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.

Chelsea Manning wins 2014 SAAII Award

Janu­ary 16, 2014

PRESS RELEASE

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

Chelsea Man­ning Awar­ded Sam Adams Integ­rity Prize for 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCC talk — the Four Wars

Here is my recent talk at the CCC in Ham­burg, dis­cuss­ing the war on ter­ror, the war on drugs, the war in the inter­net and the war on whis­tleblowers:

30C3 — The Four Wars; Ter­ror, whis­tleblowers, drugs, inter­net from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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.

BBC “World Have Your Say” debate

A recent inter­view on BBC World Ser­vice radio, on “World Have Your Say”.  An inter­est­ing debate with some other former intel­li­gence types:

BBC World Ser­vice “World Have Your Say” inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

London Real TV Interview — coming soon

Here is a taster of my recent inter­view on Lon­don Real TV. It was diverse, lively and fun, and should be broad­cast in full tomor­row:

Annie Machon — Whis­tleblower — Lon­don Real TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Empire Strikes Back

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

Sir Andrew Parker, the recently elev­ated Dir­ector Gen­eral of the UK’s domestic secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5) yes­ter­day made both his first pub­lic speech and a super­fi­cially robust defence of the work of the intel­li­gence agen­cies. Read­ing from the out­side, it sounds all pat­ri­otic and noble.

Darth_VaderAnd who is to say that Parker does not believe this after 30 years on the inside and the MI5 group­think men­tal­ity being what it is? Let’s give him the bene­fit of the doubt. How­ever, I have two prob­lems with his speech, on both a micro and a macro scale.

Let’s start with the micro — ie the devil in the detail — what is said and, cru­cially, what is left unsaid. First up: over­sight, which the spook apo­lo­gists have dwelt on at great length over the last few months.

I wrote about this last week, but here’s some of that dev­il­ish detail. Parker cor­rectly explains what the mech­an­isms are for over­sight within MI5: the Home Office war­rants for oth­er­wise illegal activ­it­ies such as bug­ging; the over­sight com­mis­sion­ers; the Com­plaints Tribunal; the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment. This all sounds pretty reas­on­able for a demo­cracy, right?

Of course, what he neg­lects to men­tion is how these sys­tems can be gamed by the spies.

The applic­a­tion for war­rants is a tick-box exer­cise where basic legal require­ments can be by-passed, the author­ising min­is­ter only ever sees a sum­mary of a sum­mary.… ad infin­itum.… for sig­na­ture, and never declines a request in case some­thing lit­er­ally blows up fur­ther down the line.

Sure, there are inde­pend­ent com­mis­sion­ers who over­see MI5 and its sur­veil­lance work every year and write a report. But as I have writ­ten before, they are given the royal treat­ment dur­ing their annual visit to Thames House, and officers with con­cerns about the abuse of the war­rantry sys­tem are barred from meet­ing them. Plus, even these ano­dyne reports can high­light an alarm­ing num­ber of “admin­is­trat­ive errors” made by the spies, no doubt entirely without malice.

The com­plaints tribunal — the body to which we can make a com­plaint if we feel we have been unne­ces­sar­ily spied on, has always found in favour of the spies.

And finally, the pièce de résist­ance, so to speak: the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment. How many times do I have to write this? Top cops and Parker’s spy pre­de­cessors have admit­ted to lying suc­cess­fully to the ISC for many years. This is not mean­ing­ful over­sight, nor is the fact that the evid­ence of earlier major intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers was ignored by the ISC, except for the part where they might be under invest­ig­a­tion by MI5 themselves.…

Of course, the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has entered the lists this sum­mer to say that the ISC has just acquired new powers and can now go into the spies’ lairs, demand to see papers, and over­see oper­a­tional activ­it­ies. This is indeed good, if belated, news, but from a man who has already cleared GCHQ’s endemic data-mining as law­ful, one has to won­der how thor­ough he will be.

While the com­mit­tee remains chosen by the PM, answer­able only to the PM, who can also vet the find­ings, this com­mit­tee is irre­deem­ably undemo­cratic. It will remain full of cred­u­lous yes-men only too happy to sup­port the status quo.

Secondly, what are the threats that Parker talks about? He has worked for MI5 for 30 years and will there­fore remem­ber not only the Cold War era, where Soviet spies were hunted down, but also the very real and per­vas­ive threat of IRA bombs reg­u­larly explod­ing on UK streets. At the same time hun­dreds of thou­sands of polit­ic­ally act­ive UK cit­izens were aggress­ively invest­ig­ated. A (cold) war and the threat of ter­ror­ism allowed the spies a drag-net of sur­veil­lance even then.

V_for_Vendetta_masksHow much worse now, in this hyper-connected, data-mining era? One chilling phrase that leapt out at me from Parker’s speech was the need to invest­ig­ate “ter­ror­ists and oth­ers threat­en­ing national secur­ity”. National secur­ity has never been leg­ally defined for the pur­poses of UK law, and we see the goal posts move again and again. In the 1980s, when Parker joined MI5, it was the “reds under the bed”, the so-called sub­vers­ives. Now it can be the Occupy group encamped in the City of Lon­don or envir­on­mental act­iv­ists wav­ing plac­ards.

So now for my macro con­cerns, which are about wider con­cepts. Parker used his first pub­lic speech to defend not only the work of his own organ­isa­tion, but also to attack the whis­tleblow­ing efforts of Edward Snowden and the cov­er­age in The Guard­ian news­pa­per. He attempts to seam­lessly elide the work and the over­sight mod­els of MI5 and GCHQ.  And who is fall­ing for this?  Well, much of the UK media appar­ently.

This mud­dies the waters. The con­cerns about Snowden’s dis­clos­ures are global — the TEMPORA pro­ject affects not only the cit­izens of the UK but people across Europe and bey­ond. For Rif­kind or the For­eign Sec­ret­ary to com­pla­cently say that GCHQ is over­seen by them and everything is hunkey-dorey is just not good enough, even for the hap­less cit­izens of the UK. How much more so for those unrep­res­en­ted people across the world?

The IOCA (1985) and later and much-abused RIPA (2000) laws were writ­ten before the UK gov­ern­ment could have con­ceived of the sheer scale of the inter­net. They are way out of date — 20th cen­tury rolling omni­bus war­rants hoover­ing up every scrap of data and being stored for unknown times in case you might com­mit a (thought?) crime in the future. This is noth­ing like mean­ing­ful oversight.

Unlike the UK, even the USA is cur­rently hav­ing con­gres­sional hear­ings and media debates about the lim­its of the elec­tronic sur­veil­lance pro­gramme. Con­sid­er­ing America’s mus­cu­lar response after 9/11, with illegal inva­sions, drone strikes, CIA kill lists and extraordin­ary kid­nap­pings (to this day), that casts the UK spy com­pla­cency in a par­tic­u­larly unflat­ter­ing light.

Plus if 58,000 GCHQ doc­u­ments have really been copied by a young NSA con­tractor, why are Parker and Rif­kind not ask­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions of the Amer­ican admin­is­tra­tion, rather than con­tinu­ing to jus­tify the anti­quated Brit­ish over­sight system?

Finally, Parker is show­ing his age as well as his pro­fes­sion when he talks about the inter­webs and all the implic­a­tions.  As I said dur­ing my state­ment to the LIBE com­mit­tee in the European Parliament:

  • 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.

US/UK spy chiefs cover up NSA surveillance scandal

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge. Also on Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House and The Huff­ing­ton Post.

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 Row­leyTime 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.

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.

Dearlove Doublethink

Pub­lished on Con­sor­tium News, RT Op-Edge, and The Real News Net­work.

In a sen­sa­tional art­icle in a UK news­pa­per last week­end, the former head of the UK’s for­eign intel­li­gence gath­er­ing agency, MI6, appears to have broken the code of omertà around the fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence case used as the pre­text for the Iraq war in 2003.

DearloveSir Richard Dear­love, former head of MI6 and cur­rent Mas­ter of Pem­broke Col­lege, Cam­bridge, con­tac­ted the UK’s Mail on Sunday news­pa­per to state that he had writ­ten his ver­sion of the (ab)use of intel­li­gence in the run-up to the US/UK inva­sion of Iraq.  With the long-awaited and much-delayed offi­cial Chil­cot Enquiry into the case for war about to be pub­lished, Dear­love is obvi­ously aware that he might be blamed for the “sex­ing up” of the intel­li­gence, and that Teflon Tony Blair might once again shuffle off all responsibility.

You’ll no doubt have some vague recol­lec­tion that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment pro­duced a couple of reports “mak­ing a case for war”, as Major Gen­eral Michael Laurie said in his evid­ence to the enquiry in 2011: “We knew at the time that the pur­pose of the [Septem­ber] dossier was pre­cisely to make a case for war, rather than set­ting out the avail­able intel­li­gence, and that to make the best out of sparse and incon­clus­ive intel­li­gence the word­ing was developed with care.”

The first such report, the Septem­ber Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed “sex up” the case for war as the deceased Iraqi weapons inspector Dr David Kelly exposed. It also included the fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence about Sad­dam Hus­sein try­ing to acquire uranium from Niger. It was this lat­ter claim that Colin Pow­ell used to such great effect at the UN Secur­ity Council.

Rupert_Murdoch

Also, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy” Dossier, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Inter­net, but con­tain­ing nug­gets of raw MI6 intel­li­gence — was presen­ted by spy and politi­cian alike as omin­ous pre­mon­it­ory intelligence.

Most mem­or­ably in the UK, it led to the bogus “Brits 45 minutes from Doom” front-page head­line in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun news­pa­per, no less, on the eve of the cru­cial war vote in Parliament.

Inter­est­ingly from a Brit­ish legal pos­i­tion, it appears that Tony Blair and his spin doc­tor Alastair Camp­bell released this report without the prior writ­ten per­mis­sion of the head of MI6, which means that they would appear to be in breach of the UK’s dra­conian secrecy law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989).

Thus was made the dodgy case for war.  All lies — mil­lions of deaths and many more maimed, wounded, and dis­placed, yet no one held to account.

Sub­sequently, there was also the notori­ous leaked Down­ing Street Memo, where Sir Richard Dear­love was minuted as say­ing that the intel­li­gence and facts were being fit­ted around the [pre­de­ter­mined war] policy.

On July 23, 2002 at a meet­ing at 10 Down­ing Street, Dear­love briefed Tony Blair and other senior offi­cials on his talks with his Amer­ican coun­ter­part, CIA Dir­ector George Tenet, in Wash­ing­ton three days before.

In the draft minutes of that brief­ing, which were leaked to the Lon­don Times and pub­lished on May 1, 2005, Dear­love explains that George Bush had decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “jus­ti­fied by the con­junc­tion of ter­ror­ism and weapons of mass destruc­tion.”  While then-Foreign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dear­love explains matter-of-factly, “the intel­li­gence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”

Tony_BlairThere is no sign in the minutes that any­one hic­cuped — much less demurred — at ”mak­ing a case for war” and fur­ther­ing Blair’s determ­in­a­tion to join Bush in launch­ing the kind of “war of aggres­sion” out­lawed by the post-world war Nurem­berg Tribunal and the UN treaty.

The acqui­es­cence of the chief spies helped their polit­ical mas­ters main­line into the body politic unas­sessed, raw intel­li­gence and forged doc­u­ments, with dis­astrous con­sequences for the people of Iraq and the world.

Yet Dear­love long remained unre­pent­ant. Even as recently as 2011, post-retirement and bloated with hon­ours, he con­tin­ued to deny culp­ab­il­ity. When ques­tioned about the Down­ing Street Memo dur­ing an address to the pres­ti­gi­ous Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Union Soci­ety by the fear­less and fear­somely bright stu­dent, Silkie Carlo, Dear­love tried grandi­loquently to brush her aside.

But were the remarks in the Memo really “taken out of con­text” as Dear­love tried to assert? No – the text of the Memo was clear and explicit.

So Dear­love could poten­tially have saved mil­lions of lives across the Middle East if he had gone pub­lic then, rather than now as he is threat­en­ing, with his con­sidered pro­fes­sional opin­ion about the intel­li­gence facts being fit­ted around a pre­con­ceived war policy.

Would it not be lovely if these retired ser­vants of the crown, replete with respect, status and hon­ours, could actu­ally take a stand while they are in a pos­i­tion to influ­ence world events?

Doing so now, purely to pre­serve his repu­ta­tion rather than to pre­serve lives, is even more “eth­ic­ally flex­ible” than you would nor­mally expect of an aver­age MI6 intel­li­gence officer. Per­haps that is why he floated to the top of the organisation.

Dear­love is right to be wor­ried about how both Chil­cot and his­tory will judge him.  These intel­li­gence fail­ures and lies have been picked over and spec­u­lated about for years. They are an open secret.

But hold­ing the gun of dis­clos­ure to the UK government’s head smacks of des­per­a­tion.  He is quoted as say­ing that he has no plans to breach the Offi­cial Secrets Act by pub­lish­ing his mem­oirs. But by pub­lish­ing an account of the run-up to the Iraq war, he would be still guilty of a breach of the OSA. It has been estab­lished under UK law that any unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure crosses the “clear bright line” of the law. And Dear­love seems well aware of this – his ori­ginal plan was for his account to be made avail­able after his death.

Rectum_DefendeI can see why he would plan that – firstly he would not risk pro­sec­u­tion under the dra­conian terms of the OSA, but his account would, in his view, set the record straight and pro­tect his repu­ta­tion for pos­ter­ity.  A posthum­ous win-win.

The offi­cial motto of the UK spies is “Regnum Defende” — defence of the realm. Serving intel­li­gence officers mord­antly alter this to “Rectum Defende” — politely trans­lated as watch your back.

Dear­love seems to be liv­ing up to the motto.  He must be one very frightened old man to be con­tem­plat­ing such pre­ma­ture publication.

With credit and thanks to former CIA ana­lyst, cur­rent truth-teller and gen­eral pain in the “regnum” to the intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment, Ray McGov­ern, and also Sander Venema for his eleg­antly clas­sical rework­ing of the final image.

Spies need more oversight, not new powers

Pub­lished on www​.polit​ics​.co​.uk, and Huff­ing­ton Post UK.

Fol­low­ing the awful murder of Drum­mer Lee Rigby in Wool­wich last week, the polit­ical securo­crats who claim to rep­res­ent the interests of the Brit­ish intel­li­gence ser­vices have swung into action, demand­ing yet fur­ther sur­veil­lance powers for MI5 and MI6 “in order to pre­vent future Woolwich-style attacks”.

As I’ve writ­ten before, it was heart­en­ing that the UK Prime Min­is­ter said in the after­math of the attack that there would be no knee-jerk secur­ity reac­tion. How­ever, that has not deterred cer­tain intel­li­gence sock-puppets from polit­ical oppor­tunism — they stridently call for the resur­rec­tion of the draft Com­mu­nic­a­tions Data Bill that was earlier this year kicked into the long grass. If the hawks are suc­cess­ful, the new law would have implic­a­tions not only for our freedoms at home, but also for our policy and stand­ing abroad.

Recently the civil liber­ties camp acquired a sur­pris­ing ally in this debate, with MI5 unex­pec­tedly enter­ing the fray.  And rightly so. There is abso­lutely no need for this new legis­la­tion, the requis­ite powers are already in place. Senior secur­ity sources have argued that those cit­ing the Wool­wich attack to pro­mote the snoop­ers’ charter are using a “cheap argu­ment”.

As I said in this recent BBC radio inter­view, all the neces­sary laws are already in place for MI5 either to pass­ively mon­itor or aggress­ively invest­ig­ate per­sons of interest under the ori­ginal terms of IOCA (1985) and updated in the Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (RIPA 2000).

There now appears to be little doubt that the two Wool­wich sus­pects were well and truly on the MI5 radar. It has been repor­ted that they had been tar­gets for at least 8 years and that Michael Ade­bolajo had been approached to work as an agent by MI5 as recently as 6 months ago.

One of his friends, Abu Nusay­bah, recor­ded an inter­view for BBC’s News­night pro­gramme last week, only to be arres­ted by counter-terrorism police imme­di­ately after­wards. He stated that Ade­bolajo had been tor­tured and threatened with rape after his arrest in Kenya en route to Somalia, and that this treat­ment may have flipped him into more viol­ent action. Indeed, the tale gets ever mur­kier, with reports yes­ter­day stat­ing that Ade­bolajo was snatched by the SAS in Kenya on the orders of MI5.

Other inform­a­tion has since been released by the organ­isa­tion Cage­Pris­on­ers indic­at­ing that Adebolajo’s fam­ily and friends had also been har­rassed to pres­sur­ize him into report­ing to MI5.

All of which obvi­ates the early claims that Ade­bolajo was either a “lone wolf” or a low-priority tar­get. It cer­tainly indic­ates to me that MI5 will have at the very least been mon­it­or­ing Adebolajo’s com­mu­nic­a­tions data, espe­cially if they were try­ing to recruit him as a source. If that indeed turns out to have been the case, then without doubt MI5 will also have been inter­cept­ing the con­tent of his com­mu­nic­a­tions, to under­stand his think­ing and assess his access. Any­thing less would have been slip­shod — a derel­ic­tion of duty — and all this could and should have been done under the exist­ing terms of RIPA.

So what are the chances of some real over­sight or answers?

If we’re talk­ing about an inde­pend­ent inquiry, the chances are slim: the Inquir­ies Act (2005) passed little noticed into law, but it means that the gov­ern­ment and the depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion can pretty much determ­ine the scope and terms of the inquiry to which they are subject.

How­ever, might we nail the flag of hope to the mast of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment (ISC) — the com­mit­tee tasked with over­see­ing the work of the UK intel­li­gence agen­cies? The new DG of MI5, Andrew Parker, has already sub­mit­ted a writ­ten report about Wool­wich and will be giv­ing evid­ence to the ISC in per­son next week about whether MI5 missed some vital intel­li­gence or dropped the ball.

Th ISC of Par­lia­ment was estab­lished as part of the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (1994) — the law that finally brought MI6 and GCHQ under the umbrella of notional demo­cratic over­sight. MI5 had already come into the legal fold with the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act (1989).

As I have writ­ten before, ini­tially the ISC was a demo­cratic fig-leaf — its mem­bers were appoin­ted by the PM not Par­lia­ment, it repor­ted dir­ectly to the PM, and its remit only covered the policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion of the UK’s intel­li­gence agencies.

Until this year the ISC could not invest­ig­ate oper­a­tional mat­ters, nor could it demand to see doc­u­ments or ques­tion top spooks under oath. Indeed, it has been well repor­ted that senior spies and police have long evaded mean­ing­ful scru­tiny by being “eco­nom­ical with the truth”.

Former MI5 DG Sir Stephen Lander in 2001 said “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee early on”; a more recent DG, Sir Jonathan Evans, had to admit in 2008 that MI5 had lied about its involve­ment in tor­ture; and Lord Blair, former Com­mis­sioner of the Met­ro­pol­itan Police, had to apo­lo­gise in 2008 for mis­lead­ing the ISC about the num­ber of thwarted ter­ror­ist attacks on his watch.

How­ever the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has pur­sued a more mus­cu­lar over­sight role. And it seems he has at least won some battles. The one good ele­ment to have come out of the con­ten­tious Justice and Secur­ity Act (2013) appears to be that the ISC has more dir­ect account­ab­il­ity to Par­lia­ment, rather than just to the PM (the devil is expressed in the detail: the ISC is now “of” Par­lia­ment, rather than “in” Parliament…).

Some­what more per­tin­ently, the ISC can now invest­ig­ate oper­a­tional mat­ters, demand papers and wit­nesses, and it appears they now have a spe­cial invest­ig­ator who can go and rum­mage around the MI5 Registry for information.

It remains to be seen how effect­ive the ISC will real­ist­ic­ally be in hold­ing the intel­li­gence agen­cies to account, even with these new powers. How­ever, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind has good reason to know how slip­pery the spies can be — after all, he was the For­eign Sec­ret­ary in 1995/6, the years when MI6 was fund­ing Al Qaeda asso­ci­ates to assas­sin­ate Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya.  The attack went wrong, inno­cent people were killed and, cru­cially, it was illegal under UK law, as MI6 had not reques­ted the prior writ­ten per­mis­sion for such a plot from the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, as required under Sec­tion 7(1) of the afore­men­tioned ISA (1994). Rif­kind has always claimed that he was not told about the plot by MI6.

So, in the interests of justice let us hope that the Rif­kind and the other mem­bers of the ISC fully exer­cise their powers and that MI5’s new DG, Andrew Parker is some­what more frank about the work of his agency than his pre­de­cessors have been. It is only through greater hon­esty and account­ab­il­ity that our intel­li­gence agen­cies can learn from the mis­takes of the past and bet­ter pro­tect our coun­try in the future.

Talk at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism

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.

Ice­land Journ­al­ists talk 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Lies, damned lies, and newspaper reporting…

Also on the Huff­ing­ton Post UK, RT, The Real News Net­work, nsnbc, and Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House:

Where to start with this tangled skein of media spin, mis­rep­res­ent­a­tion and out­right hypocrisy?

Last week the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence presen­ted this year’s award to Dr Tom Fin­gar at a cere­mony jointly hos­ted by the pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Union Soci­ety.

Thomas_FingarDr Fin­gar, cur­rently a vis­it­ing lec­turer at Oxford, had in 2007 co-ordinated the pro­duc­tion of the US National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate — the com­bined ana­lysis of all 16 of America’s intel­li­gence agen­cies — which assessed that the Ira­nian nuc­lear weapon­isa­tion pro­gramme had ceased in 2003.  This con­sidered and author­it­at­ive Estim­ate dir­ectly thwarted the 2008 US drive towards war against Iran, and has been reaf­firmed every year since then.

By the very fact of doing his job of provid­ing dis­pas­sion­ate and object­ive assess­ments and res­ist­ing any pres­sure to politi­cise the intel­li­gence (à la Down­ing Street Memo), Dr Fingar’s work is out­stand­ing and he is the win­ner of Sam Adams Award, 2012.  This may say some­thing about the par­lous state of our intel­li­gence agen­cies gen­er­ally, but don’t get me star­ted on that…

Any­way, as I said, the award cere­mony was co-hosted by the Oxford Union Soci­ety last week, and many Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates atten­ded, often trav­el­ling long dis­tances to do so.  Former win­ners were asked to speak at the cere­mony, such as FBI Coleen Row­ley, GCHQ Kath­er­ine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and former UK Ambas­sador Craig Mur­ray.  Other asso­ci­ates, includ­ing CIA Ray McGov­ern, dip­lo­mats Ann Wright and Brady Kiesling and myself also said a few words.  As former insiders and whis­tleblowers, we recog­nised the vitally import­ant work that Dr Fin­gar had done and all spoke about the import­ance of integ­rity in intelligence.

One other pre­vi­ous win­ner of the Sam Adams Award was also invited to speak — Julian Assange of Wikileaks.  He spoke elo­quently about the need for integ­rity and was gra­cious in prais­ing the work of Dr Fingar.

All the national and inter­na­tional media were invited to attend what was an his­toric gath­er­ing of inter­na­tional whis­lteblowers and cover an award given to someone who, by doing their job with integ­rity, pre­ven­ted yet fur­ther ruin­ous war and blood­shed in the Middle East.

Few atten­ded, still fewer repor­ted on the event, and the prom­ised live stream­ing on You­tube was blocked by shad­owy powers at the very last minute — an irony con­sid­er­ing the Oxford Union is renowned as a free speech society.

But worse was to come.  The next day The Guard­ian news­pa­per, which his­tor­ic­ally fell out with Wikileaks, pub­lished a myopic hit-piece about the event. No men­tion of all the whis­tleblowers who atten­ded and what they said, no men­tion of the award to Dr Fin­gar, no men­tion of the fact that his work saved the Ira­nian people from need­less war.

Oh no, the entire piece focused on the taw­dry alleg­a­tions eman­at­ing from Sweden about Julian Assange’s extra­di­tion case.  Dis­count­ing the 450 stu­dents who applauded all the speeches, dis­count­ing all the ser­i­ous points raised by Julian Assange dur­ing his present­a­tion, and dis­count­ing the speeches of all the other inter­na­tion­ally renowned whis­tleblowers present that even­ing, The Guardian’s reporter, Amelia Hill, focused on the small demo out­side the event and the only three attendees she could appar­ently find to cri­ti­cise the fact that a plat­form, any plat­form, had been given to Assange from his polit­ical asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Amelia_HillSo this is where we arrive at the deep, really deep, hypo­crisy of the even­ing.  Amelia Hill is, I’m assum­ing,  the same Guard­ian journ­al­ist who was threatened in 2011 with pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  She had allegedly been receiv­ing leaks from the Met­ro­pol­itan Police about the on-going invest­ig­a­tion into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

At the time Fleet Street was up in arms — how dare the police threaten one of their own with pro­sec­u­tion under the OSA for expos­ing insti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion? Shades of the Shayler case were used in her defence. As I wrote at the time, it’s a shame the UK media could not have been more con­sist­ently robust in con­demning the chilling effects of the OSA on the free-flow of inform­a­tion and pro­tect all the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, and not just come out fight­ing when it is one of their own being threatened.  Such is the way of the world.…

But really, Ms Hill — if you are indeed the same reporter who was threatened with pro­sec­u­tion in 2011 under the OSA — exam­ine your conscience.

How can you write a hit-piece focus­ing purely on Assange — a man who has designed a pub­lish­ing sys­tem to pro­tect poten­tial whis­tleblowers from pre­cisely such dra­conian secrecy laws as you were hyper­bol­ic­ally threatened with? And how could you, at the same time, air­brush out of his­tory the testi­mony of so many whis­tleblowers gathered together, many of whom have indeed been arres­ted and have faced pro­sec­u­tion under the terms of the OSA or US secrecy legislation?

Have you no shame?  You know how fright­en­ing it is to be faced with such a prosecution.

Your hypo­crisy is breath-taking.

The offence was com­poun­ded when the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates all wrote a let­ter to The Guard­ian to set the record straight. The ori­ginal let­ter is repro­duced below, and this is what was pub­lished.  Of course, The Guard­ian has a per­fect right under its Terms and Con­di­tions to edit the let­ter, but I would like every­one to see how this can be used and abused.

And the old media won­ders why they are in decline?

Let­ter to The Guard­ian, 29 Janu­ary 2013:

Dear Sir

With regard to the 24 Janu­ary art­icle in The Guard­ian entitled “Julian Assange Finds No Allies and Tough Quer­ies in Oxford Uni­ver­sity Talk,” we ques­tion whether the newspaper’s reporter was actu­ally present at the event, since the account con­tains so many false and mis­lead­ing statements.

If The Guard­ian could “find no allies” of Mr. Assange, it did not look very hard! They could be found among the appre­ci­at­ive audi­ence of the packed Oxford Union Debate Hall, and — in case you missed us — in the group seated right at the front of the Hall: the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intelligence.

Many in our group — which, you might be inter­ested to know co-sponsored the event with Oxford Union — had traveled con­sid­er­able dis­tances at our own expense to con­fer the 10th annual Sam Adams award to Dr. Thomas Fin­gar for his work on over­see­ing the 2007 National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate that revealed the lack of an Ira­nian nuc­lear weapon­iz­a­tion program.

Many of us spoke in turn about the need for integ­rity in intel­li­gence, describ­ing the ter­rible eth­ical dilemma that con­fronts gov­ern­ment employ­ees who wit­ness illegal activ­ity includ­ing ser­i­ous threats to pub­lic safety and fraud, waste and abuse.

But none of this made it into what was sup­posed to pass for a news art­icle; neither did any aspect of the accept­ance speech delivered by Dr. Fin­gar. Also, why did The Guard­ian fail to provide even one sali­ent quote from Mr Assange’s sub­stan­tial twenty-minute address?

By cen­sor­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates and the speeches by Dr. Fin­gar and Mr. Assange, and by focus­ing exclus­ively on taw­dry and unproven alleg­a­tions against Mr. Assange, rather than on the import­ance of expos­ing war crimes and main­tain­ing integ­rity in intel­li­gence pro­cesses, The Guard­ian has suc­ceeded in dimin­ish­ing none but itself.

Sin­cerely,

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intelligence:

Ann Wright (retired Army Col­onel and For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), Ray McGov­ern (retired CIA ana­lyst), Eliza­beth Mur­ray (retired CIA ana­lyst), Coleen Row­ley (retired FBI agent), Annie Machon (former MI5 intel­li­gence officer), Thomas Drake (former NSA offi­cial), Craig Mur­ray (former Brit­ish Ambas­sador), David MacMi­chael (retired CIA ana­lyst), Brady Kiesling (former For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), and Todd Pierce (retired U.S. Army Major, Judge Advoc­ate, Guantanamo Defense Counsel).

The Free Speech Debate

My recent inter­view for the excel­lent Oxford Uni­ver­sity Free Speech Debate pro­ject, run by Pro­fessor Timothy Gar­ton Ash.  I dis­cuss whis­tleblow­ing, the Offi­cial Secrets Act, Wikileaks and much more: