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:
Come along to the Cryptofestival at Goldsmiths, London on 30th November, where concerned hacktivists can help concerned citizens learn how to protect their online privacy.
And if you believe the “done nothing wrong, nothing to hide” garbage, have a look at this.
Cryptoparties, where geeks offer their help for free to their communities, were started by privacy advocate Asher Wolf in Australia just over a year ago. The phenomenon has swept across the world since then, helped along by the disclosures of the heroic Edward Snowden.
I hope to see you there. You have to fight for your right (crypto)party — and for your right to privacy! Use it or lose it — and bring your laptop.
Here’s an interview I did for BBC World Service radio about the NSA’a global electronic surveillance and spy oversight:
A recent interview on BBC World Service radio, on “World Have Your Say”. An interesting debate with some other former intelligence types:
Just a short post to announce the new Edward Snowden website. Away from all the spin and media hysteria, here are the basic facts about the information disclosed and the issues at stake.
And here’s another aide memoire of the disclosures so far. The impact of these disclosures is global. Edward Snowden is simply the most significant whistleblower in modern history.
Here’s my interview on RT about the failure of political oversight of the spies in the UK and US:
RT: Snowden files reveal spy agency’s efforts to escape legal challenge from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
Also posted on www.maxkeiser.com.
Here is a quick interview I did about the EU’s new data protection measures, laws that will have to be implemented in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures about endemic NSA surveillance:
This is an excellent example of how whistleblowers continue to make a positive contribution to society.
Here’s my recent interview on London Real TV, discussing all things whistleblowing, tech, intelligence, and the war on drugs. Thanks Brian and Colin for a fun hour!
The disparity in response to Edward Snowden’s disclosures within the USA and the UK is astonishing. In the face of righteous public wrath, the US administration is contorting itself to ensure that it does not lose its treasured data-mining capabilities: congressional hearings are held, the media is on the warpath, and senior securocrats are being forced to admit that they have lied about the efficacy of endemic surveillance in preventing terrorism.
Just this week General Alexander, the head of the NSA with a long track record of
misleading lying to government, was forced to admit that the endemic surveillance programmes have only helped to foil a couple of terrorist plots. This is a big difference from the previous number of 54 that he was touting around.
Cue calls for the surveillance to be reined in, at least against Americans. In future such surveillance should be restricted to targeted individuals who are being actively investigated. Which is all well and good, but would still leave the rest of the global population living their lives under the baleful stare of the US panopticon. And if the capability continues to exist to watch the rest of the world, how can Americans be sure that the NSA et al won’t stealthily go back to watching them once the scandal has died down — or just ask their best buddies in GCHQ to do their dirty work for them?
I’m sure that the UK’s GCHQ will be happy to step into the breach. It is already partially funded by the NSA, to the tune of $100 million over the last few years; it has a long history of circumventing US constitutional rights to spy on US citizens (as foreigners), and then simply passing on this information to the grateful NSA, as we know from the old Echelon scandal; and it has far more legal leeway under British oversight laws. In fact, this is positively seen to be a selling point to the Americans from what we have seen in the Snowden disclosures.
GCHQ is absolutely correct in this assessment — the three primary UK intelligence agencies are the least accountable and most legally protected in any western democracy. Not only are they exempt from any real and meaningful oversight, they are also protected against disclosure by the draconian 1989 Official Secrets Act, designed specifically to criminalise whistleblowers, as well as having a raft of legislation to suppress media reporting should such disclosures emerge.
This might, indeed, be the reason that the UK media is not covering the Snowden disclosures more extensively — a self-censoring “D” Notice has been issued against the media, and The Guardian had its UK servers smashed up by the secret police. 1930s Germany, anyone?
Defenders of the status quo have already been out in force. Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is notionally responsible for GCHQ, said cosily that everything was legal and proportionate, and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the current chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee in parliament last week staunchly declared that the ISC had investigated GCHQ and found that its data mining was all legal as it had ministerial approval.
Well that’s all OK then. Go back to sleep, citizens of the UK.
What Hague and Rifkind neglected to say was that the ministerial warrantry system was designed to target individual suspects, not whole populations. Plus, as the Foreign secretary in charge of MI6 at the time of the illegal assassination plot against Gaddafi in 1996, Rifkind of all people should know that the spies are “economical with the truth”.
In addition, as I’ve written before, many former top spies and police have admitted that they
misled lied to the ISC. Sure, Rifkind has managed to acquire some new powers of oversight for the ISC, but they are still too little and 20 years too late.
This mirrors what has been going on in the US over the last few years, with senior intelligence official after senior official being caught out lying to congressional committees. While in the UK statements to the ISC have to date not been made under oath, statements made to the US Congress are — so why on earth are apparent perjurers like Clapper and Alexander even still in a job, let alone not being prosecuted?
It appears that the US is learning well from its former colonial master about all things official secrecy, up to and including illegal operations that can be hushed up with the nebulous and legally undefined concept of “national security”, the use of fake intelligence to take us to war, and the persecution of whistleblowers.
Except the US has inevitably super-sized the war on whistleblowers. While in the UK we started out with the 1911 Official Secrets Act, under which traitors could be imprisoned for 14 years, in 1989 the law was amended to include whistleblowers — for which the penalty is 2 years on each charge.
The US, however, only has its hoary old Espionage Act dating back to 1917 and designed to prosecute traitors. With no updates and amendments, this is the act that is now rolled out to threaten modern whistleblowers working in the digital age. And the provisions can go as far as the death penalty.
President Obama and the US intelligence establishment are using this law to wage a war on whistleblowers. During his presidency he has tried to prosecute seven whistleblowers under this Espionage Act — more than all the previous presidents combined — and yet when real spies are caught, as in the case of the Russian Spy Ring in 2010, Obama was happy to cut a deal and send them home.
An even more stark example of double standards has emerged this August, when a leak apparently jeopardised an ongoing operation investigating a planned Al Qaeda attack against a US embassy in the Middle East. This leak has apparently caused immediate and quantifiable damage to the capabilities of the NSA in monitoring terrorism, and yet nobody has been held to account.
But, hey, why bother with a difficult investigation into leaking when you can go after the low-hanging fruit — otherwise known as principled whistleblowers who “out” themselves for the public good?
This to me indicates what the US intelligence infrastructure deems to be the real current issue — “the insider threat” who might reveal crucial information about state crimes to the world’s population.
And yet the US representatives still trot out the tired old lines about terrorism. Senator Lindsey Graham stated this week that the current level of endemic surveillance would have prevented 9/11. Well, no, as previous intelligence personnel have pointed out. Coleen Rowley — Time Person of the Year 2002 — is famous for highlighting that the US intelligence agencies had prior warning, they just didn’t join the dots. How much worse now would this process be with such a tsunami of data-mined intelligence?
In summary, it’s good to see at least a semblance of democratic oversight being played out in the USA, post-Snowden. It is a shame that such a democratic debate is not being held in the UK, which is now the key enabler of the USA’s chronic addiction to electronic surveillance.
However, I fear it is inevitably too little too late. As we have seen through history, the only protection against a slide towards totalitarianism is a free media that allows a free transfer of ideas between people without the need to self-censor. The global US military-security complex is embedded into the DNA of the internet. We cannot rely on the USA to voluntarily hand back the powers it has grabbed, we can only work around them as Brazil has suggested it will do, and as the EU is contemplating.
Other than that, responsibility for our privacy rests in our own hands.
This week I was invited to give a statement to the LIBE Committee at the European Parliament about whistleblowing and the NSA mass surveillance scandal.
I was in good company: ex-NSA Tom Drake, ex-Department of Justice Jesselyn Radack, and ex-NSA Kirk Wiebe. As well as describing the problems we had faced as intelligence whistleblowers, we also suggested some possible solutions.
We were well received, even to the extent of an ovation from the normally reticent MEPs. We also all did various interviews for TV during the day, but this is the only one I have tracked down so far.
Here is the video:
Below is some background material from my submission to the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee on the implications of the NSA scandal.
Here is a video link to the hearing.
LIBE Committee Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens, European Parliament, 30th September 2013
Annie Machon was an intelligence officer for the UK’s MI5 in the 1990s, before leaving to help blow the whistle on the crimes and incompetence of the British spy agencies. As a result she and her former partner had to go on the run around Europe, live in exile in France, face arrest and imprisonment, and watch as friends, family and journalists were arrested.
She is now a writer, media commentator, political campaigner, and international public speaker on a variety of related issues: the war on terrorism, the war on drugs, the war on whistleblowers, and the war on the internet. In 2012 she started as a Director of LEAP in Europe (www.leap.cc).
Annie has an MA (Hons) Classics from Cambridge University.
- The insider threat
- Free Speech Debate project
- Whistleblower discussion panel
- What whistleblowers want
- The value of whistleblowers
- The cost of whistleblowing
- The real purpose of UK secrecy laws
- Head of MI6 statement
- Early article on Wikileaks
- Possible whistleblower protections
- Failure of UK parliamentary oversight
- UK spies and the law
- UK spies: unethical and unaccountable
- Meaningful parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies, with full powers of investigation, at both national and European levels.
- These same democratic bodies to provide a legitimate channel for intelligence whistleblowers to give their evidence of malfeasance, with the clear and realistic expectation that a full inquiry will be conducted, reforms applied and crimes punished.
- Institute a discussion about the legal definition of national security, what the real threats are to the integrity of nation states and the EU, and establish agencies to work within the law to defend just that. This will halt international intelligence mission creep.
- EU-wide implementation of the recommendations in the Echelon Report (2001):
- to develop and build key infrastructure across Europe that is immune from US governmental and corporatist surveillance; and
- “Germany and the United Kingdom are called upon to make the authorisation of further communications interception operations by US intelligence services on their territory conditional on their compliance with the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights).”
- The duty of the European parliament is to the citizens of the EU. As such it should actively pursue technology policies to protect the privacy and basic rights of the citizens from the surveillance of the NSA and its vassals; and if it cannot, it should warn its citizens abut this actively and educate them to take their own steps to protect their privacy (such as no longer using certain Internet services or learning to use privacy enhancing technologies). Concerns such as the trust Europeans have in ‘e-commerce’ or ‘e-government’ as mentioned by the European Commission should be secondary to this concern at all times.
- Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and discuss ideas freely and in privacy, we are all living in an Orwellian dystopia, and we are all potentially at risk. These media must be based on technologies that empower individual citizens, not corporations or foreign governments. The Free Software Foundation has been making these recommendations for over two decades.
- The central societal function of privacy is to create the space for citizens to resist the violation of their rights by governments and corporations. Privacy is the last line of defense historically against the most potentially dangerous organisation that exists: the nation state. Therefore there is no ‘balance between privacy and security’ and this false dichotomy should not be part of any policy debate.
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: