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Terror expert at Edinburgh Conference

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Thursday 1 June for immediate release

"Terror expert" promotes "clash of civilisations" at Edinburgh media conference

Expert critic of spin to speak at Edinburgh meeting on Monday

We are shocked that Professor Paul Wilkinson of St Andrews University used the International Press Institute Conference in Edinburgh this week to promote the tired and racist ideology of a "clash of civilisations". He was speaking at a session entitled "Journalism Under Pressure - Reporting Terrorism." According to a report in today's Scotsman (Thursday 1 June), he referred repeatedly to a battleground with "the West" on one side and al-Qaeda standing in for an unspecified other side. This is the kind of talk that risks dividing the world and dividing our country. Millions of British people reject the British government's middle eastern wars. To parcel them up under the heading "the West" with Tony Blair, George Bush and friends is to attempt to declare politics and democracy obsolete.

The IPI conference should have been a rare opportunity for a serious discussion of the difficulties of reporting terrorism, despite the £150 a day delegate fees. Amongst the speakers were Sir Harold Evans, a former editor of the Tiimes and Yosri Fouda, deputy executive director of Al_Jazeera. Foudra talked frankly of massive government spin doctoring.

But the opportunity for a robust debate amongst journalists of different traditions was rather marred by the decision of the organisers to provide a platform for Professor Wilkinson, a prominent propagandist for the counter-terrorism industry. His views might have provided a revealing counterpoint to the experiences of media figures if his background had been clearly explained, but no such explanation has appeared in reports on the conference.

Professor Wilkinson is Chair of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at St Andrews University. CSTPV was founded in 1993 by Bruce Hoffman of the US RAND Corporation. The RAND Corporation is a non-profit research organisation created by the US defence industry. CSTPV still has close links with RAND. Brian Jenkins, Senior Adviser to the President of RAND Corporation, sits on the CSTPV Advisory Council.

Bruce Hoffman went on in the spring of 2004 to work briefly as senior advisor to the Constitutional Provisional Authority in Iraq. He's still an Honorary Senior Research Associate. At present he's Director of RAND's Washington office and holds the RAND Corporate Chair in Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency.

He has been awarded the United States Intelligence Community Seal Medallion, the highest level of commendation given in the US to a non-government employee, which "recognises sustained superior performance of high value that distinctly benefits the interests and national security of the United States."

Another CSTPV founder member is David Claridge. He's now managing director of a company called Janusian Security Risk Management Ltd, which claims to have been the first western security firm to have an office in Baghdad. They employ both British and Iraqi "security workers". In plain English, that means mercenaries.

Janusian Security Risk Management claims in its publicity to have a "unique relationship with the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, the institution at the forefront of academic research in terrorism and low intensity conflict."

Dr Magnus Ranstorp, another key CSTPV figure (currently also a Chief Scientist at the Swedish National Defence College) provided much of the thinking behind the government initiatives that followed the Madrid bombings. It was he who popularised the concept of a "terrorist career path" that begins with spiritual training and progresses to terrorism through exposure to "propaganda" about struggles in places such as Algeria and Chechnya. So Muslims who find the whole of their spiritual, social and political life under scrutiny from the intelligence services have Dr Ranstorp to thank.

According to today's article in the Scotsman, Professor Wilkinson told the Edinburgh Conference that a "key ideological weapon was for Western democracies to 'defend our rule of law and human rights values.'" Wilkinson gave a similar nod to human rights in a memorandum submitted last October to Parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee. But the same memorandum links vast areas of politics to terrorism and contains no warning of the human rights abuses that are likely to result if governments act upon this model. At the Edinburgh conference, he conflated terrorism with resistance to the occupation of Iraq. Tony Blair will be pleased; journalists trying to report accurately on the complexities of Iraqi politics will not.

It's gratifying for our campaign to find that it is now de riguer for architects of the security state to name-check civil liberties. But it's worrying that Wilkinson complains in his memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about "extreme human rights campaigners." Perhaps he means campaigners like us, for whom "human rights" aren't "weapons" but are, precisely, rights for humans. The word "extremist" is often used these days to designate people who are being targeted by the security services. We hope Wilkinson isn't trying to tell us something. After all, Wilkinson believes that human rights are "weapons" and the press is a "battleground."

The real problems facing those who report on terrorism will be discussed at a public meeting hosted by SACC at Edinburgh's Augustine Church on Monday. The speakers include Professor David Miller of Strathclyde University. David Miller is widely known for his writings on propaganda, spin and lobbying as well as for his expertise on 'terrorism', conflict in Ireland and Iraq, global power-politics and the Scottish political scene. He is often called upon by the broadcast media as a commentator on media issues and regularly writes for popular media outlets. He is co-founder and co-editor of Spinwatch, a website devoted to public interest reporting on spin and propaganda, and is editor of the book Tell Me lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq. Admission to the meeting is free.


  • See Press is a battleground in the war on terrorism (Fergus Shephard, The Scotsman; Thursday 1 June)
  • Public meeting on Monday 5 June 7.30pm, Edinburgh - "War on Terror - How Britain's overseas adventures are reshaping justice at home"Augustine United Church, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh Speakers include: Les Levidow (Campaign Against Criminalising Communities) Sohaib Saeed (Islamic Society of Edinburgh University), Professor David Miller (editor the book Tell Me Lies and co-founder of Spinwatch), Ann Gray (Campaign Against Criminalising Communities) Richard Haley (author of the chapter "How Britain's overseas adventures are reshaping justice in Scotland" in the new book "Whose Justice - The Law and the Left"
  • Read Prof Wikinsons's Memorandum On International Terrorism And The International Response