in the US NSA signals intelligence agency and vice-versa.

The old Joint Air Reconnaissance Centre, now the Defence Intelligence Fusion Centre (DIFC) in Cambridgeshire, gets free access to much of the top secret US satellite product. MI6 shares its human intelligence with the CIA at Langley and MI5 relies heavily on counter-jihadi terrorist intelligence from the FBI, plus a number of US intelligence agencies. The brutal truth is that the UK needs access to US intelligence far more that the US needs to share its own product with Britian. To defy the White House over intelligence is the equivalent of chucking the crown jewels into the Wash.

And for what? To save the Treasury a few bob and to enrich Mrs May’s sleazy political chums? Whoever leaked the Huawei scandal was doing Britons a favour.

‘Intelligence’ can have several meanings: this one is madness.

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The New Face of War?

Like many others, I was surprised by the announcement by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, that his Reaper drone crews will be eligible for the new Operational Service Medal for their contribution to the war in Syria and the defeat of ISIS (also known as Daesh). Traditionally, medals have always been awarded based on risk and rigour. It may seem a reasonable assumption that there is not much risk sitting in a nice warm office up at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire where they operate their Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs). More like playing computer games, perhaps? Where is the risk and rigour in that?

On digging deeper, however, I have changed my mind. There is no doubt that the RAF’s drone operators have made a major contribution to the defeat of ISIS and deserve official recognition.

An unnamed pilot said the drone operators’ job is very different to his Typhoon force operations. The RAF pilot, with 30 long and dangerous combat missions over Syria during his Akrotiri tour, made the point:

‘In some ways it is identical, in some way it is totally different … I think they have it a lot harder in some ways …

‘What people don’t realise is the emotional investment they end up having in it. They will watch a target for weeks on end and they will understand every part of that target’s life.

‘You can’t not become emotionally involved – we need to give those boys and girls a lot more credit that I think people are giving them.’

The pilot’s comments echo the words of the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, who has said: ‘The campaign against Daesh is one of which our Armed Forces can be extremely proud. I am pleased that today those who have bravely fought against such untold evil will get the recognition they deserve.’

During the campaign to destroy the extremists in Iraq and Syria, drones were used to carry out strikes, gather intelligence and conduct surveillance. While front-line operational aircrew do operations for maybe six months or a year at a time, drone operations staff face different challenges The Reaper force is on duty 24/7/365, monitoring an enemy that is elusive, dangerous and determined to attack the West in any way it can in pursuit of its twisted, fanatical world view. The personal strain and pressure watching the every move of these individuals is immense and unrelenting.

Drone crews have been doing that for every working day on Operation Shader (codename for the Syrian campaign) for four years. ACM Hillier pointed out that for the drone pilots, sensor operators and mission intelligence co-ordinators of the Reaper crews, ‘It is not some remote support operations – they are doing operations, engaged in active operations every minute of every day. This often involves weeks of monitoring individuals and then, once a strike has been executed, another vast amount of time is spent ensuring it was successful.’

Of course, in addition sometimes taking the decision to kill whole groups by remote control is made before going home to the family for supper and to help put the kids to bed. Drone pilots face questions like: ‘What did you do today, Daddy?’

As a result the pressure has taken its toll. ACM Hillier confirmed that drone crews are monitored ‘extremely closely for the risk of psychological harm … these people see some quite stressful things. So we have provided the opportunity for counselling, and an environment where we look after each other – a full support network exists. We need to make sure we don’t end up with them [the drone pilots] getting psychologically fatigued.’

This insight into the combat stress of the new warfare is a reflection of how in the last decade drones have become a new battlefield in the ‘vertical flank’. As long ago as 2004, the militant group Hezbollah began to use ‘adapted commercially available hobby systems for combat roles’. These modified toys can be bought easily, as the Gatwick debacle in December 2018 demonstrated, and – at prices ranges from US $200 to $700 – they are as cheap as chips to the military.

Also, adapted drones are lethal. For example, in August 2014 well-directed Russian-backed artillery fire was used to devastating effect in Ukraine, leaving three mechanised battalions a smoking ruin. This mission reached its goal because the units and their positions were identified by a mini-drone with a TV camera: the Ukrainian government lost 200 vehicles – and very-short-range air defences weren’t able to detect the deadly eye in the sky.

Armed services worldwide are taking this new threat very seriously indeed – as well as the new opportunities drones offer.  Whilst much attention has been focused on hypersonic weapons and long-range missiles, small UAVs pose new risks and are a serious challenge to air defences on land and sea.

In America, Dan Gettinger (Co-director: Center for the Study of the Drone) warns, ‘The US military – and any other military – have to prepare for an operating environment in which enemy drones are not just occasional, but omnipresent … Whether it’s a small, tactical UAV, mid-size or strategic, drones of any size will be commonplace on the battlefield of the future.’

He recognises the asymmetrical nature of the drone, armed or reconnaissance. Drones are cheap, hard to detect and don’t bring politically embarrassing body bags to the attention of the media or the folks back home. Drone technology has become a cat-and-mouse game, as militaries struggle to deal with the big threat of little drones.

For example, whilst US ‘supercarriers’ – with 80 warplanes and 5000 sailors – can dominate the narrow waters of the Persian Gulf, these 100,000-tonne behemoths are intensely vulnerable to hundreds of tiny Iranian attack drones – or a swarm of radio-controlled, fast-attack craft. The only remedy is lots of close-range defensive small calibre guns – and the chances are that some of the enemy will still get through. Half a dozen US $1000 missiles can easily disable a vessel costing US $50 billion. As the Americans say: ‘You do the math – go figure.’

Inevitably the market place has latched onto the commercial possibility of drones. Driven by a global increase in the use of mini-drones by terrorists and criminals, the anti-drone market is expected to grow to US $1.85 billion by 2024, according to the US business consulting firm, Grand View Research.

‘As drones become deadlier, stealthier, faster, smaller and cheaper, the nuisance and threat posed by them is expected to increase, ranging from national security to individual privacy,’ Grand View warns. ‘Keeping the above-mentioned threat in mind, there are significant efforts – both in terms of money and time – being invested in the development and manufacturing of anti-drone technologies.’ The Dutch have even trained eagles to attack drones.

Britain’s drone policy appears to be primarily defensive, as the RAF is well aware that the F-35 Lightning (at GBP £65 million a throw) is unlikely to be available in large numbers. Reaper drones and their UAV successors (at about GBP £14 million a copy) can offer a better bang for the taxpayers’ buck. In a speech at the Royal United Services Institute on 11 February 2019, UK Defence Secretary Williamson announced that the United Kingdom was ready to develop and deploy a swarm of drones before the year was out. ‘I have decided to develop swarm squadrons of network enabled drones capable of confusing and overwhelming enemy air defences,’ he said. ‘We expect to see these ready to be deployed by the end of this year [2019].’

This is interesting: it suggests a ‘weapons mix’, where drones accompany crewed fighters as robotic wing mates. It’s cheap – and the technology already exists in the US: for example, the manoeuvrable target drone developed by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions.

The danger, as ever in UK defence procurement, is that the dead hand of Ministry of Defence jobsworths will – once again – gold plate and change the specification, starve it of funds, double the cost and, finally, draft a rotten contract just in time for the next round of defence cuts.

But that’s another story …

EOKA’s Latest Outrage

On 23 January 2019 the UK government reached an out-of-court settlement for £1 million for 33 elderly EOKA-era plaintiffs, who claimed they were tortured by British security services whilst being held in custody during the Cyprus Emergency (1955-9). All were arrested as terrorists by the British for their involvement with Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) or EOKA.

The Greek-Cypriots filed their legal claim in 2015 after Foreign Office documents revealed claims of abuse during the Eoka terror campaign. Justice Kerr of the Queen’s Bench Division ruled for the claimants: ‘A state stands to be held to account for acts of violence against its citizens, it should be held to account, in its own courts, by its own law.’

The sense of outrage at this settlement has united both British veterans of the 1955-9 ‘Emergency’ and Turkish-Cypriots alike. Whilst the claimants beamed for their group photograph outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, they knew – as do the Turkish-Cypriots and the British – that this one-sided legal decision overlooked the far more numerous murders and atrocities committed by EOKA back in the 1950s. The smiles masked the blood on Greek-Cypriot hands: EOKA didn’t just torture and intimidate, the organisation was nothing more than a reincarnation of ‘Murder Inc.’

The story really starts in 1950, when Bishop Makarios, who later became the Ethnarch or leader of the Greek Cypriot Orthodox church, swore a holy oath with a Greek colonel called Georgios Grivas, who had been born on Cyprus, to bring Cyprus back to the Motherland (i.e. Greece). The majority Greek-Cypriot population of Cyprus supported the idea; they wanted union with Greece, or Enosis. The soldier and the priest planned to make Cyprus ‘Greek’ by getting rid of its other inhabitants via terrorism: the battle cry was ‘first the British and then the Turks.’

Grivas formed his underground group – EOKA – with a right-wing ideology, which made it the exception to the rule of post-World War II insurgencies, as it was not a communist-led rebellion. Eoka has more in common with the Jewish Irgun and Stern murder gangs of late-1940s Palestine.

In 1955 Grivas launched his insurgency with anti-British riots. Then, when EOKA escalated to a series of terrorist attacks, the Governor of Cyprus, Sir John Harding, declared a state of emergency.

Harding realised that intelligence was the key to snuffing out the rebellion. However this presented a major problem: Grivas enjoyed the support of the majority of the Greek-Cypriot population and so information was sparse. Most Greek-Cypriots either supported EOKA or were too frightened to speak out for fear of reprisals. EOKA made sure of this by terrorising its own population through a campaign of intimidation against the Greek-Cypriot members of the police force and their families.

This forced the British to rely increasingly on Turkish-Cypriot policemen who could provide little intelligence about Greek-Cypriot intentions. Hiding in plain sight amongst the Greek population, EOKA’s 1250 members prospered despite the efforts of the security forces. At least 371 British servicemen died during the EOKA period, of which about 200 were murdered. However, Grivas’s ‘Freedom Fighters’ cast their murderous net much wider than the colonial power only. The Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot populations suffered far more than the British from their blood-thirsty countrymen. During the ‘Emergency’, EOKA killed 679 Cypriot men aged 18-59; 72 women aged 18-59; 130 men and women over 60; and 132 under-18 boys and girls. Suddenly EOKA’s veterans don’t look quite so heroic. Gunning down your own defenceless women and children in cold blood usually doesn’t rate an award for heroism.

Inevitably the British reacted to this dirty underhand war. Interrogation centres manned by Special Branch and Intelligence officers swiftly became bywords for rough handling of detainees – and sometimes worse.

Allegations of ill treatment surfaced early. Seventy years ago interrogation methods were harsh. The need to obtain tactical information quickly soon led to allegations of abuse in what became a very dirty war. On 26 May 1957, London’s Sunday Dispatch newspaper ran a major exposure of British methods in Cyprus, claiming that detainees had been ill-treated or tortured by British interrogators.

It pointed to the case of Nikos Sampson, the leader of EOKA’s Ledra Street murder gang, whose track record of cold-blooded murders of soldiers and civilians alike earned Nicosia’s main shopping street the nickname of ‘Murder Mile.’ However, Sampson’s well-justified conviction for murder was overturned on appeal by Judge Bernard Shaw, who ruled that Sampson’s confession was inadmissible as it had been made under duress. The smirking EOKA killer walked free from prison.

Another case was the assault and beating in custody of EOKA member Joannis Christoforou, who was stripped naked, beaten with planks, suffered broken ribs and extensive bruising. The case against him was dismissed.

One woman, known only as ‘Mrs XY’ and now in her 70s, on being suspected of being an EOKA member was taken from her home by Turkish-Cypriot police in 1956 and raped. She was then taken to a police station, beaten during interrogation and ‘pushed between her tormentors like a ball’, before passing out. At one point a noose was tied around her neck and tightened. The inescapable conclusion is that some British interrogators broke the law in their attempts to glean intelligence.

However, at least the British have admitted their excesses.

Not so the Greek-Cypriots. Sadly, the myth of EOKA’s ‘heroic warriors’ in the Liberation Struggle has grown over the years. Today’s young generation of Greek-Cypriots know little about the crimes committed by EOKA against both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots. The truth is that Greek-Cypriots refuse to admit their own grandfathers’ murderous crimes, even long after the British had departed.

The massacres of Turkish-Cypriots committed by Greek-Cypriots continued from 1963 to 1964, after the ‘Emergency’ ended, and even after the Greek coup in 1974. This truth is whitewashed from Greek histories.

The slaughter of 126 Turkish-Cypriots – the majority women and elderly people – from three Turkish-Cypriot villages (Maratha, Santalari and Aloa), as well as the execution of 84 civilian Turkish-Cypriots from the village of Tochni in August 1974 by EOKA, ranks with the Nazi atrocities at Lidice and Oradur.

However, Greek apologists refuse to admit the bloody truth; but the concealed statistics for the Greek-Cypriot deaths tell their own story. UN statistics for the period 1963-74 record at least 133. This is clearly an underestimate, based only on reported murders. Overall, the Cyprus High Commission information booklet gives a total figure of 3000 dead and 1400 missing for 1974 alone, bringing the Greek-Cypriot total for the period 1955-74 to 4833, the majority at the hands of fellow Greeks.

The truth is that the settlement with the EOKA-linked claimants is a one-sided affair. It represents a bargain for the UK, because it suppresses discussion in open court of any unpleasant facts. However it sets a precedent. The question now is, when will EOKA compensate the relatives of those Greek, Turk and British victims they murdered in cold blood? EOKA veterans openly boast of their murderous exploits; so who will be bringing a court case to sue those who gunned down a doctor like Surgeon-Captain Gordon Wilson, or defenceless women like Mrs Catherine Cutliffe, for their bloody deeds? The one-sided settlement with EOKA is an outrage, as it ignores far worse crimes admitted by the Greek-Cypriots’ EOKA killers.

So, as they celebrate their legal victory in the EOKA Veterans’ clubs, the stench of hypocrisy rivals the celebratory Ouzo. And what did they achieve? Nothing. The ultimate irony is that EOKA failed. Not only was there no Enosis, but Greek-Cypriots failed to achieve proper independence either. Having been ruled by foreigners for 3000 years, Makarios and EOKA only managed to rule a united Cyprus for three, from 1960 to 1963.

Was it all worth EOKA’s many murders?

Royal Weddings and Other Disasters

‘Did the earth move for you, darling?’

‘No, it bloody well didn’t! How am I expected to perform with all these damn’ courtiers standing around gawping?’

Fortunately for Prince Harry and Meghan, their wedding night will (hopefully) not be spoiled by the ancient custom of the public consummation of a royal marriage.

Throughout history, there have been some disastrous marriages involving royals. Not every royal wedding is the stuff of fairy tales.  Whilst we wish the happy couple all the best, history offers some cautionary examples.

Perhaps the most bizarre was the old custom of ‘bedding.’ The original purpose of this ceremony was to record the consummation of a marriage, without which the union could later be legally annulled. Public bedding was therefore essential for royalty and the nobility to establish the legality of any union. In medieval Iceland, a marriage was only valid if it included the bedding ritual witnessed by at least six men, including a lawyer. That must have put many a nervous groom off his stroke ….

Consummation was often a problem in dynastic marriages because of the age of the participants. For example, Isabella of Valois was just 6 years old when she was married off to King Richard II.  (But then, they couldn’t spell ‘paedophilia’ back in 1396 ….)  And Queen Mary II, of ‘William and Mary’ fame, was only 15 when she married William of Orange in 1677.

A less fortunate young bride was Marie-Antoinette, daughter of Austria’s Holy Roman Empress, who was married off by proxy in 1770 to the French Dauphin, the future King Louis XVI.  She was just 14, he was barely 15. Consummation was impossible because the groom was not present at his own wedding. That was held in the bride’s native Vienna; unfortunately, Louis was in Paris.

When the young bride finally arrived in France, her petulant husband sulked all through the wedding mass in Notre Dame and then, embarrassingly, later failed to do his public duty. As distinguished guests (including an archbishop to bless the newlyweds) crowded into the happy couple’s bed chamber to watch, something went wrong. An embarrassed Louis could not perform in public. It would be seven long years before Louis and Marie Antoinette finally consummated their marriage, making them the butt of suitably Rabelaisian jokes by court and commoners alike.

French royal weddings already had a dodgy track record.  On 18 August 1572 an arranged marriage between the Protestant (or ‘Huguenot’) Henri de Navarre, and Marguerite de Valois, the Catholic daughter of King Henri II, was designed to reunite two French royal houses by ending France’s savage religious civil war. It went wrong from the start.

The nervous groom had to stand outside Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral during the religious part of the ceremony – because he was not a Catholic! Inside, the blushing bride was forced by her brother to go through with the wedding at knife point. Six days later, on 24 August 1572, Catholic mobs slaughtered thousands of French Protestants gathered in Paris for the great royal wedding knees-up in the ‘St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.’ Henri himself only survived the carnage by swiftly promising to convert. Sadly the newlyweds’ marriage did not survive – it was later annulled.

Britain has had its own problems with royal marriages, too. After the death in childbirth of his third wife, Jane Seymour, Henry VIII looked around for a suitable Protestant dynastic replacement. The artist Holbein was despatched to Germany to paint a prospective bride, Anne of Cleves. He returned with a portrait that appears to have flattered her, because when she arrived in England Henry took one look and fled, dismayed by her drab looks and lack of sophistication, famously calling her ‘the Flanders mare’. Henry’s Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, convinced him to go through with the wedding for diplomatic reasons. After just one night, the king wanted out, proclaiming, ‘I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse’, and complaining that she also had a bad case of BO. The marriage was quietly annulled on the grounds that it had never been consummated and, as a result, Anne was never crowned, just quietly pensioned off to court as ‘the King’s Beloved Sister’. Looking at Henry VIII’s track record with his brides, Anne seems to have had a lucky escape from the fat old monster.

Another continental import, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, arrived in London two centuries later in 1736, at the tender age of 16. She had been promised to King George II’s oldest son, Frederick. Speaking not a word of English, and clutching her favourite toy doll, she was likened to ‘a frightened puppy.’ Within ten days the unfortunate maiden was bundled into her wedding gown and marched off down the aisle. She was so nervous that she vomited down her wedding-dress and all over the skirt of her new mother-in-law. The wedding took place nonetheless, with Britain’s Hanoverian Queen translating the ceremony into Augusta’s ear.

History doesn’t record what happened on the new Princess of Wales’ wedding night but, despite its inauspicious beginning, the marriage is thought to have been a happy one and was definitely consummated. She bore nine children.

One of her grandchildren was Prince George Frederick Augustus, the dissolute eldest son of King George III. A marriage was arranged with his German cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. The future royal couple had never met. Worse, there was a little problem.  George was already married – to Maria Fitzherbert, a widow six years his senior and a commoner to boot. This existing marriage was recognised by the Catholic Church but not by English law. George protested, but the King ordered him to wed Caroline or lose his allowance.

In April 1795 a surly George met his affianced for the first time. Disappointed by Caroline’s looks and casual attitude to personal hygiene, the reluctant fiancé promptly demanded a large brandy, while the bride-to-be complained that her prince was ‘nothing like as handsome as his portrait.’

At the wedding, George arrived very late and very drunk. He managed to fall over on the altar steps in the Chapel Royal and only muttered his vows when his father, the King, shouted to him to behave himself – or else. The bridegroom then spent his wedding night drunk as a skunk, unconscious on the bedroom floor. The unhappy couple eventually produced a daughter, Princess Charlotte Augusta, in 1796. Soon afterwards George demanded a separation; but Caroline flatly refused any divorce.

An attempt to blacken the Queen by alleging ‘scandalous and improper conduct’ became the subject of an official investigation, but failed amid widespread public sympathy for Caroline. George got his revenge by having his Queen locked out of the Abbey for the coronation service in 1821. Poor old Caroline died just two weeks after guards stopped her attending her estranged husband’s coronation – by no means the first or the last victim of a disastrous royal marriage.

Closer to home the story has continued. Royalty are no more immune to the travails and trials of marriage than anyone else. Royalty pays a heavy public price for its privilege and duties – in some cases with harsh consequences, as the abdicated King Edward VIII found to his cost in 1936, when he announced he intended to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced American.

And everyone remembers the fairy tale wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 ending in bitter estrangement, divorce and ultimately tragedy. Now Britain’s future king will be a divorcé. The gilded cage of royalty can destroy relationships just like any other.

So today, let us raise our glasses to the happy couple and wish them, sincerely, all the luck in the world. They will need it on life’s journey together.

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Watch Out! There’s a War About

For once I find myself in total agreement with Vladimir Putin, who observed recently in a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious that ‘the world is becoming a more chaotic place.’ Whilst Pres-for-life Vlad’s BGO doesn’t exactly qualify him as a great thinker, this time he is absolutely right. There’s a definite feeling abroad of an unravelling in world affairs; an uneasy sense that something nasty is lurking round the corner of history ….

As Nigel Molesworth put it so succinctly in Down with Skool: ‘History started badly and hav been getting steadily worse.’ Looking at our increasingly troubled world, maybe ‘the gorilla of 3B’ got it right.

But first, the good news. A few months ago we were all nervously observing a ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ US President threatening fire and fury at North Korea’s ‘Little Rocket Man’ over nuclear missiles. It was definitely steel helmet (and don’t forget your respirator) time. Now, thanks to Trump’s interesting blend of diplomacy, brutal economic sanctions and the threat of violence, Kim Wrong ’Un seems to have a sudden change of heart and is smiling for the cameras and shaking hands across the border. Sigh of relief all round?

However, let’s not get too excited. North Koreans have a consistent track record in talks with the South and the US: consistently lying and trousering the ‘Danegeld’ paid to them to behave themselves, whilst they ignore any agreements. We need to watch this ‘deal’ very carefully.

And let us not forget that Dictator Kim was threatening nuclear war whilst still presiding over appalling human-rights abuses as he ruthlessly executed friends and family alike to eliminate his rivals. Nonetheless, if President Trump really succeeds in negotiating an end to Kim’s nuclear provocations and the Korean War (‘Neutral ground or dramatic backdrop?‘, Telegraph, 23 April 2018), he will have defused a potentially apocalyptic global crisis.

Good luck with that.

Now for the bad news; and there is far too much, as Putin warns.  Intelligence analysts are warning that trouble is looming from at least three other directions: Syria and Iran; Israel; and a global economy deep in debt.

First, Syria, where the endless civil war to keep Assad and his Shi’a allies in power has morphed into something new – and much more worrying. UN Secretary General Guterres warns: ‘The Cold War is back with a vengeance – and a difference.’ The difference is that it is no longer cold. Something very dangerous is unfolding in the war-torn Middle East. A little-known Iranian-backed Shi’a group calling itself the ‘Baqir Brigade’ has declared jihad on US forces in Syria,  where Russian and American troops are only a rifle range apart.  The US, UK and France have already attacked Syrian military targets as a reprisal for the latest gas attack. The dangers are obvious. Any Russia and US fighting in Syria could detonate a hot war and set the entire Middle East on fire.

Further north, Turkey has invaded Syria to crush the Kurds – the warriors who really defeated ISIS on the ground. Meanwhile the Iranians and their Lebanese Shi’a proxy, Hezbollah, have set up a new battle front on Israel’s border. Iran effectively runs Syria now and is turning its malevolent eye against Israel.

This time the Mullahs are really playing with fire. Israel is not a normal country. Tel Aviv will fight like a cornered cat against an enemy that has sworn to ‘sweep the Jews into the sea.’ And Israel possesses nuclear weapons precisely to deter anyone stupid enough to threaten Israel’s very existence. Israel has warned that ‘it will retaliate with every means possible,’ if attacked by Iran and its friends.

Ironically, Iran’s nuclear ambitions may be unravelling at the very moment it tries to intimidate Israel. Tehran thought that it had pulled a stroke with nice Mr Obama with his 2016 no-nukes deal to get sanctions lifted, whilst continuing to build its Shi’a empire in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and now Yemen. Trump is having none of that. Despite Macron’s pleading for a cosy continuation of flogging French and EU goodies to oil-rich Iran, Trump pulled the plug on 12 May 2018 and re-imposed economic sanctions, blocking Iranian oil sales and wrecking Tehran’s not-so-secret nuclear plans.

This is bad news for the world economy, which is now just as vulnerable to a financial crisis as it was in 2008. Oil is the motor of commerce. Oil prices, which dropped to $30 a barrel in 2009 and 2016, are now rising as production cuts by OPEC and Russia have finally sold the world glut of oil; so supply dries up. Iranian sanctions alone will remove 500,000 barrels a day from the market.

Even America’s new oil-shale output cannot fill this gap between supply and demand. Now Brent crude has risen to $72 a barrel and will probably go higher now that Trump has re-imposed sanctions. This could be a global economic bombshell as various geostrategic crises explode. Saudi Arabia is already talking about $100 crude, setting off a speculators’ scramble;  ‘We are pretty confident that oil will be in triple digits by next year,’ opines Jean-Louis Le Mee from Westbeck Capital.

IMF reports warn of a chain-reaction for world finance. One is well-understood: debt. Global debt has been alarmingly high since the 2008 financial crisis. Since then, nations have continued to borrow hand over fist, pushing worldwide debt to $200 trillion (a trillion is a million, million million.)  That is nearly three times the size of the entire global economy.

The second economic problem is that the Chinese and German economies are going into reverse. Germany’s economy in particular is stalling surprisingly quickly. The economic miracle by the EU’s motor of industry is over and now even Berlin faces economic problems, warns Düsseldorf’s Macroeconomic Policy Institute: ‘The danger of recession has increased markedly. It is a more critical picture than just a month ago.’

All this is happening as Korea teeters on a knife edge, Washington and Moscow go head to head, Syria faces multiple wars, Israel and Iran are shaping up for a catastrophic showdown, and the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Yemen gets out of control with missile attacks on Saudi targets by Iranian-backed Houthis. A full blown religious war between Sunni and Shi’a has started. One intelligence analyst warns: ‘All it will take is one Houthi missile sinking a 200,000-ton oil tanker in the Gulf and the consequences would be global.’

Even here, on our island in the sun, alarming events are going on all around us. Suddenly bankrupt Greece is preparing to lease two French multi-purpose frigates to bolster its defences in the Aegean Sea, amid rising tensions with Turkey. Fighters are again on the alert over contested islands. Turkey sails warships to Cyprus to protect hydrocarbon finds. Hostages are being held on both sides. President Erdogan suddenly announces a snap election to choose the country’s next president and parliament on 24  June 2018, to give himself greater executive powers.

All this at a time when the Turkish economy is overheating, raising the possibility of another financial crisis like 2001, when the AKP first came to power promising a strong economy. With Turkish national borrowing skyrocketing and Ankara having to lure foreign money with promises of 13% interest on government bonds, this doesn’t look much like economic competence. The truth is that we are ‘living through interesting times,’ as the old Chinese curse puts it.

Whilst most normal people are just trying to get on with their lives, get to work, earn enough to raise a family and enjoy themselves, all around us alarming events look like coming to the boil. Politically we are living through world-changing history.

It’s an increasingly unstable and dangerous world.  We need to watch out for what is really going on out there.

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The Month that Changed the World

A century ago this month an event occurred that would have world-changing consequences: the United States of America entered the First World War.

In 1914 the prospect of ‘Europeans cutting each other’s throats’ proved a blessing to the economy of the USA. Industrial production and stocks and shares soared that autumn as the British and French placed massive orders for weapons with American companies. The war was very distant and very profitable. The general feeling among Americans was, ‘Let Europe stew in its own juice’.

However news of German atrocities in Belgium shocked many Americans and there were some open calls for war. But with 2.3m German-Americans, German immigrants were the largest ethnic group in the United States. The Irish bore no love for the British either and America’s Jewish community supported the Germans, seeing Russian Jews rescued from the tyranny of the Tsar.  Congress agreed that staying out of it was best, and supported a strongly isolationist foreign policy. The Americans’ view was that it was not in their interest to get involved in the ‘Europeans’ War’.

However, the powerful ‘Robber Baron’ capitalists of Wall Street slowly came to realise during 1915 that if the Allies lost the war – and could not repay the two billion dollars they owed to the American bankers – the US economy risked collapse. US bankers, led by J P Morgan, unsurprisingly began to lobby for a pro-Allied policy.

Into this confused neutrality Mexican Pancho Villa’s invasion and attack on the border town of Columbus, New Mexico in early 1916 caused shockwaves throughout America. A retaliatory expedition under General John Pershing promptly invaded Mexico to hunt down the rebellious warlord. Suddenly the realities of war seemed closer for many Americans.

Moreover, by the summer of 1916 American attitudes towards Europe’s bloody conflict were changing. There were dark rumours of German-inspired industrial sabotage, supposed poisoning of water supplies, kidnapping individuals, and penetration of American labour unions. These rumours, along with the shock of the sinking of the Lusitania and the Sussex, added to the growing distrust of Germany. Growing public concern over the weak state of the US armed forces saw a National Defense Act passed in June 1916, authorizing an army of 175,000 men, and a National Guard of 450,000. Many liberals regarded this as a dangerous first step towards war and campaigned hard for peace and isolationism.

The November 1916 election spelled out these political issues very clearly. After a close fought campaign, Woodrow Wilson’s winning margin was tiny. (He carried New Hampshire by just 56 votes.) An idealistic Harvard law professor, Wilson was re-elected on a ticket promising ‘peace, progressivism and prosperity’. He succeeded primarily because he branded his Republican opponents as ‘the War Party.’ The great majority of Americans were determined to remain neutral.

Wilson tried hard to end the war, even launching his own diplomatic mission over the winter of 1916-17 to seek a peace deal. All it did however, was to reveal was that the warring factions’ aims were absolutely irreconcilable. Germany insisted on keeping Alsace and Lorraine; Britain, under its new Prime Minister Lloyd George, would fight to the death; and France and Belgium demanded all their occupied territories back, full compensation, plus a demilitarised border on the Rhine.

Then in February 1917 came the news of Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. The normally calm Wilson was furious and broke off diplomatic relations with Berlin.  Despite this, Wilson still believed that ‘the Teutonic powers’ really wanted peace and began preparing a new round of peace proposals.

However, Germany now made a disastrous blunder. On 24 February an astonished Wilson learned of the contents of a secret telegram sent by the German Foreign Minister, Zimmermann.

On top of U-boat attacks on American ships, came the breath-taking news that Berlin had made a back-stairs deal with Mexico to invade the USA. It was impossible for America to ignore such a provocation.  Wilson, who had been returned to office on a peace platform only two months before, was now contemplating taking his country to war – and all because of a serious German miscalculation.

When the German submarine cable had been cut in 1914, Sweden let Berlin use the Swedish cable to send its diplomatic telegrams out to its embassies world-wide. But this cable route went through the UK and the British codebreakers could read the German signals. The so-called ‘Swedish roundabout’ suddenly produced pay-dirt on 17 January 1917, when astonished Admiralty codebreakers intercepted a German telegram from Zimmermann to the German Ambassador in Mexico, to let him know that Germany was about to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Ominously, it also instructed the Ambassador to offer Mexico a secret alliance with Germany on the promise that Berlin could offer ‘an understanding … that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.’

The British sat on this explosive telegram for over 2 weeks, hoping that the Americans might be provoked without any action from London. The British problem was how to tell the world of the Germans’ plans without letting them know how they had found out? That would compromise the true source and the Germans would change their codes. Signals intelligence relies on total secrecy.

London’s ‘insurance’ copy of the Mexican version of the telegram provided the solution. The British obtained a hard copy of the actual telegram that had been delivered to the Germans in Mexico City.  When the Americans were handed the formal copy of the offending telegram, they were told that it had been obtained by ‘an agent in Mexico.’ To British astonishment, Germany admitted that the telegram was no forgery.

Even when confronted with this open evidence of hostile German intention, Wilson still hesitated to call for war. He only briefed his Cabinet on 20 March, nearly a month after he had first seen the telegram. By then, the U-boats’ deliberate sinkings of neutral American merchant and passenger ships, plus the explosive content of the ‘Zimmermann Telegram’, had completely changed American public opinion.  On 2 April an indignant President briefed the House and Senate, calling for a declaration of war. In typical idealistic style however, he sold it as some great moral crusade: ‘The world,’ Wilson declared, ‘must be made safe for democracy.’ On the 6 April 1917 the USA declared war on an unrepentant Germany.

Allied hopes of any immediate reinforcement by US armed forces turned out to be optimistic. America’s army was still tiny, with only 128,000 men. There was no air force – in 1914 the army had only 6 planes and 16 pilots, and the navy was undermanned and unprepared. America was just not ready for war. The first real reinforcement only came as late as December 1917, when US Navy dreadnoughts arrived in Scapa Flow to augment Britain’s Grand Fleet.

The real benefit of America’s entry into the war in 1917 was the psychological boost to Allied morale post-Passchendaele, post-French Army mutinies, with the promise of massive new fighting forces coming from across the Atlantic in 1918 to tip the balance in Europe by sheer weight of numbers. It also meant that Berlin was now uncomfortably aware that America’s entry inevitably spelled defeat unless Germany got in some war-winning blow before it was too late.

So April 1917 was a decisive month for the war – and for the world. It was the month that would ultimately lead to Germany’s desperate final offensive of spring 1918, to be followed by inevitable defeat, retreat, revolution and the fall of the Second Reich, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Those great events of one hundred years ago this month would also lead to America’s emergence as a world power.

To this day we still live with the consequences of that April, long, long ago.

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