The aftermath of Paris — Going Underground

Here’s a recent inter­view I did on RT’s Going Under­ground about the after­math of the Paris attacks:

RT_Going_Underground_After_the_Paris_Attacks from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Freedom Equals Surveillance

Here’s an inter­view I did for RT a while ago about the USA’s Orwellian NewS­peak about sur­veil­lance:

US_Freedom_Act_surveillance_act_in_disguise from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Karma Police

As I type this I am listen­ing to one of my all-time favour­ite albums, Radiohead’s sem­inal “OK, Com­puter”, that was released in spring 1997. The first time I heard it I was spell­bound by its edgi­ness, com­plex­ity, exper­i­ment­al­ism and polit­ical over­tones. My part­ner at the time, David Shayler, took longer to get it. Self-admittedly tone deaf, he never under­stood what he laugh­ingly called the “music con­spir­acy” where people just “got” a new album and played it to death.

ST_Spies_on_the_RunHis opin­ion changed drastic­ally over the sum­mer of ’97 after we had blown the whistle on a series of crimes com­mit­ted by the UK’s spy agen­cies. As a res­ult of our actions — the first reports appeared in the Brit­ish media on 24 July 1997 — we had fled the coun­try and gone on the run around Europe for a month. At the end of this sur­real back­pack­ing hol­i­day I returned to the UK to face arrest, pack up our ran­sacked home, and try to com­fort our trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies who had known noth­ing of our whis­tleblow­ing plans.

OK, Com­puter” was the soundtrack to that month spent on the run across the Neth­er­lands, Bel­gium, France and Spain. Tak­ing ran­dom trains, mov­ing from hotel to hotel, and using false names, our lives were dis­lo­cated and unreal. So in each hotel room we tried to recre­ate a sense of home­li­ness — some candles, a bottle of wine, natch, and some music. In the two small bags, into which I had packed the essen­tials for our unknown future life, I had man­aged to squeeze in my port­able CD player (remem­ber those?), tiny speak­ers and a few cher­ished CDs. Such are the pri­or­it­ies of youth.

The joy of Radi­o­head broke upon David dur­ing that month — par­tic­u­larly the track “Exit Music (for a Film)”, which encap­su­lated our feel­ings as we fled the UK together. Once we were holed up in a prim­it­ive French farm­house for the year after our month on the run, this was the album that we listened to last thing at night, hold­ing onto each other tightly to ward off the cold and fear. Rev­el­ling in the music, we also drew strength from the dis­sid­ent tone of the lyrics.

So it was with some mirth­ful incredu­lity that I yes­ter­day read on The Inter­cept that GCHQ named one of its most ini­quit­ous pro­grammes after one of the clas­sic songs from the album — “Karma Police”.

In case you missed this, the basic premise of GCHQ was to develop a sys­tem that could snoop on all our web searches and thereby build up a pro­file of each of our lives online — our interests, our pec­ca­dilloes, our polit­ics, our beliefs. The pro­gramme was developed between 2007 and 2008 and was deemed func­tional in 2009. Who knows what inform­a­tion GCHQ has sucked up about you, me, every­one, since then?

As I have said many times over the years since Snowden and who knows how many oth­ers began to expose the out-of-control spy agen­cies, this is dis­pro­por­tion­ate in soi-dissent demo­cra­cies. It is cer­tainly not law­ful by any stretch of the ima­gin­a­tion. UK gov­ern­mental war­rants — which are sup­posed to reg­u­late and if neces­sary cir­cum­scribe the activ­it­ies of the spy snoop­ers — have repeatedly been egre­giously abused.

They are sup­posed to make a case for tar­geted sur­veil­lance of people sus­pec­ted of being a threat to the UK’s national secur­ity or eco­nomic well-being. The war­rants, blindly signed by the Home or For­eign Sec­ret­ary, are not designed to author­ise the indus­trial inter­cep­tion of everyone’s com­mu­nic­a­tions. This is a crime, plain and simple, and someone should be held to account.

Talk­ing of crimes, after a month on the run with David, I returned (as I had always planned to do) to the UK. I knew that I would be arres­ted, purely on the grounds that I had been an MI5 officer and was David Shayler’s girl­friend and had sup­por­ted his whis­tleblow­ing activ­it­ies. In fact my law­yer, John Wadham who was the head of the UK’s civil liber­ties union, Liberty, had nego­ti­ated with the police for me return to the UK and hand myself into the police for ques­tion­ing. He flew out to Bar­celona to accom­pany me back to the UK almost exactly eight­een years ago today.

Annie_arrestDes­pite the pre-agreements, I was arres­ted at the immig­ra­tion desk at Gatwick air­port by six burly Spe­cial Branch police officers and then driven by them up to the counter-terrorism inter­view room in Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don, where I was inter­rog­ated for the max­imum six hours before being released with no charge.

The music play­ing on the radio dur­ing this drive from the air­port to my cell? Radiohead’s “Karma Police”.

One can but hope that karma will come into play. But per­haps the end­ing of “Exit Music…”  is cur­rently more per­tin­ent — we hope that you choke, that you choke.….

After all, the spies do seem to be chok­ing on an over­load of hoovered-up intel­li­gence — pretty much every “ISIS-inspired” attack in the west over the last couple of years has reportedly been car­ried out by people who have long been on the radar of the spies.  Too much inform­a­tion can indeed be bad for our secur­ity, our pri­vacy and our safety.

Exile — ExBerliner Article

My most recent art­icle for the ExBer­liner magazine:

What is exile? Other than a term much used and abused by many new expats arriv­ing in Ber­lin, dic­tion­ary defin­i­tions point towards someone who is kept away from their home coun­try for polit­ical reas­ons, either by regal decree in the past or now more prob­ably self-imposed. But there are many other ways to feel exiled – from main­stream soci­ety, from your fam­ily, faith, pro­fes­sion, polit­ics, and Ber­lin is now regarded as a haven.

How­ever, let’s focus on the clas­sic defin­i­tion and a noble tra­di­tion. Every coun­try, no mat­ter how appar­ently enlightened, can become a tyr­ant to its own cit­izens if they chal­lenge abuses of power. Voltaire was exiled in Eng­land for three years and soon after Tom Paine, a former excise man facing charges for sedi­tious libel, sought refuge in France. More recent fam­ous exiles include David Shayler, the MI5 whis­tleblower of the 1990s who fol­lowed in Paine’s foot­steps pretty much for the same fun­da­mental reas­ons, yet Alex­an­der Litv­inenko, the KBG whis­tleblower of the same era, iron­ic­ally found safe haven in exile in the UK.

So, being an exile effect­ively means that you have angered the power struc­tures of your home coun­try to such an extent that other coun­tries feel com­pelled to give you refuge, partly for legal or prin­cipled reas­ons, but also for polit­ical expedi­ency. The cur­rent most fam­ous exile in the world is, of course, Edward Snowden, stran­ded by chance in Rus­sia en route to polit­ical asylum in Ecuador.

What does the act of flee­ing into exile actu­ally feel like? It is a wild leap into an unknown and pre­cari­ous future, with great risk and few fore­see­able rewards. At the same time, as you leave the shores of the per­se­cut­ing coun­try, evad­ing the author­it­ies, avoid­ing arrest and going on the run, there is an exhil­ar­at­ing, intense feel­ing of free­dom – a sense that the die has very much been cast. Your old way of life is irre­voc­ably at an end and the future is a blank slate on which you can write anything.

After Shayler and I fled to France in 1997, for the first year of the three we lived in exile we hid in a remote French farm­house just north of Limoges – the nearest vil­lage was 2 kilo­metres away, and the nearest town a dis­tant thirty. We lived in con­stant dread of that knock on the door and the ensu­ing arrest. And that, indeed, even­tu­ally did catch up with him.

As a res­ult, for Shayler it meant the world grew increas­ingly small, increas­ingly con­fined. Ini­tially, when we went on the run, we were free to roam across Europe – any­where but the UK. Then, after the French courts refused to extra­dite him to Bri­tain in 1998 to face trial for a breach of the dra­conian UK Offi­cial Secrets Act, France became the only place he could live freely. If he had then traveled to any other European coun­try, the Brit­ish would have again attemp­ted to extra­dite him, prob­ably suc­cess­fully, so he was trapped.

How­ever, there are worse places than France in which to find your­self stran­ded. As well as being one of the most beau­ti­ful and var­ied coun­tries in the world it felt par­tic­u­larly poignant to end up exiled in Paris for a fur­ther two years.

It was also con­veni­ently close to the UK, so friends, fam­ily, sup­port­ers and journ­al­ists could visit us reg­u­larly and bring Shayler sup­plies of such vital Brit­ish staples as bacon and HP source. But he still missed the simple pleas­ures in life, such as being free to watch his beloved foot­ball team, or being able to watch the crappy late night com­edy shows that the Brit­ish end­lessly churn out. Des­pite these small lacks, I shall always remem­ber those years in France fondly, as a place of greater safety, a lit­eral haven from persecution.

Of course, all this was in the era before the stand­ard­ised European Arrest war­rant, when national sov­er­eignty and national laws actu­ally coun­ted for some­thing. Find­ing a secure place of exile now would be almost an impossib­il­ity in Europe if you home coun­try really wanted to pro­sec­ute you.

Many West­ern expats now talk of being “exiled in Ber­lin”, and they may indeed be self-exiled in search of a more sym­patico life style, a buzzy group of like-minded peers, work oppor­tun­it­ies or whatever. But until they have felt the full force of an extra­di­tion war­rant, before the fuzz has actu­ally felt their col­lars, this is real­ist­ic­ally exile as a life­style choice, rather than exile as a des­per­ate polit­ical neces­sity or, in Edward Snowden’s case, a poten­tially exist­en­tial requirement.

German Netzpolitik journalists investigated for treason

Press free­dom is under threat in Ger­many — two journ­al­ists and their alleged source are under invest­ig­a­tion for poten­tial treason for dis­clos­ing and report­ing what appears to be an illegal and secret plan to spy on Ger­man cit­izens. Here’s the inter­view I did for RT​.com about this yes­ter­day:

Ger­man Net­zpolitik journ­al­ists face treason charges from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Merkel NSA phone tapping

My inter­view today for RT about the Ger­man prosecutor’s decision to stop the invest­ig­a­tion of the NSA tap­ping Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, and much more:

End of Merkel NSA Spy Probe Case on RT Inter­na­tional from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Sky News Interview about Whistleblowers

This is an inter­view I did on Sky News in the after­math of the Tri­dent whis­tleblower case.

I won­der what has become of Wil­liam McNeilly, now the media spot­light has moved on?

Sky_News_Whistleblower_Interview from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Trident Whistleblower

My inter­view on RT yes­ter­day about the young whis­tleblower, Sub­mar­iner Wil­liam McNeilly, who exposed ser­i­ous secur­ity con­cerns about the UK’s nuc­lear deterrent sys­tem, Tri­dent:

Annie Machon Tri­dent Whis­tleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Today it was repor­ted that McNeilly turned him­self in to the police at Edin­burgh air­port and is cur­rently in mil­it­ary custody.

Re:publica — The War on Concepts

This week I made my first visit to the re:publica annual geek­fest in Ber­lin to do a talk called “The War on Con­cepts”. In my view this, to date, includes the four wars — on drugs, ter­ror, the inter­net, and whis­tleblowers. No doubt the num­ber will con­tinue to rise.

Here’s the video:

republica_2015_Annie_Machon_The_War_on_Concepts from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Anything to Say? unveiled in Berlin

Last week artist Dav­ide Dormino unveiled his sculp­ture cel­eb­rat­ing whis­tleblowers in Alex­an­der­platz, Berlin.

Called “Any­thing to Say?”, the sculp­ture depicts Chelsea Man­ning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange stand­ing on three chairs, with an empty fourth chair beside them, upon which we are all encour­aged to stand up on and speak our truth.

Dav­ide invited me to do just that for the unveil­ing cere­mony, along with Ger­man MP for the Green Party and whis­tleblower sup­porter, Hans Chris­tian Stroebele and Wikileaks’ Sarah Har­rison. Here’s a report:

Anything_to_Say?_sculpture_unveiled_in_Berlin from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Code Red Media Launch in Perugia

I am very happy to announce a new ini­ti­at­ive, Code Red,  that Simon Dav­ies (the founder of Pri­vacy Inter­na­tional and The Big Brother Awards) and I have been organ­ising over the last few months.  In fact, not just us, but a panoply of global pri­vacy and anti-surveillance cam­paign­ers from many areas of expertise.

Simon and I have known each other for years, way back to 2002, when he gave one of the earli­est Win­ston Awards to David Shayler, in recog­ni­tion of his work towards try­ing to expose sur­veil­lance and pro­tect pri­vacy. That award cere­mony, hos­ted by comedian and act­iv­ist Mark Thomas, was one of the few bright points in that year for David and me — which included my nearly dying of men­ingitis in Paris and David’s vol­un­tary return to the UK to “face the music”; face the inev­it­able arrest, trial and con­vic­tion for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act that fol­lowed on from his dis­clos­ures about spy criminality.

Any­way, enough of a detour down memory lane — back to Code Red. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this web­site will know that I have some slight interest in the need to pro­tect our pri­vacy for both per­sonal reas­ons and soci­etal good. Over the last 18 years since help­ing to expose the crimes of the Brit­ish spies, I have worked with the media, law­yers, cam­paign­ers, hack­ers, NGOs, politi­cians, wonks, geeks, whis­tleblowers, and won­der­fully con­cerned cit­izens around the world — all the time arguing against the encroach­ing and stealthy powers of the deep, secret state and beyond.

While many people are con­cerned about this threat to a demo­cratic way of life, and in fact so many people try to push back, I know from exper­i­ence the dif­fer­ent pres­sures that can be exer­ted against each com­munity, and the lack of aware­ness and mean­ing­ful com­mu­nic­a­tion that can often occur between such groups.

So when Simon pos­ited the idea of Code Red — an organ­isa­tion that can func­tion­ally bring all these dis­par­ate groups together, to learn from each other, gain strength and thereby work more effect­ively, it seemed an obvi­ous next step.

Some pro­gress has already been make in this dir­ec­tion, with inter­na­tional whis­tleblower con­fer­ences, crypto­parties, train­ing for journ­al­ists about how to pro­tect their sources, cam­paigns to pro­tect whis­tleblowers, act­iv­ist and media col­lect­ives, and much more.  We in Code Red recog­nise all this amaz­ing work and are not try­ing to rep­lic­ate it.

But we do want to do is improve the flow of com­mu­nic­a­tion — would it not be great to have a global clear­ing house, a record, of what works, what does not, a repos­it­ory of expert­ise from all these inter-related dis­cip­lines from a round the world that we can all learn from?

This is one of the goals of Code Red, which launched to the media at the Inter­na­tional Journ­al­ism Fest­ival in Per­u­gia a few weeks ago.  We were then lucky enough to also hold a launch to the tech/hacktivist com­munity in Ber­lin a few days after at C Base — the mother-ship of hackers.

Here is the film of the Per­u­gia launch:

Code Red — launched in Per­u­gia, April 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

AcTVism film trailer

The AcTV­ism Munich media col­lect­ive is releas­ing a film on 19th April fea­tur­ing Noam Chom­sky, The Real News Net­work’s Paul Jay and  myself.

Filmed last Janu­ary, we dis­cussed the old and new media, act­iv­ism, and much more.

Here’s the trailer:

AcTV­ism Trailer — Chom­sky, Machon and Jay from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

No encryption? How very rude.

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

It struck me today that when I email a new con­tact I now reflex­ively check to see if they are using PGP encryp­tion.  A hap­pily sur­pris­ing num­ber are doing so these days, but most people would prob­ably con­sider my circle of friends and acquaint­ance to be eclectic at the very least, if not down­right eccent­ric, but then that’s prob­ably why I like them.

There are still alarm­ing num­bers who are not using PGP though, par­tic­u­larly in journ­al­ist circles, and I have to admit that when this hap­pens I do feel a tad miffed, as if some basic mod­ern cour­tesy is being breached.

It’s not that I even expect every­body to use encryp­tion — yet — it’s just that I prefer to have the option to use it and be able to have the pri­vacy of my own com­mu­nic­a­tions at least con­sidered. After all I am old enough to remem­ber the era of let­ter writ­ing, and I always favoured a sealed envel­ope to a postcard.

And before you all leap on me with cries of “using only PGP is no guar­an­tee of secur­ity.…” I do know that you need a suite of tools to have a fight­ing chance of real pri­vacy in this NSA-saturated age: open source soft­ware, PGP, TOR, Tails, OTR, old hard­ware, you name it.  But I do think the wide-spread adop­tion of PGP sets a good example and gets more people think­ing about these wider issues.  Per­haps more of us should insist on it before com­mu­nic­at­ing further.

Why is this in my mind at the moment?  Well, I am cur­rently work­ing with an old friend, Simon Dav­ies, the founder of Pri­vacy Inter­na­tional and the Big Brother Awards. He cut his first PGP key in 2000, but then left it to wither on the vine. As we are in the pro­cess of set­ting up a new pri­vacy ini­ti­at­ive called Code Red (more of which next week) it seemed imper­at­ive for him to set a good example and “start using” again.

Any­way, with the help of one of the god­fath­ers of the Ber­lin crypto­parties, I am happy to report that the father of the pri­vacy move­ment can now ensure your pri­vacy if you wish to com­mu­nic­ate with him.

I am proud to say that my aware­ness of PGP goes back even fur­ther.  The first time I heard of the concept was in 1998 while I was liv­ing in hid­ing in a remote French farm­house in cent­ral France, on the run from MI5, with my then part­ner, David Shayler.

Our only means of com­mu­nic­a­tion with the out­side world was a com­puter and a dial-up con­nec­tion and David went on a steep learn­ing curve in all things geek to ensure a degree of pri­vacy.  He helped build his own web­site (sub­sequently hacked, pre­sum­ably by GCHQ or the NSA as it was a soph­ist­ic­ated attack by the stand­ards of the day) and also installed the newly-available PGP. People com­plain now of the dif­fi­culties of installing encryp­tion, but way back then it was the equi­val­ent of scal­ing Mount Everest after a few light strolls in the park to limber up.  But he man­aged it.

Now, of course, it is rel­at­ively easy, espe­cially if you take the time to attend a Crypto­party — and there will be inev­it­ably be one hap­pen­ing near you some place soon.

Crypto­parties began in late 2012 on the ini­ti­at­ive of Asher Wolf in Aus­tralia.  The concept spread rap­idly, and after Snowden went pub­lic in May 2013, accel­er­ated glob­ally. Indeed, there have been vari­ous reports about the “Snowden Effect”.  Only last week there was an art­icle in the Guard­ian news­pa­per say­ing that 72% of Brit­ish adults are now con­cerned about online pri­vacy. I hope the 72% are tak­ing advant­age of these geek gatherings.

The US-based comedian, John Oliver, also recently aired an inter­view with Edward Snowden.  While this was slightly pain­ful view­ing for any whis­tleblower — Oliver had done a vox pop in New York that he showed to Snowden, where most inter­viewees seemed unaware of him and uncar­ing about pri­vacy — there was a per­cept­ible shift of opin­ion when the issue of, shall we say, pic­tures of a sens­it­ive nature were being intercepted.

Offi­cially this spy pro­gramme is called Optic Nerve, an issue that many of us have been dis­cuss­ing to some effect over the last year.  In the Oliver inter­view this trans­mog­ri­fied into “the dick pic pro­gramme”.  Well, whatever gets the mes­sage out there effect­ively.… and it did.

We all have things we prefer to keep private — be it dick pics, bank accounts, going to the loo, talk­ing to our doc­tor, our sex lives, or even just talk­ing about fam­ily gos­sip over the phone.  This is not about hav­ing any­thing to hide, but most of us do have an innate sense of pri­vacy around our per­sonal issues and deal­ings and this is all now lost to us, as Edward Snowden has laid bare.

As I have also said before, there are wider soci­etal implic­a­tions too — if we feel we are being watched in what we watch, read, say, write, organ­ise, and con­duct our rela­tion­ships, then we start to self-censor.  And this is indeed already another of the quan­ti­fied Snowden effects. This is dele­ter­i­ous to the free flow of inform­a­tion and the cor­rect func­tion­ing of demo­cratic soci­et­ies.  This is pre­cisely why the right to pri­vacy is one of the core prin­ciples in the 1948 Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights.

Les­sons had then been learned from the Nazi book burn­ings and the Gestapo spy state, and pri­vacy was recog­nised as a pre-requisite of open demo­cracy. Yet now we see senior and sup­posedly well-informed US politi­cians call­ing for the mod­ern equi­val­ent of book burn­ings and fail­ing to rein in the global abuses of the NSA.

How quickly the les­sons of his­tory can be for­got­ten and how care­lessly we can cast aside the hard-won rights of our ancestors.

Edward Snowden, at great per­sonal risk, gave us the neces­sary inform­a­tion to for­mu­late a push back. At the very least we can have enough respect for the sac­ri­fices he made and for the rights of our fel­low human beings to take basic steps to pro­tect both our own and their privacy.

So please start using open source encryp­tion at the very least. It would be rude not to.