The spies are called to account

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

As the Snowden-related dis­clos­ures con­tinue to flow, each new one refut­ing the last dis­sem­bling state­ments of the des­per­ate spies, dip­lo­mats around the world must be curs­ing the over­ween­ing ambi­tions of the NSA and it vassals.

Amer­ican ambas­sad­ors are being summoned from their for­ti­fied embassies to account for US mal­feas­ance in coun­try after coun­try: Brazil, Spain, France and, of course, Germany.

In this last coun­try there has been scan­dal after scan­dal: first the hoover­ing up of bil­lions of private com­mu­nic­a­tions; the rev­el­a­tion that the Ger­man intel­li­gence agency, the BND, had been an enthu­si­astic part­ner of the NSA in devel­op­ing the XKey­Score pro­gramme and more; then, des­pite this, humi­li­at­ingly to learn that Ger­many is only con­sidered a 3rd Party intel­li­gence part­ner by the Yanks — put­ting them on a par with coun­tries like Iran, China and Russia.

The pièces de résist­ance, how­ever, are the two most recent dis­clos­ures: that Angela Merkal’s private phone had been tar­geted, and that there was a NSA spy base embed­ded in the US embassy in Ber­lin.  This, reportedly, has now ceased oper­a­tions as the US gov­ern­ment tries to appease an incan­des­cent Angela.

Now it is the turn of the Brits, whose ambas­sador, Simon McDon­ald, was also this week given a car­pet­ing by the Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter — for doing pre­cisely what the Amer­ic­ans did and hid­ing a GCHQ spy out­post at the Brit­ish embassy in Ber­lin, flout­ing all kinds of treat­ies and dip­lo­matic pro­to­cols in the pro­cess.  As the embassy was only built in the early 1990s after Ger­man reuni­fic­a­tion, they can­not even claim that this is merely a hangover from the bad old days of the Cold War.

Of course, the Ger­mans are par­tic­u­larly sens­it­ive to encroach­ing sur­veil­lance states, after exper­i­en­cing the hor­rors of the Gestapo and the Stasi. How much more con­cerned need they be, when faced with the sheer scale of the mod­ern tech­no­lo­gical capability?

Even before the Snowden story broke, Ger­man courts were uphold­ing the con­sti­tu­tion in the face of gov­ern­ment moves to expand the intel­li­gence cap­ab­il­ity to fight the “war on ter­ror”.  Indeed, even some mega-corporations took a stand. In 2009, on the anniversary of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, the head of T Mobile in Ger­man refused to store the com­mu­nic­a­tions data of ordin­ary Ger­mans, on the off-chance that one or two of them might sub­sequently turn ter­ror­ist — the good of the many out­weighted the threat from a few.

So the Brits are some­what out of favour with the rest of Europe, and espe­cially Ger­many. It was clear, with the rev­el­a­tions about GCHQ’s Tem­pora pro­gramme and the huge fund­ing acquired from the NSA, that GCHQ was no longer primar­ily con­cerned with pro­tect­ing Brit­ish national secur­ity, but had become the European off­shoot of the NSA.  Indeed, internal doc­u­ments have shown a man­age­ment obses­sion with pleas­ing their Amer­ican pay­mas­ters.

This is the very heart of the so-called spe­cial rela­tion­ship — the com­bined cap­ab­il­it­ies of the NSA and GCHQ.  Even as the old Brit­ish Empire crumbled in the mid-20th cen­tury, the spooks could still build out­posts for eaves­drop­ping in hot­spots around the world: Cyprus, the Middle East, Hong Kong and, er, Ber­lin.  They were happy to offer up the product to their new Amer­ican over­lords, as this gave them a con­tinu­ing place at the inter­na­tional top table.

This the Brit­ish would find very dif­fi­cult to relin­quish. And this is why, in stark con­trast to all other European coun­tries, the politi­cians have moved to defend the spies, why the mono­chrome phrase “we never dis­cuss intel­li­gence mat­ters” is now wear­ily rolled out on a daily basis, and why intel­li­gence lack­eys across the national media have defen­ded the status quo and respect the vol­un­tary DA Notice gag­ging order.  This is also why the Guard­ian’s hard drives had to be sym­bol­ic­ally smashed up and why there have been calls to pro­sec­ute the news­pa­per under the dra­conian Offi­cial Secrets Act.

It is not the Guard­ian that has dam­aged Brit­ish national secur­ity (a leg­ally neb­u­lous concept) by print­ing the truth about our spy agen­cies work­ing for the NSA and tramp­ling over our basic rights and freedoms. It is the spies them­selves that have caused the harm, by run­ning amok with leg­ally dubi­ous sur­veil­lance schemes, kid­nap­ping sus­pects around the world, and get­ting involved in torture.

So tomor­row is poten­tially an his­toric date in the annals of Brit­ish intel­li­gence. For the very first time in their 100 year his­tory, the heads of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ will be called to account by the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment.  Not only that, the event will be live streamed so we plebs can hear what is being done secretly in our names.

Well, almost live streamed — appar­ently there will be a few seconds delay, in order to ensure no “dam­age to national secur­ity” occurs. My mind is bog­gling some­what at the pos­sib­il­ity that three spooks who have made it to the top of their respect­ive organ­isa­tions would be so inept as to blurt out state secrets on live TV, but you never know…

So, can we hope for a full and frank dis­cus­sion around the Snowden dis­clos­ures? Well, prob­ably not. I have writ­ten at length before about the cosy estab­lish­ment ineptitude of the Prime Minister’s hand-picked stooges who pop­u­late the ISC. Plus the chair­man, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind (him­self a former For­eign Sec­ret­ary notion­ally in charge of MI6 and GHHQ), has not only pub­licly sup­por­ted the work of GCHQ, post-Snowden, but has also ruled out any dis­cus­sion of “tech­no­lo­gical cap­ab­il­it­ies” at the hearing.

I hope to be sur­prised.  After all, even the US — the home of the NSA and cause of all this pain — is hold­ing con­gres­sional hear­ings and hav­ing national debates. But I fear the good old Brit­ish estab­lish­ment will yet again rally around and pro­tect its own.

White­wash all round!

London Cryptofestival panel discussion

On Octo­ber 31 st Goldsmith’s Uni­ver­sity on Lon­don organ­ised a super-cryptoparty called the CryptoFest­ival. I spoke and dis­cussed pri­vacy and the use of tech­nical means with Prof. Ross Ander­son, Nick Pickles and Smari Mccarthy. Over 500 people atten­ted the fest­ival to dis­cuss pri­vacy and share know­legde on tech­nical means to pro­tect it.

Crypto Fest­ival Panel ses­sion 2013 Prof. Ross Ander­son, Annie Machon, Nick Pickles, Smari Mccarthy from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) UK Conference

Last month, in my new role as Dir­ector of LEAP Europe, I was invited to do a talk at the SSDP con­fer­ence in Lon­don.  It was great to meet the key SSDP organ­isers, and also share a plat­form with Jason Reed, the co-ordinator of LEAP UK.

The stu­dent act­iv­ists of SSDP are demand­ing that our polit­ical classes instig­ate a mature, fact-based dis­cus­sion about the “war on drugs”.

Sorry to rehash all the well-known art­icles about why this “war” is such a fail­ure on every con­ceiv­able front, but just let me reit­er­ate three key points: pro­hib­i­tion will always fail (as this clas­sic “Yes Min­is­ter” scene depicts), and the reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion of recre­ational drugs (in the same way as alco­hol and tobacco) would be good for soci­ety and for the eco­nomy; it would decap­it­ate organ­ised crime and, in some cases, the fund­ing of ter­ror­ism; and it would make the use and pos­sible abuse of recre­ational drugs a health issue rather than a crim­inal matter.

The stu­dents get this — why can’t our politicians?

Jason and I had a warm wel­come from the SSDP. They can see the value of law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion­als — police, judges, law­yers, and cus­toms and intel­li­gence officers — using their exper­i­ence to con­trib­ute to the debate. I look for­ward to LEAP work­ing more closely with the SSDP.

And do drop me an email if you would like to help LEAP in Europe.

BBC Radio Bristol Interview

A recent inter­view on BBC Radio Bris­tol to pub­li­cise the screen­ing of an award-winning new doc­u­ment­ary called “The Ele­phant in the Room”, made by tal­en­ted dir­ector Dean Puck­ett.

I had the chance to explore the mech­an­isms by which the UK media is con­trolled by the spies and the gov­ern­ment, includ­ing the sec­tion in MI6 called I/Ops, which plants false stor­ies in the media to the bene­fit of MI5 and MI6.