Oxford Union Society Debate

I recently had the pleas­ure of tak­ing part in a debate at the Oxford Union Soci­ety.  I spoke to the pro­pos­i­tion that “this house believes Edward Snowden is a hero”, along with US journ­al­ist Chris Hedges, NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, and former UK gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Chris Huhne.

The cham­ber was full and I am happy to report that we won the debate by 212 votes to 171, and that Oxford stu­dents do indeed see Edward Snowden as a hero.  Here is my speech:

Oxford Union Soci­ety Debate from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Circumventing the Panopticon, Transmediale Berlin

Last month I was on a panel dis­cus­sion at the Ber­lin Trans­me­diale con­fer­ence with NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, Chelsea Man­ning rap­por­teur Alexa O’Brian, and act­iv­ist Diani Bar­reto. Here is the link to the full two hour event, and here is my speech:

Trans­me­diale, Ber­lin 2014 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Welcome to the Annie Zone

Annie_thumbnailRather than the usual run-of-the-mill nar­ciss­ism, the phrase “wel­come to the Annie Zone” is more usu­ally uttered in des­pair­ing tones when my über-geek part­ner is faced with yet another inex­plic­able tech fail­ure of laptops and phones in my proximity.

I just tell him that he should see me as the ulti­mate geek challenge.…

How­ever, for the pur­poses of this blog, the Annie Zone is rolling out the red car­pet of wel­comes — I am launch­ing a new monthly news­let­ter that you can sign up to.  The news­let­ter will sum­mar­ise my art­icles, inter­views, and loads of other links I’ve found inter­est­ing over the last month. It will also give you a bit of an insight into the strange and var­ied half-life of a whis­tleblower. The first news­let­ter will come out at the end of April.

To the right of this post there is a box to input your email address and a but­ton to click. This web­site is designed and hos­ted with secur­ity and pri­vacy in mind (both yours and mine). Neither I or my team will give out your email address or data to any organ­isa­tion for any reason.

Also, here’s a link to my new about​.me page, which col­lates as much of the social media as I can bear to use.

The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

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

The Real News Network Interview on Whistleblowing

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

The Lindmo Show, Norway

Fol­low­ing on from my talk at the Nor­we­gian SKUP invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in March, I was invited onto the Anne Lindmo Show in Nor­way on 4 May.

Anne is one of the most fam­ous and respec­ted journ­al­ists in Nor­way, and her chat show is extremely pop­u­lar on prime time NRK TV on Fri­day nights.  We had a lively ses­sion dis­cuss­ing the world of spy­ing, what it was like to blow the whistle and go on the run, and the per­sonal price that has to be paid.

Here’s the link to the whole show, and here’s my seg­ment:

Lindmo inter­view on Nor­we­gian TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Report on BBC Radio 4 — the Death of Gareth Williams

A look at the forensic and police fail­ures around the invest­ig­a­tion of the still inex­plic­able death of intel­li­gence officer, Gareth Wil­li­ams, in Lon­don in 2010.

Here’s the link.

The Scandinavian Tour 2012

I had an immensely stim­u­lat­ing time dur­ing my recent mini-tour of Scand­inavian invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ences, meet­ing informed, inter­est­ing, and inter­ested people.

The focus of my talks was the nexus between the intel­li­gence world and the media — les­sons I had learned, researched and deduced dur­ing the whis­tleblow­ing years and bey­ond.  I have heard so many hair-raising media stor­ies over the years.…

And, hav­ing listened to the exper­i­ences of journ­al­ists from a wide vari­ety of other coun­tries, it seems I am on the right track.

Grav_talkFirst stop was the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden, where I gave a talk and had the pleas­ure of meet­ing invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists who con­firmed what I was say­ing, even if some of them didn’t think I had quite gone far enough!  We also had fun at the “min­gel” evening.

Next stop, next day, was the SKUP con­fer­ence in Nor­way where I did a talk, and also a debate about the media and whis­tleblowers.  Note to self: never, ever agree to do a morn­ing debate after the legendary SKUP party the night before.

Finally, last week­end, I vis­ited the Tutki 2012 journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Fin­land (Down­load Helsinki_Talk).  The response was over­whelm­ingly pos­it­ive, and once again I had con­firm­a­tion of what I was say­ing from the journ­al­ists themselves.

So what can we do about this situ­ation?  I shall keep spread­ing the word, and the journ­al­ists them­selves just need to keep say­ing a resound­ing “no” to the induce­ments, at least if they want to work on mean­ing­ful invest­ig­a­tions.  And what real journ­al­ist doesn’t, au fond?

Next stop Geneva, which is why I’m limber­ing up with the French.

A blast from the past

How strange to stumble across this art­icle in the Guard­ian news­pa­per yes­ter­day, which describes a journalist’s jus­ti­fi­ably para­noid exper­i­ences inter­view­ing David Shayler and me back in 2000 while writ­ing an art­icle for Esquire magazine.

The author, Dr Eamonn O’Neill, now a lec­turer in journ­al­ism at Strath­clyde Uni­ver­sity, spent a few days with us in Lon­don and Paris way back when.

Shayler_Esquire_2000The Esquire art­icle high­lights the para­noia and sur­veil­lance that we had to live with at the time, and the con­tra­dict­ory brief­ings and slanders that were com­ing out of the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment and the media. O’Neill also intel­li­gently tries to address the motiv­a­tions of a whistleblower.

When it was pub­lished I was mildly uncom­fort­able about this art­icle — I felt it didn’t do David full justice, nor did it appear to get quite to the heart of the issues he was dis­cuss­ing.  I sup­pose, at the time, I was just too enmeshed in the whole situation.

Now, with hind­sight, it is more per­spic­a­cious than I had thought.  And rather sad.

This art­icle is a timely reminder of how vicious the estab­lish­ment can be when you cause it embar­rass­ment and pain; the treat­ment meted out to David Shayler was bru­tal.  And yet noth­ing has changed to this day, as we can see with the ongo­ing pur­suit and vili­fic­a­tion of Wikileaks.

And now to Finland.…

Tutki2012_logoMy grand tour around Scand­inavia con­tin­ues next week­end, when I shall be giv­ing the open­ing key­note at the Tutki!2012 invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Hel­sinki.  Look­ing for­ward to the conference!

Talks in Sweden and Norway

Off on my travels again at the end of the week, with two key­notes at Scand­inavian journ­al­ism conferences.

Grav_logo I shall first be speak­ing at the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden on Fri­day 23 March.

SKUP_2012Top­ics under dis­cus­sion will include everything from secur­ity and intel­li­gence to the war on ter­ror, civil liber­ties to eth­ics and media freedoms, gov­ern­ment account­ab­il­ity to whis­tleblow­ing and Wikileaks.

On Sat­urday I travel on to Nor­way to speak at the SKUP con­fer­ence to give a talk and also on Sunday morn­ing to par­ti­cip­ate in a panel dis­cus­sion about all things whis­tleblow­ing and Wikileaks. I gather that such dis­cus­sions can get quite, um, lively.

I’m look­ing for­ward to an inter­est­ing and stim­u­lat­ing weekend.

Just Say No — the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Just back from the annual United Nations happy-clappy ses­sion about drug pro­hib­i­tion in Vienna, the Com­mis­sion on Nar­cotic Drugs.  I was there as part of the del­eg­a­tion from Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP), a global cam­paign of serving and former police officers, law­yers, judges, intel­li­gence officers, cus­toms officers and prison gov­ernors, all with years of exper­i­ence on the front line of the drug war, and all of whom cam­paign against prohibition.

Why do they do this? Pre­cisely because they have, dur­ing their pro­fes­sional lives, wit­nessed the ter­rible fail­ure of the drug pro­hib­i­tion laws.

LEAP’s mes­sage is simple, logical and power­ful, and its mem­ber­ship cred­ible and exper­i­enced — have a look at the web­site.

The UN del­eg­a­tion con­sisted of former US drug pro­sec­utor Jim Gier­ach, retired Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Pereira Karam, award-winning US prison super­in­tend­ent Rick Van Wick­ler, and myself.

Need­less to say, LEAP and all this breadth of rel­ev­ant expert­ise was mar­gin­al­ised at the UN.

Un_system_chart_colourThe UN is the sine qua non of bur­eau­cra­cies, an organ­isa­tion of such Byz­antine com­plex­ity it makes your eyes bleed to look at it.

Each coun­try around the world funds the UN via vol­un­tary dona­tions. Once they have coughed up, they are allowed to send national del­eg­ates to rep­res­ent “their” interests at shindigs such as the CND. Those del­eg­ates are pre-briefed by their bur­eau­crats about the line they must take, and no dis­sent is allowed.

NGOs are notion­ally able to feed in their views to their del­eg­ates, although access is lim­ited, and over the last few years the lan­guage of the CND has indeed moved towards harm reduc­tion and children’s rights.  But this merely propag­ates the basic, flawed premise that “drugs” are bad, not that the “war on drugs” has com­pre­hens­ively failed, is ill-thought out, and act­ively dam­ages society.

3_wise_monkeysUN decisions on drug policy are made by con­sensus, which means that there is no real demo­cratic debate and that the res­ol­u­tions are so bland as to be mean­ing­less.  At no point what­so­ever are evidence-based altern­at­ive solu­tions, such as reg­u­lated leg­al­isa­tion, even whispered in the cor­ridors of power.

The CND’s key achieve­ment this year was to get all the nations to reaf­firm their com­mit­ment to the 100-year old Inter­na­tional Hague Con­ven­tion, the first drug pro­hib­i­tion law in a long and escal­at­ing legal lit­any of fail­ure and harm.  And this in the teeth of all evid­ence provided by the suc­cess­ful decrim­in­al­isa­tion exper­i­ments in Por­tugal, Switzer­land and the Neth­er­lands.

So here’s where the fun kicks in, but I stress that this is my highly per­sonal take on what it was like to attend the CND last week:

.….….

WARNING: CND appears to be a potent psy­cho­tropic drug which has unknown and poten­tially dam­aging effects on the human brain.  Expos­ure to CND for even so short a period as a week can lead to dis­or­i­ent­a­tion, numb­ness, depres­sion and a dis­lo­ca­tion from real­ity.  No data exists about the long-term psy­cho­lo­gical effects of pro­longed expos­ure, but some sub­jects can dis­play unchar­ac­ter­istic aggres­sion after only a couple of days’ exper­i­ence of CND.

CND appears to be highly addict­ive lead­ing to rapid depend­ency, and del­eg­ates return year after year for another hit. For a week, it’s party time, but then comes the crash­ing low, as they have to push CND on their own coun­tries for another long year, against all com­mon notions of decency, human­ity and community.

CND is con­tinu­ally presen­ted to vul­ner­able del­eg­ates as the only life­style choice.  Those who ques­tion its effic­acy are out­cast from the gang.  But what of the del­eg­ates’ rights to live a CND-free life, away from the peer pres­sure, bul­ly­ing and viol­ence?  What about redu­cing the harm that CND increas­ingly causes to com­munit­ies across the world?

As the god­fath­ers of CND push the line of harm reduc­tion pro­grammes, devel­op­ing coun­tries are increas­ingly drawn into a life of sor­did “money depend­ency”, even pros­ti­tut­ing them­selves polit­ic­ally to enable their con­tin­ued reli­ance on CND.

The organ­isa­tions con­trolling CND garner huge profits, and there is little polit­ical will to change the cur­rent set-up.

.….….

So, a win-win for the drug car­tels, ter­ror­ists, enforce­ment agen­cies, gov­ern­ments, bur­eau­crats and the wider global “drug war” infrastructure.

Not so good for the rest of us.

LEAP_logo

The Extradition Farce — why the delay in reform?

Out­rage con­tin­ues to swell about the per­emp­tory extra­di­tion of Brit­ish cit­izens to face trial on tenu­ous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tire­less cam­paign­ing of dis­traught fam­ily mem­bers, a grow­ing anger in the UK press, and indig­nant ques­tions and debates in Par­lia­ment — even our somn­am­bu­lant MPs have roused them­selves to state that Some­thing Must be Done - the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a grow­ing con­sensus, why the delay?  I have a the­ory, but first let’s review some of the most troub­ling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to wide­spread pub­lic atten­tion  is the decade-long extra­di­tion battle of Gary McKin­non.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effect­ively served a 10-year sen­tence, uncer­tain of his future and unable to work in his chosen pro­fes­sion.  Thanks to the indefatig­able cam­paign­ing of his mother, Janis Sharp, his case has received wide­spread sup­port from the media and politi­cians alike.

Des­pite this the Home Sec­ret­ary, Theresa May (who has recently been work­ing so hard in Jordan to pro­tect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abom­in­ably over mak­ing a decision about whether Gary should be extra­dited to the US to face a pos­sible 70-year prison sen­tence — even though the UK invest­ig­a­tion into his alleged crime was aban­doned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of stu­dent Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no Brit­ish laws.  He is facing a 10 year max­imum secur­ity sen­tence if extra­dited.  Once again, his mother, Julia, is tire­lessly fight­ing and cam­paign­ing for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tap­pin, a retired busi­ness­man and golf club pres­id­ent, has been shipped off to a Texas high secur­ity pen­it­en­tiary fol­low­ing what sounds like a US entrap­ment oper­a­tion (a tech­nique not leg­ally admiss­able in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sen­tence if convicted.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDes­pite hav­ing turned him­self in, this eld­erly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is con­sidered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fight­ing.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remem­ber liv­ing through a sim­ilar, if mer­ci­fully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK gov­ern­ment tried and failed to extra­dite David Shayler from France to the UK to stand trial for a breach of the OSA. I remem­ber with crys­tal clar­ity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he dis­ap­peared into a for­eign legal sys­tem without trace, the anguish about his life in an alien prison.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remem­ber the fright­en­ing moment when I real­ised I had to step up and fight for him — the legal case, deal­ing with MPs and the end­less media work, includ­ing the ter­ror of live TV inter­views.  And all this when you are wor­ried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learn­ing curve?

In the wake of the recent extra­di­tion cases, there have been ques­tions in Par­lia­ment, motions, debates, reviews (Down­load Review), and there is an ongo­ing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and pre­vent McKin­non, O’Dywer and many oth­ers being sac­ri­ficed on the Amer­ican legal altar — the concept of “judi­cial rendi­tion”, as I have men­tioned before.

Well, I have a the­ory, one derived from per­sonal exper­i­ence.  The Brit­ish media — most not­ably the Daily Mail - inveigh against the uni­lat­eral extra­di­tion of UK cit­izens to the USA’s bru­tal prison régime.  There is also some con­cern about extra­di­tion to other European jur­is­dic­tions — usu­ally on the fringes to the south and east of the con­tin­ent, regions where the Brit­ish seem to have a vis­ceral fear of cor­rupt offi­cials and kangaroo courts.

But what many com­ment­at­ors seem to miss is the cru­cial legal con­nec­tion — the extra­di­tion arrange­ments that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many other legal banana repub­lics com­par­able legal sys­tems to face out­rageous sen­tences are, in fact, embed­ded within the Extra­di­tion Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest War­rant, the the act that was rushed through Par­lia­ment in the midst of the post-9/11 ter­ror­ism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is cur­rently being used and abused to extra­dite Julian Assange to Sweden merely for police ques­tion­ing (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “tem­por­ar­ily sur­rendered” to the delights of the US judi­cial pro­cess. Hmm, could this pos­sibly be the reason for the delay in reform­ing the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant legal wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its citizens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 David Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestinian stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand trial. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing trial.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their legal opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestinian case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should never, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing mother, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extradition?