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Fri 4 December 2020

Sam Bright and Greg Miskiw dig into a dystopian lanyard flaunted by Boris Johnson’s chief advisor

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Dominic Cummings was faced with TV cameras when he sauntered out of Pizza Express in Westminster late on 31 December, the day of Brexit. The Vote Leave ringleader donned his usual teenage skater-slob attire, featuring a beanie and an army-issue coat.

Usually Cummings’ fashion taste is the subject of mild amusement but not much else, but this time one accessory in particular caught the eye.

The Prime Minister’s chief aide was wearing a vivid blue lanyard featuring the words: ‘IN GOD WE TRUST. ALL OTHERS WE MONITOR’.

For the puppet-master of Government to be wearing a lanyard propounding the virtues of mass surveillance is dystopian, even as a one-off event. Yet this decoration appears to one of Cummings’ favourites as Boris Johnson’s chief advisor has also been pictured wearing it on 21 July, 26 May, 24 May, and likely on several other occasions.

Now, it could be an elaborate joke. Cummings evidently doesn’t mind being the centre of attention and would probably love to simultaneously string along some journalists while being the subject of a few more column inches. If that is the case, you’ve got us, Dom. Good one.

However, it is equally plausible, if not more so, that Cummings wears this lanyard entirely seriously; that it is a form of subliminal messaging to all who see it, media and Government staffers alike.


Spy-wear

Where does the dystopian slogan come from?

A US register suggests that the motto is trademarked by the National Technical Investigators Association (NATIA), an organisation devoted to “promoting the interests of law enforcement, intelligence professionals, and those engaged in technical surveillance, tactical operations, and forensic activities”.

In other words: NATIA is a pressure group for the police and spies in the United States.

The group provides training, technology exhibits and networking to its 3,500 members, according to its website. Predictably, though, little else can be uncovered about the organisation. It appears to be a fairly small alliance and doesn’t seem to have an arm in the UK. The link to Cummings is therefore unclear.

This phrase also appears to have at one time been the slogan of US Naval Intelligence – the information-gathering arm of the US navy – and has been used by the United States Air Force in social media posts, though seemingly not as an official slogan.


The Military-Industrial Complex

Flaunting a proverb of US intelligence and espionage isn’t a particularly surprising move from Cummings.

The Prime Minister’s right-hand-man controversially toured several top-secret Ministry of Defence sites earlier this year, with suggestions that he is centrally involved in a major restructuring of the UK’s military and defence capabilities. Leaked documents also showed that Cummings had twice visited MI5 and MI6.

Moreover, he is evidently a supporter of data-gathering and monitoring.

As reported extensively by Byline Times, the Vote Leave chief is overseeing a concentration of data and power in the Cabinet Office – even stripping other departments of their data – while using the Coronavirus crisis as a launchpad to ‘digitise’ the NHS.

Major Government contracts have been handed to artificial intelligence and big data companies – including controversial firms such as Palantir, a firm that has received CIA investment, and Faculty AI – to gather and process massive amounts of health information.

On the day Johnson first entered Downing Street last July, Cummings even checked out his new office in an Open AI t-shirt – an intelligence research company owned by Tesla founder and maverick billionaire Elon Musk.

The mentality of Cummings seems fairly clear: to improve Government, you have to collect a massive amount of data on people, to target public services in the most efficient way possible. The problem is, by flashing a lanyard that appears to advocate mass surveillance, this intelligence hoarding takes on a much more malevolent tone.

Downing Street has been approached for comment.


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