A rather contentious, not to say very odd, claim has come my way that the FSB, Russia’s successor to the KGB is, if not actually now running, at least in a good position to guide al-Qaeda. On the face of it, it would seem to be so much nonsense, but when you get into the detail, you have to agree that it can’t be dismissed out of hand.
At the moment, I am staying in the Bordeaux region for a week to attend a series of Baroque music concerts with my stepmother’s sister. She is a retired English teacher who most recently taught at the Bordeaux University and who regularly gets copies of The Spectator which are passed on to her by a friend. You might or might not be familiar with my opinion of The Spectator, but briefly although on occasion some of its writers can be quite amusing, I don’t much like it. I just get tired of the general pose of ‘isn’t modern life just awful. It’s counterpart The New Statesman is equally tedious with its neverending maudlin refrain of ‘God aren’t the right/Tories/middle class/Daily Mail readers such heartless bastards. Shooting is too good for them’. To sum up both are as bad as each other.
I happened upon a recent edition of The Spectator (the June 25, 2011, if you’re interested) and immediately turned to page whatever when I read on the cover the come-on ‘Are the KGB running al-Qaeda?’ In essence, a writer with a suitably Eastern European name claims that Bin Laden’s successor, an Egyptian called Ayman al-Zawahiri, was taken up by the then KGB and schooled for six months in an establishment it has in the North Caucasus. The course is is said to have been enrolled on dealt in all sorts from how to run an organisation so it does what you want it to – impeccably Leninist that – to clandestine operations. Interestingly, the KGB eventually did admit that al-Zawahiri was in the North Caucasus for six months but that he had been picked up as an illegal alien and held for the six months while it tried to establish his identity, and then expelled when it couldn’t. That’s plausible, of course, but not particularly convincing, although not being convincing doesn’t mean The Spectators claim is true. But to add a little to the claim’s credibility are comments made by the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko who was bumped off in London (most probably by the KGB using a radioactive material) that al-Zawahiri was indeed the KGB’s man. Again claiming as much doesn’t prove anything, but the balance of probability is that the chap did have some sort of connection with the KGB and now with its successor, the FSB.
The Spectator’s tame Eastern European goes on to claim that once he had graduated from the KGB place in the North Caucasus, al-Zawahiri was sent to Afghanistan and told to infiltrate al-Qaeda and get as close to the top of the organisation as he could. Well, succeeding Bin Laden more or less achieves that goal, and I’m sure that – if the claims are true – a case of vodka and several kilos of Beluga caviar were sent on their way to brighten the chap’s leisure time. Though, on reflection probably no vodka. The obvious question is: why would Russia want to control al-Qaeda? To that the reply is that as the country’s economy is a bloody mess and it depends on the export of oil and gas, instability in the Middle East is to its advantage. It is also keen to portray the troubles in Chechnya not as a country’s struggle for independence, but as part of the global islamist troublemaking. And it also wants to be seen as a player in the anti-islamist movement. Or something. Anyway, as they say: believe it or not. Me, I’ll leave the jury out there for a while pondering the pros and cons.
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Well, the Hacking Scandal – I think that by now it deserves the honour of capital letters, although I’m not too sure whether ‘Hacking Scandal’ is the name agreed upon or whether it is known as something else, Hackgate or something – is evolving by leaps and bound. I must, thought, admit that it is no interest whatsoever to anyone outside Britain except a few excitable careerists in in the US Justice Department who see it as a chance to climb the greasy pole and assorted swivel-eyed lefties wherever they live who regard Rupert Murdoch as the Devil’s representative on Earth – a sort of anti-Pope, I imagine. But for those who are inexplicably interested – I had a rather plaintive email from a pensioner in Sarawak who has asked me to outline what is going on exactly – I shall do my best to summarise the main points. And the first main point is that everyone is in the shit and sinking increasingly deeper, except the saintly Guardian, which over the past few years and especially the past few weeks has garnered so many journalistic Brownie points that it will soon be able to hold its own jamboree.
And by everyone, I do mean everyone, from Rupert Murdoch, Prime Minister David Cameron, virtually everyone in the Metropolitan police to everyone in the Labour Party, who were more assiduous in lining up to suck Rupert’s dick than anyone else. What is interesting (although I am bound to admit that I must use the word ‘interesting’ loosely) is that all those involved are involved in a slightly different way. There is nothing straightforward about the matter and there is talk of calling in the BBC’s cricket commentator’s to interpret it all, given that with their intricate knowledge of cricket, they are the only ones who can be relied upon to find understand such arcane detail.
Rupert and his idiot son James are in very real danger of seeing Rupert’s life’s work, skilfully and intelligently built up over the past 50 years unceremoniously go down the pan. David Cameron is fighting off claims that by employing the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson he is ‘guilty of an error of judgment’ (and a more severe failing it is hard to imagine. It makes Pol Pot’s genocide look like a minor social gaffe). The Met rozzers stand accused of accepting backhanders from News International hacks on an industrial scale. Labour assiduously sucked Rupert’s dick as much if not even more than the Tories which is making all their attempts at scaling the high moral ground utterly pointless. Our noble MPs, who were not at all averse to almost universally faking the expense chitties and were hauled over the coal by the Press for doing so, are relishing getting their own back and there is loose talk of ‘regulating the Press’. Well, their motives are lost on no one and. Only the saintly Guardian looks like coming out of this at all well.
Then there is the whiff of conspiracy about it all. Rebekah Brooks, the ‘flame-haired’ former Screws editor and former News International chief executive who finally resigned at the end of last week, is due, with Rupert and James, to appear before a Parliamentary committee tomorrow (Tuesday) to be questioned by loads of MPs. She was expected to give a full grilling on all aspects of the matter, not least about who among the Met was accepting backhanders, how much they were getting and for how long was this going on. Then out of the blue she was yesterday arrested by the Met on suspicion of whatever – because it doesn’t really matter: now that she is arrested, the MPs are pretty much restricted in what they can ask her because they will be warned that they could prejudice any possible future court action. And Rebekah will now be entitled to refuse to answer any question which, she could claim, might lead her to incriminate herself. No one really knows whether her arrest was intended to stymie the MPs questioning or whether was just the unfortunate decision of some cack-handed plod. I suspect it was intentional but then I’m just a sad old cynic.
Another development yesterday was the resignation of the Met’s Commissioner. He had rather blotted his copybook by appointing a former deputy editor of the Screws as a special advisor at a time when the Met was investigating the phone hacking and by also accepting £12,000 worth of free accommodation and treatment at a health farm which also employed that former deputy editor as a PR advisor. The Commissioner, a Sir Paul Stephenson, was called in by Boris Johnson, London’t mayor, and resigned after the meeting. The question everyone is asking – OK, not everyone but every Westminster and media anorak – is did he jump or was he pushed. And in his resignation letter, Sir Paul made a few cryptic allusions to ‘not wanting to compromise’ Prime Minister David Cameron which sound rather ominous.
In America those Justice Department careerists are wondering whether any phone hacking by Nws International went on in the US, where it is a federal offence and could see the Murdoch’s hauled into court. It’s a long shot and their motives are transparent in that the Murdoch’s enemies aren’t just confined to the shores of Old Blighty, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do a hell of a lot of damage. To add to the Murdoch’s woes, the board of SkyB, is beginning to ask whether having James as its chairman might not be doing the company, of which the Murdoch’s crucially don’t have a majority shareholding, rather a lot of harm. This one will, as they say, run and run.
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The pussycat which has stood in for me as my profile photo is being retired as I have finally come up with a picture which doesn’t necessarily make me look like a raddle old fool and with which I am content. All I ask is that you indulge me in this piece of innocent vanity.