The UK Spies: Ineffective, Unethical and Unaccountable

The text of my art­icle for e-International Rela­tions, March 2008:

The UK Intel­li­gence Com­munity: Inef­fect­ive, Uneth­ical and Unaccountable

The USA and the UK are enmeshed in an appar­ently unend­ing war of attri­tion – sorry peace­keep­ing — in Iraq.  Why? Well, we may remem­ber that the UK was assured by former Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair, in sin­cere terms, that Sad­dam Hus­sein pos­sessed weapons of mass destruc­tion which could be deployed again Brit­ish interests within 45 minutes.  Indeed the press was awash with “45 minutes from Armaged­don” head­lines on 18th March 2003, the day of the cru­cial war debate in the Brit­ish par­lia­ment. The implic­a­tion was that Bri­tain was dir­ectly at threat from the evil Iraqis.

The US var­ied the diet.  George Bush, in his State of the Union address before the war, assured his nation that Iraq had been attempt­ing to buy mater­ial to make nuc­lear weapons from Niger.  The Amer­ican media and pub­lic fell for this claim, hook, line and sinker.

What do these two erro­neous claims have in com­mon?  Well, both were “sexed up” for pub­lic consumption.

We all know now that there never were any WMDs to be found in Iraq.  After 10 years of pun­it­ive sanc­tions, the coun­try simply didn’t have the cap­ab­il­ity, even if it had the will, to develop them.  The Niger claim is even more tenu­ous.  This was based on an intel­li­gence report eman­at­ing from the Brit­ish Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice (com­monly know as SIS or MI6), which was based on forgeries.

We have had head­line after scream­ing head­line stat­ing that yet another ter­ror­ist cell has been roun­ded up in Bri­tain. The Ricin plot? The behead­ing of a Brit­ish Muslim ser­vice­man? The liquid bombs on air­planes?  Yet, if one reads the news­pa­pers care­fully, one finds that charges are dropped quietly after a few months.

So, why is this hap­pen­ing?  I can haz­ard a few guesses.  In the 1990s I worked for 6 years as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5, invest­ig­at­ing polit­ical “sub­vers­ives”, Irish ter­ror­ists, and Middle East­ern ter­ror­ism.  In late 1996 I, with my then part­ner and col­league David Shayler, left the ser­vice in dis­gust at the incom­pet­ent and cor­rupt cul­ture to blow the whistle on the UK intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment.  This was not a case of sour grapes – we were both com­pet­ent officers who reg­u­larly received per­form­ance related bonuses.

How­ever, we had grown increas­ingly con­cerned about breaches of the law; ineptitude (which led to bombs going off that could and should have been pre­ven­ted); files on politi­cians; the jail­ing of inno­cent people; illegal phone taps; and the illegal spon­sor­ing of ter­ror­ism abroad, fun­ded by UK tax-payers.

The key reason that we left and went pub­lic is prob­ably one of the most hein­ous crimes – SIS fun­ded an Islamic extrem­ist group in Libya to try to assas­sin­ate Col­onel Gad­dafi in 1996.  The attack failed, but killed inno­cent people.  The attack was also illegal under Brit­ish law.  The 1994 intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, which put SIS on a legal foot­ing for the first time in its 80 year his­tory, stated that its officers were immune from pro­sec­u­tion in the UK for illegal acts com­mit­ted abroad, if they had the prior writ­ten per­mis­sion of its polit­ical mas­ter – ie the For­eign Sec­ret­ary.  In this case they did not.

So, the assas­sin­a­tion attempt was not only immoral, uneth­ical and highly reck­less in a volat­ile area of the world, but also illegal under Brit­ish law.

In August 1997 we went pub­lic in a national Brit­ish news­pa­per about our con­cerns.  We hoped that the newly-elected Labour gov­ern­ment would take our evid­ence and begin an invest­ig­a­tion of the intel­li­gence agen­cies.  After all, many Labour MPs had been on the receiv­ing end of spook invest­ig­a­tions in their rad­ical youth.  Many had also opposed the dra­conian UK law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act (OSA 1989), which deprived an intel­li­gence whis­tleblower of a pub­lic interest defence.

How­ever, it was not to be.  I have no proof, but I can spec­u­late that the Labour gov­ern­ment did the spies’ bid­ding for fear of what might be on their MI5 files. They issued an injunc­tion against David and the national press.  They failed to extra­dite him from France in 1998 but, when he returned vol­un­tar­ily to face trail in the UK in 2000, they lynched him in the media.  They also ensured that, through a series of pre-trial legal hear­ings, he was not allowed to say any­thing in his own defence and was not able to freely ques­tion his accusers.  Indeed the judge ordered the jury to convict.

The whole sorry saga of the Shayler affair shows in detail how the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment will always shoot the mes­sen­ger to pro­tect its own interests.  If the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment had taken Shayler’s evid­ence, invest­ig­ated his dis­clos­ures, and reformed the ser­vices so that they were sub­ject to effect­ive over­sight and had to obey the law, they may well be work­ing more effi­ciently to pro­tect us from threats to our national’s secur­ity.  After all, the focus of their work is now counter-terrorism, and they use the same resources and tech­niques as the police.  Why should they not be sub­ject to the same checks and balances?

Instead, MI5 and SIS con­tinue to oper­ate out­side mean­ing­ful demo­cratic con­trol.  Their cul­tures are self-perpetuating olig­arch­ies, where mis­takes are glossed over and repeated, and where ques­tions and inde­pend­ent thought are dis­cour­aged.  We deserve better.

 

Spies,Lies and Whistleblowers: MI5 and the David Shayler Affair

My book about the Shayler affair (includ­ing the MI6 plot to assas­in­ate Col. Gad­dafi) and my exper­i­ences as an Intel­li­gence Officer in MI5.

I was invited on to “The Richard and Judy Show” in 2005 to talk about my book, and it is fea­tured on the show’s web­site.

Wil­liam Pod­more was kind enough to review my work:

In this remark­able book, Annie Machon makes ser­i­ous alleg­a­tions against the Brit­ish state’s intel­li­gence ser­vices, MI5 and MI6. Ms Machon and her part­ner David Shayler are former high-ranking MI5 officers, both now retired from the ser­vice. The book’s alleg­a­tions derive from their exper­i­ences and deserve at least to be the sub­ject of inquiry.

She asserts that MI5 has illeg­ally invest­ig­ated thou­sands of Brit­ish cit­izens for their polit­ical views; that there was col­lu­sion between the Army Forces Research Unit and loy­al­ist ter­ror­ists; that MI5 failed to stop four major ter­ror­ist attacks in Bri­tain, even though it had reli­able evid­ence; and that MI5 and MI6 let a known Libyan ter­ror­ist into Bri­tain and let him set up a ter­ror­ist net­work here.

She alleges that MI6’s counter-Iranian sec­tion used the Sunday Tele­graph (and the journ­al­ists Con Cough­lin, John Simpson and Dominic Lawson) to try to blame Iran for the 1988 Lock­er­bie bomb­ing, the destruc­tion of flight PA103. MI6 was try­ing to deflect atten­tion from the fact that it was actu­ally a Libyan retali­ation for the US bomb­ing of Tripoli (backed by Thatcher) in 1986.

The book’s most sig­ni­fic­ant alleg­a­tion is that MI6 illeg­ally paid tens of thou­sands of pounds to Al-Qa’ida in 1995–96 to assas­sin­ate Col­onel Gad­dafi and seize power in Libya. In the attemp­ted coup, sev­eral inno­cent civil­ians and secur­ity police were killed. If this is true, MI6, a Brit­ish state agency, sponsored our ter­ror­ist enemies in a con­spir­acy to murder, which res­ul­ted in the killing of inno­cent civilians.

But Blair refuses to hear any evid­ence against the intel­li­gence ser­vices, and pro­sec­utes and har­asses crit­ics and whis­tleblowers. The Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, set up under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act to over­see the ser­vices, is no use, because it is appoin­ted by and reports only to the Prime Minister.

The intel­li­gence ser­vices should work under the rule of law and respect demo­cratic rights. Ter­ror­ist sus­pects should be arres­ted and brought to trial under crim­inal law, not detained, or executed, without trial, as has happened in North­ern Ire­land and elsewhere.

The intel­li­gence ser­vices are sup­posed to pro­tect us, but it would appear that they have instead con­nived in ter­ror­ism, put­ting us at greater risk of ter­ror­ist attack.

The Cam­paign for Press and Broad­cast­ing Free­dom (CPBF) also high­lighted it.

The book can be ordered through Amazon.

Lecture: What can we do to counter the Spies?

My CCC talk in Ber­lin in Decem­ber 2007 about the role of Intel­li­gence agen­cies in society.

In the name of pro­tect­ing national secur­ity, spy agen­cies are being given sweep­ing new powers and resources. Their intel­li­gence has been politi­cised to build a case for the dis­astrous war in Iraq, they are fail­ing to stop ter­ror­ist attacks, and they con­tinue to col­lude in illegal acts of intern­ment and tor­ture, euphemist­ic­ally called “extraordin­ary rendi­tion”. Most west­ern demo­cra­cies have already given so many new powers to the spies that we are effect­ively liv­ing in police states. As an informed com­munity, what can we do about this?

Here is the present­a­tion page on the CCC-2007-website. A video of the talk can be down­loaded from the talk-page or watched dir­ectly through Google-video. I was hon­oured to receive a stand­ing ova­tion at the end of my talk.  A write-up of the talk can be found here.  Enjoy!

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

This did make me laugh — The Onion News strikes again! Who says the Amer­ic­ans have no under­stand­ing of satire?

Diebold vot­ing com­puters leak crit­ical info, mess­ing up the whole charade around the 2008 US Pres­id­en­tial election.