MI5 officer has evidence of torture?

Well, this story is interesting me extremely, and for the obvious as well as the perhaps more arcanely legal reasons.

Apparently a former senior MI5 officer is asking permission to give evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament about the Security Service’s collusion in the US torture programme that was the pyroclastic flow from the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

I have long speculated about how people with whom I used to work, socialise with, have dinner with in the 1990s might have evolved from idealistic young officers into people who could condone or even participate in the torture of other human beings once the war on terror was unleashed in the last decade.

During the 1990s MI5 absolutely did not condone the use of torture – not only for ethical reasons, but also because an older generation was still knocking around and they had seen in the civil war in Northern Ireland quite how counter-productive such practices were.  Internment, secret courts, stress positions, sleep deprivation – all these policies acted as a recruiting sergeant for the Provisional IRA.

My generation – the first tasked with investigating the IRA in the UK and Al Qaeda globally – understood this.  We were there to run intelligence operations, help gather evidence, and if possible put suspected malefactors on trial. Even then, when ethical boundaries were breached, many raised concerns and many resigned.  A few of us even went public about our concerns.

But that is so much history.  As I said above, I have always wondered how those I knew could have stayed silent once the intelligence gloves came off after 9/11 and MI5 was effectively shanghaied into following the brutish American over-reaction.

Now it appears that there were indeed doubters within, there was indeed a divided opinion. And now it appears that someone with seniority is trying to use what few channels exist for whistleblowers in the UK to rectify this.

In fact, my contemporaries who stayed on the inside would now be the senior officers, so I really wonder who this is – I hope an old friend!

No doubt they will have voiced their concerns over the years and no doubt they will have been told just to follow orders.

I have said publicly over many years that there should be a meaningful channel for those with ethical concerns to present evidence and have them properly investigated. In fact, I have even said that the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament should be that channel if – and it’s a big if – they can have real investigatory powers and can be trusted not just to brush evidence under the carpet and protect the spies’ reputation.

So this takes me to the arcane legalities I alluded to at the start. During the David Shayler whistleblowing trials (1997-2003) all the legal argument was around the fact that he could have taken his concerns to any crown servant – up to the ISC or his MP and down to and including the bobby on the beat – and he would not have breached the Official Secrets Act. That was the argument upon which he was convicted.

Yet at the same time the prosecution also successfully argued during his trial in 2002 in the Old Bailey that there was a “clear bright line” against disclosure to anyone outside MI5 – (Section 1(1) OSA (1989) – without that organisation’s prior written consent.

The new case rather proves the latter position – that someone with ethical concerns has to “ask permission” to give evidence to the “oversight body”.

Only in the UK.

Now, surely in this uncertain and allegedly terrorist-stricken world, we have never had greater need for a meaningful oversight body and meaningful reform to our intelligence agencies if they go off-beam. Only by learning via safe external ventilation, learning from mistakes, reforming and avoiding group-think, can they operate in a way that is proportionate in a democracy and best protects us all.

Karma Police

As I type this I am listening to one of my all-time favourite albums, Radiohead’s seminal “OK, Computer”, that was released in spring 1997. The first time I heard it I was spellbound by its edginess, complexity, experimentalism and political overtones. My partner at the time, David Shayler, took longer to get it. Self-admittedly tone deaf, he never understood what he laughingly called the “music conspiracy” where people just “got” a new album and played it to death.

ST_Spies_on_the_RunHis opinion changed drastically over the summer of ’97 after we had blown the whistle on a series of crimes committed by the UK’s spy agencies. As a result of our actions – the first reports appeared in the British media on 24 July 1997 – we had fled the country and gone on the run around Europe for a month. At the end of this surreal backpacking holiday I returned to the UK to face arrest, pack up our ransacked home, and try to comfort our traumatised families who had known nothing of our whistleblowing plans.

“OK, Computer” was the soundtrack to that month spent on the run across the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain. Taking random trains, moving from hotel to hotel, and using false names, our lives were dislocated and unreal. So in each hotel room we tried to recreate a sense of homeliness – some candles, a bottle of wine, natch, and some music. In the two small bags, into which I had packed the essentials for our unknown future life, I had managed to squeeze in my portable CD player (remember those?), tiny speakers and a few cherished CDs. Such are the priorities of youth.

The joy of Radiohead broke upon David during that month – particularly the track “Exit Music (for a Film)”, which encapsulated our feelings as we fled the UK together. Once we were holed up in a primitive French farmhouse for the year after our month on the run, this was the album that we listened to last thing at night, holding onto each other tightly to ward off the cold and fear. Revelling in the music, we also drew strength from the dissident tone of the lyrics.

So it was with some mirthful incredulity that I yesterday read on The Intercept that GCHQ named one of its most iniquitous programmes after one of the classic songs from the album – “Karma Police”.

In case you missed this, the basic premise of GCHQ was to develop a system that could snoop on all our web searches and thereby build up a profile of each of our lives online – our interests, our peccadilloes, our politics, our beliefs. The programme was developed between 2007 and 2008 and was deemed functional in 2009. Who knows what information GCHQ has sucked up about you, me, everyone, since then?

As I have said many times over the years since Snowden and who knows how many others began to expose the out-of-control spy agencies, this is disproportionate in soi-dissent democracies. It is certainly not lawful by any stretch of the imagination. UK governmental warrants – which are supposed to regulate and if necessary circumscribe the activities of the spy snoopers – have repeatedly been egregiously abused.

They are supposed to make a case for targeted surveillance of people suspected of being a threat to the UK’s national security or economic well-being. The warrants, blindly signed by the Home or Foreign Secretary, are not designed to authorise the industrial interception of everyone’s communications. This is a crime, plain and simple, and someone should be held to account.

Talking of crimes, after a month on the run with David, I returned (as I had always planned to do) to the UK. I knew that I would be arrested, purely on the grounds that I had been an MI5 officer and was David Shayler’s girlfriend and had supported his whistleblowing activities. In fact my lawyer, John Wadham who was the head of the UK’s civil liberties union, Liberty, had negotiated with the police for me return to the UK and hand myself into the police for questioning. He flew out to Barcelona to accompany me back to the UK almost exactly eighteen years ago today.

Annie_arrestDespite the pre-agreements, I was arrested at the immigration desk at Gatwick airport by six burly Special Branch police officers and then driven by them up to the counter-terrorism interview room in Charing Cross police station in central London, where I was interrogated for the maximum six hours before being released with no charge.

The music playing on the radio during this drive from the airport to my cell? Radiohead’s “Karma Police”.

One can but hope that karma will come into play. But perhaps the ending of “Exit Music…”  is currently more pertinent – we hope that you choke, that you choke…..

After all, the spies do seem to be choking on an overload of hoovered-up intelligence – pretty much every “ISIS-inspired” attack in the west over the last couple of years has reportedly been carried out by people who have long been on the radar of the spies.  Too much information can indeed be bad for our security, our privacy and our safety.

Exile – ExBerliner Article

My most recent article for the ExBerliner magazine:

What is exile? Other than a term much used and abused by many new expats arriving in Berlin, dictionary definitions point towards someone who is kept away from their home country for political reasons, either by regal decree in the past or now more probably self-imposed. But there are many other ways to feel exiled – from mainstream society, from your family, faith, profession, politics, and Berlin is now regarded as a haven.

However, let’s focus on the classic definition and a noble tradition. Every country, no matter how apparently enlightened, can become a tyrant to its own citizens if they challenge abuses of power. Voltaire was exiled in England for three years and soon after Tom Paine, a former excise man facing charges for seditious libel, sought refuge in France. More recent famous exiles include David Shayler, the MI5 whistleblower of the 1990s who followed in Paine’s footsteps pretty much for the same fundamental reasons, yet Alexander Litvinenko, the KBG whistleblower of the same era, ironically found safe haven in exile in the UK.

So, being an exile effectively means that you have angered the power structures of your home country to such an extent that other countries feel compelled to give you refuge, partly for legal or principled reasons, but also for political expediency. The current most famous exile in the world is, of course, Edward Snowden, stranded by chance in Russia en route to political asylum in Ecuador.

What does the act of fleeing into exile actually feel like? It is a wild leap into an unknown and precarious future, with great risk and few foreseeable rewards. At the same time, as you leave the shores of the persecuting country, evading the authorities, avoiding arrest and going on the run, there is an exhilarating, intense feeling of freedom – a sense that the die has very much been cast. Your old way of life is irrevocably at an end and the future is a blank slate on which you can write anything.

After Shayler and I fled to France in 1997, for the first year of the three we lived in exile we hid in a remote French farmhouse just north of Limoges – the nearest village was 2 kilometres away, and the nearest town a distant thirty. We lived in constant dread of that knock on the door and the ensuing arrest. And that, indeed, eventually did catch up with him.

As a result, for Shayler it meant the world grew increasingly small, increasingly confined. Initially, when we went on the run, we were free to roam across Europe – anywhere but the UK. Then, after the French courts refused to extradite him to Britain in 1998 to face trial for a breach of the draconian UK Official Secrets Act, France became the only place he could live freely. If he had then traveled to any other European country, the British would have again attempted to extradite him, probably successfully, so he was trapped.

However, there are worse places than France in which to find yourself stranded. As well as being one of the most beautiful and varied countries in the world it felt particularly poignant to end up exiled in Paris for a further two years.

It was also conveniently close to the UK, so friends, family, supporters and journalists could visit us regularly and bring Shayler supplies of such vital British staples as bacon and HP source. But he still missed the simple pleasures in life, such as being free to watch his beloved football team, or being able to watch the crappy late night comedy shows that the British endlessly churn out. Despite these small lacks, I shall always remember those years in France fondly, as a place of greater safety, a literal haven from persecution.

Of course, all this was in the era before the standardised European Arrest warrant, when national sovereignty and national laws actually counted for something. Finding a secure place of exile now would be almost an impossibility in Europe if you home country really wanted to prosecute you.

Many Western expats now talk of being “exiled in Berlin”, and they may indeed be self-exiled in search of a more sympatico life style, a buzzy group of like-minded peers, work opportunities or whatever. But until they have felt the full force of an extradition warrant, before the fuzz has actually felt their collars, this is realistically exile as a lifestyle choice, rather than exile as a desperate political necessity or, in Edward Snowden’s case, a potentially existential requirement.

Code Red Media Launch in Perugia

I am very happy to announce a new initiative, Code Red,  that Simon Davies (the founder of Privacy International and The Big Brother Awards) and I have been organising over the last few months.  In fact, not just us, but a panoply of global privacy and anti-surveillance campaigners from many areas of expertise.

Simon and I have known each other for years, way back to 2002, when he gave one of the earliest Winston Awards to David Shayler, in recognition of his work towards trying to expose surveillance and protect privacy. That award ceremony, hosted by comedian and activist Mark Thomas, was one of the few bright points in that year for David and me – which included my nearly dying of meningitis in Paris and David’s voluntary return to the UK to “face the music”; face the inevitable arrest, trial and conviction for a breach of the Official Secrets Act that followed on from his disclosures about spy criminality.

Anyway, enough of a detour down memory lane – back to Code Red. Regular readers of this website will know that I have some slight interest in the need to protect our privacy for both personal reasons and societal good. Over the last 18 years since helping to expose the crimes of the British spies, I have worked with the media, lawyers, campaigners, hackers, NGOs, politicians, wonks, geeks, whistleblowers, and wonderfully concerned citizens around the world – all the time arguing against the encroaching and stealthy powers of the deep, secret state and beyond.

While many people are concerned about this threat to a democratic way of life, and in fact so many people try to push back, I know from experience the different pressures that can be exerted against each community, and the lack of awareness and meaningful communication that can often occur between such groups.

So when Simon posited the idea of Code Red – an organisation that can functionally bring all these disparate groups together, to learn from each other, gain strength and thereby work more effectively, it seemed an obvious next step.

Some progress has already been make in this direction, with international whistleblower conferences, cryptoparties, training for journalists about how to protect their sources, campaigns to protect whistleblowers, activist and media collectives, and much more.  We in Code Red recognise all this amazing work and are not trying to replicate it.

But we do want to do is improve the flow of communication – would it not be great to have a global clearing house, a record, of what works, what does not, a repository of expertise from all these inter-related disciplines from a round the world that we can all learn from?

This is one of the goals of Code Red, which launched to the media at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia a few weeks ago.  We were then lucky enough to also hold a launch to the tech/hacktivist community in Berlin a few days after at C Base – the mother-ship of hackers.

Here is the film of the Perugia launch:

Code Red – launched in Perugia, April 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

No encryption? How very rude.

First published on RT Op-Edge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 regime.  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 regime.  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 regime 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.