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Luke Harding : the hack who came in from the cold

by BlackCatte

Luke Daniel Harding (born 1968) studied English at University College, Oxford. While there he edited the student newspaper Cherwell. He worked for The Sunday Correspondent, the Evening Argus in Brighton and then the Daily Mail before joining The Guardian in 1996. He was the Guardian’s Russia correspondent from 2007-11.

Aside from his more publicly known achievements, it’s worth noting Harding was accused of plagiarism by Mark Ames and Yasha Levine of the eXile for publishing an article under his own name that lifted large passages almost verbatim from their work. The Guardian allegedly redacted portions of Harding’s article in response to these accusations.

According to his own testimony, Luke Harding is the guy who realised he was in the siloviki cross hairs one day when, during his stay in Moscow as the Guardian’s bureau chief, he came home and found one of his bedroom windows open.

A less situationally-aware person would have made the fatal mistake of thinking one of his kids or his wife had done it, or he’d done it himself and just forgotten, or that his landlord had popped in to air the rooms (a bit of a tendency in Russia apparently). But Luke was sure none of his family had opened the window, because they always kept it closed. So it had to have been the FSB.

You see, Luke isn’t confined as we are by the constraints of petty mundanity. That was why it had been so clear to him, even without any evidence, that the FSB had murdered Litvinenko. And that was why Luke took one look at that open window and realised the entire Russian intelligence machine was out to get him….

The dark symbolism of the open window in the children’s bedroom was not hard to decipher: take care, or your kids might just fall out. The men – I assume it was men – had vanished like ghosts.

And that was only the start of the vicious campaign that was to follow. Tapes were left in his cassette deck, when he knew he hadn’t put them there. An alarm clock went off when he knew he hadn’t set it. Luke was filled with ” a feeling of horror, alarm, incredulity, bafflement and a kind of cold rational rage.”

Luketalking

Things developed rapidly. Luke went to visit a woman called Olga who warned him to take care, because he was “an enemy of Putin.” He was sure someone had hacked his email account. Whenever he said the name “Berezovsky” his phone line would go dead, so he started using the word “banana” instead. A person from the Russian president’s office called and asked for his mobile number. Unable to imagine a single good reason why a Russian government official would need a cell phone number for the Guardian’s Russia bureau chief, he refused.

That wily Putin wasn’t going to catch him that easily. The game of cat and mouse had begun.

A middle-aged woman with a bad haircut knocked at his door at 7am, and walked away when he opened it. Had she just gone to the wrong door? Of course not, it was the FSB taunting him. At the airport on his way back to London a man with a Russian accent (in Moscow!) tapped him on the back and told him there was something wrong with his jacket. Noticing the man was wearing a leather coat, which meant he must be from the KGB, Luke immediately rushed to the gents and took off all his clothes to find the “bugging device” the man had planted on him. He didn’t find one, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

Luketalking2

When the Russian government launched its prosecution of Berezovsky for fraud, someone from the FSB phoned Luke and asked him to come in and make a statement about the interview he’d conducted with the man a short time before. They also advised him to bring a lawyer, which seemed sinister to Luke. A man called Kuzmin interviewed him for 55 minutes. Luke got quite thirsty, but wouldn’t drink the fizzy water he was offered, because he was pretty sure it had been tampered with. Surprisingly Kuzmin didn’t interrogate him as expected, but Luke decided this was because the FSB were trying to intimidate him. They probably didn’t need to do an interrogation, thought Luke, since they’d been breaking in to his flat almost every day for like – ever, switching on his alarm clock and probably also bugging his phone.

After the western-backed Georgian invasion of South Ossetia Luke was amazed to note there was widespread antagonism toward western journalists in Moscow. And the FSB just would not leave him alone. Worried by this “campaign of brutishness” he decided to keep a log of the dreadful things they were doing. Reading this we find not only did they continue to regularly open his windows, they once turned off his central heating, made phantom ringing sounds happen in the middle of the night (Luke couldn’t find where they were coming from), deleted a screen saver from his computer and left a book by his bed about getting better orgasms.

All this would have broken a lesser man. But Luke didn’t break. Maybe that’s why in the end, they knew they’d have to expel him like in the old Soviet days. Which is what they did. Well, they didn’t renew his accreditation, which is the same thing. They pretended it was because he didn’t have the right paperwork for an extended visa and offered him a short extension so his kids could finish up at school. But Luke knew it was actually a Soviet-style expulsion. Because Luke can always see the real game when most of us just can’t.

He demanded to know if President Medvedev had been told – personally – that Luke was going home. The person in the press department he was speaking to just sort of looked at him and didn’t say anything.

Luke was pretty sure he worked for the FSB.

So he went home, got on the lecture circuit and wrote a book all about his terrible experiences in Vladimir Putin’s neo-Stalinist hell. But just when he thought all his espionage problems were over, they started up again when he began his book about Edward Snowden.

Luketalking3

This time it was the NSA, GCHQ and a host of other western agencies stalking him. The PTB obviously realised that Luke’s book would be much much more of a threat to national security than even Snowden himself, and did everything they could to try to stop him writing it. They followed him around (he knew they were agents because they had iPhones) and even used spy technology to remote-delete sentences from his computer – while he was typing them. Especially when he was writing mean things about the NSA. But after he typed “I don’t mind you reading my manuscript… but I’d be grateful if you don’t delete it”, they realised they’d met their match and stopped.

He wasn’t sure if the culprits were NSA, GCHQ or a Russian hacker, but one thing it definitely wasn’t was a glitchy keyboard.

I mean that would just be stupid.

NOTE: In case any of our readers are (understandably) inclined to think we must be making this up or exaggerating, we encourage them to read about it here and here in Luke’s own words. You’ll find we have merely summarised them.

Yes, he really does believe everything attributed to him in this article. He really does think the FSB were opening his windows. And he really did run to the public toilet and take all his clothes off because a man tapped him on the back in an airport.

We also recommend you take in this opinion piece by Julian Assange, and this one by a Brit ex-pat in Moscow.

After that feel free to complete the following questionnaire:

Is Luke Harding:

  1. “the reporter Russia hated”
  2. an “enemy of Putin”
  3. a borderline psychotic paranoiac, whose narcissistic delusions have been deliberately encouraged and exploited by an intelligentsia that will use any old crap it can find to further its agenda
  4. a bit of a tosser

37 Comments

  1. Alfred Nassim says

    Luke Harding’s article on Grozny and Chechnya is a classic of the sour grapes variety.

    “The once war-torn country has been transformed, but change has come at a price”
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/feb/22/russia

    To the best of my knowledge, Chechnya is still enjoying its peace and prosperity – totally unsupportable.

    Like

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  4. Flinx says

    You have to remember that without old Luke we’d not have as much fun reading pages like this!!! That’s likely the only positive outcome of what he writes but a very important one.

    In this ‘insane asylum’ light relief coupled with ‘some decent perspectives’ is a god send. For those that like this page / the humour you might like this site: http://ckm3.blogspot.co.uk/

    Like

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  8. Francis says

    So, the time has come. Surrounded by the KGB (they no longer exist Ed) Surrounded by the KGB (they no longer exist!! Ed) i, Luke Harding pen this my last will and testament. For though the end has come, (Hurrah! Ed) my enemies made one final mistake, by thinking they could take me alive. They left me the Book, the noble karma sutra
    No Walter Mitty I, I carry no arsenic pills about me for such a mournful deed as this. No, I, a writer, a cavalier of the epistolary kind, shall use The Book they left me on my bedside table, the noble Kama sutra. And now, gently removing the cellophane – to my children I bequeath my writing talent, to Pussy Minor disturbance (here he seems to be attempting to outwit the KGB Ed.) my gift for self promotion, and to my wife, Phoebe, my greatest possession, my reputation. And now, gently removing the cellophane, (you see, phoebe, your bootless cries at bedtime fell not on deaf ears, I will use it once, as I promised) and turning the page, I see the very position with which to foil my enemies (who must almost be upon me, for I heard the catflap flap) – “Chicken Butter pasanda, also known as the headless chicken”. (How ironic, Ed.) Like the chicken, my head also shall be hidden from view. Here goes! England, though I never knew you (very true, Ed) perhaps you will vouchsafe me a place among the poets? Here goes again! Butter? Tick. Dilate? Tick. Bloody hell, I never realised I had such a big head! Push! Push! They shall not catch me alive!
    Like a candle in the wind….oooff! I really shouldn’t have had extra beans. England, I do it for thee! But hold, what’s this I see? Tracks? Caterpillar tracks? Tank tracks?!! My god! Wait till Shaun sees these, it’s the biggest scoop of all time! And it’s mine! I must stop this foolshness now. KGB, be damned! Maybe they’ll now take me back at the Daily Mail. I must remove my head from my….
    (at this point, the recording ends Ed. he will be missed Ed the world will be a sadder place Ed there will be less laughter in the world without him. Phew. Got it. Ed)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Being serious for a change, one has to ask: if Luke Harding is so lousy as a journalist, and The Guardian had to pay some compensation to The eXile for plagiarising Mark Ames and another guy’s work, why didn’t the paper send Harding back to journalism school to do an ethics course, as The Independent had to do with Johann Hari when he was caught plagiarising other work? Or why didn’t The Guardian get rid of Harding?

    Is LDH with The Guardian for the same reason that American news media like The New York Times and The Washington Post among others always had someone in their offices who couldn’t spell or write to save their own lives, much less others’ lives, but who rose up the ranks quickly nevertheless – because they were really working for the CIA?

    Like

  10. Heiland says

    Lordy, lordy, great article and the comments just creased me up too! Best laugh I have had since Obomber got the Peace Prize.
    Seriously though I am so pleased to have found this site, even though it might be preaching to the converted. It restores some sense of sanity at the end of a long day.
    PS: The correct answer is 3 AND 4
    I claim my £5

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Eric_B says

    Luke wrote:
    I ventured out the next morning. My laptop was in the unlocked safe. (It didn’t contain any secrets; merely a work in progress.) A tall American immediately accosted me. He suggested we go sightseeing. He said his name was Chris. “Chris” had a short, military-style haircut, new trainers, neatly pressed khaki shorts, and a sleek steel-grey T-shirt. He clearly spent time in the gym. Tourist or spook? I thought spook.

    I decided to go along with Chris’s proposal: why didn’t we spend a couple of hours visiting Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue? Chris wanted to take my photo, buy me a beer, go for dinner. I declined the beer and dinner, later texting my wife: “The CIA sent someone to check me out. Their techniques as clumsy as Russians.” She replied: “Really? WTF?”

    WTF indeed. Dude, Chris just fancied you.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Shortly before I was banned from Komment Macht Frei, Mr. Harding popped up in the CiF column in which I had just made a comment ridiculing his “journalism” to state that he believed that I am probably a member of the FSB.

    Московский Ссыльный, Полковник ФСБ

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Luke Harding is not a journalist; he is the perennial centrefold in an imaginary magazine called “Smug Prick”. There is an irreconcilable gap between the Luke Harding he sees in the mirror and the chowderhead we all know and mock. The Guardian keeps him on because it does not give a tin weasel why you read, just as long as you read. It does not care if you do so with gritted teeth, murmuring obscenities.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Dipset says

    In terms of honesty and journalistic integrity when it comes to geopolitics, he is simply the worst journalist I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.

    When the whole Ukraine thing started and the Guardian thought all their readers were insular and stupid, they had our hero writing a whole slew of anti-Russia articles….alongside opening their comments section.

    Bad “mistake” on their part.

    It did not take long for readers to start pointing out the hilarious lies, half truths and smears in Mr Harding’s articles.

    How did he/they respond ?

    Not only did he start moderating comments himself, he (and Shaun Walker) had readers banned for highlighting the “inconsistency” in their reporting. Ha! Good luck with that.

    It was quite pitiful to see him yesterday on the Grauniad’s ‘Troll Factory’ story maoaning, whining and blaming the readers for not beliveing his “truthful” reporting on Russia haha.

    It’s going to be fascinating to see how he and his pals report the upcoming battle in Syria between Russia/Syria/Iran/China VS America/ISIS/Israel and Saudi Arabia.

    Fun times

    Liked by 2 people

  15. “The dark symbolism of the open window in the children’s bedroom was not hard to decipher: take care, or your kids might just fall out. The men – I assume it was men – had vanished like ghosts.”

    That there is just pure gold, it was written as a serious piece but even if it wasn’t it would still be brilliant piece of comedy and sarcasm, but the fact that it’s unintentionally funny and not a sarcasm is what makes it one of the greatest arrangements of words ever. Man sees an open window and “deciphers” that it was secret agents who opened it for the whole purpose of leaving him a “message” and then “vanished like ghosts”. A whole script from an open window. Perhaps next time they will make an offer he can’t refuse? Brilliant sketch, someone mentioned Inspector Clouseau in the comments but I have to say that Clouseau has nothing on this level of deduction skills, self importance and delusions of grandeur, or delusions in general. I read that thing many times now and its still hilarious as first time “The dark symbolism of the open window…..”

    There is a video of Carl Sagan where he explains how not to do science and logic and uses clouds on Venus as an example how to get a grand and completely wrong conclusion out of nothing, now know as The Venutian Dinosaur Fallacy:

    “I can’t see a thing on the surface of Venus. Why not? Because it’s covered with a dense layer of clouds. Well, what are clouds made of? Water, of course. Therefore, Venus must have an awful lot of water on it. Therefore, the surface must be wet. Well, if the surface is wet, it’s probably a swamp. If there’s a swamp, there’s ferns. If there’s ferns, maybe there’s even dinosaurs. -Observation: we can’t see a thing on Venus. Conclusion: dinosaurs.”

    I think that Harding perhaps gave us even better example.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Rob Baggott says

    Luke saw Russian tanks cross the border into Ukraine despite being 26 miles from the border crossing with a Russian aid convoy.Despite there being a 5000 foot elevation between where he actually was to where the border crossing was.Despite there being EU monitors at the border crossing who did not see any tanks.When I pointed this out to Luke,as a comment on his Guardian article,the article comments section disappeared and the placement of Russian tanks at the border changed to a different border crossing.All of my previous comments were purged,any other comments were moderated meaning an effectual ban and Luke carried on as if nothing had happened.Something did happen,he stopped saying he personally saw Russian tanks because he had been busted.In my opinion he is paid handsomely to post,anything,negative against Russia and sometimes he just makes shit up when his wife needs a new kitchen appliance.He is obviously a tosser to boot.

    Like

    • Actually it was that other bastion of serous journalism Shaun Walker who saw the invisible invasion. Luke would be too scared of getting zapped by mind rays to get that close to a Russian tank. 🙂

      Like

      • Eric_B says

        Yeah that was good old shaun.

        shaun also saw a Russian vehicle somewhere in ukraine with peacekeeping symbols from Chechnya.

        there was actually a photo of that one.

        unfortunately it was impossible to verify where and when the photo was taken and no other such vehicle with those markings has ever been seen before or since in ukraine.

        the woman who supposedly took the photo had a long history of photographing Russia vehicles in Chechnya.

        Like

      • astabada says

        Luke did take pictures of the Russian tanks entering Ukraine, but the FSB promptly deleted any footage.

        Like

    • Jennifer Hor says

      Luke wouldn’t even have taken any photos of the Russian tanks. He would have thought the tanks were sent after him and he would taken off like a rabbit. Even if the tanks were going in the other direction.

      BTW Luke’s wife Phoebe Taplin (also a journalist) wrote a series of books about walking in Moscow at different times of the year according to season and exploring the city’s parks and open spaces on foot while they were stationed there. Folks, make of that what you will.

      “Moscow walks. Spring” by Phoebe Taplin goes on sale
      http://themoscownews.com/ournews/20120503/189687562.html

      Like

  17. I think he has survived as a journalist which is in a way commendable. However, he irritated Glenn Greenwald, when he interviewed him because Glenn could see the details Luke was interested in writing about were literally going to be the material for a book, and I think Glenn had not finished his own at that point! So a bit exploitive to say the least. It’s an irony that the Snowden film produced/directed by Oliver Stone is going to be based on Luke’s version not Glenn, guess who gains financially for example.

    Like

  18. Yonatan says

    Tricky – a mix of 3 and 4 might do it.

    On the other hand, you have to give him credit for foresight – moving from the Daily Mail to the Guardian before it was fashionable. Maybe his talents alone explain the lack of substantive difference between these two organs of State.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. If I didn’t know that Luke Harding was a journalist, I’d have thought he was a comedian in the tradition of Peter Sellers overdoing Inspector Clouseau in too many Pink Panther sequels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eric_B says

      Mr Harding is a huge threat to the ruthless Russian government due to his fearless journalism, but rather than off him with some polonium tea or crumpets they decided to leave a sex manual by his bed.

      Was the idea that Mr Harding would die from over exertion?

      Like

        • Jennifer Hor says

          Even the sudden appearance of the Kama Sutra in English by the bedside table would have aroused LDH’s suspicions. What, he would have wondered, were the terrifying secrets encoded in the manual?

          Like

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