Archive for February, 2009

This is taken from the Transfom blog


It’s a really interesting piece which reveals the way in which the authorities are willing to massage statistics in order to justify the continuation of the failed war on terror….

‘The media today is full of reports about a massive military operation in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, codenamed DIESEL. Closer examination reveals reporting of the operation to have been dramatically propagandized by the Ministry of Defense, with the media acting as their willing – if somewhat confused – accomplices. Somehow a story about less than a £100,000 worth of raw opium has been transformed into a story about £50,000,000 worth of ‘deadly heroin’.

Reports of the story in different media are strangely contradictory:

The Sun told us that

“Enough raw materials to produce heroin with a street value of £50million was seized from a sprawling network of compounds.”

The Press Association reported that:

“A daring military operation in Afghanistan has seized heroin and drug-making chemicals with an estimated final street value of more than £50 million”.

The headline in the usually reliable Guardian was

“British troops seize £50m of Taliban narcotics”

with the coverage noting that:

“Troops recovered more than 400kg of raw opium in one drug factory and nearly 800kg of heroin in another.”

From the Telegraph we learnt that:

“British forces have seized £50 million of heroin and killed at least 20 Taliban fighters in a daring raid that dealt a significant blow to the insurgents in Afghanistan.”

the Independent told us that:

“Troops seize £50m of Afghan opium”

Whilst the for the BBC it was

“Raids seize £50m of Afghan heroin”

One of the MOD issued action shots: In the Daily Mail this image is subtitled with:

“Operation Diesel: British troops have taken £50million worth of heroin during an attack on a remote Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan”

These are just 7 out of the 100s of reports (600+ listed on Google news), each of the above with a different version of events. They cant all be right, so which one is? Bizarrely enough, a cursory check of the Ministry of Defence’s online account reveals they are all wrong.

The MOD website account describes three separate drug finds: one of ‘over 60kg of wet opium’, another of ‘over 400kg of raw opium’ and a third, ‘the largest find of opium on the operation, nearly 800kg’. Along with this opium a “massive supply of the essential chemicals required to make heroin were discovered; sacks of Ammonium Chloride, barrels of Acetic Anhydride and other chemicals that were piled up ready for use”.

So operation DIESEL, in reality, resulted in the finding and destruction of somewhere in the region of 1300kg of unprocessed opium and an a quantity of the chemicals required to process opium into heroin. A few quick sums: According to the UNODC the ‘farm-gate’ price for opium in Afghanistan in 2008 was $85 a kilo, and these DIESEL stockpiles were presumably not far from the Helmand farms on which they were produced. 1300 x 85 = $110,500, in other words, opium worth approximately £78,000 to the Taliban, at this point in the supply chain.

Were this 1300kg of opium to have been turned into low grade heroin (and we can reasonably suspect that this was what was going to happen), on the basis that it takes around 10kg of opium to produce 1 kg of heroin, it would have produced around 130kg. If the ‘street price’ of a kilo of heroin in the UK is estimated to be around £50- 75,000, then 130 kilos would earn you somewhere between £6.5 and £9.7 million. A very large sum of money certainly, albeit nowhere near £50 million.

The UK street price of a kilo of heroin is, however, vastly inflated above what a kilo of heroin in Afghanistan is worth to the Taliban – the only ‘farm-gate’ price estimate I can find is £450*. But that seems low so lets be generous and put it at a nice round £1000; you are still looking at a Taliban heroin haul worth only £130,000 (and even if the Taliban sold it on the next link in the supply chain at some point in the future for ten times this, the figure only reaches £1,300,000). According to the Independent report the following were found: 5,000kg of ammonium chloride, 1,025 litres of acetic anhydride, 1,000kg of salt and 300kg of calcium hydroxide, which the MOD tells us is exactly enough chemicals to process a conveniently media friendly total of £50million pounds (UK street value) worth of heroin, but this would only be the case if there had been another 5-10 tons of opium seized, which there wasn’t. The chemicals themselves are not especially hard to get hold of, or expensive (relative to the profits being made anyway), and processing opium into low grade morphine/heroin for transport is not especially difficult.

None the less, through the prism of MOD drug war propaganda and lazy journalism a story about £78,000 worth of opium has miraculously transmuted into a story about £50,000,000 worth of ‘deadly heroin’.

Defense secretary John Hutton plays this willful misunderstanding for all its worth, quoted extensively (from the MOD report) saying that:

“The seizure of £50 million worth of narcotics will starve the Taliban of crucial funding preventing the proliferation of drugs and terror on the UK’s streets.”

So lets be clear; Hutton claims ‘£50million worth of narcotics’ was seized, a ‘fact’ which is demonstrably shown to be untrue by the very same report he is quoted in. Numerous media outlets in the UK and around the world then ran the story that ‘£50m of heroin’ was seized (Daily Mail, Telegraph, BBC etc) – even though no heroin was seized and the 50million figure is pure fiction (one that goes some way beyond the tired old ‘make the seizure sound as big as possible by quoting the street price’ trick). The MOD report even opens with the (slightly different) claim that they captured ‘drugs, chemicals and equipment with a UK street value of £50m’ – which is also multi-tiered nonsense.

Worse still, and even if you want to argue the toss over the street value figures, the Hutton quote appears to deliberately imply that the Taliban have somehow been deprived of £50million in funds by this action – when in fact the reality is probably nearer £130,000, and this is assuming that these were indeed establishments entirely in the control of, and serving the profits of the Taliban, which again we have to take on trust from the MOD, and assuming they had a way of establishing it as fact. The Taliban and network of opium farmers also have stockpiles of opium, estimated by the UNODC to run to several 1000’s of tons, so it is unlikely this raid will have any serious impact on supply. Moreover, evidence clearly suggests (and indeed the UNODC have argued) that restricting supply serves to increase prices – so the the net impact on profits of sporadic interdiction successes will be even less – potentially even boosting the value of remaining stockpiles.

According to the UNODC’s most recent Afghanistan report the Taliban are making between $250 and $470 million (or £175 – £330 million) a year from the Afghan drug economy (both in taxing poppy farmers and direct involvement in production and export) based on production of between 7 and 8 thousand tons of opium. This rather puts some of the ministers’ grand claims into perspective; this mission prevented maybe £100k in Taliban profits, and destroyed just over one ton of opium (and 20 dead Taliban).

To achieve this triumphant success took 700 troops and veritable fleet of high tech armoury and helicopter gunships (“including RAF Chinooks, Royal Navy Sea Kings and Lynx, joined by US CH53 Sea Stallions”). It will all have doubtless been fantastically expensive, and whilst we are in no position to estimate exactly what the operation did cost (PQ anyone?) we can be sure it would have been many many millions.

This is nothing less than a classic example of war time propaganda – and the madness of the drug war requires more propaganda to support it than most. Reading the MOD report makes this all the more clear. The media were provided with action photos, and action video footage as well as an account that reads like a Boys own war story. The targets are variously described as ‘labs’, ‘drug factories’ and ‘processing plants’ discovered in a ‘chain of compounds’, all sounding rather more like a Bond-villain’s high-tech lair than the mud huts full of dirty plastic bags and rusty barrels we see in the video footage.

The standard issue ‘kicking the door down’ drug-bust action shot

It has been a quite brilliant propaganda coup for the MOD, with the media uncritically reporting their account, ludicrously inflated statistics and all (and still almost all of them getting even that completely wrong, including the broadsheets). Some of the reporting is extraordinary; The BBC even ran the ‘Raids seize £50m of Afghan heroin’ headline, despite in the body of its report noting that ‘Troops destroyed 1,295kg of wet opium, estimated to have a street value of more than £6m as heroin’.

The need for such propaganda is not surprising. The Afghan conflict is a disaster; despite many billions being spent by the UK, the country is falling apart. The Taliban are resurgent, there is no evidence that the attack on the drug economy is achieving anything positive in the UK or Afghanistan, and the UK soldier casualty list has grown to 145 (one more announced today), not to mention the US and Afghan casualties. The MOD obviously need stories of success like this more desperately than ever, to give the impression they are ‘winning’ even when the opposite is true. That the operation was ‘brilliant’, ‘daring’, ‘brave’ and ‘skillful’ is not the point – it does not mean that it wasn’t also ultimately futile or even counterproductive. The last thing the Government wants is for people to be told the truth; not just that the Afghanistan drug war is a disaster, but that it is the Government’s complicity in global drug prohibition that gifts control of the completely unregulated opium market to the Taliban insurgents and War lords in the first instance. Half of the worlds opium production is entirely legal and regulated for the medical opiates market (a small proportion of which is prescribed to addicts as heroin) and this legal production is not funding any paramilitary groups, mafiosi, or terrorists. We do have a choice.

More surprising perhaps is that the media, even what we like to think of as the quality end of the market, were so happy to uncritically regurgitate it all. Questioning the Government’s account of foreign wars in not a betrayal of our troops – quite the opposite. It is what the media should be doing, and we have been badly let down.’

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While the mainstream media has mainly presented the current wildcat strikes in the UK as a nationalist phenomena, concentrating on the slogan ‘British jobs for British workers,’ they have seemed to largely ignore what the workers themselves have been saying.

For example one of the Lindsey Oil Strike refinery unofficial elected strike committee leaders wrote on UK Indymedia ‘The workers of LOR, Conoco and Easington did not take strike action against immigrant workers. Our action is rightly aimed against company bosses who attempt to play off one nationality of worker against the other and undermine the NAECI agreement.  THE B.N.P. SHOULD TAKE HEED, U.K. CONTRUCTION WORKERS WILL NOT TOLERATE ‘ANOTHER RACIST ATTEMPT’ TO SEVER FRATERNAL RELATIONS WITH WORKERS FROM OTHER NATIONS’


Similarly Unite, the union which has underpinned much of the action has been issuing posters procaliming ‘Its TOTAL discrimination by a greedy corporation. Workers of all countries Unite.’ Hardly akin to any nationalism I’ve ever known.

Here’s an example of the BBC deliberately misrepresenting the opinions of the strikers last week. On the more heavily watched news at 10, an interview is spliced so that a statement about the difficulty of integrating with workers who are housed in temporary accomodation and privately bused in to work appears to be outright xenephobia. By quoting the worker out of context the BBC continue the wrongful portrayal of the workers as right wing nationalists. the 2 different versions can be viewed at the following link http://www.vimeo.com/3065190

BBC News at 10
Reporter… “beneath the anger ministers fear lies straightforward xenophobia”
Striker… “These portugese and Ities, we can’t work alongside of them”

BBC Newsnight
Same Striker… “These portugese and Ities, we can’t work alongside of them, they’re segregated, and coming in in full companies”

Finally… Here’s an online petition for the upcoming trade union congress, it can be signed at http://www.petitiononline.com/jobs0209/ looking through the signatories you’ll see that this has support from many of the unions which the mainstream media is accusing of xenophobia and BNP stlye politics.

‘An injury to one is an injury to all – unite to save jobs.

Thousands of construction workers have been out on unofficial strike at major sites across Britain. As the jobs slaughter continues many working people are rightly worried for the future. The behaviour of the sub-contracting bosses, in housing Italian workers separately, adds to this fear and division.

Across the whole of Europe, including Britain, thousands of jobs are being lost every day with no end in sight. Governments have handed hundreds of billions of pounds to the bankers but have told working people that they must pay the price for the crisis. But there is resistance. Last week a million French workers were out on strike against Nicolas Sarkozy’s “reforms”, Greek workers and farmers have been fighting to defend their livelihoods, in Ireland 400 workers are occupying Waterford Glass. In all of these examples of a fightback, the anger needs to be focused on those responsible -the employers and bankers out to protect their profits, and their allies in government.

We oppose the spread of neoliberalism across Europe, and support the unity of all workers to defend jobs and living standards, equal pay, binding national agreements negotiated by trade unions, and equal legal status for all, regardless of nationality. We oppose the ‘contracting out’ and privatisation system that uses competition to drive down wages and conditions.

We can sense the mood for a fightback in Britain. However, the slogan “British jobs for British workers” that has come to prominence around the dispute can only lead to deep divisions inside working class communities. The slogan, coined by Gordon Brown in his 2007 speech to Labour’s conference, is being taking up by the right wing press and the Nazi BNP. These are forces that have always been bitterly hostile to the trade union movement.

That is why, while supporting action to defend jobs, we believe that the action has to be directed against the employers and the contracting firms, not against migrant workers. We congratulate those strikers who ejected the BNP from the picket line at Immingham, and we urge other strikers to do the same. We support the demands of the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike committee.

We need a massive drive to unionise all workers, and a campaign to defend all jobs and create new ones. Every worker will benefit from a campaign to unionise overseas workers in order to prevent employers from using them as a weapon against fellow workers. Most importantly, we have to have unity if we are to fight back against the effects of the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s. “British jobs for British workers” is a slogan that focuses on what divides working people not what can unite them.

Every worker is facing the same horrors in the face of recession. We can’t let ourselves be divided. We should fight for well-paid jobs with decent conditions for all.

We support:

• The march for workers’ rights, and for global and environmental justice on 28 March in London on the eve of the G20 summit. This protest is supported by some 40 organisations including trade unions, the TUC, and campaigning groups. It is a protest against the neo-liberal policies that have encouraged ‘contracting out’ and competitive wage cutting.
• The protest called by Stop the War, CND and others on 2 April at the G20 summit itself.


The Undersigned’

In conclusion then, despite the attempts of the mainstream press to purvey these strikes as a right wing, nationalist phemonenon, it is clear from looking at the material published using alternative forms of new media such as Indymedia, blogs and online petitions, that this is far from true. This does however emphasize the importance of alternative media in allowing subaltern groups a channel for communications which bypasses the business funded and owned mass media, and allows these groups to directly communicate their message to a broad audience.

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