Beyond Contempt: Does Money Buy Justice?

English: First issue of News of the World, Oct...

English: First issue of News of the World, October 1, 1843 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Jukes has written an important book. The book is important because of what it reveals about UK politics, media, and justice. The case connects these areas. Too often people hear “important book” and immediately think that it is boring. This book is exciting, well written and scary. It is important because of what it reveals about the UK justice system. In the book Mr. Jukes quotes Justice Saunders at the start of the trial that British justice is on trial. While many may not accept the verdicts; many will understand after reading the book that the prosecution was lucky to get the few convictions it did.

Three books within one

There are three books in this book and each is worthy of a sequel. They cover the trial, journalism, the corporate culture. The first book is about the trial that Mr. Jukes live tweeted. The book is based on the tweets he sent while he attended the trial. In itself, this makes the book an interesting read. Although he is quick to admit, there is nothing new in this approach. What is new is the way that he combined the live tweeting, with the fund raising (crowd sourced) and the way the work was collected and maintained by Gabrielle Laine Peters, J Claire Pollard and Jon Lippitt. The effort to create the book suggests a possible future for journalism and open justice. The process to get to the book is worthy a book in itself if only as an instruction manual or a how to guide. As Mr. Jukes notes, there are some parallels to other open source investigation sites like Bellingcat.

Money may not buy justice, but it helps you stay out of jail.

The book covers the trial well and despite being present for nearly every day of the trial, it does not bog down into burdensome detail. Mr Jukes keeps the narrative flowing with the specific set pieces that mark the high and low points for the prosecution and the defence. As Justice Saunders pointed out British Justice was on trial. At one level, this is always true. Any trial puts British justice on display, but this trial was different. The power ranged against the state was awesome. In this book, we can see where justice is served and how the trial unfolds. Mr. Jukes is a talented writer with an eye and ear for personality and performance. His writing skills shine through as he captures set pieces as well as emotions. He describes well a fundamental problem of UK justice. In this case, the defence outgunned the prosecution. In a democracy, this is worrying as an individual (or a corporation) could mount a defence against the state, the will of the people, and render it incapable of pursuing justice. However, people have always been of the view that the average individual and even the well off individual could not muster this level of resources. However, the justice system is not well prepared to deal with corporations. As Mr. Jukes writes, there were 6 QCs working against the prosecution’s one QC. The imbalance of resources had a direct outcome on the trial. The imbalance of power has parallels in the OJ Simpson case in the United States where his legal “dream team” took apart the prosecution’s case point by point.[1]  However, the issue is not money or “buying” justice.

Can corporations be brought to justice?

The trial was fair within the constraints set by democracy. It was a display of corporate power to protect its own. The difference for the corporation and the Crown is that the Crown can do this indefinitely, so long as the public interest remains, while corporations will eventually run out of money. With that knowledge, justice is often served as most settle rather than continue the cost.  This trial shows the weakness and strength of UK justice in particular circumstances. If you have enough connections and enough resources you can argue the state to standstill, which is what News Corp did on behalf of its officers. The issue is something beyond the court’s control and reflects the UK political culture and the way democracy expects or understands justice. The Courts have no say over the resources a corporation can bring to the table. Can corporations be brought to justice?

Is a tabloid newspaper an extension of the entertainment industry?

The second book is about journalism. In this Mr. Jukes makes interesting points about journalism’s culture and business. Journalism, especially investigative journalism, and investigative journalism in a tabloid, is a rough business. There is no way to hide that fact. The competition for stories and sources is fierce. The journalists were not secretive simply because they were doing something illegal, they were secretive because rival papers, or rival journalists, even journalists from their own paper would steal their story. The problem, though, is the web and social media are changing journalism. The web opens up information faster and more effectively than the phone hacking can provide. The idea of celebrity is also different as the web creates different sources for promotion and publicity which would have made the News of the World vulnerable. In the trial, we see some of the ways in which phone hacking corrupted journalism and undermined the journalists, especially investigative journalists’ best instincts.

The book also reveals the way tabloid newspapers has become an extension of the entertainment industry. The symbiotic relationship is successful even if it is dysfunctional, as the fall of Max Clifford indicates. Curiously, Rebecca Brooks was sent early in her career to negotiate with Max Clifford and later negotiated a secret deal to avoid unwanted publicity through litigation. How entertainment and celebrity fuelled the NoTW needs to be understood to put the competition and the phone hacking into context. The phone hacking started for celebrity stories and began to drift into other areas such as politicians and the Royals which led to the downfall. The relationship of entertainment and journalism within this murky world is worth a separate book.

Corporate culture reflected how they conducted their business

The third book is about the corporate culture. In this book there are insights we can draw from the relationships Mr. Jukes describes. Here I found his skills as a dramatist gave the book something beyond court reporting. He did not try to make these insights like a soap opera. Instead, he showed how the company’s culture was like a soap opera. The corporate culture of News of the World and News International was toxic. The competition within the newsroom and the boardroom did not make this a nice or happy place to work. One can see this in the way that Mr. Coulson had to say, despite the evidence being presented, “I am not a bully”. You know you have a problem when you have to reassure people you are honest, friendly or not a bully. Though never present, Rupert Murdoch haunted the case. As News International is a family firm one has to consider the corporate culture as an extension of the family culture. In this view, Rupert Murdoch sits like an aged King looking at a crumbling, yet still effective, empire.

Rebekah Brooks is that skilled, which is why she was acquitted

As a back story to the trial, we can see Mr. Murdoch like King Lear pining after his Cordelia (Rebekah Brooks). After the trial and related revelations, Mrs Brooks is too toxic to return to News Corp and the other Murdochs would not allow her to interlope. They and others underestimated Rebekah Brooks’ ability to find her way into the inner circle because they do not possess her uncanny ability to find power and seduce it. Access is what works at the corporate level and Mrs Brooks’ talent was to understand power so as to obtain access. Her skills remind me of President Lyndon Johnson who also has an uncanny ability to find power, pursue, and ingratiate himself with it to bend it to his will. Unlike Johnson who often did with a scowl, Rebekah Brooks seems to do with a smile. Their methods may have been as different as their goals, but both understand power. This is why many people underestimate Mrs Brooks. They believe that she is either directed or protected by someone, like Mr. Murdoch, or that she only succeeds because of her female charms. Neither holds true, but for many it is hard to accept. Her success in Murdoch’s kingdom was due to her skills. Although Mr. Murdoch is only a shadow over the trial, we can see why Mrs Brooks was considered so valuable in her ability to survive the cross examination from Mr. Edis and to emerge unscathed from the trial. I think that Mr. Murdoch understood her value and why she was his priority in the case. In many ways, her downfall is worse than the alleged betrayal by his wife. He can get another wife; he cannot create another heir to his empire.

A book that needs to be read in context to appreciate its value

Despite my praise, I have to say that this is not a perfect book. It is not a definitive guide. As it mainly covers the trial, it needs to be read with two other books Hack Attack by Nick Davies and Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman. Beyond Contempt does suffer slightly from the speed at which it was written and put together. There are places where the narrative is not smooth and the logic seems to have gaps. However, these are only minor distractions and the overall tone, pace, and skill of the writing is excellent. A second edition that expands on the context would provide more details for some examples that are only mentioned rather than explored and fill the minor gaps.

On the whole, I recommend this book to those who followed the Leveson Inquiry or who follow the ongoing saga of Murdoch News Corp. The book will also be of interest and use to general readers on media, journalism, and UK justice.

[1] News Corp paid the defendants legal expenses.

Posted in censorship, corruption, good writing, Government, justice, privacy, transparency | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Israel’s strategy in Gaza; creating liberal democratic tendencies.

English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,...

English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. president Bill Clinton, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Česky: Izraelský premiér Jicchak Rabin, americký prezident Bill Clinton a předseda Organizace pro osvobození Palestiny (OOP) Jásir Arafat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many observers argue that Israel lacks a strategy in Gaza. If it has a strategy, it is bankrupt because any success does not stop the attacks. A related view argues Israel’s tactical advantage cannot be turned into strategic victory. By contrast, critics argue that Israel’s strategy is genocide, ethnic cleansing, or both. They make this argument either simplistically or with a complex nuance. The simple view is that Israel settlements to push out Palestinians. In the nuanced view, Israel foments state of crisis to destroy Palestinian society.

I believe both are wrong. We need an analytical device to understand Israel’s strategy. Without it, the debate and the conflict remain sterile. The analytical device is Liberalism. Liberalism reveals that Israel’s strategy in Gaza is familiar to the Western approach to similar issues. Israel’s strategy is similar to England’s strategy in Ireland, Scotland and Wales[1]. It is similar to the United States of America’s strategy in North America.[2] Liberalism explains why Western protestors recoil from Israel’s activity in Gaza. They have forgotten what was required to create their peace, stability, and prosperity.[3] The non-Western states resent Liberalism and resist it because it threatens their identity. They see it antithetical to what they want to achieve.

Israel is trying through violence and political engagement to encourage the Palestinian Government (PG) to become a moderate. If the PG becomes moderate, they become an acceptable political partner. They demonstrate that liberalism is the mechanism for change when they ask the classic liberal questions. Will you recognize our right to exist? Will you renounce violence? These questions are at the heart of liberalism. As Frances Fukuyama’s book End of History[4] argued they are the questions that when answered in the affirmative demonstrate the end of history. However, to the extent that Hamas answers no to these questions, they remain firmly within the Concept of the Political. Carl Schmitt’s critique of this liberalism in Concept of the Political explains why the conflict continues.

Fukuyama or Schmitt: The choice that animates Gaza’s future

Israel’s strategy is immediately problematic for the Palestinians and any Palestinian government (PG). The Palestinians will see this as an attempt to dilute or destroy their identity. Their identity is bound up with being immoderate, and thus unacceptable, actor. In the Israeli strategy, they face an existential threat. Do they want to be Western and accept liberalism? The other path is to remain immoderate and reject liberalism.[5] Yet, they cannot create a state without assimilating the liberal tendencies of the state system. If they accept liberal tendencies (renounce violence and recognize Israel) what is their identity.[6] If they do not change, then the fighting has to continue. All truces are simply a time to reload and resupply. The fighting will continue until one of two outcomes occurs. The first is that Palestinians reject Hamas with ballots. The second is that Hamas bankrupts itself with the bodies of Palestinians.[7] How long can the Palestinians accept a government that will fight to the last Palestinian for a goal that they could achieve without the violence and sacrifice?

Despite this extremism, the PG is slowly becoming relatively moderate. For nearly 40 years, the Palestinians had only one leader or face–Yasser Arafat. When he died, Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinians. Although they were not less moderate than Arafat, they had a crucial advantage. They were democratically elected. The election gave them some legitimacy. However, with legitimacy comes responsibility. Hamas predictably used this irresponsibly. They continued their immoderate illiberal path to destroy Israel through violence. They rejected the moderate approach to assimilate with liberalism. Hamas built tunnels and trained fighters. They did not build hospitals and train teachers. They sought war. The violence and dead Palestinians sustains Hamas’s legitimacy as a radical or illiberal group. To build hospitals and train teachers would require them to accept liberalism and display liberal tendencies. They could not do that. However, a PG after Hamas may find that they can. They may seek a moderate path if only because it allows them to live longer and to retain their legitimacy longer.

The more moderate the PG becomes, the more a two state strategy becomes viable. However, elements within Israel do not want that two state outcome. They will create situations that reduce the PG’s ability to become moderate[8] entity. Is Israel willing to accept a moderate PG? The question cannot be ignored nor can an answer be assumed. The more Israel resists it by equating moderate liberal and immoderate illiberal Palestinians, they encourage the problem they wants to avoid. No, this does not mean that Israel has encouraged Hamas or brought the attacks on itself. Instead, it is to argue that the Israeli attacks and strategy has to be focused on a liberal democratic entity, a moderate entity. If they are not pursuing the goal of liberal democratic tendencies, then we have to consider the alternatives. Is Israel’s goal to remove Palestinians or simply to absorb them into Israel? Neither is a viable strategy. If Israel rejects a PG with liberal democratic tendencies, then it will be as illiberal as those it opposes.

The liberal democratic trajectory within Islamic states (and Israel).

At the same time, Islamic states demonstrate liberal tendencies in their intent or trajectory. For this reason, illiberals want that to stop them and any rapprochement with Israel.[9] The liberal tendencies of the relatively moderate Islamic states suggest why they do not support Hamas as they might have previously. Even though they are marginally less illiberal the extremists, they are now vulnerable to their own extremists. Even a state like Saudi Arabia (or North Korea) has liberal democratic tendencies. It wants to be recognized as a legitimate state within the state system to that it has to show liberal tendencies. In this way, Israel and the PG share a similar trajectory.[10]

Israel has faced the same questions of identity and assimilation with liberalism. They have answered them; to the extent, an answer is possible with an Israeli state. They have assimilated themselves into the liberal state system, even as they retained the faith of their fathers. However, they understand that their assimilation presents an existential challenge to their identity.[11] They may delay that challenge for a long time but they cannot avoid it.

Israel was on a long journey to statehood. It took them 2000 years to get to a state and they have had it less than 70 years. If Israel’s strategy is to succeed, they have to find a way to foster liberal tendencies in the Palestinians. So far, Israel has worked hard to suppress the illiberal tendencies. Can they demonstrate the same skill, ingenuity, perseverance to generate liberal tendencies?

If this is not Israel’s strategy, what is it?

[1] The same process, albeit on a longer time scale, can be seen in the way that England assimilated others into its control. One could say that the UK I flirting with its own “two state solution” with Scotland. The longer historical process can be seen in the reasons why Wales has so many castles and why Berwick upon Tweed, which was one of the wealthiest towns in the world in 1295, is now a relatively sleepy town. One could call Berwick’s fate self-defence, as Scotland had made an alliance with France, which was a strategic threat to England, but that misses the deeper historical process. The same historical process that animated England’s relationship with Scotland explained the process by which the Empire was transformed into a commonwealth. The evolution of that approach can be seen in the issues around the torture files from Kenya and the way that the Scotland’s proposed independence is to be settled by ballots rather than bullets. America’s assimilation strategy through liberalism has been no less robust in its own way. These are not wars of imperialism so much as wars to extend the liberal mandate and assimilate its opponents into the system or destroy them. The rise of the state system and the way it assimilates those who aspire to statehood into it reflects that historical process.

[2] The strategy is the process by which liberalism assimilates the “other”, in the Schmittian sense. Carl Schmitt, the Nazi era legal scholar and philosopher proposed the idea of the concept of the political that said the basic political issue was to distinguish friend from enemy. Schmitt argued that liberalism could not overcome the tension between the two and that its attempt to do so was undesirable.

I borrowed the idea of assimilation from sociologists in the United States who sought to explain the way immigrants are encouraged to join a society. Consider the article by Peter Skerry Do we really want immigrants to assimilate? (accessed 9 August 2014)

“More than just realism, Park affords us a sense of the tragic dimensions of immigration. William James, one of Park’s teachers, once wrote that “progress is a terrible thing” In that same spirit, Park likened migration to war in its potential for simultaneously fostering individual tragedy and societal progress.

As in war, the outcome of the immigration we are now experiencing is difficult to discern. And this is precisely what is most lacking in the continuing debate over immigration—a realistic appreciation of the powerful forces with which we are dealing.” [Emphasis added]


[3] It took England 900 years to become a unitary state with decades of brutal wars and occupation to achieve the peace, stability, and prosperity it has today. Israel by contrast has been trying to do the same in less than 70 years in a context that constrains their actions more than anything does, including Christianity, ever placed on the ruthless actions of the English monarchs.

[4] Although this essay acknowledges Fukuyama’s article and his argument from Hegel via Kojeve, his argument is flawed. To put it directly, Harry Jaffa was correct in his 1991 review of End of History, because Strauss is right and Kojeve is wrong as suggested by their debate regarding On Tyranny. To understand this point, consider the belief in modern natural science that haunts Kojeve and by extension Fukuyama’s argument. See (End of History and the Last Man (Avon Books p. 85 footnote 5.) When we work through the footnote to its originating thought, we arrive at Nietzsche-Heidegger understanding of technology and the choice between Strauss and Kojeve. See the recent essay by Mark Blitz Understanding Heidegger on Technology in The New Atlantis. (accessed 22 July 2014) In the essay Blitz reviews the recent publication of Heidegger’s other essays around his Question Concerning Technology.

[5] The choice is this blunt which is why the stakes are so high. This is not simply a struggle in which civilians are killed for a tactical or strategic military goal or even a political goal. The question is an existential one that cannot be avoided or finessed.

[6] Hamas showed a shrewd political sense when they offered in 2006 to renounce violence and recognize Israel as they courted the Palestinian vote. (Accessed 10 August) The problem for Hamas is what is their identity once they accept those liberal tendencies? Can they justify the sacrifices and martyrdom that has fuelled their support? Unlike Nixon who famously used his conservative anti-communism as a strategic device to justify the opening to China, Hamas cannot leverage the deaths of Palestinians in the same way. The question Hamas or any radical Palestinian Government has to answer and defend is “Did Palestinians have to die so you could recognise Israel?” In this regard, the Western propaganda actually works against Hamas because it raises the stakes to a point where they cannot negotiate because it undermines the Western protests and propaganda done on their behalf. Hamas might justify the sacrifice in a way that Kojeve would understand as Hamas would have to suggest something akin to Hegel’s idea “The wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind” (Phenomenology of the Spirit p. 407 #(669) (accessed 12 August 2014)

[7] Hamas has to make sure that the Palestinian people suffer from the violence so that they have a sunk cost in Hamas’s legitimacy. If Hamas fought and they suffered then their suffering would not have meaning. They would only be dying for Hamas not for Palestinian state. To the extent that Hamas’s goals are shown to bankrupt, that is Palestinians want to become even slightly less radical than Hamas, then their sacrifices has been for Hamas’ benefit and not theirs. In other words, in that moment, the interests of Hamas diverge from those of the Palestinian people. Hamas has an overriding interest in linking Palestinian identity to Hamas’ identity and thus the Palestinian people become hostage to Hamas.

[8] The PG is not going to be a liberal democratic state overnight. Instead, the best that can be expected is a state or entity with liberal democratic tendencies. We have to accept this provisional goal. The region lacks a liberal democratic Muslim state to act as a guide. The reason, of course, is that to be liberal democratic is to reduce the role of religion to a secondary institution, which is why the UK is not a liberal democratic state, even though it makes a strong claim to that title.

[9] The liberal democratic tendencies also explain why the issue in Gaza (and the ISIS existence) is not a clash of civilizations. Despite Samuel Huntington’s arguments, the Middle East is not on the cusp of a Caliphate to create an Islamic civilisation to challenge the West.

Islam has not been a coherent civilisation for about 400 years. Moreover, the advent of the nation state system, with the benefits and constraints it brings, has fostered the liberal democratic tendencies. Although Islamic states are riven by tribal and ethnic issues, these, in themselves, do not give rise to a civilizational crisis or conflict.

[10] No, this is not a subtle moral equivalence between the Palestinian Government (Hamas) and Israel. The point is that as Palestinians search for statehood and create an entity with liberal democratic tendencies, they share a similarity in that process Israel followed to create a state to protect its interests. The state it created had to have, at a minimum, liberal democratic tendencies. To be sure, Israel has more than liberal democratic tendencies as it has a robust and vibrant liberal democracy.

[11] Baruch Spinoza is still excommunicated.

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A night at the Symposium: St. John’s College Post Graduate Research Symposium

English: Doorway to St John's College, Durham.

English: Doorway to St John’s College, Durham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Thursday the 7th of August, I attended the Post Graduate Research Symposium at St. John’s College in Durham.  The Institute for Advanced Studies hosted the event and Dr. Mark Ogden chaired it.

The event had 10 speakers over 2 sessions. The format was 15 minutes for presentation and questions from the audience.

The speakers were a mix of graduate students and post-doctoral students and the topics ranged from sharks to the Old Testament and the Phenomenology of Privacy to the ultra-cold world of atomic physics.

The first speaker was Rosalind Jelf who presented her MA thesis: Generational Memory and Photography in Post War German Literature.

The paper looked at the way four writers used photographs to create memory and protect memories. The writers dealt with the way the previous generation was involved in National Socialism. Through the photographs, the writers could explore a point of view intrinsic to the photograph and the photographer, which was accessible to others. The photographs became memories as well as triggers to evoke memories that others could access, which raised the question of how photographs can transcend language or culture and yet remain embedded in them for their meaning.

As it is easier to manipulate photographs, the memories that rely on them can be manipulated, which is why it is important to understand how they interact. Her paper offers a way to understand how photographs shape memories and the reciprocal relationship between memories and photographs.

Xia Yiqing’s paper Some Explorative Thoughts on the Effect of Competition in the Health Care Sector was next. It was a timely reminder of the historical context for the current debate on the NHS. His paper discussed the ways in which the industry would be regulated by introducing competition and, in turn, this created a wide series of changes within the sector that occur beyond the headlines.

During the break, we discussed how the NHS is a model that China is looking at in developing its health care sector. Even though one would not expect China’s health care sector to have the same concerns about competition, which one often associates with a capitalistic or market driven economy, the Chinese health care sector has to resolve the gap between supply and demand. As China has to deal with a larger demographic shift than the UK, the future of the NHS can have significant lessons for China and his paper offers a starting point to understand the possible lessons of the impact of competition regulation for China

The third paper was cold, very cold. Alistair Bound presented his research on atomic physics. In Ultracold and Very Small: An introduction to Atomic Physics, he took the audience to a very small and cold place. By capturing atoms at a moment just above absolute zero, the research allowed a better understanding of precise time measurement and quantum computing. The work has the potential to improve services that rely on precise location or times such as GPS monitoring or space exploration. The ability to capture atoms and hold them in place also had practical application for quantum computing, which allows faster computing processing. The wider application is the potential to improve computer encryption.

The fourth paper let us float down a river. Sophie Tindale presented her doctoral research on water management.  Her paper Catchment Connections: new perspectives on Stakeholder involvement in Catchment-Scale Management of Water Resources looked at the way agent based models could help to create better water management. The presentation reflected her first year of work on her PhD. She explored how agent based modelling can be used to improve stakeholder engagement to resolve disputes over the resource and to generate knowledge of the catchment.

Water is an important commodity and natural resource that cuts across different communities. Her research will be useful for those who need to negotiate its use and access by different communities and find an equitable solution.

The fifth paper by Ben Douglas was taken from his PhD dissertation. The paper The Phenomenology of Privacy in UK Law will be of interest to privacy researchers. His use of phenomenology helps to understand how the individual presents or represents themselves in a community and the way the law reflects representation. He looked at the way Naomi Campbell had presented herself as drug free and the newspapers wanted to change that representation by revealing that she was attending counselling sessions associated with drug dependency. His use of phenomenology to explore this tension offers a way to explore the way privacy is developing and the limits to it within UK law.

After the Interval, another set of papers were presented.

The first paper in this session was on sharks. Catherine B. Salter presented her MA thesis Evolution and Phylogeography of Mustelid Sharks. She provided the audience within an insight into the typology and classification of the shark. The presentation highlighted the challenges of working with DNA processing to identify the genetic markers needed to classify the shark. She also highlighted the plight of sharks as millions are harvested from the oceans and many are in danger of extinction. Without a proper classification and understanding of the shark’s genetic structure, it would be difficult to protect them.

Andrew P. Corkhill’s paper on Yugoslavia’s disintegration into war was next. His paper When Europe Failed Yugoslavia: How the Actions of NATO and the European Union after the Second World War Contributed to Conflict in the Balkans provide a view into the challenge of security within the EU and the limits of EU power. His historical analysis looked at the way that the EU’s security choices, which were heavily influenced by the United States of America, limited its ability to deal with the Yugoslavian crisis. As a result, the EU’s response was insufficient and it revealed that they could not act, even on their doorstep without the USA being directly involved.

One area to explore with his research would be the way the EU deals with challenges to dissolution within its own borders. The way that Scotland seeks independence from the UK presents a stark contrast to the way that the breakup of Yugoslavia descended into war. The contrast between the choice of ballots over bullet, which reflects the history of the relationship, would be a rich source of comparative research. Do democracies break up differently?

The final papers from the evening, which I could not attend, were

Madison N. Pierce

Just as the Holy Spirit Says Hebrews 3.7-4.11 and the Spirit’s Promise of Rest

Jane Berry

Simply Sweet—a Synthetic Route Towards Graphene-Based Membranes and their Potential Application for Water Purification

Jonathan Berry

Designing 3D Sound.

Dr. Mark Ogden chaired the event, introduced each session, and provided context for each presentation. The event offered younger scholars the chance to present their work and it sparked stimulating discussions. The event is a credit to St John’s College as it shows the depth, breadth, and variety of the scholarship at the college.

I enjoyed the event and look forward to future ones. Although I am not involved in academic research, I found the event interesting because it allowed me to interact with people I would not normally meet through my work. The presentations and the scholarship gave me a different perspective and provided an opportunity to talk with a different audience.

I would recommend future events to anyone interested in the college’s work and a chance to see younger scholars present their work.

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A possible Putin strategic apology



English: TOKYO. President Putin on a tatami at...

English: TOKYO. President Putin on a tatami at the Kodokan Martial Arts Palace. Русский: ТОКИО. На татами во дворце спортивных единоборств «Кодокан». (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some commentators suggest that Mr. Putin is in a difficult position and will find it impossible to explain this event or save face. See for example Tom Nichols excellent piece Panic in Red Square.[1] I believe that reputation management can provide a possible approach to his dilemma.[2] For any avoidance of doubt, I condemn the attack on MH17 and here are my public views on Mr Putin’s leadership.

After his statement supporting an international crash site investigation, Putin could use a strategic apology statement to deflect attention. He could say something like the following.

“You have probably read or heard that we have had a serious problem with the downing of MH17 in the disputed territory of Donetsk.

We have found that separatist forces operating in the area used our equipment inappropriately to fire the missile that brought down the plane.[3]

We regret the loss of life in this tragic mistake. The separatists are under constant threat from the Ukrainian forces and made a mistake.[4] Initial reports indicate that they believed the aircraft to be a legitimate military target. We find the loss of civilian life unacceptable just as we find unacceptable the loss of Russian lives from fascist forces.[5]

To find out what happened, we will launch an investigation. We will invite representatives from the Dutch government to participate. We also ask that he UN nominate a suitably independent candidate for this investigation. We expect the Russian laws to be upheld as befits a sovereign state of its stature and with a tradition to law and justice.[6]

The Russian Federation is a sovereign nation that honours its international obligations. We regret the loss of civilian life. We will find out what happened. If the investigation finds that compensation is required, we will meet our international obligation. In all matters, we will uphold Russian law. We ask the international community join with us and condemn the threats to our patriotic brothers, which contributed to this tragic mistake.[7]

Please note that this advice notice is simply for illustrative purposes. It is not professional advice nor should the Russian Federation or Mr Putin construe it as endorsing a course of action.


[1] Unlike Professor Nichols, I do not believe that Mr. Putin is in a box on this issue nor do I believe that this will unravel Russia’s support for the separatists. We must remember that Mr Putin understands judo and he is skilled at using Western principles against the West. We must remember how he stage managed the Crimean annexations and then caught the West on the back foot when he called a snap election to ratify it. In this, he showed how he could use western democratic principles, elections and “popular” sovereignty, against western critics.  This is not to say that his approach is or was legitimate. Instead, it is to show that he has demonstrated an ability to escape obviously bad situations.

[2] For an example of a strong apology letter to repair corporate reputation consider the example from Tesco a major UK retailer that suffered scandal over horse meat. Please note that I am not equating the Tesco scandal with the MH17 crime. I am pointing out that reputation management follows principles that can be applied to any situation.

[3] Putin will know there is no value in denying the obvious as that hurts his position. Instead, he will seek to twist this into something else like a tragic mistake.

[4] Here Putin will be able to explain this in the context of the Ukrainians taking action against the separatists. By doing this, he can show that shooting down the plane fits within a context of a military conflict and that reinforces the underlying reality that he has tactical and strategic military superiority in the region.

[5] The statement will be one that links the “terrorism” that it has suffered against the West’s rapid condemnation of a “tragic mistake”. He will want to show that Russia is as much a victim as others in fighting the scourge of terrorism.

[6] The goal will be to invite an international representative to give the cover of international legitimacy and it will invite the Danes in the belief that they can be cowed into whatever the Russians find. The Russians will also insist on Russian laws so that they can control the outcomes and remind the world of their robust obedience to law and pursuit of justice.

[7] Putin would want to remind the audience that the separatists were defending themselves and would work to suggest that they were provoked.


The situation is not 1975 and Russia has a number of plausible scenarios to pursue to continue its efforts to pressure Ukraine over Donetsk separatists. Even though the MH17 crime puts them on the back foot and hurts their claims, there is no evidence that the order came directly from Putin or can be linked to him. Having survived as a KGB officer, he will understand the principle of plausible deniability and will be an expert in bureaucratic warfare needed to keep his fingerprints from appearing on the decision. He would have succeeded within the United States government where senior bureaucrats and service secretaries survive and succeed by their ability to avoid leaving any fingerprints on failures despite being nominally responsible. I doubt Mr Putin will be toppled by this issue. He may have to take a different tack on Ukraine and it will limit his ability to influence it in the short and medium term but unless the West finds a way to leverage this into a change on the ground, it will simply become bad publicity, which is something that Russia has traditionally been able to withstand.






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How Snowden’s naivety has harmed the NSA in his own words.

English: Aerial view of Osama bin Laden's comp...

English: Aerial view of Osama bin Laden’s compound in the pakistani city of Abbottabad made by the CIA. Italiano: Vista aerea del complesso di Osama bin Laden nella città pakistana di Abbottabad realizzata dalla CIA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many people, the NSA’s arguments against Snowden appear hollow as they lack a smoking gun. The NSA has not provided any evidence that the leaks have damaged their ability to collect intelligence and deal with terrorist threats. For some NSA defenders, this has been problem. They want to defend the NSA but to do that they would need to disclose classified material, which would simply add to the Snowden fiasco.

Snowden’s interview with the Guardian changed that situation. In that interview, he demonstrated how his revelations have harmed NSA capabilities. At the same time, he demonstrated a frightening ignorance if not naiveté about intelligence and counter intelligence.

Here is his quotation.

What about the accusation that his leaks have caused untold damage to the intelligence capabilities of the west? “The fact that people know communications can be monitored does not stop people from communicating [digitally]. Because the only choices are to accept the risk, or to not communicate at all,” he says, almost weary at having to spell out what he considers self-evident.

“And when we’re talking about things like terrorist cells, nuclear proliferators – these are organised cells. These are things an individual cannot do on their own. So if they abstain from communicating, we’ve already won. If we’ve basically talked the terrorists out of using our modern communications networks, we have benefited in terms of security – we haven’t lost.” (accessed 20 July 2014) (emphasis added)

On the surface, this appears plausible. The bad guys know they are being monitored so they will stop talking on the web. The problem though is that they may stop talking but it does not follow that they will stop trying to kill people. It just means they will have to find another way to do it.

When we look at the statement closely, we see the stupidity and naiveté. This is obvious in three ways.

First, the 9/11 attacks were planned with limited technology. The NSA and other intelligence agencies only caught whispers but not enough to investigate. The signals intelligence they did find was helpful, but the well-disciplined cell structure made it difficult to see the full picture. Osama bin Laden planned for this approach and understood the need for technological stealth. His use of face-to-face communication and cutouts was a major reason why it took the United States 10 years to find him.[1] Even watching the film Zero Dark Thirty would show this.[2]

Second, the bad guys are not going to stop communicating. They are going to stop using the web, or a system that might be compromised by the NSA. This means the NSA will not be able to track them or find out what they are saying. They will not stop communicating; they will use methods that are difficult to break or take more time and resources, which increase the cost to the NSA. As intelligence, like sushi, is best if it is fresh, this has an immediate effect and cost.

One way that terrorists will continue to communicate is face to face. They will arrange to meet. As they have gone off the electronic grid, it will be harder to know the content of those meetings. As a computer analyst, Mr. Snowden probably does not realize how hard it is to break into an ethnic network based on foreign language dialect. Even if you have translator, you still need to penetrate the network. First, you have to recruit someone into that network. That takes time and they may turn out to be a double agent. The CIA found this out when they lost seven agents in Pakistan trying to find Osama Bin Laden.[3] The Al Qaeda group used a double agent to kill them. Again, Zero Dark Thirty explains this point.

The Guardian knows this because they admitted that Greenwald and other reporters have to spend more time meeting face to face rather than relying on telephone or email to communicate. Alan Rusbridger explained this in his 19 August 2013 article.

The Guardian’s work on the Snowden story has involved many individuals taking a huge number of flights in order to have face-to-face meetings. Not good for the environment, but increasingly the only way to operate. Soon we will be back to pen and paper. (Accessed 20 July 2014)

Third, if you have an advantage, you never want to give it up. Intelligence is not a sporting competition where there are rules and parity is virtue. If you lose, you die. If we were to use a sports analogy, you never tell your opponent that you know their weakness and explain it to them. In poker, the opponent’s weakness is their tell. If you want to win, you never tell your opponent their weakness. In the world of the NSA and CIA if you lose, people die so any advantage is always protected. Again, Rusbridger should know this he would protect any source from being revealed for the effect it would have on the source and his own business. Yet, he seems unconcerned with the same situation facing the NSA.

America’s greatest advantage and the terrorist’s greatest weakness was technology. America has a near unassailable advantage in terms of technology. The signals intelligence gave it and its allies a clear and consistent advantage. Now, that advantage is gone. Not only has Snowden stolen the secrets of that advantage, but Greenwald and the Guardian have published them. The terrorist’s tells have been revealed. To regain that advantage, more America agents and assets are going to be killed. America will now have to work harder to track and penetrate those networks. The CIA will have to use agents and assets, rather than technology, to gather intelligence. The United States relies heavily on technology because it values human lives highly and it has a comparative advantage with technology.

Far from being a win, Snowden’s revelations have been a gift to terrorists. The average citizen never had to worry about these issues and never had to worry about them because they were never going to be a NSA target. Even if the NSA collected their information, it was incidental to finding the hard targets. The targets are now harder to find and that will cost both money and lives.

The interview and the consequences from publishing the leaked material tell us a lot about Mr Snowden and Mr Rusbridger. Mr. Rusbridger appears better suited to running a newspaper rather than an intelligence operation and Mr. Snowden has a dangerously limited understanding of the Machiavellian nature of intelligence work. Perhaps like Candide Mr. Snowden will wake up to the brutal Machiavellian world of politics around him. If only Mr Snowden distaste of politics had kept him from making the political decision to steal and disclose America’s secrets. Perhaps Mr. Rusbridger could reflect upon his decision to publish those secrets and be able to explain why it is in the public interest to help terrorists avoid the NSA because the leaks do not help the public do that.


[1] Also, consider the murder of Philip Welsh. He had no electronic signature in his life, which makes it much harder for the police to solve his murder. (Accessed 20 July 2014)

[2] I refer to the film only as a common cultural artefact that suggests the problems of using technology to find someone off the grid. (Accessed 20 July 2014) see also (Accessed 20 July 2014)

[3] (Accessed 20 July 2014)


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Privacy and the political good.

English: Reporters Without Borders 2009 Press ...

English: Reporters Without Borders 2009 Press Freedom Index world map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is missing from the debate on privacy, in general, and the debate over state surveillance, in particular, is the question of the political good either defended or promoted by constraining surveillance and protecting privacy. What is the political good that privacy advocates want to achieve? Is it to be let alone to control one’s person, even in the public domain, and exercise autonomy? Is it to be free from government surveillance to create an identity beyond its reach? Is the political good it serves free expression that supports democratic politics, as any surveillance that invades a person’s privacy is believed to chill their free expression? We see articles that ask and explain what privacy is for, yet these appear to fall short of explaining the political good that privacy serves except to suggest that it is good for freedom of the individual within liberal democracy.[1] These articles return us to the original question: what is the political good that privacy serves or enables?


If our goal is to be let alone, to be “digitally private”, that is to have autonomy in the digital domain, what is a person or a citizen in the digital world? A citizen or a person is a related being and to be a citizen or a related being means to be known. To be known means that the state and our friends will know us and relate to us for good or ill. If in the digital domain we understand and pursue autonomy as the being expressed by a reduced sense of relatedness, we have to consider whether that starts to challenge how we relate in the physical domain. If we want a digital identity that we can control and keep unrelated to our physical person, would our digital “person” become a separate entity. In this view, an individual make themselves private only to the extent that they stop being part of the state, in the extreme, leaving it or living so far away from society as to be a solitary hermit. In such a view, the good that is served is the individual’s good, but not the society’s good and in an extreme view severs the relationship between the individual and the community or state. However, what remains is that an individual still exists within the state framework as their decision to remove themselves is not binding on the state. They have a name and personal details registered with the state. However, most people do not attempt or want that level of privacy (or autonomy) because they understand privacy is to serve an end to which they want. Eventually they have to exist as a person because they are a related being they are the child, parent, or relative of someone. To paraphrase Aristotle, if they live beyond the walls of the city, thus remove themselves entirely from that relationship, they are either a beast or a God. Man is neither even though he aspires to be both at times.

The problem of autonomy leads us to consider a second good that privacy is supposed to serve: a reduction or removal of the government’s surveillance in our lives, in particular, our digital lives.

Bureaucratic shadow

If privacy is a way to reduce government surveillance so that we can control our person (digital or physical), we must consider that we remain part of a society. As part of a society, being a citizen, we have a bureaucratic shadow. A bureaucratic shadow follows all citizens and consumers in the physical and digital domains. We leave a record of our existence through our transactions. No citizen lives without a bureaucratic shadow. Everyone has records and documents they need so that they can establish their identity and their rights within a state or community. This is why privacy by design will only ever be a partial solution to the problem of privacy. If we want to avoid government constraints, to reassert our privacy, we would need to understand our bureaucratic shadow is as much, if not more, of a constraint as any government surveillance or intrusion into our digital lives. Our desire to “control” our digital “person”, if not our physical person, is constrained by the bureaucratic shadow, which reminds us that we are more a creature of the government and institutions than we would like to admit to ourselves. In this political good, we see that privacy becomes a proxy or measure for what the state or community will allow us. In that regard, privacy is a function of the community or the state and it is the space that it allows an individual to act as an individual. Within that space, we see the third potential political good that privacy serves—free expression.

Free expression

If privacy is needed to protect free expression from surveillance, we need to understand how surveillance “chills” free expression. When we look at the causal relationship between surveillance and chilled free speech, we find that it is riddled with ambiguity and contradiction as it simply confuses chilling with anything that we perceive to be limiting our “freedom”.[2] If people listen to a speaker on the bus or the train have they put the speaker under surveillance? If a writer publishes opinions on a social media network are they under surveillance? If the speakers on the bus refrains from speaking on certain topics because they realize people are listening, have they been “chilled”? If no one listens to the speaker or reads the writer, have they been censored or silenced? When we work to connect privacy to personal freedom, we begin to discuss its political good. We return to the first order question of whether privacy is even necessary for freedom and freedom of thought. Privacy by itself does not create freedom or tolerance nor does privacy require tolerance.

When we ask what is the political good that is served by privacy, we demonstrate that privacy is not an end in itself. Privacy is only something that enables a primary good. Privacy appears refers to a space within the state that is not public. The digital domain presents a further difficulty because it can exist beyond the state yet it is dependent upon the state or a corporation for someone to access it. Such an approach to privacy reveals the extent to which it is as an epiphenomenon of the modern state. Privacy, to the extent that it exists, appears as a by-product of the modern social contract as expressed in the modern state’s relationship with an individual or a consumer with a corporation. To put it differently, but directly, the state allows us privacy we do not have it by natural rights.[3] We cannot speak of privacy without reference to the state or even to public opinion. They demarcate the space within which an individual has “privacy”. Yet, that shows the ambiguity and a deeper problem for privacy. If the individual follows public opinion or is shaped by public opinion, the individual is only understood in contradistinction to or in relation to public opinion or the community. We believe we have a private sphere, separate from the public, in which the state cannot intrude. Yet, that belief is based on the state’s respect for it rather than an intrinsic part of the individual. In the digital domain, this dependent relationship can be seen in the necessity of a system administrator who has access to your accounts. In your own home, though, you do not have a system administrator. The system administrator shows the tension or difference between the nature of the two realms and their offer of privacy. To the extent that the private sphere exists, it is limited by public opinion. Public opinion though plays a greater role than the state in an individual’s private life. The individual is only private to the extent that they can escape public opinion, which is not something they can do immediately by leaving the public domain.

The tension between the public and private domains is something that Hannah Arendt discussed in her book The Human Condition. There she discussed the idea that for the Ancient Greeks the citizen was only fully alive or fully human when they participated in the public space.[4] In the public space, the life within the community, the citizen can reach their fullest potential. By contrast, the private domain was a limited space cut off from or dependent upon the public domain. Consider the case of prisoners, who are cut off from the public realm because of their crimes. In prison, they lose their political rights and in that sense their access to what makes them fully human. For the duration of their sentence, they live a sub-human life. They are not living an inhuman existence nor are they less than human. They cannot be fully human because they cannot participate fully in the public domain, which means they cannot participate fully in the community. The difference between the public and the private realm was expressed clearly in a tyranny. In a tyranny, only the tyrant was a public person. Everyone else was private. Only the tyrant could act publicly as those subject to the tyranny could not participate in a public life except through the tyrant. In a tyranny, there is no public space as there is in a democracy. Artificial spaces may be created in a tyranny and these serve to remind those who participate that they exist only at the tyrant’s dispensation.

Does this suggest that privacy is only important as a correlate to the public domain? The modern idea of privacy seems to argue against this point as the public domain has been drained of meaning and it is not a place where the individual finds their fullest potential. Instead, privacy advocates want to increase the private domain even further. They want to reduce the public domain to such an extent that everything becomes, for the lack of a better word, publicly private. They want to act on a public system, such as Facebook, but retain privacy controls. They do not want it public in the sense that it is controlled by the government, or owned by the people, in the sense of a public park or a public library. In this desire, they demonstrate liberalism’s success in paving the way for an autonomous individual at the expense of the public domain. The citizen no longer finds their fulfilment in the public domain where they participate to shape the laws that guide the way they live. Instead, they find it in the private domain where as an individual they can exercise their autonomy and find their fullest, if still limited, expression as a human.

If we extended the Ancient Greek idea to the modern world, it would mean that only elected officials or public officials could act publicly. They participate fully in the public domain when they debate, create, and enforce the laws that shape the way they (and others) will live. However, the modern political system allows more citizens to participate indirectly through representation in the way the laws are made. In the current political system, the indirect participation through representation also changes our understanding of the private realm even as it increases the potential for public participation. However, it also means that a citizen’s interests are diverted into other areas. As the public domain is reduced, or rendered less important by the appeals of other areas, the private domain becomes a place to find fulfilment. Unlike the ancient world, the freedom of the private sphere today depends on the modern state’s technological capacity to sustain a public domain without the public’s direct involvement and create enough opportunities, such as fame and fortune, to maintain the citizen’s interest in the private sphere. The public realm one could argue exists to sustain the private domain. In the private domain, we see the political good that privacy serves.

Privacy’s political good is hedonism.

The arguments about privacy are extended and exaggerated in the digital domain. In the digital domain, which is hybrid of public and private, the individual appears to have a different relationship with the state and the community. In the digital domain privacy does not appear an end itself and it is hollow of meaning until it is filled by someone’s intent. In many cases, the intent is often to remove the user from the public’s gaze or the government’s gaze that represents the public. The desire to escape the public gaze reflects the intent of the author of the modern idea of privacy: Thomas Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes developed the idea of the private domain within the commonwealth as he distinguished that he public opinion must be sustained for public safety, which allowed private opinion to remain. He did this in part because he had learned from the English Civil War and the problems associated with religious belief being the basis for persecution. Even though his views on the state mean is often considered an absolutist, his work sets the foundation for the modern idea of privacy in which the public domain supports and protects the private domain. The pursuit of pleasure is what drives the private domain. In this, Hobbes was a political hedonist. The individual wanted their own good. We see that hedonism is the political good that privacy serves. Unlike Hobbes’s age where virtue was a strong constraint on the pursuit of hedonism at the cost of society, the modern era is marked by the pursuit of private pleasures. One could argue that the demand for privacy, especially in the digital realm is an attempt to give private pleasures and practices public protection, which would invert Hobbes. Hobbes believed that any private pursuits or pleasures had to be subject to or restrained from the public domain. Instead, the idea that Spinoza introduced, when he took Hobbes one-step further, was that the state had to protect the private sphere no matter what it pursued, is now inverted. In the digital domain, privacy enables private pleasures and the political system is to be adjusted to protect those private pleasures either digital or physical.[5] The demand for digital privacy is reflects a pursuit of digital pleasures as if they are political or public acts and protected accordingly. Political hedonism means that the public domain is drained of any meaning except to the point where it expresses our private pleasures. The political good that privacy serves is hedonism. The demand for digital privacy now reduces the public realm to serving our private pleasures.

Even as we ask “Is this the freedom we have sacrificed so much to achieve?”, we must remember that without surveillance we would be unable to achieve it for the extent of our freedom is the limit of the modern state to protect and promote our private pleasures as a public right.



[1] See Julie E. Cohen, What is Privacy for? Harvard Law Review vol 126, 2013  (accessed 6 July 2014) The challenge is that contrary to Cohen’s argument, liberal democracy does rest upon a surveillance structure. In an important way, as set out by Hobbes and never refuted by liberal democratic theory, is the need for the state to conduct surveillance sufficient to protect and promote the citizen’s right. Moreover, privacy has never been necessary for innovation. The individual needs to be free to associate and innovate; however, that freedom is not the same as privacy. People innovated before there was a modern state that created the idea of privacy and one cannot assume that innovation is always a heterodox position.

[2] Public opinion has a stronger ability to chill free expression than state surveillance. The power of public opinion to create conformity is nearly unparalleled in its long-term effectiveness. (accessed 6 July 2014)

[3] The European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations conventions of Human Rights are based on positive rights. They do not derive their power or authority as natural rights. There is an argument within Locke that man has property in himself. Yet, that rests upon an assumption created by the modern state rather than based on an argument from nature. Self ownership is a self-assertion. Moreover, as an assertion, it does not say that ownership of self creates or determines privacy within a state, only that one has responsibility for one’s self to the extent allowed or required within the social contract. In other words, the idea of the individual and by its extension privacy finds its fullest expression in the modern state and is not automatically associated with natural right.

[4] See for example chapter 2, The Public and the Private Realm.  (accessed 6 July 2014)

[5] See for example the Economist Virtual Pleasures Cyber Hedonism, which explores why the young who are exposed to the web prefer to pursue their pleasures rather than political change. (accessed 6 July) in this, it seems to suggest what Hobbes suggested about reason now becoming the scout and spy for the passions. (accessed 6 July 2014)

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How does a bureaucracy protect your freedom?

President Barack Obama, standing before the U....

President Barack Obama, standing before the U.S. Constitution, delivers an address on national security, Thursday, May 21, 2009 at the National Archives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a liberal democracy, the law restrains the government. The people consent to the law that creates the government, which in turn, enforces the law and protects the people. The basic social contract is protection and obedience are linked by consent. A government protects us so we obey the law, and we obey the law so the government protects us. As such, obedience to the law is what keeps liberal democratic political institutions healthy and allows them to endure.

The theory is fine, but what happens in practice?

In practice, the courts ensure the law is enforced correctly, proportionately, and accurately. The courts are the final arbiter of these issues. However, before we get to the courts, our first defence is always the bureaucracy. It deals with the law every day and it determines how it is applied. If the paperwork is not right, the issue may go to the court and the law may fail. Thus, the bureaucracy defends your freedom without you realizing it.

We can see this in practice in the recent case of Miranda v. Secretary of State for the Home Office Department. In that case, the Metropolitan Police stopped and interrogated David Miranda based on a request from the UK intelligence services. To ensure the stop was legal, the police had to complete a form called a Port Circulation Sheet (PCS). To the public, it can often appear that when someone asks for a form to be completed that they are being a “jobsworth” or being bureaucratic. What they do not realize is that bureaucrats face the same challenge. Often times, an employee of one organisation can be reluctant to complete the form with sufficient detail for the other organisation. People sometimes use the bureaucracy as an excuse. “I did not have time to complete the form” or “It takes too long to complete the form.” While these laments are often true, they mask a deeper reality of life within the modern state.

In such moments, your freedom and the freedom of others can hang in the balance. In extreme cases, such as in a hospital, it can mean the difference between life and death. In the Miranda case, it decided whether the case succeeded for failed, whether we have justice or arbitrary power to determine how the law is applied.

The paragraphs 9-13 of the Miranda ruling tell the story.

“9. The Security Service (for which the first defendant Secretary of State is responsible by statute) had undertaken an operation relating to Mr Snowden. They became aware of the claimant’s movements. At 0830 on Thursday 15 August 2013 they briefed Detective Superintendent Stokley of SO15, the Counter-Terrorism Command in the Metropolitan Police, the second defendant. On Friday 16 August a Port Circulation Sheet (PCS), a form of document used to provide information to counter-terrorism police officers, was issued by the Security Service to the Metropolitan Police and received at the National Ports Office at 2159. On page 2, against a box asking for confirmation “that the purpose of an examination will be to assist in making a determination about whether the person appears to be someone who is or has been concerned in the Commission, Preparation or Instigation of acts of terrorism (CPI)”, the Security Service had entered the words “Not Applicable”. On the same page this was stated:

“Intelligence indicates that MIRANDA is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security. We therefore wish to establish the nature of MIRANDA’s activity, assess the risk that MIRANDA poses to UK national security and mitigate as appropriate. We are requesting that you exercise your powers to carry out a ports stop against MIRANDA.”

This first PCS was not actively considered when it was received. A second PCS was received at the National Ports Office on Saturday 17 August at 1247. This too contained the “Not Applicable” entry, and also the invitation to the police to carry out a port stop (plainly a reference to Schedule 7). Another section, headed “Guidance for Port Officers”, was considerably expanded, setting out a series of questions which the Security Service desired should be asked of the claimant.

10. Acting DI Woodford was the Ports Duty Officer for Heathrow over the weekend 17 – 18 August. He viewed the second PCS at the behest of PS Holmes, who had received it. He “immediately saw that the PCS did not give sufficient information to provide police with the assurance that the use of Schedule 7 would be appropriate and lawful” (witness statement, paragraph 11). He considered that the “Not Applicable” entry was in conflict with the invitation to the police to carry out a port stop under the Schedule. He agreed with PS Holmes that the PCS should be returned to the Security Service for confirmation that any examination of the claimant following a port stop would be for the statutory purpose given by Schedule 7 (paragraph 13).

11. Meanwhile on Friday 16 August 2013 the Security Service had sent a note to D/Supt Stokley headed “National Security Justification for proposed operational action around David MIRANDA”. The redacted text includes this:

“2… We strongly assess that MIRANDA is carrying items which will assist in GREENWALD releasing more of the NSA and GCHQ material we judge to be in GREENWALD’s possession. Open source research details the relationship between POITRAS, GREENWALD and SNOWDEN which corroborates our assessment as to the likelihood that GREENWALD has access to the protectively marked material SNOWDEN possesses. Our main objectives against David MIRANDA are to understand the nature of any material he is carrying, mitigate the risks to national security that this material poses…”

3. We are requesting that you exercise your powers to carry out a ports stop against David MIRANDA…

4. We judge that a ports stop of David MIRANDA is the only way of mitigating the risks posed by David MIRANDA to UK national security… Additionally there is a substantial risk that David MIRANDA holds material which would be severely damaging to UK national security interests. SNOWDEN holds a large volume of GCHQ material which, if released, would have serious consequences for GCHQ’s collection capabilities, as well as broader SIA operational activities, going forwards…”

12 At 1719 on Saturday 17 August a final PCS was delivered to the police from the Security Service. It had some text in common with earlier versions (“Intelligence indicates… ports stop against MIRANDA”), but also this:

“We assess that MIRANDA is knowingly carrying material, the release of which would endanger people’s lives. Additionally the disclosure, or threat of disclosure, is designed to influence a government, and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism and as such we request that the subject is examined under Schedule 7.”

On his own account DI Woodford did not see the final PCS on the Saturday, but was told what it contained over the telephone. Accordingly he “indicated that [he] was satisfied that the use of Schedule 7 was appropriate” (statement paragraph 14). Meantime at about 1730 that day another officer, DS Bird, head of the Ports Team, told D/Supt Stokley that following “dialogue” between the Security Service and the Ports Team he (DS Bird) “was now satisfied that there was a justification for the Schedule 7 stop”. D/Supt Stokley was given to understand that this was reflected in the PCS, which however he did not see (“it is not my role to approve them”: witness statement of 30 October 2013, paragraph 38).

13 DI Woodford saw the final PCS early in the morning of Sunday 18 August at Heathrow. He “did not know at the time what ‘the material’ referred to in the PCS consisted of” (paragraph 16). However “[w]ith regard to the PCS forms, if [he] had not been satisfied that the MPS would be acting lawfully in undertaking a Schedule 7 stop based on the information received, [he] would not have agreed to the examination” (paragraph 19). And so the stop went ahead, as I have said at 0805 on 18 August. It was executed by two SO15 officers, PC 206005 and PC 206610. They detained the claimant (for nine hours, the maximum permitted period – Schedule 7 paragraph 6) and questioned him. DI Woodford was with them to meet the aircraft at the gate. The claimant’s hand luggage was examined, and items retained which as I have said included encrypted storage devices. Mr Oliver Robbins, Deputy National Security Adviser for Intelligence, Security and Resilience in the Cabinet Office, indicates in his first witness statement (paragraph 6) that the encrypted data contained in the external hard drive taken from the claimant contains approximately 58,000 highly classified UK intelligence documents. Many are classified SECRET or TOP SECRET. Mr Robbins states that release or compromise of such data would be likely to cause very great damage to security interests and possible loss of life.”

If the Police had not insisted that the paper was completed and the reason s section of the form completed to their satisfaction, then the stop may not have happened. The police understood what was at stake as an incomplete form would undermine their case. They have to obey the law and the law requires the paperwork to be completed.

If that form had not been completed properly, the case would have collapsed. The claimants would be able to show due process was not followed. The stop would not have been legally justified. Instead of justice, it would have been the exercise of arbitrary state power.

Now, I doubt that routine requests like this in local government, such as those relating to s.29 (3) of the Data Protection Act, receive such scrutiny. However, the obligation local government officers have to justice, which makes our democracies work, requires such vigilance whether it be at the highest levels of national security or at the everyday business of a local council.

In that brief moment, you can see how a bureaucracy and the due process of the law make the difference between justice and arbitrary state power. So the next time you are concerned about state power being used arbitrarily ask to see the paperwork. If it is surveillance by a local authority, ask to see the Regulatory Powers Investigation Act (RIPA) authorisation. If it is an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ask to see the public interest test. If your personal data is breached, ask to see the data breach investigation report.

These and other small bureaucratic acts are what help you keep the government in check by protecting you from arbitrary power.




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Is the web now a scout and spy for the passions?

The frontispiece of the book Leviathan by Thom...

The frontispiece of the book Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We often see the web as a place where people can share information and learn. In many ways, the web provides information in ways that break down traditional hierarchies as it allows information to be linked horizontally while traditional approaches to information were often found vertically which required going through a gatekeeper. The gatekeeper could be the physical distance from the information as well as a person or institution that controlled access. Now, the web allows people to search for information and connected in ways that they choose. They can explore and investigate issues that interest them and feed their appetite or thirst for knowledge and information. The web allows us to pursue those interests better than any previous era.

Democratic access to knowledge and our appetites

Unlike any previous era, the web has opened up opportunities and knowledge for the average person that would have only been available to the wealthy and the connected. The average person can follow their intellectual interests and their passions faster than previously. By democratising our access, the web has also allowed something implicit within the human person to become explicit or at least provide it with more capacity. The web has allowed our thoughts to become scouts and spies for our passions. The phrase, taken from Thomas, an English philosopher, suggests the way that our intellect serves our passions.

Pursue power or pointless proclivities?

In his most famous book, The Leviathan, Hobbes raised this point in his discussion on the intellectual virtues. In chapter 8, Of the Virtues Commonly Called Intellectual and Their contrary Defect, he argued that all men want to pursue power, riches, knowledge and honour but all of these can be reduce to the pursuit of power. If a man does not pursue these with his thoughts then, he may as well be dead because if his interests go to less important or inconsequential matters, then he is less than fully human. In making this argument Hobbes argues that our thoughts become the scouts and spies for the passions. Our thoughts work for our passion, the passion to pursue (and obtain) power or some other passion.

“For the thoughts are to the desires as scouts and spies to range abroad and find the way to the things desired, all steadiness of the mind’s motion, and all quickness of the same, proceeding from thence.”

The web is almost a purpose built mechanism to be a scout and spy for our desires. The search engines allow us to fulfil our desires either for gossip, titillation, sexual gratification and occasionally curiosity and learning. In some cases, they can be used for the pursuit of power. However, this appears to be rare because of the dominance of the other goals for the average person. Technology, it would appear, has enhanced our reason so that it serves our desires rather than reason directing and ordering our passions. Moreover, it does not direct us towards power but the less important interests.

If you do not pursue power you may as well be dead

Hobbes continues by explaining that without the desire for power, man may has well be dead. Yet, if an individual pursue those other goals, the entertainments, the web may unleash the flaws within the person. We start to explore for the weirdest, the most extreme, and the most outlandish beyond our usual needs.

“For as to have no desire is to be dead; so to have weak passions is dullness; and to have passions indifferently for everything, giddiness and distraction; and to have stronger and more vehement passions for anything than is ordinarily seen in others is that which men call madness.”

The web does introduce a type of madness in individuals in two ways. First, it introduces them to goals other than the pursuit of power. Second, it encourages people to pursue their passions in a disordered manner such as narcissism.

Whereof there be almost as many kinds as of the passions themselves. Sometimes the extraordinary and extravagant passion proceedeth from the evil constitution of the organs of the body, or harm done them; and sometimes the hurt, and indisposition of the organs, is caused by the vehemence or long continuance of the passion. But in both cases the madness is of one and the same nature.

If we apply Hobbes to our current condition, we see in him a description of the narcissism of the web and the way the web disillusions the mind. In that sense, the web creates a solipsistic syndrome where the individual is either full self-conceit or simply disillusioned and depressed by it.

The passion whose violence or continuance maketh madness is either great vainglory, which is commonly called pride and self-conceit, or great dejection of mind.

However, the problem is not the solipsistic syndrome by itself. The deeper problem for Hobbes, and for us, is that when man is not pursuing power, his pursuits of experiences that confirm his pride lead to anger. When the life on the web does not correspond to his reality, he becomes angry.

Pride subjecteth a man to anger, the excess whereof is the madness called rage, and fury. And thus it comes to pass that excessive desire of revenge, when it becomes habitual, hurteth the organs, and becomes rage: that excessive love, with jealousy, becomes also rage: excessive opinion of a man’s own self, for divine inspiration, for wisdom, learning, form, and the like, becomes distraction and giddiness: the same, joined with envy, rage: vehement opinion of the truth of anything, contradicted by others, rage.

Thus Hobbes helps us to understand how our experience on the web is translated into behaviours in the physical domain. The deeper challenge, though, that Hobbes reminds us of is that the liberalism he created unleashes that pride and therefore needs to be restrained. Hobbes created a restraint in the form of the Leviathan. Today that Leviathan is in danger and is unable to restrain the passions that have been unleashed by technology. The forces unleashed by undirected pride cannot be contained by the commonwealth. The Leviathan is literally being consumed from within as each individual wants to exercise their unlimited pride and demands that the Leviathan enable it rather than restrain it. Each person, through their technological augmentation, or rather the web’s promise of such power, demands that their pride be satisfied. The digital domain might be able to entertain such notions, but the physical domain cannot.

I want to be the judge in my own case, what could be wrong with that?

We can see such prideful thinking today in the logic that supports Edward Snowden and other web libertarians. They demand that the physical world reflect their vision, and behaviour, in the digital domain where they can be the judges in their own case. When their pursuits, for which they are lauded and glorified, do not translate into power, for they have not pursued political power, they become angry and resentful. They then believe that the sovereign state represses their ability to translate their digital status into the physical domain. They have judged themselves worthy, and others have acknowledged their status, so the only thing that stands in the way of their pride, in this view, is the Leviathan. We can see this thinking encouraged by theorists like Corey Robbin. In his article on failed Hobbesian states he appears to make the claim that the sovereign state, according to Hobbes, forbids us from holding our own opinions or being the judges in our own cases. His argument suggests that the Leviathan is going to determine our thoughts. However, the passage he cites (below) to support this view means the opposite. The Leviathan only becomes involved in doubtful cases concerning the interpretation of miracles, hardly the same as discussing personal safety, and it only suggests that the Sovereign is the only neutral judge in such matters. In other words, individuals need to offer their disputes to the sovereign, a third party, to avoid a partisan decision as an individual will not be neutral in judging their own case.

The individual judges what is best for society?

The alternative, which Robbin appears to be suggesting, is the solipsistic syndrome, where each individual will judge what is best in their own cases which leads to anarchy. The approach denies that the community or the sovereign, is empowered to determine peace or war and right or wrong for the community. The individual need only pursue what they believe to be right, they only need to follow their passions, be the judges of their own case. Curiously, Robbin fails to realize that such an approach, if it were true, would lead us back to the point that Hobbes wanted to avoid: the state of nature.

Does a sovereign take away our private thoughts or our public acts?

Robbin says that the sovereign is taking away our ability to decide what might threaten us. We cannot judge what a threat is and therefore the sovereign must decide for us.

The only solution to this problem, Hobbes concludes, is to create an all-powerful sovereign to whom we cede this basic right — not the right to defend ourselves from certain and immediate danger (a right no one can rationally cede) but the right to be the judge of what might threaten us and of what actions we will take to protect ourselves from what might threaten us. When we submit to sovereign power, Hobbes says in Elements of Law, we are forbidden “to be our own judges” of our security, for the sovereign, Hobbes adds in Leviathan, is he “to whom in all doubtfull cases, wee have submitted our private judgments.” [emphasis added]

The passage appears to distort what Hobbes meant. When we look at Robbin’s use of Elements of the Law quotation, we begin to see what appears to be the problem. In Chapter 17 there is only one reference to being forbidden to be our own judges and it does not relate to security. The social contract is predicated on the idea that we give up our private decisions to create a community so that we will not have to live with the constant threat that exemplifies the state of nature.

Here is the reference being our own judges in chapter 17 of the Elements of the Laws.

For every man’s passion weigheth heavy in his own scale, but not in the scale of his neighbour. And this rule is very well known and expressed by this old dictate, Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris. [Do unto others as you would have them do unto you [Translated by Google]]

10. These laws of nature, the sum whereof consisteth in forbidding us to be our own judges, and our own carvers, and in commanding us to accommodate one another; in case they should be observed by some, and not by others, would make the observers but a prey to them that should neglect them; leaving the good, both without defence against the wicked, and also with a charge to assist them: which is against the scope of the said laws, that are made only for the protection and defence of them that keep them.

What we find is that it is not the sovereign that forbids us from being our own judges, but the laws of nature. In other words, the proper application of reason in accordance with nature tells us that we cannot judge in our own case. The passage is explaining the basic rule of fairness or justice; you cannot judge your own case. The law is designed to protect those who obey them and punish those who disobey. We can still decide if we have been injured and whether we wish to bring our case to court, before the sovereign, as we still retain our freedom in this regard.

Can we have peace and order if every one judges their own case?

The second problem is that the reference that we must submit our private judgements to the sovereign is taken out of context. The section from which it is taken is not focused on security or on private judgement simply. The section covers a specific issue where private judgements must be offered to an arbiter to avoid greater problems. To understand this quotation, we have to turn to chapter 37 of the Leviathan where the quotation is found. The section is about miracles and man is only giving up his judgement about religious dogma which the sovereign, per chapter 18, must monitor for the danger of threat to public order or safety. It is not that man must give up his judgement about his security, he has given up his judgement to the sovereign on doubtful cases regarding whether something is a miracle.

And when that is done, the thing they pretend to be a miracle, we must both see it done and use all means possible to consider whether it be really done; and not only so, but whether it be such as no man can do the like by his natural power, but that it requires the immediate hand of God. And in this also we must have recourse to God’s lieutenant, to whom in all doubtful cases we have submitted our private judgements. For example, if a man pretend that after certain words spoken over a piece of bread, that presently God hath made it not bread, but a god, or a man, or both, and nevertheless it looketh still as like bread as ever it did, there is no reason for any man to think it really done, nor consequently to fear him till he enquire of God by his vicar or lieutenant whether it be done or not.

The sovereign intervenes in doubtful matters concerning religious dogma rather than all private judgements. As Hobbes lived in an age of religion fuelled civil war, he understood how disputes involving religious dogma become a spark for violent conflict. Moreover, he argued in chapter 18 of the Leviathan that when man creaes the sovereign, the sovereign is given the power, the right, to determine public opinion on matters relating to public safety. In other words, the sovereign has responsibility to maintain public order, as no one individual can decide their own case regarding the public order lest a tyranny be created. The sovereign is not interested in what opinions are best as their only concern is for public opinions that threaten the public order.

Sixthly, it is annexed to the sovereignty to be judge of what opinions and doctrines are averse, and what conducing to peace; and consequently, on what occasions, how far, and what men are to be trusted withal in speaking to multitudes of people; and who shall examine the doctrines of all books before they be published. For the actions of men proceed from their opinions, and in the well governing of opinions consisteth the well governing of men’s actions in order to their peace and concord. ….It belonged therefore to him that hath the sovereign power to be judge, or constitute all judges of opinions and doctrines, as a thing necessary to peace; thereby to prevent discord and civil war.

The sovereign does not proscribe speech, but it will act to prevent speech that is dangerous to the public order. We can see that today as hate speech laws exist and statements that are libellous or slanderous or defamatory are outlawed. In this way, our speech is curbed and the sovereign has a role in determining those cases brought before it so that no one is a judge in their own case. Moreover, the issue is not simply speech; it is that speech leads to deeds. Thus, it is not speech or thought that is constrained it is the deeds that may follow from it.

Words and thoughts are safe but deeds are dangerous

The idea was developed by one of Hobbes’s contemporaries Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza explains in Chapter 20 of A Theologico-Political Treatise why speech and private judgements were defended by the state but not public acts that ran contrary to the state.

For, although mens free judgments are very diverse, each one thinking that he alone knows everything, and although complete unanimity of feeling and speech is out of the question, it is impossible to preserve peace, unless individuals abdicate their right of acting entirely on their own judgment. Therefore, the individual justly cedes the right of free action, though not of free reason and judgment; no one can act against the authorities without danger to the state, though his feelings and judgment may be at variance therewith; he may even speak against them, provided that he does so from rational conviction, not from fraud, anger, or hatred, and provided that he does not attempt to introduce any change on his private authority. [Emphasis added]

Robbin’s analysis of Hobbes appears to confirms the beliefs among the web libertarians that the sovereign is created solely to tell them what to think and how to act. The sovereign is only interested in how they act. Thoughts and speech are not the problem. Where they do become a possible problem is in national security, but this too reminds us of the sovereign’s limits. National security can justify intelligence collection system for electronic communication only to the extent that private statements or conspiracies can lead to public acts that threaten public safety.  Only in that circumstance, with a reasonable suspicious that such private judgements are linked to the reasonable threat of a public act, does the sovereign act. The sovereign, in other words, is doing its job to maintain the peace and stability needed to prosper. To that end, and that end alone, men consent to create a sovereign to protect their interests and make sure that no one is a judge in their own case.

Is the problem our pride or those who encourage rather than restrain it?

The web encourages a certain libertarian narcissism where people want to judge their own cases and they do not want to live by society’s obligations or rules. They want society to reflect their wishes and when it fails to react, they become angry. Their pride is injured so they claim either the sovereign is denying them their right to judge or their freedom of thought as it forces them to conform. In either case, their argument becomes one that the system is corrupt because their digital status is not reflected in the physical domain, which means the political system is broken. The physical world does not work on open access and the demand that it work like the digital domain forgets that the digital domain is a creature of the natural domain not the other way around no matter how hard they may wish for it. What compounds this problem is that those experienced in the world will encourage such thinking and encourage such behaviour at the expense of the young and idealistic. The web encourages the cynical exploitation of the solipsistic syndrome masked as youthful idealism. Once the deed occurs, those who encouraged it suddenly offer blame for a corrupt world masked as condolences.

The digital libertarians may yet learn to understand Hobbes’s lesson that all men pursue power and anything else, no matter how brilliant or how well received by the admiring crowd, is simply an entertainment.



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If the NSA suppresses political dissent, why are they so bad at it?

English: First page of Constitution of the Uni...

English: First page of Constitution of the United States Česky: První strana originálu Ústavy Spojených států amerických Español: La página primera de la Constitución de los Estados Unidos de América (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across Barry Eisler’s post Motive, Means, and Opportunity: Why NSA Secrecy Should Worry Us All and I thought he would explain why secrecy was bad for a liberal democracy. Although he never discussed this issue, he did make a more important claim that is more interesting. He claimed that liberal democratic governments, like the United States suppress dissent.

When it comes to domestic dissent, the government always has a motive. It’s just human nature to see ourselves as noble and good and our detractors as malignant.  And indeed, the historical evidence for the proposition that governments tend to view dissenters as the enemy is overwhelming: see CointelproProject Minaret; and Project Shamrock for just a few recent historical examples, or the Obama administration’s unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers for something more contemporary.

Here we begin to see a problem. Mr Eisler is talking about intelligence activities and immediately equating them with suppressing of political dissent. In each of these programmes, we find that the surveillance was authorised by the government. That in itself is not surprising. What is still not clear is how the monitoring turned into suppressing the dissent. Mr Eisler, nor does anyone else it would appear, suggests that these “dissenters” were assassinated or kept from expressing their views. Moreover, the various people on the lists only appear to have been linked because they were on the list not because they were dissenter. We do not know why they were on the list. To put it directly, being on a list is not the same as being suppressed for dissenting.

If we leave aside the problem with confusing an intelligence gathering activity with suppressing political dissent or being on a list with being suppressed, we still have a second problem. The second problem is that Mr Eisler confuses dissenters with whistleblowers.  In most cases, the whistleblower does not hate his government or country or even dissent from the government or the country. Instead, the whistleblower is pointing out something illegal. The dissenter, by contrast, is disagreeing with the policy, procedures, or position of the government and perhaps the country. They are publicly dissenting from either the government’s accepted position or the country’s or both. By equating the whistleblower with the dissenter, we have a specific activity; whistle blowing now being equated with a form of political speech.  The two are rarely the same. The concern for political speech, however, leads us to the third and deeper problem with Mr Eisler’s post.

He suggests that the United States Government suppresses dissent. Yet, if that were the case, why would someone like Glenn Greenwald is allowed to publish his books and travel freely within the country? Why would the Intercept be allowed to operate and publish? We need to move beyond such superficial and obvious points to a deeper intellectual problem with Mr Eisler’s thinking. To understand the contradiction in his position, we need to look to the political theorists who developed the idea of a liberal democracy and what it means. There we find the opposite of what he is claiming. Liberal democracies do not suppress dissent. Liberal democracies emerged and thrived because they are predicated on the idea of protecting freedom of thought and freedom of public speech. The most famous and outspoken proponent of this idea was Baruch Spinoza. He wrote the following, which suggests Mr Eisler does not understand liberal democracy or political dissent.

For instance, supposing a man shows that a law is repugnant to sound reason, and should therefore be repealed; if he submits his opinion to the judgment of the authorities (who, alone, have the right  of making and repealing laws), and meanwhile acts in nowise contrary to that law, he has deserved well of the state, and has behaved as a good citizen should; but if he accuses the authorities of injustice, and stirs up the people against them, or if he seditiously strives to abrogate the law without their consent, he is a mere agitator and rebel. (p.140)

The central point, which Mr. Eisler and others seem to forget, is that liberal democracies will not tolerate acts that seek to overthrow or damage the government or harm the public safety. They will tolerate free thought and free speech and even active public dissent Free thought and speech are fine. Public acts to thwart the law or overthrow the government through violence are not acceptable. What remains is the problem that neither Mr Eisler nor Mr Greenwald can solve. How to respond to public speech or private thought that will be turned into a public act that hurts the public and public safety? If Mr. Eisler could tell us that we would have no need for the NSA. However, he would do well to remember that even theocracies have spy agencies.

Neither the NSA nor the United States government is designed or directed to stop political dissent. To believe that or to argue that is to suggest something that has no evidence. We may disagree with such programmes and the government that directs them, but to attribute something to them which is false is to fall prey to what he dislikes: the Fundamental Misattribution Error. Mr. Eisler has attributed to the NSA behaviour he dislikes. Curiously, though in the final part of his post, he moves from dissent (words) to the possibility of threats (actual deeds).

Here we have a strange situation. Mr Eisler does not think public safety, either in terms of physical safety or economic safety is sufficient to justify a national security agency. I would ask, if those two goals, which are the main responsibility of any decent governments is not enough, what is? What goals should a government pursue if it is not trying to keep its citizens safe and help to maintain prosperity?

We arrive at the curious point where Mr. Eisler apparently dislikes the NSA and the government because they keep its citizens safe and help to ensure the countries general welfare. The general welfare, he would recall, is the central task of the government according to the United States Constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. [Emphasis added]

I read his post because I thought I would learn about why secrecy was bad for a liberal democracy. Instead, I found that Mr Eisler does not like a constitutional government and certainly not one that defends itself.




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An analysis of the Farage interview on LBC Radio: Was it really a “car crash?”


Interview (Photo credit: smiling_da_vinci)

In the week leading up to the 2014 local elections and the European Union elections, we were treated to the power of the media in its ability to hold politicians to account. When the LBC commentator Mr. James O’Brien interviewed Nigel Farage, it was to hold him to account for his views. In particular, the interview was arranged so that Mr. Farage, as leader of the UKIP party, could address the claims that his party is racist. Most people are interested in the interview for what it revealed about Mr. Farage and his party. For some, it was a chance to see him held to account for his views. For a few, in particular those interested in the media, they saw the interview as demonstrating how an interviewer could hold Mr. Farage to account where other political interviewers had failed. Following the interview, a number of articles suggested that well-known interviewers could learn from Mr. O’Brien and his interview technique. It is that last point that I want to explore in this post.

I have to declare my interest at the start to say that I am not involved in politics; I am not associated with any political party and I am not associated UKIP nor am I associated with LBC radio. I had never heard of LBC Radio before this interview was broadcast. My sole intent here is to explore the questions and the questioning technique used by Mr. O’Brien. A separate analysis would focus on Mr. Farage’s responses. Such a commentary would explore what they might mean for UK politics, but that is for another time.

Asking good questions is difficult, ask anyone.

Few people have the natural ability to ask good questions. We assume we can ask good questions or have good questioning techniques. After all, we ask questions every day and we get answers to those questions. For powerful people, it is even more unlikely that they will reflect on the need to ask good questions because they get answers to their questions. They rarely have to consider the best way to pose questions because the organisations they lead are designed to serve them and the people they meet often defer to their status or power. Thus, when someone tells me about an interviewer with good questioning skills I take notice.

Asking good questions is what makes a democracy work

We may think the quality of questions is unimportant. After all, we ask questions every day and we get answers. The answers determine the quality of what we know. In a democracy, the quality of the questions and questioning techniques enables citizens to hold the government or people in power to account. Poor questions lead to poor outcomes. Without good questions, justice is hard to find. However, in a democracy, questions are often confused with political theatre.  Jeremy Paxman repeating the same question to Michael Howard is not good questioning technique even though it is good political theatre. The danger is political theatre becomes what people expect from radio and television interviews. The notable example has been the Leveson inquiry and its high quality of questions, which I have discussed before here.

Easy to ask questions but difficult to ask good questions.

I am interested in political philosophy, which is based on the idea that questions help us reveal and understand the best way to live, so I am interested in people who are reputed to ask good questions in the public domain. I have looked at the questioning skills at the Leveson inquiry, at the Select Committee and in court proceedings, which provided an insight into the LBC interview. Although I am interested in the outcomes and the content of the interview, it is only to understand how questions reveal the information or fail to reveal the information.

Usually when I review a questioning technique, a transcript already existed. In this case, no transcript exists so I had to do my best to create one. I relied mainly on the LBC interview posted on You Tube. ( All errors and omissions are mine.


The interview starts with a question about today’s news. The interviewer says that a UKIP member said something very offensive. The interviewer than says he is likely a small fry but not what we can compare to your small business spokesman who employed 7 illegal immigrants.

The interviewer asks, “Are they both idiots?” Farage response “They are two different issues.” He admits they have occurred and asks why no one else is asking the other parties.

(At this opening point, the interviewer could have explored whether it indicated that UKIP is a party that is not ready for greater political responsibility. Such a question would have revealed something about the political maturity of a party, which could have helped us understand or challenge the view on racism, which as the main reason for the interview. When the UKIP member does or says something inappropriate it receives a lot more attention because the party is now more noticeable. The interviewer could have used this to contrast UKIP with the disciplined party machines of the other parties. However, the closed question does not offer room for a follow up question.)

The interview asks what happens to the councillor. Farage explains he has not heard of him until this moment.

The interviewer asks him what will happen. Farage responds he will face a disciplinary charge to see if he bought the party into disrepute.

(The answer is a stock one for all political parties and organisations. There is no benefit to exploring this question unless the interviewer expects him to say something else or if it leads to a follow up question.)

At 207, the interviewer then says, “That was on the 17th of February”.

(The statement, posed as a question, which is a common failing in political interviews, implies that the party knew about the tweet since February and did nothing. However, this is not good questioning technique. If he had linked it to party machinery, he could have drawn out a deeper problem for UKIP and its party infrastructure. However, Farage has not heard of the man or the tweet until that moment. Which begs the question of why ask it because Farage has explained what he would do now that he knows. How can he do something about what he did not know about in the past? The interviewer could have asked whether anyone in the party knew about it, but he does not. Here he misses an opportunity to suggest that no one in the party saw it as a problem or has suppressed the knowledge of the tweet. Yet, that is not pursued which suggests that the interviewer has not mapped their questions.)

At 208, we get a statement posed as a question “What about the small business spokesperson that employs seven illegal immigrants?” Farage explains the spokesperson resigned from the company after the immigration raid on a company that he is only a director of and does not run on a day-to-day basis. He explains that the company is disputing the immigration authority’s judgement that they were illegal immigrants. When Farage says, “That does not make him an idiot,” the interviewer asks

At 242, “What does that make him?”

(The question does not follow from the issue since it focuses on how Farage or UKIP would classify him rather than investigating the claim. He does not explore how or why they came to be hired. He could have contrasted this with the government’s pilot about warning illegal immigrants that they face arrest and deportation. At the same time, he could have asked if this illustrates the problem that UKIP is supposedly trying to stop. The interviewer could have explored whether it was immigration, illegal immigration, worker movement, or the movement of specific workers that matters. All these options emerge for a skilled interviewer to exploit. He could have used this to suggest the hypocrisy of the UKIP stand on immigration or at least put into sharp relief claims about limiting immigration and why. Instead, no follow up questions are used.)

At 304, Farage starts to explain how the party is distancing itself from the extremists by refusing ex BNP as members.

The interviewer allows Farage to explain how he has removed people who make outrageous statements and they avoid associating with extremist views. The interviewer does not challenge his claims. He then turns to Farage’s claims.

At 326, the interviewer seems to use a statement as a question “Ok, what about your associations with the BNP?” The interviewer describes the person Farage met, but we do not find a question coming from the statements.

The interviewer moves on to ask about Farage’s association in 1997 with a lunch with a far right writer/ activist. Farage is then alleged to have used racist language in the pub after the lunch. A month later, the writer wrote an article suggesting that the UKIP and BNP find common ground.

At 358 the interviewer asks “How does something like that (the article being written) happen”.

(Instead of asking a follow up question about the arrangements for such a meeting or asking if he discussed whether an article could or should be written, he does not follow up on the meeting. He allows Farage to explain how the writer was brought into the centre of UKIP by the founder. Yet, the interviewer does not ask how he came to be removed or why it appears that UKIP attracts such figures.)

At 420-426 Farage then explains that the person who founded the party, which Farage now leads, brought figure into the party. Farage then explains he met with him to find out what made him change his view.

(The interviewer does not explore the issue. Another chance for a follow up question is missed as he could have asked him “What did you find out about why he changed his view?”)

At 430-456, Farage explains the alleged comments he made and he describes it as mud. He accepts the defence by Farage unequivocally. He accepts it was mud.

(Here the interviewer passed up an opportunity for a follow up question to explore motives of the founder and Farage’s motives in meeting the person and the outcomes.).

At 458-515, the interviewer asks “What about the mud that is being thrown about the far right groups”. (The statement posed as a question only reminds us of UKIP’s alliances in Europe, but it does nothing to explain or reveal why those alliances are made. The interviewer could have asked, “Why do you ally with these parties?”

At 535 Farage explains that the political language and politics of Europe is different from the UK.

At 546-554, Farage says he has drawn a line in Europe so that UKIP will not sit with the extremes but will sit with people “We believe to have a reasonable balanced point of view.

(The interviewer could have explored what Farage meant by reasonable balanced points of view. He could have explored why UKIP had to ally with such groups or find the least extreme parties with which to create an alliance. However, he does not challenge these statements or explore them. However, at 600 the interviewer does ask a good follow up question.)

At 600, he asks, “Why not just leave it?”  Farage says that they may consider it. (Here the interviewer missed an opportunity to get a commitment or ask why he considers it now but not when they made the initial compromise. The interviewer stays on the surface and does not use this as an opportunity to drill into the issue. If this section of the interview was mapped out or planned, the interviewer could have explored what UKIP requires to achieve power and the extent to which UKIP has to compromise to achieve that power. If they compromise on this issue, what is it that they must compromise to be part of the group? However, the interviewer accepts Farage’s statement uncritically, which raises the question of why did he ask it in the first place? Again, if it was to remind listeners of those associations rather than understand UKIP’s behaviour, policy, or goals in Europe, what was the point? So far, all the questions have been on UKIP’s associations without exploring them. A well-structured interview probes and digs beneath the surface. Here the interview remains on the surface.)

At 631 Farage explains that a degree of compromise is needed. The interviewer does not explore this issue.

(When Farage explains that he has to make compromises in EU politics as that is the nature of the political system, the interviewer does not question the logic nor does he ask what types of compromises are required. He does not ask, “What guides UKIP when it makes a compromise?” He does not appear interested in the way that an answer would reveal UKIP’s political strategy. The interviewer does not explore the decisions behind those alliances and the purpose they serve. He does not go beyond the surface to understand or reveal more about UKIP thinking. Instead, he goes to the issue of political classes.)

At 636-645, the interviewer begins to explore Farage’s claim about the political classes and their friends in the media were attacking UKIP unfairly as the party is no different from any other party yet UKIP sells itself as being different.

(The interviewer misses an opportunity in making this point to ask which it is. Is it that UKIP is different or is it like the mainstream parties? The interviewer does not ask this question nor does he explore the issue. Instead, the interviewer starts to ask him about whether he writes newspaper columns.

At 658- 708 the interviewer explores how Farage is in the media without raising a question. (We see another situation where statements are posed as questions, which are not a good technique because it does not force or require an answer. He could have asked about Farage’s friends in the media, as he seems to have some success at being heard and gaining access to the media.)

At 708 we move on to the issue of who is paying Farage’s medical bills as the interviewer raises a Private Eye report that claims Farage’s medical bills are being paid by a newspaper proprietor. Farage does address whether he will make a legal challenge and dodges the issue by saying he is running an election campaign.

(Here the interviewer could have asked, “Who are your friends in the media?” Alternatively, he could have asked something to draw out the issue, as he will know that all political parties rely on favourable media relationships. All political parties have reporters or media outlets they believe are sympathetic or friendly and that question may have been useful to draw out those relationships. However, the interviewer accepts his defence and moves on. He failed to go beyond the surface issue and ask any follow up questions to draw out elements of the issue or find a gap for further questions. Moreover, he does not explore why the legal challenge cannot be pursued during the campaign.)

From 753 to 802 the interviewer allows Farage to explain why he came into politics and what he wants to achieve, which is to remove the UK from the EU so that it is not tangled up by the bureaucrats in the EU. He then claims to have sacrificed a lot to run this campaign.

At 802-1018, the interview focuses on Farage’s business experience and it starts with the interviewing asking whether Farage has sacrificed in pursuit of his goal. “Have you? The last company you ran was wound up?” Farage explains that he ran his own company for nine years and he closed it down. When the interviewer raises some additional points, Farage then clarifies that he was a non-paid company secretary of a firm that was wound up.

(The interviewer never probes the claims nor does he ask a direct question about the firms. He could have asked whether that experience would inform UKIP economic policies. We never understand why the issue was raised. Every year 80,000 companies are wound up, but the question is never put in context. Was the issue raised to show Farage’s business failings? Was it to suggest his financial connections? The question is left hanging, which should rarely occur in a well-structured or thought out interview.  the interviewer keeps focusing on the winding up order, in the mode of Paxman, without using the question to illustrate anything about the issue or about UKIP policies. The could have asked whether Farage has the necessary experience to lead a country through a recession or he could have asked how he would manage the problem of public sector spending in a time of austerity. The interviewer ignores these options.)

At 1018, Farage is able to paint the picture that UKIP is only asked about “Its’ idiots” and never talks about the other parties “idiots”. He then says that we are not having a debate on Europe.

At 1035, halfway into the allotted time for the interview, we reach the central issue. The interviewer says, “People are not worried that the Labour Party and the Tory party are spreading racist propaganda.”

(The statement does not lead to a question, but one is implicit that UKIP are spreading racist propaganda. Here we see a curious disconnect. The interviewer fails to mention (nor does Farage) the government’s pilot campaign against illegal immigrants Here the interviewer could have asked whether UKIP was taking a page out of the government’s media toolkit. Instead, he misses an excellent opportunity to get beneath the surface to ask if politics of fear is what drives UKIP. However, that opportunity is lost.)

At the 1100-1115, the interviewer explains that the public opinion views UKIP as deeply divisive.

(The poll and the point could have opened up questions about whether UKIP is exploiting fear and whether it had a coherent positive vision rather than one that appears to be negative. He could have asked, “Why does your party appear divisive to the public? Is your party divisive (Closed question that leads to follow up question “If your goal is not to be divisive, why do you policies appear this way to the electorate? (Open question) However, these questions never emerge as the interview focuses on statements and claims rather than on questions.)

At 1130-1216, the interview moves on to the topic of people speaking foreign languages on the train. However, he does not ask a question. Instead, he makes a statement. Farage explains his comments that he felt uncomfortable on the train. When he does ask a question of sorts, the interviewer mentions at 1151 that Farage’s wife is a German speaker.

(Instead of asking questions, the interviewer relies on statements posed as question. The interviewer does a poor job of exploring the issues and the deeper issues this reveals about Farage. He could have explored how everyone reacts to uncomfortable situations. He could suggest that this shows how much the world has changed. The interviewer could have asked, “Why do you view that as a threat where other people view that as a benefit?” “Why did you become self-conscious?” Why is your discomfort a reason for immigration control?”  The interviewer could have asked, “If one feels a strangeness of being different in their own country, does he (Farage) understand his own country?” However, these points are not explored and the interviewer goes for simple points about Farage’s family that confuse rather than clarify the issue. His statement goes for a rhetorical point rather than helping us understand Farage or to understand the economic challenge that immigration reflects. The interviewer could have explored that Farage was uncomfortable with some languages but not others. Alternatively, he could have asked if he felt uncomfortable about languages because the UK is not doing enough to encourage language skills, which presents a problem for the UK to compete in the world economy. The interviewer could have asked how Farage would support schools to teach foreign languages and encourage students to see their opportunities in a global economy. However, these points were not prepared so no follow up questions were available.)

At 1216-1238, Farage looking at English as a second language issues in schools, makes a point about the need for a balanced, sensible immigration policy. He wants people with skills to arrive and integration in the society.

(Here the interviewer could have made some excellent secondary questions. He could have asked, “What would you do to improve the way that the UK assimilates and integrates immigrants? “How do your plans to help immigrants integrate and assimilate differ from the current policies in this area?” How will the “ability to integrate” be a criterion for immigration policy?” He could have asked, “As the UK is part of the commonwealth, what model would he use for integrating immigrants?” “The next challenge after integration is then the challenge of assimilation. How does Farage understand the process by which an immigrant becomes a citizen? How does a stranger become part of a society?” The history of Europe shows these are powerful and far-reaching questions. The answers can tear apart families as immigrants struggle with the cross-cultural demands of assimilation. The deeper challenge in European history is that immigrants may assimilate but never belong. As Europe’s history has been written by these challenges and the consequences of ignoring it or hoping that it is solved by tolerance and openness, without addressing the nature of one’s culture and what it means to belong to a country, can be catastrophic for all people involved. The interviewer could have asked how Farage’s policies help the UK to change and adapt to the new ways of living and working that other cultures introduce. A country will change an immigrant and in turn, immigrants change a country. The process can be done through integration and assimilation, which is positive and productive, or it can be done through violence, fear, and repression. Where people only live in enclaves and ghettoes and never become part of a society, a culture, even if they are politically or legally a member, the society soon begins to disintegrate along those fault lines. The interviewer could have asked, “What is your plan to help legal immigrants integrate and assimilate?” However, he did not.)

At 1238-1301, we turn to the issue of English as a second language at a school. (The interviewer could have asked if Farage was using this issue as a proxy for deprivation just as free school meals are often used as a similar proxy. The interviewer could have asked “What are your plans to help schools that may face lower performance as the language spoken at home will influence the possibility of success in schools Any plan to limit immigration still has to deal with the issue of the immigrants that are already here and those that will arrive legally through an agreed immigration policy. However, the interviewer does not explore these issues.)

At 1323 -1401, we arrive at the central point for Farage, which he has mentioned in passing earlier. He wants to manage immigration so that doctors, engineers, and skilled professionals are encouraged to arrive from non-European countries. He argues that as a member of the EU the UK has to have open borders to any unskilled worker who happens to be an EU citizen, which is the basic issue he wants.

(The interviewer does not ask Farage to explain the current immigration policy discriminates against certain groups. He could have asked him to explain why it is ok for some immigrants in certain fields but not others. He could have asked how that reconciles with a global competition or what he is doing to improve the skills of UK workers.)

At 1408, the interviewer explains that the terms of the interview do not appear to allow for such debate. “If that was the debate you offered to have on the programme we would have it now…”

(For an interviewer who appears to have an aggressive style he seems quite reluctant to ask the difficult questions or draw out the points of that debate.)

At 1409, he turns to the central issue, which is the question from the caller. “Why do so many people think you are racist?” (The interviewer then goes on to propose an answer! In an interview, one never puts the answers into the interviewer’s mouth. Here we see a missed opportunity. The interview has opened up a great opportunity to hold Farage to account for his proposals but the interviewer refuses to explore it. If the programme was to debate explore why UKIP appears a racist party and immigration policy appears to be a central part of the UKIP appeal, then a debate on that issue seems to be a priority. The interview could have explored what the UKIP would do to help UK workers who lack of language skills needed for worker mobility within Europe aside from managing immigration. The interviewer could have asked, “What will UKIP do for a UK worker who needs the skills to work in larger EU market?” Unlike other workers, the UK workers appear to lack the language skills that will allow them to seize employment opportunities in other countries, which will not be improved by reducing immigration further. The interviewer could have suggested that none of the parties have an answer and the UKIP solution seems the least helpful. The interviewer could have asked, “What are your plans to increase the UK worker’s mobility within the larger EU market?” However, we do not have that debate we move on to something else. I would not suggest that an interviewer who avoids a debate is an example of good interviewer.)

1407-1421 the interviewer then goes to the caller’s question that sparked the interview “Why do so many people think you are a racist?”

(The interviewer could have asked, “How will the UKIP’s immigration policy help the public to understand the economic challenges facing the country when it does not reduce or address the global economic competition?” Alternatively, he could have asked, “What does your policy do to improve the existing situation for immigrants?”  Instead, we have the tired rhetorical question or its variant “Why do people think you are a racist?” The short answer is “I do not know.”  Then where does the interview go? It descends into pantomime “Oh yes you are! Oh no I am not!” Pantomime interviews make good political theatre, but they do not make for a good interview nor do they suggest a technique that others should emulate.)

At 1422, we arrive at the rhetorical question by Farage “What is racism?”

(If the interviewer had been alert to the question, he might have made an interesting comparison to a similar rhetorical question by Pontius Pilate when he asked Christ “What is truth”. The interviewer might have asked, “What do you understand racism to be? By asking an open-ended question, rather than engaging in pantomime, he could have opened up an opportunity to ask follow up question that require Farage to explain himself. Instead, he does not listen and does not ask any follow up questions. Moreover, the interviewer reaches the point where it would appear that if you discuss schoolchildren speaking English as a second language and your own children speak a foreign language, then it can be or can appear to be racist.)

The discussion about being uncomfortable about language then continues without any questions emerging and we arrive at the question about Farage’s statement about living next door to Romanians.

1453 If a group of Romanian men moved in next door to you would you be concerned?

1455 Would you be concerned if a group of Germans moved in next door? What is the difference?

1459 Farage responds, “You know what the difference is.”

1501 The interviewer says, “No, I do not know what the difference is.” (Here we are now reduced to pantomime interview techniques “Oh yes you are/Oh no I am not!”)

1502-1530 Farage explains we have a problem with quality and quantity of immigration. He mentions he has visited the Roma encampments [he visited a Gypsy Roma encampment in Bulgaria]

He explains he visited the encampments and describes the problems of the Roma people (1515) (1526) (not Romanians). He says they have not viable alternatives so end up in a life of crime.

(The interviewer could have explored why the Roma have not been able to integrate in that society and discuss the ways in which the UK offers a better opportunity to integrate. He could have asked, “What would UKIP do to help such immigrants integrate?” The interviewer could have contrasted that with the UK policies on these issues and described how well the UK government and communities treat Romani and Gypsy Travellers. A deeper problem for the interview emerges in this exchange. Farage has said Roma and the interviewer failed to pick up the discrepancy. What this means is that the interviewer was not listening. He failed to notice the discrepancy or explore it. The interview continues under this misunderstanding and the focus is on Romanians rather than Romani or Roma.)

1530-1535 Farage then turns to open door of immigration that he associates with human trafficking.

(From 1541 onward, we do not know if this is about Romanians or Romani people. As it is not clear who is being trafficked. The confusion from Farage, who mentioned the encampments and he only visited the one in Bulgaria, is never clarified. If the interviewer had prepared for the interview, they would have picked up this issue but the interview focuses on Romanians without asking whether that is what Farage meant. Of course, this does not excuse Farage either as he could have clarified the issue. A further problem is created by the interviewer simply accepting the connection between human trafficking and open borders. One could have explored the issue that the trafficking is worse with stricter border controls, as the UK has, than with open borders such as across Europe. Moreover, the interviewer could have disentangled between human trafficking, the sex trade, and economic immigrants, people seeking to get into the UK to work. However, this issue is never explored and accepted uncritically.)

At 1603-1609, we arrive at the issue of fear and the provocative poster. The interviewer refers to the large poster that says, “They are coming for your job”. Farage uses this to talk about worker movement within the EU.

(Here the interviewer lost an opportunity to ask Farage to explain what UKIP would do to improve education rather than raise fear or raise barriers to the free movement of labour. “What are the benefits of immigration that you oppose?” Or something to draw out how UKIP will square a commitment to Treaty of Rome and other treaties that provide the economic market for the UK with a desire to leave the EU. He does not question the central premise that EU relies on UK in a way that UK does not rely on the EU. The interviewer makes no reference to the UKIP issue o or even the more “detailed” party manifesto. Both of which contain statements that could have been explored.)

The interviewer returns to the central theme about racism. He accuses Farage at 1616 glossing so slickly over demonizing the Romanians. (Even though we do not know if the interview is talking about Romanians or Romani as Farage referred to Roma encampments at 1515 and 1526.)

At 1634, Farage says he is demonizing the political classes that allowed this to happen. (Here the interviewer does not challenge Farage for stating he is demonizing a political class. He could have challenged him about the idea that demonizing a part of society, even a political “class” is opening the possibility for demonizing other parts of the society. However, he does not explore this issue.)

1630-1658 the interviewer asks why Farage links or connects Romanians and people trafficking. Farage provides an answer saying he did not. He then explains that he was asked if he would be worried if a group of Romanians moved in next to you would you be concerned. I think if you lived in London, you would be (1654).

(Here the interviewer misses another opportunity. He has made two mistakes. He has not explored the issue of people trafficking. Moreover, he has not forced Farage to explain what he means by it. He does not explore whether UKIP is equating or linking people trafficking to immigration. An interviewer could have separated the two points as Mr. Obrien has allowed him to connect the two. The second issue is that the interviewer simply allows the statement to go unchallenged. He has not explained how or why Romanians (not people traffickers) would create concern. The interviewer does not draw out the issue to make UKIP explain, beyond improved immigration, how to reassure people about any immigrants even Americans. Moreover, he does not ask Farage to explain why this is a problem of immigration rather than a problem of a host culture being unable to integrate or assimilate immigrants.)

At 1704, the interview asks if it is true that Farage pulled out of an interview because there was no makeup artist.

(The question seems bizarre and out of context. One moment the interviewer is asking if Farage’s party is a racist party and then asking if he pulled out of an interview over makeup artists. A well-structured interview stays focused on the issue and does not go off topic except if it serves a purpose.)

From 1708 onward the interviewer then begins to express his view that he remains unconvinced that UKIP has cleared up the confusion about whether the party is racist. He reiterates at 1713 the alliances with rightists and extremist groups even though he did not explore Farage’s answers.  He then asks the Romanian questions again through 1721-1750.

The interviewer says, “I do not understand why you use words like Romanians when describing who you would or would not want to live next door to. I do not understand why you are uncomfortable with listening to foreign language when your wife and children speak them. I do not understand why you talk about problems in primary schools caused by children like your own?”

As Farage starts to answer by asking the interviewer to meet UKIP BME members, the interviewer makes light of that claim by muttering 1741 “Some of my best friends are….” Farage then explains that weekend polling shows that UKIP is polling at 16% within the BME community. The interviewer does not explore this claim and then agrees to the proposed meeting.

At 1759, the interviewer counters by asking, “What about the polling that shows just over 40% of the voters believes your party is racist”.

(From 1704 onward, we see an interview that has foundered and has no meaningful summary to provide. The interviewer is not the one that needs to be convinced. The interviewer is there to force or encourage the interviewee to explain their position and use questions to draw out consequences and concerns for the audience. He could have asked, “Your answers would appear to leave people unconvinced. How will you convince people your policies will improve their lives? Alternatively, he might have said, “You have shown a concern for people being fearful and your policies and advertisements have played on that fear. How do you reduce that fear if the root cause is not immigration? What have you proposed to improve the skills of the UK workers? (This is not mentioned in the UKIP manifesto or in its European manifesto). The interviewer could have asked, “What would UKIP have done to prevent the current economic recession?” Such questions would force UKIP to explain what they have to offer beyond closing the borders given the economic constraints were from a financial crisis that was unrelated to immigration. However, he does not challenge the evidence or ask a follow up question about what UKIP has to offer the BME community. If UKIP is offering a better economic policy, how will that help the BME community? How will UKIP improve UK competitiveness when the UK relies upon a wider EU labour and export market that membership with the EU provides? The interviewer does not challenge or explore why UKIP appears to be polling well in the BME community.)

At 1805, the interviewer says we only have 20 minutes not a full hour, which thus sets the context for why it finishes the way it does. He says that an opinion poll shows that 40% of voters who see your party as racist.

At 1807-1815, the interviewer asks what you have done in the last 20 minutes to assuage the fears of those people [the 40% of voters who believe the UKIP party is racist] Farage offers a short summary of his defence

1815- 1820. Farage says he will allay fears because he will “Make it clear to people that actually controlling the quantity and quality of people coming into your country is a primary duty of government and we cannot do it as members of the European Union”

(Here is the central issue that should have started the whole interview. The interviewer could have quizzed Farage on the current immigration controls. He could have asked him what he would do to improve those controls. He could have explored how leaving the EU does not change or alter immigration nor does it provide better control over the borders. Instead, he has been allowed to confuse the concerns over free movement with free movement of workers. He could have pointed out the existing controls and work to limit immigration.

However, none of these issues is explored. If the interviewer had prepared, he might have asked Farage to explain his position on these policies. He might have asked him to explain what the policies require as the UKIP spokesperson for small businesses fell afoul of them in being involved in a company that allegedly hired illegal immigrants. The interviewer has allowed the interview to stay on the surface and allowed the interview to make claims that go unchallenged. This does not suggest a strong interview technique that should be emulated by other interviewers.

At 1821-1854, the discussion moves to EU finances and whether UKIP will have an audit of its finances and whether party members will sign up for it.

At 1854, the press officer intervenes to explain that the interview has run over its time.

At 1914, we have a final question “Will you go for an audit that all Labour MEPs go for?” Farage provides a non-committal answer to the closed question by saying it is not an audit as such.

The interview runs down at 1921 rather than being ended abruptly.


What we find is that Mr. O’Brien appeared superficially prepared for the interview but he only asked superficial questions. He rehashed previous events and did not have a game plan to his questions. He did not map out his questions or consider potential follow up questions. Moreover, he often used statements as questions, which meant that Mr. Farage would infer a question from the statement and provide an answer, but no follow up question was asked. A good interviewer knows where they want to go with a response and either use it to link to the next question or provide a rebuttal summary that forces the interviewee to respond. An interviewer who simply accepts the response must only do this if it is for effect. In this interview, none of the responses had the impact that allowed them to speak for themselves.

A second set of issues with the interview technique emerges. The interviewer said that they had no time to debate the immigration claims. Yet, we find they had time to ask about make-up artists, MEP financial audits, and health expenses. If the interviewer had prepared an interview plan, he would have started with the central argument that UKIP wants to manage immigration by leaving the EU. The interviewer could have used that as a theme to draw out the consequences for UK labour market, UK businesses and UK workers. At no point is Farage asked to explain how UKIP will improve the skills for workers to compete in a globalized labour market. He does not explore how UKIP will help business compete in the global market if immigration is restricted or if UK leaves the EU. The interviewer could have asked how a simple solution to a complex issue will be implemented.

Overall, the interview allowed Farage to make a series of uncontested statements and claims. If the interviewer had prepared follow up questions, he would have been able to challenge these statements. At critical points, the interviewer simply moved on and left the topic. The underlying lesson here is that interviews require a question map so that themes can be explored and follow up questions planned. If an interviewer tries to wing it or link together superficial issues, then they will have a superficial interview.

The interview does not appear as damaging to Farage or UKIP as many headlines would have us believe. As a result, it appears to have confirmed popular prejudices rather than forced Farage to explain his position. His position or views on any topic were rarely challenged. In many ways the interview helped rather than hurt the UKIP position on these topics because the central claims went unchallenged.

I would recommend that people who want to improve their interviewing skills learn from this interview. They could see the benefit of a question plan, the benefit of preparing secondary questions, and the benefit to starting with a premise rather than a conclusion. If your question plan has more closed questions rather than open questions, you will have a different outcome. The challenge is to plan open and closed questions so that when they are combined you draw out issues and ideas that would not otherwise be seen. A central flaw or weakness in this interview is so many “questions” were statements that implied questions. Instead of asking a direct question, which many people confuse with making a statement, the interview makes a statement and implies it as a question. For example, the statement “Your wife is a German speaker” only implies a question. The interviewee must infer a question, which does not reflect a well-planned interview. A good interview does not imply questions or require an interviewer to infer them. A good interview asks questions. Finally, a good interviewer never answers the question for the interviewee, which is what happens at one point in the interview. Overall, this is a mediocre interview. It was not worth the hyperbole and headlines that it garnered.

List of resources.

For readers who want to improve their questioning skills, the following are a list of sites and resources. I am not endorsing these sites. They exemplify what is available for those who want to understand questioning skills and how to plan questions for interviews.

This provides examples of closed and open questions.

This site provides examples of questioning techniques from Socrates.

Here is a resource that shows how questions are at the heart of the scrutiny process. It is a useful resource for citizens to hold their government and public official to account.

I would suggest that the Centre for Public Scrutiny is a good organisation to start with for understanding how good question skills are important for good government.

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