Full Transcript. “Truth to Power”. Lowkey interviews Matt Kennard of Declassified UK … Keir Starmer, UK Secret Services and Freedom of the Press

Matt Kennard – Every day, basically, I’m looking at the reality of what Britain does in the world. And they are a force for reaction. They are force for repression. They’re a force for militarism. They’re a force for destroying hope wherever it appears. They’re a junior partner to the US, but actually an integral player. And the imperial operations of both are quite similar. Over half of all the most repressive regimes in the world, as designated by a US funded think tank are backed by the UK, whether that be military intelligence, all these links. And I mean, they’re just completely…reading that one article blows out the water every single mainstream article about UK foreign policy. Every single one. But no-one’s ever covered it. No-one looked at it. And that’s how they maintain that. They marginalise the dissent, they marginalise the truth. I don’t like the term dissent in this case because it’s not just dissent, it’s truth.

[Theme music…]

Lowkey – Welcome to Truth to Power. This time we are joined by the renegade reporter, blacklisted by GCHQ and MOD. The only person that I know of who has said to the war criminal Henry Kissinger, “How do you sleep at night?” Co-founder and head investigative reporter at Declassified, Matt Kennard.

Matt Kennard – Thanks for having me.

Lowkey – Matt, thank you very much for joining us, and I’m excited about this interview. Your political trajectory could have been foreseen. You are the son of the fantastic, artistic rebel by the name of Peter Kennard and he has said before that those that criticise his art say that it makes the bleeding obvious. And he says, that was his aim, to make the bleeding obvious. So to start with, what was it like growing up with this political influence around you? And how do you think it has affected your work today?

Matt Kennard – It’s a good question. I mean, when I was young, before politics, I was obsessed with art because of my dad. He was a big influence on me growing up. But mainly it was the art side of things. It wasn’t the politics. Which is interesting really. We used to go to the National Gallery every weekend and I’d drag him around. I mean, he didn’t take much encouragement because it was his passion too, but I was very much into the Renaissance and Modernism and all those things. He says, that was mainly ’cause of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that’s not true. But then as I got older, the passion for art transmogrified into a passion for politics. And that happened around the time of the war in Iraq. But I think – and I don’t think about this much but – when I do think about what I do now, I can see it very clearly relates to what he does with his art, because his art is…well, he got famous for photo montage. He’s moved onto other things now, but that is all about juxtaposition of two different images or three different images to create a new meaning or to reveal a true meaning. So you put a politician pontificating at a lectern next to the victims of how war crimes. Those two images you never see in the corporate media together, but you splice them together and create a new meaning. And in the journalism that I do that’s what I want to do. I want to pierce the propaganda bubble. And we’re surrounded by propaganda. And people get away with it because the media’s not doing its job. So I see my role as a journalist and I think everyone’s role as a journalist should be to delve underneath the propaganda, to delve underneath the useful ideologies that power uses to justify itself and reveal truth. So there’s probably a very clear line. I think also the creativity side of things as well. Because although the work we do now is quite spare and quite FT-esque in the style that we use, because we feel like we have to because we’re saying things which are outside the norms. We’ve got to be extra special careful. But I think journalism and investigating has a creative element because it’s all about where are you searching for stories? Once you’ve decided what story you want to focus on, how do you get that information? It’s constantly a dynamic process. So there is a relation in that way as well.

Lowkey – You started your journalistic career, we could say, revealing Alan Dershowitz’s conspiring against the well-known, certainly firebrand at that time scholar, meticulous scholar, Norman Finkelstein. You also, as we mentioned, asked Henry Kissinger in a room full of prospective journalists…you were the only one to ask a confrontational question like, “How do you sleep at night?” You later went on after graduating to work as a staff reporter at The Financial Times, you’ve written for The Guardian and the New Statesman as well. But this fairly new organisation which you are a co-founder of and a head investigative reporter at, Declassified, how does Declassified, which for disclosure, I am also involved in an advisory role in Declassified, how does it differentiate itself from mainstream media or publications that you might have worked for in the past?

Matt Kennard – Well, I mean, we set it up to remedy the media landscape because those organisations are part of the problem in my opinion. I think that we have a media that is just effectively, often acts as an arm of the state. And in civics class and in democratic theory we’re told constantly that the media is the big check on unaccountable power. That we live in a democratic society because we have a free press and we can say what we want and we can investigate who we want and we can publish it. When you look at it, and especially when you look on the inside, you realise there’s many, many mechanisms to make sure that the mainstream media does not do that job. Because power protects itself. And it has to protect itself in a democratic society before more sophisticated means than you would get in somewhere like Belarus or somewhere, where you can just shut a newspaper down. So what they do is have all these different ways of making sure reporters aren’t asking the questions and revealing information that a population needs to understand how the world really works and what those powerful interests are doing. So I’d say at Declassified we set it up completely to start doing journalism that you need for a democratic society. So for example, there was – within the UK context – one newspaper that previously did do some good work on the UK’s role in the world. Its foreign policy, its domestic security services, et cetera. That’s the Guardian. Which published the early Wikileaks releases, it published Edward Snowden in 2013. But that has been completely jettisoned, that side of it. It’s become a completely captured media institution. And in fact, the first article we ever did for Declassified was an investigation of how that closing of the Guardian mind happened. And if you look into it, it was quite actively done by the British Security services. We found notes from meetings at the MOD of the D notice committee, which is this committee which meets every six months and has a collection of security officials and some journalists. And these meetings covered the Snowden period. And what it showed was that the security services, the intelligence services, the MOD itself were all panicking. Because effectively, the Guardian was doing real journalism. It was exposing wrongdoing by secret agencies that were not used to being exposed. And they worked very hard to make sure that never happened again. That involved actually – infamously now – that involved GCHQ officials actually entering the Kings Cross headquarters of the Guardian and overseeing the smashing up of laptops with journalists. This is something you might expect in somewhere like China or Saudi Arabia or somewhere. You don’t expect it in London. But that’s what happens when you start pushing the boundaries of what you’re told is acceptable. And that’s how this whole artifice exists. When we talk about democracy, the free press, all of it exists if you don’t push. As soon as you start pushing, you realise it’s all an illusion. And actually when you start really taking on power and really exposing power, they come back at you. The Guardian was threatened with being shut down. Rusbridger was even threatened with being extradited to the US. We know what’s happened with Julian Assange. So in that context I think that they’ve successfully neutered, co-opted the mainstream media in this country. So Declassified, there’s a place for an outlet which is fearless in trying to expose what this government and what our state, what our corporations really do in the world. Which is often, I’d say 99 per cent of the time, completely opposite to what we’re told they do.

Lowkey – What you’ve really outlined there is a way in which journalists are inculcated with this commonsensical notion that civility for access is the only option. It’s kind of a dictatorship of a prevailing orthodoxy across the journalistic class. Now, when we look at you and your situation, it seems that you were – possibly still are – blacklisted by GCHQ and the Ministry of Defence. Can you tell us about that?

Matt Kennard – Yeah, so I mean, this goes back to what I was saying. When you start pushing the boundaries and doing your work as it should be done, as a journalist should be done, you should be holding power to account, revealing information that is in the public interest. When you start doing that, you realise that it makes the powers that be not happy. And in the case of the Ministry of Defence, we published a stream of stories about the British military involvement in the war in Yemen. Which is vast, multifaceted. We are a key player in keeping that war going and keeping the air campaign in Yemen going. So we published a stream of stories like that. We then published a story which was the first evidence that MI5 and MI6 are training every year senior spies from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and a host of other oppressive regimes, that had never been published before, and never even been talked about. It was for that article that we first got an inkling that we might be blacklisted because I was looking for comment from the Ministry of Defence because MI5 and MI6 are training these spies through an MOD course which runs every year. I’ve talked to them on the phone and I said, can I get a comment? We’re running a story. They said, yeah, we’ll get back to you. They didn’t get back to me. Then I called again the next day, called again the next day and they kept putting me off. So in the article it said, after repeated requests, we couldn’t get a comment from the MOD. About a month later, my colleague Phil Miller who’s the Chief Reporter at Declassified, he was on the phone with the Ministry of Defence about another story he was working on. And the guy – he was some officer in the press office – he said to him, oh, yeah, sorry, we don’t deal with your publication anymore. Phil being a diligent reporter was recording the call. So he had it on tape. It became…I mean, the Ministry of Defence probably thought, we’re a small organisation. No-one’s going to care. But it became a big issue because a Council of Europe Freedom Alert, Level II, which was quite a big deal, was sent out. Which meant the Ministry of Defence had to reply. It got into the Independent. It’s the only ever thing that we’ve done that’s actually got into the mainstream media. And then…I mean, it’s a funny thing ”cause this all happened just without a blip on the mainstream radar. Subsequent to that, Ben Wallace mentioned it in the Houses of Parliament. He was asked about it. Then he commissioned an independent report to be done by one of Tony Blair’s former spokesmen. This report came out on the government website, Gov.uk, whatever it is. Long report. Really worrying for anyone that cares about democracy, for anyone that cares about press freedom. It read like something out of Pinochet’s Chile. Like a military officer saying that Independent journalists should be put on a list. Scary stuff. Not one newspaper, or any mainstream outlet has ever mentioned it. Which surprised even me because I felt like they can ignore us as much as they want, but when there’s an official report published and written by a man of the establishment essentially, and it just gets completely ignored, wow. That’s pretty incredible. So that’s happened then. With the GCHQ blacklisting, that was a story that I worked on about how GCHQ has a schools programme. Again, nearly completely off the radar of any media apart from fawning media. There have been a few puff pieces published about it. But I got access to a whole raft of documents about what they were doing in schools. And essentially it showed that they were partnering with the biggest arms companies in the world; BAE Systems, Raytheon, Lockheed. And sending them into schools with…even primary schools. Training them how to build drones and all sorts of outrageous things. There was a three part story. The first story was published and I got comment for that from GCHQ. I went back to them for the second story and they just ignored me. So I was like, oh, something’s happening here. And then the third story, they did it again, they ignored me. So a couple of months later I sent a Data Protection Act request where you can request what information they have on you. And it came back that there was emails from their press department, which was actually quite surprising to me. I thought they wouldn’t give anything. Obviously, there’s a shitload of information they’ve probably got on me and everyone else that’s from their intelligence operations. But this was from their press department, and it showed that essentially they said, we’ve read that story, we’re now going to ignore him. And one of the emails in the chain discussing me said, watch out, watch out, there’s a journo about. That’s verbatim. So this is how they view independent, critical journalism about what they do. It’s scary. They see it as a threat. They don’t see it as part of a vibrant democracy, what they say on TV. They see it as a threat. So that’s how that happened. I mean, even more recently I did a same Data Protection Act request to the Foreign Office. And that came back that they had profiled me before rejecting my Freedom of Information Act request, which I was told by a lawyer was unlawful. I did another one to the Cabinet Office. Now, the Cabinet Office is a very important part of government. It supports the Prime Minister and Cabinet but also intelligence and security functions as well. That came back and said… They took two months longer than they were supposed to – their statutory obligation to get back to me – then they said, we can’t give you your results because there’s so many, we can’t sift through it. There was 1,900 mentions of me within the Cabinet Office within 18 months, which was like four or five a day. So I don’t know what those mentions are. They said it’s probably something – this is what the letter said to me – it’s probably something to do with them sending round your articles. But I looked and tallied up the articles that I’d written. I’d written 31 articles. So I don’t know how 31 articles got 1,900 mentions. But anyway, so that shows that this UK government use independent journalists as. Not as part of a vibrant democracy, but as a threat to their operations. And they’re a threat because all the other journalists they deal with, they get the total opposite. They get…you talked earlier about access journalism. A major function of access journalism is that you basically just start regurgitating the people that give you the access. That’s how it works. It’s a quid pro quo. So the system works very nicely for them when that’s operating. When someone comes along and does something different, then you know about it.

Lowkey – Deborah Haynes, the Sky News journalist who was revealed as being part of the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative, she had a series, a podcast series called Grey Zone, which talked to anonymous people from 77th Brigade, the British Army unit that deals with information warfare. And they identified figures such as yourself, maybe me too, as… Not explicitly us, but people like us as sort of information warriors, and actually the way that the British establishment perceives it is that the main theatre of war today, especially when we’re not talking about asymmetrical warfare, an army as strong as the British Army is, backed up by the United States, possibly the least – but it’s still asymmetric – the least asymmetric space for this idea of warfare is the internet, and is the exchange of information. On that subject actually, around information, when we saw Sir Keir Starmer following an unprecedented mobilisation of many agencies of government against Jeremy Corbyn. We know that the intelligence services were conspiring against Harold Wilson. It’s the conviction of many that that was happening, including Harold Wilson himself. We have some form of evidence of some intelligence activity against Ramsay McDonald, the social imperialist leader of the Labour Party in the 20s, Ramsay McDonald. What we saw against Jeremy Corbyn, who has real credentials of being linked to movements for social justice, whether it is Jimmy Mubenga dying because of G4S guards on a deportation flight, or it’s the war in Iraq, Jeremy Corbyn has again and again and again, over the years, stood on the side of those who are most vulnerable within society. We saw this massive mobilisation against him. And the shall we say crescendo of that mobilisation against him was the crowning of Keir Starmer as the Leader of the Labour Party within this country. Now, when that happened, so much of this fawning that you spoke about was clearly on display. Now, one of a few critical articles that we saw published anywhere was your direct questions to Keir Starmer about his history and his associations. Now, I know that you also were not responded to by Keir Starmer. Maybe you’re blacklisted by him too. But what were your questions to Keir Starmer?

Matt Kennard – Can I first talk a little bit about the Corbyn thing you…

Lowkey – Go ahead, yeah.

Matt Kennard: …talked about? Because I did publish the only article that’s ever been written on him as well and the intelligence, military and their subversion of Corbyn. Like you said, he was the biggest threat to the British establishment probably ever. Especially after 2017 because there was a guerrilla warfare campaign, information warfare campaign, launched from the moment he was made Labour leader to that first election. But nearly everyone thought it worked. In 2017, everyone was saying it’s going to be wipe-out. When he surprised the world by nearly becoming Prime Minister, that was like serious panic stations in the state.

Lowkey – With the functionaries of his own party conspiring against him.

Matt Kennard – Yeah. Totally. Well, we can talk about that a bit later because it really showed up what the Labour Party’s role in the British polity is as well. But I did a story basically…’cause obviously with all these things, the nature of MI5, MI6, GCHQ, national crime agencies, they are completely secret elements of the British state. Thus… A lot of people don’t understand that but you cannot get any information about…there’s no transparency law which applies to them, apart from a couple. One on the environment. So you can get how much… Although I did get GCHQ’s and they redacted most of it. But they are completely secret elements. So to construct some kind of subversive campaign is difficult ’cause we want to deal with real evidence, right? But what I did is I went through all the press clippings of briefings by intelligence and security and military officials from 2015 and found 34 major national stories which were sourced to military and intelligence officials. That’s a lot, and often they led the media in subsequent days. So just after he was elected leader there was a article in the Times which was military chiefs basically saying, there will be a mutiny – they used the word mutiny – by the UK military if he…

Lowkey – Emasculate…

Matt Kennard – Yeah. And I mean, that’s…they talk about Russia as this big threat to our democracy, but yet no-one talks about the fact that a serving military leader is saying that the military won’t stand for the democratic decision-making of the British people. That’s a major thing. Anyway, this carried on. There’s 34 cases of it. MI5 briefed against him. There was a meeting. MI6 briefed against him after another meeting, the leaders. So all that was happening. Anyway, obviously 2019 happens, the establishment drew a big sigh of relief. They’d got rid of this threat. So with the election of Starmer, they’d got someone in place who was basically back to normal. Business as usual. So what I did in that article you mentioned was I went through his record at the CPS because there are various disclosures that have to be made if you’re Director of Public Prosecutions, whether it be your expenses or your meetings, et cetera, et cetera. And I found quite clearly there, I mean, he was even more a man of the establishment than I thought. His decision-making while DPP was absolutely outrageous. I mean, there was two investigations into MI5 and MI6 that took place in 2010 and 2012 into their role in CIA torture at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. And also in Morocco. And he basically, as the DPP has the final decision on what criminal cases are prosecuted, right? So the CPS were investigating whether they could bring a case against those two agencies for their role. I mean, the case if you look into it, was clear cut. MI5 were feeding information to the CIA. They clearly knew what was happening to him, what kind of treatment was being meted out to Binyam Mohamed, who was the prisoner at Bagram Airbase. But yet, 2010, he decided not to bring a case against Witness B, which was the MI5 officer. He was never named. And then in 2012, decided not to bring another case against MI5 and MI6 for a similar role in torture. I found that in his list of meetings from the period that he’d met subsequent to that, the year after, for social drinks with the Head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, who was at that time Head of MI5. Now, you might say, well, he’s Head of the CPS, it’s normal to meet with the Head of MI5. In fact, I looked at all the other records of all subsequent DPPs and not one of them had ever met with the Head of MI5. And especially, what is even more suspicious is that this was for drinks. There’s two tallies of meetings. One is official meetings of the CPS and one is social meetings. This wasn’t even an official meeting. It didn’t even have MI5 on. It just said Sir Jonathan Evans. Drinks. So anyway, you’re talking about someone who decided in a case that was actually praised…the decision of the CPS that Starmer made, Jonathan Evans released a statement that year, 2012, saying, we’re so happy. We thank the CPS for their decision not to prosecute this Witness B. He’s had a awful time of it, et cetera, et cetera. He’s then having drinks with this guy a year later in a social setting. So soon after that meeting, Evans left MI5. And soon after that meeting, Starmer left the CPS. And then went on to become a Labour MP. But after that I started looking more into his background and I realised his whole milieu is…well similar, he’s a member of the Trilateral Commission, which is a body which was created in the 70s by American billionaire David Rockefeller, who was a banker. And he had links to the CIA as well. I looked at declassified files which shows he was going in to meet the CIA, the head of it. He obviously had some sort of relationship there. Anyway, he launched it as a kind of Cold War sort of thing. It was about getting Europe, America and Japan together for forums, yeah? That’s what they say on the surface. But anyway, there was no sitting member of the British Parliament that was a member apart from Starmer. And there were a couple of ones that had formerly been part of it that were then MPs, one of whom was Rory Stewart, who a security source had told the Daily Telegraph was an MI6 officer before he went into politics. I then looked at all the meetings of the Trilateral Commission and they have access to the highest levels of British intelligence from David Omand, the former Head of GCHQ has spoken at one of their meetings. John Scarlett, the former Head of MI6. Stella Rimmington, the former Head of MI5. So I’m not saying that him being a member of the Trilateral Commission means anything specific, but what it shows is what kind of circles he rolls in. And he’s never mentioned his membership of the Trilateral Commission. Something like the Trilateral Commission, you would not expect a Labour leader if it’s a…well, he calls himself a Democratic Socialist, but I mean – you can laugh at that – but I mean, you’d laugh even more when you start looking at the record. And then obviously…and then the really outrageous part of his record is what he did while he was Director of Public Prosecutions during the Assange case. Because the Assange case is one of the most terrifying examples of the capture of due process, the legal system, the judiciary by the state that I’ve ever seen. And it started way back in 2010 with the Swedish case, and the CPS has been completely…Starmer was DPP from 2008 to 2013. 2010 to 2013 was the period where they were trying to resolve the Swedish case while he was in the embassy. And there was this long process about trying to get the Swedes to come to the embassy because Assange was obviously scared about persecution from the US if he was sent to Sweden. Subsequently he’s obviously been vindicated on that. But Stefania Maurizi, the Italian journalist has been in a process of trying to get information from the CPS about what was happening, and they’ve just been completely secret. They admitted to destroying most of the documents during that period. A couple of things they did release, one was a handwritten note from a lawyer that said to the Swedish team who were saying they might drop it, they said, please don’t get cold feet, exclamation mark. So there was an obvious will at the CPS to stop this case being resolved and to maintain this deterrent of keeping him there and basically getting him ready for the Americans. And it played out like that. I also found that he’d been in Washington, in a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder in the period. We don’t know what was said. Again, that article, none of it proves anything in terms of…there’s no a add be equals c. But these are all questions that the public deserve to know. He’s a public figure, the head of the opposition party. So to not respond at all and to act like this doesn’t exist is a symptom of a man who is I think arrogant and doesn’t feel he has to respond to what are legitimate concerns, because journalists never ask these. It’s just me. I published that on the Grayzone, which is an alternative media site in the US. Why aren’t no mainstream media here reporting on it? There’s nothing. So his whole background, his whole milieu, his whole position within the network of power in the UK, he’s a man of the establishment. And actually, my criticism of the Corbyn people is that they should have known that when he was in the shadow cabinet. Because he was one of the ones that actually quit during the chicken coup. And they reappointed him to a more senior role. And there’s argument now about whether he was involved in sabotage with his Brexit position, which many people put down as the reason that the 2019 election was lost. But there was an inability or an unwillingness to look at the truth. I found it even in the election campaign. People wanted to believe that Starmer was this great hope that was centre left. He wasn’t Corbyn but he wasn’t too bad. But anyone who’d had a cursory look at his record, not just on what I’ve talked about, but also the cases he prosecuted against rioters during the London riots in 2011, Charles De Menezes, all these people, all these cases, show that he was willing to do the bidding of the establishment whenever he was asked. There was hardly any evidence that he ever went against the establishment line. In fact, I don’t think there’s any. The only thing I could find that showed that he has some sort of even belief or political will outside of power was when he was a human rights lawyer, he wrote an article during the Iraq War saying it was illegal. But that was it. After that it’s just he was on the road to power and nothing was going to stop him.

Lowkey – What do you think the soft-pedalling of people like him and Biden who have been servants of the security state in one way or another whether it is Biden’s crime bills in the 80s, Omnibus Crime Bill in the 90s, which saw the US prison population basically quadruple. Biden later on claiming to be the author of the Patriot Act, which took away so many civil liberties in the United States. Obviously Keir Starmer as you have made clear, in his history, the soft-pedalling of these figures as insinuations of power, in a way it communicates the message to the populace that the only way you can beat the far right bogeymen of whether it’s Boris Johnson or Donald Trump, the basic lesson is the only way you can beat them is through the security state. What does that mean in a society where we have more unelected people in the Houses of Lords than you have MPs in the Houses of Parliament. You have something like 26 bishops representing the Church of England. It was 300 years that people in this country, that white, landed gentry literally had to get killed on the streets of Manchester in the Peterloo Massacre, get deported to penal colonies in Australia, like William Cuffay in Tasmania, that people had to organise to even get that type of episodic representation, and it was only after World War One that things really started to change in terms of granting that to women and people that weren’t landed gentry. What does that say where you have an organisation of society that has such great PR, it constantly repeats this idea of what it is, when in actuality the way it functions is not like that? What does that say to us about the parameters of political possibility?

Matt Kennard – Well, I mean, you’ve hit the nail on the head. We do not live in a democracy. That’s what people need to understand. This is not a democratic state. Britain is an oligarchy. It’s had the same oligarchy for centuries. It’s changed little bits. There’s been new…elites have risen up, but essentially, after the Norman invasion they divvied up the land and used to have baronets and all these people that were given land. I’m talking a thousand years ago, that still own that land. So what has happened in the democratic period, 19th Century, 20th Century, is there’s been various concessions that have been given to the people. So the Houses of Parliament, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, obviously still in that period, but the House of Commons, various other things like transparency laws. These kind of things, the little things that they throw out that people think, oh, yeah, we do live in a democracy. But we don’t. And the two-party system that you’ve described, with Biden and Starmer being the Liberal end of it, what it does is it enforces the oligarchy. Because it gives the illusion of a democratic system, where two parties fight along principled lines for what they believe in, which are opposing things. When in fact, they believe the same thing. They’re two factions of the same party. There’s two factions of the same oligarchy. And that’s why the two-party system is the major problem we have. And you see it all over the world. I’ve spent a lot of time in Latin America. Every single old party that exists on what is called the centre-left or the liberal end, they’re all representative of the oligarchs and the oligarchy. And in fact, all the liberation leaders that have come up in recent years, it’s interesting if you look at it. Like Lula, Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, Rafael [inaudible 36:46]. Nearly all of them had to create new parties to get into power because the existing oligarchal, liberal-left parties are designed to stop people like that getting anywhere near power. And we saw it in a very real way in this country with Corbyn. And in fact, before Corbyn, I used to say, well, the Labour Party is the problem. You can’t use it as the vehicle. I know there’s this big debate about can you use it as a vehicle for progressive change? I don’t think you can. And then Corbyn happened and I’m sort of thinking, okay, maybe I was wrong about that. But actually, what happened…in hindsight, I now think actually proved my original point that the Labour Party was the main vehicle through which Corbyn was destroyed. In 2017, if we’d had two years of united party that was willing to enact and get behind his progressive programme, which wasn’t that radical, it was mild social reforms; things like a national education service. Very inoffensive stuff. If they’d done it, he would have won the 2017 election. But this is my point. For the Labour Party establishment, for the Labour Party people that represent the interests of the Labour Party, Corbyn is much more of a threat, or was, than Boris Johnson or the Conservative Party will ever be. Because the Labour Party in its traditional role is the oligarchy with the Conservatives. The whole of our political system is set up to stop someone like Corbyn getting anywhere near power, whether that be within the Labour Party or obviously, Prime Minister itself. So that was why I found that so interesting, that period, because we’ve got a whole system set up to stop someone like that getting there. And it was interesting because I often think with systems, you don’t really understand how they work until they stop working as they should. And with Corbyn, the system stopped working as it had been designed. So you saw all the pressure points, as we talked earlier, the intelligence services that like to talk about how they’re there for national security and for our safety, they had to come out the closet, and you could see them or they were briefing in the media. You’re like, shit, they are scared. And then there’s obviously the Labour Party itself, which had to expose itself as, we will try and destroy… I don’t know if it’s ever happened in Western history, there was a headline in the Independent, Labour Party officials were working to stop their own party winning the 2017 election. All these weird pressure points that you just don’t see in our society normally, someone like Corbyn comes along. So we’re now sold Biden and Starmer as a way to get back to the system running as it should. And we can go back to thinking, oh, I hate Johnson. Starmer’s so good. He stands up in Prime Minister’s questions and really has a go, when in fact, they’re not that different. They’ll do cosmetic changes, the Labour Party, and this is what I’m saying about the Labour Party. I think that – as you mentioned earlier – the big changes in our society, if we want to bring them about, they’ll happen in an extra-Parliamentary sense. I would say…Johnson in power, with Corbyn as an opposition is a more democratic, more progressive state than Starmer being in power, because if you remember in that period, when Corbyn was in opposition, everything the Tories were doing, there was pushback. I’m talking about things like the support for the Saudi war in Yemen, the arms to Israel, all these things that are just part of the oligarchal discourse that you just can’t touch. They were all getting questioned for the first time. We lost all that, and I’m not optimistic about the future because I think they’ve closed that window. And they did it successfully. And Starmer’s going to come in and then…I mean, I laugh now because I thought the left might have learnt something about Starmer subsequently. They’re all like, oh, well, he said he was going to do his ten pledges, but he never did them. I’m like, have you looked at who this guy is? But now, they’re all going for Andy Burnham. And Andy Burnham even has a worse background than Starmer. He’s been praised by the Tory Party for his privatisation of the NHS in 2009/10 when he was health minister. He voted for the war in Iraq and around 2010 said something like, I still think it was a good idea. I’m talking about after a whole society had been basically destroyed. But people are grasping for straws. They’re panicking. There’s a sense of the window has closed, and I think it probably has. But I don’t think that the reaction to that should be, let’s try and find our next saviour who’s actually an establishment PR hack. Let’s focus on different strategies, i.e. building extra-Parliamentary movements and understanding what Labour’s role in the British polity is, which is to support the British Establishment, to absorb the radical left and neutralise it. You mentioned Wilson, who was probably the most left Labour leader and Prime Minister we’ve had in the 20th Century, maybe. He and his administration, if you look into it, they were arming the Nigerian regime when they carried out one of the worst crimes of the period in the late 60s. They destroyed Biafra. Why did they do that? Because they were protecting British oil interests. So that’s the left extreme of the Labour Party. We need to think bigger, we need bigger ideas and a bigger imagination. And it’s said a lot now. I think people are coming round to it that Labourism is part of the problem.

Lowkey – Absolutely. I think that what you saw in this period was people like us rubbing up against the edges of what Sheldon Wolin called inverted totalitarianism. So it’s the way in which we do not have the choice of voting against certain permanent interests that are behind consecutive governments, continuously. And so when you had somebody like Corbyn, he was pushing against those permanent interests and obviously, those permanent interests react to that pressure and successfully suppressed it in a way perhaps many of us overestimated the extent to which that system is, whether it’s dynamic or malignant, its ability to withstand that kind of pressure. Now, on that subject, I think it would be quite interesting to ask you about what seemed to be the prospective internal changes to the Official Secrets Act that Priti Patel and the Home Office are pursuing.

Matt Kennard – Yeah, so you mentioned it earlier, about the grey zone, about this new zone of warfare. And it’s very real, and in the information age, which happened with the internet, where you could disperse and disseminate huge amounts of information, as an individual, that was a major threat to the establishment, not just here but establishments all over the world, that were used to controlling the flow of information, not only from themselves to the population but also from the media to the population. Because – as we talked about earlier – the media often just operates as an arm of the state. The internet completely upset that whole thing. And obviously, Wikileaks were the progenitors of the whole new way of looking at how you can get information out to the people and get truth out. This is a major, major threat because we live steeped in ideology, useful propaganda, which is completely at odds with truth. And when truth becomes more freely available to people, they might wake up to what is actually…their state is doing in their name. And there’s a lot of strategy papers that have been written by the American National Security state, by the British about how this is the new zone of warfare. So the British state wants to basically catch up. They want a deterrent in place ’cause at the moment they’ve got Julian Assange in Belmarsh, but that’s not a… He’s seen as something a bit separate to the mainstream media. They want a deterrent in place for everyone else. And they want a legal deterrent, and what that means is traditionally, up ’til now, you’ve always had… A national security leak, from Ellsberg to Snowden, the leaker himself or herself has always been criminalised, right? Through the Official Secrets Act or whatever Act it is that you have to sign when you have access to classified information. What they want to do now is blur that line between the leaker and the journalist and criminalise the journalist end. Because there is a certain freedom that the journalist has to publish that information once they get it. Now, they want a deterrent in place to stop that journalist even publishing that stuff. So the proposed changes to the Official Secrets Act are to make publishing information that is deemed to damage national security an offence. So I think that…these are still proposals, obviously, but they were saying, up to 14 years in prison. There was a commission recently as well called the Law Commission, which was another commission tasked by the government to come out with more proposals on this, ’cause they’re obviously quite scared about this free flow of information. There was another one that said the handling of classified information, not even publishing it, handling it if you don’t have the required access, could be a criminal offence. So you’re seeing, across the board, a real pushback and backlash from the UK government to stop journalists being able to publish or receive information which they deem a threat to national security. That famous term, right? And obviously it’s as loose as they want it to be. I think – and I know this term is used a lot – fascism, right? It’s flung around, but I do think this is a prelude to fascism because I think one of the fundamental tenets of fascism is you cannot question your state, especially on issues of national security. They know you have to obey. You know? And what these proposed laws, which may come in if there’s not pushback from civil society and the population at large, these laws would…basically, the message it sends is, we decide what is in the public’s interest for them to know. And you can’t do it, and if you do do it, you’ll go to prison. That sounds like fascism, doesn’t it? So I think that the problem they will have is societal norms. That even if they pass laws, if something happens, say for example, a journalist did publish information about a war crime, and they got put in prison for 14 years, I think there’ll be such outrage because of the norms that they themselves use to project power. Because the UK government uses media freedom and press freedom to project on, there will be pushback, but who knows? At that stage in history it might not matter. There’ll be other laws that they can just dampen that down. So I mean, to contradict myself, straight after I’ve said something, the example of Julian Assange would indicate that the media won’t care, won’t support journalists who break any of those proposed laws, so we’ll see.

Lowkey – And I mean, of course, the ironic thing is whether it’s the New York Times of the Guardian, the very same journalists that benefited greatly from the millions of cables that Wikileaks released, you think of how many adverts for fossil fuel companies were sold off of the back of Wikileaks stories being published on the Guardian or New York Times, all the same kind of laws would be applicable to these very journalists that published these stories. What’s interesting is when I think of Yasha Levine has a book called Surveillance Valley about the way in which following the defeat in Vietnam, the United States set about finding a way to predict insurgencies, but also to map populations. And one of the ideas within US defence circles was the creation of the internet, this world wide web that could…it was obviously used internally in the military initially, but when it was being made, you even had places like MIT, where it was being made. Students having sit-ins and occupations and protests against the building of the internet because of how invasive it would be to people’s privacy. So in a way, what you have now is a kind of re-regulation of the internet, whereby even if hacks or leaks do happen, you cannot draw attention to those hacks or leaks because then the force of the law can be used against you. And in a way, you’re seeing real journalism being treated akin to organised crime. Essentially by the state. Another interesting question to look at would be Tony Blair commenting that the Freedom of Information Act was one of his biggest regrets. How is the government today dealing with that threat of the Freedom of Information Act, but also how does this sort of governing via WhatsApp affect what is then applicable to Freedom of Information?

Matt Kennard – It’s funny that Tony Blair regrets one of the few good things that he actually did in power. But in theory, to answer your question, in theory the Freedom of Information Act must be one of the most democratic pieces of legislation that’s ever been passed in the UK. It is in theory about the ability of any citizen to access information from public authorities, which they fund with their tax. Any information which…there are obviously some exclusions to do with national security, et cetera. But you in theory have access. But how the powers that be have managed to neuter it is they just don’t…it’s not enforced. Just habitually. Most of the work I do is through the Freedom of Information Act. I published a story recently about UK support for the coup in Bolivia in 2019. It had never been written about as a subject. There’s been some about the US, but nothing about the UK. I did that based on a Freedom of Information Act request I made for a specific programme run by the UK Embassy in Bolivia, and I got 20 pages of notes back. I’m still shocked that I got it, but I got it, we published a story. It became a big issue in Bolivia. The Ambassador was called in by the Foreign Minister of Bolivia, blah, blah, blah. The British Embassy released a statement subsequently, accusing us of a campaign of disinformation, even though we’d used their own information. But I mention this because subsequent to that, all my requests have just gone unanswered. So they’ve obviously realised, oh, if it damages their ability to project power, even if it’s truthful, then they’ll stop releasing that information. And it’s very easy for them to do because no-one’s enforcing it. There’s an Information Commissioner’s Office, but it’s toothless. I’ve tried to approach them and it’s not that easy. And then, obviously there’s other institutions that just do not exist within the transparency laws, like MI5, MI6, GCHQ, which you can’t even put in a request. So I think that like all these things, every single democratising mechanism, tool, whatever it is that’s created throughout history, there’s always a backlash from states and corporations because they don’t like it. Democracy is…they hate it. They don’t want an informed public. They want us following their narratives and following their information they’re putting out and following their stories. They don’t want us to have any kind of independent analysis of what’s happening. So there’s pushback, so on the Freedom of Information Act, there’s just a war on the legislation itself, and it came out recently with an Open Democracy investigation of this… I don’t know if you heard about…it’s called the Clearing House. It’s this unit within the Cabinet Office which is run by Michael Gove and…

Lowkey – Yeah.

Matt Kennard – …has been accused of blacklisting journalists and basically it’s where all sensitive Freedom of Information Act requests go for central discussion, I guess. And then goes back out to the ministries themselves. That was the 1,900 mentions of me I mentioned earlier. Some of those were to do with the Clearing House as well. So it’s just…yeah, it’s not enforced and to be honest with you, I mean, I’m just pessimistic…any piece of legislation that holds government to account, it’s just not enforced. And that is how government works.

Lowkey – With Britain having around 150 military bases around the world, having a network of islands which function as tax havens, that account for 37 per cent of all government losses around the world, through tax outside of their country, from Columbia to Yemen, is Britain a force for good in the world?

Matt Kennard – No, in a word. And I think you have to be on drugs or work for the corporate media to think that it does.

Lowkey – Or both.

Matt Kennard – Or both. Yeah. It’s an amazing mythology. And it’s mirrored by the US. They have this thing called American Exceptionalism, which is about how America operates very differently, along principled lines. Very differently to all superpowers. They don’t deal with interests, da, da, da, da, da, da. It’s literally…the intellectual level is about the level of a five-year-old. And I’m not even exaggerating when I say that. I think if I sat my son down and explained to him some of the facts, and said this is the fairy-tale if you like. Oh, right, well, they don’t go together, you know? But the interesting thing about our society is you cannot work in any elite part of the intellectual industries unless you believe it. So one of the most stupid anti-evidence premises that exists within our society, that Britain is a force for good, you have to believe it to actually have any intellectual influence on society. And those two things are linked, obviously, ’cause they don’t want people who are saying something opposite anywhere near a FT column or a BBC chat show. And what my job is at Declassified – ’cause we focus on UK foreign policy, every day basically, I’m looking at the reality of what Britain does in the world. And they are a force for reaction, they are a force for repression, they are a force for militarism, they’re a force for destroying hope wherever it appears, they’re a junior partner to the US, but actually an integral player. And the imperial operations of both are quite similar. If you look at how they operate, so for example, they have the National Endowment for Democracy, they have the Fulbright Programme, we have the Chevening Programme. The US copies the British style of imperialism. Obviously, it’s gone onto much bigger things, but everywhere you look, Britain is projecting its interests, whether that be geopolitical or corporate interests. And the fact that people can write in the media that we are a force for good that sometimes makes mistakes – ’cause you can say that – but they’re always mistakes, they’re not crimes. It is a real indictment of our intellectual culture. And it co-operates across the board.

Lowkey – I think the intellectual acrobatics which is performed by a lot of journalists is the re-packaging of imperialism to a kind of noble intentioned incompetence. And I think specifically with the Iraq War, whether it is some of the more popular BBC programmes that have come out about it, it’s been quite effectively carried out, this remixing and this re-packaging of this deeply damaging and harmful process which plays out across the world for homeland consumption. In a way, unfortunately.

Matt Kennard – Yeah. In my opinion, it’s impossible to fight because they have all the money and all the power. And the discourse is generated in quite specific ways. So there’s the corporate media, which we’ve discussed but there’s also the think tank industrial complex, like the RUSI and Chatham House and IISS. They’re the three big ones, and then Kings College London. They’re all funded by Gulf dictatorships, arms companies, NATO foreign ministries. All of them have interests which are about projecting benign American, British power, projecting war. And all the people that are paid by them through their fellowships or their analysts, then take that into the media. And the media never, write “Chatham House, which is funded by Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry or the Saudis or Raytheon”, which is all true. That just goes seamlessly into the discourse, and it becomes common sense. And when you’re outside of that, you have no institutional backing at all. There’s no infrastructure set up, and that’s the way that that discourse is maintained, because it’s impossible to get money or anything if you sit beside that. A good example of it is Phil’s – Phil Miller, who I mentioned earlier, Declassified’s Chief Reporter – he did a story recently, very simple, great story. He went through Freedom House. They do an annual…they’re a think tank in the US. They’re actually funded nearly totally by the US government, but they do an annual report on unfree, free countries around the world. And Phil went through and found how many were backed by Britain, and over half of all the most repressive regimes in the world, as designated by a US-funded think tank, are backed by the UK, whether that be military intelligence or these links. I mean, they’re just completely…reading that one article blows out the water every single mainstream article about UK foreign policy. Every single one. But yet, no-one’s ever covered it. No-one looked at it. And that’s how they maintain that. They marginalise the dissent. They marginalise the truth. I don’t like the term dissent in this case because it’s not just dissent, it’s truth, which is the more important part of it, you know? So you get this whole illusion of reality generated by these different interests and then you marginalise the people that are saying the truth, and then everyone…the society at large will talk endlessly about Hong Kong, Belarus, or China. They don’t talk about Saudi, Oman, Bahrain, which are the dictatorships we actually can do something about, because we support them in toto. So it’s frustrating, I mean, that’s the thing. When you see this discourse generation quite clearly, when you’re actually working on this journalism day in, day out. And you’re basically pushing against a tidal wave of misinformation and disinformation. And in fact, one of the more amusing parts of the discourse now is the National Security State. And its accomplished journalists have taken on the mantle of fighting disinformation and misinformation, which makes me laugh because they talk about – I don’t know – some Russian bot accounts like they have much impact.

Lowkey – Well, they talk about people like you and people like me.

Matt Kennard – Yeah. Well, that’s the other thing. And to go back to the Bolivia thing, when they published the disinforma…they said we had a campaign of disinformation, we consulted lawyers and sent a legal letter to the Foreign Office because we were concerned because if you look at the strategy documents of the UK military, they say that disinformation, pushing that out, is a form of warfare. And obviously, if they designate you as a agent of disinformation…

Lowkey – …are you a combatant?

Matt Kennard – …they can open you up to all sorts of strategies from their intelligence or military. So it’s serious. And I mean, they do it to a lot of people, but this is another way of closing the mind. If you control the mainstream, which they do, but you want to make all alternatives…push them out, you either say they’re disinformation or you call them conspiracy theorists. That’s the other thing they use. If you’re saying things that aren’t in the mainstream, you’re a conspiracy theorist. And it’s quite effective, man. And that’s why you see – just to finish – so many resources going into obliterating the reputation of alternative media. Because you would think they’re…like, the Canary’s a good example. The Canary’s…I mean, it has some sort of purchase, but it’s not a widely known about publication, but there was a lot of focus on destroying them.

Lowkey – Absolutely.

Matt Kennard – And completely out of proportion to what it is. And that’s because if you can’t argue with the information, you have to destroy the reputation of people that are putting it out. ”Cause that’s the only other option. So you have to go after them as individual…say they’re Russian agents, whatever it is, or they’re funded by da, da, da. So yeah, it’s not looking good, but we’ll see what happens.

Lowkey – Thank you so much for joining us today, Matt. It’s been great talking to you. I hope to be involved more and more in Declassified and I look forward to the things we will be revealing in future.

Matt Kennard – Thanks for having me, man.

Lowkey – Thanks.

About Wirral In It Together

Campaigner for open government. Wants senior public servants to be honest and courageous. It IS possible!
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