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” régime 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

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

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 café 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 café 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 café. 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 naïve 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.