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:
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:
Here is my recent RT interview about the recent dispute between Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald on what exactly the parameters should be in media reporting of whistleblower disclosures:
Why on earth should the Afghanis not be allowed to know the sheer scale of surveillance they live under? In fact, would many be surprised? This is an excellent related article, do read.
Here is a panel discussion I did at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, in May 2014:
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:
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.
Last week I was invited to discuss the control of the media by the spies and the government apparatus by the Centre for Media Studies at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. Many thanks to Hans, Anders and the team for inviting me, and to Inese Voika , the Chair of Transparency International in Latvia, for setting the scene so well.
I focused particularly on how journalists can work with and protect whistleblowers:
First published on RT Op-Edge.
David Miranda had just spent a week in Berlin, before flying back to his home country, Brazil, via London’s Heathrow airport. As he attempted to transit on to his flight home — not enter the UK, mind you, just make an international connection - he was pulled to one side by the UK’s border security officers and questioned for nine hours, as well as having all his technical equipment confiscated.
He was detained for the maximum period allowed under the draconian terms of Schedule 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act (2000). His apparent “crime”? To be the partner of campaigning journalist Glenn Greenwald who broke the Edward Snowden whistleblowing stories.
Miranda’s detention has caused outrage, rightly, around the world. Diplomatic representations have been made by the Brazilian government to the British, UK MPs are asking questions, and The Guardian newspaper (which is the primary publisher of Greenwald’s stories), has sent in the lawyers.
This episode is troubling on so many levels, it is difficult to know where to begin.
Firstly, the Terrorism Act (2000) is designed to investigate, er, terrorism — at least, so you would think. However it is all too easy for mission creep to set in, as I have been saying for years. The definition of terrorism has expanded to cover activists, placard wavers, and protesters as well as, now apparently, the partners of journalists. The old understanding of due legal process is merely yet another quaint, British artefact like the Magna Carta and habeas corpus.
In the UK we now have secret courts covering all things “national security”, we have pervasive Big Brother surveillance as exemplified by GCHQ’s TEMPORA programme, and we have our spies involved in kidnapping and torture.
So Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act is just another small nail in the coffin of historic British freedoms. Under its terms, anyone can be pulled aside, detained and questioned by border security guards if they are “suspected of” involvement in, the commissioning of, or financial support for terrorism. The detainee is not allowed to speak to a lawyer, nor are they allowed not to answer questions, on pain of criminal prosecution. Plus their property can be indefinitely seized and ransacked, including computers, phones, and other gadgets.
Under Schedule 7 people can be questioned for a maximum of 9 hours. After that, the authorities either have to apply for a formal extension, charge and arrest, or release. According to a UK government document, 97% people are questioned for less than 1 hour then released and only 0.06% are held for six hours. Miranda was held up until the last minute of the full nine hours before being released without charge.
Secondly, this abuse of power displays all too clearly the points that Edward Snowden has disclosed via Greenwald about a burgeoning and out-of-control surveillance state. The detention of Miranda displays all the obsessive vindictiveness of a wounded secret state that is buzzing around, angry as a wasp. Snowden has the protection of the only state currently with the power to face down the brute might of US “diplomacy”, and Greenwald still has the shreds of journalist protections around him.
Friends and partners, however, can be seen as fair game.
I know this from bitter personal experience. In 1997 former MI5 intelligence officer, David Shayler, blew the whistle on a whole range of UK spy crimes: files on government ministers, illegal phone taps, IRA bombs that could have been prevented, innocent people in prison, and an illegal MI6 assassination plot against Gaddafi, which went wrong and innocent people died.
Working with a major UK newspaper and with due respect for real national secrets, he went public about these crimes. Pre-emptively we went on the run together, so that we could remain free to argue about and campaign around the disclosures, rather than disappearing into a maximum security prison for years. After a month on the run across Europe, I returned to the UK to work with our lawyers, see our traumatised families, and pack up our smashed-up, police-raided flat.
In September 1997 I flew back with my lawyer from Spain to London Gatwick. I knew that the Metropolitan Police Special Branch wanted to interview me, and my lawyer had negotiated this ahead of my travel. Despite this, I was arrested at the immigration desk by six heavies, and carted off to a counter-terrorism suite at Charing Cross police station in central London, where I was interrogated for six hours.
At that point I had done nothing more than support David. As another ex-MI5 officer I agreed that the spies needed greater oversight and accountability, but actually my arrest was because I was his girlfriend and going after me would be leverage against him. But is got worse — two days later Shayler’s two best friends and his brother were arrested on flagrantly trumped-up charges. None of us was ever charged with any crime, but we were all kept on police bail for months.
Looking back, our treatment was designed to put more pressure on him and “keep him in his box” — it was pure intimidation. Journalists and students were also threatened, harassed, and in one case charged and convicted for having the temerity to expose spy crimes disclosed by Shayler. To this day, none of the criminals in the UK intelligence agency has ever been charged or convicted.
So the threats and intimidation around the Snowden case, and the detention of Greenwald’s partner, are old, old tactics. What is new is the sheer scale of blatant intimidation, the sheer brutish force. Despite the full glare of global internet and media coverage, the US and UK spooks still think they can get away with this sort of intimidation. Will they? Or will we, the global citizenry, draw a line in the sand?
Oh, and let’s not forget the sheer hypocrisy as well — the US condemns Snowden for seeking refuge in Russia, and castigates that country for its civil rights record on certain issues. Be that as it may, the US establishment should look to the log in its own eye first — that one of its young citizens faces the death sentence or life-long incarceration for exposing (war) crimes against the global community as well as the country’s own constitution.
There is an internationally-recognised legal precedent from the Nuremburg Nazi trials after World War 2: “just following orders” is not a defence under any law, particularly when those orders lead to victimisation, war crimes and genocide. The UK border guards, as well as the international intelligence communities and military, would do well to heed that powerful lesson from history.
So this overzealous use of a law to detain the partner of a journalist merely travelling through the UK should make us all pause for thought. The West has long inveighed against totalitarian regimes and police states. How can they not recognise what they have now become? And how long can we, as citizens, continue to turn a blind eye?
I have held back from writing about the Edward Snowden NSA whistleblowing case for the last week — partly because I was immersed in the resulting media interviews and talks, and partly because I wanted to watch how the story developed, both politically and in the old media. The reaction of both can tell you a lot.
That does not mean that I did not have a very positive response to what Snowden has done. Far from it. The same night the story broke about who was behind the leaks, I discussed the implications on an RT interview and called what he did Whistleblowing 2.0.
Why did I say that? Well, it appeared from his initial video interview with The Guardian that he had learned from previous whistleblowing cases: he had watched the media and carefully chosen a journalist, Glenn Greenwald, with a good track record on the relevant issues who would probably fight his corner fearlessly; his information clearly demonstrated that the intelligence agencies were spinning out of control and building surveillance states; he carefully chose a jurisdiction to flee to that might have the clout to protect him legally against the wrath of an over-mighty USA; and he has used his internet and media savvy to gain as much exposure and protection as quickly as possible.
Plus, he has been incredibly brave, considering the draconian war on whistleblowers that is currently being waged by the American administration. There have been three other NSA whistleblowers in recent years, all also talking about endemic surveillance. All have paid a high personal price, all displayed great bravery in the face of adversity yet, sadly, none has achieved the same level of international impact. Were we just deaf to their warnings, or has Snowden played this better?
I think a bit of both. He’s a geek, a young geek, he will have seen what happened to other whistleblowers and appears to have taken steps to avoid the same pitfalls. He has gone public to protect his family and prevent harm to his former colleagues in any ensuing witch-hunt. And he has fled the country in order to remain at liberty to argue his case, which is key to keeping the story alive for more than a week in the gadfly minds of the old media. I know, I’ve been involved in the same process.
He has blown the whistle to protect an American way of life he thinks “worth dying for”. Yet he has broadened out the issues internationally — what happens in America impacts the rest of the world. This, in my view, is crucial. I have been writing for years that the US is increasingly claiming global legal hegemony over the entire internet, as well as the right to kidnap, torture and murder foreigners at will.
The Patriot Act has not only shredded the US constitution, it also now apparently has global reach for as long as our craven governments allow it to. Now we know that this is not some abstract concept, theory or speculation — we are all potentially being watched
Edward Snowden argued his case very effectively in a live chat on The Guardian newspaper website. It became clear that he is indeed a new generation of whisteblower. This is not someone who witnessed one crime and immediately felt he had to speak out. This is a technical expert who watched, over time and with dismay, the encroaching Big Brother surveillance state that is taking over the world via the NSA and its clones.
He is young, he had faith that a new government would mean change, but in the end felt compelled to take considered action when he witnessed the unaccountable mission creep, the limited and ineffectual oversight, and the neutered politicians who rush to reassure us that everything is legal and proportionate when they really have no idea what the spy agencies get up to.
In both the US and the UK the spies repeatedly get away with lying to the notional oversight bodies about mistakes made, rules bent, and illegal operations. Former senior CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, has catalogued the US lies, and here are a few home-brewed British examples. The internet companies have also been wriggling on the hook over the last week.
Snowden appears to be very aware not only of potential state level surveillance but also the global corporatist aspect of the subversion of the basic companies most people use to access the internet — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Skype et al. A few pioneers have been discussing the need to protect oneself from such corporatist oversight for years, and such pioneers have largely been ignored by the mainstream: they’re “just geeks” they are “paranoid”, “tin foil hat” etc.
Edward Snowden has laid bare the truth of this globalised, corporatist Big Brother state. From his public statements so far, he seems very alive to the international aspects of what he is revealing. This is not just about Americans being snooped on, this affects everybody. We are all subject to the brutal hegemony that US securocrats and corporations are trying to impose on us, with no rights, no redress under the law.
We have already seen this with the illegal US state take-down of Kim Dotcom’s secure cloud service, Megaupload, with the global persecution of Wikileaks, with Obama’s war on whistleblowers, with the NDAA, with the asymmetric extradition cases, with the drone wars across the Middle East and Central Asia.…. where to stop?
Snowden, through his incredible act of bravery, has confirmed our worst fears. It is not just corporations that have gone global — surveillance has too. And now, thankfully, so too are whistleblowers.
What troubles me somewhat is the way that the old media is responding — even The Guardian, which broke the story. Glenn Greenwald is an excellent, campaigning journalist and I have no doubt whatsoever that he will fight to the wire for his source.
However, the newspaper as an entity seems to be holding back the free flow of information. Charitably, one could assume that this is to maximise the impact of Snowden’s disclosures. Less charitably, one could also see it as a way to eke out the stories to maximise the newspaper’s profits and glory. Again, it’s probably a bit of both.
However, I do not think this will ultimately work in the best interests of the whistleblower, who needs to get the information out there now, and get the whole debate going now.
Plus, today it was reported that a D-Notice had been issued against the UK media last week. I have written before about this invidious self-censorship with which the British media collaborates: senior editors and senior military personnel and spooks meet to agree whether or not stories may act against “national security” (still a legally undefined phrase), and ban publications accordingly. And this is “voluntary” — what does that say about our press holding power to account, when they willingly collude in the suppression of information?
Plus, some of the key journalists at The Guardian who were involved in the Wikileaks stitch-up are also now pecking away at the Snowden story. The old media are still continuing to act as a bottleneck of the free flow of information from whistleblowers to the public domain. In the post-Wikileaks era, this is a retrograde step. It is not for them to assess what the public needs to know, nor is it down to them to analyse and second-guess why any whistleblower is doing what they are doing.
As Edward Snowden stated: “The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed”.
Here is my RT interview yesterday about the Woolwich attack. A horrific murder and my thoughts are with the family of the poor victim.
That said, the British and American governments and the NATO countries are disingenuous of they think that their strategy of violent interventionism across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia will have no consequences. As a result of our illegal wars, CIA kill lists and drone strikes, countless families are suffering such trauma, violence and loss across the region every day.
Published in the Huffington Post UK:
Over the last week more sound, fury and indignation has cascaded forth from the US media, spilling into the European news, about the American government and the Associated Press spying scandal.
Last week it emerged that the US Department of Justice monitored the telephones of, gasp, journalists working at AP. Apparently this was done to try to investigate who might have been the source for a story about a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen. However, the dragnet seems to have widened to cover almost 100 journalists and potentially threatened governmental leakers and whistleblowers who, in these days of systematic security crackdowns in the US, are fast becoming Public Enemy No 1.
Now it appears that the US DoJ has been reading the emails of a senior Fox News reporter. And this has got the US hacks into a frightful tizz. What about the First Amendment?
Well, what about the fact that the Patriot Act shredded most of the US Constitution a decade ago?
Also, who is actually facing the security crackdown here? The US journalists are bleating that their sources are drying up in the face of a systematic witch hunt by the US administration. That must be hard for the journalists — hard at least to get the stories and by-lines that ensure their continued employment and the ability to pay the mortgage. This adds up to the phrase du jour: a “chilling effect” on free speech.
Er, yes, but how much harder for the potential whistleblowers? They are the people facing not only a loss of professional reputation and career if caught, but also all that goes with it. Plus, now, they are increasingly facing draconian prison sentences under the recently reanimated and currently much-deployed US 1917 Espionage Act for exposing issues in the public interest. Ex-NSA Thomas Drake faced decades in prison for exposing corruption and waste, while ex-CIA John Kiriakou is currently languishing in prison for exposing the use of torture.
The US government has learned well from the example of the UK’s Official Secrets Acts — laws that never actually seem to be wielded against real establishment traitors, who always seem to be allowed to slip away, but which have been used frequently and effectively to stifle dissent, cover up spy crimes, and to spare the blushes of the Establishment.
So, two points:
Firstly, the old media could and should have learned from the new model that is Wikileaks and its ilk. Rather than asset stripping the organisation for information, while abandoning the alleged source, Bradley Manning, and the founder, Julian Assange, to their fates, Wikileaks’s erstwhile allies could and morally should campaign for them. The issues of the free flow of information, democracy and justice are bigger than petty arguments about personality traits.
Plus, the old media appear to have a death wish: to quote the words of the former New York Times editor and Wikileaks collaborator Bill Keller, Wikileaks is not a publisher — it is a source, pure and simple. But surely, if Wikileaks is “only” a source, it must be protected at all costs — that is the media’s prime directive. Journalists have historically gone to prison rather than give away their sources.
However, if Wikileaks is indeed deemed to be a publisher and can be persecuted this way, then all the old media are equally vulnerable. And indeed that is what we are witnessing now with these spying scandals.
Secondly, these so-called investigative journalists are surprised that their phones were tapped? Really?
If they are doing proper, worthwhile journalism, of course their comms will be tapped in a post-Patriot Act, surveillance-state world. Why on earth are they not taking their own and their sources’ security seriously? Is it amateur night?
In this day and age, any serious journalist (and there are still a few honourable examples) will be taking steps to protect the security of their sources. They will be tooled up, tech-savvy, and they will have attended Crypto-parties to learn security skills. They will also be painfully aware that a whistleblower is a person potentially facing prison, rather than just the source of a career-making story.
If mainstream journalists are serious about exposing corruption, holding power to account, and fighting for justice they need to get serious about source protection too and get teched-up. Help is widely available to those who are interested. Indeed, this summer the Centre for Investigative Journalism is hosting talks in London on this subject, and many other international journalism conferences have done the same over the last few years.
Sadly, the level of interest and awareness remains relatively low — many journalists retain a naïve trust in the general legality of their government’s actions: the authorities may bend the rules a little for “terrorists”, but of course they will abide by the rules when it comes to the media.….
.…or not. Watergate now looks rather quaint in comparison.
As for me: well, I have had some help and have indeed been teched-up. My laptop runs the free Ubuntu Linux (the 64 bit version for grown-ups) from an encrypted solid state hard drive. I have long and different passwords for every online service I use. My mail and web server are in Switzerland and I encrypt as much of my email as possible. It’s at least a start.
And here’s what I have to say about why journalists should think about these issues and how they can protect both themselves and their sources: Opening keynote “The Big Dig Conference” from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
Rather 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.
Wikileaks spokesman, Kristinn Hrafnsson, invited me to speak at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism while I was in Iceland in February.
While focusing on the intersection and control between intelligence and the media, my talk also explores many of my other current areas of interest.