Book review in The Sunday Express

Noth­ing like being paid to read a book — a win-win situ­ation for me. 

Here’s a link to my review in the Sunday Express news­pa­per of a new his­tory of MI6, called “The Art of Betrayal” by Gor­don Corera, the BBC’s Secur­ity Correspondent.

And here’s the article:

REVIEW: THE ART OF BETRAYALLIFE AND DEATH IN THE BRITISH SECRET SERVICE
Fri­day August 19, 2011
By Annie Machon

THE Art of Betrayal: Life and Death in the Brit­ish Secret Ser­vice
Gor­don Corera Weiden­feld & Nich­olson, £20

THE INTRODUCTION to The Art Of Betrayal, Gor­don Corera’s unof­fi­cial post-war his­tory of MI6, raises ques­tions about the mod­ern rel­ev­ance and eth­ical frame­work of our spies. It also provides an anti­dote to recent offi­cial books cel­eb­rat­ing the cen­ten­ar­ies of MI5 and MI6.

Corera, the BBC’s secur­ity cor­res­pond­ent, has enjoyed priv­ileged access to key spy play­ers from the past few dec­ades and, writ­ing in an enga­ging, easy style, he picks up the story of MI6 at the point where the “offi­cial” his­tory grinds to a halt after the Second World War.

Spy geeks will enjoy the swash­buck­ling stor­ies from the Cold War years and he offers an intel­li­gent explor­a­tion of the men­tal­ity of betrayal between the West and the former Soviet Union, focus­ing on the notori­ous Philby, Pen­kovsky and Gordi­evsky cases among many others.

For the more cyn­ical reader, this book presents some prob­lems. Where Corera dis­cusses the aim­less years of MI6 post-Cold War attempts at rein­ven­tion, fol­lowed by the mus­cu­lar, mor­ally ambigu­ous post-9/11 world, he ref­er­ences quotes from former top spies and offi­cial inquir­ies only, all of which need to be read with a healthy degree of skep­ti­cism. To use a mem­or­able quote from the Six­ties Pro­fumo Scan­dal, also men­tioned in the book: “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

In Corera’s view, there has always been inher­ent ten­sion in MI6 between the “doers” (who believe that intel­li­gence is there to be acted upon James Bond-style and who want to get their hands dirty with cov­ert oper­a­tions) and the “thinkers” (those who believe, à la George Smi­ley, that know­ledge is power and should be used behind the scenes to inform offi­cial gov­ern­ment policy).

He demon­strates that the “doers” have often been in con­trol and the image of MI6 staffed by gung-ho, James Bond wan­nabes is cer­tainly a ste­reo­type I recog­nise from my years work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer for the sis­ter spy organ­isa­tion, MI5.

The prob­lem, as this book reveals, is that when the action men have the cul­tural ascend­ancy within MI6 events often go badly wrong through estab­lish­ment com­pla­cency, betrayal or mere enthu­si­astic amateurism.

That said, the oppos­ing cul­ture of the “thinkers”, or patient intel­li­gence gather­ers, led in the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties to intro­spec­tion, mole-hunting para­noia and sclerosis.

Wor­ry­ingly, many former officers down the years are quoted as say­ing that they hoped there was a “real” spy organ­isa­tion behind the appar­ently ama­teur out­fit they had joined, a sen­ti­ment shared by most of my intake in the Nineties.

Nor does it appear that les­sons were learned from his­tory: the Oper­a­tion Gla­dio débâcle in Albania and the top­pling of Iran’s first democratically-elected Pres­id­ent Mossadeq in the Fifties could have provided valu­able les­sons for MI6 in its work in Afgh­anistan, Iraq, and Libya over the past two decades.

Corera is remark­ably coy about Libya des­pite the wealth of now publicly-available inform­a­tion about MI6’s med­dling in the Lock­er­bie case, the illegal assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafiin 1996 and the dirty, MI6-brokered oil deals of the past decade.

Corera pulls together his recur­ring themes in the final chapters, explor­ing the com­prom­ise of intel­li­gence in jus­ti­fy­ing the Iraq war, describ­ing how the “doers” pumped unveri­fied intel­li­gence from unproven agents dir­ectly into the veins of White­hall and Washington.

Many civil ser­vants and middle-ranking spies ques­tioned and doubted but were told to shut up and fol­low orders. The res­ults are all-too tra­gic­ally well known.

Corera does not, how­ever, go far enough.

He appre­ci­ates that the global reach of MI6 main­tains Britain’s place in an exclus­ive club of world powers. At what price, though?

Here is the ques­tion he should per­haps have asked: in light of all the mis­takes, betray­als, liber­ties com­prom­ised, les­sons unlearned and deaths, has MI6 out­lived its usefulness?

Annie Machon is a former MI5 intel­li­gence officer and author.

Ver­dict 4/5

The Israeli Embassy Two — a gross miscarriage of justice

Samar_Alami Jawad_Botmeh Over the last few years there have been a num­ber of egre­gious cases of police and state cover-ups in the UK around the deaths and wrong­ful pro­sec­u­tions of inno­cent people.

This brings to my mind the appalling mis­car­riage of justice that occurred in the 1990s when two Palestinian stu­dents, a young woman called Samar Alami and a young man called Jawad Bot­meh, were both wrong­fully con­victed of con­spir­acy to bomb the Israeli embassy in Lon­don in July 1994. 

In this case a highly soph­ist­ic­ated car bomb as det­on­ated out­side the embassy.  Thank­fully nobody was killed, but a num­ber of people suffered minor injur­ies.   Alami and Bot­meh had con­nec­tions to Palestinian polit­ical sup­port groups based in Lon­don at the time, many of whom were roun­ded up dur­ing the invest­ig­a­tion.  Bot­meh had naively helped out a shad­owy and never-identified fig­ure called Reda Moghr­abi, who asked for assist­ance in buy­ing a second-hand car at auc­tion.  This was the car that was used in the explosion.

Why is this case an example of estab­lish­ment cover-up?  Well,  this was one of the cases that former MI5 officer David Shayler blew the whistle on dur­ing the 1990s.  He revealed the exist­ence of two rel­ev­ant doc­u­ments that should have been dis­closed to the defence but, for some unac­count­able reason, were not.

The first, an agent report from a cred­ible and trus­ted source, poin­ted to a non-Palestinian group plan­ning the attack before it had even occurred.  This report was not acted upon by the MI5 officer respons­ible, who then tried to cover up her mis­take.  She was caught out, and there was a much-discussed internal inquiry into the mat­ter within MI5’s G Branch (inter­na­tional ter­ror­ism) in late 1994.

But there was another doc­u­ment — one writ­ten by G9/1, the senior MI5 officer who over­saw the post-incident invest­ig­a­tion.  His view was that Mossad, the external Israeli intel­li­gence agency, had car­ried out a con­trolled explo­sion out­side its own embassy (the shad­owy and uniden­ti­fied Reda Moghr­abi being the poten­tially cru­cial miss­ing link) in order to acquire the long-demanded addi­tional secur­ity pro­tec­tion around Israeli interests in the UK, and also to shat­ter the Palestinian sup­port net­works in Lon­don — a long-term object­ive of Mossad.

The gov­ern­ment at the time tried to dis­miss these dis­clos­ures.  How­ever, the much-missed Private Eye invest­ig­at­ive   journ­al­ist, Paul Foot, and the indefatig­able law­yer, Gareth Peirce, fol­lowed them up and pur­sued them tire­lessly through the media and the courts

And guess what?  It turns out that these two key doc­u­ments had indeed not been dis­closed to the legal defence team dur­ing the trial of Alami and Bot­meh — and not just by the hap­less spooks.  It emerged dur­ing the appeal hear­ing that no fewer than seven people from a vari­ety of police and intel­li­gence organ­isa­tions had failed to dis­close the rel­ev­ant doc­u­ment­a­tion to the defence.  This can­not be explained away as an inno­cent over­sight, a cock-up — it bears all the hall­marks of a delib­er­ate, sys­temic estab­lish­ment cover-up.

All this rep­res­en­ted, at the very least, a need for a retrial but also a pos­sible gross mis­car­riage of justice.  And yet, while acknow­ledging that these doc­u­ments did indeed exist dur­ing the appeal hear­ing and bey­ond, the presid­ing m’luds decided to ignore all case law and European law and let those two inno­cents rot in prison.  After all, it would be ter­ribly embar­rass­ing to vin­dic­ate the actions of an intel­li­gence whis­tleblower, wouldn’t it?

As a res­ult, the poor pawns in this sick estab­lish­ment game, Jawad Bot­meh and Samar Alami, ended up serving their full sen­tences, des­pite the over­whelm­ing body of evid­ence prov­ing their inno­cence, and were finally released in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

For any­one inter­ested in the detailed hor­ror story behind this flag­rant mis­car­riage of justice, here is the rel­ev­ant chapter from my long-defunct book: Down­load The_Israeli_Embassy_Case

From Russia with Love (to the USA)

I’ve been fol­low­ing with interest the retro, Cold War spy saga cur­rently unfold­ing in the USA.  The head­lines being that 10 alleged Rus­sian sleep­ers (“illeg­als” in spy lingo) have been arres­ted by the FBI and are now charged with “work­ing as agents of a for­eign power”, which car­ries a sen­tence of five years in prison.

These Rus­sian “illeg­als”, some of whom reportedly have been liv­ing openly as Rus­sian immig­rants, some as other for­eign nation­als, have allegedly been infilt­rat­ing the US since the mid-1990s, and were tasked to get friendly with Amer­ican power-brokers, to glean what inform­a­tion they could about the thoughts of the US great and the good about Rus­sia, Iran, defence plans etc.

Whatever the truth of this case, and the charges are detailed, I find the tim­ing and media atten­tion given to this story inter­est­ing for three key reasons:

From what has been repor­ted of the court papers, the FBI invest­ig­a­tion has been going on for years.  Appar­ently they have known about the spy ring since 2000, and have included com­mu­nic­a­tions inter­cept mater­ial in the indict­ment dat­ing from 2004 and 2008, as well as sting oper­a­tions from the begin­ning of this year.  So it’s curi­ous that the FBI decided to swoop now, in the imme­di­ate after­math of a suc­cess­ful and, by all accounts friendly, meet­ing between the Rus­sian and Amer­ican pres­id­ents in Wash­ing­ton DC

Many people are com­ment­ing on this aspect of the tim­ing.  And, indeed, one might spec­u­late about wheels within wheels — it appears that there are still hard­line fac­tions within the US admin­is­tra­tion that want to ensure that a warmer work­ing rela­tion­ship can­not develop between Rus­sia and the USA. A strategy of ten­sion is good for busi­ness – espe­cially com­pan­ies like Hal­libur­ton and Xe (formerly Black­wa­ter) which profit from build­ing vast US mil­it­ary bases in Cent­ral Asia.

But what also intrigues me is the pos­sible behind-the-scenes action. 

OurManInHavanaThis story is get­ting blanket media cov­er­age.  It’s a good, old-fashioned, Cold War-style coup, hit­ting all the jin­go­istic spy but­tons, just at a time when the US spooks are under pres­sure about their per­form­ance in the neb­u­lous and ever-shifting “war on ter­ror”, the shred­ding of con­sti­tu­tional rights, the illegal sur­veil­lance of domestic polit­ical act­iv­ists, and com­pli­city in extraordin­ary rendi­tion and tor­ture. It’s a use­ful “reminder” that the bloated US secur­ity infra­struc­ture is worth all the money it costs, des­pite the dire state of US national fin­ances. Pure propaganda.

I’m also will­ing to bet that there is a more cov­ert aspect to this story too — some behind-the-scenes power play.  There are, at the last count, 17 acknow­ledged intel­li­gence agen­cies in the US, all com­pet­ing for prestige, power and resources.  By mak­ing these arrests, the FBI will see this as a step up in the spy peck­ing order.  It reminds me inev­it­ably (and per­haps flip­pantly) of the clas­sic spy novel by former intel­li­gence officer Gra­ham Greene, “Our Man in Havana”.  In this no doubt entirely fic­tional work, a Brit­ish MI6 asset invents a spy ring to increase his stand­ing and fund­ing from Lon­don HQ.

Also curi­ous is the role played by one Chris­topher Met­sos, allegedly the 11th man, not ini­tially arres­ted, who is repor­ted to have passed money to the spy ring.  He was caught yes­ter­day in Cyprus try­ing to board a plane to Hun­gary, and inex­plic­ably gran­ted bail — inex­plic­able at least to the Greek police, who always worry that their sus­pect will flee over the bor­der into the Turk­ish seg­ment of the island, never to be seen again.  And this has indeed happened, accord­ing to The Guard­ian news­pa­per this even­ing. Per­haps he has some urgent appoint­ments to sell vacuum clean­ers north of the border.….

 

Spy Chiefs attack UK Police State

DearloveSir Richard Dear­love, ex-head of MI6 and cur­rent Mas­ter of Pem­broke Col­lege, Cam­bridge, has been much in the news recently after gra­cing the Hay on Wye book fest­ival, where he gave a speech.  In this, he is repor­ted to have spoken out, in strong terms, against the endemic and all-pervasive sur­veil­lance soci­ety devel­op­ing in the UK

Ex-spy chiefs in the UK have a charm­ing habit of using all these sur­veil­lance meas­ures to the nth degree while in the shad­ows, and then hav­ing a Dam­as­cene con­ver­sion into civil liber­ties cam­paign­ers once they retire.  Eliza Manningham-Buller, the ex-head of MI5, used her maiden speech in the House of Lords to argue against the exten­sion of the time limit the police could hold a ter­ror­ist sus­pect without charge, and even Stella Rim­ing­ton (also ex-MI5) has recently thrown her hat in the ring.  They nick all my best lines these days.

Wouldn’t it be great if one of them, one day, could argue in favour of human rights, pro­por­tion­al­ity and the adher­ence to the law while they were still in a pos­i­tion to influ­ence affairs?

Dear­love him­self could have changed the course of world his­tory if he had found the cour­age to speak out earlier about the fact that the intel­li­gence case for the Iraq war was being fixed around pre-determined policy.  As it is, we only know that he objec­ted to this because of the notori­ous, leaked Down­ing Street Memo.

The Guard­ian news­pa­per repor­ted that Dear­love even touched on the real­ity of obtain­ing min­is­terial per­mis­sion before break­ing the law.  Which, of course, is the ulti­mate point of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, and does indeed enshrine the fabled “licence to kill”.  It states that MI6 officers can break the law abroad with impun­ity from pro­sec­u­tion if, and only if, they obtain prior writ­ten per­mis­sion from their polit­ical mas­ter — in this case the For­eign Secretary.

How­ever, accord­ing to The Guard­ian, he seems to have mis­un­der­stood the spirit of the law, if not the letter:

He said that the intel­li­gence com­munity was “some­times asked to act in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. When it does, it asks for legal opin­ion and min­is­terial approval … It’s about polit­ical cover”. 

Moment­ar­ily put­ting aside the not unim­port­ant debate about whether the spies and the gov­ern­ment should even be allowed tech­nic­ally to side-step inter­na­tional laws against crimes up to, and includ­ing, murder, I am still naively sur­prised by the shame­less­ness of this state­ment:  the notion of min­is­terial over­sight was put in place to ensure some kind of demo­cratic over­sight and account­ab­il­ity for the work of the spies — not to provide polit­ical cover, a fig leaf.

I think he’s rather given the game away here about how the spies really view the role of  their “polit­ical masters”.

Echelon and the Special Relationship

Journ­al­ist and writer James Bam­ford, has a new book, “The Shadow Fact­ory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eaves­drop­ping on Amer­ica” (Doubleday), which came out this week in the United States.

Bam­ford is a former pro­du­cer at ABC News of thirty years’ stand­ing, and his book has caused quite a stir. One of his key gripes is the fact that for­eign com­pan­ies try to acquire work in sens­it­ive US depart­ments. He cites in par­tic­u­lar the attempt in 2006 of Israeli data secur­ity com­pany, Check Point Soft­ware Tech­no­lo­gies, to buy an Amer­ican com­pany with exist­ing con­tracts at the Defence Depart­ment and the NSA. This deal was stopped after the FBI objected.

For­eign soft­ware and secur­ity com­pan­ies work­ing within intel­li­gence agen­cies are indeed a prob­lem for any coun­try. It com­prom­ises the very notion of national sov­er­eignty. In the UK, MI5 and many other gov­ern­ment depart­ments rely on pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware from com­pan­ies like Microsoft, notori­ous for their vul­ner­ab­il­ity to hack­ers, vir­uses and back door access. Should our nation’s secrets really be exposed to such eas­ily avoid­able vulnerabilities?

Another sec­tion of the book to have hit the head­lines is Bamford’s claims that bed­room “con­ver­sa­tions” of sol­diers, journ­al­ists and offi­cials in Iraq have been bugged by the National Secur­ity Agency (NSA).

Bam­ford, who is by no means a fan of the NSA in its cur­rent rampant form, makes the mis­take of think­ing that in the inno­cent days pre-9/11, the agency respec­ted demo­cratic rights enshrined in the US con­sti­tu­tion and never snooped on US cit­izens in their own country.

While tech­nic­ally this might be true, does nobody remem­ber the ECHELON system?

ECHELON was an agree­ment between the NSA and its Brit­ish equi­val­ent GCHQ (as well as the agen­cies of Canada, Aus­tralia, and New Zea­l­and) whereby they shared inform­a­tion they gathered on each oth­ers’ cit­izens. GCHQ could leg­ally eaves­drop on people out­side the UK without a war­rant, so they could tar­get US cit­izens of interest, then pass the product over to the NSA. The NSA then did the same for GCHQ. Thus both agen­cies could evade any demo­cratic over­sight and account­ab­il­ity, and still get the intel­li­gence they wanted.

Spe­cial rela­tion­ship, anyone?

Poor Bloody Infantry

There is an ongo­ing cam­paign to save Bletch­ley Park for the nation, in the teeth of gov­ern­ment oppos­i­tion. As his­toric Brit­ish monu­ments go, the ques­tion of whether to pre­serve it for pos­ter­ity should be a no-brainer. Bletch­ley is not only where Hitler’s Enigma code machine was decryp­ted, along with many other sys­tems, which argu­ably gave the Allies the intel­li­gence advant­age that led to vic­tory in World War 2, it is also where the first digital elec­tronic com­puters, code­named Colos­sus, were oper­ated. Two land­mark events of the 20th century.

Recently The Times repor­ted on this cam­paign. The art­icle also the dwells at some length on how long Bletchley’s secrets were kept by the 10,000 people who worked there dur­ing the war. Although this inform­a­tion was declas­si­fied after 30 years, the habit of secrecy was so deeply ingrained that many former employ­ees never breathed a word. The art­icle laments the passing of this habit of dis­cre­tion from Brit­ish life, stat­ing that politi­cians and senior intel­li­gence officers now appear to view the pos­ses­sion of insider know­ledge as a good pen­sion fund when they come to write their memoirs.

Over the last dec­ade we have see a myriad of books emer­ging for the upper ech­el­ons of gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence in the UK: Alastair Camp­bell, Robin Cook, Wash­ing­ton Ambas­sador Sir Chris­topher Meyer, ex-MI5 chief Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton. Even Tony Blair has appar­ently signed a seven fig­ure deal for his memoirs.

All these books have a num­ber of char­ac­ter­ist­ics in com­mon: they are lengthy, but say little of rel­ev­ance about the burn­ing issues of the day; they appear to have been writ­ten for profit and not in the pub­lic interest; and not one of these writers has ever even been arres­ted under the Offi­cial Secrets Act, even when there is clear prima facie evid­ence of a breach.

Yet these dili­gent authors are the very people who are the first to use the OSA to stifle legit­im­ate dis­clos­ure of crime, cor­rup­tion and incom­pet­ence in the highest levels of gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence by real whis­tleblowers, who risk their careers and their free­dom. The hypo­crisy is breathtaking.

But was the old-fashioned, blanket dis­cre­tion, vaunted by The Times, really such a good thing? The code of “loose talk costs lives” may have made sense dur­ing the Second World War, when this nation was fight­ing for its life. The work at Bletch­ley was mani­festly a suc­cess, obvi­at­ing any need to blow the whistle. But who can tell how these pat­ri­otic men and women would have reacted had they wit­nessed crimes or incom­pet­ence that dam­aged our nation’s secur­ity, led to the deaths of our sol­diers, or even pos­sible defeat?

Also, was the 30-year non-disclosure rule around the work of Bletch­ley really neces­sary? After all, the war had been won, so how could dis­clos­ure bene­fit the enemy? This unthink­ing applic­a­tion of the stand­ard rules cost the UK dearly. In fact, it would be accur­ate to say that it severely dam­aged the UK’s eco­nomic well­being – some­thing the OSA is sup­posed to protect.

In 1943 the Brit­ish were the world lead­ers in digital elec­tronic com­put­ing. The dra­conian Offi­cial Secrets Act pre­cluded the devel­op­ment and com­mer­cial use of this know­ledge in Bri­tain after the war. In fact, mind­bog­glingly, the Colos­sus com­puters were dis­mantled and the research destroyed.

There were no sim­ilar pro­vi­sions affect­ing the Amer­ican cryp­to­graph­ers who had been sta­tioned at Bletch­ley. Con­sequently, after the war they enthu­si­ast­ic­ally applied Brit­ish research and tech­no­logy to develop the US com­puter research pro­gramme and even­tu­ally the mar­ket, pav­ing the way to the suc­cess of Sil­icon Val­ley and the dom­in­a­tion of the world’s IT mar­kets for dec­ades. What price the famed Brit­ish stiff upper lip and dis­cre­tion then?

Of course, there need to be legal pro­vi­sions to pro­tect real secrets that could affect Britain’s national secur­ity. How­ever, this should be pro­por­tion­ate and bal­anced, and should not pre­vent the devel­op­ment of new research and tech­no­lo­gies, the expos­ure in the pub­lic interest of crime, and cer­tainly not the fact our coun­try was taken into war on the basis of lies.

Real­ist­ic­ally, how­ever, in the age of the inter­net such legal pro­vi­sions are increas­ingly mean­ing­less. Des­pite this, more and more coun­tries appear to be adopt­ing Britain’s model of anti­quated and dra­conian secrecy legislation.

We live in a coun­try that crim­in­al­ises any dis­clos­ure of sens­it­ive inform­a­tion – unless it comes in the form of mem­oirs from senior politi­cians, White­hall offi­cials or spooks of course. As always, there is one rule for the gen­er­als and one for the poor bloody infantry.

For the good of our coun­try, we need to rethink this legislation.

The Rise of the Mercenary

Stephen Arm­strong pub­lished an inter­est­ing art­icle in today’s New States­man magazine. Based on his new book War plc: the Rise of the New Cor­por­ate Mer­cen­ary, it exam­ines the rise of the cor­por­ate secur­ity con­sult­ant. Or in basic Eng­lish – mercenaries.

I met Stephen when I was invited by James Whale to review the book on Press TV. I was impressed with his research and depth of know­ledge on this sub­ject. It was an unusu­ally har­mo­ni­ous talk show — rather than arguing, we all took a broadly sim­ilar approach to the issue of mer­cen­ar­ies, over­sight and accountability.

The increas­ing privat­isa­tion of intel­li­gence is an insi­di­ous devel­op­ment in the world of espi­on­age and war. For many dec­ades there have exis­ted on the fringes of the offi­cial intel­li­gence world a few private secur­ity com­pan­ies; think Kroll, Black­wa­ter, Aegis. These com­pan­ies are often the last refuge of .….. former intel­li­gence officers of the west­ern spook organisations.

These people, often frus­trated at the overly bur­eau­cratic nature of the gov­ern­mental spy organ­isa­tions, resign and are gently steered towards these cor­por­a­tions. That, or the relo­ca­tion officers get them nice juicy jobs at mer­chant banks, arms com­pan­ies or inter­na­tional quan­gos. It’s always use­ful to have reli­able chaps in use­ful places, after all.

In the last dec­ade, how­ever, we have seen an explo­sion in the num­ber of these com­pan­ies. One of my former col­leagues is a founder of Dili­gence, which is going from strength to strength. These kinds of com­pan­ies spe­cial­ise in cor­por­ate spy­ing, the neut­ral­isa­tion of oppos­i­tion and protest groups, and secur­ity. The lat­ter usu­ally boils down to provid­ing mil­it­ary muscle in hot spots like Iraq. While I can see the attrac­tion for sol­diers leav­ing crack regi­ments and won­der­ing what on earth they can do with their spe­cial­ised expert­ise, and who then decide that earn­ing £10,000 a week risk­ing their lives in Bagh­dad is a good bet, this has wor­ry­ing implic­a­tions for the rule of law.

Leav­ing aside the small mat­ter that, under inter­na­tional and domestic UK law, all wars of aggres­sion are illegal, our offi­cial Brit­ish mil­it­ary pres­ence in Afgh­anistan and Iraq is at least to a cer­tain degree account­able. The most egre­gious war crimes have res­ul­ted in court mar­tials. But the new mer­cen­ar­ies live in a legal no-man’s land, and in this ter­rit­ory any­thing goes. Or can at least be covered up.

This is the same prin­ciple that has guided these unof­fi­cial spook com­pan­ies over the years – plaus­ible deni­ab­il­ity. What little demo­cratic over­sight there is in the UK of the intel­li­gence com­munity still does give them lim­ited pause for thought: what if the media hears about it? What if an MP asks an awk­ward ques­tion? By using former col­leagues in the cor­por­ate intel­li­gence world, MI5, MI6 et al can out source the risk.

The over­sight and account­ab­il­ity for the offi­cial spooks and the army are bad enough. The privat­isa­tion of intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary might makes a fur­ther mock­ery of the feeble over­sight pro­vi­sions in place in this coun­try. This is a wor­ry­ing devel­op­ment in legal and demo­cratic terms; more import­antly, it has a dir­ect, daily impact on the rights of inno­cent men, women and chil­dren around the world. We need to ensure that the offi­cial and unof­fi­cial spooks and mil­it­ary are account­able under the law.

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.

Sunday Tribune Interview, 2005

Irish Sunday Tribune, July 2005

What really went on in the secret service?

Suz­anne Breen

THEYRE prob­ably out there now, walk­ing about, look­ing for tar­gets, ” says former spy,  Annie Machon, as she sur­veys the bust­ling bars, res­taur­ants and shops in Gatwick Air­port.  MI5 used Heath­row and Gatwick in train­ing courses.  Officers would be sent to the air­ports and instruc­ted to come back with one person’s name, address, date of birth, occu­pa­tion and pass­port or driv­ing licence num­ber … the basic inform­a­tion for MI5 to open a per­sonal file.

They’d have to go up to a com­plete stranger and start chat­ting to them. One male officer nearly got arres­ted.  It was much easier for women officers … nobody’s sus­pi­cious of a woman ask­ing questions.”

Tall, blonde and strik­ingly eleg­ant, Machon (37) could have stepped out of a TV spy drama. She arrives in a simple black dress, with pearl ear­rings, and per­fect oyster nails.  She is charm­ingly polite but, no mat­ter how many ques­tions you ask, she retains the slightly detached, inscrut­able air that prob­ably made her good at her job.

A Cam­bridge Clas­sics gradu­ate, her book, <em>Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers</em>, has just been pub­lished. She worked in ‘F’ branch … MI5’s counter-subversion sec­tion … and ‘T’ branch, where she had a rov­ing brief on Irish ter­ror­ism.  MI5 took 15 months to vet the book. Sec­tions have been blacked out. If Machon dis­closes fur­ther inform­a­tion without approval, she could face pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.

She left MI5 deeply dis­il­lu­sioned. In 1997, she went on the run from the UK with her boy­friend, former fel­low spy David Shayler (39). He was sub­sequently jailed for dis­clos­ing secrets, includ­ing that MI6 had allegedly fun­ded a plot to assas­sin­ate Col­onel Gaddafi.

Machon had “respons­ib­il­ity and free­dom” in MI5 when com­bat­ing Irish ter­ror­ism. “It was won­der­ful when you got res­ults, when you stopped a bomb. That was why I’d joined.  There was a huge under­stand­ing of the IRA and the North­ern Ire­land con­flict.  We weren’t just a bunch of big­ots say­ing “string up the ter­ror­ists”. Some man­agers might have had that atti­tude but it wasn’t shared by most officers.  They acknow­ledged the IRA as the most pro­fes­sional ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion they’d dealt with. Loy­al­ists, and repub­lican splinter groups like the INLA, were a lot less sophisticated.”

Machon didn’t wit­ness state col­lu­sion but is “watch­ing with interest” as cases unfold. She voices some eth­ical con­cerns: MI5 ran a Garda officer as an undeclared agent, which was illegal in the Repub­lic.  If it wanted to tap a phone in the Repub­lic, no war­rant was needed and there was no over­sight pro­ced­ure. An MI5 officer simply asked GCHQ, which inter­cepts com­mu­nic­a­tion, to set it up.

MI5’s approach to the law led to bizarre situations:

Officers cov­ertly entered a house in North­ern Ire­land to install bug­ging equip­ment.  They trashed it up and stole things to make it look like a burg­lary. But MI5 law­yers said it wasn’t leg­ally accept­able to steal so the officers had to go and put the goods back which made it look even more suspicious.”

Machon atten­ded secur­ity meet­ings in North­ern Ire­land. Her life was never in danger, she says. The only col­leagues she knew who were killed were on the Chinook heli­copter which crashed off the Mull of Kintyre in 1994.

Machon had joined the intel­li­gence ser­vices three years earlier. She worked from an office in Bolton Street, May­fair, one of MI5’s three build­ings in Lon­don.  “It was very dilap­id­ated.  There were ancient phones, with wires cross­ing the floor stuck down with tape.  It had battered wooden desks and thread­bare car­pets. There were awful lime-green walls. The dress code in MI5 was very Marks and Spen­cer. MI6 (which com­bats ter­ror­ism abroad) was much smarter, more Saville Row.”

MI5’s pres­ence in the build­ing was meant to be a secret but every­body knew, says Machon: “The guide on the open-top Lon­don tour bus which passed by would tell pas­sen­gers, ‘and on your right is MI5’.  We were advised to get out of taxis at the top of the street, not the front door, but all the drivers knew any­way. Later, we moved to mod­ern headquar­ters in Thames House.”

Being a spy isn’t what people think, Machon says.  “It wasn’t exactly James Bond, with glam­or­ous, cocktail-drinking espi­on­age.  There were excit­ing bits, like meet­ing agents in safe houses, but there were plenty of bor­ing days.  Mostly, I’d be pro­cessing ‘linen’ — the product from tele­phone taps … or read­ing inter­cep­ted mail or agents’ reports. You get to know your tar­gets well from eaves­drop­ping on their lives.  You learn all sorts of things, like if they’re sleep­ing with someone behind their partner’s back. It’s sur­real know­ing so much about people you don’t know; and then it rap­idly becomes very normal.”

Machon claims the intel­li­gence ser­vices were often sham­bolic, and blun­ders meant three IRA bombs in 1993 … includ­ing Bish­opsgate, which cost £350m …could have been pre­ven­ted.  “MI5 has this super-slick image but some­times it was just a very Brit­ish muddle.  Tapes from tele­phone taps would be binned without being tran­scribed because there wasn’t the per­son­nel to listen to them.  On occa­sions, MI5 did respond quickly, but then it could take weeks to get a war­rant for a phone tap because man­agers pondered so long over the applic­a­tion word­ing … whether to use ‘but’ or ‘how­ever’, ‘may’ or ‘might’.

Mobile sur­veil­lance (who fol­low tar­gets) were bloody good. There were some amaz­ingly cap­able officers who were often wasted.  Des­pite everything prom­ised about MI5 mod­ern­ising, it remained very hier­arch­ical, with the old guard, which had cut its teeth in the Cold War, dom­in­at­ing.  They were used to a static tar­get. They’re not up to the job of deal­ing with mobile extrem­ist Islamic ter­ror­ism. We’ve been play­ing catch-up with al Qaeda for years.”

Machon says MI5 pays sur­pris­ingly badly: “I star­ted on £15,000 … entrants now get about £20,000. A detect­ive con­stable in the Met was on twice my salary.  Of course, it’s about more than money but you must reward to keep good people.  If you pay pea­nuts, you end up with monkeys.”

Machon grew up in Guern­sey, in the Chan­nel Islands, the daugh­ter of a news­pa­per editor. “I was apolit­ical. My only know­ledge of spy­ing was watch­ing John Le Carre’s drama Tinker, Tailor, Sol­dier, Spy.”  After tak­ing For­eign Office exams, she received a let­ter on MoD note­pa­per.  “There may be other jobs you would find more inter­est­ing, ” it said. Intrigued, she rang. It was MI5.

Dur­ing the recruit­ment pro­cess, every aspect of her life from the age of 12 was invest­ig­ated. “I’d to nom­in­ate four friends from dif­fer­ent phases of my life. After they were ques­tioned, they had to nom­in­ate another four people.  I con­fessed to smoking dope twice. I was quizzed about my sexual his­tory by a sweet old lady who looked like my grand­mother but resembled Miss Marple in her inter­rog­a­tion.  She asked if I was gay.  The rules have since changed, but then MI5 regarded homo­sexu­al­ity as a defect. If you lied and were found out, you’d be sacked on the spot.  In the­ory, they regarded promis­cu­ity as a weak­ness, but there were plenty of extra-marital affairs. One couple were twice caught shag­ging in the office.  The male officer, who was very bad at his job, was put on ‘garden­ing leave’ … sent home on full pay. The woman, an Arabic-speaking trans­lator who was great at her job, was sacked.”

A cul­ture of “rampant drunk­en­ness” exis­ted, says Machon: “There was an oper­a­tion against a Czech dip­lo­mat who was also a spy.  The officer run­ning it got pissed, went round with his mates to the diplomat’s house, and shouted oper­a­tional details through the letter-box at him.”

Recruits were encour­aged to tell fam­ily and close friends they were MI5, and any­one else that they worked for the MoD.

MI5 had one mil­lion per­sonal files (PFs), Machon says. “I came across files on celebrit­ies, prom­in­ent politi­cians, law­yers, and journ­al­ists. It was ridicu­lous. There were files on Jack Straw, Mo Mow­lam, Peter Hain, Patri­cia Hewitt, Ted Heath, Tony and Cherie Blair, Gareth Peirce, and Mohamed Al Fayed.  There was a file on ‘sub­vers­ives’ in the music industry, includ­ing the Sex Pis­tols and UB40.

At recruit­ment, I was told MI5 no longer obsessed about ‘reds under the bed’, yet there was a file on a school­boy who had writ­ten to the Com­mun­ist Party ask­ing for inform­a­tion for a school pro­ject.  A man divor­cing his wife had writ­ten to MI5 say­ing she was a com­mun­ist, so a file was opened on her. MI5 never des­troys a file.”

The rank­ing in import­ance of tar­gets could be sur­pris­ing. PF3 was (and is) Leon Trot­sky; PF2, Vladi­mir Ilych Lenin; PF1 was Eamon De Valera.

MI5 cur­rently has around 3,000 employ­ees. About a quarter are officers; the rest are tech­nical, admin­is­trat­ive and other sup­port staff, accord­ing to Machon.

In recent years, MI5 appoin­ted two female dir­ector gen­er­als … Stella Rim­ming­ton, and the cur­rent dir­ector gen­eral, Dame Eliza Manningham-Butler. “I always found Stella very cold and I wasn’t impressed with her cap­ab­il­it­ies. There was an ele­ment of token­ism in her appoint­ment.  Eliza is like Ann Widdecombe’s bossy sis­ter, ” says Machon, mis­chiev­ously rais­ing an eye­brow. “She scares a lot of men. She is seen as hand-bagging her way to the top.”

Machon says the only way of respond­ing to the grow­ing ter­ror­ist threat is for the present intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture to be replaced by a single counter-terrorist agency.  The intense rivalry between MI5, MI6, Spe­cial Branch and mil­it­ary intel­li­gence means they’re often more hos­tile to each other than to their tar­gets. ID cards and fur­ther dra­conian secur­ity legis­la­tion will offer no pro­tec­tion, she says.

Machon was act­ive in the anti-war cam­paign. She believes there is an “80% chance” that Dr David Kelly, the gov­ern­ment sci­ent­ist who ques­tioned the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruc­tion within 45 minutes, didn’t com­mit sui­cide but was murdered on MI5’s instructions.

Other sus­pi­cious minds won­der if Machon and Shayler ever left MI5. Could it be an elab­or­ate plot to make them more effect­ive agents? By pos­ing as whis­tleblowers, they gain the entry to rad­ical, leftwing circles.

Machon dis­misses this the­ory: “It would be very deep cover indeed to go to those lengths. Gareth Peirce is our soli­citor. She trusts us and she’s no fool.” Machon says while they have no regrets, they’ve paid a huge emo­tional and fin­an­cial price for chal­len­ging the secret state. They sur­vive on money from the odd news­pa­per art­icle and TV inter­view. Home is a small ter­raced house in East­bourne, east Sus­sex, where they grow toma­toes and have two cats.

Are they still friends with serving MI5 officers? “No com­ment!” says Machon with a smile. These days, she goes places she never did.

When she addresses leftwing meet­ings, someone often approaches at the end.  “You must know my file?” they say.

Spies, Lies & Whis­tleblowers’ by Annie Machon is pub­lished by The Book Guild, £17.95

May 2005 — The Times

MI5 kept school­boy on its files

The part­ner of David Shayler reveals how a let­ter to the Com­mun­ist Party brought its youth­ful author to the atten­tion of the secur­ity services

August 2005

A BOY who wrote a let­ter to the Brit­ish Com­mun­ist Party for a school pro­ject ended up with his own MI5 file, a former Secur­ity Ser­vice officer claimed yesterday.

The boy had asked for inform­a­tion for his school topic, but his let­ter was secretly opened by MI5 in the 1970s when the Com­mun­ist Party was still regarded as a hot­bed of sub­ver­sion, accord­ing to Annie Machon, who worked for the domestic intel­li­gence ser­vice from 1991 to 1996.

Ms Machon is the part­ner of David Shayler, the former MI5 officer jailed under the Offi­cial Secrets Act for dis­clos­ing inform­a­tion acquired in the service.

In a book which has been passed for pub­lic­a­tion by her former employ­ers, Ms Machon says that the schoolboy’s let­ter was copied, as was all cor­res­pond­ence to the Brit­ish Com­mun­ist Party at that time, “and used to cre­ate a PF (per­sonal file), where he was
iden­ti­fied as a ‘?com­mun­ist sympathiser’ ”.

On another occa­sion, a man who was divor­cing his wife wrote to MI5 claim­ing that she was involved in Com­mun­ism, and she was the sub­ject of a per­sonal file, Ms Machon claims in her book, Spies, Lies & Whistleblowers.

She saw the two files, among “more than a mil­lion” when work­ing at MI5, and claimed that they had been in the Secur­ity Ser­vice archives for 20 years. “Why was this inform­a­tion still avail­able to desk officers some 20 years after these indi­vidu­als had first come to atten­tion, in less than sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances?” she writes.

Mr Shayler also made alleg­a­tions about the con­tents of per­sonal Secur­ity Ser­vice files
in 1997, after he left the agency. He said that there were files on Jack Straw, Peter Man­del­son, Peter Hain, Mo Mow­lam, John Len­non and the Sex Pis­tols, among oth­ers. Mr Shayler was charged under the Offi­cial Secrets Act for dis­clos­ing other secret inform­a­tion acquired when he was a serving intel­li­gence officer, and was sen­tenced at the Old Bailey
to six months in prison in 2002.

Ms Machon, 36, who worked in three depart­ments of MI5 — counter-subversion, Irish ter­ror­ism and inter­na­tional ter­ror­ism — joins a rel­at­ively short list of former Secur­ity Ser­vice officers who have man­aged to write books without end­ing up in jail.

The last former MI5 officer to get clear­ance was Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, who was
Director-General of the ser­vice from 1992 to 1996.

Peter Wright, who made alleg­a­tions of bug­ging and burg­lary by the Secur­ity Ser­vice in Spycatcher, pub­lished in 1987, got away with it by mov­ing to Tasmania.

Ms Machon repeats alleg­a­tions made by Mr Shayler that MI6 helped to fund an assas­sin­a­tion attempt against Col­onel Gad­dafi, the Libyan leader, in 1996. It was dis­missed by Robin Cook, the former For­eign Sec­ret­ary, as “pure fantasy”.