Newsletter Excerpt re Edward Snowden

For read­ers who have not yet signed up to my monthly news­let­ter, here is the excerpt about Edward Snowden from my June edi­tion, with a little update at the end:

The Edward Snowden saga is riv­et­ing for me on so many levels.You’ll no doubt be aware of the case, unless you have been liv­ing in a cup­board for the last few weeks.  Snowden is the brave young NSA con­tractor who has blown the whistle on a range of global sur­veil­lance pro­grammes that the Amer­ic­ans and the Brits have developed over the last few years to fight the war on ter­ror­ism spy on all of us.

The sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures so far is incred­ible and has huge implic­a­tions for what remains of our demo­cratic way of life. Just today more inform­a­tion emerged to show that the NSA has been spy­ing on key EU insti­tu­tions — which might go some way to explain­ing why so much recent EU legis­la­tion appears to favour the interests of US cor­por­at­ism over those of European citizens.…

Pun­dits have been call­ing him the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower since Daniel Ells­berg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Viet­nam war 40 years ago.  But I would go fur­ther.  In my view Edward Snowden is the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower in mod­ern his­tory because, while Ells­berg dis­closed vital inform­a­tion, it was largely a mat­ter that affected the Amer­ic­ans and the hap­less Viet­namese.  What Snowden has exposed, just to date, impacts all of us around the world.

Snowden has con­firmed the darkest fears of legal experts, geeks and con­cerned global cit­izens about the sheer scale of the sur­veil­lance soci­ety we all now live under.  Not only are our intel­li­gence agen­cies run­ning amok, they do so using the infra­struc­ture of the global inter­net mega­corps.  What he has laid bare is the fact that we are all already liv­ing under full-blown fascism.

He played it so well with that early film stat­ing very clearly his motiv­a­tion to go pub­lic — to defend a way of life that he saw was under threat. He appears to have learned from the mis­takes of pre­vi­ous whis­tleblowers.  He chose a journ­al­ist who under­stands the issues and has the fire in the belly and the inter­na­tional pro­file to fight his corner.  Glenn Gre­en­wald is a fear­less cam­paign­ing lawyer-turned-journalist who for years has been defend­ing the work of Wikileaks, with the irony being that he is now the new Assange, being attacked, threatened and smeared for report­ing the disclosures.

Of course, I and many other former whis­tleblowers have been swamped by the usual fren­zied media tsunami, called up for inter­view after inter­view.  For me this began just as I was about to turn in for the night at 11.30pm on 9th June, when RT rang me up ask­ing for an urgent live inter­view just as the iden­tity of Snowden was emer­ging across the world’s media.  After a frantic 15 minutes sort­ing out the makeup and the tech (in that order, nat­ur­ally), I was wide awake again and speak­ing on live TV.  From that came a slew of other requests over the next few days, includ­ing many pro­grammes on the BBC, Sky News, and mul­tiple radio and news­pa­per inter­views.  I could barely find time to leave my phone and com­puter to get to the bath­room.…  Then the wave receded for a few days before Snowden fled to Rus­sia, when the whole cycle began again.

Read­ing about Snowden going on the run also brought back a num­ber of per­sonal memor­ies for me. In 1997 I fled the UK with David Shayler only 12 hours ahead of his ini­tial dis­clos­ures about MI5 crimin­al­ity break­ing in the UK media. We were pur­sued across Europe, and had a month lit­er­ally on the run, fol­lowed by a year liv­ing in hid­ing in la France Pro­fonde before David was arres­ted, pending extra­di­tion, at the request of the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  He spent almost 4 months in a Paris prison before the French released him — their view being that he was a whis­tleblower, which was deemed to be a polit­ical offence for which France spe­cific­ally does not extra­dite.  We lived more openly in Paris for another two years, although David was trapped in France — had he trav­elled to another coun­try the whole ghastly extra­di­tion pro­cess would have star­ted again.

Well, there are worse places than France to be trapped in exile, but even so it was dif­fi­cult for him.  How much more so for Edward Snowden, whose options are more ser­i­ously con­strained and who faces life in prison in the US if he is caught?  Know­ing the pen­al­ties he faces and being aware of the track­ing cap­ab­il­it­ies and the ruth­less dis­reg­ard for the law and human rights of the mod­ern US intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, his bravery in expos­ing the global US sur­veil­lance state is truly breath-taking.

To fin­ish, here is one of my recent Sky News inter­views about the Edward Snowden case:

Sky TV inter­view on Snowden case from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Addendum: today’s news told us that Bolivian Pres­id­ent, Evo Morales’s offi­cial, dip­lo­mat­ic­ally pro­tec­ted, plane have been barred from fly­ing home from Moscow over much of Euro air­space, where he had been par­ti­cip­at­ing in high-level talks.  The reason being that Edward Snowden might have been be on board. Mor­ales was groun­ded in Aus­tria and had to sub­mit to a police search of the plane, against all dip­lo­matic pro­tocol.  No Snowden was found, naturally.

I see this as a very clever move by per­sons unknown — test­ing exactly what the inter­na­tional response would be if Edward Snowden tries to fly out of Rus­sia.  And the Europeans, under undoubted pres­sure from the US, have fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

The US-Euro com­pli­cit pat­sies have been flushed out by this dip­lo­matic scan­dal. Demon­stra­tions are appar­ently already occur­ring against the French embassy in Bolivia.  And this on the same day that the French Pres­id­ent, Fran­cois Hol­lande, used the Snowden dis­clos­ures to delay the rightly-maligned US-EU trade agreement.

So, even as the French use the Snowden dis­clos­ures for polit­ical advant­age, they appar­ently refuse to assist the source.  Which is unfor­tu­nate — my memory of French law is that whis­tleblow­ing is deemed a polit­ical act and the French spe­cific­ally do not extra­dite for alleged polit­ical offences.

Per­haps the French con­sti­tu­tion and law have changed since Sarkozy took France into NATO.…

Interview on the Abby Martin show, RT America

My recent inter­view on “Break­ing the Set”, Abby Martin’s show on RT Amer­ica, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblow­ing:

Secret Agent Turns Whis­tleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

Part Two of my recent inter­view on the excel­lent, inde­pend­ent and fear­less Real News Net­work:

The Real News Network Interview on Whistleblowing

Part One of my recent inter­view on the excel­lent, inde­pend­ent and fear­less Real News Net­work:

The Scandinavian Tour 2012

I had an immensely stim­u­lat­ing time dur­ing my recent mini-tour of Scand­inavian invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ences, meet­ing informed, inter­est­ing, and inter­ested people.

The focus of my talks was the nexus between the intel­li­gence world and the media — les­sons I had learned, researched and deduced dur­ing the whis­tleblow­ing years and bey­ond.  I have heard so many hair-raising media stor­ies over the years.…

And, hav­ing listened to the exper­i­ences of journ­al­ists from a wide vari­ety of other coun­tries, it seems I am on the right track.

Grav_talkFirst stop was the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden, where I gave a talk and had the pleas­ure of meet­ing invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists who con­firmed what I was say­ing, even if some of them didn’t think I had quite gone far enough!  We also had fun at the “min­gel” evening.

Next stop, next day, was the SKUP con­fer­ence in Nor­way where I did a talk, and also a debate about the media and whis­tleblowers.  Note to self: never, ever agree to do a morn­ing debate after the legendary SKUP party the night before.

Finally, last week­end, I vis­ited the Tutki 2012 journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Fin­land (Down­load Helsinki_Talk).  The response was over­whelm­ingly pos­it­ive, and once again I had con­firm­a­tion of what I was say­ing from the journ­al­ists themselves.

So what can we do about this situ­ation?  I shall keep spread­ing the word, and the journ­al­ists them­selves just need to keep say­ing a resound­ing “no” to the induce­ments, at least if they want to work on mean­ing­ful invest­ig­a­tions.  And what real journ­al­ist doesn’t, au fond?

Next stop Geneva, which is why I’m limber­ing up with the French.

A blast from the past

How strange to stumble across this art­icle in the Guard­ian news­pa­per yes­ter­day, which describes a journalist’s jus­ti­fi­ably para­noid exper­i­ences inter­view­ing David Shayler and me back in 2000 while writ­ing an art­icle for Esquire magazine.

The author, Dr Eamonn O’Neill, now a lec­turer in journ­al­ism at Strath­clyde Uni­ver­sity, spent a few days with us in Lon­don and Paris way back when.

Shayler_Esquire_2000The Esquire art­icle high­lights the para­noia and sur­veil­lance that we had to live with at the time, and the con­tra­dict­ory brief­ings and slanders that were com­ing out of the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment and the media. O’Neill also intel­li­gently tries to address the motiv­a­tions of a whistleblower.

When it was pub­lished I was mildly uncom­fort­able about this art­icle — I felt it didn’t do David full justice, nor did it appear to get quite to the heart of the issues he was dis­cuss­ing.  I sup­pose, at the time, I was just too enmeshed in the whole situation.

Now, with hind­sight, it is more per­spic­a­cious than I had thought.  And rather sad.

This art­icle is a timely reminder of how vicious the estab­lish­ment can be when you cause it embar­rass­ment and pain; the treat­ment meted out to David Shayler was bru­tal.  And yet noth­ing has changed to this day, as we can see with the ongo­ing pur­suit and vili­fic­a­tion of Wikileaks.

The Extradition Farce — why the delay in reform?

Out­rage con­tin­ues to swell about the per­emp­tory extra­di­tion of Brit­ish cit­izens to face trial on tenu­ous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tire­less cam­paign­ing of dis­traught fam­ily mem­bers, a grow­ing anger in the UK press, and indig­nant ques­tions and debates in Par­lia­ment — even our somn­am­bu­lant MPs have roused them­selves to state that Some­thing Must be Done - the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a grow­ing con­sensus, why the delay?  I have a the­ory, but first let’s review some of the most troub­ling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to wide­spread pub­lic atten­tion  is the decade-long extra­di­tion battle of Gary McKin­non.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effect­ively served a 10-year sen­tence, uncer­tain of his future and unable to work in his chosen pro­fes­sion.  Thanks to the indefatig­able cam­paign­ing of his mother, Janis Sharp, his case has received wide­spread sup­port from the media and politi­cians alike.

Des­pite this the Home Sec­ret­ary, Theresa May (who has recently been work­ing so hard in Jordan to pro­tect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abom­in­ably over mak­ing a decision about whether Gary should be extra­dited to the US to face a pos­sible 70-year prison sen­tence — even though the UK invest­ig­a­tion into his alleged crime was aban­doned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of stu­dent Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no Brit­ish laws.  He is facing a 10 year max­imum secur­ity sen­tence if extra­dited.  Once again, his mother, Julia, is tire­lessly fight­ing and cam­paign­ing for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tap­pin, a retired busi­ness­man and golf club pres­id­ent, has been shipped off to a Texas high secur­ity pen­it­en­tiary fol­low­ing what sounds like a US entrap­ment oper­a­tion (a tech­nique not leg­ally admiss­able in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sen­tence if convicted.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDes­pite hav­ing turned him­self in, this eld­erly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is con­sidered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fight­ing.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remem­ber liv­ing through a sim­ilar, if mer­ci­fully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK gov­ern­ment tried and failed to extra­dite David Shayler from France to the UK to stand trial for a breach of the OSA. I remem­ber with crys­tal clar­ity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he dis­ap­peared into a for­eign legal sys­tem without trace, the anguish about his life in an alien prison.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remem­ber the fright­en­ing moment when I real­ised I had to step up and fight for him — the legal case, deal­ing with MPs and the end­less media work, includ­ing the ter­ror of live TV inter­views.  And all this when you are wor­ried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learn­ing curve?

In the wake of the recent extra­di­tion cases, there have been ques­tions in Par­lia­ment, motions, debates, reviews (Down­load Review), and there is an ongo­ing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and pre­vent McKin­non, O’Dywer and many oth­ers being sac­ri­ficed on the Amer­ican legal altar — the concept of “judi­cial rendi­tion”, as I have men­tioned before.

Well, I have a the­ory, one derived from per­sonal exper­i­ence.  The Brit­ish media — most not­ably the Daily Mail - inveigh against the uni­lat­eral extra­di­tion of UK cit­izens to the USA’s bru­tal prison régime.  There is also some con­cern about extra­di­tion to other European jur­is­dic­tions — usu­ally on the fringes to the south and east of the con­tin­ent, regions where the Brit­ish seem to have a vis­ceral fear of cor­rupt offi­cials and kangaroo courts.

But what many com­ment­at­ors seem to miss is the cru­cial legal con­nec­tion — the extra­di­tion arrange­ments that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many other legal banana repub­lics com­par­able legal sys­tems to face out­rageous sen­tences are, in fact, embed­ded within the Extra­di­tion Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest War­rant, the the act that was rushed through Par­lia­ment in the midst of the post-9/11 ter­ror­ism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is cur­rently being used and abused to extra­dite Julian Assange to Sweden merely for police ques­tion­ing (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “tem­por­ar­ily sur­rendered” to the delights of the US judi­cial pro­cess. Hmm, could this pos­sibly be the reason for the delay in reform­ing the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant legal wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its citizens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 David Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestinian stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand trial. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing trial.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their legal opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestinian case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should never, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing mother, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extradition?

Spy documents found in Libya reveal more British double dealing

Musa_KousaA cache of highly clas­si­fied intel­li­gence doc­u­ments was recently dis­covered in the aban­doned offices of former Libyan spy mas­ter, For­eign Min­is­ter and high-profile defector, Musa Kusa.

These doc­u­ments have over the last couple of weeks provided a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the grow­ing links in the last dec­ade between the former UK Labour gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly Tony Blair, and the Gad­dafi régime.  They have dis­played in oily detail the degree of toady­ing that the Blair gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to coun­ten­ance, not only to secure luc­rat­ive busi­ness con­tracts but also to gloss over embar­rass­ing epis­odes such as Lock­er­bie and the false flag MI6-backed 1996 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gaddafi.

These doc­u­ments have also appar­ently revealed dir­ect involve­ment by MI6 in the “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” to Tripoli and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  Iron­ic­ally it has been repor­ted that they were wanted for being mem­bers of the Libyan Islamic Fight­ing Group, the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had backed in its failed 1996 coup.

The sec­u­lar dic­tat­or­ship of Col Gad­dafi always had much to fear from Islam­ist extrem­ism, so it is per­haps unsur­pris­ing that, after Blair’s notori­ous “deal in the desert” in 2004, the Gad­dafi régime used its con­nec­tions with MI6 and the CIA to hunt down its enemies.  And, as we have all been end­lessly told, the rules changed after 9/11…

The tor­ture  vic­tims, one of whom is now a mil­it­ary com­mander of the rebel Libyan forces, are now con­sid­er­ing suing the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time, has tried to shuffle off any blame, stat­ing that he could not be expec­ted to know everything that MI6 does.

Well, er, no — part of the job descrip­tion of For­eign Sec­ret­ary is indeed to over­see the work of MI6 and hold it to demo­cratic account­ab­il­ity, espe­cially about such ser­i­ous policy issues as “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture.  Such oper­a­tions would indeed need the min­is­terial sign-off to be legal under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

There has been just so much hot air from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment about how the Gib­son Tor­ture Inquiry will get to the bot­tom of these cases, but we all know how tooth­less such inquir­ies will be, cir­cum­scribed as they are by the terms of the Inquir­ies Act 2005.  We also know that Sir Peter Gib­son him­self has for years been “embed­ded” within the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity and is hardly likely to hold the spies mean­ing­fully to account.

MoS_Shayler_11_09_2011So I was par­tic­u­larly intrigued to hear that the the cache of doc­u­ments showed the case of David Shayler, the intel­li­gence whis­tleblower who revealed the 1996 Gad­dafi assas­sin­a­tion plot and went to prison twice for doing so, first in France in 1998 and then in the UK in 2002, was still a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion between the Libyan and UK gov­ern­ments in 2007. And, as I have writ­ten before, as late as 2009 it was obvi­ous that this case was still used by the Liby­ans for lever­age, cer­tainly when it came to the tit-for-tat nego­ti­ations around case of the murder in Lon­don out­side the Libyan Embassy of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

Of course, way back in 1998, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment was all too ready to crush the whis­tleblower rather than invest­ig­ate the dis­clos­ures and hold the spies to account for their illegal and reck­less acts.  I have always felt that this was a fail­ure of demo­cracy, that it ser­i­ously under­mined the future work and repu­ta­tion of the spies them­selves, and par­tic­u­larly that it was such a shame for the fate of the PBW (poor bloody whis­tleblower).

But it now appears that the Brit­ish intel­li­gence community’s sense of omni­po­tence and of being above the law has come back to bite them.  How else explain their slide into a group-think men­tal­ity that par­ti­cip­ates in “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture?

One has to won­der if wily old Musa Kusa left this cache of doc­u­ments behind in his aban­doned offices as an “insur­ance policy”, just in case his defec­tion to the UK were not to be as com­fort­able as he had hoped — and we now know that he soon fled to Qatar after he had been ques­tioned about the Lock­er­bie case.

But whether an hon­est mis­take or cun­ning power play, his actions have helped to shine a light into more dark corners of Brit­ish gov­ern­ment lies and double deal­ing vis a vis Libya.…

Fair trials in the UK courts? Anyone?

This art­icle in today’s Guard­ian about the ongo­ing reper­cus­sions of the Mark Kennedy under­cover cop scan­dal earlier this year piqued my interest.

Mark_KennedyIt appears that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice (CPS) has sup­pressed key evid­ence about the all-too-apparent inno­cence of envir­on­mental pro­test­ers in the run-up to their tri­als.  In this case Mark Kennedy aka Stone, the police­man who for years infilt­rated protest groups across Europe, had cov­ertly recor­ded con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the plan­ning ses­sions to break into Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station.

Kennedy offered to give evid­ence to prove that the unit he worked for at the time, the private and unac­count­able ACPO-run National Pub­lic Order Invest­ig­a­tions Unit (NPOIU), had witheld this key evid­ence.  It now appears that the police are claim­ing that they passed all the inform­a­tion on to the CPS, which then seems to have neg­lected  to hand it over to the pro­test­ers’ defence lawyers.

Keir_StarmerWhich makes it even more fas­cin­at­ing that in April this year the Dir­ector of Pub­lic Pro­sec­u­tions, fam­ous civil liber­ties QC Keir Starmer no less, took the unpre­ced­en­ted step of encour­aging those same pro­test­ers to appeal against their con­vic­tions because of poten­tial “police” cover-ups.

It’s just amaz­ing, isn’t it, that when vital inform­a­tion can be kept safely under wraps these doughty crime-fighting agen­cies present a united front to the world?  But once someone shines a light into the slith­ery dark corners, they all scramble to avoid blame and leak against each other?

And yet this case is just the tip of a titanic legal ice­berg, where for years the police and the CPS have been in cahoots to cover up many cases of, at best, mis­com­mu­nic­a­tion, and at worst out­right lies about incom­pet­ence and poten­tially crim­inal activity.

Ian_TomlinsonA couple of months ago George Mon­biot provided an excel­lent sum­mary of recent “mis­state­ments” (a won­der­fully euphemistic neo­lo­gism) by the police over the last few years, includ­ing such blatant cases as the death of Ian Tom­lin­son dur­ing the Lon­don G20 protests two years ago, the ongo­ing News of the World phone hack­ing case, and the counter-terrorism style exe­cu­tion, sorry, shoot­ing of the entirely inno­cent Jean Charles de Menezes, to name but a few.

Mon­biot also dwelt at length on the appalling case of Michael Doherty, a con­cerned father who dis­covered that his 13 year-old daugh­ter was appar­ently being groomed by a pae­do­phile over the inter­net.  He took his con­cerns to the police, who brushed the issue aside.  When Doherty tried to push for a more informed and pro­act­ive response, he was the one who was snatched from his house in an early morn­ing raid and ended up in court, accused of abus­ive and angry phone calls to the sta­tion in a sworn state­ment by a mem­ber of the rel­ev­ant police force, sorry, ser­vice.

And that would have been that — he would have appar­ently been bang to rights on the word of a police sec­ret­ary — apart from the fact he had recor­ded all his phone calls to the police and kept metic­u­lous notes on the pro­gress of the case.  Only this evid­ence led to his right­ful acquittal.

As Mon­biot rightly con­cludes, “justice is impossible if we can­not trust police forces to tell the truth”.

It appears that the notion of “cit­izen journ­al­ists” is just sooo 2006.  Now we all need to be not only journ­al­ists but also “cit­izen law­yers”, just in case we have to defend ourselves against poten­tial police lies.  Yet these are the very organ­isa­tions that are paid from the pub­lic purse to pro­tect civil soci­ety.  Is it any won­der that so many people have a grow­ing dis­trust of them and con­cerns about an encroach­ing, Stasi-like, police state?

This is all part of engrained, top-down Brit­ish cul­ture of secrecy that allows the amorph­ous “secur­ity ser­vices” to think they can get away with any­thing and everything if they make a force­ful enough pub­lic state­ment: black is white, tor­ture is “enhanced inter­rog­a­tion”, and war is peace (or at least a “peace­keep­ing” mis­sion in Libya.…).  Espe­cially if there is no mean­ing­ful over­sight.  We have entered the Orwellian world of NewSpeak.

But plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  This all happened in the 1970s and 80s with the Irish com­munity, and also in the 1990s with the ter­rible mis­car­riage of justice around the Israeli embassy bomb­ing in 1994.  If you have the time, please do read the detailed case here: Down­load Israeli_Embassy_Case

We need to remem­ber our history.

Libya: my enemy’s enemy is my friend, until he becomes my enemy again…

UK Prime Min­is­ter, David Cameron, reportedly made the start­ling state­ment recently that the mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion in Libya “unlike Iraq, is neces­sary, legal and right”. 

Blair_takes_the_oathWould it not be won­der­ful if he could take the next logical step towards joined-up think­ing and con­sider send­ing our esteemed Middle East Peace Envoy, a cer­tain Mr T Blair, over for a spot of por­ridge at the Inter­na­tional Crim­inal Court in The Hague?  After all, Cameron has now clearly implied that the Iraq war was “unne­ces­sary, illegal and wrong”.….

But back to Libya.  With the ongo­ing crisis — now war — much is being writ­ten about how the pre­vi­ous UK gov­ern­ment col­lab­or­ated with the Gad­dafi régime in the last dec­ade — while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coali­tion gov­ern­ment where, no doubt, sim­ilar levels of coöper­a­tion and back-slapping and money-grubbing were going on at the highest levels to ensure the con­tinu­ing flow of oil con­tracts to the UK.

But, yes, we should be dis­sect­ing the Labour/Gaddafi power bal­ance.  Gad­dafi had New Labour over the pro­ver­bial (oil) bar­rel from the late 1990s, when MI5 whis­tleblower David Shayler exposed the failed and illegal MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Col­onel Gad­dafi, using as fall-guys a rag-tag group of Islamic extrem­ists.  The newly-elected Labour government’s knee-jerk response at the time was to believe the spook’s deni­als and cover-up for them.  Per­haps not so sur­pris­ing, as the gov­ern­ment min­is­ters of the day were uncom­fort­ably aware that the spies held files on them.  But this craven response did leave the gov­ern­ment pos­i­tion exposed, as Gad­dafi well knew.

MoS_G_Plot-credible_1997The CIA was fully cog­nis­ant of this failed plot at the time, as were the French intel­li­gence ser­vices.  The Gad­dafi Plot is once again being ref­er­enced in the media, includ­ing the Tele­graph, and a recent edi­tion of the Huff­ing­ton Post.  The details are still rel­ev­ant, as it appears that our enter­pris­ing spooks are yet again reach­ing out to a rag-tag group of rebels — primar­ily Islam­ists and the Senussi roy­al­ists based around Benghazi. 

The les­sons of the reck­less and ill-thought out Gad­dafi Plot were brushed under the car­pet, so his­tory may yet again be doomed to repeat itself.  Yes, Gad­dafi has been one of the biggest back­ers of ter­ror­ism ever, and yes he has bru­tal­ised parts of his own pop­u­la­tion, but if he were deposed how can the West be sure that those step­ping into the power vacuum would not be even more dangerous?

Musa_Kousa_Hillary_Clinton_NY_2010The Libyan gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to use the 1996 MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot as lever­age in its nego­ti­ations with the New Labour gov­ern­ment right up until (pub­licly at least) 2009.  Musa Kousa, the cur­rent For­eign Min­is­ter, played a key role through­out.  For many years Kousa was the head of the Libyan External Secur­ity Organsi­ation and was widely seen as the chief archi­tect of inter­na­tional Libyan-backed ter­ror­ism against the USA, the UK and France. 

Another appar­ent example of this moral black­mail caught my eye recently — this report in the Daily Mail.  Saif al-Islam Gad­dafi was afforded MI6-backed pro­tec­tion when he was finally allowed into the UK in Septem­ber 2002 to study at the LSE

The tim­ing was par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, as only months earlier Saif had won a libel case against the UK’s Sunday Tele­graph news­pa­per.  A grov­el­ling apo­logy was made by the news­pa­per, but Saif refrained from ask­ing for “exem­plary dam­ages” — which he would almost cer­tainly have won.  The res­ult­ing pay-off for this restraint appears to be that a mere five months later he was wel­comed into the UK with MI6-facilitated protection.

Saif’s rela­tions with the UK had not always been so rosy. As back­ground to this case, in 1995 the Sunday Tele­graph had fallen hook, line and sinker for a MI6 clas­sic pro­pa­ganda oper­a­tion.  As The Guard­ian repor­ted, the secret­ive MI6 media manip­u­la­tion sec­tion, Inform­a­tion Oper­a­tions, (I/Ops), had suc­cess­fully spun a fake story to hap­less spook hack, Con Cough­lin, that Gad­dafi Junior was involved in cur­rency fraud.  This story was fake, but the paper trail it pro­duced was used by the spies as a pre­text to pre­vent Saif from enter­ing the UK at the time. 

Saif_Prince_AndrewBy 2002 this was all old his­tory, of course.  Saif was wel­comed to the UK, offi­cially to study for his MA and PhD at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics (and show­ing his grat­it­ude to that august insti­tu­tion with a hefty dona­tion of £1.5 mil­lion — it makes the new tuition fees for UK stu­dents seem bet­ter value for money), and unof­fi­cially to chum up to vari­ous Estab­lish­ment ena­blers to end Libya’s pariah status, open up luc­rat­ive trade chan­nels, and get the SAS to train up Libya’s spe­cial forces

The UK mil­it­ary must be just lov­ing that now.….

So I get the feel­ing that the UK gov­ern­ment has over the last dec­ade indeed “danced with the devil”.  After dec­ades of view­ing Libya and Col­onel Gad­dafi as a Pri­or­ity One JIC intel­li­gence tar­get, the UK gov­ern­ment fell over itself to appease the Gad­dafi régime in the wake of the bungled assas­sin­a­tion attempt in 1996 and the libelling of his son.  These were the sticks Gad­dafi used; the car­rots were undoubtedly the Saif/MI6-facilitated oil con­tracts

Of course, all this is now pretty much a moot point, fol­low­ing Dave Cameron’s “neces­sary, legal and right” mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion.  If the wily old Col­onel man­ages to hang on grimly to some semblence of power (and he has an impress­ive track-record of sur­viv­ing against the odds), then I doubt if he’ll be happy to coöper­ate with Brit­ish oil com­pan­ies in the future.  At the very least. 

Gad­dafi has already threatened “ven­geance” against the West, and it was repor­ted today that MI5 is tak­ing this all-too-preditable risk seriously.

If Gad­dafi is deposed, who can real­ist­ic­ally pre­dict the inten­tions and cap­ab­il­it­ies of those who will fill the power vacuum?  We should have learnt from Afgh­anistan and Iraq: my enemy’s enemy is my friend — until he becomes my enemy again.….

 

Diamonds and Rust

Diamonds_and_rust_in_the_bullringSo Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya has been dish­ing out the dip­lo­matic gifts gen­er­ously to the former US admin­is­tra­tion.  Lis­ted in the pub­lic declar­a­tion are even such items as a dia­mond ring presen­ted to former Sec­ret­ary of State, Condaleeza Rice, and other gifts to the value of $212,000.

This seems a slightly uneven dis­tri­bu­tion of lar­gesse from the Middle East to the West.  Before 9/11 and the ensu­ing war on ter­ror, Gad­dafi was still seen by the west as the head of a “rogue state”.  Bombs, rather than gifts, were more likely to rain down on him.

How­ever, since 2001 he has come back into the fold and is as keen as the coali­tion of the “will­ing” to counter the threat from Islamic extrem­ist ter­ror­ists.  So now he’s the new best­est friend of the US and UK gov­ern­ments in this unend­ing fight. 

But that was kind of inev­it­able, wasn’t it?  As a sec­u­lar Middle East­ern dic­tator, Gad­dafi has tra­di­tion­ally had more to fear from Islam­ists than has the West.  Par­tic­u­larly when these same Islam­ist groups have received ongo­ing sup­port from those very gov­ern­ments that are now cosy­ing up to Gaddafi.

Just to remind you, the reason I helped David Shayler in his whis­tleblow­ing on the crimes of MI5 and MI6 was because of just such a plot– the attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion of Gad­dafi in 1996 that was fun­ded by the UK external intel­li­gence gath­er­ing agency, MI6.  In 1995 Shayler, then the head of the Libyan sec­tion in MI5,  was offi­cially briefed by his coun­ter­part in MI6, David Wat­son (oth­er­wise known as PT16/B), about an unfold­ing plot to kill Gad­dafi.  A Libyan mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer, sub­sequently code-named Tun­worth, walked in to the Brit­ish embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the res­id­ent spook. 

Tun­worth said he was the head of a “ragtag group of Islamic extrem­ists” (who sub­sequently turned out to have links to Al Qaeda — at a time when MI5 had begun to invest­ig­ate the group), who wanted to effect a coup against Col­onel Gad­dafi.  They needed fund­ing to do this, and that was where MI6 came in.  As a quid pro quo, Tun­worth prom­ised to hand over the two Lock­er­bie supsects for trial in Europe , which had for years been one of MI6’s pri­or­ity tar­gets — not to men­tion all those juicy oil con­tracts for BP et al.

Over the course of about 5 months, MI6 paid Tunworth’s group over $100,000, thereby becom­ing con­spir­at­ors in a murder plot.  Cru­cially, MI6 did not get the prior writ­ten per­mis­sion of their polit­ical mas­ter, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, mak­ing this action illegal under the terms of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act

Mani­festly, this coup attempt did not work — Gad­dafi is now a strong ally of our west­ern gov­ern­ments.  In fact, an explo­sion occurred beneath the wrong car in a caval­cade con­tain­ing Gad­dafi as he returned from the Libyan People’s Con­gress in Sirte.  But inno­cent people died in the explo­sion and the ensu­ing secur­ity shoot-out.

So, MI6 fun­ded an illegal, highly reck­less plot in a volat­ile part of world that res­ul­ted in the deaths of inno­cent people.  How more hein­ous a crime could there be?  But to this day, des­pite a leaked MI6 doc­u­ment that proved they knew the exist­ence of the pro­posed plot, and des­pite other intel­li­gence sources back­ing up Shayler’s dis­clos­ures, the UK gov­ern­ment has still refused to hold an enquiry.  Quite the oppos­ite — they threw the whis­tleblower in prison twice and tried to pro­sec­ute the invest­ig­at­ing journalists.

Some people may call me naïve for think­ing that the intel­li­gence agen­cies should not get involved in oper­a­tions like this.  Put­ting aside the retort that the spies often con­flate the idea of the national interest with their own, short-sighted career­ism, I would like to remind such cyn­ics that we are sup­posed to be liv­ing in mod­ern demo­cra­cies, where even the secret state is sup­posed to oper­ate within the rule of law and demo­cratic over­sight.  Illegal assas­sin­a­tion plots, the use of tor­ture, and false flag, state-sponsored ter­ror­ism should remain firmly within the retro, pulp-fiction world of James Bond.

RSC Play about the Shayler Case

In Lon­don in 2001 the Royal Shakespeare Com­pany per­formed a play called “Epi­taph for the Offi­cial Secrets Act” by Paul Green­grass (who co-wrote the notori­ous book “Spycatcher”).  The play focused on the polit­ical issues around whis­tleblow­ing and the Shayler case.

It was an excel­lent play, with an intel­li­gent ana­lysis of the cur­rent mess that is secrecy legis­la­tion in the UK, but it was rather strange to see act­ors using words your own words on stage.

The fol­low­ing report appeared in “The Observer”:

Shayler is a model spy for MI5 play

by Vanessa Thorpe, Arts Cor­res­pond­ent, 2001

Henry V, Macbeth and Ham­let, the great
Shakespearean prot­ag­on­ists who strut before audi­ences at
Stratford-upon-Avon, are to be joined tomor­row by a new name, the
former MI5 reneg­ade, David Shayler.

A new play by Paul Green­grass, the screen­writer respons­ible for ITV’s
upcom­ing film about Bloody Sunday and for the award-winning tele­vi­sion
dram­at­isa­tion of The Murder of Stephen Lawrence , is to be premiered
tomor­row night by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Epi­taph
for the Offi­cial Secrets Act will also fea­ture Shayler’s girl­friend,
Annie Machon, and the MI5’s first woman dir­ector, Stella Rim­ing­ton. ‘It
is a play about the year that MI5 first decided to recruit a new sort
of agent,’ explained Simon Reade, the RSC’s dram­at­urge, refer­ring to
1991, when the secret ser­vice briefly turned away from their
estab­lished Oxbridge source of gradu­ates and advert­ised for applic­ants
from the wider population.

The play starts with a
read­ing of the advert­ise­ment that news­pa­pers ran at the time,’ said
Reade, who developed the piece with Green­grass for its six-night run.
’The ad showed an empty chair under the words “Godot isn’t com­ing”.‘
The play then deals with some of the changes that fol­lowed as Rim­ing­ton
took con­trol of an organ­isa­tion that was fight­ing to redefine itself.

Machon and Shayler, both from the gradu­ate intake that was then new, are iden­ti­fied only by their first names.

News of their the­at­rical debut came as a shock to Shayler and Machon,
who are in Lon­don await­ing Shayler’s trial on charges of breach­ing the
Offi­cial Secrets Act. Machon said: ‘It is rather alarm­ing to find that
we are both going to played by actors.’


August 2007 Mail on Sunday Article

David Shayler’s former part­ner reveals: How the bul­ly­ing State crushed him
By ANNIE MACHON

Link to daily mail ori­ginal — link to Daily Mail com­ments

Ten years ago this month former MI5 officer David Shayler made shock­ing rev­el­a­tions in this news­pa­per about how Britain’s spies were unable to deal with the grow­ing threat of global terrorism.

He dis­closed how MI5’s pecu­liar obses­sion with bur­eau­cracy and secrecy pre­ven­ted cru­cial inform­a­tion being used to stop bomb­ings. And he told how insuf­fi­cient agents and inept decision-making meant that ter­ror­ist groups were not prop­erly monitored.

None of his ori­ginal dis­clos­ures was shown to be wrong. Indeed, in 2005 the bomb­ings in Lon­don proved the whis­tleblower cor­rect: MI5 was not equipped to counter ter­ror on our streets.

The Gov­ern­ment response to David’s dis­clos­ures was to place a gag­ging order on The Mail on Sunday and launch a six-year cam­paign to dis­credit and per­se­cute Shayler. Alastair Camp­bell threatened to ‘send in the heav­ies’ and the whis­tleblower was forced into exile abroad, jailed twice and sued for dam­ages; his friends and fam­ily were har­assed and some arrested.

He faced a bleak, uncer­tain future and for many years he was under intense stress and pres­sure, often isol­ated and always under sur­veil­lance. I had a ring­side seat for the ‘Get Shayler’ oper­a­tion because I was an MI5 officer at the same time (1991−96) and also his girl­friend and co-campaigner until last year when I ended my rela­tion­ship with a broken man.

I wit­nessed first-hand the extraordin­ary psy­cho­lo­gical, phys­ical and emo­tional bur­den of being a whis­tleblower when the full power of the secret State is launched against you. A dec­ade on the res­ults of that per­ni­cious cam­paign became clear when I heard that David had pro­claimed him­self as “The Mes­siah” and “God” and could pre­dict the weather. I was saddened but not shocked. The story of David Shayler is not just one of a whis­tleblower but also an indict­ment of the lack of demo­cracy and account­ab­il­ity in Britain.

I first met David when we were both work­ing in F2, the counter-subversion sec­tion of MI5, where we were repeatedly reas­sured that MI5 had to work within the law. We were young and keen to help pro­tect our coun­try. I noticed David imme­di­ately, as he was very bright, and always asked the dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Over a period of a year we became friends, and then we fell in love.

In the run-up to the 1992 Gen­eral Elec­tion we were involved in assess­ing any par­lia­ment­ary can­did­ate and poten­tial MP. This meant that they all had their names cross-referenced with MI5’s data­base. If any can­did­ates had a file, this was reviewed. We saw files on most of the top politi­cians of the past dec­ade, from Tony Blair down, some­thing that gave us concerns.

We then both moved to G Branch, the inter­na­tional counter-terrorist divi­sion, with David head­ing the Libyan sec­tion. It was here that he wit­nessed a cata­logue of errors and crimes: the illegal phone-tapping of a prom­in­ent Guard­ian journ­al­ist, the fail­ure of MI5 to pre­vent the bomb­ing of the Israeli embassy in Lon­don in July 1994, which res­ul­ted in the wrong­ful con­vic­tion of two inno­cent Palestini­ans, and the attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion of Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya.

David raised this with his bosses at the time but they showed no interest. So we resigned from MI5 after decid­ing to go pub­lic to force an inquiry into the Gad­dafi plot.

After The Mail on Sunday rev­el­a­tions we decamped to France while David tried to get the Gov­ern­ment to take his evid­ence and invest­ig­ate MI5’s crimes, some­thing, to this day, it has refused to do. Rather than address­ing the prob­lem, the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices tried to shoot the mes­sen­ger. They planted stor­ies claim­ing David was a fan­tas­ist, over­looked for pro­mo­tion, and was too junior to know what he was talk­ing about. These are clas­sic tac­tics used against whis­tleblowers and were wheeled out again when Dr David Kelly took his life.

We even­tu­ally returned home in 2000, by which time David felt isol­ated and angry. He began to dis­trust friends and thought that many of them might be report­ing on him. He was con­vinced he was con­stantly fol­lowed and began to take pho­to­graphs of people in the street. When the trial star­ted, and with David effect­ively gagged, the jury had no choice but to convict.

He received a six-month sen­tence but the judg­ment exon­er­ated him of pla­cing agents’ lives at risk, con­ced­ing that he had spoken out in what he thought to be the pub­lic interest. David had blown the whistle with the best of motives. He had exposed hein­ous State crimes up to and includ­ing murder, yet he was the one in prison with his repu­ta­tion in tat­ters. His release from jail saw a changed man. David was full of anger, frus­tra­tion and bit­ter­ness and became depressed and with­drawn. He was drawn to the spir­itual teach­ings of kab­ba­lah, and became obsessed with the sub­ject instead of focus­ing on what we should do to sur­vive. Last sum­mer, I went away for a week­end. When I returned, David had shaved off all his hair and his eye­brows as part of his spir­itual evol­u­tion. He knew that I had always loved his long, thick hair, so it felt like a per­sonal slap in the face. He was in trouble. He was quick to anger if any­one ques­tioned him. He became obsess­ive about little details, espoused wacky the­or­ies and shunned his fam­ily and old friends. His para­noia also escal­ated. His exper­i­ence of being houn­ded and vil­i­fied for a dec­ade had left a deep per­se­cu­tion com­plex. Even­tu­ally the strain was too much and I ended the relationship.

It was dif­fi­cult as we had shared so much over the 14 years we had been together, but it felt that we were no longer a team – David was focus­ing only on eso­teric issues. Look­ing back, I am still proud of what we did. I believe that if you wit­ness the crimes that we did, you have to take action. But the price for tak­ing that stand against a bully State can be high. It is tra­gic to see an hon­our­able and brave man crushed in this way. The Brit­ish Estab­lish­ment is ruth­less in pro­tect­ing its own interests rather than those of our coun­try. Today David Shayler is liv­ing testi­mony to that.

Fig Leaf to the Spies

The lack of any mean­ing­ful over­sight of the UK’s intel­li­gence com­munity was high­lighted again last week, when The Daily Mail repor­ted that a cru­cial fax was lost in the run-up to the 7/7 bomb­ings in Lon­don in 2005.

There has yet to be an offi­cial enquiry into the worst ter­ror­ist atro­city on the UK main­land, des­pite the call for one from trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies and sur­viv­ors and the legit­im­ate con­cerns of the Brit­ish pub­lic. To date, we have had to make do with an “offi­cial nar­rat­ive” writ­ten by a face­less bur­eau­crat and pub­lished in May 2006. As soon as it was pub­lished, the then Home Sec­ret­ary, John Reid, had to cor­rect egre­gious fac­tual errors when present­ing it to Parliament.

The Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee (ISC) also did a shoddy first job, when it cleared the secur­ity forces of all wrong-doing in its ini­tial report pub­lished at the same time. It claimed a lack of resources had hampered MI5’s counter-terrorism efforts.

How­ever, fol­low­ing a use­ful leak, it emerged that MI5 had not only been aware of at least two of the alleged bombers before the attack, it had been con­cerned enough to send a fax up to West York­shire Police Spe­cial Branch ask­ing them to invest­ig­ate Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tan­weer. This fax was never acted upon.

So the ISC has been forced to pro­duce another report, this time appar­ently admit­ting that, yes, there had been intel­li­gence fail­ures, most not­ably the lost fax. West York­shire SB should have acted on it. But the intel­li­gence officer in MI5 respons­ible for this invest­ig­a­tion should have chased it up when no response was forthcoming.

This second ISC report, which has been sit­ting on the Prime Minister’s desk for weeks already, is said to be “dev­ast­at­ing”. How­ever, I’m will­ing to bet that if/when it sees the light of day, it will be any­thing but.

The ISC is at best an over­sight fig leaf. It was formed in 1994, when MI6 and GCHQ were put on a stat­utory foot­ing for the first time with the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act. At the time the press wel­comed this as a great step for­ward towards demo­cratic account­ab­il­ity for the intel­li­gence com­munity. Well, it could not have been worse than the pre­vi­ous set-up, when MI5, MI6 and GCHQ did not offi­cially exist. They were not required to obey the laws of the land, and no MP was allowed to ask a ques­tion in Par­lia­ment about their activ­it­ies. As 1980s whis­tleblower Peter Wright so suc­cinctly put it, the spies could bug and burgle their way around with impunity.

So the estab­lish­ment of the ISC was a (very) lim­ited step in the right dir­ec­tion. How­ever, it is not a Par­lia­ment­ary Com­mit­tee. Its mem­bers are selec­ted by the Prime Min­is­ter, and it is answer­able only to the PM, who can vet its find­ings. The remit of the ISC only cov­ers mat­ters of spy policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance. It is not empowered to invest­ig­ate alleg­a­tions of oper­a­tional incom­pet­ence nor crimes com­mit­ted by the spies. And its annual report has become a joke within the media, as there are usu­ally more redac­tions than coher­ent sentences.

The ISC’s first big test came in the 1990s fol­low­ing the Shayler and Tom­lin­son dis­clos­ures. These involved detailed alleg­a­tions of illegal invest­ig­a­tions, bungled oper­a­tions and assas­sin­a­tion attempts against for­eign heads of state. It is dif­fi­cult to con­ceive of more hein­ous crimes com­mit­ted by our shad­owy spies.

But how did the ISC react? If one reads the reports from the rel­ev­ant years, the only aspect that exer­cised the ISC was Shayler’s inform­a­tion that MI5 had on many MPs and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters. The ISC was reas­sured by MI5 that would no longer be able to use these files. That’s it.

For­get about files being illeg­ally held on hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent UK cit­izens; for­get about the illegal phone taps, the pre­vent­able deaths on UK streets from IRA bombs, inno­cent people being thrown in prison, and the assas­sin­a­tion attempt against Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya. The fear­less and etern­ally vigil­ant ISC MPs were primar­ily con­cerned about receiv­ing reas­sur­ance that their files would no longer be vet­ted by MI5 officers on the basis of mem­ber­ship to “sub­vers­ive” organ­isa­tions. What were they afraid of – that shame­ful evid­ence of early left-wing activ­ity from their fiery youth might emerge? Heaven for­bid under New Labour.

Barely a day goes by when news­pa­per head­lines do not remind us of ter­rible threats to our national secur­ity. Only in the last week, the UK media has repor­ted that the threat of espi­on­age from Rus­sia and China is at its highest since the days of the Cold War; that resur­gent Repub­lican ter­ror groups in North­ern Ire­land pose a graver danger to us even than Al Qaeda; that rad­ic­al­ised Brit­ish Muslim youth are return­ing from fight­ing with the Taliban to wage war on the streets of the UK. We have to take all this on trust, des­pite the intel­li­gence community’s appalling track record of bend­ing the truth to gain more powers and resources. This is why mean­ing­ful over­sight is so vitally import­ant for the health of our demo­cracy. The ISC is a long way from provid­ing that.