Talk at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism

Wikileaks spokesman, Kristinn Hrafnsson, invited me to speak at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism while I was in Iceland in February.

While focusing on the intersection and control between intelligence and the media, my talk also explores many of my other current areas of interest.

Iceland Journalists talk 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

Part Two of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:

A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our freedom of speech is looming and, for once, I am not inveighing against the Official Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pungent reputation as the libel capital of the world. And now it appears that this wonderful practice is going "offshore".

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take exception to a book written and published about them in the USA.   US law, somewhat surprisingly considering its current parlous state, provided no route to sue.   However, some bright legal spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offending book had been sold in the UK – even if only a handful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon.co.uk – and Mr Justice Eady helped the process along magnificently.  

And so was born the concept of "libel tourism".  Satirical current affairs magazine Private Eye has long been campaigning against this, other UK news outlets gradually followed suit, and the UK government is finally taking steps to rein in these egregious, if lucrative, legal practices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that's precisely when your offshore crown dependencies, otherwise known as British tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubious financial practices of these islands, the most geographically convenient being the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the attitude to self-regulation makes the practices of the Square Mile look positively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guernsey is looking to become a hub of another lucrative offshore practice: libel tourism.  

Guernsey has its own parliament – the States –  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK mainland, a firm of offshore tax lawyers has identified a wonderful business opportunity. 

Jason Romer is the managing partner and intellectual property specialist at the large "wealth management" legal firm Collas Crill.  According to his firm's website, he also, coincidentally, sits on the island's Commercial IP Steering Group and the Drafting Sub-Committee, and is thus conveniently on hand to steer the new legislation through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coincidentally, he appears to be an enthusiastic advocate of Eady's infamous "super-injunction" regime which has had such a chillingly expensive effect on the British media in the last decade.

So, if this law is passed, anyone, anywhere around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their "image rights" in Guernsey.  These rights can even last indefinitely after the original owner's death.

This means that anyone, anywhere, who feels that their "image" has been inappropriately reproduced/copied/pirated – the correct legal terminology is hazy –  can then sue through the Guernsey courts for redress.  This could potentially be a powerful new global tool for the suppression of free speech.  As public outcry swells internationally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemocratic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap precisely in the wrong direction.  

Guernsey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recognition over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infestation of offshore bankers and trust fund lawyers, it has been tarmac-ed over by greed and social division. Before then it was proud of its egalitarianism, Norman-French heritage, beautifully anachronistic pace of life, and an economy based on tomatoes and tourism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its economy based on rotten financial apples and offshore libel tourism.

I just wanted to get that out of my system now – while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for damaging its "image rights"…. 

WikiLeaks Discussion Panel with Julian Assange, HAR NL 2009

Last year I had the honour to meet Julian Assange, the founder of the brilliant whistleblower website, WikiLeaks, that has been causing such a stir recently with the release of the decrypted US military film,  “Collateral Murder“, and recently with the Afghan War Logs

I have nothing but respect for WikiLeaks – it shines a torch into the dark corners of corrupt government and big business, and is the way forward in holding these organisations, which largely believe themselves to be above the law, at least somewhat to account. 

Julian was kind enough to invite me to take part in a panel discussion with him at the Hacking at Random festival in the Netherlands last year.  The discussion focused on whistleblowing and government accountability.  Here’s the video:

August 2007 Mail on Sunday Article

David Shayler’s former partner reveals: How the bullying State crushed him
By ANNIE MACHON

Link to daily mail original – link to Daily Mail comments

Ten years ago this month former MI5 officer David Shayler made shocking revelations in this newspaper about how Britain’s spies were unable to deal with the growing threat of global terrorism.

He disclosed how MI5’s peculiar obsession with bureaucracy and secrecy prevented crucial information being used to stop bombings. And he told how insufficient agents and inept decision-making meant that terrorist groups were not properly monitored.

None of his original disclosures was shown to be wrong. Indeed, in 2005 the bombings in London proved the whistleblower correct: MI5 was not equipped to counter terror on our streets.

The Government response to David’s disclosures was to place a gagging order on The Mail on Sunday and launch a six-year campaign to discredit and persecute Shayler. Alastair Campbell threatened to ‘send in the heavies’ and the whistleblower was forced into exile abroad, jailed twice and sued for damages; his friends and family were harassed and some arrested.

He faced a bleak, uncertain future and for many years he was under intense stress and pressure, often isolated and always under surveillance. I had a ringside seat for the ‘Get Shayler’ operation because I was an MI5 officer at the same time (1991-96) and also his girlfriend and co-campaigner until last year when I ended my relationship with a broken man.

I witnessed first-hand the extraordinary psychological, physical and emotional burden of being a whistleblower when the full power of the secret State is launched against you. A decade on the results of that pernicious campaign became clear when I heard that David had proclaimed himself as “The Messiah” and “God” and could predict the weather. I was saddened but not shocked. The story of David Shayler is not just one of a whistleblower but also an indictment of the lack of democracy and accountability in Britain.

I first met David when we were both working in F2, the counter-subversion section of MI5, where we were repeatedly reassured that MI5 had to work within the law. We were young and keen to help protect our country. I noticed David immediately, as he was very bright, and always asked the difficult questions. Over a period of a year we became friends, and then we fell in love.

In the run-up to the 1992 General Election we were involved in assessing any parliamentary candidate and potential MP. This meant that they all had their names cross-referenced with MI5’s database. If any candidates had a file, this was reviewed. We saw files on most of the top politicians of the past decade, from Tony Blair down, something that gave us concerns.

We then both moved to G Branch, the international counter-terrorist division, with David heading the Libyan section. It was here that he witnessed a catalogue of errors and crimes: the illegal phone-tapping of a prominent Guardian journalist, the failure of MI5 to prevent the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London in July 1994, which resulted in the wrongful conviction of two innocent Palestinians, and the attempted assassination of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya.

David raised this with his bosses at the time but they showed no interest. So we resigned from MI5 after deciding to go public to force an inquiry into the Gaddafi plot.

After The Mail on Sunday revelations we decamped to France while David tried to get the Government to take his evidence and investigate MI5’s crimes, something, to this day, it has refused to do. Rather than addressing the problem, the Intelligence Services tried to shoot the messenger. They planted stories claiming David was a fantasist, overlooked for promotion, and was too junior to know what he was talking about. These are classic tactics used against whistleblowers and were wheeled out again when Dr David Kelly took his life.

We eventually returned home in 2000, by which time David felt isolated and angry. He began to distrust friends and thought that many of them might be reporting on him. He was convinced he was constantly followed and began to take photographs of people in the street. When the trial started, and with David effectively gagged, the jury had no choice but to convict.

He received a six-month sentence but the judgment exonerated him of placing agents’ lives at risk, conceding that he had spoken out in what he thought to be the public interest. David had blown the whistle with the best of motives. He had exposed heinous State crimes up to and including murder, yet he was the one in prison with his reputation in tatters. His release from jail saw a changed man. David was full of anger, frustration and bitterness and became depressed and withdrawn. He was drawn to the spiritual teachings of kabbalah, and became obsessed with the subject instead of focusing on what we should do to survive. Last summer, I went away for a weekend. When I returned, David had shaved off all his hair and his eyebrows as part of his spiritual evolution. He knew that I had always loved his long, thick hair, so it felt like a personal slap in the face. He was in trouble. He was quick to anger if anyone questioned him. He became obsessive about little details, espoused wacky theories and shunned his family and old friends. His paranoia also escalated. His experience of being hounded and vilified for a decade had left a deep persecution complex. Eventually the strain was too much and I ended the relationship.

It was difficult as we had shared so much over the 14 years we had been together, but it felt that we were no longer a team – David was focusing only on esoteric issues. Looking back, I am still proud of what we did. I believe that if you witness the crimes that we did, you have to take action. But the price for taking that stand against a bully State can be high. It is tragic to see an honourable and brave man crushed in this way. The British Establishment is ruthless in protecting its own interests rather than those of our country. Today David Shayler is living testimony to that.

Terrorism Act used against Journalist

A worrying article in today’s Guardian by the indefatigable Duncan Campbell, in which he reports that police are using the Terrorism Act (2000) to try to force a journalist to hand over information from a source.

This issue is the scared cow of journalism – that they never reveal their sources. To do so would immediately deter whistleblowers from speaking in confidence to the media, and government crimes and lies would remain secret. The protection of journalistic sources contributes to safeguarding our democracy, as legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act (2000) is effectively toothless when up against the inner workings of the state.

Because of this, journalists with integrity in this country and abroad are willing to risk prison rather than hand over their notes. As Campbell remarks, this happened to Martin Bright in 2000 when he was Home Affairs Editor at The Observer. The Metropolitan Police Special Branch went crashing into the offices on Farringdon Road, demanding that he hand over all his notes on the Shayler case. More bizarrely, they also demanded a letter Shayler had sent to The Guardian, even though it had already been published in the newspaper. Thankfully for Martin, the National Union of Journalists supported him, and the police eventually backed off.

The fact that the police are using the Terrorism Act as is a worrying new development. But it’s not just production orders from the police that journalists and newspapers have to be worried about. The authorities have a range of weapons in their arsenal if they choose to suppress information emanating from inner government circles or the intelligence world. And yet it is within these very circles that the most heinous crimes and violations are committed, and whence the most significant whistleblowers tend to emerge. Think Dr David Kelly, David Shayler, Katherine Gun.

So, what else can the authorities use to suppress valid criticism? Well, firstly and most notoriously, we have the Official Secrets Act in the UK. This does not just prevent intelligence officers and notified government officials from ever speaking to anyone outside the agency about anything, ever (Section 1(1)). Slightly less well known is Section 5, which makes it a crime for any journalist to receive or elicit information from these whistleblowers that damages “national security” (the term to this day remains undefined). Of course, as we saw in the Shayler case, the government is always extremely reluctant to cross the media and enforce this, so it is usually just the unfortunate whistleblower who is hung out to dry.

If the threat of the OSA fails, the government can always find a tame judge to issue an emergency injunction. Again, this happened in the Shayler case, when an injunction was taken out both against him and the UK’s national media. Needless to say, the injunction against the media was dropped (even this government quailed at the prospect of taking on News International and the Mail group), but remains in place to this day against the hapless whistleblower.

This injunction is no small thing. The government’s lawyers have used it to frighten off publishers from even looking at a novel (that’s right – a work of fiction) that Shayler wrote in 1998. Letters winged their way from government lawyers to UK publishers in London in 1999. And when Shayler built a website, hosted by Tabnet in California, the government wrote to them pointing out that there was an injunction in place and asking for the site to be taken down. Tabnet gently pointed out that perhaps the British government had forgotten about 1776, and continued to host the site.

If the OSA and injunctions are not enough, we also have the notorious D Notice Committee (now rebranded as the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee), a body that can block publication of a story by issuing a notice at the say-so of the government. Very appropriate in a so-called democracy. What makes it worse is that the Committee is made up of volunteers from amongst the great and the good from the media world, as well as representatives from government departments. These guys, senior editors and TV executives, enter the charmed inner circle and start to police their own industry. It’s amazing how quickly new appointees go native and fight the government’s corner.

So there you have it – a whole battery of laws to protect the British Establishment from the scrutiny and constructive criticism of the media. When a journalist of integrity stands up to the authorities, we should all support them. They are providing a crucial service of ventilation and accountability for our retreating democracy. I wish Shiv Malik, the freelancer at the eye of the current storm, the very best.

 

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.

 

Legal doublethink re whistleblowers – my CPBF article, July 2006

Thanks to Wikileaks the concept of whistleblowing is once again, rightly, back in the prime-time news slots.

To highlight the British legal doublethink when it comes to whistleblowing cases, I reproduce below an article I wrote in 2006 for the excellent UK Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom organisation (CPBF).

Basically, the ruling stated that a whistleblower cannot repeat their own disclosures in public, even though anyone else in the world can:

Hogarth_judge In 2006 I hadn’t heard of Mr “Justice” Eady (he had yet to reach his maximum velocity), but he seems to have built up of bit of form since then.  He is now most notorious for his punitive rulings in many “libel tourismcases and celeb sex scandals, not to mention the odious concept of the super-injunction, startlingly exemplified in the Trafigura case about allegations of dumping toxic waste off the Ivory Coast – one of Wikileaks’s earlier media successes.

Obviously Eady, the man in charge of ruling on UK freedom of expression cases, was the person to go to if you had something to hide.

Thankfully he was replaced earlier this year by Michael Tugendhat QC, who fluently represented the media’s corner during the Shayler whistleblowing years, and some of Eady’s most egregious decisions have already been overturned by his successor.

 

CPBF_Logo  Another success for British justice – Annie Machon (31/7/06)

It was another resounding success for British justice, according to Annie Machon. Mr Justice Eady granted a permanent injunction against David Shayler in the High Court today (Friday 28 July). In a breathtaking ruling, Eady stated that David was not entitled to present evidence or cross-examine his accusers (again), but instead issued a summary judgement based on assertions made by MI5.

This means that David can now only talk about a restricted range of disclosures – specifically what appeared in the Mail on Sunday on 24 August 1997. This means that he cannot talk about a whole range of topics which are in the public domain and have already been cleared via the injunction and for the publication of my book, Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers.

Specifically, this means that, while I and the rest of the world can talk about state-sponsored false-flag terrorism, including the Gaddafi plot, David is banned. Very convenient when the 911 campaign is taking off.

The temporary injunction was issued in September 1997 on the explicit understanding that a full legal hearing would be needed before it could be made permanent. David has now been denied this.

Also, the injunction has been abused repeatedly, for example allowing the government to spin lies against him when he wished to reveal the wrongful conviction of two innocent Palestinians, Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh, for the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London in 1994. Also, when he tried to alert the government to murder and a major terrorist attack organised by MI6 officers in the Gaddafi plot, he did so legally via the injunction.

For his pains, he was the one thrown in prison in Paris in 1998.

The injunction has also repeatedly been used to intimidate journalists (one of whom was tried and convicted) and to stop the media investigating the criminality of MI5 and MI6. With this ruling, the judge has also abolished at one stroke the media’s right to publish whistleblowers’ testimony if they can argue it caused no damage to national security.

If any future whistleblower emerges from the intelligence services, and is injuncted, the media has lost this defence, enshrined by parliament in criminal law (Section 1.5 of the OSA). And why is an injunction necessary anyway? There already exists a criminal sanction under the Official Secret Act. The judge was kind enough to say that the injunction was for David’s own good and would stop him having to break the OSA again! We are through the looking glass.

Yours in wonderland, Annie

Sunday Tribune Interview, 2005

Irish Sunday Tribune, July 2005

What really went on in the secret service?

Suzanne Breen

‘THEY’RE 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

CPBF Article on the Shayler Trial

My article in the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom journal:

In November 2002 I witnessed one of the worst media stitch-ups in recent times. The London press has helped ministers, many of whom voted against the Official Secrets Act (OSA) when it was passed in 1989, to persecute, convict and imprison MI5 whistleblower, David Shayler, with barely a murmur.

From the start, the government focused on traducing David’s character to divert attention not only from his allegations but also from Tony Blair’s failure to even hear what David had to say.

In case we forget, this includes MI5 files on government ministers, MI5 failing to stop IRA bombs going off in the UK, the wrongful conviction of two innocent Palestinians for the Israeli embassy bombing in London in 1994, and an illegal phone tap on a Guardian journalist.

Most heinous of all was the fact that in 1995 two MI6 officers gave £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to extremists linked to Al Qaeda to assassinate Colonel Gadaffi of Libya. The attack went wrong, killing innocent civilians. Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary of the day, did not sanction the assassination attempt, making it a crime under the 1994 Intelligence Services Act.

It also meant that shadowy MI6 officers were deciding British foreign policy, not our elected ministers. So did our fearless national media call for the intelligence services to be held to account? No. Instead craven editors of national newspapers — who were only too
ready to enjoy the front-page stories David provided — have left him to face the consequences of whistleblowing alone.

After surviving three years of exile, he returned to the UK voluntarily in August 2000. He then had to wait over two years for trial. After conviction, he spent three weeks locked up for 23 or 24 hours a day in an overcrowded 12’ x 8’ cell in HMP Belmarsh before being transferred to HMP Ford.

He had already served nearly four months in prison in Paris, awaiting an unsuccessful extradition attempt. At trial, the government felt that the risk of embarrassment loomed large. The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, therefore signed Public Interest Immunity certificates (PIIs), “gagging orders”, against David to prevent him from saying anything in open court.

The judge, Mr Justice Moses of Matrix Churchill fame, acceded to these without a blush, and then imposed reporting restrictions on the proceedings. The “D” Notice Committee then advised against any media coverage of these interventions. Even though David had to conduct his own defence in the courtroom, the judge and the prosecution censored
any questions he needed to put to anonymous MI5 witnesses.

David was also prevented from explaining why he had gone to the press. Despite David going into this trial with both hands tied behind his back, and despite the judge ordering the jury to convict, it still took a group of twelve randomly chosen people more than three hours to convict David. When they did so, some of the jurors were in tears. Although the courtroom was packed with journalists, the media wilfully ignored the facts of the case.

The documents alleged by the prosecution to contain “agent information” were just that – information gathered from agents and summarized for general government consumption. In fact, in summing up and sentencing, Mr Justice Moses made no reference to agent lives being put at risk. He also made it abundantly clear that he accepted that David was not motivated by money; and that David believed he was acting in the public interest (even though the law did not allow such a defence in this case).

That is why the judge gave him the relatively light sentence of six months. Had David been a traitor, as sections of the media trumpeted, he would have been tried under Section 1 of the 1911 OSA and received a fourteen year sentence. A whistleblower does not operate in a vacuum. Journalists play an important role in airing these subjects in our
“free” press.

In journalistic parlance, David Shayler has been a fantastically valuable source for over five years. This has not been reflected in his treatment. With a few extremely honourable exceptions, most hacks were merely interested in leeching David of information rather than protecting a man who risked everything to expose murder, terrorist funding and incompetence on the part of the intelligence services.

The truth is frightening. Editors, MPs and ministers are scared of the shadowy people who really run this country: the intelligence services. By not holding the services to account, the government and media is letting them get away, literally, with murder.

Guardian Interview 2000 – No place to hide

The Sabine Durrant interview with me in The Guardian, April 2000
No place to hide

How big a price can a woman pay for standing by her man? The partner of exiled MI6 whistleblower David Shayler lives and loves on the run – with Big Brother watching her every move

Annie Machon and her boyfriend, David Shayler, the former MI5 officers now living in Paris, have got used to feeling watched. Their phone plays up. Their emails go missing. Even the walls of their flat seem to look down on them. If they want to discuss “an issue”, they find a safe cafe to do it in. A different one each time? “Of course,” says Machon with a slight curve to her lips. And in bed? “We have discussed that, yes,” she says. “You just try and blank it out and get on with your life.”

She is poised and controlled. She remains cool even when recalling “sweaty coppers” reading out her love letters in the course of an  interrogation. Even when describing the state of her underwear (“inside out, with the crotches turned up as if they’d been sniffing them”) after their flat in Pimlico had been searched.

Machon, who is 31, has been at Shayler’s side since he fled to France in 1997 to escape prosecution for breaking the Official Secrets Act when his claims of MI5 incompetence were first published in a Sunday newspaper. They packed for a fortnight. They’ve been gone two and a half years.

Shayler is a straightforward love or hate figure. He is either the whistleblower, fired by moral purpose to draw attention to bungling within the intelligence services, from revelations that they monitored “subversives” including such threats to national security as Harriet Harman and the reggae band UB40, to his more recent allegations that MI6 was behind an illegal assassination attempt on Muammar Gadafy, the Libyan president. Or, as MI5 would have it (in an interesting mélange of contradictions), he is the traitor, the self-publicist, the breaker of official secrets, the fantasist.

Machon has remained a much more enigmatic figure. At first she was just “Shayler’s girlfriend”. With her blonde hair and big blue eyes, she looked like a deb, a nursery school teacher, caught up in events beyond her control. A former MI5 officer herself, she made no direct allegations while supporting Shayler in his. But this may not have been caution so much as sound management.

Unlike Shayler (who spent four months in jail before extradition proceedings failed; he is now being sued in the civil courts) she is at liberty to come and go in Britain. “It’s important that I remain free to travel, important I remain out of reproach.”

Machon was in London to deliver to Scotland Yard a dossier supporting Shayler’s Gadafy claims (an MI6 file recently posted on the internet also appears to confirm the allegations). She holds press conferences. She meets with MPs. With lawyers. She wants accountability. She wants freedom of expression. She wants amnesty. She wants Shayler to be listened to. Taken seriously. To be allowed home. Then she wants to be left alone.

We meet at Vauxhall underground station, close by the MI6 building, although she doesn’t
want to hang around long. The closest cafe is too close. She walks very fast to the next. She doesn’t look over her shoulder once. She sees connections where others might see blank walls. There are advertisements for laptops nearby. She refers to the recent stories of the mugged MI5 officer, whose laptop was nicked and the drunken MI6 officer who mislaid his. “What a coincidence,” she smiles sardonically. If she and Shayler win their case, she says she doesn’t think they’ll ever come back to London. “Dave would feel quite uncomfortable living here,” she says. “I would too. It’s just that sense of unease all the time.”

She is all in black, although her nails are gold. She is pale and slim, unlike Shayler whose plumpness in photographs can make him look like a yob. (“He put on weight at MI5, actually. Socialising after work – that drinking culture he talked about – and also a sense
of unease. He eats when he’s feeling stressed. He’s joined a health club now. He swims nearly every day.”)

It’s not the only reason they seem an unlikely couple. A Middlesbrough boy, with working-class roots, Shayler is said to be chippy about public-school Oxbridge types.

Machon, who is the daughter of a pilot turned newspaperman, and from an old Guernsey family, went to a private girls’ school and then to Cambridge, where she studied classics. “Yes, yes, I know. I think he did think I was a bit posh at first, but he squared it with the fact that I was a scholarship girl. Also we both moved around a lot when we were young. We had that in common.”

Machon says that as soon as they met in an MI5 library they made each other laugh and that their relationship is “passionate”. There are hints of that in her story. The night before she came back to England for the first time, suspecting she would be arrested, but not sure whether they would confiscate her passport, they lay in bed and held each other and cried, “not knowing when we would see each other again”. Then, after 10 months in hiding at a farmhouse in south-west France, when he was suddenly taken into custody, for days she walked around with “no one’s hand in mine”.

Interestingly, too, while Machon looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth,
she found out soon after joining MI5 (after sitting the foreign office exams), that  psychological profiling had marked her out as a maverick. “I was having a bit of a debate with my manager in the office and she said, ‘I’ve been warned about you’.” She smiles enigmatically. “I was quite flattered.”

She and Shayler had already left MI5 when Shayler decided to go public, both had nice well-paid jobs as management consultants. They had a nice social life, nice Pimlico flat.
She didn’t want him to go to the papers. “It wasn’t so much doubt as fear. I knew they’d come after us and I knew what they could do against us. If you’ve worked for MI5 it doesn’t help your paranoia, put it that way.”

She slips a lighter out of her cigarette packet and lights up. “And I must say I was shown to be right. Not that I’d ever say I told you so to Dave.”

The papers ran the story on a bank holiday weekend. Machon and Shayler got the last plane out of Heathrow on the Saturday night, to Amsterdam. They braced themselves. Then Diana, Princess of Wales was killed. “In one sense it was a relief because the pressure was taken off us. In another it was terrible. An injunction had been put on the paper and if she hadn’t died, Fleet Street would have been up in arms about gagging the free press, they would have been more balanced in their assessment of Dave, demanding
inquiries. As it was, there were a lot of backroom briefings against him, saying he was a loudmouth, unbalanced, and we were buried there.”

She uses the word “buried” a lot. It’s hard to tell whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for someone who needs publicity (“it’s our only protection”) and yet longs to hide. On the run, they “buried themselves” in the French countryside, a different hotel every night, paying cash.

After that they were “buried” again in a remote farmhouse near Perpignan, “freezing cold, miles from the shops”, living off their £40,000 newspaper earnings, where Shayler wrote his novel (it has since been banned) and she kept house. The British government pretended to negotiate with them, she says. “They thought we’d run out of money and rot abroad. They wanted to bury us.”

It was only when Shayler was in prison, when the worst had happened, that she got
her confidence back. “I found I was tougher than I thought. Dave had always been the more ebullient character. And suddenly when he was arrested, even though I was desperately lonely, it was, ‘Right, you’ve got to do it.'”

Actually, there was worse to come: an approach by an armed Libyan a week after Shayler’s release. He offered a six-figure sum in exchange for names linked to the Gadafy plot and evidence on Lockerbie (Shayler had been an expert). He followed them
when they refused. A few nights later their buzzer rang for five minutes in the night: “We cowered in the corner with our kitchen knives.” They reported the incident to MI5, and were told it was a matter for the French, who told them it was a matter for the Brits.

What does Machon hope for now? She says she can’t think what to do with her life. “I’m a different person to the one I was two years ago.” Maybe an old house in Normandy: Shayler could continue writing, novels, his column for Punch.

What about children? “I don’t want those. Neither of us does. We never have. I’m not at all maternal. I’ve never felt the desire. My brother is 11 years younger and I don’t have a
romantic view of children. I know what they’re like.”

I was going to suggest that when she hits her mid-30s she might change her mind, but then I saw the look in her eye and changes of mind didn’t seem to come into it.

Interview with Francis Wheen, 1999

An interview with Francis Wheen of The Guardian, August 1999:

The spy left out in the cold

Francis Wheen on the hounding by the authorities of MI5 whistleblower David Shayler:

Annie Machon, a former MI5 officer living in France, came to London last week. On a previous visit, in 1997, she was nabbed at Gatwick airport by a goon squad from Special Branch. This time her only ordeal was a couple of hours with me in a Soho cafe. It was progress of a sort, I suppose; but little else has changed.It is exactly two years since Annie’s partner, David Shayler, hit the headlines with his complaints of malpractice and incompetence at MI5. Since then the government has consistently refused to heed or
investigate his allegations, preferring to load up its rusty blunderbuss and shoot the messenger.

In his original interview with the Mail on Sunday, Shayler exploded the official myth that MI5 monitors only those “subversives” who wish to “overthrow democracy by violent means”, revealing that, in fact, it kept files on such harmless pussycats as Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson, Harriet Harman and the reggae band UB40. The government was outraged – not by the evidence of spooky skulduggery but by Shayler’s whistleblowing.

Tony Blair’s spokesman warned the newspaper that “the heavies would move in” unless future articles were submitted to Downing Street for vetting. When the editor refused to obey, the treasury solicitor obtained an injunction banning the media from reporting any further remarks by Shayler about misconduct or mismanagement in the security service.

Shortly afterwards, at MI5’s request, Special Branch officers raided the London flat Shayler had shared with Machon. The search warrant permitted them to look for
“evidence of an offence under the official secrets act” – which they interpreted, rather eccentrically, as a licence to smash the furniture, hurl table lamps to the floor and remove several pairs of Machon’s knickers.

Then came the absurd pantomime at Gatwick airport. Machon was obviously not going to put up a struggle: her lawyer had told the police when and where she was due, and she was armed with nothing more lethal than an overnight bag. Nevertheless, Special Branch
thought it necessary to send no fewer than six brutes to hustle her away. This crude intimidation continued during six hours of questioning at Charing Cross police station, when her interrogators read out love letters she had exchanged with Shayler – billets doux that had no conceivable relevance to the Official Secrets Act.

If Shayler had committed a serious offence, as Straw maintained, why were no charges brought against the editors and journalists who published his disclosures? The question answers itself: bullies pick on the powerless, and ministers were reluctant to antagonise the mighty Associated Newspapers. Instead, the authorities took out their frustration by harassing innocent bystanders. Shayler’s brother, Philip, was detained, as were two of his friends.

Like Machon, they were eventually released without charge – although not before the police had helpfully informed Philip’s employers that he was wanted in connection with “financial irregularities”.

From his French exile, Shayler continued to press for an inquiry. In October 1997, the
government set up a cabinet office review of the intelligence agencies to be chaired by John Alpass, a former deputy director of the security service. As Shayler points out, Alpass was scarcely a disinterested party, as “any adverse criticism of MI5 would have reflected badly on his time there”. Nevertheless, Shayler submitted a 6,000-word memo on “management problems in MI5”.

The committee refused to read it. He was given a similar brush-off by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, supposedly responsible for holding the spooks to
account.

Last summer, in the hope of exciting some official interest, Shayler told the Mail on Sunday that MI6 had secretly paid a Libyan emigré £100,000 to assassinate Colonel Muammar Gadafy. Although  the point of Shayler’s revelation was that ministers had neither known nor approved of the plot, Robin Cook felt able to issue an instant denial. “I’m perfectly clear that these allegations have no basis in fact. It is pure fantasy.”

Why, then, did the government refuse to let the MoS publish the article, arguing that it would endanger national security? And why did Straw immediately ask France to arrest
and extradite Shayler? If the story was fantasy, he hadn’t broken the official secrets act. If it was true, and British intelligence had indeed conspired to murder a foreign head of state, then it would not be Shayler who had some explaining to do.

Unable to cope with this glaring contradiction, his enemies took refuge in invective. “In a
better world,” the Daily Telegraph harrumphed, “David Shayler and his like… would be horse-whipped.”

After his release from a French jail last November, the Sunday Telegraph came up with an even more extreme solution, pointing out that if he were a renegade French spy his former employers would probably have killed him. “One wonders how Shayler would react to being shot at by MI5 agents,” the newspaper mused. “But these days,” it added  regretfully, “MI5 is scrupulous in its observation of the letter of the law.”

Scrupulous as ever, MI5 tried assassinating his reputation instead, letting it be known
that he was always regarded in the service as “a Walter Mitty, a loose cannon” and “a rebel who likes to sail close to the wind”. (The last phrase, incidentally, came from a school report written before Shayler had even taken his A-levels.)

Many tame MPs and hacks have repeated these insults without pausing to think through their logic. If Shayler is as manifestly dotty as they claim and yet managed to join the fast track at MI5 and win a performance bonus in his final year, doesn’t this confirm that the security service is indeed run by dangerous clodhoppers, as Shayler claims?

Logic, however, is seldom allowed to intrude into this case – except for the deranged logic of Catch 22. Shayler wrote a spy novel, The Organisation, assuming that this at least would be allowed. No such luck.

The treasury solicitor contacted the major London publishers warning that Shayler must not write anything, “whether presented as fact or fiction, which may be construed as relating to the security service or its membership or activities or to security or intelligence activities generally .” (My italics.) In other words, Shayler can’t publish true stories, even if the government says they are fiction; but he can’t publish fiction for fear that it might have a kernel of truth. And yet other ex-spies – John Le Carre, Ted Allbeury – have written umpteen novels about British intelligence without having injunctions hurled at them.

“It is barely believable in this day and age that a UK citizen should have to live in exile for telling the truth – or, if you believe the government, for making up stories about the intelligence services,” Shayler says. “It is doubly difficult to accept when we see that this has happened at the behest of a Labour government.”

Personally, I don’t find it at all difficult: Labour politicians have always been suckers for cloak-and-dagger nonsense. Lest we forget, it was the last Labour government that expelled the American journalists Philip Agee and Mark Hosenball at the behest of MI5, without troubling to give any reasons, and then tried to jail a colleague of mine from the New Statesman for the heinous offence of collecting ministry of defence press releases. “New” Labour has revived the tradition by prosecuting a respected defence orrespondent, Tony Geraghty, and tormenting the hapless Shayler.

Only last month the treasury solicitor sent a stern letter to Shayler’s lawyers. “Your client has been writing to various members of the government, enclosing a pamphlet which he has written entitled Secrets and Lies,” he noted. “The disclosure of this information constitutes yet a further breach by your client of the injunction against him… I am not instructed to deal in detail with the points made by your client, save to say that his  allegations of impropriety on the part of the security service are rejected.”

How can ministers know that the allegations are false without bothering to check? Easy: MI5’s director, Stephen Lander, has assured Straw that everything is tickety-boo.

At the height of the Spycatcher panic, the British cabinet secretary admitted that Whitehall often found it necessary to be “economical with the truth”, and there are very few people naive enough to assume that the professional dissimulators who run MI5 and MI6 can always be believed. Fortunately for Lander, this select band of credulous oafs includes every senior member of the Labour cabinet.

If David Shayler were a member of the Provisional IRA, Tony Blair would be happy to negotiate deals and  indemnities with him. Since he is merely a public-spirited whistleblower who has never murdered anyone, he is condemned to harassment, vilification and indefinite exile.