Here’s a recent interview I did about the recent Iran nuclear deal, adding some context and history and trying to cut through some of today’s media myths:
Here’s my recent interview on London Real TV, discussing all things whistleblowing, tech, intelligence, and the war on drugs. Thanks Brian and Colin for a fun hour!
Last week I was invited to discuss the control of the media by the spies and the government apparatus by the Centre for Media Studies at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. Many thanks to Hans, Anders and the team for inviting me, and to Inese Voika , the Chair of Transparency International in Latvia, for setting the scene so well.
I focused particularly on how journalists can work with and protect whistleblowers:
The International Day of Privacy was celebrated globally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden bringing extra energy and resonance to the subject.
I was invited take part in a demonstration in Berlin, culminating with a talk at the hugely symbolic Brandenburg Gate. Here’s the talk:
Finally the videos from the whistleblower track at the August international geekfest OHM 2013 in the Netherlands are beginning to emerge. Here’s one of the key sessions, the Great Spook Panel, with ex-CIA Ray McGovern, ex-FBI Coleen Rowley, ex-NSA Tom Drake, ex-Department of Justice Jesselyn Radack, and myself.
We came together to show, en masse, that whistleblowing is done for the democratic good, to discuss the (frighteningly similar) experiences we all went through, and to show that whistleblowers can survive the process, build new lives, and even potentially thrive.
With the recent cases of Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, respect to the OHM organisers who saw the relevance of this event so far ahead.
Here is a video of a debate I was involved with about whistleblowers on the most recent edition of BBC debate show, Sunday Morning Live. The question under discussion: are whistleblowers heroes or villains?
BBC Sunday Morning Live from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
A shame that some of the studio guests used this opportunity to launch ad hominem attacks rather than focus on the key question, but I’m glad I could contribute.
Today I am limbering up to attend the Dutch geek festival, Observe Hack Make (OHM 2013). A lot of talks from whistleblowers, scientists, geeks, futurists and bleeding edge tech people. The visionaries?
You decide — all talks will be live streamed and available afterwards. Enjoy!
I was live on RT as the conviction of Bradley Manning was announced:
In a sensational article in a UK newspaper last weekend, the former head of the UK’s foreign intelligence gathering agency, MI6, appears to have broken the code of omertà around the fraudulent intelligence case used as the pretext for the Iraq war in 2003.
Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 and current Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, contacted the UK’s Mail on Sunday newspaper to state that he had written his version of the (ab)use of intelligence in the run-up to the US/UK invasion of Iraq. With the long-awaited and much-delayed official Chilcot Enquiry into the case for war about to be published, Dearlove is obviously aware that he might be blamed for the “sexing up” of the intelligence, and that Teflon Tony Blair might once again shuffle off all responsibility.
You’ll no doubt have some vague recollection that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the British government produced a couple of reports “making a case for war”, as Major General Michael Laurie said in his evidence to the enquiry in 2011: “We knew at the time that the purpose of the [September] dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence, and that to make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence the wording was developed with care.”
The first such report, the September Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed “sex up” the case for war as the deceased Iraqi weapons inspector Dr David Kelly exposed. It also included the fraudulent intelligence about Saddam Hussein trying to acquire uranium from Niger. It was this latter claim that Colin Powell used to such great effect at the UN Security Council.
Also, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy” Dossier, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Internet, but containing nuggets of raw MI6 intelligence — was presented by spy and politician alike as ominous premonitory intelligence.
Most memorably in the UK, it led to the bogus “Brits 45 minutes from Doom” front-page headline in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper, no less, on the eve of the crucial war vote in Parliament.
Interestingly from a British legal position, it appears that Tony Blair and his spin doctor Alastair Campbell released this report without the prior written permission of the head of MI6, which means that they would appear to be in breach of the UK’s draconian secrecy law, the Official Secrets Act (1989).
Thus was made the dodgy case for war. All lies — millions of deaths and many more maimed, wounded, and displaced, yet no one held to account.
Subsequently, there was also the notorious leaked Downing Street Memo, where Sir Richard Dearlove was minuted as saying that the intelligence and facts were being fitted around the [predetermined war] policy.
On July 23, 2002 at a meeting at 10 Downing Street, Dearlove briefed Tony Blair and other senior officials on his talks with his American counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet, in Washington three days before.
In the draft minutes of that briefing, which were leaked to the London Times and published on May 1, 2005, Dearlove explains that George Bush had decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.” While then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dearlove explains matter-of-factly, “the intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”
There is no sign in the minutes that anyone hiccuped — much less demurred — at ”making a case for war” and furthering Blair’s determination to join Bush in launching the kind of “war of aggression” outlawed by the post-world war Nuremberg Tribunal and the UN treaty.
The acquiescence of the chief spies helped their political masters mainline into the body politic unassessed, raw intelligence and forged documents, with disastrous consequences for the people of Iraq and the world.
Yet Dearlove long remained unrepentant. Even as recently as 2011, post-retirement and bloated with honours, he continued to deny culpability. When questioned about the Downing Street Memo during an address to the prestigious Cambridge University Union Society by the fearless and fearsomely bright student, Silkie Carlo, Dearlove tried grandiloquently to brush her aside.
But were the remarks in the Memo really “taken out of context” as Dearlove tried to assert? No – the text of the Memo was clear and explicit.
So Dearlove could potentially have saved millions of lives across the Middle East if he had gone public then, rather than now as he is threatening, with his considered professional opinion about the intelligence facts being fitted around a preconceived war policy.
Would it not be lovely if these retired servants of the crown, replete with respect, status and honours, could actually take a stand while they are in a position to influence world events?
Doing so now, purely to preserve his reputation rather than to preserve lives, is even more “ethically flexible” than you would normally expect of an average MI6 intelligence officer. Perhaps that is why he floated to the top of the organisation.
Dearlove is right to be worried about how both Chilcot and history will judge him. These intelligence failures and lies have been picked over and speculated about for years. They are an open secret.
But holding the gun of disclosure to the UK government’s head smacks of desperation. He is quoted as saying that he has no plans to breach the Official Secrets Act by publishing his memoirs. But by publishing an account of the run-up to the Iraq war, he would be still guilty of a breach of the OSA. It has been established under UK law that any unauthorised disclosure crosses the “clear bright line” of the law. And Dearlove seems well aware of this – his original plan was for his account to be made available after his death.
I can see why he would plan that – firstly he would not risk prosecution under the draconian terms of the OSA, but his account would, in his view, set the record straight and protect his reputation for posterity. A posthumous win-win.
The official motto of the UK spies is “Regnum Defende” — defence of the realm. Serving intelligence officers mordantly alter this to “Rectum Defende” — politely translated as watch your back.
Dearlove seems to be living up to the motto. He must be one very frightened old man to be contemplating such premature publication.
With credit and thanks to former CIA analyst, current truth-teller and general pain in the “regnum” to the intelligence establishment, Ray McGovern, and also Sander Venema for his elegantly classical reworking of the final image.
As the old media propaganda battle inevitably heats up around the Edward Snowden case, I stumbled across this little American news gem recently. The premise being that potential whistleblowers are now deemed to be the new “insider threat”.
Well, the US spooks and their friends have already had a pretty good run through the “reds under the bed” of McCarthyism, political subversives, illegals, Muslims and “domestic extremists”, whatever the hell that really means legally. Now they’ve hit on another threatening category to justify yet further surveillance crackdowns. What’s in a name.….
Firstly, this is old news resurrected in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures to scare people anew. Way back in 2008 the US government wrote a report about “insider threats” and the perceived danger of the high-tech publisher Wikileaks and, in early 2010 the report was leaked to the very same organisation.
In 2008 the US government strategy was to expose a Wikileaks source so that others would be deterred from using the conduit in future. Well that didn’t happen — Wikileaks technologically outpaced the lumbering, brutish might of the US and sycophantic Western intelligence agencies. The unfortunate Bradley Manning was exposed by an FBI snitch, Adrian Lamo, rather than from any technical failure of the Wikileaks submission system.
What did occur was a muscular display of global corporatism, with nation after nation capitulating to take down the Wikileaks site, but mirror sites survived that pointed to Switzerland (which has a strong tradition of direct democracy, self defence and free speech and which remains steadfastly independent from
international diplomatic circle jerks the UN, NATO, and such like.
Now, in the wake of the Manning and Snowden disclosures, the US mainstream media appears, inevitably, to be trying to conflate the cases of known traitors with, you’ve guessed it, bona fide whistleblowers.
Cases such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, who betrayed their countries by selling secrets to an enemy power — the Soviet Union — in an era of existential threat. They were traitors to be prosecuted under the US Espionage Act (1917) — that is what it was designed for.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with the current whistleblower cases and is just so much basic neuro-linguistic programming. *Yawn*. Do people really fall for that these days?
This is a tired old tactic much used and abused in the officially secret UK, and the USA has learned well from its former colonial master — so much for 1776 and the constitution.
However, in the CBS interview mentioned above it was subtly done — at least for a US broadcast — with the commentator sounding reasonable but with the imagery telling a very different story.
In my view this conflation exposes a dark hypocrisy at the heart of the modern military-security complex. In the old days the “goodies” and “baddies” were simplistically demarcated in the minds of the public: free West good; totalitarian East bad. This followed the mainstream propaganda of the day, and those who worked for the opposition — and the Soviet Union gave the US/UK intelligence axis a good run for its money — were prosecuted as traitors. Unless, of course, they emerged from the ruling class, when they were allowed to slip away and evade justice.
And of course many of us remember the scandal of the Russian spy ring that was exposed in 2010 — many individuals who had illegally been infiltrated into the US for decades. Yet, when they were caught and exposed, what happened? A deal was struck between the US and Russia and they were just sent home.
No such liberality is shown to true modern-day whistleblowers. Quite the opposite, with the UK and the US willing to breach all established diplomatic protocols to hunt down their quarry. This despite the fact that the whistleblowers are liberating information about the illegality of our own governments to empower all of us to act as informed citizens, and despite the fact that they are exposing global-level crimes.
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have risked their lives to expose the fact that we are living under a global police state and that our military and intelligence agencies are running amok across the planet, with CIA kill lists, renditions, torture, wars, drone strikes and dirty tricks.
Yet the West is not officially at war, nor is it facing an existential threat as it did during the Second World War or the so-called Cold War. Despite this, the US has used the Espionage Act (1917) more times in the last 5 years than over the preceding century. Is it suddenly infested with spies?
Well, no. But it is suddenly full of a new digital generation, which has grown up with the assumption that the internet is free, and which wants to guarantee that it will remain free without Big Brother watching over their shoulders. Talented individuals who end up working for the spy agencies will inevitably be perturbed by programmes such as PRISM and TEMPORA. Lawyers, activists and geeks have been warning about this for the last two decades.
By 1911 the UK had already put in place not only the proto-MI5, but also then added the first Official Secrets Act (OSA) to prosecute real traitors ahead of the First World War. The UK updated the OSA in 1989 specifically to suppress whistleblowing. The US has learned these legal suppression lessons well, not least by shredding its constitution with the Patriot Act.
However, it has neglected to update its law against whistleblowers, falling back instead onto the hoary old 1917 Espionage Act — as I said before, more times in the past five years than over the last century.
This is indeed a war on whistleblowers and truth-tellers, nothing more, nothing less.
What are they so afraid of? Idealists who believe in the old democratic constitutions? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other such fuddy-duddy concepts?
Or could the real enemy be the beneficiaries of the whistleblowers? When the US government says that Manning or Snowden have aided the enemy, do they, could they, mean we the people?
The answer to that would logically be a resounding “yes”. Which leads to another question: what about the nation states — China, Russia, Iran — that we have been told repeatedly over the last few years are hacking and spying on us?
The phrase “pot and kettle” springs to mind. There are no goodies and baddies any more. Indeed, all that remains is outright and shocking hypocrisy.
Snowden has laid bare the fact that the US and its vassals are the most flagrant protagonists in this cyberwar, even as our governments tell us that we must give up basic human rights such as privacy, to protect us from the global threat of terrorism (while at the same time arming and funding our so-called terrorist enemies).
Yet whistleblowers who bravely step up and tell us our governments are committing war crimes, that we are being spied on, that we live under Orwellian surveillance, are now the people being prosecuted for espionage, not the “real” spies and certainly not the war criminals.
In the CBS interview, former US General Michael Hayden, ex-head of the CIA and NSA asked: “what kind of moral judgement does it take for someone to think that their view trumps that of two presidents, the Congress and Senate, the court system and 35,000 co-workers at the NSA?”
Er, perhaps someone who does not want to collude in the most stark examples of global war crimes and illegal surveillance? And perhaps someone who believes that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was set up for a reason after the horrors of the Second World War?
When the rule of law breaks down, who is the real criminal?
What we are witnessing is a generational clash, not a clash of ideologies. The oldsters still be believe in the Cold War narrative (or even “cowboys and Indians”?) of goodies, baddies and existential threats. The digital generations have grown up in the wake of 9/11 and all the associated governmental over-reaction — war crimes go unreported and untried, real civil liberties are an historic artefact, and the global population lives under Big Brother surveillance. Why on earth is anyone, really, surprised when young people of honour and idealism try to take a stand and make a difference?
We should be more worried about our future if the whistleblowers were to stop coming forward.
The brutal murder in Woolwich last week of Drummer Lee Rigby rightly caused shock and outrage. Inevitably there has been a media feeding frenzy about “terrorist” attacks and home-grown radicalisation. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, felt it necessary to fly back from a key meeting in France to head up the British security response.
One slightly heartening piece of news to emerge from all the horror is that the PM has stated, at least for now, that there will be no knee-jerk security crack-down in the wake of this killing. Sure, security measures have been ramped up around military bases in the UK, but cynical calls from the securocrats to reanimate a proposed “snoopers’ charter”, aka the draft Communications Data Bill, have for now been discounted. And rightly so — MI5 already has all the necessary powers to monitor suspects.
However, there does still seem to be a politically disingenuous view about the motivation behind this murder. Yet the suspects themselves made no secret of it — indeed they stayed at the scene of the crime for twenty minutes apparently encouraging photos and smart phone recordings in order to get across their message. When the police armed response team finally arrived, the suspects reportedly charged at the police brandishing knives and possibly a gun. They were shot, but not fatally. This may have been attempted “suicide by cop” — delayed until they had said their piece.
This does not strike me as the actions of “crazed killers” as has been reported in the media; rather it reminds me of the cold and calculated actions of Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik. The Woolwich murder was designed to maximize the impact of the message in this social media age.
And the message being? Well, it was indeed captured on smart phone and sent out to the world. The killers clearly stated that this was a political action designed to highlight the gruesome violence daily meted out across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia as a result of the western policy of military interventionism.
This manifests in a variety of ways: violent resistance and insurgency against puppet governments as we see in Iraq; internecine civil war in countries such as post-NATO intervention Libya; covert wars fought by western proxies, as we see in Syria; or overt attacks in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where US and UK controlled drones target militants named for assassination on presidentially-approved CIA kill lists with the resulting collateral murder of community gatherings, children and wedding parties.
All this does not justify the appalling murder in Woolwich, and the perpetrators must face justice for the crime. However, it does go some way to explaining why such an atrocity occurred, and we as a society need to face up to the facts or this will happen again.
Saying this does not make me an apologist for terrorism, any more than it did journalist Glenn Greenwald — a writer who has had the journalistic attack dogs unleashed on him for similar views. Beyond the group-think denialism within the Washington Beltway and the Westminster Village, the cause and effect are now widely-recognised. Indeed, in her 2010 testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry about the Iraq War, former head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller said precisely the same thing — and I don’t think anyone would dare to label her “an apologist for terrorism”.
The seed of Islamic extremism was planted by western colonialism, propagated by the 1953 CIA and MI6 coup against President Mossadegh of Iran, watered by their support for a fledging Al Qaeda in the 1980s Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion, and is now flourishing as a means both of violently attempting to eject western occupying forces from Muslim countries and gaining retribution against the West.
We need to face up to this new reality. The brutal murder of this soldier may be a one-off attack, but I doubt it. Indeed, similar attacks against French soldiers in Toulouse occurred last year, and this weekend there has already been what appears to be a copy-cat attack against a soldier in Paris.
In this endemic surveillance society terrorist groups are all too aware of the vulnerabilities inherent in large-scale, co-ordinated attacks, the planning of which can be picked up by sigint or from internet “chatter”. Much simpler to go for the low-tech atrocity and cynically play the all-pervasive social media angle for maximum coverage.
The UK media has reported that the Woolwich suspects have been on the British intelligence radar for the last 8 years, but MI5 failed to take prompt action. The inevitable government enquiry has been promised, but the fall-back defensive position, already being trotted out by former spies and terrorism experts across the media is that the security services are never going to be in a position to accurately predict when every radicalised person might “flip” into violence and that such “lone wolf” attacks are the most difficult to stop.
As more news emerges, this is looking increasingly disingenuous. Reports have emerged that one of the suspects, Michael Adebolajo, was approached to work as an agent for MI5 half a year ago, apparently after he had been arrested and assaulted by police in Kenya. This may be another example of the security services’ failed Prevent initiative that seems to be causing more harm that good within the young British Muslim community.
This story has been compounded by the recent intriguing arrest of one of Adebolajo’s friends, the self-styled Abu Nusaybah, immediately after he had finished recording an interview about this for the BBC’s Newsnight programme. The Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Command swooped at the Beeb and arrested the man on terrorism charges: he has now disappeared into the maw of the legal system.
The only long-term and potentially effective solution is to address the fundamental issues that lead to Islamic violence and terrorism and begin negotiations. The UK, at least, has been through this process before during the 1990s, when it was attempting to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland. Indeed my former boss, Eliza Manningham-Buller, stated as much during a BBC lecture in 2011, saying that the US and UK governments need to negotiate with Al Qaeda to reach a political settlement.
Over the last 20 years, Al Qaeda has consistently demanded the removal of the western (predominantly US) military presence from the Middle East. Since the 9/11 attacks our political elites and media have equally consistently spun us the line that Al Qaeda carries out attacks because it “hates our way of life, hates our freedoms”.
Unless our governments acknowledge the problems inherent in continued and violent western interventionism, unless they can accept that the war on terror results in radicalisation, “blowback” and yet more innocent deaths, and until they admit that negotiation is the only viable long-term solution, we are all condemned to remain trapped in this ghastly cycle of violence.
Here is my RT interview yesterday about the Woolwich attack. A horrific murder and my thoughts are with the family of the poor victim.
That said, the British and American governments and the NATO countries are disingenuous of they think that their strategy of violent interventionism across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia will have no consequences. As a result of our illegal wars, CIA kill lists and drone strikes, countless families are suffering such trauma, violence and loss across the region every day.