OHM 2013 — The Great Spook Panel

Finally the videos from the whis­tleblower track at the August inter­na­tional geek­fest OHM 2013 in the Neth­er­lands are begin­ning to emerge. Here’s one of the key ses­sions, the Great Spook Panel, with ex-CIA Ray McGov­ern, ex-FBI Coleen Row­ley, ex-NSA Tom Drake, ex-Department of Justice Jes­selyn Radack, and myself.

We came together to show, en masse, that whis­tleblow­ing is done for the demo­cratic good, to dis­cuss the (fright­en­ingly sim­ilar) exper­i­ences we all went through, and to show that whis­tleblowers can sur­vive the pro­cess, build new lives, and even poten­tially thrive.

Here is a great art­icle about the whis­tleblowers at OHM by Silkie Carlo (@silkiecarlo) for Vice Magazine.

With the recent cases of Chelsea Man­ning, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, respect to the OHM organ­isers who saw the rel­ev­ance of this event so far ahead.

OHM 2013 — The Joy of Geeks

ohm2013_logoHome and recovered from the rigours of the amaz­ing geek­fest, OHM 2013.

This was a 5-day fest­ival in the Neth­er­lands where 3000 geeks, act­iv­ists and whis­tleblowers gathered to have fun and also try to put the world to rights.  And this crowd, out of all act­iv­ist groups, has a fight­ing chance. The geeks are tooled-up, tech-savvy, and increas­ingly politi­cised after all the recent assaults on the inter­net and wider freedoms.

These include all the anti-piracy meas­ures (inter­est­ingly, Rus­sia has just joined the lost war that is the anti-piracy legis­la­tion, and the Rus­sian pir­ates are going to form a Pir­ate Church, as this will give them spe­cial pro­tec­tions and rights under the law). It also includes all the invi­di­ous inter­na­tional agree­ments that the US and its Euro-vassals are try­ing to force down the throats of reluct­ant pop­u­la­tions: ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, TAFTA.… you name it, there’s a whole new anti-freedom alpha­bet soup out there in addi­tion to the spook acronyms.

Not to men­tion all the illegal US take-downs of legit­im­ate busi­ness web­sites, such as Megaup­load, and the pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance powers of the NSA and its global intel­li­gence bud­dies, long sus­pec­ted by many and now proven by the dis­clos­ures of the cour­ageous Edward Snowden.

So it was lovely to see at OHM an increas­ing politi­cisa­tion. This was partly because of all the above recent hor­rors, but also because the OHM organ­isers had pulled together a strong polit­ical and whis­tleblow­ing speaker track. The attack against digital civil liber­ties is inex­tric­ably linked to and reflect­ive of the full-frontal attack on our his­toric real-world freedoms:  endemic sur­veil­lance, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, CIA kill lists, illegal wars, drone strikes, secret courts, and many other encroach­ing hor­rors that I have writ­ten about ad nauseam. And this is just what we know about.

sinking_shipIn my view our West­ern demo­cra­cies have been at least fatally holed, if they have not yet foundered. Which, of course, means that our viol­ent, inter­ven­tion­ist attempts to bring “demo­cracy” to the devel­op­ing world are derided as hypo­crit­ical at best, and viol­ently res­isted at worst.

The new front-line of this struggle is “cyber” war­fare — be it the illegal aggress­ive attacks of such US/Israeli vir­uses against Iran such as Stuxnet (that is now roam­ing free in the wild and mutat­ing), or the slower wars of attri­tion against “pir­ates”, hack­ers, Wikileaks, and the grow­ing war on whis­tleblowers such as Brad­ley Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

Well, geeks are the new res­ist­ance and they have a fight­ing chance in my view. And this is why I think that they are our best hope.

SAMSUNGThis was my exper­i­ence of OHM. Three thou­sand of the best and the bright­est from around the world gathered together not just to have fun play­ing with bleeding-edge tech, hack­ing and build­ing toys, and cre­at­ing slightly sur­real, if beloved, hover-pets (see right), but also who turned out in their thou­sands to listen to and absorb the exper­i­ences of a num­ber of inter­na­tional intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers. In the wake of the Edward Snowden case, this is a hot topic in these circles and there was a huge impetus to help.

We whis­tleblowers had a fab­ulous time too. One is a “natural-born geek” — Tom Drake, formerly of the NSA, who was threatened with 35 years in prison because he dared to dis­close prob­lems with his organ­isa­tion. His law­yer, gov­ern­ment lawyer-turned-whistleblower Jes­selyn Radack, also spoke of her exper­i­ences. Coleen Row­ley, the FBI whis­tleblower who exposed the intel­li­gence fail­ure in the US in the run-up to 9/11 and was voted Time Per­son of the Year in 2002 also gave a fant­astic talk called “Secrecy Kills”, and former CIA ana­lyst and pres­id­en­tial “briefer”, Ray McGov­ern, gave the open­ing key­note speech, focus­ing on the need to speak out and pre­serve our rights. I fin­ished the quin­tet of whis­tleblowers and provided the Euro-perspective.

And of course the pat­ron saint of whis­tleblowers also did one of the key talks — but he had to be beamed in. Julian Assange, who was free to attend HAR, the last such event in the Neth­er­lands four years ago, was unavoid­ably detained in his embassy refuge in the UK.

OHM_Great_Spook_Panel_2013

Photo by Rein­oud van Leeuwen (http://​rein​oud​.van​.leeuwen​.net/)

The whis­tleblowers all came together for one of the big ses­sions of OHM — the “Great Spook Panel”, mod­er­ated by the indom­it­able Nick Farr. The panel was basic­ally a call to arms for the next gen­er­a­tion. This addressed the need to stand up to pro­tect our rights against all the egre­gious erosions that have occurred since 9/11.  The response was hugely enthu­si­astic. I hope this goes global, and the wider com­munity fol­lows up.

It cer­tainly did in one way. Ray McGov­ern announced the estab­lish­ment of the Edward Snowden Defence Fund at the end of the panel dis­cus­sion, and the dona­tions poured in for the rest of the event.

So a very suc­cess­ful fest­ival. How do I make that assess­ment? Well, on top of all the fun, vari­ety of talks and net­work­ing, the Dutch intel­li­gence ser­vice, the AIVD (an unfortunate-sounding name to most Eng­lish speak­ers), reques­ted a plat­form at the event after the Great Spook Panel was announced in the programme.

Such an act­ive and open response shows a degree of push-back against a per­ceived “threat”. No doubt the organ­isa­tion wanted to inject the estab­lish­ment anti-venom before the truth-tellers had their say. Any­way, on the grounds that most whis­tleblowers are gen­er­ally denied a main­stream media plat­form and/or are smeared, the AIVD was pro­hib­ited the stage.

Of course, the AIVD would have been very wel­come to buy a ticket like nor­mal humans or pay the cor­por­ate rate to attend to show sup­port for the com­munity — its officers might have learned something.…

Lies, damned lies, and newspaper reporting…

Also on the Huff­ing­ton Post UK, RT, The Real News Net­work, nsnbc, and Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House:

Where to start with this tangled skein of media spin, mis­rep­res­ent­a­tion and out­right hypocrisy?

Last week the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence presen­ted this year’s award to Dr Tom Fin­gar at a cere­mony jointly hos­ted by the pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Union Soci­ety.

Thomas_FingarDr Fin­gar, cur­rently a vis­it­ing lec­turer at Oxford, had in 2007 co-ordinated the pro­duc­tion of the US National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate — the com­bined ana­lysis of all 16 of America’s intel­li­gence agen­cies — which assessed that the Ira­nian nuc­lear weapon­isa­tion pro­gramme had ceased in 2003.  This con­sidered and author­it­at­ive Estim­ate dir­ectly thwarted the 2008 US drive towards war against Iran, and has been reaf­firmed every year since then.

By the very fact of doing his job of provid­ing dis­pas­sion­ate and object­ive assess­ments and res­ist­ing any pres­sure to politi­cise the intel­li­gence (à la Down­ing Street Memo), Dr Fingar’s work is out­stand­ing and he is the win­ner of Sam Adams Award, 2012.  This may say some­thing about the par­lous state of our intel­li­gence agen­cies gen­er­ally, but don’t get me star­ted on that…

Any­way, as I said, the award cere­mony was co-hosted by the Oxford Union Soci­ety last week, and many Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates atten­ded, often trav­el­ling long dis­tances to do so.  Former win­ners were asked to speak at the cere­mony, such as FBI Coleen Row­ley, GCHQ Kath­er­ine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and former UK Ambas­sador Craig Mur­ray.  Other asso­ci­ates, includ­ing CIA Ray McGov­ern, dip­lo­mats Ann Wright and Brady Kiesling and myself also said a few words.  As former insiders and whis­tleblowers, we recog­nised the vitally import­ant work that Dr Fin­gar had done and all spoke about the import­ance of integ­rity in intelligence.

One other pre­vi­ous win­ner of the Sam Adams Award was also invited to speak — Julian Assange of Wikileaks.  He spoke elo­quently about the need for integ­rity and was gra­cious in prais­ing the work of Dr Fingar.

All the national and inter­na­tional media were invited to attend what was an his­toric gath­er­ing of inter­na­tional whis­lteblowers and cover an award given to someone who, by doing their job with integ­rity, pre­ven­ted yet fur­ther ruin­ous war and blood­shed in the Middle East.

Few atten­ded, still fewer repor­ted on the event, and the prom­ised live stream­ing on You­tube was blocked by shad­owy powers at the very last minute — an irony con­sid­er­ing the Oxford Union is renowned as a free speech society.

But worse was to come.  The next day The Guard­ian news­pa­per, which his­tor­ic­ally fell out with Wikileaks, pub­lished a myopic hit-piece about the event. No men­tion of all the whis­tleblowers who atten­ded and what they said, no men­tion of the award to Dr Fin­gar, no men­tion of the fact that his work saved the Ira­nian people from need­less war.

Oh no, the entire piece focused on the taw­dry alleg­a­tions eman­at­ing from Sweden about Julian Assange’s extra­di­tion case.  Dis­count­ing the 450 stu­dents who applauded all the speeches, dis­count­ing all the ser­i­ous points raised by Julian Assange dur­ing his present­a­tion, and dis­count­ing the speeches of all the other inter­na­tion­ally renowned whis­tleblowers present that even­ing, The Guardian’s reporter, Amelia Hill, focused on the small demo out­side the event and the only three attendees she could appar­ently find to cri­ti­cise the fact that a plat­form, any plat­form, had been given to Assange from his polit­ical asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Amelia_HillSo this is where we arrive at the deep, really deep, hypo­crisy of the even­ing.  Amelia Hill is, I’m assum­ing,  the same Guard­ian journ­al­ist who was threatened in 2011 with pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  She had allegedly been receiv­ing leaks from the Met­ro­pol­itan Police about the on-going invest­ig­a­tion into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

At the time Fleet Street was up in arms — how dare the police threaten one of their own with pro­sec­u­tion under the OSA for expos­ing insti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion? Shades of the Shayler case were used in her defence. As I wrote at the time, it’s a shame the UK media could not have been more con­sist­ently robust in con­demning the chilling effects of the OSA on the free-flow of inform­a­tion and pro­tect all the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, and not just come out fight­ing when it is one of their own being threatened.  Such is the way of the world.…

But really, Ms Hill — if you are indeed the same reporter who was threatened with pro­sec­u­tion in 2011 under the OSA — exam­ine your conscience.

How can you write a hit-piece focus­ing purely on Assange — a man who has designed a pub­lish­ing sys­tem to pro­tect poten­tial whis­tleblowers from pre­cisely such dra­conian secrecy laws as you were hyper­bol­ic­ally threatened with? And how could you, at the same time, air­brush out of his­tory the testi­mony of so many whis­tleblowers gathered together, many of whom have indeed been arres­ted and have faced pro­sec­u­tion under the terms of the OSA or US secrecy legislation?

Have you no shame?  You know how fright­en­ing it is to be faced with such a prosecution.

Your hypo­crisy is breath-taking.

The offence was com­poun­ded when the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates all wrote a let­ter to The Guard­ian to set the record straight. The ori­ginal let­ter is repro­duced below, and this is what was pub­lished.  Of course, The Guard­ian has a per­fect right under its Terms and Con­di­tions to edit the let­ter, but I would like every­one to see how this can be used and abused.

And the old media won­ders why they are in decline?

Let­ter to The Guard­ian, 29 Janu­ary 2013:

Dear Sir

With regard to the 24 Janu­ary art­icle in The Guard­ian entitled “Julian Assange Finds No Allies and Tough Quer­ies in Oxford Uni­ver­sity Talk,” we ques­tion whether the newspaper’s reporter was actu­ally present at the event, since the account con­tains so many false and mis­lead­ing statements.

If The Guard­ian could “find no allies” of Mr. Assange, it did not look very hard! They could be found among the appre­ci­at­ive audi­ence of the packed Oxford Union Debate Hall, and — in case you missed us — in the group seated right at the front of the Hall: the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intelligence.

Many in our group — which, you might be inter­ested to know co-sponsored the event with Oxford Union — had traveled con­sid­er­able dis­tances at our own expense to con­fer the 10th annual Sam Adams award to Dr. Thomas Fin­gar for his work on over­see­ing the 2007 National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate that revealed the lack of an Ira­nian nuc­lear weapon­iz­a­tion program.

Many of us spoke in turn about the need for integ­rity in intel­li­gence, describ­ing the ter­rible eth­ical dilemma that con­fronts gov­ern­ment employ­ees who wit­ness illegal activ­ity includ­ing ser­i­ous threats to pub­lic safety and fraud, waste and abuse.

But none of this made it into what was sup­posed to pass for a news art­icle; neither did any aspect of the accept­ance speech delivered by Dr. Fin­gar. Also, why did The Guard­ian fail to provide even one sali­ent quote from Mr Assange’s sub­stan­tial twenty-minute address?

By cen­sor­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates and the speeches by Dr. Fin­gar and Mr. Assange, and by focus­ing exclus­ively on taw­dry and unproven alleg­a­tions against Mr. Assange, rather than on the import­ance of expos­ing war crimes and main­tain­ing integ­rity in intel­li­gence pro­cesses, The Guard­ian has suc­ceeded in dimin­ish­ing none but itself.

Sin­cerely,

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intelligence:

Ann Wright (retired Army Col­onel and For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), Ray McGov­ern (retired CIA ana­lyst), Eliza­beth Mur­ray (retired CIA ana­lyst), Coleen Row­ley (retired FBI agent), Annie Machon (former MI5 intel­li­gence officer), Thomas Drake (former NSA offi­cial), Craig Mur­ray (former Brit­ish Ambas­sador), David MacMi­chael (retired CIA ana­lyst), Brady Kiesling (former For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), and Todd Pierce (retired U.S. Army Major, Judge Advoc­ate, Guantanamo Defense Counsel).

FBI Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds

Sibel_EdmondsI strongly recom­mend you take the time to watch this film about FBI whis­tleblower, Sibel Edmonds.

Kill the Mes­sen­ger”  joins some inter­est­ing dots, not just about what might have been going on round Sibel’s case, but also adds a dif­fer­ent per­spect­ive to the notori­ous out­ing of CIA officer, Valerie Plame.

Of course, a film that invest­ig­ates how the might of the state can be used to stifle the legit­im­ate dis­sent of a whis­tleblower will always res­on­ate with me.

Same mes­sage, dif­fer­ent country.