A new nuclear power struggle

On 8th August, the inhabitants of Moscow were surprised when their televisions flicked from their standard programmes to a blue screen with a single star. It was a weather warning telling the people to find shelter. It then disappeared leaving people wondering just what had happened. At the same time in Severodvinsk, a small town in the North-West not far from the Finnish border was exposed to gamma radiation 3x higher than is permissible for human health after an explosion at the nearby Nyonoksa top-secret testing facility.

The explosion at Nyonoksa facility killed several including nuclear scientists. Russian weather service, Rosgidromet, recorded levels of radiation 16x higher than normal levels within the vicinity of Nyonoksa. In true Cold War style, residents were quick to stockpile iodine, known to stop the Thyroid from absorbing radiation. The explosion killed several including nuclear scientists working on the project.

After more correspondence it was finally let on that the explosion was down to the failure of an “isotope” power source. Russia was testing the infamous Storm Petrel missile at the Nyonoksa site. The Storm Petrel missile – called Skyfall by NATO – was unveiled by Russian president Vladimir Putin at the State of the Union address in 2018 and boasts a propulsion system powered by a miniature nuclear reactor which gives a potential flight time that could be measured in days, weeks or even months.

Having extended range plus cruise-missile capabilities – meaning that it can change direction, move around objects and evade interception – would mean that the missile would be harder to detect and defend against.

Another new and chilling piece of kit that Russia are working on – Poseidon – is an autonomous drone submarine which is programmed to unleash nuclear warheads on key enemy locations on the US west coast should Russia “go dark.”

Due to a series of agreements, Russia and America have not tested nuclear devices for twenty years. However, Russia have breached the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. Donald Trump responded by removing America from the pact. The New Start agreement which ensures Russia and the US have a limit on how many intercontinental nuclear missiles they can produce, runs out in 2021 and may not be renewed, thus giving America and Russia free reign to progress their arsenals and potentially make another power grab.

The US has been stepping up spending in nuclear warfare infrastructure with former President Barack Obama developing a $1.2tn plan to “maintain US air, sea and land-based nuclear weapons.” Donald Trump has gone much further putting an additional $500bn including $17bn for the production of a “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapon, essentially a mini-nuke that can be used on the battlefront.

It is rumoured that some factions within the Pentagon and within the defence contractor sector believe that Russia’s move away from agreements is a step in the right direction.

America’s nuclear defence capabilities are ageing and therefore, like many wars before, this will drive innovation and strengthen America’s standing.

Tensions are rising not only between the US and Russia (who between them hold little over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal) but with China, Iran and North Korea all flexing their muscles, we could be looking at the age of a new Cold War with new frontiers.

The point by point scaling up of nuclear armaments is not the only evidence of a new Cold War. Russia and China flexed their muscles during the Brexit and Presidential election campaigns with industrial scale levels of spreading disinformation. Seeing their success during these campaigns, Vladimir Putin is pushing further. At what cost?

Suspicious…

I was left somewhat confused when Sir Kim Darroch stepped down as British Ambassador to the United States. Leaked documents had shown that Darroch had called the President of the United States, Donald Trump, “inept” and “uniquely dysfunctional”. After much pressure from Donald Trump, who retaliated by calling Darroch “the wacky ambassador” and a “very stupid guy,” before claiming that “we will no longer deal with him,” Darroch handed in his resignation letter.

Before Donald Trump’s visit to the U.K earlier this year (in fact whilst in the air on his way to Stansted Airport) Donald Trump took to Twitter to openly accost Mayor of London Sadiq Khan calling him a “stone cold loser.” This is alongside comments made regarding Theresa May regarding the Brexit strategy in which he all but trounces her for not listening to his advice on how to proceed regarding withdrawing from the European Union.

So why is it that a diplomat speaking in confidence is bullied to step down when a president can openly proffer trash-talk and see absolutely no retaliation?

Writing for the ‘i’ (09/07/2019), Kim Sengupta raises a very important issue regarding the backlash faced by ambassadors whose primary role is to comment honestly and freely regarding issues within the respective countries in which they are placed:
“The real risk of the UK being ill-served will come from an ambassador who fails to send a transparent, candid account of what is happening in Washington because of ideological reasons, such as adherence, for example, to the jihad of hardline, doctrinaire Brexit.”

Ambassadors are required to give honest accounts of their host countries. Are we prepared to believe that ambassadors within the UK are not reporting back to the superiors commenting on the shambles of Brexit or the ineptitude of the current government?

Perhaps the most controversial part of this story is that of the leak itself. It has been reported that two years-worth of emails had been stolen, stored and eventually leaked meaning that the information gathering had been taking place since roughly the time that Donald Trump became president. This is not an act of whistle-blowing (since it has already been ascertained that Kim Darroch was simply doing his duty) but is instead an act of political sabotage.

This became much more plausible when Brexiters called for a more Brexit-minded individual to take up the ambassador role. Nigel Farage used his LBC segment to call out Kim Darroch and push for someone else to take up the position. This is all the more severe when assessed alongside the recent finding that the leak of Kim Darroch’s emails were from Isabel Oakeshott, Brexit Party MEP Richard Tice’s partner.

Could we in fact be witnessing a political coup?

Brexit Party uncertainty

Much like Vote Leave, The Brexit Party has gained a huge following in a very short space of time, even to the point that it is predicted to win the European Elections.

There is no denying that Nigel Farage is one of the most influential people in British politics, and perhaps in a generation. However, since the vote to leave the European Union it has come to light that Nigel Farage propagated lies regarding immigration with the infamous “breaking point” poster, is a person if interest regarding the illegal campaign funding of Leave EU and is now being investigated in a new funding controversy involving donations to The Brexit Party through PayPal.

Whilst donations under £500 are deemed legal, the sources of the money are somewhat suspect as transactions are being made from abroad. This may violate national democratic procedure as it could be seen as interference from foreign interests. This is despite the claims made by Nigel Farage and The Brexit Party that donations are not foreign currency because it is exchanged into pounds by PayPal.

Speaking at a Scottish Labour European elections rally, Gordon Brown stated that “the Brexit Party that has been formed is not a party, it’s actually a private company. It does not have members, it has shareholders.”

The manner with which Nigel Farage manages his endeavours may be evidence of this. For instance, that people had to pay £50 to walk with him during his “Brexit Betrayal March.”

Because the Brexit Party is not providing details of where specific funds are coming from, the possibility arises that payments are being made by dummy or robot accounts. Considering Russia’s peripheral funding of far-right movements throughout Europe and the rest of the world, we could be witnessing another attempt by a foreign power to sway our political process much like Russia did during the referendum campaign of 2016.

A New Cold War?

The Cold War was a war of information and misinformation. Intelligence and counter-intelligence. The ideologies of communism and liberal democracy head to head in a bid to win the hearts of the world whilst doing their best to manoeuvre people and warheads like chess pieces across the globe.

To be able to know your enemy’s next move is to be prepared and to feed your enemy misinformation is to throw your adversary off balance. When the mind is diverted one way, you can move the other and potentially gain the advantage. Russia, America and Europe were all embroiled in this war of secrecy and spy-craft.

The methods of warfare have changed. Where once troops were sent in to stomp the ground, wipe-out enemy placements or just generally shake the hornet nest, we hack phones, use drones and wipe out our enemies with cold efficiency.

During the Brexit referendum and the presidential election campaign of 2016 we were witness to a campaign of misinformation the likes of which we have never seen. Bot related activity increased tweeting and retweeting far-right stories, many of which were not even true. Bots threw ludicrous promises into the cloud where they landed and formed puddles of disinformation. The old saying that a lie can get half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on has never been so apt.

Lies are fast and easy. Seeking the truth is a more tricky and dastardly affair. Russian bots launched disinformation in high volumes, essentially flooding social media with content that was aimed at directing people’s anger and fear toward anyone that wasn’t Leave or Trump, especially Muslims, Mexicans and foreigners in general.

During the span of the 2016 presidential elections and the referendum to leave the European Union, Russian bot activity was at its highest. Twitter handles like NovostiKirov, (Novosti is Russian for “news”) @RussialsBeauty were among those quickly pointed out. Other bots gave themselves American titles in the hope of coming across as nationals or else giving themselves an air of authenticity. DailyNewsDenver, DallasTopNews and JackieCowboy are only a few.

The fact that most of the twitter accounts went dark after the referendum and presidential campaign is evidence that these accounts were not owned by people in the fight for long-haul change but instead had a simple one-track directive. To not see this kind of intervention for what it is would be catastrophic as it would mean that our political processes are being interrupted and swayed by outside forces, essentially mean that those people who talk of championing national pride were, in fact, aided by foreign superpowers.

That is a worrying prospect indeed.

Robert Mueller’s report has been a long sought after document and it recently showed that there was no conclusive evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia. This is a good sign (though yet to be completely verified) but it does not change the fact that Russian intervention in our democratic processes is still taking place. URL’s of the bots were tracked back to the IRA (Internet Research Agency) based in St. Petersburg. The IRA is a branch of the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) whose digital fingerprints can be found on “Kremlin-ordered operations around the world.”

It is clear that we are seeing a new war of being waged. But it is a one-sided war of counter-intelligence. A bombardment of (I hate to say it) Fake News.

While the Cold War was a war of intelligence and counter-intelligence we are now living in the post-truth era where narrative (real or imagined) clings with stronger fingers than fact. That is how the war is being waged. Not with the threat of nuclear war, but with the erosion of intelligence and the altering of perception.

Disinformation is lethal. Without truth we are unable to make concise decisions. If we believe in “alternative facts”, post truths and outright lies or worse yet, if we ignore experts like Michael Gove would have it, any truth can become reality. Like believing that Trump was good for the nation despite being aided, directly or indirectly, by Vladimir Putin.

Russia wanted the U.S to pick Donald Trump. Russia wanted the U.K to vote for Brexit. Russia has been proven to have been involved in these processes and sought after the two very outcomes that the U.K and the U.S.A chose in the pivotal year of 2016.

We need to ask ourselves why it is that Russia wanted these outcomes. And when we look at the outcome, that our people are divided, that we are entrenched in our political spheres and no longer considering bipartisanship as a way forward and that we cannot singularly agree on any way forward…well… I think we have our answer.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/how-russias-military-intelligence-agency-became-the-covert-muscle-in-putins-duels-with-the-west/2018/12/27/2736bbe2-fb2d-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html

The War on Journalism

“It is often said that journalism is the first rough draft of history; by contrast, investigative journalism provides the first rough draft of legislation. It does so by drawing attention to failures within society’s system of regulation and to the ways in which those systems can be circumvented by the rich, the powerful and the corrupt.”
Hugo de Burgh; Investigative Journalism, Context and Practice

“Democracy Dies in Darkness”
Washington Post

When disinformation is rife the world suffers. Truth and understanding are the foundations of sound decision making. Without information and the knowledge of what is going on around us we, the population, are powerless.
We all have the capability to double check and triple check everything we are told, and we should. The mantra: “question everything” has never been more necessary. And it is this mantra that leads me to put more and more faith in journalism.

Journalists and media outlets have been hounded since news was conceived, and sometimes they deserve it. False claims, conjecture and low-level reporting have often lead to news organisations having to print redactions, apologies and sometimes face lawful action as a result of their claims and how they go about collecting evidence. News of the World’s phone hacking scandal is the obvious case that comes to mind. But the wayward actions of the few should not taint the legitimate, decent work of the many.

People go into journalism because they want to tell the truth. Some just want to break a story and achieve a level of fame. Some people want to attend parties, drink champagne and hang out with the elite. Some journalists make money from commenting on food and drink or art and movies. Journalists report on everything. Their job is to comment on the world, hold a mirror up to society and, if you still believe there is decency in the world of journalism, to shine a light into dark places and hold those who have wronged to justice. As journalist Robert Rosenthal states in his TED X talk on 2nd April, 2011 regarding reporting that it has a role “as a watchdog facing the abuses and the lies and the threats of the government.”

The more we know what is going on in the world around us, the better.
It was investigative journalism that blew open the case of fourteen assassinations on U.K soil by Russian agents by Heidi Blake and her team at Buzzfeed. The story is a mind-blowing piece that goes from Russian actions to potential cover ups by the then Home Secretary, Teresa May. Investigative journalism podcast, The Tip-Off, gives a profound insight into how this particular story was broken (link below).

When the public first heard about Russian interference in western democratic processes many believed that it was unsubstantiated nonsense from the mouths of liberal fanatics.

The weight of Russian interference in western affairs first came to my notice in another podcast, News Roast, when guest, John Sweeney told of multiple sources corroborating the claim (link below). Since then it has emerged that Russian interference through the sharing of supposed confidential information, hacking and the sharing of fake news through social media platforms has been substantiated by the heads of Facebook and Twitter as well as by MI5, the C.I.A and the F.B.I.

The only people that seem to be denying this claim are President Donald Trump, the far-right, and the Kremlin.

Russia aside, it is journalism that shines light on things that we do not see on a day-to-day basis. Louis Theroux is an exemplary figure to look at when it comes to delving into the stranger aspects of life. Actor turned documentarian Ross Kemp is another shining example looking at crime, immigration, drug abuse etc.

These people dive into the worlds that are only on the fringes of our conscious and bring them roaring onto our television screens. Because of this kind of reporting we become more knowledgeable about what is going on around the globe. It makes the struggles we hear about in faraway lands and in other communities more personable, something we can relate to.
But for all its triumphs, journalism is under threat.

When Donald Trump rose to power throughout the presidential campaign of 2016, he aimed a direct attack at journalists screaming “fake news” and claiming that he wanted to open up libel laws so that journalists would be more susceptible to being sued for their work. But that was not all. He was provoking such a hostile environment at his rallies that reporters and news crews were under physical threat from frenzied mobs who screamed at, and tried to attack them. Members of the press were often put in sectioned off areas where crowds could locate and hound them.

Bob Woodward, the man who broke the Watergate scandal, recently released a book: FEAR – Trump in the White House. Trump has already slandered the book putting it under the “fake” banner but the volume is one of a few that have surfaced since he took office.

One person’s claims against Trump does not necessarily mean that he has done something wrong. What does, however, bring doubt regarding his suitability for the role of president of the United States is when multiple sources of information consistently corroborate with one-another, bringing into question his actions and his ethics. So it is through the corroboration of evidence where weight gathers on the scales of truth.

Trump is the most obvious example because he is hot topic and has been since he put his name forward as a candidate for the presidency. But aside from Nigel Farage and recently Jacob Rees-Mogg, he is one of the biggest threats to truth in the western world. Through belittling and an almost child-like rebuttal of news stations, he becomes impervious to truth’s grasp. It is quite extraordinary.

Let’s move on. The reason why I trust journalists is because good investigative journalism does its best to sit outside the usual spheres of influence. Good investigative journalism is not a mere opinion piece or a work of speculation. Investigative journalism is the digging for hard evidence to support claims. This kind of work can take weeks, months, or years. But it is diligent and is often of such quality that it becomes evidence in courts of law. The only real difference between an investigation undertaken by police and one undertaken by journalists is one of method.

We all want the truth. But sometimes flying close to the truth puts journalists in peril. Daphne Caruana Galizia, former journalist, writer and anti-corruption activist in Malta was killed by car bomb after receiving multiple threats about her work investigating Malta’s Labour party, organised crime, money laundering and the liberal providing of European passports to wealthy individuals.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a prolific journalist and blogger whose online publications often received more readership than Malta’s own newspapers. Despite the tragic fate that befell Daphne her son – Matthew – is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). This is a true testament to the determination to find truth.

Three Russian journalists (Alexander Rastorguev, Kirill Radchenko and Orkhan Dzhemal) were killed in the Central African Republic in July of 2018 whilst investigating private military company – Wagner – that had supposed ties to the Kremlin. At least 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. The world of journalism, especially in places where unethical practices have been undertaken, is a dangerous environment.

We read newspapers. We watch the news. We rely on providers for information to inform us about the state of affairs from sport to politics and global trends. If we did not have some form of news we would have absolutely no idea what exactly it is that government is up to, what legislature is passed and how that legislature is going to affect us. It is our right to have access to this information. It is right to know when corruption or unethical actions are taking place.

It is our right to be informed. It is our right to know and to be holders of the truth. In a constantly shifting world to have truth is to know your place. Know your stance, and know the next steps you wish to take.

And that is why the war on journalism must stop.