No encryption? How very rude.

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

It struck me today that when I email a new con­tact I now reflex­ively check to see if they are using PGP encryp­tion.  A hap­pily sur­pris­ing num­ber are doing so these days, but most people would prob­ably con­sider my circle of friends and acquaint­ance to be eclectic at the very least, if not down­right eccent­ric, but then that’s prob­ably why I like them.

There are still alarm­ing num­bers who are not using PGP though, par­tic­u­larly in journ­al­ist circles, and I have to admit that when this hap­pens I do feel a tad miffed, as if some basic mod­ern cour­tesy is being breached.

It’s not that I even expect every­body to use encryp­tion — yet — it’s just that I prefer to have the option to use it and be able to have the pri­vacy of my own com­mu­nic­a­tions at least con­sidered. After all I am old enough to remem­ber the era of let­ter writ­ing, and I always favoured a sealed envel­ope to a postcard.

And before you all leap on me with cries of “using only PGP is no guar­an­tee of secur­ity.…” I do know that you need a suite of tools to have a fight­ing chance of real pri­vacy in this NSA-saturated age: open source soft­ware, PGP, TOR, Tails, OTR, old hard­ware, you name it.  But I do think the wide-spread adop­tion of PGP sets a good example and gets more people think­ing about these wider issues.  Per­haps more of us should insist on it before com­mu­nic­at­ing further.

Why is this in my mind at the moment?  Well, I am cur­rently work­ing with an old friend, Simon Dav­ies, the founder of Pri­vacy Inter­na­tional and the Big Brother Awards. He cut his first PGP key in 2000, but then left it to wither on the vine. As we are in the pro­cess of set­ting up a new pri­vacy ini­ti­at­ive called Code Red (more of which next week) it seemed imper­at­ive for him to set a good example and “start using” again.

Any­way, with the help of one of the god­fath­ers of the Ber­lin crypto­parties, I am happy to report that the father of the pri­vacy move­ment can now ensure your pri­vacy if you wish to com­mu­nic­ate with him.

I am proud to say that my aware­ness of PGP goes back even fur­ther.  The first time I heard of the concept was in 1998 while I was liv­ing in hid­ing in a remote French farm­house in cent­ral France, on the run from MI5, with my then part­ner, David Shayler.

Our only means of com­mu­nic­a­tion with the out­side world was a com­puter and a dial-up con­nec­tion and David went on a steep learn­ing curve in all things geek to ensure a degree of pri­vacy.  He helped build his own web­site (sub­sequently hacked, pre­sum­ably by GCHQ or the NSA as it was a soph­ist­ic­ated attack by the stand­ards of the day) and also installed the newly-available PGP. People com­plain now of the dif­fi­culties of installing encryp­tion, but way back then it was the equi­val­ent of scal­ing Mount Everest after a few light strolls in the park to limber up.  But he man­aged it.

Now, of course, it is rel­at­ively easy, espe­cially if you take the time to attend a Crypto­party — and there will be inev­it­ably be one hap­pen­ing near you some place soon.

Crypto­parties began in late 2012 on the ini­ti­at­ive of Asher Wolf in Aus­tralia.  The concept spread rap­idly, and after Snowden went pub­lic in May 2013, accel­er­ated glob­ally. Indeed, there have been vari­ous reports about the “Snowden Effect”.  Only last week there was an art­icle in the Guard­ian news­pa­per say­ing that 72% of Brit­ish adults are now con­cerned about online pri­vacy. I hope the 72% are tak­ing advant­age of these geek gatherings.

The US-based comedian, John Oliver, also recently aired an inter­view with Edward Snowden.  While this was slightly pain­ful view­ing for any whis­tleblower — Oliver had done a vox pop in New York that he showed to Snowden, where most inter­viewees seemed unaware of him and uncar­ing about pri­vacy — there was a per­cept­ible shift of opin­ion when the issue of, shall we say, pic­tures of a sens­it­ive nature were being intercepted.

Offi­cially this spy pro­gramme is called Optic Nerve, an issue that many of us have been dis­cuss­ing to some effect over the last year.  In the Oliver inter­view this trans­mog­ri­fied into “the dick pic pro­gramme”.  Well, whatever gets the mes­sage out there effect­ively.… and it did.

We all have things we prefer to keep private — be it dick pics, bank accounts, going to the loo, talk­ing to our doc­tor, our sex lives, or even just talk­ing about fam­ily gos­sip over the phone.  This is not about hav­ing any­thing to hide, but most of us do have an innate sense of pri­vacy around our per­sonal issues and deal­ings and this is all now lost to us, as Edward Snowden has laid bare.

As I have also said before, there are wider soci­etal implic­a­tions too — if we feel we are being watched in what we watch, read, say, write, organ­ise, and con­duct our rela­tion­ships, then we start to self-censor.  And this is indeed already another of the quan­ti­fied Snowden effects. This is dele­ter­i­ous to the free flow of inform­a­tion and the cor­rect func­tion­ing of demo­cratic soci­et­ies.  This is pre­cisely why the right to pri­vacy is one of the core prin­ciples in the 1948 Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights.

Les­sons had then been learned from the Nazi book burn­ings and the Gestapo spy state, and pri­vacy was recog­nised as a pre-requisite of open demo­cracy. Yet now we see senior and sup­posedly well-informed US politi­cians call­ing for the mod­ern equi­val­ent of book burn­ings and fail­ing to rein in the global abuses of the NSA.

How quickly the les­sons of his­tory can be for­got­ten and how care­lessly we can cast aside the hard-won rights of our ancestors.

Edward Snowden, at great per­sonal risk, gave us the neces­sary inform­a­tion to for­mu­late a push back. At the very least we can have enough respect for the sac­ri­fices he made and for the rights of our fel­low human beings to take basic steps to pro­tect both our own and their privacy.

So please start using open source encryp­tion at the very least. It would be rude not to.

Whistleblower panel discussion at Logan Symposium

Here is a panel dis­cus­sion I did about whis­tleblow­ing at the Logan Sym­posium in Lon­don last Novem­ber. With me on the panel are Eileen Chubb, a UK health care whis­tleblower who runs Com­pas­sion in Care and is cam­paign­ing for Edna’s Law, and Bea Edwards of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject.  With thanks to @newsPeekers for film­ing this.

news­Peek­sLIVE whis­tleblower inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

US/UK intelligence agencies threaten Germany

Accord­ing to journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald, Ger­man Vice Chan­cel­lor Sig­mar Gab­riel has stated that the US and UK spy agen­cies threatened to cut Ger­many out of the intelligence-sharing loop if it gave safe haven to NSA whis­tle­bower, Edward Snowden.

Here is my view of the situ­ation on RT today:

RT Inter­view about US/UK intel­li­gence threats to Ger­many from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Jihadi John and MI5

So this week the mur­der­ous beheader of the Islamic State, “Jihadi John”, has been unmasked.  His real iden­tity is appar­ently Mohammed Emwazi, born in Kuwait and now a Brit­ish cit­izen who was raised and edu­cated in west London

Much sound, fury and heated debate has been expen­ded over the last couple of days about how he became rad­ic­al­ised, who was to blame, with MI5 once more cast in the role of vil­lain. In such media sound-bite dis­cus­sions it is all too easy to fall into facile and polar­ised argu­ments. Let us try to break this down and reach a more nuanced  understanding.

First up is the now-notorious press con­fer­ence hos­ted by the cam­paign­ing group, Cage, in which the Research Dir­ector, Asim Qure­shi , claimed that MI5 har­ass­ment of Emwazi was the reason for his rad­ic­al­isa­tion. Emwazi had com­plained to Cage and appar­ently the Met­ro­pol­itan Police that over the last six years MI5 had approached him and was pres­sur­ising him to work as an agent for them. Accord­ing to Cage, this har­ass­ment lead to Emwazi’s radicalisation.

Yet recruit­ment of such agents is a core MI5 func­tion, some­thing it used to do with sub­tlety and some suc­cess, by identi­fy­ing people within groups who poten­tially could be vul­ner­able to induce­ments or pres­sure to report back on tar­get organ­isa­tions.  In fact, Brit­ish intel­li­gence used to be much more focused on gath­er­ing “HUMINT”.  The very best intel­li­gence comes from an (ideally) will­ing but at least co-operative human agent: they are mobile, they can gain the trust of and con­verse with tar­gets who may be wary of using elec­tronic com­mu­nic­a­tions, and they can be tasked to gather spe­cific intel­li­gence rather than wait­ing for the lucky hit on intercept.

MI5 used to be good at this — spend­ing time to really invest­ig­ate and identify the right recruit­ment tar­gets, with a con­sidered approach towards mak­ing the pitch.

How­ever, it appears since 9/11 and the start of the bru­tal “war on ter­ror” that two prob­lems have evolved, both of which ori­gin­ated in Amer­ica. Firstly, Brit­ish intel­li­gence seems to have fol­lowed their US coun­ter­parts down a moral helter-skelter, becom­ing re-involved in counter-productive and bru­tal activ­it­ies such as kid­nap­ping, intern­ment and tor­ture. As MI5 had learned at least by the 1990s, such activ­it­ies inev­it­ably res­ult in blow-back, and can act as a recruit­ing drum to the ter­ror­ist cause of the day.

(Tan­gen­tially, the Home Office also instig­ated the Pre­vent pro­gramme — in concept to counter rad­ical Islam in vul­ner­able social com­munit­ies, but in prac­tice used and abused by the author­it­ies to intim­id­ate and coerce young Muslims in the UK.)

Secondly, Brit­ish intel­li­gence seems over the last dec­ade to have blindly fol­lowed the US spies down the path of pan­op­tican, drag-net elec­tronic sur­veil­lance.  All this has been long sus­pec­ted by a few, but con­firmed to the many by the dis­clos­ures of Edward Snowden over the last couple of years. Indeed it seems that GCHQ is not merely com­pli­cit but an act­ive facil­it­ator and ena­bler of the NSA’s wilder ideas.  And what we now know is hor­rific enough, yet it cur­rently remains just the tip of the iceberg.

This deluge of inform­a­tion cre­ates gar­gan­tuan hay­stacks within which some genu­ine intel­li­gence needles might reside — to use the ter­min­o­logy of the spy agency cheer­lead­ers. How­ever, it con­cur­rently swamps the intel­li­gence agen­cies in use­less inform­a­tion, while also cer­tainly throw­ing up a per­cent­age of false-positives.  Bear­ing in mind the sheer scale of the leg­ally dubi­ous snoop­ing, even a 0.001% of false pos­it­ives could poten­tially pro­duce thou­sands of erro­neous leads.

Curi­ous people now have a world of inform­a­tion at their fin­ger­tips. They may click on an intriguing link and find them­selves on a rad­ical web­site; even if they click out quickly, the pan­op­ticon will have logged their “interest”. Or they could donate money to an appar­ently legit­im­ate char­ity; “like” the wrong thing on Face­book; fol­low the wrong per­son on Twit­ter; have their email hacked, or whatever.…

The Big Brother Borg algorithms will crunch through all of this inform­a­tion pre­dict­ably and pre­dict­ively, with sub­tleties lost and mis­takes made. Mind you, that happened in a more lim­ited fash­ion too at the height of the Cold War sub­ver­sion para­noia in Bri­tain in the 1970s and 1980s, when school­boys writ­ing to the Com­mun­ist Party HQ for inform­a­tion for school pro­jects could end up with a MI5 file, and divor­cing couples could denounce each other.  But at least, then, whole pop­u­la­tions were not under surveillance.

I think this may go some way towards explain­ing so many recent cases where “lone wolf” attack­ers around the world have been known to their national intel­li­gence agen­cies and yet been left to roam free, either dis­coun­ted as too low level a threat in the flood of inform­a­tion or oth­er­wise sub­jec­ted to bungled recruit­ment approaches.

In the ana­logue era much time, research and thought would go into identi­fy­ing per­sons of interest, and more cru­cially how to approach a tar­get either for dis­rup­tion or recruit­ment.  I should think that the spy super-computers are now throw­ing up so many pos­sible leads that approaches are made in a more hur­ried, ill-informed and less con­sidered way.

And this can res­ult in cases such as Michael Ade­bolayo whom MI5 approached and allegedly har­assed years before he went on to murder Drum­mer Lee Rigby in Wool­wich in 2013. The same may well have happened with Mohammed Emwazi. Once someone has been tar­geted, they are going to feel para­noid and under sur­veil­lance, whether rightly or wrongly, and this might res­ult in grow­ing resent­ment and push them into ever more extreme views.

How­ever, I would sug­gest that MI5 remains merely the tool, fol­low­ing the dir­ect­ives of the UK gov­ern­ment in response to the ever-expanding, ever-nebulous war on ter­ror, just as MI6 fol­lowed the dir­ect­ives of the Blair gov­ern­ment in 2003 when it allowed its intel­li­gence to be politi­cised as a pre­text for an illegal war in Iraq. MI5 might be an occa­sional cata­lyst, but not the under­ly­ing cause of radicalisation.

Unfor­tu­nately, by immers­ing itself in the now-overwhelming intel­li­gence detail, it appears to be miss­ing the big­ger pic­ture — just why are young Brit­ish people tak­ing an interest in the events of the Middle East, why are so many angry, why are so many drawn to rad­ical views and some drawn to extreme actions.

Surely the simplest way to under­stand their griev­ances is to listen to what the extrem­ist groups actu­ally say? Osama Bin Laden was clear in his views — he wanted US mil­it­ary bases out of Saudi Ara­bia and US med­dling across the Middle East gen­er­ally to stop; he also wanted a res­ol­u­tion to the Palestinian conflict.

Jihadi John states in his ghastly snuff videos that he is met­ing out hor­ror to high­light the hor­rors daily inflic­ted across the Middle East by the US mil­it­ary — the bomb­ings, drone strikes, viol­ent death and mutilation.

To hear this and under­stand is not to be a sym­path­iser, but is vital if west­ern gov­ern­ments want to develop a more intel­li­gent, con­sidered and poten­tially more suc­cess­ful policies in response. Once you under­stand, you can nego­ti­ate, and that is the only sane way for­ward. Viol­ence used to counter viol­ence always escal­ates the situ­ation and every­one suffers.

The USA still needs to learn this les­son. The UK had learned it, res­ult­ing in the end of the war in North­ern Ire­land, but it now seems to have been for­got­ten. It is not rocket sci­ence — even the former head of MI5, Lady Manningham-Buller, has said nego­ti­ation is the only suc­cess­ful long-term policy when deal­ing with terrorism.

Along with the UK, many other European coun­tries have suc­cess­fully nego­ti­ated their way out of long-running domestic ter­ror­ist cam­paigns. The tragedy for European coun­tries that have recently or will soon suf­fer the new model of “lone wolf” atro­cit­ies, is that our gov­ern­ments are still in thrall to the failed US for­eign policy of “the war on ter­ror”, repeated daily in gory tech­ni­col­our across North Africa, the Middle East, cent­ral Asia, and now Ukraine.

Global jihad is the inev­it­able response to USA global expan­sion­ism, hege­mony and aggres­sion. As long as our gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies in Europe kow­tow to Amer­ican stra­tegic interests rather than pro­tect those of their own cit­izens, all our coun­tries will remain at risk.

Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, Berlin 2015

Last week in Ber­lin the 2015 Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence was presen­ted to the former Tech­nical Dir­ector of the NSA, whis­tleblower and tire­less pri­vacy advoc­ate, Wil­liam Bin­ney.

A 36-year intel­li­gence agency vet­eran, Bill Bin­ney resigned from the NSA in 2001 and became a whis­tleblower after dis­cov­er­ing that ele­ments of a data-monitoring pro­gramme he had helped develop were being used to spy on Amer­ic­ans.  He explained that he “could not stay after the NSA began pur­pose­fully viol­at­ing the Constitution”.

Bill remains tire­less, pledging to spend the remainder of his years speak­ing out across the world and work­ing to reform the gross gov­ern­mental illeg­al­ity and stu­pid­ity of inter­cept­ing tril­lions and tril­lions of com­mu­nic­a­tions of inno­cent people’s phone calls, emails and other forms of data. Bill states “it’s viol­ated everyone’s rights. It can be used to spy on the whole world.”

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates decided to hold the cere­mony in Ber­lin as it is cur­rently a global hub for privacy-minded indi­vidu­als — journ­al­ists, film-makers, tech­no­lo­gists, whis­tleblowers and campaigners.

Binney_at_BundestagHis­tory has made Ger­many much more sens­it­ive to the need for basic rights, such as pri­vacy, than many other soi dis­ant west­ern demo­cra­cies, and the dis­clos­ures of Edward Snowden, includ­ing the col­lu­sion of Ger­man intel­li­gence agen­cies with the NSA as well as the bug­ging of Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, have caused out­rage across the country.

Plus, only last year Bill Bin­ney was invited to give evid­ence to the Ger­man Bundestag’s NSA Inquiry Commission.

SAA_Photo_Berlin_2015Whis­tleblowers, former intel­li­gence officers, mil­it­ary officers, dip­lo­mats and law­yers flew in from around the world to hon­our Bill Bin­ney. The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates attend­ing the event were Ray McGov­ern (CIA), Todd Pierce (US mil­it­ary law­yer), Coleen Row­ley (FBI), Eliza­beth Mur­ray (US national intel­li­gence coun­cil), Craig Mur­ray (UK ambas­sador), Kath­er­ine Gun (GCHQ), Tom Drake (NSA), Jes­selyn Radack (US DoJ), David MacMi­chael (CIA), and myself (MI5).

We were also pleased that Edward Snowden was able to join us via live link to give a  power­ful speech hon­our­ing Bill Binney.

So, here is the film of a won­der­fully touch­ing cere­mony, and con­grat­u­la­tions to Bill Bin­ney for the cour­age he has already demon­strated and con­tin­ues to dis­play:

Sam Adams Award Ber­lin 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

And here we have the text of the award cita­tion to Bill Binney:

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intelligence

Presents its INTEGRITY AWARD for 2015 to:

Wil­liam Binney

Know all ye by these presents that Wil­liam Bin­ney is hereby honored with the tra­di­tional Sam Adams Corner-Brightener Can­dle­stick Holder, in sym­bolic recog­ni­tion of Mr. Binney’s cour­age in shin­ing light into dark places.

Bill Bin­ney rep­res­ents the pat­ri­otic side of a duel between two unequal adversar­ies: an exceed­ingly power­ful and ruth­less state and Bill, an offi­cial who would not break his sol­emn oath to defend its Con­sti­tu­tion.  Like Tom Drake and Ed Snowden, he was determ­ined to pre­serve his integ­rity, his pri­vacy, and his per­sonal honor.

On both sides of the Atlantic we hear the man­tra: “After 9÷11÷2001 EVERYTHING CHANGED;” just like “everything changed” after the burn­ing of the Reich­stag on 2÷27÷1933.  That event led many Ger­mans into what the writer Sebastian Haffner called “sheep­ish sub­missive­ness” — with dis­astrous consequences.

As a young Ger­man law­yer in Ber­lin at the time, Haffner wrote in his diary one day after the Reich­stag fire that Ger­mans had suffered a nervous break­down.  “No one saw any­thing out of the ordin­ary in the fact that, from now on, one’s tele­phone would be tapped, one’s let­ters opened, and one’s desk might be broken into.”

What was miss­ing, wrote Haffner, was “a solid inner ker­nel that can­not be shaken by external pres­sures and forces, some­thing noble and steely, a reserve of pride, prin­ciple, and dig­nity to be drawn on in the hour or trial.”

We are grate­ful that these traits were NOT miss­ing in Bill Bin­ney.  Nor were they miss­ing in Edward Snowden, whose pat­ri­otic risk-taking opened the way for Bill and his col­leagues to expose the collect-it-all fan­at­ics and the dam­age they do to pri­vacy everywhere.

What Ed Snowden called “turn­key tyranny” can still be pre­ven­ted.  But this can only hap­pen, if pat­ri­ots like Bill Bin­ney can jolt enough people out of “sheep­ish sub­missive­ness.” Goethe under­stood this 200 years ago when he warned, “No one is more a slave than he who thinks him­self free, but is not.”

“Niemand ist mehr Sklave, als der sich für frei hält, ohne es zu sein*.

Presen­ted this 22nd day of Janu­ary 2015 in Ber­lin by admirers of the example set by the late CIA ana­lyst, Sam Adams.

And finally, here are some extra inter­views from the night with Bill Bin­ney, Tom Drake, Jes­selyn Radack, and Coleen Row­ley:

With thanks to Ber­lin Moscow on Unter den Linden and the Dreger Group for host­ing the event, to pro­fes­sional pho­to­grapher Johanna Hul­lar for all her great pic­tures of the ceremony.

Privacy as Innovation Interview

A recent inter­view I gave while in Stock­holm to the Pri­vacy as Innov­a­tion project:

privacy_innovation

Keynote at Internetdagarna, Stockholm, November 2014

Here is my key­note speech at the recent Inter­net­dagarna (Inter­net Days) con­fer­ence in Stock­holm, Sweden, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblower, spy, sur­veil­lance, pri­vacy and TTIP:

internetdagarna

Interview on Swedish Aftonbladet TV

I’m cur­rently in Stock­holm to do a key­note tomor­row at the fant­astic Inter­net Days con­fer­ence, an annual gath­er­ing organ­ised by Inter­net Infra­struc­ture Found­a­tion.

This morn­ing, I would say at the crack of dawn but it was still dark, I was invited on to Afton­bladet TV to talk about my story, the role of whis­tleblowers, the Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence, and threats to the inter­net. Here is the inter­view:

Sweden — Afton­bladet TV Inter­view about whis­tleblowers from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Germans end investigation into Merkel phone tapping

My recent inter­view on RT about the end­ing of the invest­ig­a­tion by the Ger­man author­it­ies into the appar­ently illegal bug­ging of Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s phone, plus more on the wider com­pli­city of the Ger­man intel­li­gence services:

rt_merkel_spying

RT interview about GCHQ

Here is my recent inter­view on RT dis­cuss­ing the UK listen­ing post, GCHQ, its pros­ti­tu­tion to America’s NSA, and the fail­ure of oversight:

rt_gchq_spying.cleaned

RT Breaking the Set — interview about spies with Abby Martin

Here’s my inter­view from yes­ter­day on RT’s excel­lent Break­ing the Set show with host, Abby Mar­tin.  We dis­cussed all things spy, sur­veil­lance, Snowden, over­sight, and pri­vacy.  A fun and lively inter­view!  Thanks, Abby.

uk_spies_controlling_past_present_future

RT Interview — the anniversary of Edward Snowden

Here is an inter­view I did on 5th June, the anniversary of the start of Edward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures about the global sur­veil­lance infra­struc­ture that is being built.

rt_int_snowden

RT inter­view on Snowden & digital pri­vacy from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Year of Edward Snowden

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge. Also on Con­sor­tium News, Huff­ing­ton Post, and the Sam Adams Award web­site.

A year ago I stumbled  across a story about a wor­ry­ing new sur­veil­lance pro­gramme developed by the NSA: Prism. While nobody was iden­ti­fied as the source of the dis­clos­ure, I was awe­struck by the bravery of this unknown person.

At that time the Obama admin­is­tra­tion had been waging an aggress­ive war on whis­tleblowers: ex-CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s tor­ture pro­gramme, was lan­guish­ing in prison while the tor­tur­ers went free; Kirk Wiebe, Wil­liam Bin­ney and Thomas Drake of the NSA had nar­rowly escaped pro­sec­u­tion for expos­ing NSA mal­feas­ance — indeed, des­pite hav­ing gone through all the approved chan­nels, Drake had faced a 35-year prison sen­tence; and of course the kangaroo court had just star­ted to try Chelsea Man­ning for her expos­ure of US war crimes. Inev­it­ably, it is the whis­tleblower Man­ning who is now serving a 35 year stretch in prison, not the war criminals.

Pres­id­ent Obama has used and abused the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers dur­ing his years in the White House more times than all his pre­de­cessors put together, while at the same time allow­ing a bone fide spy ring — the Rus­sian illeg­als exposed in 2010 — to return home. This para­noid hunt for the “insider threat” has been going on since at least 2008, as we know from doc­u­ments leaked to Wikileaks in 2010.

Against this back­ground, fully aware of the hideous risks he was tak­ing and the pro­spect of the rest of his life behind bars, a young man stepped for­ward. Four days after the ini­tial Prism dis­clos­ure, Edward Snowden announced to the world that he was the source of the story and many more to come. He was clear then about his motiv­a­tion and he remains clear now in the few inter­views he has done since: what he had seen on the inside of the NSA caused him huge con­cern. The Amer­ican intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, along with its equi­val­ent agen­cies across the world, was con­struct­ing a global sur­veil­lance net­work that not only threatened  the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, but also eroded the pri­vacy of all the world’s citizens.

The global sur­veil­lance state wanted to “mas­ter the inter­net”, as another dis­clos­ure proved, and the UK’s GCHQ stepped up to the plate. As increas­ing num­bers of us con­duct aspects of our lives over the inter­net (be it bank­ing, health, social lives, organ­isa­tions, act­iv­ism, rela­tion­ships) this grow­ing lack of pri­vacy strikes at the very root of demo­cracy. Pri­vacy was enshrined as a basic human right in the UN Declar­a­tion in 1948 pre­cisely because without it we are vul­ner­able to the encroach­ments and abuses of the state. What Snowden has dis­closed would the the Stasi’s wet dream and goes far bey­ond the dystopic hor­rors of George Orwell’s novel “1984”.

So what did Snowden dis­close?  Prism was only the start, and that was bad enough — a pro­gramme to scoop up all our metadata: whom we’re in con­tact with, for how long, what we’re read­ing, what we’re view­ing. NSA apo­lo­gists say that this is not invas­ive, it is not look­ing at the con­tents of com­mu­nic­a­tions. I can assure your that metadata is intel­li­gence gold dust. It can provide a far more detailed over­view of a person’s life than any indi­vidual com­mu­nic­a­tion often can.

But it gets worse. Then came Tem­pora and asso­ci­ated doc­u­ments that dis­closed that the UK’s GCHQ was main­lin­ing inform­a­tion from the transat­lantic fibre optic cables, which affected all European cit­izens, as well as dis­play­ing how GCHQ was pros­ti­tut­ing itself to the NSA for money and put­ting NSA object­ives above the pri­or­it­ies of the UK government.

And then XKey­score, enthu­si­ast­ic­ally used by Germany’s BND, pre­sum­ably without the know­ledge of its polit­ical mas­ters.  There have been many more: Brazil’s Pet­ro­bras oil com­pany, the French tele­phone net­work, char­it­ies, the Mus­cu­lar access point and the massive Fas­cia data­base, which con­tains tril­lions of device-location records.…. Where to stop?

This year Britain’s Joint Threat Research Intel­li­gence Group was using Squeaky Dol­phin’s real-time mon­it­or­ing of social media net­works, and the bulk col­lec­tion of private web­cam images via the Optic Nerve programme.

This last most grimly does away with the “done noth­ing wrong, noth­ing to hide” argu­ment. In this era of fam­il­ies liv­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and long dis­tance rela­tion­ships, video skype is increas­ingly used to stay in con­tact with loved ones.  And this con­tact can be some­what intim­ate at times between couples. On video. Any­one who has ever used skype for such pur­poses must surely be feel­ing violated?

Out of this mor­ass of spy­ing came moments of per­sonal annoy­ance for west­ern politi­cians, not least the inform­a­tion that Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was also being tapped, as were those of numer­ous other politi­cians. Which rather blows out of the water the much-abused argu­ment that all this sur­veil­lance is to stop ter­ror­ists. On what planet would the NSA spooks need to live to ser­i­ously think that Merkel could be deemed a terrorist?

All these dis­clos­ures are of the gravest pub­lic interest. Yet how have west­ern politi­cians reacted?  In the usual way — shoot the mes­sen­ger. All the stand­ard li(n)es have been trot­ted out by the spies: Snowden was too junior to know what he is talk­ing about, and was  “just” a con­trac­ted sys­tems admin­is­trator (this line says more the ignor­ance of the politi­cians about all things tech than any­thing about Snowden’s job); that Snowden is a traitor for flee­ing to Rus­sia, when in fact he was trapped there by the USA with­draw­ing his pass­port while in transit to Latin Amer­ica; or that he should “man up” and return to the US to stand trial. There were even appar­ently calls from the spies for him to be extraju­di­cially murdered.

Des­pite this, his dis­clos­ures have res­ul­ted in con­gres­sional hear­ings in the US, where senior spooks have been caught out lying about the effic­acy of these spy pro­grammes.  A US fed­eral judge has declared the NSA’s activ­it­ies uncon­sti­tu­tional, and minor reforms are under­way to pro­tect the rights of US cit­izens within their own country.

Which is a start.  How­ever, that still leaves the rest of us liv­ing under the bale­ful gaze of the NSA and its vassals.

The Brit­ish response has been largely muted, with politi­cians imme­di­ately assur­ing the grate­ful cit­izens of the UK that everything done by the spies is legal and pro­por­tion­ate, when in fact it was mani­festly not. Nor is this any con­sol­a­tion for the rest of Europe’s cit­izens — after all, why should the Brit­ish For­eign Sec­ret­ary be able to take it upon him­self to author­ise inter­cept pro­grammes such as Tem­pora that sweep up the com­mu­nic­a­tions of an entire continent?

Press dis­cus­sion of Snowden’s dis­clos­ures in the UK has been largely muted because of a cen­sor­ship notice slapped on the media, while the Guard­ian news­pa­per that helped to break the story had its hard disks smashed up by GCHQ.

Other coun­tries have dis­played a more robust response, with Brazil plan­ning to build its own transat­lantic cables to Europe to avoid the Tem­pora pro­gramme, and in Ger­many people have been demand­ing that the con­sti­tu­tion be upheld and pri­vacy ensured against the Amer­ican sur­veil­lance behemoth.

The European par­lia­ment­ary Civil Liber­ties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) com­mit­tee has held months-long hear­ings with evid­ence from tech experts, whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers about what it should do to pro­tect EU cit­izens from the pred­a­tions of the US.  Edward Snowden him­self gave a state­ment. This is all well and good, but it would be more help­ful if they could give Snowden asylum in Europe and also put in place some mean­ing­ful meas­ures to pro­tect our rights one year on — in fact, all they would need to do is enact the pro­vi­sions of the European parliament’s own July 2001 report into the Ech­elon fiasco.

Ech­elon, some of you may remem­ber, was a global proto-surveillance net­work, where the intel­li­gence agen­cies of the US, UK, New Zea­l­and, Aus­tralia, and Canada (now called Five Eyes) could all share product and sub­vert over­sight meas­ures in each oth­ers’ coun­tries. In 2001 the EU recom­men­ded that Europe develop its own inter­net infra­struc­ture and move away from its depend­ency on US cor­por­ate pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware.  All good sug­ges­tions, but all too soon for­got­ten after 9/11 and the rush to the “war on terror”.

One year on from Snowden I would sug­gest that these meas­ures should indeed be imple­men­ted. The European Par­lia­ment needs to take action now and show its 500 mil­lion cit­izens that it is ser­i­ous about pro­tect­ing their rights rather than pan­der­ing to the demands of the US gov­ern­ment and its cor­por­ate sponsors.

So, on this anniversary, I want to salute the bravery of Edward Snowden. His con­scious cour­age has given us all a fight­ing chance against a corporate-industrial-intelligence com­plex that is run­ning amok across the world.   I hope that we can all find within us an answer­ing cour­age to do what is right and indeed take back our rights. His bravery and sac­ri­fice must not be in vain.

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

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.