The New Arms Race, How Scotland Got Into Bed with the Terminator

IT is not much of a surprise that the UK exported around £11bn worth of arms last year – the second highest total ever.  What is more interesting is that British death manufacturers managed this record despite a court ruling in June 2019 that the UK must halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen.  So: either the weapons industry could have flogged even more or… somebody is cheating.  Living in a nation with a government that publicly and brazenly states its intention to break international law, I leave you to decide which.
Britain’s death merchants now outsell those in Russia (which has nothing else to flog except gas) and France (which, surprisingly, is a major supplier of arms to European countries).  As a result, Britain is now the world’s second biggest arms exporter after gun-mad, psychotic America.
Most British weapons go to the Middle East.  Britain exported £86bn worth of arms between 2010 to 2019, a period of Tory governments.  Of this total, 60% by value went to Middle Eastern states – mostly to the Saudis. BAE Systems was the death dealer in chief, supplying Typhoon jets going to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.  I mention this not as a moral issue but to point out that the UK is a key factor in fueling the Middle East arms race and in de-stabilising the region. You can’t have wars without arms and the Brits provide the weapons.
The world today is in in the grip of a major arms race.  From 2007 to 2017, global arms exports rose 65% from about $119 billion to nearly $195 billion, according to the US State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.  This arms drive is being caused by a new era of inter-capitalist rivalry, e.g. US-Chinese economic and technological competition, Western hypocrisy that the Moscow gangster state it encouraged is now out of control, and the Arab-Iranian conflict. The Arab and Iranian autocracies are protecting their own rentier economic and political interests by deflecting local popular unrest into a religious proxy war in Yemen.  Western imperialism is using this conflict in the Middle East to contain Iran.
All this is fodder for the big arms companies to make profits.  The long economic famine in the arms industry caused by the end of the original Cold War has given place to new international conflicts and new weapons systems.  High tech meets the grim reaper is now the name of the game.  And US high tech is the major beneficiary.  The United States exports four times more arms around the globe than the next nine countries combined.  And that is probably an underestimate given the dual use to which much software can be put.
This creates ethical difficulties.  Consider a company by the name of Leidos, which stock analysts have ben punting for several years as a go-to buy for investors. Leidos (located in Virginia) is a “solutions” company.  Give it a problem and Leidos will find, install, and manage the computer hardware and software to solve it. Leidos has four main divisions: military and intelligence, government, health and “advanced solutions”.
Leidos has undergone many changes of name and structure, which is why it keeps under the media radar.  But it has always operated as a close adjunct of the US military-industrial complex. Board members and executives have included Melvin Laird, Nixon’s Secretary of Defense; William Perry, Clinton’s Secretary of Defense; John M. Deutch, Director of the CIA under Clinton; and Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a senior spook with both the National Security Agency and the CIA, under Gerald Ford.  The current board includes a former Under Secretary of Defense for the US army and a former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (i.e. the guy who used to give Leidos contracts).
These days, Leidos is owned by Lockheed-Martin, the biggest US defense contractor.  It employs over 30,000 people worldwide.  Last year, Leidos reported sales of $10.2 billion, with a rise in profits of 59%.
The so-what is that the Leidos website for its UK operations proudly declares:
“Leidos is a leading partner to the U.K. government, the Scottish government as well as having key client partners in transportation and energy. Leidos employs 1,100 people across the U.K. supporting technology and business process transformation programmes for clients such as the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence and Met Police.”
In October 2018, the Scottish Government awarded Leidos a £26.9 million, five-year contract to support the Scottish Government’s national Purchase-to-Pay (P2P) Shared Service.  This connects public sector procurement teams with suppliers, managing everything from the initial order through to the final payment. It is used by NHS Boards, central and local government, and universities across Scotland. Leidos provides “data hosting, integration, reporting and deployment services for the system”.
In fact, Leidos has been involved in providing tech solutions for the Scottish public sector across a range of activities.  It has worked with the Scottish Government’s insolvency service, Skills Development Scotland and the National Records of Scotland.  Nothing like having a company run by American ex-spooks handling your data.  At least you know its not the Chinese spying on you.
Next December, the Scottish Public Service awards will be presented in the Garden Lobby at Holyrood. The event is sponsored by…er, Leidos. In the PR blurb about the event, Leidos says the following:
“In Scotland we are one of the largest technology companies with more than 300 employees providing innovative technologies, advanced solutions, and world-class services to customers in devolved and central government…  We work in partnership with Glasgow, Strathclyde and Napier universities on their Graduate Apprenticeship schemes focusing on software engineering, business management and cyber security.”
In February this year, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant MSP (a list member for the Highlands and Islands and a former Unison official) sponsored another PR event for Leidos in the Garden Lobby.  This involved the Scotland Women in Technology (SWiT) organisation, and ostensibly was about the ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems.  On the surface this looks perfectly innocuous.  But why is a major US contractor which is blood deep in the intelligence world being hosted at Holyrood?
Leidos knows a thing or two about AI.  It is the lead contractor in the Pentagon’s multi-billion dollar programme to create an AI system to revolutionise aerial dog-fighting.  Leidos is at the forefront of US plans to weaponize AI.  I’m not picking on Rhoda Grant because she is Labour.  I’m pointing out that no MSP or MP of any party should be hosting PR events for a company that is leading the world to a global conflict run by machine intelligence. Welcome to the world of the Terminator.
The very fact that Leidos is using a women’s organisation like SWiT as a PR cover is obnoxious.  The fact that the Garden Lobby of Scotland’s Parliament is being used to provide political camouflage for a major US defense contractor makes a mockery of that Parliament’s decision to oppose nuclear weapons.  In 2014, the US Air Force hired Leidos to improve America’s nuclear targeting.  Yes folks, we may be opposed to nukes in Scotland, but we failed to notice we are adding to the profits of the very company helping decide who gets nuked in China.
For the record, I’m not calling on the Scottish Government not to use Leidos to make its IT services run effectively. But I am pointing out that in today’s world anything to do with computers is most likely to involve contractors who are – to be frank – arms contractors. Which means for starters not letting such companies use PR stunts at Holyrood to mask their real activities.  Which means doing a lot more due diligence.

Comments (9)

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  1. Alistair Taylor says:

    Thank you, George.
    We need more people like you. to inspire some deeper thinking about the world we live in.
    A hard-hitting investigative on the telly would be wonderful too, like John Pilger used to do.

    Aye, i know… people might question life…
    (Anyway, that\s my 144 taps worth,,,,)

  2. MacNaughton says:

    To continue to arm the Saudi fascist regime is utter madness. We know from the Assange wikileaks Hilary Clinton emails that the Saudi State and Qatar directly financed ISIS.

    Not some rogue princes, but the Saudi State itself. So why are selling arms to the same State which is sponsoring the terrorist organization responsible for so many horrific atrocities on civillians?

    And why is FIFA holding the 2022 world cup in a country which is financing ISIS? I almost hope Scotland don’t qualify so we can just try to blank it.

    It’s a question of time before these same weapons are used against us surely?

    1. MacNaughton says:

      Here’s the Julian Assange – John Pilger interview which is worth watching, or watching again. in the context of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia…

  3. Dougie Harrison says:

    Many thanks for this George. Decades ago, when you and I first met, we were divided by some of the many debating points with which the Marxist left always splintered itself. Sometimes that part of the left, and not just in Scotland, seemed to spend more time fighting amongst itself, rather than fighting the real enemy – the right.

    I’m very glad that we’re at last on the same side. Old habits die hard, and I’ve spent a wee while trying to find fault with your analysis here. But I cannie! It’s spot on target.

  4. Jack collatin says:

    Neat, Mr K.

  5. Craig P says:

    There is a great deal of money to be made where government meets private sector, and some of it (not enough, I’m sure) recirculates back into the local economy. I suspect that’s why SWiT like companies like Leidos, who seem particularly good at the moment at getting government contracts.

    I wonder what SWiT will make of American healthcare firms, should the NHS be sold off? Should be a few job opportunities there.

  6. Richard Easson says:

    I thought it was Huawei we were meant to be scared of, or is this the Scots wha hae?

  7. Antoine Bisset says:

    One reason for the Scottish Government outsourcing the NHS P2P (not public toilets -they are all closed) is that the system they attempted to introduce few years ago did not work. These centralised and “local” systems mostly do not work. NHS Borders had four purchasing systems in operation concurrently when I was there. One was a super centrally held Scottish warehouse system. Another was the “drop into a shop and take something away, saying “send the bill to the NHS”” process. An invoice just arrives in the post and an accountant has to decipher it and decide which department should be charged, if there is even enough detail.
    No purchase order, no authority, no audit trail. The purchase order numbers, on the three systems that used them, often overlapped. The accounts system would show Purchase Order number 12345, and the filing systems would have maybe three orders with that number.
    I have little doubt that applies across all the NHS Trusts in Scotland. Purchase ordering is a simple enough process, provided a simple process is followed. There is a Big Book of Agreed Prices from preferred suppliers. Frequently ignored, as in purchase of envelopes from local supplier 12p per envelope. Purchase from Big Book, 4p per envelope. Guess who they buy from?

  8. David Robinson says:

    something is seriously amiss with our global societies and how wealth is distributed, all arms paid for by nations in the Middle East are paid for with oil revenue – a large proportion of that revenue comes from us. The need to “arm” a nation was largely generated by the West creating conflict and manipulative financing
    The fossil fuel inflation allows more arms to be purchased, inflating the bank balance of the arms dealers and perpetuating conflict- all paid for by us as we best our homes and fill our gas guzzlers

    We could save many lives by just giving the monies directly to the death merchants and divert the science and engineering efforts to peaceful endeavour- naive, but give a billionaire death dealer a market and many will die, give them a superyacht and they’ll be busy making merry

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