The latest WikiLeaks revelation

New release includes the CIA memo: “What If Foreigners See the United States as an ‘Exporter of Terr

Even while mired in personal controversy over rape allegations in Sweden and whispers about Pentagon smears, the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is still managing to make his mark on world affairs.

The latest release from WikiLeaks is a CIA Red Cell memo from 5 February this year entitled "What If Foreigners See the United States as an 'Exporter of Terrorism' ". It assesses the impact on foreign relations of incidents of "home-grown terrorism", citing in particular the five American Muslims who travelled to Pakistan last year allegedly to join the Taliban, long-term financial support from Americans for the IRA, and the involvement of the Pakistani-American David Headley in the Mumbai bombings.

The memo argues that the consequences of such events can be far-reaching for the US in terms of maintaining good relations with other states, and regarding extradition treaties in particular. It also raises the complex question of the US relationship with the International Criminal Court, which it has so far failed to join (mainly as a result of the Bush administration's policy) on the grounds that allowing US citizens to be tried for crimes committed on US soil but outside of the US judicial system would be unconstitutional.

The leaked document goes on to say that refusal to co-operate fully with other countries could lead to instances of these states withholding intelligence, and cites the case of Abdelghani Mzoudi, freed by a German court in 2005. According to the memo, he was acquitted because "the US refused to allow Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a suspected ringleader of the 9/11 plot who was in US custody, to testify". The memo concludes:

More such instances could impede actions to lock up terrorists, whether in the US or abroad, or result in the release of suspects.

A "Red Cell" memo means it was issued by the special group within the CIA set up after the 11 September 2001 attacks by George Tenet, the director who subsequently resigned over the WMD claims in Iraq. The group was created to "think unconventionally", take an "out-of-the-box approach" and produce ideas intended to "provoke" rather than provide "authoritative assessment".

There seems very little "out-of-the-box" thinking involved in the production of this memo, as its main conclusions are that terrorism can affect the perception of a country on the international stage, and that being uncooperative with other states can lead to similar treatment being meted out in return. We need look no further than the furore that resulted from David Cameron's recent remarks about Pakistan to see yet another example of such action. But, as ever, WikiLeaks has facilitated a fascinating insight into the hidden processes of a state.

As Assange deals with his problems in Sweden, a potential problem for his organisation has been voiced in the US. Sonia Sotomayor, the newest judge on the US Supreme Court, said in response to a student's question at an event at Denver University this week that the question of balancing freedom of speech with national security is "very likely" to come before the court in the near future.

She went on to discuss the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, at which time the Supreme Court declined to block the release:

That was not the beginning of that question, but an issue that keeps arising from generation to generation, of how far we will permit government restriction on freedom of speech in favour of protection of the country. There's no black-and-white line.

There will no doubt be many arguments in the future over whether it is the role of the Supreme Court to determine whether there is such a line at all and, if so, where it lies. But for the moment, I think we can safely say Julian Assange and his followers would argue that there's no line at all.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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