Glasgow's Israeli connections

As Gaza is under bombardment again, Barry Dalgleish highlights the grim connections between Israel's militarised surveillance state and the streets of Glasgow.

2014 was an eventful year. Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games from 23 July to 3 August. In the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Operation Protective Edge had already been underway for two weeks prior to the opening ceremony of the Games. This was the ‘51 day war’, the lethal bombardment of the Gaza strip by the Israeli Defence Forces. The statistics of the offensive are graphic:  

  •  2,251 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, including 1,462 civilians. The dead included 551 children and 299 women.
  • 11,231 Palestinians were wounded in Gaza, including 3,436 children and 3,540 women. Ten percent of the injured suffered a permanent disability.
  • 142 Palestinian families had three or more members killed in the same Israeli attack, for a total of 742 deaths. More than 1,500 Palestinian children were made orphans.
  • During the same period, five Israeli civilians, one Thai foreign worker, and 67 Israeli soldiers were killed.

But unknown to most Glaswegians, these two events were inextricably linked. Behind the scenes as preparation for the Games were underway, Glasgow was quietly installing a Hi-Tech military-grade surveillance system from Israeli NICE Ltd (Neptune Intelligence Computer Engineering). NICE launched a press release on June 11 2014, NICE Safe City Solutions Deployed in Glasgow to Bolster Security, Safety, and Operations Management. It stated:

the city of Glasgow is deploying its security solutions to enhance the community’s safety and security infrastructure. The implementation, which includes NICE Situator and NiceVision for video management, will help the city strengthen its daily operations and streamline incident response.

Glasgow was recently awarded funding from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) Future Cities Demonstrator competition to show what can be achieved by innovative use of today's technology.

The funding amounted to £24 million. The Future Cities website boasts:

Over the last 18 months, Glasgow has been developing a series of initiatives to showcase the exciting potential offered by smart city technology.

Cities and their citizens generate a huge amount of data which can be used in smart ways to achieve great things. Stepping boldly into the future, Glasgow joins a network of Future Cities around the world unlocking the potential of open data.

A closer look at the funding shows that it originally came from what is now the UK Government's Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. It then went through the Technology Strategy Board finally to be picked up by Future Cities, which is part of Glasgow City Council. Since 2014, the route has changed. The Technology Strategy Board became Innovate UK, which is now part of UKRI. UKRI states on its website that:

UKRI was created through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 to bring together the seven research councils, Innovate UK, and Research England and harmonise and strengthen the UK’s research and innovation landscape.

We are a non-departmental government body, sponsored by the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Our funding decisions are made independently from government, as per the Haldane principle. This states that decisions about which research projects to fund should be made through independent evaluation by experts, based on the quality and likely impact of that research.

In 2015, NICE sold its Intelligence Division to Elbit Systems for $157.9 million. Elbit is the notorious Israeli arms company, which markets its products as ‘battle tested on people in Gaza’.

The extent of the technology’s use was revealed in a Herald article, following an FOI request. Police Scotland admitted to using the technology and that it had ‘uploaded hundreds of thousands of mugshots onto a UK-wide police database used as a the main resource for facial recognition searches’. This followed on from a CommonWeal article a few months earlier, which exposed the use of the system. When asked for comments, a Glasgow City Council spokesperson had stated that: campaigners questioning the contract with NICE were “anti-Jewish”. The council press team failed to provide any evidence to support this accusation.

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been campaigning against the system since its presence was first revealed. Mike Napier commented that the technology:“emerges from a military occupation that stands accused by Amnesty International and others of crimes against humanity”.

The article goes on to say that: Glasgow City Council has denied that the city will be using NICE’s facial recognition tools in the software but refused to respond to concerns that it is employing the ‘Suspect Search’ technology.

The herald article though tells a different story. So, what is NICE anyway? As the CommonWeal article explains: NICE Systems was established by seven ex-Israeli military intelligence officers who served in Unit 8200, a controversial top secret intelligence-gathering section of the Israeli army.

This begs an important question, are such surveillance systems legal? Open Rights Group Scotland (ORG) reports on a legal case unfolding in England and Wales, following trials of facial recognition by the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police. A report from the University of Essex on live facial recognition (LFR) technology concluded that the use of such technology ‘would be held unlawful if challenged in court’. And that’s exactly what has happened in the South Wales case. The Guardian reported that the use of LFR by South Wales Police ‘breached privacy rights and broke equalities law’. The ruling was made by the Court of Appeal, overturning a previous decision by the High Court

As for the current situation in Scotland, ORG cites the introduction of the Biometrics Commissioner Bill. But there are still questions about how these issues will be regulated, now that the Bill has been passed in law as from March 2020. A year later, former police Chief Superintendent Brian Plastow was appointed as Scotland’s new Biometrics Commissioner.

In Gaza, a ceasefire was declared on 21 May 2021. The dust will now settle – until the next time.

Shockwaves from Intu’s collapse can impact beyond Braehead

Intu, owner of Braehead Shopping Centre, has gone bust, an outlier of a coming retail property market collapse. The company also owns the giant Trafford Centre in Manchester and Gateshead Metro Centre. The collapse is not just about Covid19 – it was on the cards from February this year when a major debtor pulled out of talks to extend time to pay.

Administrators KPMG have persuaded creditors to lend £12m to keep the Intu holdings open until a buyer can be found, if a buyer can be found. 

The impact on Glasgow could stretch beyond Braehead. Last year the City Council gave the giant developer Peel Holdings permission to build a £100m “leisure and shopping outlet” on a site near the Riverside Museum. 

But with a 24.6% stake in Intu, Peel Holdings is going to take a considerable hit from the company’s collapse. 

Peel’s “Western Harbour” proposed 20,000m² of retail units, more than 10,000m² for leisure uses and restaurants/bars totalling almost 4000m². Their original proposal claimed the emphasis would be on leisure, but when the detailed plans emerged the amount of retail had expanded. Glasgow’s planning committee still gave them the go-ahead. Glasgow planners retail obsession seems unbreakable. 

What kind of partner are Peel Holdings, for a supposedly economically and socially progressive City Council? Peel is mostly owned by the Whitaker family, and it operates through a complex network of no fewer than 342 companies. Its ultimate owner is Tokenhouse Ltd, a Whitaker family trust based in the Isle of Man. 

In 2013, their influence on development decisions in Liverpool had become so pervasive that ExUrbe, a think tank run by former Labour MP Peter Gilfoyle, concluded: “Peel have blurred the lines between public and private interests.” 

Their expansion into a major developer comes from cashing in on the UK’s industrial collapse. They own what’s left of British Coal; they parlayed their own loss-making quarries into a significant bank of reclaimed land; they are a massive player throughout the North West, owning Media City, home of the BBC, Salford Quays, Manchester Canal and a massive land bank along the North West waterways from Manchester to the Wirral. They have bought this land for a song, as part of the “regeneration” scam that has gripped local authorities and governments since Michael Heseltine was Environment Secretary. 

According to the Salford Star they have received massive amounts of public  money for their Salford schemes (NB this article is from 2012). 

In his 2019 book Who Owns England, Guy Shrubsole describes Peel Holdings as one of the 'secretive' companies that "hoards England's land":

“Peel Holdings operates behind the scenes, quietly acquiring land and real estate, cutting billion-pound deals and influencing numerous planning decisions. Its investment decisions have had an enormous impact, whether for good or ill, on the places where millions of people live and work.

In June 2013, Margaret Hodge, then Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, accused the Peel Group of tax dodging, and stated that some parts of the group pay on average 10% Corporation Tax, and that some of the more profitable parts of the Peel Group pay 0% Tax. 

They are a huge player in Scoland. As well as extensive residential and commercial developments, they are also the owner of Clydeport. They built the new port for the INEOS “dragon ships” bringing in fracked gas from the United States. They are currently trying to convince North Ayrshire Council to allow them to build a gas power station next to the port they own at Hunterston, based on burning imported gas.

What the Intu collapse shows is that there is no going back to a pre-pandemic economy, along the old lines. How many of the financial companies the Council is so proud of attracting will be deep in debt to a property market – commercial and residential – facing a major collapse? Thousands of empty retail spaces and thousands of unemployed people walking away from their mortgages is what we are facing in Glasgow. 

In any case why should we agree to going back to this kind of economy that offers little to the people of Glasgow while enriching developers? In a recent open letter to Council Leader Susan Aitken, 14 campaigns and organisations, called on the City Council to respond to the current crisis by dissolving their Post-Pandemic Recovery Group, whose membership could be called “the usual suspects”. They said that instead the council should embark on a radical planning adventure, involving citizens fully in deciding the economic future. 

Over the years, local authorities have been educated by neo-liberalism to accept that the market knows best. They no longer challenge developer-driven spatial planning, and are complicit in it. And the Scottish government, which rejected an opportunity to democratise planning in last year’s Planning Bill, is equally guilty. 

As Planning Democracy (one of the signatories of the Open Letter) are constantly pointing out, our planning system gives massive power to developers and little power to citizens. In terms of the spaces in our cities, we get what they choose to give us rather than what we need or want - in Glasgow that has meant shopping, student accommodation and small flats.

Infrastructure and transport is invariably all about roads and cars. In fact Peel has been accused of doing everything in its power to prevent Manchester’s plans for a congestion charge. This is exactly what we don’t need. Get Glasgow Moving, the campaign for public transport, was also a signatory of the Open Letter. 

The neo-liberal policies that have dominated development will simply not do any more. It has been proved that they don’t tackle poverty, ill health or inequality – Glaswegians are the living and dying proof of it. We need to plan a just, green and socially useful city for all its citizens. 

Join us in thinking through how to bring into existence the social movement that can make this happen. Register here for First Sunday, July 5th, 4.00pm to 5.30pm 

(The Open Letter to Susan Aitken. Read it here)

Author: Penny Cole