CIA Chief visits Ukraine — Why?

My recent inter­view on RT about Ukraine and inter­ven­tion­ism, both West and East:

US mis­cal­cu­lated will of Ukrain­ian people from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Oxford Union Society Debate

I recently had the pleas­ure of tak­ing part in a debate at the Oxford Union Soci­ety.  I spoke to the pro­pos­i­tion that “this house believes Edward Snowden is a hero”, along with US journ­al­ist Chris Hedges, NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, and former UK gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Chris Huhne.

The cham­ber was full and I am happy to report that we won the debate by 212 votes to 171, and that Oxford stu­dents do indeed see Edward Snowden as a hero.  Here is my speech:

Oxford Union Soci­ety Debate from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Niemoeller Redux

Pub­lished on RT Op Edge and Con­sor­tium News.

I reg­u­larly revisit the fam­ous Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoeller poem from the Nazi era as his words remain res­on­ant in our post-9/11, “war on ter­ror” world. Over the last week threads of vari­ous alarm­ing stor­ies have con­verged, so here is my latest update:

First they came for the Muslims, but I was not a Muslim so did not speak up.

Then they came for the whis­tleblowers, but I was not a whis­tleblower so did not speak up.

Then they came for the “domestic extrem­ists”, but I was not an act­iv­ist so did not speak up.

And when they came for me, there was nobody left to speak up for me.

Allow me to explain this cur­rent ver­sion. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this web­site will be well aware of my hor­ror at the global rape of basic human rights in the West’s fight against the “war on ter­ror” since 9/11: the kid­nap­pings, the tor­ture, the CIA presidentially-approved weekly assas­sin­a­tion lists, the drone bomb­ings, the illegal wars.…

All these meas­ures have indeed tar­geted and ter­ror­ised the Muslim com­munity around the world. In the UK I have heard many stor­ies of Brit­ish Muslims wary of attend­ing a fam­ily event such as a wed­ding of their cous­ins in Pakistan or wherever, in case they get snatched, tor­tured or drone bombed.

Now it appears that even Brit­ish cit­izens who choose to donate to UK char­it­ies offer­ing human­it­arian relief in war zones such as Syria can be arres­ted under counter-terrorism laws.

moazzam_beggMoazzam Begg, the dir­ector of Cage (the UK NGO cam­paign­ing about the com­munity impact of the war on ter­ror) was again seized last week. As I have writ­ten before, this is a man who has already exper­i­enced the hor­rors of Bagram air­base and Guantanamo. When he was released he became a cam­paigner for oth­ers in the same plight and set up the Cage cam­paign which has gained quite some trac­tion over the last few years.

Over a year ago he vis­ited Syria on a fact-finding mis­sion, invest­ig­at­ing those who had been sum­mar­ily detained and tor­tured in the con­flict. Last Decem­ber he had his pass­port seized on spuri­ous grounds He wrote about this trip quite openly, and yet now, a year on, has been arres­ted and charged with “train­ing ter­ror­ists and fund rais­ing” in Syria. This is a high-profile cam­paigner who oper­ates in the full glare of the media. How cred­u­lous does one have to be to believe that Begg, after all his exper­i­ences and run­ning this cam­paign, is now involved in “ter­ror­ism”?  Really, anyone?

Since then other people involved in Brit­ish char­it­ies offer­ing aid to the dis­placed peoples of Syria have also been scooped up. But this is just affect­ing the Brit­ish Muslim com­munity, right? There’s “no smoke without fire”, and it does not impinge the lives of most people in the UK, so there has been no wide­spread outcry.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

Then we have the ongo­ing “war on whis­tleblowers” that I have dis­cussed extens­ively. This affects every sec­tor of soci­ety in every coun­try, but most ser­i­ously affects whis­tleblowers emer­ging from cent­ral gov­ern­ment, the mil­it­ary and the intel­li­gence agen­cies. They are the ones most likely to wit­ness the most hein­ous crimes, and they are the ones auto­mat­ic­ally crim­in­al­ised by secrecy laws.

This is most appar­ent in the UK, where the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) spe­cific­ally crim­in­al­ises whis­tleblow­ing, and in the USA, where Pres­id­ent Obama has invoked the 1917 Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers more times than all other pres­id­ents com­bined over the last cen­tury. If that is not a “war on whis­tleblowers”, I don’t know what is.

This, of course, is a para­noid over-reaction to the work of Wikileaks, and the brave actions of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden. This is what Obama’s gov­ern­ment deems to be the “insider threat”.  Yet it is only through greater trans­par­ency that we can oper­ate as informed cit­izens; it is only through greater account­ab­il­ity that we can hope to obtain justice. And in this era, when we are routinely lied into illegal wars, what could be more import­ant?

But intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers are rare, spe­cial­ised and easy to stig­mat­ise as the “other” and now, the insider threat — not quite of the nor­mal world. The issues they dis­close can seem a bit remote, not linked to most people’s daily experiences.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

But now to my third revamped line of the Pas­tor Niemoeller poem: the act­iv­ists or, to use cur­rent police ter­min­o­logy, the “domestic extrem­ists”. This, surely, does impinge on more people’s exper­i­ence of life. If you want to go out and demon­strate against a war, in sup­port of Occupy, for the envir­on­ment, whatever, you are surely exer­cising your demo­cratic rights as cit­izens, right?

Er, well no, not these days. I have writ­ten before about how act­iv­ists can be crim­in­al­ised and even deemed to be ter­ror­ists by the police (think Lon­don Occupy in 2011 here). I’m think­ing of the ongo­ing Brit­ish under­cover cop scan­dal which con­tin­ues to rumble on.

For those of you out­side the UK, this is a scan­dal that erup­ted in 2010. There is was a sec­tion of secret police who were infilt­rated into act­iv­ist groups under secret iden­tit­ies to live the life, report back, and even poten­tially work as ena­blers or agents pro­vocateurs. As the scan­dal has grown it appears that some of these cops fathered chil­dren with their tar­gets and spied on the griev­ing fam­il­ies of murder victims.

This sounds like the East Ger­man Stasi, but was hap­pen­ing in the UK in the last couple of dec­ades. A gov­ern­ment enquiry has just been announced and many old cases against act­iv­ists will be reviewed to see if tar­nished “evid­ence” was involved in the tri­als and sub­sequent convictions.

But again this does not affect most people bey­ond the act­iv­ist community.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

jesselyn_radackNow, people who have always assumed they have cer­tain pro­tec­tions because of their pro­fes­sions, such as law­yers and journ­al­ists, are also being caught in this drag­net. Julian Assange’s law­yer, Jen­nifer Robin­son, dis­covered she was on a flight watch list a few years ago. More recently Jes­selyn Radack, human rights dir­ector of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject and legal advisor to Edward Snowden, was stopped and inter­rog­ated at the UK border.

And just this week a Dutch invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist, Brenno de Winter, was unable to do his job since his name was placed on alert in all national gov­ern­ment build­ings. The police accused him of hacking-related crimes and burg­lary. They had to retract this when the smear cam­paign came to light.

Brenno has made his name by free­dom of inform­a­tion requests from the Dutch pub­lic sec­tor and his sub­sequent invest­ig­a­tions, for which he was named Dutch Journ­al­ist of the Year in 2011. Hardly sub­ver­sion, red in tooth and claw, but obvi­ously now deemed to be an exist­en­tial, national secur­ity threat to the Netherlands.

Nor is this a Dutch prob­lem — we have seen this in the US, where journ­al­ists such as James Risen and Bar­rett Brown have been houn­ded merely for doing their jobs, and the Glenn Greenwald’s part­ner, David Mir­anda, was detained at Lon­don Heath­row air­port under counter-terrorism laws.

Journ­al­ists, who always some­what com­pla­cently thought they had spe­cial pro­tec­tions in West­ern coun­tries, are being increas­ingly tar­geted when try­ing to report on issues such as pri­vacy, sur­veil­lance, whis­tleblower dis­clos­ures and wars.

Only a few are being tar­geted now, but I hope these cases will be enough to wake the rest up, while there is still the chance for them to take action.…

.…before there is nobody left to speak up for us.

More NSA spying in Germany — RT interview

In the wake of what appears to be another NSA leaker, it has been repor­ted that, while Angela Merkel’s phone is appar­ently off-limits, her close polit­ical circle is now being targeted.

Last week­end the Bild am Son­ntag news­pa­per in Ger­many repor­ted that a senior NSA oper­at­ive had made these claims. This report has been repeated in media around the world.

While we have yet to see any cor­rob­or­a­tion, this may indeed indic­ate that more staff in the global intel­li­gence com­munity are find­ing the cour­age to speak out about eth­ical con­cerns in the wake of the Snowden dis­clos­ures last year.

No guar­an­tee NSA will stop spy­ing on Ger­many or Merkel from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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.

TPP — copyright versus free speech

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

We, the cit­izens of the world, already owe NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden a huge debt of grat­it­ude.  Even the lim­ited pub­lic­a­tion of a few of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed to journ­al­ists has to date pro­voked a polit­ical and pub­lic debate in coun­tries across the planet — and who knows what other nas­ties lurk in the cache of doc­u­ments, yet to be exposed?

Thanks to Snowden, mil­lions of people as well as many gov­ern­ments have woken up to the fact that pri­vacy is the vital com­pon­ent of free soci­et­ies.  Without that basic right we are unable to freely read, write, speak, plan and asso­ci­ate without fear of being watched, our every thought and utter­ance stored up to be poten­tially used against us at some neb­u­lous future date.  Such pan­op­tic global sur­veil­lance leads inev­it­ably to self-censorship and is cor­ros­ive to our basic freedoms, and indi­vidual cit­izens as well as coun­tries are explor­ing ways to pro­tect them­selves and their privacy.

As I and oth­ers more emin­ent have said before, we need free media to have a free society.

But even if we can defend these free chan­nels of com­mu­nic­a­tion, what if the very inform­a­tion we wish to ingest and com­mu­nic­ate is no longer deemed to be free?  What if we become crim­in­al­ised purely for shar­ing such un-free information?

The global mil­it­ary secur­ity com­plex may be bru­tal, but it is not stu­pid. These cor­por­at­ist elites, as I prefer to think of them, have seen the new medium of the inter­net as a threat to their profits and power since its incep­tion. Which is why they have been fight­ing a des­per­ate rear­guard action to apply US pat­ent and copy­right laws globally.

Pirate_Bay_LogoThey began by going after music shar­ing sites such as Nap­ster and impos­ing grot­esque legal pen­al­ties on those try­ing to down­load a few songs they liked for free, then try­ing to build national fire­walls to deny whole coun­tries access to file shar­ing sites such as The Pir­ate Bay and per­se­cut­ing its co-founder Ana­kata, mer­ci­fully fail­ing to extra­dite Richard O’Dwyer from the UK to the US on trumped up charges for his sign­post­ing site to free media, and cul­min­at­ing in the take down of Megaup­load and the illegal FBI attack against Kim Dotcom’s home in New Zea­l­and last year.

But for all these high-profile cases of attemp­ted deterrence, more and more people are shar­ing inform­a­tion, cul­ture, and research for free on the inter­net. Using peer to peer tech­no­lo­gies like Bit­tor­rent and anonymising tools like Tor they are hard to detect, which is why the cor­por­at­ist lob­by­ists demand the sur­veil­lance state develop ever more intrus­ive ways of detect­ing them, includ­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of deep packet inspec­tion. And of course once such invas­ive tech­no­lo­gies are avail­able, we all know that they will not only be used to stop “pir­acy” but will also be used against the people of the world by the mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance com­plex too.

But that is still not enough for the cor­por­at­ists.  Largely US-based, they are now try­ing to flex their polit­ical muscle glob­ally.  First the US claims that any site end­ing with a tier one US domain name (.com, .org, .net and .info) comes under US law — any­where in the world — and can be taken down without warn­ing or redress by a diktat from the US government.

More egre­giously still, the US cor­por­at­ists have been try­ing to impose their legal domin­ion glob­ally via a series of secret regional trade agree­ments: ACTA, TTIP/TAFTA, SOPA, and now in the recently Wikileaked details of the Trans-Pacific Part­ner­ship (TPP) tar­get­ing the coun­tries around the Pacific rim.

These agree­ments, writ­ten by cor­por­ate lob­by­ists, are so secret that the demo­cratic rep­res­ent­at­ives of sov­er­eign coun­tries are not even allowed to read the con­tents or debate the terms — they are just told to sign on the dot­ted line, effect­ively rubber-stamping legis­la­tion that is anti­thet­ical to the vast major­ity their cit­izens’ interests, which gives greater sov­er­eign powers to the interests of the cor­por­a­tions than it does to nation states, and which will crim­in­al­ise and dir­ectly harm the people of the world in the interests of the few.

One of the pro­pos­als is that mul­tina­tional cor­por­a­tions can sue national gov­ern­ments for future lost profits based on pat­ents not gran­ted or envir­on­mental restric­tions. This is noth­ing short of full-on cor­por­at­ism where inter­na­tional law and global treat­ies serve a hand­ful of large cor­por­a­tions to the det­ri­ment of national sov­er­eignty, envir­on­mental health and even human life.

For by pro­tect­ing “intel­lec­tual prop­erty” (IP), we are not just talk­ing about the cre­at­ive endeav­ours of artists. One does not need to be a law­yer to see the fun­da­mental prob­lem­atic assump­tions in the goals as defined in the leaked doc­u­ment:

Enhance the role of intel­lec­tual prop­erty in pro­mot­ing eco­nomic and social devel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly in rela­tion to the new digital eco­nomy, tech­no­lo­gical innov­a­tion, the trans­fer and dis­sem­in­a­tion of tech­no­logy and trade;

This state­ment assumes that IP, a made-up term that con­fuses three very dif­fer­ent areas of law, is by defin­i­tion bene­fi­cial to soci­ety as a whole. No evid­ence for these claimed bene­fits is provided any­where. As with “what-is-good-for-General-Motors-is-good-for-America” and the the­ory of ”trickle down” eco­nom­ics, the bene­fits are simply assumed and altern­at­ive mod­els act­ively and wil­fully ignored. The idea that most soci­et­ies on the planet might vastly bene­fit from a relax­a­tion of pat­ent laws or the length of copy­right is not even up for debate. This des­pite the fact that there is plenty of research point­ing in that direction.

These secret pro­posed treat­ies will enforce pat­ents that put the cost of basic phar­ma­ceut­ic­als bey­ond the reach of bil­lions; that privat­ise and pat­ent basic plants and food; and that pre­vent the shar­ing of cut­ting edge aca­demic research, des­pite the fact that this is usu­ally pro­duced by pub­licly fun­ded aca­dem­ics at our pub­licly fun­ded universities.

The price, even today, of try­ing to lib­er­ate research for the pub­lic good can be high, as Aaron Swartz found out earlier this year.  After try­ing to share research inform­a­tion from MIT, he faced a witch hunt and dec­ades in prison. Instead he chose to take his own life at the age of 26. How much worse will it be if TPP et al are ratified?

It is thanks to the high-tech pub­lisher, Wikileaks, that we know the sheer scale of the recent TPP débacle.  It is also heart­en­ing to see so many Pacific rim coun­tries oppos­ing the over­ween­ing demands of the USA. Aus­tralia alone seems sup­port­ive — but then region­ally it bene­fits most from its mem­ber­ship of the “Five Eyes” spy pro­gramme with America.

The intel­lec­tual prop­erty wars are the flip side of the global sur­veil­lance net­work that Snowden dis­closed — it is a clas­sic pin­cer movement.

hAs well as watch­ing everything we com­mu­nic­ate, the cor­por­at­ists are also try­ing to con­trol exactly what inform­a­tion we are leg­ally able to com­mu­nic­ate, and using this con­trol as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for yet more intrus­ive spy­ing. It’s the per­fect self-perpetuating cycle.

By cur­tail­ing the powers of the spy agen­cies, we could restore the inter­net to its ori­ginal func­tion­al­ity and open­ness while main­tain­ing the right to pri­vacy and free speech — but main­tain­ing a 20th cen­tury copyright/IP model at the same time is impossible. Or we could give up our pri­vacy and other civil rights to allow spe­cific pro­tec­ted indus­tries to carry on coin­ing it in. A last option would be to switch off the inter­net. But that is not real­istic: mod­ern coun­tries could not sur­vive a day without the inter­net, any more than they could func­tion without electricity.

As a soci­ety we’re going through the pain­ful real­isa­tion that we can only have two out of the three options. Dif­fer­ent cor­por­at­ist interest groups would no doubt make dif­fer­ent choices but, along with the vast major­ity of the people, I opt for the inter­net and pri­vacy as both a free chan­nel for com­mu­nic­a­tion and the free trans­fer of use­ful information.

Like any social change (the abol­i­tion of slavery, uni­ver­sal suf­frage), this is also accom­pan­ied by heated argu­ments, legal threats and repres­sion, and lob­by­ist pro­pa­ganda. But his­tor­ic­ally all this sound and fury will sig­nify.… pre­cisely noth­ing. Surely at some point basic civil rights will make a comeback, upheld by the legis­lature and pro­tec­ted by law enforcement.

The choice is simple: inter­net, pri­vacy, copy­right. We can only choose two, and I know which I choose.

BBC World interview re UK spy accountability

Here’s a recent inter­view I did for BBC World about the three top Brit­ish spies deign­ing, for the first time ever, to be pub­licly ques­tioned by the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment, which has a notional over­sight role:

BBC World inter­view on UK Par­laiment­ary hear­ings on NSA/Snowden affair from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

It sub­sequently emerged that they only agreed to appear if they were told the ques­tions in advance.  So much for this already incred­ibly lim­ited over­sight cap­ab­il­ity in a notional West­ern democracy.….

RT interview about the recent Iran nuclear deal

Here’s a recent inter­view I did about the recent Iran nuc­lear deal, adding some con­text and his­tory and try­ing to cut through some of today’s media myths:

Rus­sia Today inter­view in Iran nuc­lear deal from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Channel 4 interview re UK spy accountability

On the day the UK spy chiefs were called to account for the first time by the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in the Brit­ish par­lia­ment:

Spy account­ab­il­ity and the ISC — Chan­nel 4 News from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

LEAP talk at Akzept drug conference in Bielefeld

Here’s a talk I did last week at the inter­na­tional Akzept Con­fer­ence in Biele­feld about pro­hib­i­tion and the failed “war on drugs”:

Akzept Kon­gress 2013 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.

European Parliament LIBE Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens

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

Bio­graphy:

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.

Back­ground material:

Recom­mend­a­tions:

  • 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):
  1. to develop and build key infra­struc­ture across Europe that is immune from US gov­ern­mental and cor­por­at­ist sur­veil­lance; and
  2. 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.