Resistance to repression the Steve Wright way

In: Craig S. Brown (ed.), Steve Wright: A Spy for Peace (Sparsnäs, Sweden, 2022), pp. 25-56

See also "Encounters with Steve Wright, mostly at a distance"

Steve Wright, introduced by Brian Martin

Introduction by Brian Martin

Steve and I began corresponding in the 1980s. I saved all our letters, in either hard copy or electronic form. Many of Steve’s letters contain fascinating insights into his efforts against repression technology and his thinking about strategy. Going through these letters, I’ve extracted passages that focus on investigating the repression trade and campaigning against it. Most details about our personal affairs and collaborative research are omitted. I’ve included extracts only up to 2005, covering the period when Steve was regularly visiting arms and security fairs.

Steve’s letters were filled with typos. He obviously wrote at speed and didn’t bother to correct errors. Most inaccuracies have been corrected here. Even though typos might be considered to give a more genuine picture of Steve’s communications, they are distracting. Steve occasionally seemed to have kept his finger on the same key too long, leading to spellings such as “aavaailable.” He often ended sentences with a long series of full stops ……… I’ve replaced these with single ellipses … which don’t indicate that anything is missing, just that Steve finished a sentence with multiple full stops. In a few places, I’ve added explanatory text in square brackets or footnotes. Except where indicated, text here is taken from Steve’s letters to me. I’ve included two of my emails to Steve, from 2002, to illustrate our exchange of ideas while developing a joint article.

Even though technologies have changed dramatically, much of the strategic thinking from decades ago has relevance today. If you are concerned about surveillance, social control and torture, there is much to learn from Steve.

8 August 1985

Thanks for your kind words on my earlier work. As you can see [from the letterhead], I am now working for Manchester City Council — as Head of its Police Monitoring Committee’s Research Unit … we watch the local fuzz!

I have moved more away for social defence in recent years only in terms of time devoted. After writing a pamphlet on the repressive side of civil defence tactics which included a section on alternative defence, most of my research efforts have been towards the export of repressive technologies and how to stop them. I can send you a copy if it would be of interest. There is a tie up of course, so much so that at one stage the Dutch government were going to fund my work as part of a larger study on civilian resistance. My theory is that certain new police technologies may severely undermine the viability of some of the traditional civilian resistance techniques — new pain and less lethal technology could subvert nonviolence training unless proper preparation anticipated the effects and creative countermeasures were evolved.

14 June 1991

After the gulf war ended, there was a tiny piece in the Guardian to say that Hiatt Handcuff boxes were found in Kuwait prison after the Iraqis fled. It struck a chord since I remembered past news stories where there was mention of western involvement or equipment reported at the site of some state sponsored atrocity soon after the regime collapsed. I am left thinking that if major humanitarian organisations such as Amnesty are to have any impact, immediately after a state terrorist regime falls, a task force needs to be dropped in to immediately check out the evidence of external collusion. We might argue about the structure of such a task force if it is to have both authority, legitimacy and credibility but in a publication such as yours, a powerful case can be made for the major international organisations to pay more than lip service to human rights rhetoric and recognise the importance of acting quickly when a torturing regime loses its grip.

14 January 1992

 The most relevant action I’m currently involved in is with Amnesty International who tomorrow publish a book on business and the repression trade. Our aim is to get Amnesty activists to write politely to companies asking for their policies for trading with human rights violators. It’s a way of questioning business ethics, is non-violent though potentially economically damaging to the company and is a potentially powerful way in which concerned peoplein liberal democracies can directly intervene in stopping the flow of repression expertise and hardware to the torturing states.

22 March 1992

Schweik Action sounds fun. Is your report on telecommunications for social defence out yet?[1] There was a related story in the March edition of AI [Amnesty International] British Section Group Newsletter. It concerned Andrew Brown, the Parliamentary Columnist on the Independent and referred to a feature in the American magazine CompuServe. His wife Caroline wrote to a Jamaican prisoner on death row. One day a telegram arrived saying “Appointed to hang on Thursday. Call Carl Rattray, Jamaica. Save Us. Ivan Morgan & Earl Pratt.” With less than a week to act, letters were out of the question. The two men had waited on death row for l3 years but no letter campaign could be organised in a few days. The only form of long-distance mass pressure left to exert was a fax campaign. AI had fax numbers for the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Minister for Justice (Carl Rattay). Although Brown didn't know it at the time, AI USA had also posted full details in Library 15, Ethics/Human Rights of the Issues Forum on CompuServe. The day before the execution, several people reported that the fax machines of the Jamaican Government had suffered sudden catastrophic failure. The fax campaign helped to save the men’s lives and Compuserve with its quick inexpensive faxing facility had helped enormously.

7 October 1992

MILIPOL was like a black & white TV cold war spy drama. I arrived in Moscow to be met at the airport by the organisers’ lackeys. Sitting in their car, I was asked for my formal invite. This time it had not arrived — only a fax from Intourist [Russian tour operator] — so I was asked to meet the Frenchman in charge at his hotel the next day. A nerve-wracking drive followed but I made the connection and persuaded him of my bona fides. I was given the access card of his assistant to get past the KGB perimeter guards. It amused me to look at it and read my new designation of interpreter as I tried to recollect my 4 words of Russian. The fair itself had many foreign exhibitors and the bridgeheading by French, US, German and English companies was apparent.

I thought I’d done with such trips for a year but somehow the money emerged to attend the HURIDOCS conference on Crete. The contacts were amazing. One of the participants from Hong Kong said she knew of some local millionaires who would be interested in my findings from the ChinaSecure exhibition to be held in Beijing. So at the end of July, I nervously made my way to China. In Tiananmen I found that the surveillance cameras were made in the US! Anyway, I managed to get some of my findings published in the Guardian, and I enclose a copy of the article for your files.

Finally, you asked about linking challenges to repression technologies with challenges to the state. I know something of the dangers but we are both aware that research and training in this area are nearly always learnt on the job at the worst possible moment and nearly all of the researchers fail to survive the process of R&D. This evolutionary process in situ needs to be avoided but even the more advanced approaches of territorial defence have flaws. The Yugoslav experience is now revealing the terrible price of attempting a violent response to a more violent state authority. At least some of the answer must lie in the path you are advocating in terms of non-violent training as a tactical approach. Such a strategy can allow proliferation of action not just restricting it to set battle fronts. It might be worth exploring the possibilities of getting a grant for this work from the United States Institute for Peace. Their latest brochure on solicited grants says they are specifically looking for proposals on conflict resolution training. They tend to take a conflict management approach and yours might be too radical. Yet the blurb does identify the need to train local mediators during dangerous periods of transition in places such as Eastern Europe, the former USSR, parts of Africa, Asia & Latin America. Grants available are 100,000 dollars and they are looking for materials and techniques which must be suitable to real conflict situations and contain an evaluation component. In any event it’s probably worth sending off for the brochure. If you succeed, you can appoint me as a researcher and I'll come up with the anti-state repression bible of the 21st Century … the evolutionary equivalent of the air sniffing frog who invented a new survival niche to survive the hazards of being limited to the sea. I always remember that archetypal deviant fish when the going gets tough. Without it, all of what we know as civilisation would have been doomed so when people say we are naive — they should have talked to that fish.

17 September 1993

Whilst there is, as you say, no direct literature on this area [science and technology for nonviolent struggle], there is much that is there. For example the scientific material on riot agents often includes advice on decontamination which could be applied. There is also the work on IRA [Irish Republican Army] countermeasures which contains a vast store of possible technology which could be used without their violent ethos. This includes material on interception of SIGINT [signals intelligence] material using adapted B & W TV’s; blocking of surveillance devices using field animals; detection of helicopters and SAS squads using stolen NATO infrared binoculars etc. I’ve one or two articles which I could send you if you are exploring this avenue. There is also the question of research as a tool of non-violent resistance which of course your own work is a case in point. In the early eighties, there was a conference in London on researching state structures. The papers were fascinating — particularly the material on the electronic nervous system of most state repressive systems. Of course all of this is vulnerable to technical interception and much to quite primitive destructive measures such as thermite — depending on whether your chosen ethos does not disallow violence against property. There is also a substantial literature on guerrilla TV using homemade equipment. Such counter broadcasting is to my mind a critical measure in creating counter-realities in any society under state siege. You could look at publications such as Radio is my Bomb: A DIY Manual for Pirates.

My own perspective on this subject is that most of the communities that have ever used countermeasures against state repression and state terror have done so spontaneously and that much of what you wish to reapply must be inspired by anecdotal evidence and stories including researchers and journalists that revealed hidden state structures since exposure on a bigger stage has produced useful chilling effects against repressive structures which have depended on secrecy. To find such stories, it might be worth going fishing. I would suggest the IPRA Newsletter, HURIDOCS magazine, PIOOM journal at Leiden University, JPR, JCR, and the new journal for non-violence which has just started in Europe.[2]

I can write to the latter since they are currently commissioning papers suggesting that contact you. There is also a magazine here, based in Hull, called Lobster, which just specialises in exposing dark state deeds. There are others but I guess the best way forward would be to write a short resume of what you are attempting to achieve — treat it maybe as an historic study for this purpose, of finding out how people have used countermeasures to resist state terror, on 1 page of A4 with contact numbers. I could circulate it here and you could circulate it amongst your networks and relevant computer bulletin boards. Most of what you would get back would be dross but a small percentage would with luck be gold.

Omega’s work of using technical systems to research companies is a good case of action at a distance.[3] We've found many well known companies which have a contaminated underbelly. For example Fiat makes mines, Kodak makes riot gas etc. There is some beautiful counterpointing of reality with advertising slogans here. Our chosen route, following an intersectional meeting of Amnesty International groups in London in May, is to get local AI groups to ask searching questions to their local merchants of repression. When they wriggle with plausible denials we now have data on 3000 companies to evidence our casework. The campaign begins in October to coincide with Amnesty’s campaign on the disappeared. I'll keep you posted on how this little experiment works out — providing of course some company lawyer doesn’t manage to sue us to pieces!

Re Schweik Action Wollongong and the opposition to bureaucratic elites.[4] I wonder if I told you or sent you material on Policewatch from my old police monitoring days. Our slogan was for a more accountable police force and it was deliberately written in the style of the Sun rather than the Guardian. I think it was incredibly effective — even the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher read it because it was so direct. Its approach was to directly tackle larger issues through examples that everyone could understand, either through cause celebres such as the Stalker Affair or through inadequate policies such as the no-criming of domestic crimes against women. We did of course have the advantage of getting a copy of a glossy news sheet through every door in the city and the mass media would regurgitate our propaganda as news in itself which would echo to the walls of the city gates. Because it generated a policy debate within the local force chiefs, many of the policies we wanted changing have today changed along our lines … I guess it is an approach which can be reapplied. Every bureaucratic elite is vulnerable to the challenge of … “We demand greater accountability” … particularly if it uses an economic line about how the way our money is spent. Any unwillingness to comply or acknowledge means that the press senses a story and the whole issue develops a critical mass. What I do think is important, as was the case in the related whistleblowers material, is to take possession of our victories and to create case studies of even partial victories whose fruit maybe came much later. Somehow we need to create a culture which accepts that it is not because life is difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that life is difficult. Ha! … but it helps when others like you dare too.

25 February 1995

It has been a while since we last corresponded so I thought I would drop you a quick note via the net to illustrate that our system [email] does work and to stay in touch.

Over the last year Omega have been involved on a Channel 4 Dispatches programme called The Torture Trail which was broadcast on 11 January 95. It involved secretly filming an undercover team’s effort to buy £5m of electric torture equipment in the UK.[5] Caused a bit of a stir here: one of the companies was raided by the police; another company suspended its sales staff and the government were forced to admit that some British police forces had acquired 50,000 electronic riot shields as passive weapons for use against wild dogs in pre-planned operations

Finally on Pepper gas. There has been an explosion of companies getting into this field now. Some of the interest has been accelerated by the US programme of research into non-lethal weapons. Guardian (16 Feb 95) reported that US troops have deployed chemical foam and sticky foam in Somalia. What is new here is that the companies are also selling antidotes to the chemicals which may be useful to your project. I see this as an indication of the severity of the pepper gas: the manufacturers need to decontaminate the police and vehicles of the personnel deploying it. But the antidotes are designed to be effective against all current riot agents.

9 March 1995

This is the way to do it [use email], use the technology we continuously advocate! I’m still a bit of a novice but this is nearly real time info and the chance of turn around within hours is there should we need it.

It is good to learn of your many projects. I like the idea of architecture that changes a community’s perspective for the better.[6] Back in my hometown of Newcastle, they have one estate, Byker, which was famously developed to keep the community together, encourage local pride and a sense of owning the territory. As its fame grew, media people have taken it up as a place to explore new ideas. There have been some intriguing results when local Geordies [people from Newcastle] had the chance of putting any artwork of their choice on the wall — anything from modern art to old masters. Geordies having a drink at their local clubs then discussed the merits of what they chose. But the people of Tyneside have been so screwed over by governments in the past that they have a fighting spirit that no amount of community re-structuring can destroy. Alas most of the architecture and design criteria I have seen in recent years have been concerned with designing out community solidarity, taking away defensible space and building in facilities which will allow police to take over in the event of a disturbance and control exits.

It is quite a difficult subject to get any consensus on in Britain. Fear of crime dominates every discussion about freedom and the majority of people would agree to anything if they thought their house had less chance of being burgled and their insurance costs would go down. Many cities have successfully mounted citywide surveillance projects and have claimed that these have reduced crime, although in most instances it is just a matter of displacement. The surveillance equipment manufacturers are advocating solutions based on neural networks which mean that individuals can be tracked during their stay in the city and their movements recorded and sequentially joined.

Britain has just announced it’s testing new chemical foam for its police and it is just a matter of time before the new generation of less lethal weapons being evolved by laboratories like Sandia and Los Alamos in the US are put on display at various police and arms fairs. The new toffee gun has already had a public airing to bemused journalists in preparation for it being put on standby for the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia. In the event it wasn’t used by the Americans, who are itching for a demonstration site in the South to demonstrate their new non-lethal warfare doctrine. Some of the historical work on disabling chemicals has been collated by colleagues and I will attempt to get their permission to put it on the network in due course.

15 March 1995

I still can’t believe the potential for contacting a whole network of people through pre-set broadcast facilities. It will save much time later on if we get all the media numbers pre-loaded. It is reassuring that we could, in an emergency, send out a press release to the world’s press and to all the relevant agencies as well as masses of supporting documentation. Through my previous work, I’m familiar with the need to gorge the press with organised well-written info. There is so much noise that they can ignore a great deal and yet time pressures mean that anything well written with accompanying pictures can be a lazy journalist’s dream. It will be interesting to try out the theory in a limited exercise later in the year.

I’ve not seen the two books you referred to on surveillance but will now look out for them. What worries me in the UK is that just one or two gruesome cases such as the James Bulger child murder or a baby snatch can get every anxious parent saying I want any measure that makes this world more secure for me and the civil liberties dimension is an abstraction. On the same basis in the UK, we have had the issue of identity cards aired again — it will take the form of a smart card — maybe incorporating another facility such as a social security card or a driving licence with a photograph. What has been less publicised is the drive towards incorporating biometric data — any card that has pictures for official use in the UK will be machine readable by photographic image. It’s part of the problem of imagining the dangers of these new technologies. It’s being aware of how all the elements create something that cannot be seen in isolation. Each piecemeal improvement is rubber stamped and yet few take the time to see how such ‘modernisation’ is being plugged into systems and programmes which are malleable and can work to a very different range of agendas.

In Manchester, during my Police Monitoring Unit days, the Greater Manchester Police swore down thump that they were not red triangling gays and lesbians on their databases. (Our worry was that a homophobic chief constable such as the previous top cop James Anderton could signal a war on any sexual ‘deviants’ and the police on the ground would use their databases either proactively in stop and search operations, or that during a stop and search, prior knowledge of someone’s sexuality would have a strong negative influence on what happened next.) So it was interesting to read in Computing 2 Feb 95 that GMP’s operational intelligence system had been use to log information on homosexuals. The police line in response was fascinating: ‘When the system was purchased, it came pre-loaded with certain personal characteristic markers including homosexuality...’ So the manufacturers provide options, some of which are used and some of which are on standby. The British Mod [Ministry of Defence] is facing prosecution by the data protection registrar for holding similar data on sexual orientation on armed forces personnel (Computing 26 Jan 95).

In terms of countermeasures, Computing, 2 February 95, carried a piece warning MI5 that a major hole existed in Digital’s DECnet networking architecture which allowed unauthorised access: Digital is a leading supplier to MoD and GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters, UK spy body]. The report mentions a little-known MI5 group UNIRAS (Unified Incident Reporting & Alerting Service) which warns the intelligence agency about IT problems but on this occasion it took 4 months. The report recognises that hackers are very adept and very quick at exploiting such weaknesses. Alas both opposites are involved in the same process, the improvement of the overall system which often seems to be the long term biproduct of struggles against centralised and anti-democratic technologies. It appeals to my sense of humour that the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has cogently argued that viruses by any of the extant criteria should be regarded as life forms. Subversive life forms: we have a long way to go before resistance programmes get that status or integrity in self-replication.

30 January 1998

Life here has been very busy. Pete[7] and I went to the European Parliament on related areas this week. He attended a seminar on Human Rights and the Internet, while I presented a report on ‘An Appraisal of the Technology of Political Control’ which if you haven’t got already you can order from [details given]. It’s free! So encourage your students to write in.

So far it’s caused quite a stir since the report covers the USA NSA [National Security Agency] email, telephone and fax interception systems Echelon and Oratory systems — largely from Nicky Hager’s book in New Zealand: Secret Power (published by Craig Potton). US Embassy officials were there to meet me when I first presented the report and GCHQ were urgently requesting copies … I guess it’s put the issue on the agenda again. Glyn Ford has just done a piece for Tribune magazine called Watching all over the World …

Relevant to your own project, we covered a technology called Harlequin that maps all the phones that any one phone has been in touch with to visually represent friendship networks. Of course if the politics change then it is a generator of crude but effective arrest lists. Channel 4 did a visual piece on the report which spread the word further.

Other sections cover the new less-lethal weapons, prison technologies and the loss of accountability with privatisation and interrogation, torture and execution technologies. You might find the bibliography of use.

Omega has secured funding to scan all of our documentation and company brochures into new computer filing systems. It means that if you requested info on companies we could give you thousands of documents and colour photographs on CD ROM — perhaps up and running by the end of 1998. It means we can feed journalists cutting edge stuff in real time — but we must also include a billing system in there …

The project for this week though is UK exports of small arms and light weapons. We are working for Oxfam and will produce a final report over the next 10 days. Finally, I’ll be in Kuala Lumpur later on this year. If our schedules permit, maybe I'll come to see you in Australia.

24 February 1999

Omega have just been granted $35,000 by the Rockefeller family trust but the rest of our funding is coming to an end. We have just asked Rowntrees for £140,000 over three years. The trustees preliminary meeting was here last Friday but the full meeting on the 14 March will decide our fate. We have never been more active or more effective yet Rowntrees have a policy of not giving continued funding. Wish us well, we might need a lot of good vibes to push us through on the day.

We have been doing quite a bit of work related to your project [on communication and nonviolent struggle], most recently via the Privacy International Big Brother awards ceremony and also with the Mark Thomas Show. The Big brother awards gave oscars to big corporate bastards and a lifetime achievement award to Menwith Hill [UK spy base]. We also gave Winston awards to those who had battled most effectively against surveillance.[8] It might be a good case study of the community fighting back. Tonite’s show features Mark Thomas personally delivering the Menwith Hill award (a human head in tasteful gold being stamped on by a jackboot). In a daring hit on the base, he enters the citadel via hot air balloon …

The last time we worked with him involved using cameras and a commercial shop front inside an arms fair where Mark set up a fictious stall selling spin doctor services to companies selling repressive equipment fingered by Amnesty and to countries with bad human rights records. The Indonesian high military command bit on camera, admitted torture and actually talked about hiring Mark. It was as if Hitler was persuaded to use Tony Hancock as his policy adviser. Mockingly surreal …

Another stunt of Mark’s was to use Labour MPs’ reliance on pagers for official guidance to trap them like sheep at their last party conference, beeping them all at once and asking them to call for more when Mandelson gave his speech. This stunt deserves an international following …

On a more academic front, the STOA report has spawned its own life and new work has already been commissioned by the EU parliament. I’m doing a chapter for a book on human rights and the internet and I will be speaking in Washington in April on some of the STOA stuff on Echelon. What has amazed me more than anything is that if radical groups like ours are given a policy voice at political level, then after a while it is not us speaking but the entire political machinery and the media go into overdrive. The internet has provided a very useful mechanism to multiply the impact of such initiatives to spread counter models and the reptiles in the media just feed on it.

(It’s interesting that such communications interception networks are challenging environmentalists now. Just last week as the genetically modified debate took off in the UK, Friends of the Earth’s phones went dead and Greenpeace’s activities were stymied by a motorway interception when they were on their way to an action. Activists still do not understand how pervasive communication interception is with new interfaces on to GSM, mobile, emails, etc. being added all the time.)

19 July 2001

If you are intending to continue to follow up such resistance work, Omega is working with Relatives for Justice in Belfast to legally challenge the introduction of the new plastic bullet. I wrote a piece for the Guardian, ‘A Shot in the Dark’, on June 28th which covers the technical issues such a challenge might use. But I think we are perhaps just at the beginning of legally fighting back against such weapon systems. The European Court has recently ruled that the victims of plastic bullet usage in Northern Ireland had their right to life illegally taken from them, a judgement which has profound implications for challenging the misuse of this technology.

17 August 2001

The political situation is moving quite quickly here and we have had two new weapons introduced this year, the new plastic bullet and the advanced taser paralysing weapon. You might want some of this stuff for your files: the New Scientist piece about what I found when I walked into the Marine Corps HQ has been heavily sanitized by New Sci, but I thought I could bear the compromise for the worldwide audience it would reach. (The Guardian piece pressured other researchers to ask the Met [London’s Metropolitan Police Service] if they were going to use Tasers and they went public — after which we challenged the safety assertions. (Brian Rappert has an amazing piece called “Moralizing violence” — have you seen it? It should be available on the site now.[9] ) He’s also done a piece on ‘The Future of Non-lethal weapons in contemporary security policy’. I’ll send you an offprint. We are very near to full deployment of these new weapons in a conflict like Macedonia or worse Israel (where they are already calling up reservists trained in maths and logic, which means they need their war planners at ready for a full-blown conflict with the Palestinians). In the meantime, I’ve been tracking developments in face tracking algorithmics and one system trialled in the UK has just gone to China. In these circumstances, I might leave the shell of Omega’s largely surreptitious work and go more public whilst I still have a suitable time window. I'm thinking of re-entering academia — perhaps Leeds Met Uni where I can work with Eddie Halpin.

3 September 2001

Thanks for your encouraging words. I’m excited about the idea of working together more intensely next year.

Two factors might help this. I’m working with Eddie Halpin at Leeds Metropolitan University and have had preliminary discussions about beginning to work there part time in the department of informatics. Eddie has written about the use of communications technologies in resisting state violence, e.g. the B92 group in the former Yugoslavia and we have friends in Bangladesh who created the first web server for the country using two 286 machines but then had to invent a new language to give the local people access: Bangla.

So much is happening here, I’m beginning to wish we could create researcher clones. Colleagues at Omega have had a first bash at mapping the entire world’s light weapons producers. This should go on line via NISAT later this year.

I’m working with Brian Rappert and Elizabeth Stanley and last month we set up an embryonic Critical Study Group on Non-Lethal Weapons. So much is surfacing in this area it is difficult to keep track. There’s a 1st European Symposium in a couple of weeks in Germany which has many contributions on microwaves for use against humans and equipment. They include certain joint US and Russian initiatives which seems extraordinary.

Thanks for promising to send me a hard copy of your book.[10] I’ll promote it here at all my conferences. (I’m doing one for the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control later on in Venice this week. It’s a critical paper on ‘The militarisation of the police and the end of non-violence?’ Don’t worry though: I will contradict my own assertion saying essentially that after Genoa[11] we can expect more state violence and mass protests are 20th century — we need new forms. An interesting line came from George Monbiot in the Guardian about ‘The Grannies From hell’: elderly women going to live with Palestinian families in Israel which means any attempt to massacre will involve an internationalisation of the conflict as innocent foreign citizens become also illegally targeted — courageous stuff …

If I get funding for telematics research, I would love to work on the jujitsu stuff you spoke of as a sub-project. I’m hoping to write for New Scientist again on algorithmic surveillance. All cameras including face and vehicle recognition are being linked up in London and this will be the template. Meanwhile the company Visionics who made the Newham face recognition system has just sold its system to China and it’s also gone to Israel. In the meantime the CIA has set up one US company (In-Q-Tel) to invest in Safe-Web to fight cyber censorship in Beijing. Their software stops the Chinese censors determining where web surfers have been. Privacy International with Statewatch, ACLU and Omega had a conference earlier this year on surveillance by design which examined many of the paths to resisting such monitoring but change is moving apace. In Finland now they are beginning to conceive of using a person’s mobile phone as their identity chip …

10 September 2001

The Genoa G8 meeting and its fallout are still daily news in Italy and people can’t quite take in that all their social and political rights were so easily suspended there. There is a wealth of new information on police tactics using agent provocateurs, stealing counter documentation from the media centres, engaging in pre-planned ruthless violence, etc. Plus lots of strange cameos. The police burst into one centre ready to beat those present to a pulp but were thwarted by the presence of an Italian MP who gave them a severe ticking off saying they had no legal right to be there and to get out. This they did but then went on to attack the media centre but ambulances were so quickly on the scene to take the bodies away that protestors are saying that they must have been told to be on standby very early on.

What was quite odd about this protest in military terms was that the black bloc group of anarchists who were ostensibly the target of the police were bypassed when they decided who to punish. It was the much easier group of pink fluffy non-violent resistors who were so ruthlessly pulped.

The social resistance movement must examine what the required endgame is. If global protest groups take on the state head to head and mobilise at great cost to themselves, it’s likely that all future G8 meetings will take place in areas where they can’t easily assemble. Future protestors might need to begin to think through the dynamics of multiple gatherings over hundreds of sites but easier said than done … Yet even in bringing lots of people together in temporary places like in Genoa protestors run risks when pre-emptive policing raids take place …

Even as I write steps are being taken by activists to protest against DSEI (a big arms fair) in London’s Docklands and a range of squats used by some protestors have been raided in a series of pre-emptive strikes. Usually this fair takes place near Franham and is really easy for the organisers to maintain security since it is so far away from normal life. Yet this time they have decided to hold it in the heart of the capital so many more people will attempt to protest. There is no chance that any of the sides involved will back off but it’s curious that the authorities have given the organisers permission to gather at such a provocative fair in such an easily accessible place. We’ll see.

13 September 2001

It looks as if we have gained access to the first EU Symposium on Non-lethal Weapons in ten days in Germany. The papers on offer foretell of a new generation of vortex ring and high-powered microwaves being deployed but this should give us a firm opportunity to quantify the level of progress they have made so far. Companies will be there promoting their wares, and wherever there is a company, Omega pricks its ears up.

It’s like a game of electronic karma understood in the exact sense of every single act and thought creates repercussions which mate, conflict and co-operate with each other to synthesise systems which have enough strength and integrity to survive, replicate and pass their essence on. If you ever come to the UK, it might be worth introducing you to some of the former Provos who Buddha-like talked about the folly of going head to head with the state. These guys were honed down to bone and soul literally: their political work was done whilst they were naked, the writing materials a finger in the excrement on the walls of their cells during the dirty protest, and for a time the same people years later were doing the negotiation with their former adversary. At a micro level there are still many flaws since with this example the entire movement of all sides was permeated by other agencies with other agendas, and how to deal with such infiltration without the sanctions of death, kneecappings and the other fearsome paraphernalia of insurgent organisations is a moot point. Clearly it has to be both effective and consistent, otherwise those struggles just breed replicants of the old processes. Ironically the IRA and now the Unionists trained the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] and the British Army to be the most effective in Europe and paradoxically, the RUC and the Army trained the Provos and the Ulster loyalist paramilitaries to survive all the weapons and state intelligence activities that were thrown at them.

I’ll contact some of the people that were at our Vienna meeting for their website addresses. Some of the material reported was about agent provocateurs dressed like the black bloc anarchists and returning quite openly into police cars. This was new since they didn’t feel it was necessary to hide anything from those present … but the record of what people saw was politically damaging. The activists appear to have been naive about the importance of the footage that they took to the authorities in maintaining a seamless official version of events. It’s something your cyberactivism approach might develop: the need to get real-time digital images out onto a safe niche on the web away from official censorship.

Also the plain sensible approach of not concentrating all the most valuable evidence in one place where the authorities can steal it all on some mickey mouse pretext. It might also be worth looking at the Bstards, the Michelin Man characters that have so much padding that they can’t easily be attacked or hurt by the police and are very visible.

28 September 2001

Brian Rappert and I, at literally enormous expense, gained access to the 1st European Symposium on Non-lethal Weapons earlier this week. There were several interesting presentations from manufacturers and government labs — particularly from the Netherlands — which focussed on anti-materiel applications which made me think of your work.

The key presentations covered the facility of even home-made microwave devices powered from between a suitcase or a small vehicle, to completely wipe hard drives or to mess up databank and communications systems. The effective distance varied from between 50 meters to more than 15 kilometres. Any cyberactivist caught in a major conflict guided by CIT [Computing and Information Technology] and sophisticated surveillance, tracking, monitoring and interception systems could be greatly assisted by such technologies.

Of course it’s foolhardy to discuss such matters in depth just prior to the predicted Middle Eastern war we spoke of earlier this year. However, many of the companies are making commercial products to be fired against mobile communications platforms to wipe out their IT capabilities and relatively cheaply. The TNO people were configuring their devices using cannibalised microwave ovens together with commercially available satellite dishes which were directional. The technical data gathered was vital in terms of maximising certainty that a particular facility was no longer functioning.

15 November 2001

Events of September 11 have turned the surveillance world upside down. The failure of Echelon to discover bin Laden’s handiwork means we get much more of the same. If you want to track what is happening in term of new surveillance powers in Europe, look up and open up their observatory section.

I’ve just come back from Shanghai, so I’m wondering if you have seen Greg Walton’s ‘China’s Golden Shield: Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People’s Republic of China’.

6 June 2002 (Brian to Steve)

Our first semester is coming to an end, so I have more time to think about writing. Here’s a proposal for an article by the two of us on political jiu-jitsu and torture technology.

As discussed before, the basic idea of political jiu-jitsu is that when violence is used against a person who is nonviolent, this can rebound against the attacker. More generally, when the attack is disproportionate to the provocation, this can generate greater support for those attacked. The support can be from third parties, the camp of the attacker and the grievance group.

Torture is widely seen as inappropriate since the victim is relatively powerless. Therefore, to be seen to use torture can trigger a form of political jiu-jitsu. Torturers seek to inhibit political jiu-jitsu in various ways, for example by not admitting it in the first place. That no government admits to torture indicates the potential power of political jiu-jitsu in this area.

Our focus would be on inhibiting political jiu-jitsu through technology. Namely, torturers use torture techniques that don’t generate as much outrage because their significance isn’t widely recognised.

I can think of four case studies. There are undoubtedly many more, but four is enough for an article!

1. sensory deprivation

2. falanga

3. pepper spray

4. stun belts

These are used variously against prisoners (political and otherwise), “terrorists” and protesters.

In each case, we would describe the struggles involving science and communication. Specifically, authorities use the technique to cause pain and suffering that is not readily recognised as such by wider audiences. In order to counter this inhibition of political jiu-jitsu, grievance groups need to mobilise scientific experts, evidence, witnesses, language, etc.

The result of our analysis would be a series of recommendations for those challenging the use of innovative-technology-based torture techniques.

I think the easiest way to proceed would be for me to write as much as possible of the article, especially drafts of the discussion of political jiu-jitsu, the overall framework (introduction, conclusion) and whatever I know about the case studies. Then it would be over to you to add in material about the case studies, since you know so very much about them.

If you think this is worthwhile and you'd like to proceed, then let me know: 1. any comments on the plan for the article 2. your recommendation for a journal or journals.

I need to know the target journal and audience in order to write in a suitable style, referencing format and length.

Of course we could aim at more than one journal/magazine. Probably it’s better to start with a more in-depth treatment. If we’re satisfied with our analysis and evidence, we could then spin off shorter and more accessible versions. Ultimately it would be good to encourage activist groups to think strategically in terms of political jiu-jitsu.

6 June 2002

You’ve just caught me between journeys. I’ve just come back from Bulgaria, I’m on my way to China on Sunday and then on to Chicago before the month ends … In the meantime I have a contract to write the consumer’s guide to researching the repression trade with a July deadline and Omega is preparing the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission work on plastic bullets and their proposed alternatives …

So it’s hectic, but I would never forgo an opportunity to attempt a joint article with you … We are beginning to use some of your methodologies to legally attack some of the key companies and have set the dogs on one of the major UK distributers of MSP [Managed Service Provider] technologies with the result that their chief sales director has been arrested by the police and the company and its computers raided by the police. (I can send you some documentation on this. The inside story is much more intense.) In a further attack, we worked with a comedian to expose the loopholes in the EU licencing of firearms which was broadcast on Channel 4 TV — so humour can play a powerful role as ever …

Taking these factors into account, it might be worth widening the scope slightly to get a richer set of case examples … and take on some of the more professional human rights violators and their new technologies. My thinking is this: getting specific torture technologies tied to a specific violation is always hard especially when allegations of torture are involved. Company lawyers are part of each corporate and state defence strategy against your approach to political jujitsu and they need to be brought into the frame.

However, if we look at examples of state violence which involve torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments, then we can put the case in a much wider framework of international humanitarian law since according to the UNHCHR’s police bible, the police force must be both proportionate, discriminate and minimal. (Have you seen this document? Maybe I can email it to you if I haven’t already since it forms the basis in my mind of challenging future violations within a framework which is quite solid.)

Anyway, what I am imagining at the moment is the move from many-to-one torture which is still the most common, towards a new situation of mass punishment of few-to-many where the purpose is the gratuitous infliction of pain to anyone in a control zone, whether it is protestors, refugees, or mixtures of combatants and civilians. In the last few weeks we have been working with the Sunshine project in Texas attempting to get the documentation to look at the array of mass pain infliction systems currently being researched as part of the joint non-lethal weapons programme. Some of which include mass gassing with valium and other calmatives … These guys have no imagination in terms of what might happen next if a male army was allowed to rampage through a sea of comatose or semi-comatose civilians offering multiple opportunities for sadism and rape …

In some senses the act of research itself is a form of political jujitsu since it allows technical challenge to the assertions and smooth words of the military apologists. And even bringing this stuff out in the open is seen as an act of subversion because secrecy is part of the current landscape after September 11 and efforts are being made to close down documentation available from the National Academy of Sciences.

Such a widening might require a review of the case examples, the ones you suggest, namely:

 1. sensory deprivation

 2. falanga

 3. pepper spray

 4. stun belts

are certainly relevant. However, I would be hard pressed to come up with recent examples of sensory deprivation. Falanga is well documented but is a primitive technology; pepper spray is now well established and the wording of anything we wrote identifying a product would almost certainly bring a legal challenge which would have to be dealt with. Stun belts are interesting, not least because we have Muhammad Ali agreeing to be used as part of the campaign against them …

Off the top of my head, where would I go with examples? Well, we want success stories: examples of seemingly impossible targets, giants of domination and control which have been successfully attacked. We both agree that so little research has gone into countermeasures that whatever we write has to be writ large and inspirational and persuade those who can that they can make a difference … Just for the sake of argument what would my four examples be?

1. Echelon and global surveillance networks;

2. Electroshock, stun and restraint technologies;

3. Less-lethal weapons for punishment and control;

4. Legal systems and preventative systems to stop torture — and inhuman cruel and degrading treatment

How would I defend these choices? Well they ought to be both relevant and inspirational and preferably new and able to anticipate the struggles to come …

1. Echelon and global surveillance networks

Well, I couldn’t resist the idea of targeting global surveillance systems designed to target dissenters and maintain economic inequality. Surveillance is used by all states to track dissenters and the anti-Echelon process is an example of how a small group of researchers have exposed and challenged these developments and how that battle will shift and adapt after September the 11th, particularly with the official statements made shortly afterwards saying that torture might be the only way of extracting information. And how will those friendship networks be located and targeted? We can mention the use of the Big Brother Awards, the Australian and New Zealand connections and the EU Echelon Committee …

2. Electroshock, stun and restraint technologies

There is a rich seam here. We have the wider Amnesty Stop Torture Campaign which has resulted in both EU and UN policy initiatives to prepare lists of torture technologies which need to be banned … Omega are involved in that process so we have the documentation. The restraint technologies, well we have battered the key companies again and again and are confident with the examples but the long term is to close them down — although they make all the UK police handcuffs too … The restraint belt stuff and the use of stun batons are well exampled by the prison in Arizona where the NIJ [National Institute of Justice] was using as a laboratory to test the utility of less-lethal weapons. An independent evaluator’s report was seen as so damaging (they didn’t tell him of their experimental status) they brought another evaluator in whose report was even more damaging and led to some far reaching changes … (Can you believe that this prison governor was making money for the private prison by selling online images from the CCTV in the women’s shower areas to soft porn sites?!)

3. Less-lethal weapons for punishment and control

This section would enable us to look at pepper gas and plastic bullets which have been widely misused and the legal and policy challenges that have emerged out of them. It would also allow us to chronicle some of the legal challenges in getting documentation and the case against the US company selling tear gas to the Israelis even after they knew it was being misused for punishment. We can revisit the Patten Commission and examine how attempts at resistance also need a detailed technological assessment too if the claims of the proponents of these technologies are to be undermined by fact rather than by emotional outrage …

4. Legal systems and preventative systems to stop torture — and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment

I’m not so strong on this but where I’m coming from is that we do have a framework to stop people being tortured by states, to prevent cruel and inhuman treatment and with the World Court to bring perpetrators to account. Why doesn’t it work? Well we have some examples of people arresting those like Pinochet who have been complicit in setting up torture systems but as yet no victory. Peter Tatchell was beaten up when he tried to arrest Mugabe … but the beginnings are there. Can we do an audit of the way that extant legal protections work or fail? And is there a need for a people’s intelligence agency which can track what actually happens rather than the PR spin? What would a legal framework look like if human rights mattered? A three strikes and the CEO is out sort of approach for companies? I see this section as a shopping list of protocols and procedures for halting torture and human rights abuse if governments were serious and where the contradictions lie when states are charged with keeping us safe …

I had a tiny personal experience of this last week from a crooked money exchange in Bulgaria. The rate of exchange was 3 levs per pound but this outfit had reversed the buy and sell labels all in Bulgarian in a tourist area which effectively meant the rate was actually 2 levs per pound. It was a complete scam but most people just walked away.

I noticed how little money was given to me before the exchange was complete and said, I’m not happy with that rate, I do not wish to proceed. A heavy guy then arrived who spoke English and said that is the rate. We then exchanged arguments and his was that his boss set the rate and there was nothing I could do about it. The amount I was about to lose was small — about £10 — but I thought about your jujitsu approach and decided to put it to the test. The odds were against me in that I was a foreigner actually doing sensitive research there so normally it would have been in my best interests to walk away. However, I thought if I give up then it’s breaking a threshold and I will be tempted to withdraw in the future. So there is the question both of letting the sharks know that they could not always perform this scam and my reputation to myself …

So I said to the heavy guy OK, you’ll do no more business here today since I’ll inform every potential customer that you’re a ripoff merchant and kindly ask them to go elsewhere … And I’ll stay here for as long as it takes … 2 hours later they called the market security who arrived with guns and attempted to bully me into compliance except I was a foot higher. The bureau then closed … At this point I should have given up but decided to go to the police proper … this was a little risky but I wanted to see if my nerve would hold. I got there to find they didn’t speak English but they were good humoured and with sign language they told me there was a separate agency charged with policing such scams: the Federal Bureau of Finance which actually licences the exchange booths. They also managed to say that a complaint from a tourist in a nearby resort had led to the exchange place being instantly fined 2000 levs. Great … so I went back to my original booth which had now re-opened. The look of horror on the guy’s face when I resumed my place of turning away business was a joy to behold. I then said to him, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes on Monday. I’m complaining to the Bureau of Finance and I hear that just yesterday they fined someone in the next village that attempted to make this scam 2000 levs. It’s probably not your fault, you were just following instructions from your boss — but he won’t see it like that on Monday … you'll probably get sacked … it’s a shame …

I was promptly given my money back and gained a renewed respect for non-violent direct action … If I’d have had the time on Monday I would have followed it through with a formal complaint to the bureau as well to add spice to the episode but there were other fish to fry …

8 June 2002 (Brian to Steve)

Your adventures and valuable interventions are always exciting to read about. Are you ever in a position to train others in your practical skills concerning the repression trade? (I wouldn’t be very good at it but others would be.) There's a need for more investigator-activists like you!

I’ve taken note of points in your letter that I think are important for applying political jiu-jitsu to repression technologies, in particular the role of company lawyers and the idea of researchers as agents of social action.

After getting your suggestions about case studies, my preference now would be for us to pick a single area as the primary case study and to just mention others in passing. Probably the best case study for our initial purposes is your no. 2: electroshock, stun and restraint technologies.

A central consideration is whether there is evidence of mobilisation of opposition to the technologies following exposure of both their use and (e.g. via scientific studies) their harm.

Now some comments on the other case studies we’ve raised.

• Sensory deprivation: I included that in my list precisely because it’s old. The acceptance of the term “sensory deprivation” suggests that this form of torture has been delegitimised. This could be mentioned as a brief illustration.

• Echelon etc.: this is a vital area to study but I think it’s sufficiently different to be worthy of a separate examination. I’ll think about how the analysis could best be applied.

• Less-lethal weapons of punishment and control: this would be fine as the central case study but I picked electroshock etc. in slight preference.

• Legal systems: these seldom invoke political jiu-jitsu. In fact, an analysis in terms of political jiu-jitsu explains why legal interventions are so weak. So this area will be included, but not as the central focus.[12]

Your story about the money changer is great. Your use of direct action (informing others) was the key. As soon as you tried to get officials to take action, that was something else — appealing to authorities — and less likely to be effective, at least in a corrupt or power-based system. In fact, the best chance of getting authorities to act is through direct action. Anyway, that’s the theory. Congratulations on your insight and courage!

25 July 2002

As for torture jiu jitsu, I'll see what you say before making a final judgement but I’m a little uncomfortable with it since very few people have testified turning their minds and bodies successfully against these people. There are exceptions. Last year I went to an event with Mark Thomas where Kurdish dissidents were telling their stories with the line it was hilarious — and describing how they wore the torturers physically down. There is also the outcome with one of the electroshock sales people here in the UK who committed suicide after the second Torture Trail was shown. Pete here felt like quitting since he had never envisaged such an outcome. My view, which I had to be very clear about, was we simply held up a mirror to his actions and for the first time the guy made a moral decision. We didn’t limit his options … His wife however was talking of taking legal action against the programme but didn’t pursue it. In these glimpses I think there is a glimmer of understanding but I think torture jiu jitsu sounds beyond what we might be confident with achieving as a process of a regular basis. But I’ll give it further thought.

27 August 2002

I’m preparing stuff on new disabling technologies for a special UN expert Seminar in October so the mind set will be appropriate — I'm looking at the emergence of new technologies for collective human rights violation. So much material is emerging on this now that it needs synthesizing. A paper has come to light via the US Sunshine project which is advocating club drugs and orphan pharmaceutical drugs as new calmative agents for mass tranquilization. They have even identified certain named receptor sites in the human brain to target chemicals to induce panic. Biotechnology will become increasingly important in the efforts of the state to deal with mass protest. I fear that the Iraq war will become the new testing ground since Saddam seems insistent about using the population there as mass hostages against US aggression — so to avoid being picked off by precision-guided munitions in the desert like before, the next Middle East war is likely to involve either mass casualties or hand to hand fighting against a mixture of combatants and non-combatants. It’s a scenario the new US non-lethal warfare doctrine has been ostensibly designed to engage with. The outcome will probably be a bloody mess.

If it looks tight, I'll give you a referenced stream of consciousness piece which reflects my thinking and analysis. A prompt will usually work since when I work, I work fast …

21 January 2003

I’m moving away from the idea of using torture jiu jitsu — because the individuals being abused have so little power individually at that point. It’s the network and later actions which affect the jiu jitsu of countershock. I think the countershock concept is much more powerful since it is not time bound; neither is it individualistic but process and network orientated. It encapsulates the idea that state terror spreads a shock wave for hundreds of miles but the process of countershock can spread resistance for thousands and focus it back on the state authorities from a multitude of directions. It can be street orientated, company orientated, or maliciously targeted at the communications network of a repressive state and it is a meme-like thing that can replicate and be evolved.

Inside our office we take the view that it’s neither the policy nerd approach nor the activist approach that works. Legislation is important but if that is the endgame there is no audit, no check, no sustaining pressure. It’s a question of both and more. In the case of electroshock, if we do achieve legislative change, we are not reliant on government to prosecute malefactors. NGOs and individuals can take action as they have in the UK. The countershock process is true jiu jitsu since it not only immobilises the perpetrators, it punishes the company, prosecutes individual stars and uses the press machine to whip up a media frenzy directed against people and companies and states of that type.

I shall be in Taiwan in the first week of April 5–9 and return date depends on availability of flights. (I’ll be taking EC and UN stuff on torture technology regulations — have hooked up with friends who have promised to introduce me to the president, himself a previous political prisoner — the end game is to persuade him to ban Taiwan manufactured electroshock equipment, much of which is Chinese.) It would be such a coup to get that since if we target the major supplier states, many of the non-EU ones who will not be affected by the new regulation if it’s passed, want to join the EC and their obedience to this regulation will be a condition of entry. South Africa is dependent on EU Aid and we can crank up the AI machine to put pressure on the authorities there. After Korea, if Taiwan goes that just leaves China and America and in the lead-up to the Olympics we can go into overdrive on China. America then becomes the number 1 pariah state.

3 February 2003

I’ve been trying to rethink some of your concepts and looking for examples of literal torture jiu jitsu. There are very few that I know of but one, a very remarkable human being who I’ve met twice, stays in my mind. He’s a Tibetan monk, Palden Gyatso, who was a prisoner of conscience for 33 years. He told me he was tortured virtually every day — they starved him so badly, he ate his boots but when he was released (thanks to pressure from Amnesty International which he freely acknowledges in an interview with Annie Lennox) he travelled to see the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. The Dalai Lama gave him permission to bribe the guards at his old prison and buy back the torture instruments used on him which he subsequently did. He has since travelled the world using these instruments to illustrate the human rights violations of the Chinese authorities, winning massive publicity for his cause. Look him up on the web — it’s a tremendously humbling story but one which I think fits well into what we are trying to elaborate.

7 February 2003

So much has and is being done on these issues that it’s easy to forget the victories and focus on the horrors than continue to come down the wire. The key I think from your work is that counter-shock is also a technology which can replicate and some of what we write is an instruction manual of standard procedures to do this jiu jitsu well and with the desired effect. I’ll try to include a couple of examples where this hasn’t always occurred and NGOs have completely fucked up. It’s then a case of the opponent having the advantage and counter-counter shock. For NGOs this usually involves lawyers. No-one apart from activists or policy makers and the media use the term torture technology. Its seen as a smear in the industry and company lawyers are immediately put on the case. CAAT [Campaign Against the Arms Trade] after the Torture Trail managed to libel a company by sloppy writing. Omega fortunately had sufficient empirical evidence on the outfit COPEX to counter the libel accusation. In the end CAAT won damages from COPEX which they used to carry on the work — and I’ve not heard much of COPEX since the late nineties so the process left them much diminished. The case is an apt health warning but needs to be worded carefully to avoid repeating the libel or necessarily embarrassing the NGO. The key point is to provide a health warning, and encourage good and accurate reporting without being shocked, sued and put out of business, house and home by the commercial organisation being targeted …

6 March 2003

My timetable is pretty much finalised for the beginning of April now. I shall fly to Chicago on April 1, then leave for Japan on April 2, then to Taiwan on April 3–7. I think I might have told you about this journey but my goal apart from the usual peek at their security markets is to meet with either their President or Human Rights Commissioner to gain a ban on manufacture of electroshock weapons. The peculiar legal status of Taiwan makes this one tricky but the desired outcome is to get Taiwan to challenge the human rights record of China by banning the export of these devices on human rights grounds. The instruments to achieve this are ostensibly the EC draft regulation on torture technology and the UN draft document which I recently sent you. It helps that most of the manufacturing companies are actually Chinese. I’m not sure what the prospects are of pulling this one off but it’s a pure leap of imagination in the dark and I guess no-one else is going to attempt the move so I shall …

Brian’s notes on a visit to the Omega Foundation, 15 April 2003

Omega’s attitude to surveillance is: “don’t worry about it.” Omega has been in existence since 1990. Companies and governments should know about Omega, but by their behaviour many obviously don’t.

Omega’s modus operandi: find a media angle such as a German tourist held in a Saudi prison using German manacles. The production details are vital, because general statements — for example, “shackles are used in Saudi Arabia” — are not news. The data are vital to protect against attacks, including legal action. Companies sometimes claim that they do not sell weapons to a particular country. Producing company brochures or documents from arms fairs exposes these claims as false.

Governments often use language to obfuscate their actions. For example, “No electroshock batons are sold to Saudi Arabia.” Actually, the batons were given away, perhaps with backdoor payments or some other quid pro quo.

A woman made herself invulnerable to legal actions for defamation by having no assets, not being afraid of gaol, and having documents showing that her possessions were owned by others. For example, Pete had loaned her a toaster. Therefore, when the bailiff arrives, she shows the certificates showing that possessions are owned by others. (Information on this is shared among the participants. There is no single knowledge repository.)

Another idea: when personal items are put up for auction, two or more supporters go along and keep bidding by small increments, so auctioneers eventually give up.

27 May 2003

I’ve started sounding out the formal process for initiating legal change in Taiwan. They seem very keen to progress and it would be a good example for us. Taiwan sells a huge number of such prods to other countries which export them on. Since these countries like China and the US have human rights problems in their jails there is a logical case to ban such brokering and exports via them. Thus one simple single act can have a domino or cascade impact. It would be useful to think about this more deeply in terms of actions which are local and limited to meme-type actions which have a self-organising and replicating ability to reach out, influence and mutate to international levels.

The Germany visit provided so much new data. I think I have to find a way of getting some of it to you today whilst I remember. I’m specifically concerned by the human testing of the microwave weapon at 2km which caused heating. I think I mentioned that I asked about countermeasures and their black and white response was, “In the zone there are tourists and terrorists. Anyone who uses countermeasures like foil is not a tourist and we simply shoot terrorists.” The other area of concern is plasma tasers. These can be used to spray a conductive aerosol which then allows lightning to be projected at the crowd. Curiously, the Russian presentation had almost exactly the same imagery including the same odd-shaped dummies. My suspicion is that the Russians are doing some of the basic science for Rheinmetall. There is a piece in this week’s New Scientist on this quoting both Brian Rappert and myself but the presentations contain much more. Pete here pointed out that the aerosol would be subject to being blown away by wind so countermeasures would include wind making vehicles to literally blow back the conductive plasma.

The other technology there that drew my attention was a suitcase that could wipe out car electronics, disable computers, alarms, CCTV, mobile phones and any other electronics in the vicinity. A potential portable havoc machine on the high street, down a motorway or in a security installation or bank. I’ve not seen such an irresponsible invention for quite a while but one which could be of incredible value in times when peaceful challenge to an information-based tyranny was required.

I met Daniel Ellsberg in the early 1980’s at a Pugwash student conference in either Yale or Princeton. I wonder if he gave a paper there because he was certainly at his most eloquent. What struck me at the time was the technology he used. Without the photocopier this act of backfire could never have been achieved and he was acutely aware of the significance of the this technology in giving him time to replicate his exposure of the Pentagon papers … and his kids without any training could aid the process, if my recall is accurate. Fascinating days … and useful because he was acting under acute pressure, with threats of exposure and worse so time was of the essence and safety better assured by mass replication of the new paradigm, initially to key individuals and selected media and through them to the world. A good example of a cascade via one specific initiation event.

Notice for Steve’s talk at the University of Wollongong, 15 June 2004

Dr Steve Wright (Director, Omega Foundation, Manchester, UK)

Mass torture and full spectrum dominance

Since the days of thumbscrews and the rack of medieval times up to the “torture lite” now being served up for consumers at Guantanamo Bay, torture has been seen as a state service provided on a one-to-one or a one-to-many basis. Future exercises in “shock and awe” may change that pattern to an industrialisation of human rights violation through the advent of mass human paralysis using new laser, microwave, chemical and biological technologies designed to maim, mutilate and incapacitate but usually not kill. The technologies are now beyond the prototype stage and military scenarios to justify their use are, in part, already in the public domain. The key issue is who will control such technologies and how will human rights organisations deal with the flood of traumatised victims these weapons will create?

Dr Steve Wright is Director of the Omega Foundation in Manchester and a Visiting Professor in Informatics at Leeds Metropolitan University. He has researched the repression trade for 30 years, working closely with Amnesty International’s International Secretariat to expose unsavoury deals, document the state of the art and where necessary undertake field research to reveal just who is colluding with whom. His 1998 report to the European Parliament led to the setting up of the Echelon Committee and a worldwide questioning of the politics of an apparatus capable of global telecommunications interception. He has a particular interest in the new generations of paralysing and incapacitating technologies and the prospect of their development ushering in a new era of mass torture and punishment.

11 November 2004

The Bradford conference was interesting on NLW [non-lethal weapons] — Jürgen Altmann has a German grant to do some scientific assessments which will be of enormous benefit to us in deconstructing the technics. For example the VMAD microwave system is meant to be self-limiting since it is allegedly just too painful to stay in the beam. However at this conference the pain impact on human eyes was questioned. Wouldn’t a natural reflex response be to shut the eyes in response to the pain? Yes came back the answer. Well how would people then leave? Jürgen highlighted the contradiction. He said his preliminary assessment suggested there was nothing in the weapon’s technical specification to limit human exposure to a certain level or a specific temperature rise. The implication was that blinded humans would simply continue to cook whilst they stumbled around in pain … One of our early tasks is to deconstruct the advertising around such weapons. All the proponents are incredibly sensitive to criticism. I was accused of racism at this conference after questioning the Israeli policy of targeting Palestinian children with both sub-lethal and lethal technology. (This fits your core hypothesis about attempting to rubbish opponents.)

Notice for Steve’s talk at the University of Wollongong, 23 February 2005

Zapping the refugees: climate change and border control

New technologies under development are capable of inflicting pain on masses of people and could be used for border control against asylum seekers. Implementation might be rationalised by the threat of mass migration due to climate change, nuclear disaster or exaggerated fears of refugees created by governments. We focus on taser anti-personnel mines, suggesting both technological counter-measures and ways of making the use of such technology politically counter-productive. We also outline several other types of ‘non-lethal’ technology that could be used for border control: high-powered microwaves; armed robots; wireless tasers; acoustic devices/vortex rings; ionising and pulsed energy lasers; chemical calmatives, convulsants, bioregulators and malodurants. Whether all these possible border technologies will be implemented is a matter for speculation, but their serious human rights implications warrant advance scrutiny.

Dr Steve Wright is Visiting Professor at the Praxis Centre, Leeds Metropolitan University. He has researched the repression trade for 30 years, working closely with Amnesty International’s International Secretariat to expose unsavoury deals, document the state of the art and where necessary undertake field research to reveal just who is colluding with whom. His 1998 report to the European Parliament led to the setting up of the Echelon Committee and a worldwide questioning of the politics of an apparatus capable of global telecommunications interception. He has a particular interest in the new generations of paralysing and incapacitating technologies and the prospect of their development ushering in a new era of mass torture and punishment.


1. Steve refers to Schweik Action Wollongong, a small group of which I was a member. We carried out community research projects:

2. IPRA: International Peace Research Association; HURIDOCS: human rights organisation; PIOOM Journal later ceased publication; JPR: Journal of Peace Research; JCR: Journal of Conflict Resolution. The new International Journal of Nonviolence was shortlived.

3. Omega refers to the Omega Foundation, where Steve worked. It was later renamed the Omega Research Foundation.

4. The result of the project was published several years later: Schweik Action Wollongong, Challenging Bureaucratic Elites (1997),

5. Steve’s published account: Robin Ballantyne, “Electro-shock weapons: the ‘torture trail’,” Fortress Europe? – Circular Letter, 31 (February 1995),

6. Published later as Helen Gillett, Brian Martin and Chris Rust, “Building in nonviolence: nonviolent struggle and the built environment,” Civilian-Based Defense, vol. 11, no. 3, Fall 1996, pp. 1, 4–7,

7. Pete Abel, key figure at the Omega Foundation.

8. Winston Smith is the protagonist of George Orwell’s book 1984.

9. Also published in a modified form as Brian Rappert, “Moralizing violence,” Science as Culture, vol. 13, no. 1, 2004, pp. 3–35.

10. Technology for Nonviolent Struggle (London: War Resisters’ International, 2001),

11. At the G8 meeting held in Genoa, Italy in July 2001, large-scale protests against corporate globalisation were met by severe repression.

12. Steve and I had many more exchanges about our planned article. The material is most cogently presented in the published version: Brian Martin and Steve Wright, “Countershock: mobilizing resistance to electroshock weapons,” Medicine, Conflict and Survival, Vol. 19, No. 3, July-September 2003, pp. 205–222,

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