Exile — ExBerliner Article

My most recent art­icle for the ExBer­liner magazine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German Netzpolitik journalists investigated for treason

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

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

Anything to Say? unveiled in Berlin

Last week artist Dav­ide Dormino unveiled his sculp­ture cel­eb­rat­ing whis­tleblowers in Alex­an­der­platz, Berlin.

Called “Any­thing to Say?”, the sculp­ture depicts Chelsea Man­ning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange stand­ing on three chairs, with an empty fourth chair beside them, upon which we are all encour­aged to stand up on and speak our truth.

Dav­ide invited me to do just that for the unveil­ing cere­mony, along with Ger­man MP for the Green Party and whis­tleblower sup­porter, Hans Chris­tian Stroebele and Wikileaks’ Sarah Har­rison. Here’s a report:

Anything_to_Say?_sculpture_unveiled_in_Berlin from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Code Red Media Launch in Perugia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the film of the Per­u­gia launch:

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

AcTVism film trailer

The AcTV­ism Munich media col­lect­ive is releas­ing a film on 19th April fea­tur­ing Noam Chom­sky, The Real News Net­work’s Paul Jay and  myself.

Filmed last Janu­ary, we dis­cussed the old and new media, act­iv­ism, and much more.

Here’s the trailer:

AcTV­ism Trailer — Chom­sky, Machon and Jay from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Holistic security for journalists and sources — Logan Symposium

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

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

BM Foreign Affairs — Role of Intelligence Agencies in the Modern World

I will be speak­ing at BM For­eign Affairs in Ber­lin on 24 Septem­ber at 19:00, about my assess­ment of the intel­li­gence activ­it­ies and inside chances. Some of the top­ics dur­ing this talk include:BM Foreign Affairs

  • The role of mod­ern intel­li­gence agencies?
  • What it’s like to blow the whistle and go on the run?
  • Over­sight and pro­por­tion­al­ity of intel­li­gence agen­cies within a democracy.
  • The role and con­trol of the media.
  • The way forward?

It’s at BM — Ber­lin Moscow, Unter den Linden 52, 10117 Ber­lin. Look­ing for­ward to see­ing you there!

Invit­a­tion (PDF)

New v old media — RT Crosstalk debate

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


Whistleblowers deserve full coverage

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:


Whis­tleblowers deserve full cov­er­age — RT inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Of course, thanks to Wikileaks this even­ing, we now know the coun­try that Glenn Gre­en­wald redac­ted from his ori­ginal report was Afghanistan.

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.

International Journalism Festival, Perugia

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


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.

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.

Voice of Russia radio interview about spies, oversight, whistleblowers, and Snowden.

Here is an inter­view I did for Voice of Rus­sia radio in Lon­don last week about spies and their rela­tion­ship with our demo­cratic pro­cesses, over­sight, Edward Snowden and much more:

Voice of Rus­sia radio inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Riga Talk about Spies, Whistleblowers and the Media

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:

Whis­tleblow­ing is the New Rock and Roll from Annie Machon on Vimeo.