Manchester & The U.S. Media’s Dangerous Double Standard

Damaging. Irresponsible. Hypocritical. Opportunistic.  There are plenty of words to describe the U.S. media’s rush to disclose sensitive information leaked by U.S. officials concerning Britain’s investigation into the Manchester terrorist attack; a list that includes the bomber’s name and forensic photographs of the crime scene.

The British security services are fuming, and rightly so. The minutes, hours and days immediately following a terrorist incident are crucial for apprehending members of the terrorist network before they flee the country and for thwarting attacks which may be imminent.  Leaking and publishing details of an investigation during this narrow window undermines those efforts and jeopardizes public safety.

It’s up to the Trump administration to plug the leaks in America’s intelligence community. But the U.S. media, including its newspaper of record, The New York Times, has, in my view, placed profits over public service. In its scramble to beat the competition, boost circulation and garner more clicks, the U.S. media has compromised the integrity and the mission of the Fourth Estate.

The New York Times defended its decision to publish photographs of bomb parts found at the scene of the Manchester attack, writing, “Our mission is to cover news and inform our readers. We have strict guidelines on how and in what ways we cover sensitive stories.’

The problem is, the NYT’s does not apply the same standard when the life of one of its journalists is on the line.

When a journalist working for The New York Times is kidnapped overseas, the paper does not race to publish the story. It suppresses it. And for good reason. Publishing details of the abduction could endanger the life of the journalist and undermine efforts to secure their release. Furthermore, the NYT’s asks other news organizations to keep quiet.  As Columbia Journalism Review noted, ‘such news blackouts have become a well-established tradition among American media.’

I’m fine with suppressing stories to protect the lives of journalists.  Now it’s time for the U.S. media to extend the same courtesy to the public it professes to serve.



by Bob Shepherd

We go into other people’s Countries and kick up a stink,
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

It’s their Geo Political location…and what’s under the ground,
Leave it to our Governments to make the justification seem sound,
Our Grandfathers and Great Grandfathers fought to defend,
But fighting for giant corporates is our latest trend,
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and all,
It makes their people seem oh so small,
What’s under the ground is what we’ve come for,
Democracy, woman’s rights, education…all done for,
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

From the East India Company way back when,
Fighting for corporates is no new trend,
Our soldiers will fight for their mates left and right,
Until the enemy is kicked out of sight,
Because they are professional, gallant and tough,
But the people at home say enough is enough,
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

We’ll bomb them from the air and send them underground,
Sound like a plan? No…not very sound!
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

We lost our lives, limbs, minds…in Afghanistan and Iraq,
Does anybody really care…now that we are back?
We’re from communities around the Thames, Mersey, and others like the Clyde,
We’re homeless on the streets, and more soldiers are being lost to suicide,
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

We rely on charities, backed by our great British folk,
As the Government won’t help, as they say they’re broke,
What about the corporates…as they leave us to the evil drink?
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

Lions led by donkeys has been quoted through history,
When you look a bit closer, it’s really no mystery,
Whilst we defend ourselves from bullets, bombs and rockets,
We see the Generals playing politics, from inside the corporates’ and politicians’
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

The Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS et all,
Born from failed policies, US’s ya’ll,
For our amazing young soldiers, we must do better,
So I stayed up all night, and wrote this letter,
We are the Military Coalition Inc.

Whilst we’ve been fighting for corporate greed,
The Chinese and Russians have strengthened at speed,
So now, we have to rebuild for a bigger, stronger Army,
To save our once great Nation, before things turn barmy,
No more…Military Coalition Inc.

Forget Building Iraq’s Armed Forces – Rebuild Our Own

I read this morning on the BBC website that yet more British troops in the position of “trainers” are to be sent to Iraq. Our government and top brass pulled our troops out 3 years ago. This “off the bus, on the bus” attitude of military operations really has to stop. Our troops and many others have already spent years training Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan, Kurdish and other troops from the region, and we’ve seen the poor results. Why? Because it’s been a facade of building a foreign armed force. We give them basic training over a farcical, unrealistic time frame. Why? Because it’s all political. Then they are armed with no more than the basics. Why? Because one day soon, we may be fighting the ones we’re training. And so it goes on…and so our tax paying pounds continue to be poured down the toilet; money that we badly need to train and equip our own armed forces.

Instead of our “two cheeks of the same arse” political parties looking 4 years in advance because of the next election, how about we look way in advance like China and Russia, and once again use every penny to get our own armed forces back up to scratch. After spending the last 15 years fighting for US foreign policy and making a mockery of “our” commitments, we need to now claw back the mantle of the finest military on earth.

I fear that future commitments for our brave armed forces won’t be against an enemy in flipflops, but against a formidable force beginning with “R”.

Journalists in Conflict Areas Today & Tomorrow

Yesterday, I was in a very serious FB discussion with a group of well respected journalists and others from all around the world. The subject was “does the Geneva Convention apply to the dreadful situation of kidnapped British journalist John Cantile?”

At present, John is being held by ISIL and has been shown broadcasting a story on their behalf, shot from the ISIL side of the town of Kobane on the Syrian Turkish border. We all know that journalists are no longer seen by warring factions as impartial. That terrific ability unfortunately ended quite some time ago. I have no doubt that John is shooting this story under duress and simply doing what he must to stay alive. I’m also in no doubt that given the boots on the ground factions who are fighting each other, that the Geneva Convention will not come into play given that John is reporting from within the ISIL faction.

In my last 15 years in the war torn regions of the Greater Middle East, I’ve barely seen faction v faction give any respect whatsoever to each other or anyone else, including journalists. That’s why yesterday’s FB discussion compelled me to write this post about the safety of journalists in today’s conflict areas.

I began working with journalists during the Second Intifada in Palestine back in 2002. It was a huge wake up call for me, as I naturally thought that journalists in war zones and conflict areas were well trained and hand picked for their special skills. It came as a huge surprise to me that some were not only physically unfit, but had substance abuse problems and physical disabilities. There were times then and thereafter, that eyes in your arse and a 10 second time for the 100 metres would have been very advantageous, even though impossible. Somewhere close to a decent fitness level, no substance abuse problems and no physical disabilities would be a very good start though.

Having the label “seasoned journalist” just doesn’t cut it for me. I’ve watched a handful of seasoned journalists over the years do the equivalent of jumping off a cliff to be first to a news story. Some, thankfully got away with it. Sadly, some didn’t.

It can be a very fine line sometimes for an individual, or small team of journalists to make the right decision. That’s where help is required. There is a management system in the media, whether TV, radio, print or online. I would like to see this management, senior editors, bureau chiefs etc and even the journalist on the ground overseeing his/her team, collectively work together in the decision making process, and collectively be responsible for news gathering. When it goes right, everyone can take the plaudits…but when it goes wrong…EVERYONE can shoulder their responsibilities and be accountable.

I’d like to highlight what I see as one of many shocking examples of mismanagement, but on this occasion of a “seasoned journalist” in a conflict area. Back in early 2012, Marie Colvin, an American print journalist for a British newspaper, was killed along with French photojournalist Remi Ochlik by artillery fire brought down onto their “safe-house,” in the town of Homs, Syria. I’d known Marie since 2002 and last saw her back in 2008, when we had lunch together in central London. She was determined back then that she would continue to tell the stories around the world of men, women and children who needed the world to help them. There’s no doubt she made a difference over the years and I respected her immensely for that.
The problem that I have with her shocking death though, is accountability from her team and management and others, and here is why: Marie was mature, experienced and bright. She lost the sight of an eye back in 2001 covering the conflict in Sri Lanka. Most of the time she would wear an eye patch. She was also quite frail in physique. Remember what I said about eyes in your arse and the ability to shift very quickly! Whether Marie was a gallant volunteer or not, no manager should be sending a disabled individual to a conflict area.

Next, I have a massive problem with how she died. The town of Homs had been getting shelled for quite some time. Marie, her photojournalist and other co-located journalists had known that. If you’re going to go into a massively dangerous situation like that, then it’s a matter of go in, news gather and get out. Do not telegraph yourself whilst you’re in there. Marie went live by satphone on more than one occasion to a number of TV networks describing the situation, that quite frankly had already been described and shown by the same networks, only through social media.
Those network bosses in my view also had a duty of care to Marie whilst she was on the ground, as well as her own bosses. They all therefore share responsibility for compromising her location by allowing her to go live.

Had she got in, news gathered, and got out to safety, THEN gone on air and /or written up her pieces, she and the other journalist may still be alive today.

Marie’s tragic end is just one example from many, many in recent times. All journalists need each other and their management to be tough, critical, fair and accountable, in order that journalists on the ground are given every chance to news gather safely. As a security adviser to the media and others, I stopped going to these areas as my eyes and ears began to deteriorate even though I’m still physically fit.
Please, as managers in the media, take a good look at all your journalists before sending them on assignment, and when they’re there on the ground, be accountable for them.

I wish every journalist operating on the ground in conflict areas all the very best for the future. Stay safe.

British Generals Admit Afghan Failure

This important news story was number 10 on the BBC UK’s website earlier today; 7 stories below the death of Alvin Stardust.

Years after these “Generals” (of course there is no such thing as ex-Generals) made some extremely bad calls for the sake of British foreign policy in Afghanistan, they have come forward and admitted their failings on a BBC programme. Brigadier Ed Butler back in 2006 was put in a no win situation along with his officers and men who fought courageously down in Helmand Province, not gaining meaningful ground but just surviving. Like always, the Parachute Regiment and associated units showed the world what British troops can do under very extreme pressure. However, it is well documented in the press that a UK SF report suggested that British troops should not be deployed to Helmand Province for various very sensible reasons.

Back in 2004, when I took a road trip from Kabul to Helmand with a small media team, I could see that it would be madness to deploy NATO troops to a majority Pashtun, Taliban supported area, no matter what the scale of deployment. On my return, and on various occasions afterwards, I voiced my opinion to military people back in Kabul. How dare I, as I’m no longer in the Forces, therefore what the hell do I know?

I’ve spoken and blogged many times over the years about how we took one side of a simmering civil war back in 2001; the side of the non Pashtun northern tribes. The politicians and Generals expected British troops to deploy to Helmand, and win the hearts and minds of the people on the other side of the civil war…just plain crazy!

The MOD has since argued that they left Helmand in a better situation than when they found it. I would argue against that, as I could “sensibly” wander around Helmand back in 2004, visit farmers, small towns and markets, but today I wouldn’t dare step into the Province. Almost every year since 2006, I would go there in a military embed and watch the situation get harder and harder for troops to operate–while senior officers and media relations officers spun the situation to the British public. Millions of Pounds of tax payers money has been wasted on military and DIFID projects, as the farmers are all back to growing the poppy, and the men of Helmand are putting the women and girls “back in their place”. Men and women have fought bravely. Many died or suffered wounds (both physical and mental); their friends and family all impacted one way or another, whilst the MOD still spews its filthy spin.

It angers me to see these Generals continue to be awarded medals and titles, write their memoirs and make out to their readership that they were right and courageous to make the decisions that they did.

These people dropped their pants for our politicians and US foreign policy. They did not lead from the front.

I’ve been banging on for a while now about accountability from our top brass and political leaders. A wee while ago, a British officer was rightly stripped of his gallantry award for lying about his leadership under contact. How about stripping these Generals of their medals and titles–for playing political spin for years over the Helmand deployment, and letting down both the British public and the brave soldiers who were under their command

A Pilgrimage to Rogers Island

Whilst visiting up State New York for an Autumn break, I managed to fulfill a lifetime ambition. To go on a pilgrimage and pay homage to the great Robert Rogers.

When I was a young SAS student back in the mid 1970s in Hereford, those of us that passed the first phase of selection were handed out a copy of Rogers Rangers Rules. These rules were written in the late 1750s by the commander of the Rangers, Major Robert Rogers. The rules have been taken on by almost every Western Special Forces unit since.

Rogers was born in New Hampshire. His family were Scots/Irish. He had the skills of a woodsman and got on well with the native Indians. He fought in the French Indian War for the British, and he achieved some amazing operations out in the Wilderness. He and his Rangers dressed mainly in a mix of green or dark clothing, Indian attire, an array of British and Indian weaponry, and some wore blue Scots bonnets. The British red tunic wasn’t for them. They operated mainly ahead of the British troops and with minimal kit-much like today’s Long Range Patrol Groups and Special Forces.

In his ranks he had a mix of Native Americans, free slaves, Scots and Irish and local settlers. The great thing about this period is that he gave everyone an equal chance of promotion, and to lead operations. in other words, a man not in the least racist. What’s happened to America since?

Operating in the Rangers was tough. Going out into the wilderness in all seasons, fighting and surviving. There are stories recorded of Rangers turning into cannibals as a last resort whilst in survival mode.

Travelling through the Hudson Valley and up along Lake George to Ticonderoga, and further on to Lake Champlain to Crown Point, gave me an idea of what they must have gone through (even though I benefited from all the comforts of modern travel). The highlight for me though was setting foot on Rogers Island which sits across the bank from the small, sleepy community of Fort Edward.  This modest scrap of land is where Robert Rogers trained, lived, fought alongside his men and penned the enduring “Rogers Rules”. Walking through the grass I came upon a clearing where the monument to him stands.  It was simply breathtaking.

I’ve spent years reading up on Robert Rogers and his Rangers. For those of you who are interested, the best book by far is Journals of Robert Rogers by Timothy J Todish, with some fabulous illustrations by Gary S Zaboly. It’s a very well written account of Rogers’ life and absolutely pulls no punches.

My Answer to “Child Soldiers” in the British Military

Why Under 18s Should Continue To Serve In Britain’s Military

Well meaning Human Rights groups are trying to change the British military structure that has gone on successfully for decades. Here is what they don’t understand.

I was born in Lochee, a very deprived area of the city of Dundee, Scotland in the mid 1950s. I was brought up in a Victorian tenement building sharing an outside lavvy with four other families. My father drank heavily and constantly threw my mother around the tenement like a rag doll. When I was around 7 or 8, I would step in to help my mother and get battered myself. At the age of fourteen, having spent more time looking after my mother than going to school, I chose to run away.

After chasing a dream of becoming a professional footballer but not making the grade, I joined the military. I entered the RAF Regiment just after my 17th birthday, did my basic parachute jumps and was sent off to a small simmering war in Oman. I was given special dispensation to go as a minor as my unit was undermanned.

I was chuffed to bits.

At the age of 20 I passed SAS selection (naivety got me through, lol) and I never looked back!

Joining as a youngster was good for me and it probably saved my life. It certainly kept me out of jail, off the streets and off drugs. It didn’t eliminate my voice, creativity or character, as those of you who know me or have read my blog know, ha.

The military gave me a set of front teeth as I’d had mine smashed out in a gymnastics accident at the age of 16. It showed me how to do laundry, stay tidy and keep my bedspace, shower and toilet immaculate…with the use of a toothbrush. It showed me the importance of being a team player, how to listen to your elders and how to never prejudge others. It gave me a family environment, something that I never had before, but would cherish for the rest of my life.

Joining the military as an under 18 year-old (child soldier) is the best thing that happened to me- and thousands of lads and lassies before, during and after me I’m sure. I really hope that never changes.