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.

Niemoeller Redux

Pub­lished on RT Op Edge and Con­sor­tium News.

I reg­u­larly revisit the fam­ous Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoeller poem from the Nazi era as his words remain res­on­ant in our post-9/11, “war on ter­ror” world. Over the last week threads of vari­ous alarm­ing stor­ies have con­verged, so here is my latest update:

First they came for the Muslims, but I was not a Muslim so did not speak up.

Then they came for the whis­tleblowers, but I was not a whis­tleblower so did not speak up.

Then they came for the “domestic extrem­ists”, but I was not an act­iv­ist so did not speak up.

And when they came for me, there was nobody left to speak up for me.

Allow me to explain this cur­rent ver­sion. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this web­site will be well aware of my hor­ror at the global rape of basic human rights in the West’s fight against the “war on ter­ror” since 9/11: the kid­nap­pings, the tor­ture, the CIA presidentially-approved weekly assas­sin­a­tion lists, the drone bomb­ings, the illegal wars.…

All these meas­ures have indeed tar­geted and ter­ror­ised the Muslim com­munity around the world. In the UK I have heard many stor­ies of Brit­ish Muslims wary of attend­ing a fam­ily event such as a wed­ding of their cous­ins in Pakistan or wherever, in case they get snatched, tor­tured or drone bombed.

Now it appears that even Brit­ish cit­izens who choose to donate to UK char­it­ies offer­ing human­it­arian relief in war zones such as Syria can be arres­ted under counter-terrorism laws.

moazzam_beggMoazzam Begg, the dir­ector of Cage (the UK NGO cam­paign­ing about the com­munity impact of the war on ter­ror) was again seized last week. As I have writ­ten before, this is a man who has already exper­i­enced the hor­rors of Bagram air­base and Guantanamo. When he was released he became a cam­paigner for oth­ers in the same plight and set up the Cage cam­paign which has gained quite some trac­tion over the last few years.

Over a year ago he vis­ited Syria on a fact-finding mis­sion, invest­ig­at­ing those who had been sum­mar­ily detained and tor­tured in the con­flict. Last Decem­ber he had his pass­port seized on spuri­ous grounds He wrote about this trip quite openly, and yet now, a year on, has been arres­ted and charged with “train­ing ter­ror­ists and fund rais­ing” in Syria. This is a high-profile cam­paigner who oper­ates in the full glare of the media. How cred­u­lous does one have to be to believe that Begg, after all his exper­i­ences and run­ning this cam­paign, is now involved in “ter­ror­ism”?  Really, anyone?

Since then other people involved in Brit­ish char­it­ies offer­ing aid to the dis­placed peoples of Syria have also been scooped up. But this is just affect­ing the Brit­ish Muslim com­munity, right? There’s “no smoke without fire”, and it does not impinge the lives of most people in the UK, so there has been no wide­spread outcry.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

Then we have the ongo­ing “war on whis­tleblowers” that I have dis­cussed extens­ively. This affects every sec­tor of soci­ety in every coun­try, but most ser­i­ously affects whis­tleblowers emer­ging from cent­ral gov­ern­ment, the mil­it­ary and the intel­li­gence agen­cies. They are the ones most likely to wit­ness the most hein­ous crimes, and they are the ones auto­mat­ic­ally crim­in­al­ised by secrecy laws.

This is most appar­ent in the UK, where the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) spe­cific­ally crim­in­al­ises whis­tleblow­ing, and in the USA, where Pres­id­ent Obama has invoked the 1917 Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers more times than all other pres­id­ents com­bined over the last cen­tury. If that is not a “war on whis­tleblowers”, I don’t know what is.

This, of course, is a para­noid over-reaction to the work of Wikileaks, and the brave actions of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden. This is what Obama’s gov­ern­ment deems to be the “insider threat”.  Yet it is only through greater trans­par­ency that we can oper­ate as informed cit­izens; it is only through greater account­ab­il­ity that we can hope to obtain justice. And in this era, when we are routinely lied into illegal wars, what could be more import­ant?

But intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers are rare, spe­cial­ised and easy to stig­mat­ise as the “other” and now, the insider threat — not quite of the nor­mal world. The issues they dis­close can seem a bit remote, not linked to most people’s daily experiences.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

But now to my third revamped line of the Pas­tor Niemoeller poem: the act­iv­ists or, to use cur­rent police ter­min­o­logy, the “domestic extrem­ists”. This, surely, does impinge on more people’s exper­i­ence of life. If you want to go out and demon­strate against a war, in sup­port of Occupy, for the envir­on­ment, whatever, you are surely exer­cising your demo­cratic rights as cit­izens, right?

Er, well no, not these days. I have writ­ten before about how act­iv­ists can be crim­in­al­ised and even deemed to be ter­ror­ists by the police (think Lon­don Occupy in 2011 here). I’m think­ing of the ongo­ing Brit­ish under­cover cop scan­dal which con­tin­ues to rumble on.

For those of you out­side the UK, this is a scan­dal that erup­ted in 2010. There is was a sec­tion of secret police who were infilt­rated into act­iv­ist groups under secret iden­tit­ies to live the life, report back, and even poten­tially work as ena­blers or agents pro­vocateurs. As the scan­dal has grown it appears that some of these cops fathered chil­dren with their tar­gets and spied on the griev­ing fam­il­ies of murder victims.

This sounds like the East Ger­man Stasi, but was hap­pen­ing in the UK in the last couple of dec­ades. A gov­ern­ment enquiry has just been announced and many old cases against act­iv­ists will be reviewed to see if tar­nished “evid­ence” was involved in the tri­als and sub­sequent convictions.

But again this does not affect most people bey­ond the act­iv­ist community.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

jesselyn_radackNow, people who have always assumed they have cer­tain pro­tec­tions because of their pro­fes­sions, such as law­yers and journ­al­ists, are also being caught in this drag­net. Julian Assange’s law­yer, Jen­nifer Robin­son, dis­covered she was on a flight watch list a few years ago. More recently Jes­selyn Radack, human rights dir­ector of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject and legal advisor to Edward Snowden, was stopped and inter­rog­ated at the UK border.

And just this week a Dutch invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist, Brenno de Winter, was unable to do his job since his name was placed on alert in all national gov­ern­ment build­ings. The police accused him of hacking-related crimes and burg­lary. They had to retract this when the smear cam­paign came to light.

Brenno has made his name by free­dom of inform­a­tion requests from the Dutch pub­lic sec­tor and his sub­sequent invest­ig­a­tions, for which he was named Dutch Journ­al­ist of the Year in 2011. Hardly sub­ver­sion, red in tooth and claw, but obvi­ously now deemed to be an exist­en­tial, national secur­ity threat to the Netherlands.

Nor is this a Dutch prob­lem — we have seen this in the US, where journ­al­ists such as James Risen and Bar­rett Brown have been houn­ded merely for doing their jobs, and the Glenn Greenwald’s part­ner, David Mir­anda, was detained at Lon­don Heath­row air­port under counter-terrorism laws.

Journ­al­ists, who always some­what com­pla­cently thought they had spe­cial pro­tec­tions in West­ern coun­tries, are being increas­ingly tar­geted when try­ing to report on issues such as pri­vacy, sur­veil­lance, whis­tleblower dis­clos­ures and wars.

Only a few are being tar­geted now, but I hope these cases will be enough to wake the rest up, while there is still the chance for them to take action.…

.…before there is nobody left to speak up for us.

The Whistler — the international launch

The Whist­ler, the new whis­tleblower sup­port net­work in the UK, recently held an inter­na­tional pre-launch in London.

The Whist­ler has been set up by Gavin Mac­Fa­dyen, Dir­ector of the Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism and Eileen Chubb of Com­pas­sion in Care.

Both, through their work, real­ise the heavy price that all whis­tleblowers from every sec­tor have to pay, not just pro­fes­sion­ally, but also socially, psy­cho­lo­gic­ally and also poten­tially leg­ally. And they want to help.

The organ­isa­tion took the oppor­tun­ity to host an event with a num­ber of US intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers from the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence who were in the coun­try to present (sadly and inev­it­ably in absen­tia) the 2014 Sam Adams Award to Chelsea Man­ning at a cere­mony at the Oxford Union Soci­ety last week.

Here is the full video of The Whist­ler event:

The Whist­ler Launch from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

In Celebration of Whistleblowers

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

In the UK last week there was a series of events to cel­eb­rate the won­der­ful work of whistleblowers.

In pre­vi­ous dec­ades these brave and rare indi­vidu­als have often been all too eas­ily dis­missed with the usual, care­fully orches­trated media slanders of “dis­gruntled”, “too junior”, “sacked”, whatever ad nauseam. But no longer.

Now, in this era where we have been lied into illegal wars, where the banks privat­ise their profits yet make their risks pub­lic and get repeatedly bailed out, and when people are need­lessly dying in our hos­pit­als, more and more people real­ise the value that whis­tleblowers can bring to the pub­lic debate.

Indeed, the sys­tem is now so broken that the whis­tleblower is often the reg­u­lator of last resort.

Plus, of course, this is the era of Wikileaks, Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden. The concept of whis­tleblow­ing has gone global in response to the scale of the threats we are all now facing from the military-security com­plex world-wide.

So last week was rather invig­or­at­ing and involved a num­ber of events that gave due credit to the bravery and sac­ri­fice of whistleblowers.

First up we had the inter­na­tional launch of the UK whis­tleblower sup­port group, The Whist­ler. This is a Brit­ish organ­isa­tion designed to provide a legal, psy­cho­lo­gical and social sup­port net­work to those in the UK brave enough to come out and blow the whistle on incom­pet­ence and crime from any sec­tor, pub­lic or private, and many hun­dreds have over the last few years, par­tic­u­larly from the fin­an­cial and health sectors.

Sadly all exper­i­ence the same treat­ment; vili­fic­a­tion, sup­pres­sion, and even the loss of their careers for dar­ing to expose the incom­pet­ence and even crime of oth­ers.  Sadly, while there is a law in place that is sup­posed to provide some pro­tec­tion, all to often this has failed over the last 16 years.  The Whist­ler provides a much needed service.

A num­ber of inter­na­tional whis­tleblowers were in the UK for the week for other events, and The Whist­ler was able to host them and hear their stor­ies. Gavin Mac­Fa­dyen of the Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism, and the indefatig­able cam­paigner Eileen Chubb hos­ted the event, and former CIA ana­lyst Ray McGov­ern, NSA whis­tleblower Tom Drake, Jes­selyn Radack of the Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity pro­ject (The Whistler’s US coun­ter­part), and myself spoke. The Whist­ler will offi­cially be launched in the UK on 20th March, so watch this space.

The next night we found ourselves at the pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Union Soci­ety, which was kind enough to host the award cere­mony for the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence for the second year run­ning. You may remem­ber that last year the award went to Dr Tom Fin­gar, whose US National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate of 2007 single-handedly hal­ted to rush to war against Iran.

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates is a group of intel­li­gence, gov­ern­ment and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers.  Each year we vote to con­fer an award on a mem­ber of the intel­li­gence com­munity or related pro­fes­sions who exem­pli­fies CIA ana­lyst, Sam Adams’ cour­age, per­sist­ence and telling truth to power, no mat­ter what the consequences.

Since its incep­tion in 2002, the award has been given to truth tell­ers Coleen Row­ley of the FBI, Kath­er­ine Gun of GCHQ, Sibel Edmonds of the FBI, Craig Mur­ray former UK ambas­sador to Uzbek­istan, Sam Provance former US army Sgt, Major Frank Gre­vil of Dan­ish intel­li­gence, Larry Wilk­er­son former US army Col­onel, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, Thomas Drake of NSA and Jes­selyn Radack of the Depart­ment of Justice, Dr Thomas Fin­gar former Deputy Dir­ector of National Intel­li­gence, and Edward Snowden former NSA con­tractor.

This year the award went, unan­im­ously and inev­it­ably, to Chelsea Man­ning, and many Sam Adams asso­ci­ates trav­elled to the UK to attend and to hon­our her achieve­ments and 2013 SAA laur­eate Edward Snowden sent through a con­grat­u­lat­ory mes­sage. Sadly and for obvi­ous reas­ons Chelsea could not receive the award in per­son, but her old school friend, Aaron Kirk­house read out a power­ful and mov­ing state­ment writ­ten by her for the occasion.

The fol­low­ing night the Union hos­ted a debate on “This house would call Edward Snowden a hero”. I had the pleas­ure of arguing for the pro­pos­i­tion, along with US journ­al­ist Chris Hedges, NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, and former UK gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Chris Huhne, and we won — 212 to 171 was the final tally, I believe.

I very much enjoyed the events, so a massive thanks to Polina Ivan­ova, the cur­rent Union pres­id­ent, and her team who organ­ised the events.

The best part of the week though, apart from the set events, was hav­ing the time to be with other intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers and fel­low cam­paign­ers. While in Lon­don we also all had the oppor­tun­ity to do a range of media inter­views with pro­grammes such as Brian Rose’s Lon­don Real TV and Afshin Rattansi’s “Going Under­ground” on RT.

Sadly but rather pre­dict­ably, the old media chose not to take advant­age of such a rich source of expert­ise in town.  Des­pite repeated invit­a­tions, the MSM failed to attend any of the events or inter­view any of the whis­tleblowers. But per­haps that’s bet­ter than the appallingly off-beam cov­er­age the Guard­ian gave to Dr Fingar’s award cere­mony last year.

But the old media are behind the times, which are def­in­itely a’changing. In this post-Wikileaks, post-Manning and post-Snowden world, the tone of the debate has changed for good. Whis­tleblowers are increas­ingly val­ued as brave indi­vidu­als of con­science and there is much more aware­ness and interest in the issues of pri­vacy, human rights and the mean­ing of demo­cracy. Indeed, in the fun­da­mental mean­ing of freedom.

Chelsea Manning wins Sam Adams Award

Chelsea Man­ning was presen­ted with the Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence at an award cere­mony hos­ted by the Oxford Union Soci­ety on 19th April. Many former intel­li­gence per­son­nel from the US and Europe gathered to hon­our her.

Imme­di­ately after the cere­mony I was asked on RT for an inter­view about the cere­mony, the achieve­ments of Chelsea Man­ning and the value of whis­tleblowers:

Chelsea Man­ning wins Sam Adams Award from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Week of the Whistleblower

So this com­ing week prom­ises to be inter­est­ing in the UK, with a num­ber of inter­na­tional whis­tleblowers gath­er­ing for a range of events and inter­views in Lon­don and Oxford.

SAA_logoThe primary reason for this gath­er­ing is the SAA award cere­mony for Chelsea Man­ning at the Oxford Union Soci­ety on 19th Feb­ru­ary.  Every year an inter­na­tional group of former intel­li­gence per­son­nel vote on the Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence and this year, inev­it­ably and resound­ingly, the award went to Chelsea.  She joins a dis­tin­guished list of laur­eates.

TheWhistlerlogoWe shall also be par­ti­cip­at­ing in the launch of the UK whis­tleblower sup­port net­work, The Whist­ler. This aims to provide prac­tical sup­port to whis­tleblowers com­ing out of every sec­tor: med­ical, fin­an­cial, gov­ern­ment… — whatever and wherever there are cover-ups and corruption.

There seems to be a grow­ing aware­ness of the role of the whis­tleblower and the safe­guards they can add to our soci­ety and demo­cratic way of life: the reg­u­lat­ors of last resort.  Please sup­port these campaigns.

Chelsea Manning wins 2014 SAAII Award

Janu­ary 16, 2014

PRESS RELEASE

Con­tact: Coleen Row­ley (email: rowleyclan@earthlink.net) or Annie Machon (email: annie@anniemachon.ch)

Chelsea Man­ning Awar­ded Sam Adams Integ­rity Prize for 2014

Announce­ment by Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence (SAAII)

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence (SAAII) have voted over­whelm­ingly to present the 2014 Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence to Chelsea (formerly Brad­ley) Manning.

A Nobel Peace Prize nom­inee, U.S. Army Pvt. Man­ning is the 25 year-old intel­li­gence ana­lyst who in 2010 provided to WikiLeaks the “Col­lat­eral Murder” video – gun bar­rel foot­age from a U.S. Apache heli­copter, expos­ing the reck­less murder of 12 unarmed civil­ians, includ­ing two Reu­ters journ­al­ists, dur­ing the “surge” in Iraq. The Pentagon had repeatedly denied the exist­ence of the “Col­lat­eral Murder” video and declined to release it des­pite a request under the Free­dom of Inform­a­tion Act by Reu­ters, which had sought clar­ity on the cir­cum­stances of its journ­al­ists’ deaths.

Release of this video and other doc­u­ments sparked a world­wide dia­logue about the import­ance of gov­ern­ment account­ab­il­ity for human rights abuses as well as the dangers of excess­ive secrecy and over-classification of documents.

On Feb­ru­ary 19, 2014 Pvt. Man­ning — cur­rently incar­cer­ated at Leaven­worth Prison — will be recog­nized at a cere­mony in absen­tia at Oxford University’s pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Union Soci­ety for cast­ing much-needed day­light on the true toll and cause of civil­ian cas­u­al­ties in Iraq; human rights abuses by U.S. and “coali­tion” forces, mer­cen­ar­ies, and con­tract­ors; and the roles that spy­ing and bribery play in inter­na­tional diplomacy.

The Oxford Union cere­mony will include the present­a­tion of the tra­di­tional SAAII Corner-Brightener Can­dle­stick and will fea­ture state­ments of sup­port from former SAAII awardees and prom­in­ent whis­tleblowers. Mem­bers of the press are invited to attend.

On August 21, 2013 Pvt. Man­ning received an unusu­ally harsh sen­tence of 35 years in prison for expos­ing the truth — a chilling mes­sage to those who would call atten­tion to wrong­do­ing by U.S. and “coali­tion” forces.

Under the 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act in the United King­dom, Pvt. Man­ning, whose mother is Brit­ish, would have faced just two years in prison for whis­tleblow­ing or 14 years if con­victed under the old 1911 Offi­cial Secrets Act for espionage.

Former senior NSA exec­ut­ive and SAAII Awardee Emer­itus Thomas Drake has writ­ten that Man­ning “exposed the dark side shad­ows of our national secur­ity régime and for­eign policy fol­lies .. [her] acts of civil dis­obedi­ence … strike at the very core of the crit­ical issues sur­round­ing our national secur­ity, pub­lic and for­eign policy, open­ness and trans­par­ency, as well as the unpre­ced­en­ted and relent­less cam­paign by this Admin­is­tra­tion to snuff out and silence truth tell­ers and whis­tleblowers in a delib­er­ate and pre­med­it­ated assault on the 1st Amendment.”

Pre­vi­ous win­ners of the Sam Adams Award include Coleen Row­ley (FBI); Kath­ar­ine Gun (formerly of GCHQ, the National Secur­ity Agency’s equi­val­ent in the UK); former UK Ambas­sador Craig Mur­ray; Larry Wilk­er­son (Col., US Army, ret.; chief of staff for Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell); Julian Assange (WikiLeaks); Thomas Drake (NSA); Jes­selyn Radack (former eth­ics attor­ney for the Depart­ment of Justice, now National Secur­ity & Human Right Dir­ector of the Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject); Thomas Fin­gar (former Deputy Dir­ector of National Intel­li­gence, who man­aged the key National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate of 2007 that con­cluded Iran had stopped work­ing on a nuc­lear weapon four years earlier); and Edward Snowden (former NSA con­tractor and sys­tems admin­is­trator, cur­rently resid­ing in Rus­sia under tem­por­ary asylum).

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence are very proud to add Pvt. Man­ning to this list of dis­tin­guished awardees.

International Day of Privacy, Berlin Demo

The Inter­na­tional Day of Pri­vacy was cel­eb­rated glob­ally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden bring­ing extra energy and res­on­ance to the subject.

I was invited take part in a demon­stra­tion in Ber­lin, cul­min­at­ing with a talk at the hugely sym­bolic Branden­burg Gate. Here’s the talk:

OHM 2013 — The Great Spook Panel

Finally the videos from the whis­tleblower track at the August inter­na­tional geek­fest OHM 2013 in the Neth­er­lands are begin­ning to emerge. Here’s one of the key ses­sions, the Great Spook Panel, with ex-CIA Ray McGov­ern, ex-FBI Coleen Row­ley, ex-NSA Tom Drake, ex-Department of Justice Jes­selyn Radack, and myself.

We came together to show, en masse, that whis­tleblow­ing is done for the demo­cratic good, to dis­cuss the (fright­en­ingly sim­ilar) exper­i­ences we all went through, and to show that whis­tleblowers can sur­vive the pro­cess, build new lives, and even poten­tially thrive.

Here is a great art­icle about the whis­tleblowers at OHM by Silkie Carlo (@silkiecarlo) for Vice Magazine.

With the recent cases of Chelsea Man­ning, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, respect to the OHM organ­isers who saw the rel­ev­ance of this event so far ahead.

RT interview on Manning sentencing

Here is my most recent RT inter­view, live as Chelsea Man­ning was sen­tenced to 35 years in a US prison for blow­ing the whistle and expos­ing war crimes:

RT Inter­view about Man­ning sen­ten­cing from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

OHM 2013 — The Joy of Geeks

ohm2013_logoHome and recovered from the rigours of the amaz­ing geek­fest, OHM 2013.

This was a 5-day fest­ival in the Neth­er­lands where 3000 geeks, act­iv­ists and whis­tleblowers gathered to have fun and also try to put the world to rights.  And this crowd, out of all act­iv­ist groups, has a fight­ing chance. The geeks are tooled-up, tech-savvy, and increas­ingly politi­cised after all the recent assaults on the inter­net and wider freedoms.

These include all the anti-piracy meas­ures (inter­est­ingly, Rus­sia has just joined the lost war that is the anti-piracy legis­la­tion, and the Rus­sian pir­ates are going to form a Pir­ate Church, as this will give them spe­cial pro­tec­tions and rights under the law). It also includes all the invi­di­ous inter­na­tional agree­ments that the US and its Euro-vassals are try­ing to force down the throats of reluct­ant pop­u­la­tions: ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, TAFTA.… you name it, there’s a whole new anti-freedom alpha­bet soup out there in addi­tion to the spook acronyms.

Not to men­tion all the illegal US take-downs of legit­im­ate busi­ness web­sites, such as Megaup­load, and the pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance powers of the NSA and its global intel­li­gence bud­dies, long sus­pec­ted by many and now proven by the dis­clos­ures of the cour­ageous Edward Snowden.

So it was lovely to see at OHM an increas­ing politi­cisa­tion. This was partly because of all the above recent hor­rors, but also because the OHM organ­isers had pulled together a strong polit­ical and whis­tleblow­ing speaker track. The attack against digital civil liber­ties is inex­tric­ably linked to and reflect­ive of the full-frontal attack on our his­toric real-world freedoms:  endemic sur­veil­lance, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, CIA kill lists, illegal wars, drone strikes, secret courts, and many other encroach­ing hor­rors that I have writ­ten about ad nauseam. And this is just what we know about.

sinking_shipIn my view our West­ern demo­cra­cies have been at least fatally holed, if they have not yet foundered. Which, of course, means that our viol­ent, inter­ven­tion­ist attempts to bring “demo­cracy” to the devel­op­ing world are derided as hypo­crit­ical at best, and viol­ently res­isted at worst.

The new front-line of this struggle is “cyber” war­fare — be it the illegal aggress­ive attacks of such US/Israeli vir­uses against Iran such as Stuxnet (that is now roam­ing free in the wild and mutat­ing), or the slower wars of attri­tion against “pir­ates”, hack­ers, Wikileaks, and the grow­ing war on whis­tleblowers such as Brad­ley Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

Well, geeks are the new res­ist­ance and they have a fight­ing chance in my view. And this is why I think that they are our best hope.

SAMSUNGThis was my exper­i­ence of OHM. Three thou­sand of the best and the bright­est from around the world gathered together not just to have fun play­ing with bleeding-edge tech, hack­ing and build­ing toys, and cre­at­ing slightly sur­real, if beloved, hover-pets (see right), but also who turned out in their thou­sands to listen to and absorb the exper­i­ences of a num­ber of inter­na­tional intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers. In the wake of the Edward Snowden case, this is a hot topic in these circles and there was a huge impetus to help.

We whis­tleblowers had a fab­ulous time too. One is a “natural-born geek” — Tom Drake, formerly of the NSA, who was threatened with 35 years in prison because he dared to dis­close prob­lems with his organ­isa­tion. His law­yer, gov­ern­ment lawyer-turned-whistleblower Jes­selyn Radack, also spoke of her exper­i­ences. Coleen Row­ley, the FBI whis­tleblower who exposed the intel­li­gence fail­ure in the US in the run-up to 9/11 and was voted Time Per­son of the Year in 2002 also gave a fant­astic talk called “Secrecy Kills”, and former CIA ana­lyst and pres­id­en­tial “briefer”, Ray McGov­ern, gave the open­ing key­note speech, focus­ing on the need to speak out and pre­serve our rights. I fin­ished the quin­tet of whis­tleblowers and provided the Euro-perspective.

And of course the pat­ron saint of whis­tleblowers also did one of the key talks — but he had to be beamed in. Julian Assange, who was free to attend HAR, the last such event in the Neth­er­lands four years ago, was unavoid­ably detained in his embassy refuge in the UK.

OHM_Great_Spook_Panel_2013

Photo by Rein­oud van Leeuwen (http://​rein​oud​.van​.leeuwen​.net/)

The whis­tleblowers all came together for one of the big ses­sions of OHM — the “Great Spook Panel”, mod­er­ated by the indom­it­able Nick Farr. The panel was basic­ally a call to arms for the next gen­er­a­tion. This addressed the need to stand up to pro­tect our rights against all the egre­gious erosions that have occurred since 9/11.  The response was hugely enthu­si­astic. I hope this goes global, and the wider com­munity fol­lows up.

It cer­tainly did in one way. Ray McGov­ern announced the estab­lish­ment of the Edward Snowden Defence Fund at the end of the panel dis­cus­sion, and the dona­tions poured in for the rest of the event.

So a very suc­cess­ful fest­ival. How do I make that assess­ment? Well, on top of all the fun, vari­ety of talks and net­work­ing, the Dutch intel­li­gence ser­vice, the AIVD (an unfortunate-sounding name to most Eng­lish speak­ers), reques­ted a plat­form at the event after the Great Spook Panel was announced in the programme.

Such an act­ive and open response shows a degree of push-back against a per­ceived “threat”. No doubt the organ­isa­tion wanted to inject the estab­lish­ment anti-venom before the truth-tellers had their say. Any­way, on the grounds that most whis­tleblowers are gen­er­ally denied a main­stream media plat­form and/or are smeared, the AIVD was pro­hib­ited the stage.

Of course, the AIVD would have been very wel­come to buy a ticket like nor­mal humans or pay the cor­por­ate rate to attend to show sup­port for the com­munity — its officers might have learned something.…

RT interview as Bradley Manning conviction was announced

I was live on RT as the con­vic­tion of Brad­ley Man­ning was announced:

RT inter­view as the con­vic­tion of Brad­ley Man­ning was announced from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Security and liberty — the aftermath of the Boston bombings

An abbre­vi­ated ver­sion of this art­icle was pub­lished by RT Op-Edge yesterday.

News of the two bombs in Boston, in which 3 people have so far died and more than 100 have been injured, has rico­cheted around the world.  Bey­ond the grim stat­ist­ics, there is little con­crete evid­ence about the who and the why, and nor will there be pos­sibly for days or even weeks.  This con­fu­sion is inev­it­able in the wake of such an attack, as the intel­li­gence agen­cies and police play frantic catch-up to identify the per­pet­rat­ors and, we hope, bring them to justice — although of course in post-Patriot Act, post–NDAA Amer­ica, the per­pet­rat­ors are more likely to find their names on the CIA’s presidentially-approved kill list.

In the absence of facts, the media fills its air­waves with spec­u­la­tion and repe­ti­tion, thereby inad­vert­ently whip­ping up yet more fear and uncer­tainty.  The fall-out from this is an erup­tion of pre­ju­dice in the social media, with desk bound her­oes jump­ing to con­clu­sions and advoc­at­ing viol­ent repris­als against whole swathes of the Middle East.  And this fear and hate plays straight into the hands of the “enemy-industrial com­plex” so aptly described by Tom Engel­hardt recently.

With that in mind, let’s take a moment to pay our respects to those who died in ter­ror­ist attacks on Monday. Even a quick surf through the inter­net pro­duces a grim and no doubt incom­plete tally: Iraq (55); Afgh­anistan (7); Somalia (30); Syria (18); Pakistan (4); USA (3). All these num­bers rep­res­ent someone’s child, mother, friend, brother, loved one, and all will be mourned.

Alas, not all of these vic­tims will receive as much air-time as the unfor­tu­nates caught up in the Boston attacks. And this is espe­cially the case where attacks are car­ried out by the Amer­ican mil­it­ary against sus­pec­ted “insur­gents” across the Middle East.

Indeed, on the same day The Tele­graph repor­ted that the UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on counter-terrorism and human rights, fam­ous Brit­ish bar­ris­ter Ben Emmer­son (Queen’s Coun­sel), had stated that drone strikes across the Middle East were illegal under inter­na­tional law. Their con­tin­ued use only served to legit­im­ise Al Qaeda attacks against the US mil­it­ary and its infra­struc­ture in the region.

bradley_manningAs we saw in 2010 when Wikileaks released the video, “Col­lat­eral Murder”, such atro­cit­ies are covered up for years, denied by the gov­ern­ment, nor will the per­pet­rat­ors be held to account — they are prob­ably still serving in the mil­it­ary. Instead the whis­tleblower who exposed this crime, Brad­ley Man­ning, lan­guishes in prison facing a court mar­tial, and the pub­lisher of the mater­ial, Wikileaks, faces global repres­sion and a secret fed­eral grand jury indict­ment.

With its end­less, spec­u­lat­ive scare­mon­ger­ing about the Boston attacks, the US media plays a diabol­ical role in fur­ther­ing the work of the attack­ers — ie ter­ror­ising the pop­u­la­tion, indu­cing them to live in a state of abject fear.  Of course, once suit­ably ter­ror­ised, the US people will be even more will­ing to give away what remains of their his­toric freedoms, all in the name of increas­ing their secur­ity.  Well, we know the views of one late, great Amer­ican on this sub­ject, Ben­jamin Frank­lin: “those who would give up essen­tial liberty to pur­chase a little tem­por­ary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

Indeed, the abrog­a­tion of liberty in the USA has pat­ently not res­ul­ted in greater secur­ity, as Boston has so bru­tally demon­strated. No soci­ety can pro­tect itself abso­lutely against terrorism.

In a demo­cracy, just as rights come with respons­ib­il­it­ies, so freedoms come with risk. And we need to remem­ber that those freedoms were hard-won by our ancest­ors and will be equally dif­fi­cult to win back if we heed­lessly throw them away now, while the risks remain stat­ist­ic­ally negligible.

Guantanamo_BaySuc­cess­ive US gov­ern­ments have already decim­ated the basic rights of the US people in the post-9/11 secur­ity panic. At the sharp end, people, both glob­ally and now also in Amer­ica, can be extraordin­ar­ily rendered (kid­napped) to black prison sites and tor­tured for years on the word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, they can be denied due legal pro­cess, and they can be killed on pres­id­en­tial decree by drone strikes — a real-world ver­sion of the snuff video.

Addi­tion­ally, the US has des­cen­ded into a pan­op­tican sur­veil­lance state, with endemic data-mining of com­mu­nic­a­tions, air­borne drone spy­ing, and the cat­egor­isa­tion of pro­test­ers as “domestic extrem­ists” or even “ter­ror­ists” who are then beaten up by mil­it­ar­ised police forces. This oti­ose secur­ity theatre con­stantly reminds US cit­izens to be afraid, be very afraid, of the enemy within.

Ter­ror­ist atro­cit­ies are crim­inal acts, they are not a sep­ar­ate form of “evil­tude”, to use George Bush-era ter­min­o­logy.  As such, the crim­in­als behind such attacks should be invest­ig­ated, evid­ence gathered, and they should be tried in front of a jury of their peers, where justice can be done and be seen to be done. So it is troub­ling that the Boston FBI bur­eau chief, Richard Des­Laur­i­ers, is today quoted in the New York Times as say­ing he is work­ing on “a crim­inal invest­ig­a­tion that is a poten­tial ter­ror­ist invest­ig­a­tion”. The pre­cise dif­fer­ence being?

Like­wise, ter­ror­ist attacks are not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation, even events on the scale of 9/11.  How­ever, I would sug­gest that the response of the security-industrial com­plex poses a greater exist­en­tial threat to the future well-being of the USA. The post-9/11 secur­ity crack­down in the USA has eroded core demo­cratic val­ues, while the mil­it­ary response across the Middle East has bank­rup­ted Amer­ica and cre­ated a gen­er­a­tion of poten­tial enemies.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Com­pare and con­trast the response of the Nor­we­gian people in the after­math of the ter­ror­ist attacks and murder of 77 people by Anders Breivik. As a coun­try, there was a need to see justice done, but not to allow such an appalling attack to com­prom­ise the val­ues of the soci­ety and des­troy a cher­ished way of life for all.  And this the Nor­we­gian people achieved.

BishopsgateSim­il­arly between the late 1980s and the late 1990s the UK endured Lock­er­bie, Omagh, Bish­opsgate, Canary Wharf, and Manchester, to name but a few major atro­cit­ies.  A good sum­mary of the ter­ror­ist attacks against Lon­don alone over the last 150 years can be found here, with the first Tube bomb­ing occur­ring in 1885.  A pilot, Patrick Smith, also recently wrote a great art­icle about air­craft secur­ity and the sheer scale of the ter­ror­ist threat to the West in the 1980s — and asks a very per­tin­ent ques­tion: just how would we col­lect­ively react to such a stream of atro­cit­ies now?

Dur­ing the 1990s, at the height of the Pro­vi­sional IRA’s bomb­ing cam­paign on main­land Bri­tain, I lived in cent­ral Lon­don and worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s domestic Secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5). Put­ting aside my pro­fes­sional life, I have per­sonal memor­ies of what it was like to live under the shadow of ter­ror­ism.  I remem­ber mak­ing my way to work in 1991 and com­mut­ing through Vic­toria train sta­tion in Lon­don 10 minutes before a bomb, planted in a rub­bish bin, exploded on the sta­tion con­course.  One per­son was killed, and many sus­tained severe injur­ies.  One per­son had their foot blown off — the image haunted me for a long time.

I also vividly remem­ber, two years later, sit­ting at my desk in MI5’s May­fair office, and hear­ing a dull thud in the back­ground — this turned out to be a bomb explod­ing out­side Har­rods depart­ment store in Knights­bridge.  And let’s not for­get the almost daily dis­rup­tion to the tube and rail net­works dur­ing the 1990s because of secur­ity alerts.  Every Lon­doner was exhor­ted to watch out for, and report, any sus­pi­cious pack­ages left at sta­tions or on streets.

Lon­don­ers grew used to such incon­veni­ence; they grumbled a bit about the dis­rup­tion and then got on with their lives — echoes of the “keep calm and carry on” men­tal­ity that evolved dur­ing the Blitz years.  In the 1990s the only notice­able change to London’s diurnal rhythm was that there were fewer US tour­ists clog­ging up the streets — an early indic­a­tion of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate, para­noid US reac­tion to a per­ceived ter­ror­ist threat.

In con­trast to the post-9/11 years, the UK did not then react by shred­ding the basic freedoms of its people.  There were cer­tainly con­tro­ver­sial cases and heated debates about how long you could hold a ter­ror­ist sus­pect without charge, but the way of life con­tin­ued much as before. Now, twelve years after 9/11 — an attack on a dif­fer­ent con­tin­ent — the UK has all the laws in place to enact a de facto police state within days.

Life and liberty are both pre­cious. It is always tra­gic when lives are be lost in the name of some twis­ted or arcane polit­ical cause; it is even more tra­gic when the liberty of all is also lost as a result.

Statue_of_Liberty_7My heart goes out to those who were injured and to the friends and fam­il­ies who have lost loved ones in the Boston attacks, in the same way it goes out to all those who were killed and maimed across the Middle East yesterday.

How­ever, I do urge cau­tion in the US response; evid­ence needs to be gathered and justice seen to be done. Another secur­ity crack­down on a fear­ful US pop­u­la­tion will hurt Amer­ic­ans much more than two bombs in Boston ever could, while yet more remotely-controlled revenge killings across the Middle East will kill, maim and dis­place many more thousands.

I shall leave you with a quote from another great Amer­ican, Thomas Jefferson:

Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the acci­dental opin­ion of the day; but a series of oppres­sions, begun at a dis­tin­guished period, and pur­sued unal­ter­ably through every change of min­is­ters too plainly proves a delib­er­ate, sys­tem­atic plan of redu­cing us to slavery.

Frontline Club/New Statesman (FCNS) whistleblower debate with Julian Assange

“This house believes whis­tleblowers make the world a safer place.”

I was hon­oured to be asked to say a few words at the recent debate about the value of whis­tleblowers in Lon­don on 9th April 2011.

The Front­line Club and the left-wing New States­man magazine jointly hos­ted the event, which starred Julian Assange, editor in chief of Wikileaks.  Here is the debate in full:

 

 

Need­less to say, the oppos­i­tion had an uphill battle arguing not only against logic, the fair applic­a­tion of law, and the mean­ing of a vibrant and informed demo­cracy, but also against the new real­it­ies in the worlds of journ­al­ism and technology. 

The first more diplomatically-minded oppos­i­tion­ist adop­ted a policy of appease­ment towards the audi­ence, but the last two had to fall back on the stale and puerile tac­tics of name-calling and ad hom­inem attacks.  So good to see that expens­ive edu­ca­tions are never a waste.…

The pro­pos­i­tion was sup­por­ted enthu­si­at­ic­ally by the sell-out crowd, a resound­ing vote of con­fid­ence in the demo­cratic notions of account­ab­il­ity and transparency.

Here’s a snip­pet of my (brief) con­tri­bu­tion to a fant­astic afternoon: