This week, a man believed to be a senior executive of a financier company, has avoided prosecution after dodging paying train fares into London for five years. The man avoided prosecution, and subsequently a criminal record, by agreeing an out-of-court settlement of £43,000 with Southeastern railways. There was no admission of guilt.

The man, who kept his anonymity as a result of offering to make the payment, travelled from Stonegate station in East Sussex into London Bridge, only paying a measly £7.20 for each journey during his 5 year’s worth of commutes by exploiting a loophole in the Oyster card system, Southeastern discovered.

There is no barrier at the station so he could board without being detected. Southeastern said it did not know how he managed to avoid detection by ticket inspectors on the train itself.

The senior executive from Sussex is not the only executive to avoid prosecution. Gray Hooper Holt, a law firm which specialises in fare evasion cases, last year acted for a “professional financier” who was accused of fare evasion and giving a false address by First Capital Connect. The case was dropped after the lawyers intervened, enabling the financier to avoid a criminal record. In another case in 2012 the firm acted for “a senior financial adviser for an international company for whom a successful prosecution for railway fare evasion or fraud would have led to the loss of his job and his career”. He was accused by Greater Anglia railways but the parties reached “an informal settlement”.

These actions raise the question; is there one law for the rich and another law for the poor? Are the wealthy above the law? It would seem to suggest that they are.

During the London riots a few years ago, a 23 year old student with no previous convictions was imprisoned for 6 months for stealing £3.50 worth of bottled water from a Lidl store. He was not given the option of repaying the money and retaining anonymity. He was hauled before magistrates, publicly named and shamed and subsequently received the maximum penalty for his crime.

Also in 2011, Nigel and Penny Ward, a couple from Cambridgshire, re-used a money-off coupon worth £17.50 at Tescos dozens of times to get money off their shopping totaling just over £1,000. They were prosecuted and convicted. Again, they were never given the option of remaining anonymous and paying back the money.

Anyone caught breaking the law should face punishment. By avoiding his fare, the criminal has robbed every other law-abiding, fare-paying train passenger.

It would seem that in this country, if you are wealthy then you can buy yourself protection from the law. Equality at its finest. Power to the proles.

By Chris Fearnley

You would be hard pushed to find a country where human rights mean less than in Saudi Arabia. The country is run by a dictatorial monarch that has even been accused of keeping his four daughters under house arrest. What has happened to the princesses is shocking, but it also raises the obvious question: if this is how they treat royalty, how do they treat their opponents?
To protest against the regime is to risk your liberty, and even your life. The risk has become even greater, with the government having recently passed a new ‘terrorism’ law that treats atheists and political dissidents as enemies of the state. This is far from an isolated event; government repression is widespread and systematic all across the ‘kingdom’. This is why the most recent Economist Democracy Index said that it is the fifth most authoritarian government in the world.
Despite the widespread human rights abuses, the regime is not short of international support. In the last few weeks alone it has hosted state visits by Barack Obama and Prince Charles. The latter was visiting to finalise an arms deal for BAE Systems and even took part in a traditional Saudi sword dance. The day after Prince Charles’ recent visit, seven Saudi citizens were jailed for 20 years for protesting against the regime.
The relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia is a close one that is based on extensive arms trading and oil deals. The deals are complemented by a strong level of political support and a deafening silence and inaction on human rights. Their influence goes beyond foreign policy and has even begun to penetrate domestic decisions. Seemingly at the regime’s behest, prime minister David Cameron, has called for an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood to be spearheaded by Sir John Jenkins, the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi regime understands the importance of muting criticism. So the international legitimacy that they get from UK support, and state visits from the heir to the throne, is just as powerful as any of the weapons they are buying. Even when criticisms are made they are often ignored or met with indifference. For example, in the most recent Human Rights and Democracy’ report from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) Saudi Arabia is listed as a country of concern. The report highlighted a number of the human rights abuses taking place, but provided no explanation for why the UK had licensed £1.9 billion in military exports during the two years that preceded it. Surely this is completely incompatible with the UK’s commitment to human rights?
In 2013 the House of Commons’ foreign affairs committee (FAC) published the results of an inquiry into the UK’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Unfortunately the report made it clear that arms company and establishment interests had made their way into the heart of the inquiry. The committee had appointed Sir William Patey, former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, as a specialist adviser; a man who was hardly likely to have acted in a disinterested or questioning manner. Similarly, the committee hosted informal meetings with representatives from BAE Systems, the UK’s largest arms company and major arms supplier to Saudi Arabia.
The report was a whitewash, concluding: “The government has placed a renewed emphasis on its long-term relations with both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in part by relying on our rich heritage of historic links with these traditional allies.” What it did was provide the government with cover as it continues the policy of talking about human rights abroad at the same time as it turns a blind eye to the actions of despicable regimes in a desire to drum up sales for BAE Systems.
Sadly this is nothing new. Saudi Arabia has been a major buyer of UK weapons since the 1960s. The deals have enjoyed the backing of successive UK governments and benefited from a strong institutional support, which has facilitated a great deal of three-way co-operation between the UK government, Saudi Arabia and BAE. Top-level support has always been made available when promoting its arms deals with Saudi Arabia. For example, in November 2012 Cameron visited the regime in a bid to cement the Eurofighter Typhoon deal.
Of course the UK is not alone in aligning with the tyrants and ignoring human rights concerns. The most recent European arms exports report, which covers licences for 2012, shows that year alone EU member states licensed 3.5 billion euros worth of weapons to the regime. The nature of these relationships has suppressed any opposition from Europe and ensured that the prevailing environment is one that is characterised by violence, intimidation and repression. As the situation continues to escalate we can be under no doubt that decisions being made in the name of arms trade profits are having serious consequences for the victims of the terrible regime.
What is implicit in the arms sales is the backing for the current Saudi regime and a message to those in Saudi Arabia and the wider region that their aspirations for human rights and democracy are of less importance than arms trade profits. The FAC report into relations with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia noted: “Both the government and the opposition in Bahrain view UK defence sales as a signal of British support for the government.” This could be applied equally to Saudi Arabia.
The Arab Spring should have been the start of a re-evaluation of how the UK does business in the region. The UK must put human rights at the heart of its policy towards Saudi Arabia, not the interests of the arms companies.

Yesterday afternoon, Ars Technica published a story reporting two possible logs of Heartbleed attacks occurring in the wild, months before Monday’s public disclosure of the vulnerability. It would be very bad news if these stories were true, indicating that blackhats and/or intelligence agencies may have had a long period when they knew about the attack and could use it at their leisure.

In response to the story, EFF called for further evidence of Heartbleed attacks in the wild prior to Monday. The first thing they learned was that the SeaCat report was a possible false positive; the pattern in their logs looked like it could have been caused by ErrataSec’s masscan software, and indeed one of the source IPs was ErrataSec.

The second log seems much more troubling. EFF have spoken to Ars Technica’s second source, Terrence Koeman, who reported finding some inbound packets, immediately following the setup and termination of a normal handshake, containing another Client Hello message followed by the TCP payload bytes 18 03 02 00 03 01 40 00 in ingress packet logs from November 2013. These bytes are a TLS Heartbeat with contradictory length fields, and are the same as those in the widely circulated proof-of-concept exploit.

Koeman’s logs had been stored on magnetic tape in a vault. The source IP addresses for the attack were and Interestingly, those two IP addresses appear to be part of a larger botnet that has been systematically attempting to record most or all of the conversations on Freenode and a number of other IRC networks. This is an activity that makes more sense for intelligence agencies than for commercial or lifestyle malware developers.

To reach a firmer conclusion about Heartbleed’s history, it would be best for the networking community to try to replicate Koeman’s findings. Any network operators who have extensive TLS-layer traffic logs can check for malicious heartbeats, which most commonly have a TCP payload of 18 03 02 00 03 01 or 18 03 01 00 03 01. I urge any network operators who find this pattern to contact myself or EFF.

Network operators might also keep an eye out for other interesting log entries from 193.104.110.* and the other IPs in the related botnet. Who knows what they might find?

A lot of the narratives around Heartbleed have viewed this bug through a worst-case lens, supposing that it might have been used for some time, and that there might be tricks to obtain private keys somewhat reliably with it. At least the first half of that scenario is starting to look likely.

OpenSSL is an open-source implementation of SSL and TLS, the protocols that secure much of what you see on the web. Recently, a critical bug was discovered that has been present in OpenSSL for over two years, that can allow anyone on the internet to possibly uncover names, passwords, and content you send to a seemingly secure web site. As you can imagine, this is a big deal.

The Heartbleed bug, as its now known, affects any sites and services running specific versions of OpenSSL (1.0.1 through 1.0.1f). Many sites may run older versions of OpenSSL that are not vulnerable, and many have likely already updated to a fixed version. Furthermore, not all sites and services use OpenSSL.

It is estimated that around 66% of the web utilises OpenSSL, so a large portion of the internet may be vulnerable. You can test certain sites using this tool, though it won’t answer whether a site was previously vulnerable at any point in the past. You can find a list of possibly affected sites here, but check their respective blogs for any recent updates—and keep in mind they may have been vulnerable sometime in the past two years (Google and Facebook, for example, are not listed as currently vulnerable, but have yet to issue any official statements).

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this. The only way to fix this problem is for the vulnerable sites to update OpenSSL and reissue their security certificates. Changing your password won’t help until the site has fixed the bug, so wait for confirmation from your favorite sites before you go changing passwords. (LastPass now has a tool that lets you know what passwords to change, and when.)

But the bug is also unusually worrisome because it could possibly be used by hackers to steal your usernames and passwords — for sensitive services like banking, ecommerce, and web-based email — and by spy agencies to steal the private keys that vulnerable web sites use to encrypt your traffic to them. This raises the question: Is the NSA and GCHQ involved?

Cracking SSL to decrypt internet traffic has long been on the NSA’s wish list. Last September, The Guardian reported that the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ had “successfully cracked” much of the online encryption we rely on to secure email and other sensitive transactions and data.

So far, though, there’s no evidence to suggest this is the case. And there are reasons why this method wouldn’t be very efficient for the NSA.

First, the vulnerability didn’t exist on every site. And even on sites that were vulnerable, using the Heartbleed bug to find and grab the private keys stored on a server’s memory isn’t without problems. Heartbleed allows an attacker to siphon up to 64kb of data from a system’s memory by sending a query. But the data that’s returned is random — whatever is in the memory at the time — and requires an attacker to query multiple times to collect a lot of data. Though there’s no limit to the number of queries an attacker can make, no one has yet produced a proof-of-concept exploit for reliably and consistently extracting a server’s persistent key from memory using Heartbleed.

European Union laws requiring communications providers to retain metadata are invalid because they seriously interfere with fundamental privacy rights, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled Tuesday.

The EU’s Data Retention Directive requires telecommunications and Internet providers to retain traffic and location data as well as related data necessary to identify the subscriber or user. This is required for the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of serious crime, in particular organized crime and terrorism.

However, the High Court of Ireland and the Constitutional Court of Austria doubted the validity of the directive, and asked the CJEU to investigate whether it violates the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the court said.

The CJEU found the directive interferes with those rights and declared it invalid, a decision welcomed by campaigners for online privacy.

The European Commission said it will assess the court’s verdict and its effects.

Member of the European Parliament Sophie Veld said, “It is good that the legislature gets a slap on the wrist. Now we can finally delete this unsound law,” adding that future laws to combat terrorism must comply with civil rights.

European Digital Rights Group (EDRi) executive director Joe McNamee called the law an affront to the fundamental rights of European citizens and said the decision marked the end of “eight years of abuses of personal data.”

And in the U.K. Open Rights Group director Jim Killock said, “Blanket data collection interferes with our privacy rights. We must now see the repeal of national legislation that obliges telecoms companies to collect data about our personal phone calls, text messages, emails and internet usage.”

The court said retaining such data makes it possible to know how, when and with whom service users communicate, how often they call, and where they call from. That, in turn, could provide precise information on the private lives of the persons whose data are retained, including where they live, their daily habits, and their social lives, the court said. Requiring that telecommunications operators retain the data and allow the authorities to access it interferes with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data—and, because those data are retained and used without informing the user the directive is likely to generate a feeling that people’s private lives are the subject of constant surveillance, the court added.

Although the court acknowledged that retention of data can help fight serious crime and improve public security, it identified several ways in which the EU legislature had exceeded the limits of proportionality in adopting the directive.

The directive is too general, covering all individuals, all means of electronic communication and all traffic data without any differentiation, limitation or exception. It also makes no requirement for review by a court or an independent body before providing access to the data. In addition, the directive imposes a retention period of at least six months without making any distinction between the categories of data on the basis of the persons concerned or the possible usefulness of the data in relation to the objective pursued.

The directive included insufficient protections to prevent the data from being accessed unlawfully, and did not require that the retained data be stored within the EU, as explicitly required by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the court added.

The CJEU’s ruling is binding for national courts who have to dispose of cases in accordance with the Court’s decision.

The fact is that military interventions are happening primarily for the economic interests of the country invading and for the corporate lobbyists who are waiting to plunder the invaded nations. It is not foreign invasion; it is corporate invasion that is taking place. Hopefully, this article will demonstrate hard facts that will at least make you question the motives for recent military interventions. As a former soldier that served in Afghanistan, I hope my article will have some credibility.

If it is not oil, it is some other asset that leads to the declaration of war without any provocation. Once the current government has been toppled, the removal of restrictions to foreign ownership and trade are removed or relaxed. This allows contracts to be given to foreign corporations to develop the now war-torn nation.

American corporations have secured the world’s second largest oil reserves which belonged to Iraq. This was why Bush immediately announced after the invasion of a Middle East Free Trade Area to spread the economic invasion to the rest of the region by 2013.

The US consultancy firm Bearing Point Inc. received a $250 million contract to make Iraq’s economic infrastructure. The plan was to fire the entire Iraqi military (500,000), so that many of these jobless soldiers would take to guns and start an insurgency, which happened according to plan. 120,000 of Iraq’s senior bureaucrats were fired throughout government, schools and even hospitals.New laws that reduced taxes on all corporations by 25% to open up the way for foreign investment were passed. These firms were allowed to own 100% of Iraqi businesses, as opposed to a partnership framework, and as a result their entire profits went home without investing a cent in Iraq.

More than 150 US companies won contracts in Iraq worth over $50 billion. There was no law to state foreign companies had to hire Iraqis. Imagine you had no job, a family to feed and your country was being plundered by foreign invaders calling themselves liberators that you saw getting richer while your family went hungrier… what would you do?

For example, here are seven of the largest construction contracts awarded in Iraq to aid in the reconstruction following the invasion:

7 of the largest reconstruction contracts (water, bridges, roads, hospitals, sewers, electricity) are detailed below. The bidding for many of them was conducted in secret. Only a select few corporations were invited to bid, many of them being large cash donors to the George Bush administration.

1. Parsons Corporation of Pasadena, California ($5.3billion) – $243m contract given to build 150 health care centres was cancelled when only 6 centres had been built in 2 years and only 2 are useable. They also received $142 million to build prisons, fire stations and police stations that it never built or finished

2. Fluor Corporation of Aliso Viejo, Calif. ($3.75 billion) for restoring electricity to Iraqi homes and businesses. Currently, the average Iraqi receives only 11 hours of electricity a day.

3. Washington Group International of Boise, Idaho. Employees of Washington Group International Inc., which won four reconstruction contracts in Iraq worth up to $2.5 billion, gave more to President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in two days in that month than its top three competitors gave in a year.

4. Shaw Group of Baton Rouge, La. ($3 billion). Hard to find any information on these contracts, but it seems this company is regularly favoured by the US government.

5. Bechtel Corporation of San Francisco ($2.85 billion); responsible for contracts including the Basra’s Childrens Hospital. The project was over-budget, late and poorly managed. You can read the catalogue of failures here.

6. Perini Corporation of Framingham, Mass. ($2.5 billion); This corporation is owned by a group of investors, including Richard Blum, husband of Senator Diane Feinstein, a close ally of the US President. Who got rich out of this one?

7. Contrack International, Inc. of Arlington, Va. ($2.3 billion). Hard to find much on this contract, but they pulled out some way in to the contract citing security concerns, after pocketing a proportion of the contract’s worth.

Although the Iraq war is a distant memory for many, it is just one example of a war-torn country being plundered and exploited by western corporations. I hope to write a similar article detailing the exact same drain of wealth and resources that has happened in Afghanistan. But it will have to wait as my laptop battery is dying and this article took a good few hours of research.

When I write these articles, all I want is for the reader to start the article with an open mind. Listen to the facts, check out the links I have referenced if you are in any doubt over their accuracy, and then apply some common sense and logic. Finally, decide for yourself if it is really that hard to believe.

This article is designed to enlighten, educate and to stimulate intelligent debate and conversation. So please leave your views, comments and feedback.

Thanks. Chris.

Great news! The European Court of Human Rights has fast-tracked the Privacy Not Prism case brought by Open Rights Group, English PEN, Big Brother Watch and Constanze Kurz challenging the GCHQ’s Internet surveillance practices and oversight system.

The court wrote to the UK Government on 9th January to tell it to give its justifications for how GCHQ’s activities and oversight comply with the right to privacy set down in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Government has until 2nd May to respond to the court and then the case will move towards the final stages before judgment.

It’s extremely rare for cases in Strasbourg to move forward so quickly.

Daniel Carey, the solicitor in the case, says “This gives real hope to the public that the European Court of Human Rights will require reform if the Government continues to insist that nothing is wrong.”

Until now the British Government has relied on the mantra that GCHQ works “within a legal framework” but they’ve completely failed to explain how GCHQ’s mass collection of Internet data is legal.

This legal challenge is an essential part of uncovering why our privacy has been invaded on such a huge scale.

In October, I was one of over 1,400 people who donated to the fund to help pay the lawyers to get through the first stage of the case. They met their target of £20,000 in just 48 hours and raised just over £27,000.

To help cover the costs of the next stage of the case they’re now fundraising for another £13,000 to reach a new target of £40,000.

If you’re able to chip in, we would all really appreciate your continued support. Donate if you can at

Wary of people snooping on you via your smartphone? Privacy advocates are now building a smartphone that can thwart such attempts to spy on you.

Coming soon is the Blackphone, described by its creators as the first integrated smartphone from the best privacy minds in the industry.

“Silent Circle and Geeksphone have partnered to combine best-of-breed hardware with all the skills and experience necessary to offer PrivatOS, an Android-based operating system without the usual compromises,” it said.

“You can make and receive secure phone calls; exchange secure texts; exchange and store secure files; have secure video chat; browse privately; and anonymize your activity through a VPN,” it added.

It added Blackphone is the world’s first smartphone to “put privacy and control ahead of everything else,” ahead of carriers and advertising.

Pre-orders can be made starting Feb. 24 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Blackphone’s creators claim the phone has preinstalled tools “to move throughout the world, conduct business, and stay in touch, while shielding you from prying eyes.”

“It has the features necessary to do all the things you need, as well as all the things you want, while maintaining your privacy and security and giving you the freedom to choose your carrier, your apps, and your location,” it added.

Those involved in the project include:

Phil Zimmermann: co-founder and president of Silent Circle; Creator of PGP and Zfone/ZRTP. Internet Hall of Fame inductee. Zimmerman is also co-founder and CEO of Geeksphone and MIT TR35 Spain award winner. He is also a former European Commission Young Advisor.

Jon Callas: co-founder and CTO of Silent Circle, and co-founder of PGP Corp.

Mike Janke: co-founder and CEO of Silent Circle.

Rodrigo Silva-Ramos: co-founder, chairman & CMO of Geeksphone and creator of Welcam, an early IP video streaming company.

Tony Bryant: VP Business Development of Blackphone. Sales leader, angel investor, entrepreneur, and advisor to several companies.

David Purón: VP Engineering of Blackphone. Telco engineer and leader for carriers, OEMs, and Software Vendors. Former Open Mobile Alliance Chairman.

Mike Kershaw: Chief Architect of Blackphone. Creator of the Kismet wireless monitoring tool and other open source projects.

A Pakistani man whose father died in a drone strike has failed in an attempt to hold British officials responsible for the killing.

The court of appeal ruled on Monday that considering whether GCHQ staff had passed on “locational intelligence” to the CIA before the attack in 2011 would involve “sitting in judgment” on the US.

Noor Khan, 28, lost his father, a tribal elder, to the strike on a local council meeting in North Waziristan, which had gathered to resolve a mining dispute.

“However the claims are presented, they involve serious criticisms of the acts of a foreign state,” the three court of appeal judges concluded. “It is only in certain established circumstances that our courts will exceptionally sit in judgment of such acts. There are no such exceptional circumstances here.”

The court would have to find the CIA implicitly guilty of a war crime before it could consider whether GCHQ had been involved, the court said.

Lawyers for the UK government had argued that the case should not proceed as “a finding by our court that the notional UK operator of a drone bomb which caused a death was guilty of murder would inevitably be understood … by the US as a condemnation of the US.”

Responding to the ruling, Kat Craig, legal director of the human rights charity Reprieve, which is supporting Khan, said: “It is shameful that the risk of embarrassing the US has trumped British justice in this case.

“It now appears that the UK government can get away with murder, provided it is committed alongside an ally who may be sensitive to public criticism. It is a sad day when the rights of civilian victims of drone strikes take second place to the PR concerns of the US government.”

Khan said: “I used to think that Britain stood for justice, but now it seems as though the government has put itself above the law.

“However, I am still determined to get answers from the UK government about the part they have played in the death of my father. The CIA’s drone programme has not only killed hundreds of civilians, but is turning people in Pakistan against the US and its allies.

“This is why I was so upset to hear that Britain is helping the CIA to carry out these killings, and even more upset when the government refused to respond to my questions.”

Rosa Curling from Leigh Day, which is representing Khan, said: “The court’s decision not to determine the lawfulness of our government’s involvement in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, deadly strikes which have killed many civilians over recent years including my client’s father, simply to spare the US government embarrassment is not only disappointing but also deeply worrying.

“The courts must have jurisdiction over the legality of our government’s action irrespective of whether they act alongside a foreign state or not.”

Firstly, apologies for the lack of activity. I have been working abroad and continue to be away until mid-2014.

The BBC routinely flouts its professed commitment to impartiality and transparency, by allowing people who appear to be little more than corporate lobbyists to pose as independent pundits.

Take the example of an interview with Mark Littlewood on the Today programme. He was introduced by Mishal Husain as “the director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and a smoker himself”.

What we were not told is that the institute, which calls itself a thinktank, has for many years been funded by the tobacco industry.

This funding has been repeatedly exposed: for example in the archive of documents the tobacco companies were forced to make public as part of their class action settlement in the US, through leaks and in an article in the Observer earlier this year.

This is one of many cases in which groups that call themselves thinktanks often look and sound more like lobbyists for corporations. Usually we have no idea who is funding them, because most refuse to declare their interests. But in this case it is well established.

This is important because the BBC is considered by many listeners to be an impartial source of information which, unlike many other media outlets, has not been captured by corporate interests. If it is being exploited by controversial companies using covert channels to try to sway public opinion, you might have expected the BBC to take an interest.

Many people actually complained to the BBC Complaints Unit. Here’s what the response said:

“We raised your concerns with ‘Today’, who responded as follows: ‘We don’t believe it was appropriate or necessary in this case to include details about where the Institute of Economic Affairs gets its funding, information which the IEA does not publish.  ‘The introduction described Mark Littlewood as a ‘smoker’, which indicated to the audience his likely approach to the subject. Furthermore, we mentioned his official position as the director of the IEA.  ‘That said, we accept it would have been better if we had followed our usual practice and described the institute as a ‘free-market’ thinktank. This would have clarified the ideological as well as personal background to his arguments.’”

Does the BBC really believe that listeners should not be told that someone arguing against the tougher regulation of cigarettes is funded by the tobacco industry? Who cares whether or not it says the IEA is a free-market thinktank? This conveys little useful information. The issue here is on whose behalf it might be speaking.

Would the BBC allow an acknowledged public relations firm, such as Burson-Marsteller or Hill & Knowlton, to speak about proposed regulations without revealing whether or not it is paid by the businesses trying to stymie those regulations? I am sure it would not. So what’s the difference?

But most interesting is the excuse it uses: it won’t mention the IEA’s funders because the IEA refuses to disclose them. Surely a lack of candour should encourage more scrutiny, not less?

What makes this even more striking is that it’s the opposite excuse to the one that Newsnight used when challenged on the same issue. A viewer complained that when the MP Peter Lilley was interviewed about climate change (he argued against taking major action), the programme did not disclose that he’s the vice-chairman of an oil company. In this case the BBC responded: “It is a matter of public record that Mr Lilley is vice chairman and senior independent non-executive director of Tethys Petroleum – it appears in parliament’s register of members’ interests.”

So the BBC won’t reveal who is paying its contributors on the grounds that they haven’t declared their interests, and it won’t reveal who is paying its contributors on the grounds that they have declared their interests. So it means that the BBC can allow anyone to pose as an independent expert, even if he is up to his neck in corporate money…

One or two of the people who received this pathetic response have complained a second time. Here’s the answer the BBC gave them:

“We forwarded your further concerns to Dominic Groves, one of the output editors of the Today programme who explained in response that: ‘All we have to go on are newspaper reports. In the absence of any independent verification therefore, it remains an allegation that the IEA receives funding from tobacco companies. But that is not the central point here.  ‘The BBC guidelines require us to ‘provide the credentials’ of contributors. Our argument is that indicating Mark Littlewood’s status as a smoker, and the ‘free-market’ leanings of his thinktank, would have been sufficient for the purposes of this piece to allow audiences to judge his status.  ‘We are sorry the script did not include the latter but don’t believe anything beyond that was necessary.’”

It remains an allegation? Well I suppose you could call it that, but it’s an allegation the tobacco companies have confirmed. Here’s what they told the Observer. Philip Morris International said: “We confirm that we are a member of the Institute of Economic Affairs, but cannot provide you with any further details.”

Japan Tobacco International said: “We believe the contributions of organisations like the ASI [the Adam Smith Institute] and the IEA are very valuable in an open and free society. We respect their work and share their views on many issues” and “We work with the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute as their economic and behavioural expertise help us better understand which tobacco regulation measures will work and which will not.”

And as for “the absence of any independent verification”, what better verification could you have than the internal documents of the tobacco companies revealed by the class action disclosure? Not only does Groves appear happy to trample on the BBC’s guidelines, but he also seems unaware of the vast body of material supporting the case he so lightly dismisses. You might have expected the Today programme to have done a little research before responding to this complaint. You would, it seems, have been wrong.

On the issue of providing the credentials of its contributors, is the audience supposed to deduce from the fact that Littlewood is a smoker that he works for a body funded by the tobacco industry? Or does the BBC believe that this information is irrelevant?

One of the people fobbed off in this manner has now gone to what the BBC calls “stage two of the complaints process”: which means a letter to the Editorial Complaints Unit. People have also launched a petition at, calling on the BBC to “disclose the financial interests of the people you interview in the issues they are discussing”. Please sign it.

I should emphasise that I have no problem with the IEA or any other group being allowed to speak as often as the BBC might wish – if their interests are disclosed. Let anyone speak, as long as it’s done with transparency and accountability.

It’s hard to understand how the BBC can sustain its bizarre position, unless it’s content for people to see it as an organisation incapable of upholding the most basic standards of journalism. Eventually, if enough people complain, and pursue those complaints, I believe it will have to change its policy: the gulf between its editorial guidelines and editorial practice is just too great.

So unless you are content for the BBC to be used as a covert propaganda outlet by tobacco, fossil fuel and other controversial companies, please don’t give up. It’s time the BBC stopped collaborating in the deception of its listeners.