War on drugs meets terrorism

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the biennial Drug Policy Alliance shindig in Washington on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap.cc).  We also held our annual LEAP board meeting ahead of the DPA, and it was great to have the chance to catch up again with my fellow directors.

I’ve been the European Director for LEAP for a while now and am thrilled to say that LEAP Germany launched (LEAP_DE_Launch_Article) last September in the Bundestag in Berlin, with some senior police officers, lawyers and judges as the founding members.  LEAP UK is also up and running and will be holding an official launch event early next year, so watch this space.

While in Washington all the directors were interviewed about our specific areas of interest around the failed war on drugs.  Here is a video of former prosecutor, Inge Fryklund, and myself discussing the links between the war on drugs and terrorism:

LEAP Directors discuss link between the war on drugs and terrorism from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Next year we have UNGASS in April in New York – the UN General Assembly Special Session – the first such since 1998 when the UN decided it would achieve a drug free world by 2008.

Well, that was obviously a raging success, as drugs are cheaper, more easily accessible and more potent than ever before in the key consumer areas such as North America and Europe, while whole regions of the world comprising the producer and transit countries are being decimated by the violence attendant on the drug trade as organised crime cartels and terrorism fight for control of a highly lucrative trade.

UNGASS 2015 should provide the world with a chance to rethink this failed policy of prohibition.  Certainly the tone has shifted since 1998 to at least an understanding of the benefits within some consumer countries of de-penalisation of drug use – those who choose to use their preferred substance are no longer criminalised, and the estimated 15% who go on to develop dependencies are in many Western countries now offered health interventions rather than prison.

However, from our law enforcement perspective, this still leaves the drug trade in the hands of organised crime and terrorist organisations such as ISIS. The UN has itself variously put the annual illegal drug trade profits at anywhere between $320 billion and half a trillion dollars per year. This is the biggest crime wave the world has ever seen, and we need the UN to develop some joined-up thinking and produce a radical and effective policy to deal with it: regulate, control and tax.

Re:publica – The War on Concepts

This week I made my first visit to the re:publica annual geekfest in Berlin to do a talk called “The War on Concepts”. In my view this, to date, includes the four wars – on drugs, terror, the internet, and whistleblowers. No doubt the number will continue to rise.

Here’s the video:

republica_2015_Annie_Machon_The_War_on_Concepts from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The war on drugs funds terrorism

Here is a short excerpt from a panel discussion I took part in after the London premiere of the new cult anti-prohibition film, “The Culture High“. This is an amazing film that pulls together so many big issues around the failed global 50 year policy of the war on drugs. I seriously recommend watching it.

Also in the clip: Brett Harvey (the director of the film) Niamh Eastwood (the director of Release) Jason Reed (executive director of the nascent LEAP UK – watch this space) and comedian and compere Rufus Hound.

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LEAP talk at Akzept drug conference in Bielefeld

Here’s a talk I did last week at the international Akzept Conference in Bielefeld about prohibition and the failed “war on drugs”:

Akzept Kongress 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Interview on London Real TV

Here’s my recent interview on London Real TV, discussing all things whistleblowing, tech, intelligence, and the war on drugs.  Thanks Brian and Colin for a fun hour!

London Real TV Interview – coming soon

Here is a taster of my recent interview on London Real TV. It was diverse, lively and fun, and should be broadcast in full tomorrow:

Annie Machon – Whistleblower – London Real TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Culture High

Culture_High_InterviewI had a fabulous time doing an interview on behalf of LEAP for the new anti-prohibition film, The Culture High.

Made by Adam Scorgie, who directed the cult film, The Union, his new work promises to be the film on the subject of cannabis prohibition.  Thanks to the team for a wide-ranging, lively and stimulating interview.

If you want to support their work, click here.  And the film will be released next summer.

Keeping Abreast of Privacy Issues

In the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures about endemic global surveillance, the rather threadbare old argument about “if you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” has been trotted out by many Big Brother apologists.

But it’s not about doing anything wrong, it’s about having an enshrined right to privacy – as recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  And this was enshrined in the wake of the horrors of World War 2, and for very good reason.  If you are denied privacy to read or listen, if you are denied privacy to speak or write, and if you are denied privacy about whom you meet and see, then freedom has died and totalitarianism has begun.

Those were the lessons learned from the growth of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s.  If you lose the right to privacy, you also lose the ability to push back against dictatorships, corrupt governments, and all the attendant horrors.

How quickly we forget the lessons of history: not just the rights won over the last century, but those fought and died for over centuries. We recent generations in the West have grown too bloated on ease, too financially fat and socially complacent, to fully appreciate the freedoms we are casually throwing away.

body_armourSo what sparked this mini-rant? This article I found in my Twitter stream (thanks @LossofPrivacy). It appears that a US police department in Detroit has just sent out all the traditionally vital statistics of its female officers to the entire department – weight, height and even the bra size of individual female police officers have been shared with the staff, purely because of an email gaffe.

Well people make mistakes and hit the wrong buttons. So this may not sound like much, but apparently the women in question are not happy, and rightly so. In the still macho environment of law enforcement, one can but cringe at the “joshing” that followed.

Putting aside the obvious question of whether we want our police officers to be tooled up like Robocop, this minor debacle highlights a key point of privacy. It’s not that one needs to hide one’s breasts as a woman – they are pretty much obvious for chrissakes – but does everyone need to know the specifics, or is that personal information one step too far? And as for a woman’s weight, don’t even go there…..

So these cops in Detroit, no doubt all up-standing pillars of their communities, might have learned a valuable lesson. It is not a “them and us” situation – the “them” being “terrorists”, activists, communists, liberals, Teabaggers – whatever the theme du jour happens to be.

It is about a fundamental need for privacy as human beings, as the Duchess of Cambridge also discovered last year. This is not just about height, bra size or, god forbid, one’s weight. This is about bigger issues if not bigger boobs. We all have something we want kept private, be it bank statements, bonking, or bowel movements.

However, with endemic electronic surveillance, we have already lost our privacy in our communications and in our daily routines – in London it is estimated that we are caught on CCTV more than 300 times a day just going about our daily business.

More importantly, in this era of financial, economic and political crises, we are losing our freedom to read and watch, to speak and meet, and to protest without fear of surveillance. It is the Stasi’s wet dream, realised by those unassuming chaps (and obviously the chapesses with boobs) in law enforcement, the NSA, GCHQ et al.

But it is not just the nation state level spies we have to worry about. Even if we think that we could not possibly be important enough to be on that particular radar (although Mr Snowden has made it abundantly clear that we all are), there is a burgeoning private sector of corporate intelligence companies who are only too happy to watch, infiltrate and destabilise social, media and protest groups. “Psyops” and “astro-turfing” are terrifying words for anyone interested in human rights, activism and civil liberties. But this is the new reality.

So, what can we do? Let’s remember that most law enforcement people in the varied agencies are us – they want a stable job that feels valued, they want to provide for their families, they want to do the right thing. Reach out to them, and help those who do have the courage to speak out and expose wrongdoing, be it law enforcement professionals speaking out against the failed “war on drugs” (such as those in LEAP) or intelligence whistleblowers exposing war crimes, illegal surveillance and torture.

Thomas_PaineBut also have the courage to protest and throw the tired old argument back in the faces of the security proto-tyrants. This is what the founding fathers of the USA did: they risked being hanged as traitors by the British Crown in 1776, yet they still made a stand. Using the “seditious” writings of Tom Paine, who ended up on the run from the UK, they had the courage to speak out, meet up and fight for what they believed in, and they produced a good first attempt at a workable democracy.

Unfortunately, the USA establishment has long been corrupted and subverted by corporatist interests. And unfortunately for the rest of the world, with the current geo-political power balance, this still has an impact on most of us, and provides a clear example of how the changing political landscape can shift the goal posts of “acceptable” behaviour – one day your are an activist waving a placard, the next you are potentially deemed to be a “terrorist”.

But also remember – we are all, potentially, Tom Paine. And as the endless, nebulous, and frankly largely bogus “war on terror” continues to ravage the world and our democracies, we all need to be.

In this post-PRISM world, we need to take individual responsibility to protect our privacy and ensure we have free media. At least then we can freely read, write, speak, and meet with our fellow citizens. We need this privacy to be the new resistance to the creeping totalitarianism of the global elites.

Read the seminal books of Tom Paine (while you still can), weep, and then go forth…..

With thanks to my mother for the title of this piece. It made me laugh.

OHM 2013 – Geeks and Drugs

ohm2013_logoAs I have mentioned before, the Dutch geekfest Observe, Hack, Make (OHM 2013) was not just a chance for geeks to play with cool tech toys, the whole event also had a very strong political track. While there was inevitably a lot of focus on whistleblowing in the wake of the Snowden disclosures, another speaker track attracted a lot of attention: global drug policy and the failure of prohibition.

This was a track I suggested and I was pleased that three speakers were given the chance to discuss this on the main stage. While coming to the subject from radically different perspectives and experiences, the underlying message of all three was that the “war on drugs” was an abject failure that caused massive and increasing harm to the global population.

John Gilmore was first up. John made his dosh during the tech boom, and has since spent significant sums trying to reform the failed drug policies within his home country, the good ol’ US of A. Of course, there, it was always going to be an uphill battle.  The USA is the fountain head of prohibition, ramming the drug conventions of 1961, 1971, and 1988 through the United Nations by brute diplomatic force.

To this day, the US remains the key power ensuring that the UN upholds these conventions, despite the fact that the policy of prohibition has manifestly failed, despite the fact that many countries have experimented successfully with harm reduction and decriminalisation of personal use, and despite the fact that these laws are from a different era and are wildly out of date – in the 1960s HIV and AIDS had yet to emerge, and rapidly mutating “legal highs” were unknown.

And let’s not forget that the USA is the world’s biggest consumer country of drugs. It is America that drives this illegal market. And it is in America that 20 states have legalised the medicinal use of cannabis, and two states have fully legalised the use even, gasp, purely for pleasure. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

But change is afoot. Primarily, I believe, because the USA no longer needs the “war on drugs” as a pretext for invading/interfering with other countries, now it has the “war on terror”. But also because of the excellent work of research and educational civil society groups. The Beckley Foundation, set up by Amanda Feilding in 1998, is one such.

Amanda gave an excellent talk, focusing on the dual nature of Beckley’s work: policy and scientific research. Her view is that sound national and international policy cannot be developed unless it is based on evidence, research and facts. Yet the current “war on drugs” has become almost an article of faith that too many politicians are afraid to challenge.

Beckley aims to provide the research and the facts. It funds and establishes scientific research that enables leading scientists, such as Professor David Nutt in the UK, to research the potential therapeutic benefits of currently illegal drugs, and also to assess the different societal harms caused by all drugs, both licit and illicit. To date, the prohibition orthodoxy has inhibited free scientific research to the detriment of many people across the planet.

Amanda was pleased to be able to announce two new research projects just starting in the UK, into the potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and LSD. Beckley has also recently commissioned a cost benefit analysis of the legalisation of (only) cannabis is the UK. The results will be formally announced in September, so for now I shall confine myself to saying that they are encouraging.

Using such research, Beckley is thus in a position to advise governments about developing fact-base policy. One of the key areas of the world investigating potentially beneficial alternatives to prohibition is Latin America, and Amanda has developed close working relationships with a number of governments across the region.

And understandably so – Latin America, as one of the key producer regions of the world, has been ravaged by the drug wars. Violent organised crime cartels have grown so wealthy and powerful that they can subvert whole countries, corrupt governments and law enforcement, and terrorise whole populations in their quest to dominate the illegal drugs trade.

In Mexico, since the war on drugs was ramped up 7 years ago, it is estimated that over 70,000 innocent people have been kidnapped, tortured and killed in drug-related violence. Many have simply been disappeared.

Finally I also did a talk at OHM as the European director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

LEAP is a unique voice in the global drug policy debate. The organisation, only 11 years old, has over 100,000 supporters and a presence in 120 countries. We consist of police officers, judges, lawyers, prison governors, intelligence personnel, and even drug czars. What unites us is a shared professional knowledge, experienced across the spectrum of drug law enforcement, that prohibition has egregiously failed.

Over the last 50 years drug use has exponentially increased, the potency of illegal drugs has increased, they are ubiquitously available, and the price of street drugs has gone through the floor. Faced with this information, how can our governments claim they are winning the “war on drugs” to create a “drug free world”? Quite the opposite – prohibition has enabled a global and exponentially growing black market.

I became aware of the drug prohibition failure while I was working for MI5. One of my postings involved investigating terrorist logistics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Customs across the UK. This experience made me very aware that the “war” had been lost.  It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive overlap between the illegal drug market and terrorist funding.

The US DEA estimates that over half of the designated terrorist groups around the world gain the bulk of their funding from drugs money. So on the one hand prohibiting drugs and fighting the “war on drugs” sends the market underground and that black money provides a key revenue stream to the terrorists. On the other hand the West is also waging the “war on terror”.  What they give with one hand they take away with another.

One stark example of this is the current melt-down in Libya – country that was “gratefully” liberated by NATO two years ago. The dictator was tortured and killed, MI6 and the CIA were helping the “spontaneous” rebels. the infrastructure was ruined, and the bulk of the country is now run by bandit militias which brutalise the inhabitants pr impose hard-line Islamism on them. Many predicted this would happen, including myself.

What was not predicted was the explosion in the drug trade. Over the last decade western Africa has become one of the main transit regions between the producer countries (Latin America) and the consumer countries in Europe. It now appears that this lucrative trade has not only resulted in destabilising countries, leading to violent narco-states such as Mali and Guinea-Bissau, the trade has also become a stream of income to Al Qaeda affiliated groups in Libya. Which is bad for western security, is bad for the stability of Libya, but is also bad for the people of Libya, where there has reportedly been an explosion of drug use and rocketing infections of HIV.

There have been many successful attempts to alleviate the penalisation of drug users in many European countries – Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland spring to mind. Because of more liberal decriminalisation laws, all these countries have seen a decrease in drug use and associated crime, plus good health outcomes and the freeing up of law enforcement resources across the spectrum to go for the drug traders.

However, we in LEAP would argue that only full regulation, control and taxation of the drug market will deal with the scourge of the international drug trade. Until that happens, this global trade, estimated by even the UN at being worth between $320 billion and $500 billion per year, will only profit organised crime cartels and terrorist organisations.

The “war on drugs” has failed. Albert Einstein said that the very definition of insanity was to continue to do the same, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will eventually get a different outcome. That is what we are seeing with prohibition.

And the geek community understand this too. Of course they do, they are scientists. I was heartened by their interest and by their response. Let’s all campaign to end this insanity.

Here is a video of my talk at OHM on the subject:

LEAP – Ending the war on drugs and people (OHM 2013) from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

LEAP_logo

Dutch festival OHM – Observe, Hack, Make

Today I am limbering up to attend the Dutch geek festival, Observe Hack Make (OHM 2013). A lot of talks from whistleblowers, scientists, geeks, futurists and bleeding edge tech people. The visionaries?

You decide – all talks will be live streamed and available afterwards. Enjoy!

NORML Conference, 18-19th May in Bristol

LEAP_logoThis coming weekend NORML UK will be holding its first AGM and national conference in Bristol.

Mr Nice, aka Howard Marks, will be opening the event and speaking on the Saturday night during the two-day event.

Joining the event to discuss the need for a sensible and evidence-based rethink about drug policy will be many other speakers from groups such as Transform, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Beckley FoundationRelease, former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Tom Lloyd, and of course, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The head of LEAP UK, former Met police detective and forensic money-laundering expert Rowan Bosworth-Davies, will be speaking on Sunday19th May.

I shall be speaking at the conference on the Saturday afternoon, and then enjoying the evening with Howard Marks et al.  Come along if you can.

MI6 “ghost money”

Here’s the full article about MI6 “ghost money”, now also published at the Huffington Post UK:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has recently been criticised for taking “ghost money” from the CIA and MI6. The sums are inevitably unknown, for the usual reasons of “national security”, but are estimated to have been tens of millions of dollars. While this is nowhere near the eyebleeding $12 billion shipped over to Iraq on pallets in the wake of the invasion a decade ago, it is still a significant amount.

And how has this money been spent?  Certainly not on social projects or rebuilding initiatives.  Rather, the reporting indicates, the money has been funnelled to Karzai’s cronies as bribes in a corrupt attempt to buy influence in the country.

None of this surprises me. MI6 has a long and ignoble history of trying to buy influence in countries of interest.  In 1995/96 it funded a “ragtag group of Islamic extremists”, headed up by a Libyan military intelligence officer, in an illegal attempt to try to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi.  The attack went wrong and innocent people were killed.  When this scandal was exposed, it caused an outcry.

Yet a mere 15 years later, MI6 and the CIA were back in Libya, providing support to the same “rebels”, who this time succeeded in capturing, torturing and killing Gaddafi, while plunging Libya into apparently endless internecine war. This time around there was little international outcry, as the world’s media portrayed this aggressive interference in a sovereign state as “humanitarian relief”.

And we also see the same in Syria now, as the CIA and MI6 are already providing training and communications support to the rebels – many of whom, particularly the Al Nusra faction in control of the oil-rich north-east of Syria are in fact allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq.  So in some countries the UK and USA use drones to target and murder “militants” (plus villagers, wedding parties and other assorted innocents), while in others they back ideologically similar groups.

Recently we have also seen the Western media making unverified claims that the Syrian regime is using chemical weapons against its own people, and our politicians leaping on these assertions as justification for openly providing weapons to the insurgents too. Thankfully, other reports are now emerging that indicate it was the rebels themselves who have been using sarin gas against the people. This may halt the rush to arms, but not doubt other support will continue to be offered by the West to these war criminals.

So how is MI6 secretly spending UK taxpayers’ money in Afghanistan? According to western media reporting, it is being used to prop up warlords and corrupt officials. This is deeply unpopular amongst the Afghan people, leading to the danger of increasing support for a resurgent Taliban.

There is also a significant overlap between the corrupt political establishment and the illegal drug trade, up to and including the president’s late brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.  So, another unintentional consequence may be that some of this unaccountable ghost money is propping up the drug trade.

Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of heroin, and the UN reports that poppy growth has increased dramatically. Indeed, the UN estimates that acreage under poppy growth in Afghanistan has tripled over the last 7 years.  The value of the drug trade to the Afghan warlords is now estimated to be in the region of $700 million per year.  You can buy a lot of Kalashnikovs with that.

So on the one hand we have our western governments bankrupting themselves to fight the “war on terror”, breaking international laws and murdering millions of innocent people across North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia while at the same time shredding what remain of our hard-won civil liberties at home.

On the other hand, we apparently have MI6 and the CIA secretly bankrolling the very people in Afghanistan who produce 90% of the world’s heroin. And then, of course, more scarce resources can be spent on fighting the failed “war on drugs” and yet another pretext is used to shred our civil liberties.

This is a lucrative economic model for the burgeoning military-security complex.

However, it is a lose-lose scenario for the rest of us.

Taken to court….

A fun interview with Heimir Már Pétursson on TV2, filmed during my recent tour of Iceland:

Iceland TV 2 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Silfur Egils Interview, Iceland

My recent interview on Iceland’s premier news discussion show, Silfur Egils, hosted by the excellent Egill Helgason.

The name refers to an old Norse saga about a hero, an earlier Egill, throwing handfuls of silver to the ground so he could make the Viking politicos of the day scrabble around in the dirt trying to pick up the coins.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.