The CAGE/Emwazi Emails: Managing Perceptions of a Counter-Terror Policy in Crisis


Through the 90s, Gary Webb, an award winning journalist, experienced the wrath of the CIA through the corporate media for exposing CIA’s link with the Contras in Nicaragua and the cocaine epidemic in the US. There was a suggestion that the black communities were being targeted with these drugs. An internal CIA document authored by Nicholas Dujmovic, an employee of the CIA Directorate of Intelligence at the time of publication, noted the “already productive relations with journalists,” which allowed the CIA’s reputation to be left intact thanks to distractions by major newspapers. Webb’s career was destroyed and some years later, was ruled to have committed suicide with two bullets to his head. Much of his core findings however, were found to be accurate. As the Intercept spread articulates, the corporate media spent,

“ …far more time trying to poke holes in the series than in following up on the underreported scandal at its heart, the involvement of U.S.-backed proxy forces in international drug trafficking.”

More interestingly, Dujmovic wrote that the papers had deflected the core allegations, using stories which cited, “[r]espected columnists, including prominent blacks.” In other words, people “representing” the black communities, which were enraged by the allegations, had been abused to successfully shift opinion.

Closer to home, Peter Oborne resigned from the Daily Telegraph, citing the suppression of news related to the recent HSBC scandal. The HSBC advertising account was priority for the paper; i.e. the “free press” was free as along as it didn’t expose the corporations financing it. A Media Lens analysis piece on the reaction’s to Oborne’s resignation article highlighted the use of words to subtly discredit a person:

“Jenkins described Oborne as ‘a maverick’, a media scare word indicating that someone is to be viewed as an oddball – interesting, well-intentioned, but unrealistic. (In the Guardian, Michael White described Oborne as a ‘romantic’) Hugo Chavez, Noam Chomsky, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, George Galloway and Glenn Greenwald are all frequently described as ‘mavericks’.”

There are a few points we can draw from the above:

  1. Security agency can muster control over the discourse through journalistic “contacts” and Home Office departments like RICU, which have explicitly targeted the corps like the BBC for their propaganda dissemination.
  2. People from within the target or affected community are used to discredit their claims.
  3. Epithets are diffused into commentaries and articles to undermine and discredit claims, without explicitly doing so.
  4. A media smear campaign is initiated to discredit the source, and shift focus from the damning allegations.

It is interesting to note that the above points are present in CAGE’s media portrayal.

Stasi-like Practices

The doors for discussing Britain’s failed counter-terrorism strategy have been flung open by CAGE. The government’s already derelict narrative, which pins blame solely on ideology, was completely placed on its head with the suggestion being made that, aside from foreign policy which is always deflected, harassment and psychological torture by security services was a major contributory factor in the radicalisation of Mohammed Emwazi, (“Jihadi John”). CAGE have taken a principled position after articulating their experience of Emwazi before his disappearance and re-emergence as an ISIS operative. Allegations of Mi5 mistreatment are based on a series of meetings and email exchanges, which have now been publicly released. In other words, their position has been based on evidence, and their call has been for an enforcement of rule of law and due process.

Despite the “o dear God no, what a stupid suggestion to make” responses coming from various quarters, the practice of curtailing freedom of movement and using threats to secure compliance is nothing new. An article in the Independent from 2008 documents the widespread use of harassment and threat by the Mi5 against young Muslims of Somali and Arab origin. In one vile example of psychological intimidation, a 23-year old Muslim, Adydarus Elmi and his pregnant wife upon arrival at a US airport, were questioned and deported back to Britain. The agent then pursued to make harassment calls to him and the family, and in one call, told Elmi the gender of the unborn child, despite him informing the hospital that he did not want to know.

Another individual is Mahdi Hashi, also cited in the Independent article. He was threatened with the label of terrorism if he did not inform on his friends and encourage them to “talk about jihad”. He was repeatedly approached to carry out this task and was also stopped at airports. Soon after the publication of this article, he left for Somalia to care for his grandmother in Mogadishu, and later settled down with a wife and eventually a son. After being stripped of his nationality, subsequently detained, and then rendered to the US in a twisted tale of tyranny, Hashi is now in solitary confinement in New York.

These tactics draw parallels with East Germany’s Stasi agents. The Stasi devised a repressive and vigorous strategy called Zersetzung (lit. decomposition), which employed various, plausibly deniable tactics to mentally destabilise victims. Tactics included character assassination, manipulating property, destroying personal relationships and using direct threats and intimidation. In many cases, such abuse would result in the victim committing suicide. It was an affront to human rights.

By masking, deflecting and ignoring the security service’s practices which increasingly may have contributed to radicalisation, the Western media and the government are failing to recognise that the experience Emwazi and others went through, is still an affront to human rights.

Government reaction

The government’s reaction has been very much a neoconservative one: appealing to emotions through accusatory appellations instead of discursive rationality. The anti-Muslim, neoconservative, Boris Johnson, smeared CAGE for being “apologists for terror”, only because they sought to open the stifled discourse on radicalisation. He quickly steered his drivel towards blaming ideology and then called for more repressive measures in the form of control orders.

Cameron continued the formula of smear and emotion, by declaring CAGE’s position “reprehensible”. The neoconservative discourse amplified with Cameron seeking refuge in nationalist cries (“they are protecting our country”). Evoking Dick Cheney’s refusal to define torture, he appealed to emotion and focussed on the victims, as if this would provide an excuse for excesses committed by State apparatus, which in turn may have contributed to the creation of a terrorist in the first place. He also stated that, his priority would be to put those people committing heinous crimes against British citizens, “out of action”.

Quaint. Please do start with Theresa May the extremist for her treatment of Mahdi Hashi, and then the security services for alleged complicity in torture of “British citizens”.

The smears continued with former “independent” terror legislation and neocon Alexander Carlile attacking CAGE for “sloppy thinking and unwise language”. Carlile is linked to the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. The research centre has close links with corporate security and arms companies. It was established by a close associate of Carlile, the controversial Paul Wilkinson, who, in line with neoconservative thinking, advocates state repression over human rights; and Bruce Hoffman, a terror analyst of the neoconservative RAND Corporation.

His links to neoconservatism do not end here. Carlile has contributed to reports written by the bigoted Douglas Murray, and published by the hate-funded Henry Jackson Society. He has also spoken at key events organised by HJS. Douglas Murray has described Carlile, alongside Theresa May, as “peerless allies” of David Cameron in the context of tackling extremism and has approvingly cited him elsewhere.

Obviously, the “unwise language” is not “wise” for the neoconservative “wisemen”, as it sits at odds with their authoritarian aims.

The reactions suggest a government desperately trying to protect itself from scrutiny. The tactics deployed to achieve this however, are only amplified by a complicit and uncritical media.

Media Reaction

The media, like the treatment of Gary Webb, has also focused on CAGE, discrediting their senior researcher, Asim Qureshi. Much of the focus has been on CAGE’s press conference, which thoroughly shed light on Emwazi’s background, and called for due process and rule of law.

BBC, as per the usual method of undermining the target source, repeatedly called CAGE “controversial” and their claims “bizarre” in during the live feed of CAGE’s press conference, thereby setting the tone for the viewers that these were just a bunch of idiosyncratic individuals, not to be taken seriously.

The Daily Fail comment, which is riddled with inaccuracies, openly called CAGE, like Boris, “apologists for terror” and described the press conference as “excruciating”. The conference for the Daily Fail, was,

“a stream of propaganda from the Muslim ‘human rights group’ Cage, blaming MI5 for the evil crimes of the Islamic State ‘executioner’ known as Jihadi John.”

I’ll let the irony of the Daily Fail calling others propagandists sink for the reader. Having watched the video, absolutely no where did CAGE blame Mi5 for the “evil crimes” of the “Islamic State executioner”. On the contrary, they repeatedly asserted that he maintained autonomy for his own actions in the press conference as well as subsequent interviews. The process of radicalisation however is what was being discussed, i.e. the timeframe before his disappearance. Yet, based on the conflation of two timelines, the Daily Fail proceeded to deviously vilify, and thereby mask the disturbing claims being made. Amongst other inaccuracies was the following statement:

“According to Qureshi, it was only MI5 harassment and the West’s attacks on Arab nations that turned him from an ordinary football-loving Muslim boy into a ruthless killer.”

Except, in his interview with Jon Snow (26/02/2015), Qureshi states,

“What we say is that, the way that he was treated, has definitely got to contribute to the ultimate destination that he is in right now. Of course, that is not the only factor, there are many factors when it comes to these things.”

Considering the fact that the Daily Fail piece was published two days later, the inaccuracy points to a concerted effort to denigrate CAGE’s reputation.

Then of course there is the claim regarding CAGE’s association with the extra-judicially assassinated Imam, Anwar Awlaki. The claim has been repeated elsewhere and the anti-Muslim propagandist Andrew Gilligan has pasted the same in his government-cover-up piece. Gilligan describes Awlaki as a CAGE “favourite”. Asim Qureshi himself has clarified that their interaction with the Imam,

“…stems from his status as a prisoner who was detained without charge in Yemen at the behest of the US administration. This is a man who unequivocally condemned the 9/11 attacks after they had taken place, and yet the US administration still chose to try and have him detained having also interrogated him in Yemen despite never being charged with any crime… when invited to our events he has only spoken from his experiences as a former prisoner.”

And as Peter Oborne, noted,

“Cage has distanced itself from the cleric’s increasingly extreme views since 2010, but continues to question the legality of his death.”

Again, the superficiality of the smears highlights the strenuous effort going into manufacture a narrative.

The person who ostensibly emerged from the “affected community” was Maajid Nawaz. Allegedly linked to the Mi5, he went on a surprisingly childish twitter campaign attacking Qureshi, weeks after complaining to Glen Greenwald that his Tweet linking Sam Harris and “a Muslim in the UK”, amounted to “ad hominem”. (HJS made a similar claim when it was forced to quit its Westminster role.)

This is expected given Nawaz’s Quilliam Foundation is an ardent proponent of PREVENT and advocated Carlile as a “PREVENT overseer” at Downing Street, describing him as the “best man for the job”.

josephrowntreeletterThe Sun, not to be outdone, also joined in the attack. Inaccurately assigning charitable status to CAGE, The Sun libellously called Qureshi a “Jihadi Badie” on its front page; a pathetically cheap ascription, especiallygiven Qureshi’s firm differentiation between traditionally-grounded Jihad and terrorism, and CAGE’s overarching position of acquiring restitution within the framework of law.

These relentless cheap-shots have continually shifted focus away from the shocking revelations towards labelling, smearing and attacking CAGE in any way possible. Despite this, there are those who recognise the worth of the work CAGE does. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, despite it being smeared also, also issued a letter of support regarding CAGE.

Concluding Remarks

Islamists, extremists, apologists. That’s quite a few “-ists” coming from the neoconservative establishment. Indeed there are common threads running through the statements of neocon officials and the smears of major news outlets: there is a distinct lack of acknowledgement and engagement of and with the evidence brought to light by CAGE.

What we are witnessing are neocons and their related hacks rattled by a tiny organisation. They are desperately clutching at straws through spin and smear as they try to regain control over the discourse. In the process, they are masking potential crimes perpetrated by the security services. As I argued in my last piece, such actions may have the adverse effect of threatening the security of the state, as opposed to protecting it.

The media, through forced distractions, are knitting a blanket and placing it over the eyes of the people. This is undermining democracy, which is dependent on an informed, as opposed to misinformed, “demos”. CAGE, through its evidence-based analysis and emphasis on due process and rule of law is supporting the very “British value” of accountability. Indeed, those newspapers which, in this heated moment are succumbing to the suppressive tides of an emotional climate, are failing to live up to the purpose of a free press. The following words of Gary Webb could not be more apt in describing what we are witnessing with CAGE:

“If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me … And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job … The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress …”

One thought on “The CAGE/Emwazi Emails: Managing Perceptions of a Counter-Terror Policy in Crisis

  1. no comments? I wonder why. can’t handle the real truth. The problem isn’t islam. nothing wrong with islam. arabs are cool. the problem are pakistanis – Pakistan, a basket case country with deep seated cultural, political, and mental problems.

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