Exile — ExBerliner Article

My most recent art­icle for the ExBer­liner magazine:

What is exile? Other than a term much used and abused by many new expats arriv­ing in Ber­lin, dic­tion­ary defin­i­tions point towards someone who is kept away from their home coun­try for polit­ical reas­ons, either by regal decree in the past or now more prob­ably self-imposed. But there are many other ways to feel exiled – from main­stream soci­ety, from your fam­ily, faith, pro­fes­sion, polit­ics, and Ber­lin is now regarded as a haven.

How­ever, let’s focus on the clas­sic defin­i­tion and a noble tra­di­tion. Every coun­try, no mat­ter how appar­ently enlightened, can become a tyr­ant to its own cit­izens if they chal­lenge abuses of power. Voltaire was exiled in Eng­land for three years and soon after Tom Paine, a former excise man facing charges for sedi­tious libel, sought refuge in France. More recent fam­ous exiles include David Shayler, the MI5 whis­tleblower of the 1990s who fol­lowed in Paine’s foot­steps pretty much for the same fun­da­mental reas­ons, yet Alex­an­der Litv­inenko, the KBG whis­tleblower of the same era, iron­ic­ally found safe haven in exile in the UK.

So, being an exile effect­ively means that you have angered the power struc­tures of your home coun­try to such an extent that other coun­tries feel com­pelled to give you refuge, partly for legal or prin­cipled reas­ons, but also for polit­ical expedi­ency. The cur­rent most fam­ous exile in the world is, of course, Edward Snowden, stran­ded by chance in Rus­sia en route to polit­ical asylum in Ecuador.

What does the act of flee­ing into exile actu­ally feel like? It is a wild leap into an unknown and pre­cari­ous future, with great risk and few fore­see­able rewards. At the same time, as you leave the shores of the per­se­cut­ing coun­try, evad­ing the author­it­ies, avoid­ing arrest and going on the run, there is an exhil­ar­at­ing, intense feel­ing of free­dom – a sense that the die has very much been cast. Your old way of life is irre­voc­ably at an end and the future is a blank slate on which you can write anything.

After Shayler and I fled to France in 1997, for the first year of the three we lived in exile we hid in a remote French farm­house just north of Limoges – the nearest vil­lage was 2 kilo­metres away, and the nearest town a dis­tant thirty. We lived in con­stant dread of that knock on the door and the ensu­ing arrest. And that, indeed, even­tu­ally did catch up with him.

As a res­ult, for Shayler it meant the world grew increas­ingly small, increas­ingly con­fined. Ini­tially, when we went on the run, we were free to roam across Europe – any­where but the UK. Then, after the French courts refused to extra­dite him to Bri­tain in 1998 to face trial for a breach of the dra­conian UK Offi­cial Secrets Act, France became the only place he could live freely. If he had then traveled to any other European coun­try, the Brit­ish would have again attemp­ted to extra­dite him, prob­ably suc­cess­fully, so he was trapped.

How­ever, there are worse places than France in which to find your­self stran­ded. As well as being one of the most beau­ti­ful and var­ied coun­tries in the world it felt par­tic­u­larly poignant to end up exiled in Paris for a fur­ther two years.

It was also con­veni­ently close to the UK, so friends, fam­ily, sup­port­ers and journ­al­ists could visit us reg­u­larly and bring Shayler sup­plies of such vital Brit­ish staples as bacon and HP source. But he still missed the simple pleas­ures in life, such as being free to watch his beloved foot­ball team, or being able to watch the crappy late night com­edy shows that the Brit­ish end­lessly churn out. Des­pite these small lacks, I shall always remem­ber those years in France fondly, as a place of greater safety, a lit­eral haven from persecution.

Of course, all this was in the era before the stand­ard­ised European Arrest war­rant, when national sov­er­eignty and national laws actu­ally coun­ted for some­thing. Find­ing a secure place of exile now would be almost an impossib­il­ity in Europe if you home coun­try really wanted to pro­sec­ute you.

Many West­ern expats now talk of being “exiled in Ber­lin”, and they may indeed be self-exiled in search of a more sym­patico life style, a buzzy group of like-minded peers, work oppor­tun­it­ies or whatever. But until they have felt the full force of an extra­di­tion war­rant, before the fuzz has actu­ally felt their col­lars, this is real­ist­ic­ally exile as a life­style choice, rather than exile as a des­per­ate polit­ical neces­sity or, in Edward Snowden’s case, a poten­tially exist­en­tial requirement.

German Netzpolitik journalists investigated for treason

Press free­dom is under threat in Ger­many — two journ­al­ists and their alleged source are under invest­ig­a­tion for poten­tial treason for dis­clos­ing and report­ing what appears to be an illegal and secret plan to spy on Ger­man cit­izens. Here’s the inter­view I did for RT​.com about this yes­ter­day:

Ger­man Net­zpolitik journ­al­ists face treason charges from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Merkel NSA phone tapping

My inter­view today for RT about the Ger­man prosecutor’s decision to stop the invest­ig­a­tion of the NSA tap­ping Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, and much more:

End of Merkel NSA Spy Probe Case on RT Inter­na­tional from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Sky News Interview about Whistleblowers

This is an inter­view I did on Sky News in the after­math of the Tri­dent whis­tleblower case.

I won­der what has become of Wil­liam McNeilly, now the media spot­light has moved on?

Sky_News_Whistleblower_Interview from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Code Red Media Launch in Perugia

I am very happy to announce a new ini­ti­at­ive, Code Red,  that Simon Dav­ies (the founder of Pri­vacy Inter­na­tional and The Big Brother Awards) and I have been organ­ising over the last few months.  In fact, not just us, but a panoply of global pri­vacy and anti-surveillance cam­paign­ers from many areas of expertise.

Simon and I have known each other for years, way back to 2002, when he gave one of the earli­est Win­ston Awards to David Shayler, in recog­ni­tion of his work towards try­ing to expose sur­veil­lance and pro­tect pri­vacy. That award cere­mony, hos­ted by comedian and act­iv­ist Mark Thomas, was one of the few bright points in that year for David and me — which included my nearly dying of men­ingitis in Paris and David’s vol­un­tary return to the UK to “face the music”; face the inev­it­able arrest, trial and con­vic­tion for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act that fol­lowed on from his dis­clos­ures about spy criminality.

Any­way, enough of a detour down memory lane — back to Code Red. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this web­site will know that I have some slight interest in the need to pro­tect our pri­vacy for both per­sonal reas­ons and soci­etal good. Over the last 18 years since help­ing to expose the crimes of the Brit­ish spies, I have worked with the media, law­yers, cam­paign­ers, hack­ers, NGOs, politi­cians, wonks, geeks, whis­tleblowers, and won­der­fully con­cerned cit­izens around the world — all the time arguing against the encroach­ing and stealthy powers of the deep, secret state and beyond.

While many people are con­cerned about this threat to a demo­cratic way of life, and in fact so many people try to push back, I know from exper­i­ence the dif­fer­ent pres­sures that can be exer­ted against each com­munity, and the lack of aware­ness and mean­ing­ful com­mu­nic­a­tion that can often occur between such groups.

So when Simon pos­ited the idea of Code Red — an organ­isa­tion that can func­tion­ally bring all these dis­par­ate groups together, to learn from each other, gain strength and thereby work more effect­ively, it seemed an obvi­ous next step.

Some pro­gress has already been make in this dir­ec­tion, with inter­na­tional whis­tleblower con­fer­ences, crypto­parties, train­ing for journ­al­ists about how to pro­tect their sources, cam­paigns to pro­tect whis­tleblowers, act­iv­ist and media col­lect­ives, and much more.  We in Code Red recog­nise all this amaz­ing work and are not try­ing to rep­lic­ate it.

But we do want to do is improve the flow of com­mu­nic­a­tion — would it not be great to have a global clear­ing house, a record, of what works, what does not, a repos­it­ory of expert­ise from all these inter-related dis­cip­lines from a round the world that we can all learn from?

This is one of the goals of Code Red, which launched to the media at the Inter­na­tional Journ­al­ism Fest­ival in Per­u­gia a few weeks ago.  We were then lucky enough to also hold a launch to the tech/hacktivist com­munity in Ber­lin a few days after at C Base — the mother-ship of hackers.

Here is the film of the Per­u­gia launch:

Code Red — launched in Per­u­gia, April 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Whistleblower panel discussion at Logan Symposium

Here is a panel dis­cus­sion I did about whis­tleblow­ing at the Logan Sym­posium in Lon­don last Novem­ber. With me on the panel are Eileen Chubb, a UK health care whis­tleblower who runs Com­pas­sion in Care and is cam­paign­ing for Edna’s Law, and Bea Edwards of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject.  With thanks to @newsPeekers for film­ing this.

news­Peek­sLIVE whis­tleblower inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Turkish TV Interview

Here’s the first half of a long inter­view I did last month for the invest­ig­at­ive news pro­gramme in Tur­key, Yaz Boz, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblower and tech secur­ity:

Yaz Boz — Turk­ish news Inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Holistic security for journalists and sources — Logan Symposium

Here is a short talk I gave at the recent Logan Sym­posium in Lon­don, where I dis­cussed a more hol­istic approach for both journ­al­ists and their sources:

The Logan Sym­posium — Dec 6th — Annie Machon from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Swedish SVT TV Interview, November 2014

Here’s an inter­view I did while at the excel­lent Inter­net­dagarna con­fer­ence in Stock­holm last month.  It cov­ers all things whis­tleblower, going on the run, and spy account­ab­il­ity:

Inter­view on Swedish SVT TV, Novem­ber 2014 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Keynote at Internetdagarna, Stockholm, November 2014

Here is my key­note speech at the recent Inter­net­dagarna (Inter­net Days) con­fer­ence in Stock­holm, Sweden, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblower, spy, sur­veil­lance, pri­vacy and TTIP:


Germans end investigation into Merkel phone tapping

My recent inter­view on RT about the end­ing of the invest­ig­a­tion by the Ger­man author­it­ies into the appar­ently illegal bug­ging of Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s phone, plus more on the wider com­pli­city of the Ger­man intel­li­gence services:


New v old media — RT Crosstalk debate

I recently took part in a debate about the old versus the new “altern­at­ive” media and their rel­at­ive mer­its on RT’s Crosstalk with Peter Lavelle:


Courage Resignation

Half a year ago I was asked be the dir­ector of a new found­a­tion that would raise funds to cover the legal costs of high-profile whis­tleblowers, journ­al­ist sources and asso­ci­ated cases.  Five months ago I announced the launch of the Cour­age Found­a­tion to an audi­ence of 6,000 at the CCC hack­er­fest in Hamburg:

This week I have resigned my pos­i­tion from the Cour­age Foundation.

Firstly, I find the cur­rent evol­u­tion of Cour­age incom­pat­ible with the way I work.

Secondly, I have so many other calls on my time, trav­el­ling con­stantly across Europe to speak at con­fer­ences around issues such as whis­tleblowers, the media, tech­no­logy, sur­veil­lance, pri­vacy, drug policy, human rights.… where to stop.

I wish the organ­isa­tion all the best for the future. It is doing import­ant work.

I shall also con­tinue to speak out in sup­port of whis­tleblowers and asso­ci­ated issues — how could I not?


International Journalism Festival, Perugia

Here is a panel dis­cus­sion I did at the Inter­na­tional Journ­al­ism Fest­ival in Per­u­gia, Italy, in May 2014: