Closed Circuit (2013) and the Mass Surveillance State

Closed Circuit is a reactionary post-Sept 11 and more specifically post-July 7 London bombing film set in London. The Sept 11 like event in the UK is the 2005 July 7 bombing, though on a much smaller scale. The July 7 bombings were a series of bombings in the London Underground, during peak traveling hours in the morning that ultimately claimed 52 victims. The bombings were carried out by Islamic extremists in Britain. Islamic extremism was always lurking beneath the surface of the poorer London boroughs. There were a series of well known ‘hate-preachers’ that gave fiery anti-West and anti-Christian sermons in the full view of the British public. Due to Britain’s well established free speech laws, authorities were never very successful in convicting these hate-preachers for incitement. And in Britain, they were more successful in recruiting white Britons into radical Islam than their American counterparts. The documentary My Brother the Islamist details the transition of a middle class white British man to his conversion to Islam and then adopting radical Islam to where he feels his life’s mission is to actively wage jihad against the morally corrupt West. The director Robb Leech wanted to explore why his step-brother, someone he grew up with and lived under the same roof for most of their childhood found refuge in radical Islam.

Closed Circuit begins with the bombing of a popular London market called Borough Market where 120 people were killed by a truck bomb. Three men were arrested but two of the three men were killed during the apprehension process and Farroukh Erdogan was the only suspect apprehended alive and he’s been taken into custody and his wife and son are under the guard and surveillance of MI5. The audience does not know how the other two suspect died but that we are told they died during the apprehension process. Erdogan is to be put on trial and will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility or parole if found guilty (there is no death penalty in the UK). Erdogan’s defense is that he doesn’t know the other two suspects well and his only connection with them is that they rent a storage space from him and his only interaction with them is when he collects rent every month. That storage space also happens to be the location where they kept their bombs. Erdogan is no more than an innocent bystander to the bombing. But when his court appointed defense solicitor Martin Rose (Eric Bana) and special advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall) begin to question him to prepare the best defense for him, they found their defendant Erdogan less than forthcoming with facts. He almost put up no defense for himself except guilty by association and didn’t seem interested in exonerating himself. He was going to ride through the trial and whatever verdict they come back with, he will accept. He didn’t behave like a man who was innocent and was desperate to clear his name and resume his freedom.

So the solicitors began investigating Farroukh Erdogan’s background and through clever detective work they find out Erdogan is a secret MI5 agent. Erdogan is of Turkish origin and he came to the UK from Germany. He is a heroin addict and was busted on drug charges in Germany. But the real back story is he belongs to a terrorist sleeper cell in Germany and was arrested in connection with another bombing which killed 20 United States servicemen. German and British intelligence authorities found out that Erdogan was just a low level operative who didn’t have access to the leaders of the sleeper cell. So MI5 decided to recruit him to bust other sleeper cells in London using the German connection. It was not an offer Erdogan can refuse because if he does, he will be charged and go to prison and perhaps be deported back to Turkey. Erdogan and his family ’emigrate’ from Germany to Britain with legitimate immigration papers but the solicitor Martin Rose discovers that upon three months after arrival in Britain, Erdogan and his family received full UK residency (it usually takes three years and longer for those with criminal records) and six months later he was driving a late model Mercedes Benz all on income derived from low level heroin dealing, this didn’t add up. Martin Rose and Claudia Simmons-Howe’s go digging further and discover that Farroukh Erdogan isn’t his real name, it’s the new identity provided by MI5 and they found out a ‘special deal’ has been struck between Erdogan and his MI5 handlers that he is to take the fall for this bombing to cover up the fact that the British intelligence service may have used British taxpayers money to purchase the explosives which blew up the Borough Market that killed 120 people. It was an operation that had gone horribly wrong, the bombing was never supposed to be carried out, Erdogan was supposed to turn in the terrorists before the bombing occurred. But the audience is never informed if MI5 is scapegoating Erdogan for this blunder or if the terrorist sleeper cell Erdogan infiltrated double crossed him or if even Erdogan himself double crossed both his handlers and the terrorist cells he infiltrated. The bottom line is Erdogan has to take the fall so that no inquiries would be made into the bombing. And for agreeing to take the fall, his wife and son will be safe and his own life will be spared even if he were to spend it behind bars.

This film is a contrast of the mass surveillance state of the United States versus the United Kingdom. In the US we know we are being digitally surveilled but we’ve no proof of it happening in real time. There are security cameras which record footage in large public places such as subways and train stations, government buildings or department stores, all of which informs us that we are being watched and videotaped (as it is illegal to secretly videotape or tape record another person without informing them). But in the UK there are CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras everywhere, especially in the tubes, bus stations, major train stations, street corners, road intersections, everywhere. The British people know that when they step out their front door they can potentially be recorded by CCTV and their whereabouts that day could be known by pressing a few buttons. It is precisely under these circumstances solicitors Claudia Simmons-Howe and Martin Rose do the investigation on their client. They were not only watched by CCTV but throughout the duration of the trial, they were being watched by MI5 as well. They hide in plain sight, they hide when everyone including cameras are watching their every move. In order to orchestrate a secret meeting, Martin and Claudia decide to attend the same soccer match so they could get lost in a stadium of 80,000 people and in the middle of the soccer match disappear behind the bleachers out of sight of any cameras and exchange information (according to British law, when a trial involving national security and classified information is concerned, the defendant on top of their solicitor also gets assigned a special advocate and they may not meet in private once the trial is commenced because only the special advocate may see the state’s classified evidence against the defendant, the defense solicitor may not). The MI5 tried to keep these two solicitors from asking too many questions and just represent their client in his ‘simple defense’. When they realized they were being ‘managed’ by the British Intelligence Service on how to do their jobs, they discovered the government was trying to cover something up. Despite warnings that their personal safety may be in danger if they veer off course, they don’t relent.

The British justice system (just like the US) is shown in a contradictory light. They pride themselves on having a transparent process but there are closed sessions when discussing classified materials, the public are informed that a ‘closed session’ in judge’s chambers is taking place but cannot divulge the people in the session besides the judge. The judicial process is claimed to be just and fair but the defense attorneys representing the defendant are being steered and told how to do their jobs. For every breach of rights granted by the constitution, there is only one response: national security. For the sake of national security all jurisprudence developed over the last 200 years can be thrown out. For the sake of national security the defendant’s rights can be curtailed and the outcome of the trial manipulated. For the sake of national security, sacred rights such as habeas corpus and innocent until proven guilty can be suspended indefinitely. Suspects may be tortured and abused against the laws of the nation they are being tried but all of it is being done in the name of national security. Those who invoke abuse in the name of national security also defend their actions by suggesting their actions ‘save lives’, which is ironic in Closed Circuit as the movie opens with a massacre at a public market, possibly at the negligent hands of the British Intelligence Service.

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