Kingfish or king spin?
George Santayana’s maxim that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, does not tell us what past lessons we are to learn. Nor does it tell us why we should not repeat the lesson. When it comes to the study of Nazism, the lesson is a moral one. For politicians who believe it is wrong to stir up racial hatred in order to profit from it. The lesson is state-sponsored racism starts with racist propaganda and ends with genocide. Never again must politicians repeat it.
On the other hand, the new profiteers of racism, New Labour, will learn a very different lesson. It is that “propaganda is not an end in itself, but a means to and end” (Noakes and Pridham 1987:381). If the end is to hold onto political power, then Nazi propaganda techniques are not only worth learning but repeating.
The Big Lie is the Nazi propaganda technique of choice used by New
Labour’s spin doctors. The technique’s success relies on
the fact that most people trust ministers. They do not expect them to
create “a political project built on a foundation of falsehood”:
big lies (1).
On December 22 2004, the BBC broadcast “news” from the Foreign Office about the success of a joint operation involving American, British and Jamaican navies. Launched on October 19 2004 in Jamaica, Operation Kingfish has allegedly cut by 80% the amount of cocaine smuggled into the Caribbean from Colombia.
The BBC quotes Rammell as saying, firstly, Jamaica is home to “major drug traffickers … [and] a transit point for cocaine headed for the UK and US”. Secondly, “An estimated 20% of the cocaine in Britain comes through Jamaica and 80% originates in Colombia”. Finally, Jamaican smuggled cocaine “fuels much gun crime” in the UK (2).
Like most government’s statement linking Jamaica to cocaine trafficking, the Foreign Office does not give specifies about Operation Kingfish. Nor does it give evidence about seizures which can be checked. For example, in their “war on drugs”, there is little that is newsworthy about joint operations between American, British and Jamaican navies. However, Rammell creates the false impression that the Royal Navy joining the “war on drugs” is a news event.
Take HMS Richmond’s role in Operation Kingfish’s “success”. Rammell says the ship has helped in the seizure of 12 tonnes of Colombian cocaine. But, he does not say the seizures took place in “international waters”, i.e. not Jamaica’s territorial waters (3).Neither does he say whether the seized cocaine was destining for Jamaica. He does not say the majority of those arrested were Colombian nationals.
Nor does he say HMS Richmond is part of the Atlantic Patrol Task (North) (APT (N)). Speaking in parliament on September 1 2004, Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram explained one role of APT (N) in the Caribbean. It is to “make a major contribution as one element of HMG’s broader counter drug activity….in the region” (5).
HMS Richmond took over HMS Monmouth’s APT (N) duties in July 2004. HMS Monmouth succeeded in removing 150-200kg from circulation during its six mouth tour of duty. Its predecessor in APT (North), HMS Marlborough, “seized eight tonnes of drugs with an estimated value of £1bn while on patrol in the Caribbean in 1999” (6).
Furthermore, APT (N) drug interdiction operations in the Caribbean have been ongoing long before New Labour came into power in 1997 (7).
Not only is the Royal Navy’s role in “counter drug activity” in the Caribbean a stale old story, so too is America’s. In February 2004, America and Jamaica signed the Maritime Counter Narcotics Co-operation Agreement. Also known as the “shiprider agreement”, it allows each country to pursue drug traffickers into each other territorial water (8).
In November 2005 at the port of Paita, Peruvian police, working with the US Drug Enforcement Agency, seized 700kg of cocaine hidden in frozen giant squid bound for American and Mexico (9).
If multi-national drug raids in the Caribbean Sea are old hats, why does Bill Rammell claim Operation Kingfish’s activities are new? Writing in the Jamaica Gleaner Online edition, Lambert Brown asks whether the operation is “Kingfish or king spin?” (3). He concludes it is operation king spin.
Operation Kingfish is an example of the spin doctor’s need to manage spin by controlling the news agenda. Where none exists, making up fake news becomes his first goal. Such news has to be so sexy and simple it grabs the headlines and imprints itself in people’s memory. (Hicks)
The plot of Wag the Dog, a 1998 film, illustrates the last point. It revolves around Conrad Brean, a spin doctor, making up a story designed to “bury bad news” that would otherwise grab the headlines. The bad news is the president’s hanky-panky with a Firefly Girl, a girl scout, grabs the headline within days of his re-election.
Conrad sets out to “change the story, change the lead”. In other words, he feeds “the press something meatier to chew on and knock the Firefly girl off the front page” (Tatara). He grabs the headlines by orchestrating a national crisis, the outbreak of a fake war between Albania and America.
Like Conrad, New Labour uses “Britain’s other war” (10), on drugs, to orchestrate a national crisis. Every war has its heroes. And the war on drug is no exception, hence Rammell’s spin on Operation Kingfish’s successes. Fake news about such successes gives Rammell the chance to repeat his party’s lies.
What are the lies which New Labours uses news about Operation Kingfish to tell? First, Jamaica is the source of 20% of cocaine entering the UK. Second, Jamaican cocaine “fuels much gun crime” in Britain. I’ll look at each lie in turn.
In the 2002, New Labour used Jamaica as a pretext for a bogus crisis in its war on drugs. The Metropolitan police said it “believes that up 20% of the crack cocaine brought into the country comes in via human mules”, drug couriers (11).
Then as now the Foreign Office played a key role in the cocaine crisis. In January, its deputy high commissioner, Phil Sinkinson, in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, said in a radio interview that one in ten passengers on each flight from Jamaica was a ‘mule’. He guessed that each ‘mule’ carried up to 30kg of cocaine in her body (12).
In June, Bob Ainsworth, then drugs minister, organised a headline grabbing two day “crack cocaine conference” in Birmingham. Ainsworth told the conference: “There are increasing concerns about direct importation of cocaine through UK airports, by ‘mules’, especially from Jamaica” (13). The conference aim was to find ways to stop ‘mules’ trafficking cocaine thus removing the reason for firearms violence: drug gang turf wars.
In January 2003, the government introduced the requirement that all Jamaican visitors to Britain must have a visa. The measure was intended to stop drug trafficking from Jamaican into Britain.
In March 2004, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, which manages UKvisas, reported that “fewer resources” are now used at Heathrow Terminal 3 because less Jamaicans are now entering the country (14).
In January 2005, the parliamentary under secretary responsible for UKvisas, Chris Mullin MP, explains why fewer Jamaicans are entering Britain. He said, “following the requirement for all Jamaican nationals (including visitors) to have visas to enter the United Kingdom in January 2003, applications from April 2003 – March 2004 went up to 26, 603 and 11,646 were refused; a refusal rate of 43.8 per cent” (15).
If drug trafficking is the reason why UKvisas refused so many Jamaican visa applications, then it seems odd that three years after imposing visas Rammell says 20% of cocaine entering Britain comes via Jamaica. That gives the lie, firstly, to the reason why visas were introduced, to reduce drug ‘mules’. Secondly, that Jamaica was the source of 20% of UK cocaine. Finally, that there is a causal link between firearm violence and “the direct importation of cocaine through UK airport, by ‘mules’, especially from Jamaica”, as Ainsworth claimed in Birmingham on June 24 2002 (13).
There is “almost no” researched evidence to back up the claim which both Ainsworth and Rammell make about links between cocaine and firearm violence. Sir Toby Harris, Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Services, confirms this in a speech he gave on February 10 2004. He said: “In fact, almost no research has been carried out to assess what the relationship between drug crime and gun crime actually is” (16). Instead New Labour relies on what “common sense tells us … is a link between guns and drugs”.
Such “common-sense” is informed by political opportunism. In 1998, New Labour set out its new drug strategy: “a 25% reduction in class A drug use among young people by 2005 and 50% by 2008” (10). By September 2001, the number of under-25s using class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, had not change since 1998. Newspaper headlines called for the government “to abandon as unrealistic the four-year-old target of reducing drug misuse among the under-25s” (17). In sum, Blair was losing the real war on drugs and his failure was making headline news.
The solution was to “change the story, change the lead” by creating a fake crisis in the war on drugs and feeding the media sensational stories. For example, was it chance or design that Phil Sinkinson’s unsubstantiated claims about Jamaican drug mules coincided with the general agreement that Blair’s drug policy had failed?
The war on drugs is a political war: “you win votes by waging war on druggies” (1). New Labour has fuelled fear about crime by pandering to white Britons’ common sense about crack-cocaine: it’s a black thing. The result has been one “eye-catching initiative” after another such as Operation Kingfish. They have all had a shared characteristic: race.
New Labour distinguishes between white and black cocaine users. Whites who snort coke are not a problem. Nor are the majority of crack-cocaine smokers who are white. But the black minority of crack smokers are troublesome as far New Labour is concerned. They are the target of muscular policing: Operation Trident, which investigates black-on-black shootings.
Such racist policing would be seen for what it is, if government ministers did not characterize black crack-heads as posing a clear and present danger to society. Hence the reasons for the claims Ainsworth and Rammell make, and repeat, about “links between the use of crack and the use of guns” and Jamaican Yardie gangsters (13).
However, the available evidence disputes such linkages. A majority of gunshot victims had neither links to drugs, either as users or dealers. Nor were they gang members. The majority are injured or killed either as a result of random gunfire or mistaken identity. In such cases, the assailant race was rarely known, but police routinely said he was black. British cops call such injuries or killings black-on-black, as did South African police who carried out or organised such random shootings under apartheid.
If firearms violence and race is linked, the link is between New Labour’s news agenda and firearms incidents involving black victims which grab the headlines. Such shootings seem to fit best the spin doctors’ need to create news rather than the aims of warring drug gangs.
In Britain, random shooting involving black victims give ministers the chance to repeat the lie: cocaine from Jamaica fuels UK gun crime. Ministers can then give the false impression of winning the war on drugs by focusing a disproportionate amount of police resource on the black minority rather the white majority of druggies.
Gun crime, as a label (18), is the product of the lesson New Labour has learnt from apartheid and Nazism: racism is a vehicle of political power.
1. Davies, Nick (15/06/01) “Demonising druggies wins votes, That’s all that counts” The Guardian
2. BBC News (22/12/04) “Navy helps in major cocaine raids”
3. Brown, Lambert (14/12/04) “Kingfish or King spin” Jamaica Gleaner Online
4. Martin-Wilkins, Arlene (29/12/04) “Operation Kingfish: 51 arrested in two months” The Jamaica Observer
5. Hansard September 1 2004: column 721W
6. Brady, Brian (24/03/04) “Cocaine busts shame crew of anti-narcotics flagship” Scotland on Sunday
7. Burke, Jason (09/09/01) “How Navy swooped on traffickers” The Observer
8. Mills, Claude (7/02/04) “New ‘shiprider’ agreement signed” Jamaica Gleaner Online
9. The Economist (12/02/05) “Battles won, war still lost”
10. Guardian editorial (22/09/01)
11. Hopkins, Nick (23/06/02) “Crack dealer threaten more cities with violence” The Guardian
12. Oliver, Mark (03/01/02) “Clash over Jamaican drug smuggling claims” The Guardian
13. Your Community, Your Problem, Crack_repKWC500R6538415-885ort
14. Coussey, Mary (??,??,??) Annual Report 2003/4, The Independent Race Monitor
15. Hansard January 25 2005: column 237W
16. Harris, Toby (10/02/04) “Guns and gangs in our communities”
17. Travis, Alan (12/09/01) “Rising drug use prompts call for policy changes” The Guardian
18. Smith, Winston (1984) “The Guardian of big lies” Blaqfair
Noakes J and Pridham G (1987) Nazism 1919 – 1945 volume 2: State, Economy and Society, University of Exeter
Hicks, Kenneth (??/??/??) "The Anatomy of Spin: Causes, Consequences, and Cure" "http://www.rsu.edu/faculty/khisks/Essays/Spin.htm#_ftn8
Tatara, Paul (06/01/98) ‘Wag the Dog’ grab grabs satire
by the tail'