Niemoeller Redux

Pub­lished on RT Op Edge and Con­sor­tium News.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.…so nobody speaks up.

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

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

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

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

.…so nobody speaks up.

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

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

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

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

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

.…so nobody speaks up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Whistleblower

So this com­ing week prom­ises to be inter­est­ing in the UK, with a num­ber of inter­na­tional whis­tleblowers gath­er­ing for a range of events and inter­views in Lon­don and Oxford.

SAA_logoThe primary reason for this gath­er­ing is the SAA award cere­mony for Chelsea Man­ning at the Oxford Union Soci­ety on 19th Feb­ru­ary.  Every year an inter­na­tional group of former intel­li­gence per­son­nel vote on the Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence and this year, inev­it­ably and resound­ingly, the award went to Chelsea.  She joins a dis­tin­guished list of laur­eates.

TheWhistlerlogoWe shall also be par­ti­cip­at­ing in the launch of the UK whis­tleblower sup­port net­work, The Whist­ler. This aims to provide prac­tical sup­port to whis­tleblowers com­ing out of every sec­tor: med­ical, fin­an­cial, gov­ern­ment… — whatever and wherever there are cover-ups and corruption.

There seems to be a grow­ing aware­ness of the role of the whis­tleblower and the safe­guards they can add to our soci­ety and demo­cratic way of life: the reg­u­lat­ors of last resort.  Please sup­port these campaigns.

Edward Snowden, Man of the Year

First pub­lished at RT Op-Edge.

When asked if Edward Snowden deserves to be the Man of the Year 2013, and I have been many times, my answer has to be a cat­egor­ical, resound­ing YES.

Sure, it has been an event­ful year and there are a lot of con­tenders. But Edward Snowden stands out for me for three key reas­ons:  his per­sonal and con­scious cour­age, the sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures and the con­tinu­ing, global impact of what he did. Purely because of his actions we, the world’s cit­izens, are now able to have a dis­cus­sion about the nature of our civil­isa­tion and poten­tially call a halt to the fright­en­ing slide into a global sur­veil­lance dystopia.

For the actions of Snowden have indeed laid bare the fact that we are liv­ing global crisis of civil­isa­tion .  To date it is estim­ated the we have only seen about 1% of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed -  the merest hint of the tip of a mon­strous ice­berg.  What fur­ther hor­rors await us in 2014 and beyond?

The Per­sonal Risk

First of all, there is the per­sonal aspect.  Snowden has said that he does not want to be the story, he wants the focus to remain on the inform­a­tion.  I respect that, but it is worth remind­ing ourselves of the scale of sac­ri­fice this young man has made.  He had a well-paid job in Hawaii, an appar­ently happy rela­tion­ship, and good career pro­spects. All this he threw away to alert the world to the secret, illegal and dysto­pian sur­veil­lance sys­tem that has stealth­ily been smoth­er­ing the world.

But Snowden faced far more than merely throw­ing away a com­fort­able pro­fes­sional life. Over the last few years the US gov­ern­ment, appar­ently learn­ing well from its former colo­nial mas­ter the UK about the art of crush­ing of whis­tleblowers, has been waging a war against what it now deems the “insider threat” — ie per­sons of con­science who speak out. Pres­id­ent Obama has used the Espi­on­age Act (1917) to per­se­cute and pro­sec­ute more whis­tleblowers than all pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents in total before him.

This is indeed a “war on whis­tleblowers”. John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who refused to par­ti­cip­ate in the tor­ture pro­gramme and then exposed, it is cur­rently lan­guish­ing in prison; Thomas Drake, an earlier NSA whis­tleblower, was threatened with 35 years in prison; young Chelsea Man­ning was mal­treated in prison, faced a kangaroo court, and is cur­rently serving a sim­ilar sen­tence for the expos­ure of hideous war crimes against civil­ians in the Middle East. And the list goes on.

So not only did Edward Snowden turn his back on his career, he knew exactly the sheer scale of the legal risk he was tak­ing when he went pub­lic, dis­play­ing bravery very much above and bey­ond the call of duty.

The intel­li­gence apo­lo­gists in the media have inev­it­ably  shouted “nar­ciss­ism” about his brave step to out him­self, rather than just leak the inform­a­tion anonym­ously.  How­ever, these estab­lish­ment wind­bags are the real nar­ciss­ists. Snowden cor­rectly assessed that, had he not put his name to the dis­clos­ures, there would have been a witch-hunt tar­get­ing his former col­leagues and he wanted to pro­tect them. Plus, as he said in his very first pub­lic inter­view, he wanted to explain why he had done what he had done and what the implic­a­tions were for the world.

The Dis­clos­ures

The sheer scale and nature of the dis­clos­ures so far has been breath­tak­ing, and they just keep com­ing. They show that a vast, sub­ter­ranean sur­veil­lance state that has crept across the whole world, unknown and unchecked by the very politi­cians who are sup­posed to hold it to account. Indeed, not only have we learned that we are all under con­stant elec­tronic sur­veil­lance, but these politi­cians are tar­geted too. This is a global secret state run­ning amok and we are all now targets.

Only yes­ter­day, Der Spiegel repor­ted more egre­gious examples of how the spies bug us: hard­ware hacks, com­puter vir­uses and even microwave wavelengths attack­ing both our com­puters and us – tin foil hats might not be such a bad idea after all.…

The Implic­a­tions

Snowden’s dis­clos­ures have laid bare the fact that the inter­net has been thor­oughly hacked, sub­ver­ted and indeed mil­it­ar­ised against we the people.  The basic free­dom of pri­vacy,  enshrined in the UN Declar­a­tion of Human Rights in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Second World War, has been destroyed.

Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidual cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments, and cer­tainly not a shad­owy and unac­count­able secret state.

The cent­ral soci­etal func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the state.

By risk­ing his life, Edward Snowden has allowed us all to see exactly the scale of the threat now facing us and to allow us the oppor­tun­ity to res­ist.  We all owe him a debt of grat­it­ude, and it is our duty to ensure that his cour­age and sac­ri­fice has not been in vain.

The German BND does the bidding of USA spies

An inter­view on the Ger­man main­stream TV chan­nel ARD.  The pro­gramme is called FAKT Magazin:

BND will bei Spi­on­age mit­mis­chen from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Edward Snowden Website

Just a short post to announce the new Edward Snowden web­site.  Away from all the spin and media hys­teria, here are the basic facts about the inform­a­tion dis­closed and the issues at stake.

Snowden_website
And here’s another aide mem­oire of the dis­clos­ures so far. The impact of these dis­clos­ures is global. Edward Snowden is simply the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower in mod­ern history.

European Parliament LIBE Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens

Below is some back­ground mater­ial from my sub­mis­sion to the European Parliament’s LIBE Com­mit­tee on the implic­a­tions of the NSA scandal.

Here is a video link to the hear­ing.

LIBE Com­mit­tee Inquiry on Elec­tronic Mass Sur­veil­lance of EU Cit­izens, European Par­lia­ment, 30th Septem­ber 2013

Bio­graphy:

Annie Machon was an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s MI5 in the 1990s, before leav­ing to help blow the whistle on the crimes and incom­pet­ence of the Brit­ish spy agen­cies.  As a res­ult she and her former part­ner had to go on the run around Europe, live in exile in France, face arrest and impris­on­ment, and watch as friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists were arrested.

She is now a writer, media com­ment­ator, polit­ical cam­paigner, and inter­na­tional pub­lic speaker on a vari­ety of related issues: the war on ter­ror­ism, the war on drugs, the war on whis­tleblowers, and the war on the inter­net.  In 2012 she star­ted as a Dir­ector of LEAP in Europe (www​.leap​.cc).

Annie has an MA (Hons) Clas­sics from Cam­bridge University.

Back­ground material:

Recom­mend­a­tions:

  • Mean­ing­ful par­lia­ment­ary over­sight of intel­li­gence agen­cies, with full powers of invest­ig­a­tion, at both national and European levels.
  • These same demo­cratic bod­ies to provide a legit­im­ate chan­nel for intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers to give their evid­ence of mal­feas­ance, with the clear and real­istic expect­a­tion that a full inquiry will be con­duc­ted, reforms applied and crimes punished.
  • Insti­tute a dis­cus­sion about the legal defin­i­tion of national secur­ity, what the real threats are to the integ­rity of nation states and the EU, and estab­lish agen­cies to work within the law to defend just that. This will halt inter­na­tional intel­li­gence mis­sion creep.
  • EU-wide imple­ment­a­tion of the recom­mend­a­tions in the Ech­elon Report (2001):
  1. to develop and build key infra­struc­ture across Europe that is immune from US gov­ern­mental and cor­por­at­ist sur­veil­lance; and
  2. Ger­many and the United King­dom are called upon to make the author­isa­tion of fur­ther com­mu­nic­a­tions inter­cep­tion oper­a­tions by US intel­li­gence ser­vices on their ter­rit­ory con­di­tional on their com­pli­ance with the ECHR (European Con­ven­tion on Human Rights).”
  • The duty of the European par­lia­ment is to the cit­izens of the EU.  As such it should act­ively pur­sue tech­no­logy policies to pro­tect the pri­vacy and basic rights of the cit­izens from the sur­veil­lance of the NSA and its vas­sals; and if it can­not, it should warn its cit­izens abut this act­ively and edu­cate them to take their own steps to pro­tect their pri­vacy (such as no longer using cer­tain Inter­net ser­vices or learn­ing to use pri­vacy enhan­cing tech­no­lo­gies). Con­cerns such as the trust Europeans have in ‘e-commerce’ or ‘e-government’ as men­tioned by the European Com­mis­sion should be sec­ond­ary to this con­cern at all times.
  • Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidual cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments. The Free Soft­ware Found­a­tion has been mak­ing these recom­mend­a­tions for over two decades.
  • The cent­ral soci­etal func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the nation state. There­fore there is no ‘bal­ance between pri­vacy and secur­ity’ and this false dicho­tomy should not be part of any policy debate.

Riga Talk about Spies, Whistleblowers and the Media

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:

Whis­tleblow­ing is the New Rock and Roll from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Keeping Abreast of Privacy Issues

In the wake of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures about endemic global sur­veil­lance, the rather thread­bare old argu­ment about “if you have done noth­ing wrong and have noth­ing to hide, you have noth­ing to fear” has been trot­ted out by many Big Brother apologists.

But it’s not about doing any­thing wrong, it’s about hav­ing an enshrined right to pri­vacy — as recog­nised in the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  And this was enshrined in the wake of the hor­rors of World War 2, and for very good reason.  If you are denied pri­vacy to read or listen, if you are denied pri­vacy to speak or write, and if you are denied pri­vacy about whom you meet and see, then free­dom has died and total­it­ari­an­ism has begun.

Those were the les­sons learned from the growth of fas­cism in the 1930s and 1940s.  If you lose the right to pri­vacy, you also lose the abil­ity to push back against dic­tat­or­ships, cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, and all the attend­ant horrors.

How quickly we for­get the les­sons of his­tory: not just the rights won over the last cen­tury, but those fought and died for over cen­tur­ies. We recent gen­er­a­tions in the West have grown too bloated on ease, too fin­an­cially fat and socially com­pla­cent, to fully appre­ci­ate the freedoms we are cas­u­ally throw­ing away.

body_armourSo what sparked this mini-rant? This art­icle I found in my Twit­ter stream (thanks @LossofPrivacy). It appears that a US police depart­ment in Detroit has just sent out all the tra­di­tion­ally vital stat­ist­ics of its female officers to the entire depart­ment — weight, height and even the bra size of indi­vidual female police officers have been shared with the staff, purely because of an email gaffe.

Well people make mis­takes and hit the wrong but­tons. So this may not sound like much, but appar­ently the women in ques­tion are not happy, and rightly so. In the still macho envir­on­ment of law enforce­ment, one can but cringe at the “josh­ing” that followed.

Put­ting aside the obvi­ous ques­tion of whether we want our police officers to be tooled up like Rob­ocop, this minor débâcle high­lights a key point of pri­vacy. It’s not that one needs to hide one’s breasts as a woman — they are pretty much obvi­ous for chris­sakes — but does every­one need to know the spe­cif­ics, or is that per­sonal inform­a­tion one step too far? And as for a woman’s weight, don’t even go there.….

So these cops in Detroit, no doubt all up-standing pil­lars of their com­munit­ies, might have learned a valu­able les­son. It is not a “them and us” situ­ation — the “them” being “ter­ror­ists”, act­iv­ists, com­mun­ists, lib­er­als, Teabag­gers — whatever the theme du jour hap­pens to be.

It is about a fun­da­mental need for pri­vacy as human beings, as the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge also dis­covered last year. This is not just about height, bra size or, god for­bid, one’s weight. This is about big­ger issues if not big­ger boobs. We all have some­thing we want kept private, be it bank state­ments, bonk­ing, or bowel movements.

How­ever, with endemic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance, we have already lost our pri­vacy in our com­mu­nic­a­tions and in our daily routines — in Lon­don it is estim­ated that we are caught on CCTV more than 300 times a day just going about our daily business.

More import­antly, in this era of fin­an­cial, eco­nomic and polit­ical crises, we are los­ing our free­dom to read and watch, to speak and meet, and to protest without fear of sur­veil­lance. It is the Stasi’s wet dream, real­ised by those unas­sum­ing chaps (and obvi­ously the chapesses with boobs) in law enforce­ment, the NSA, GCHQ et al.

But it is not just the nation state level spies we have to worry about. Even if we think that we could not pos­sibly be import­ant enough to be on that par­tic­u­lar radar (although Mr Snowden has made it abund­antly clear that we all are), there is a bur­geon­ing private sec­tor of cor­por­ate intel­li­gence com­pan­ies who are only too happy to watch, infilt­rate and destabil­ise social, media and protest groups. “Psy­ops” and “astro-turfing” are ter­ri­fy­ing words for any­one inter­ested in human rights, act­iv­ism and civil liber­ties. But this is the new reality.

So, what can we do? Let’s remem­ber that most law enforce­ment people in the var­ied agen­cies are us — they want a stable job that feels val­ued, they want to provide for their fam­il­ies, they want to do the right thing. Reach out to them, and help those who do have the cour­age to speak out and expose wrong­do­ing, be it law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion­als speak­ing out against the failed “war on drugs” (such as those in LEAP) or intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers expos­ing war crimes, illegal sur­veil­lance and torture.

Thomas_PaineBut also have the cour­age to protest and throw the tired old argu­ment back in the faces of the secur­ity proto-tyrants. This is what the found­ing fath­ers of the USA did: they risked being hanged as trait­ors by the Brit­ish Crown in 1776, yet they still made a stand. Using the “sedi­tious” writ­ings of Tom Paine, who ended up on the run from the UK, they had the cour­age to speak out, meet up and fight for what they believed in, and they pro­duced a good first attempt at a work­able democracy.

Unfor­tu­nately, the USA estab­lish­ment has long been cor­rup­ted and sub­ver­ted by cor­por­at­ist interests. And unfor­tu­nately for the rest of the world, with the cur­rent geo-political power bal­ance, this still has an impact on most of us, and provides a clear example of how the chan­ging polit­ical land­scape can shift the goal posts of “accept­able” beha­viour — one day your are an act­iv­ist wav­ing a plac­ard, the next you are poten­tially deemed to be a “terrorist”.

But also remem­ber — we are all, poten­tially, Tom Paine. And as the end­less, neb­u­lous, and frankly largely bogus “war on ter­ror” con­tin­ues to rav­age the world and our demo­cra­cies, we all need to be.

In this post-PRISM world, we need to take indi­vidual respons­ib­il­ity to pro­tect our pri­vacy and ensure we have free media. At least then we can freely read, write, speak, and meet with our fel­low cit­izens. We need this pri­vacy to be the new res­ist­ance to the creep­ing total­it­ari­an­ism of the global elites.

Read the sem­inal books of Tom Paine (while you still can), weep, and then go forth.….

With thanks to my mother for the title of this piece. It made me laugh.

My RNN interview — Snowden disclosures cause outrage across EU

Here is a recent inter­view I did for the Real News Net­work about the global and European fall-out from the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures:

And here’s a ver­sion with the text.

Journalists need to tool up

Pub­lished in the Huff­ing­ton Post UK:

Over the last week more sound, fury and indig­na­tion has cas­caded forth from the US media, spill­ing into the European news, about the Amer­ican gov­ern­ment and the Asso­ci­ated Press spy­ing scan­dal.

Last week it emerged that the US Depart­ment of Justice mon­itored the tele­phones of, gasp, journ­al­ists work­ing at AP. Appar­ently this was done to try to invest­ig­ate who might have been the source for a story about a foiled ter­ror­ist plot in Yemen. How­ever, the drag­net seems to have widened to cover almost 100 journ­al­ists and poten­tially threatened gov­ern­mental leak­ers and whis­tleblowers who, in these days of sys­tem­atic secur­ity crack­downs in the US, are fast becom­ing Pub­lic Enemy No 1.

Now it appears that the US DoJ has been read­ing the emails of a senior Fox News reporter. And this has got the US hacks into a fright­ful tizz. What about the First Amendment?

Well, what about the fact that the Pat­riot Act shred­ded most of the US Con­sti­tu­tion a dec­ade ago?

Also, who is actu­ally facing the secur­ity crack­down here? The US journ­al­ists are bleat­ing that their sources are dry­ing up in the face of a sys­tem­atic witch hunt by the US admin­is­tra­tion. That must be hard for the journ­al­ists — hard at least to get the stor­ies and by-lines that ensure their con­tin­ued employ­ment and the abil­ity to pay the mort­gage. This adds up to the phrase du jour: a “chilling effect” on free speech.

Er, yes, but how much harder for the poten­tial whis­tleblowers? They are the people facing not only a loss of pro­fes­sional repu­ta­tion and career if caught, but also all that goes with it. Plus, now, they are increas­ingly facing dra­conian prison sen­tences under the recently rean­im­ated and cur­rently much-deployed US 1917 Espi­on­age Act for expos­ing issues in the pub­lic interest. Ex-NSA Thomas Drake faced dec­ades in prison for expos­ing cor­rup­tion and waste, while ex-CIA John Kiriakou is cur­rently lan­guish­ing in prison for expos­ing the use of torture.

The US gov­ern­ment has learned well from the example of the UK’s Offi­cial Secrets Acts — laws that never actu­ally seem to be wiel­ded against real estab­lish­ment trait­ors, who always seem to be allowed to slip away, but which have been used fre­quently and effect­ively to stifle dis­sent, cover up spy crimes, and to spare the blushes of the Establishment.

So, two points:

Firstly, the old media could and should have learned from the new model that is Wikileaks and its ilk. Rather than asset strip­ping the organ­isa­tion for inform­a­tion, while abandon­ing the alleged source, Brad­ley Man­ning, and the founder, Julian Assange, to their fates, Wikileaks’s erstwhile allies could and mor­ally should cam­paign for them. The issues of the free flow of inform­a­tion, demo­cracy and justice are big­ger than petty argu­ments about per­son­al­ity traits.

Plus, the old media appear to have a death wish: to quote the words of the former New York Times editor and Wikileaks col­lab­or­ator Bill Keller, Wikileaks is not a pub­lisher — it is a source, pure and simple. But surely, if Wikileaks is “only” a source, it must be pro­tec­ted at all costs — that is the media’s prime dir­ect­ive. Journ­al­ists have his­tor­ic­ally gone to prison rather than give away their sources.

How­ever, if Wikileaks is indeed deemed to be a pub­lisher and can be per­se­cuted this way, then all the old media are equally vul­ner­able. And indeed that is what we are wit­ness­ing now with these spy­ing scandals.

Secondly, these so-called invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists are sur­prised that their phones were tapped?  Really?

If they are doing proper, worth­while journ­al­ism, of course their comms will be tapped in a post-Patriot Act, surveillance-state world. Why on earth are they not tak­ing their own and their sources’ secur­ity ser­i­ously? Is it ama­teur night?

In this day and age, any ser­i­ous journ­al­ist (and there are still a few hon­our­able examples) will be tak­ing steps to pro­tect the secur­ity of their sources. They will be tooled up, tech-savvy, and they will have atten­ded Crypto-parties to learn secur­ity skills. They will also be pain­fully aware that a whis­tleblower is a per­son poten­tially facing prison, rather than just the source of a career-making story.

If main­stream journ­al­ists are ser­i­ous about expos­ing cor­rup­tion, hold­ing power to account, and fight­ing for justice they need to get ser­i­ous about source pro­tec­tion too and get teched-up. Help is widely avail­able to those who are inter­ested. Indeed, this sum­mer the Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism is host­ing talks in Lon­don on this sub­ject, and many other inter­na­tional journ­al­ism con­fer­ences have done the same over the last few years.

Sadly, the level of interest and aware­ness remains rel­at­ively low — many journ­al­ists retain a naïve trust in the gen­eral leg­al­ity of their government’s actions: the author­it­ies may bend the rules a little for “ter­ror­ists”, but of course they will abide by the rules when it comes to the media.….

.…or not. Water­gate now looks rather quaint in comparison.

As for me: well, I have had some help and have indeed been teched-up. My laptop runs the free Ubuntu Linux (the 64 bit ver­sion for grown-ups) from an encryp­ted solid state hard drive. I have long and dif­fer­ent pass­words for every online ser­vice I use. My mail and web server are in Switzer­land and I encrypt as much of my email as pos­sible. It’s at least a start.

And here’s what I have to say about why journ­al­ists should think about these issues and how they can pro­tect both them­selves and their sources: Open­ing key­note “The Big Dig Con­fer­ence” from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

NORML Conference, 18-19th May in Bristol

LEAP_logoThis com­ing week­end NORML UK will be hold­ing its first AGM and national con­fer­ence in Bristol.

Mr Nice, aka Howard Marks, will be open­ing the event and speak­ing on the Sat­urday night dur­ing the two-day event.

Join­ing the event to dis­cuss the need for a sens­ible and evidence-based rethink about drug policy will be many other speak­ers from groups such as Trans­form, Stu­dents for Sens­ible Drug Policy, the Beckley Found­a­tionRelease, former Chief Con­stable of Cam­bridge­shire Tom Lloyd, and of course, Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion.

The head of LEAP UK, former Met police detect­ive and forensic money-laundering expert Rowan Bosworth-Davies, will be speak­ing on Sunday19th May.

I shall be speak­ing at the con­fer­ence on the Sat­urday after­noon, and then enjoy­ing the even­ing with Howard Marks et al.  Come along if you can.

Club of Amsterdam

Last week I had the pleas­ure of speak­ing at the Club of Ams­ter­dam.  The topic under dis­cus­sion was “The future of digital iden­tity”.  Many thanks to Felix and the team. A lively even­ing.

Annie Machon at the Club of Ams­ter­dam from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
First pub­lished in my news­let­ter last week, amongst much else. Do sign up!

Security and liberty — the aftermath of the Boston bombings

An abbre­vi­ated ver­sion of this art­icle was pub­lished by RT Op-Edge yesterday.

News of the two bombs in Boston, in which 3 people have so far died and more than 100 have been injured, has rico­cheted around the world.  Bey­ond the grim stat­ist­ics, there is little con­crete evid­ence about the who and the why, and nor will there be pos­sibly for days or even weeks.  This con­fu­sion is inev­it­able in the wake of such an attack, as the intel­li­gence agen­cies and police play frantic catch-up to identify the per­pet­rat­ors and, we hope, bring them to justice — although of course in post-Patriot Act, post–NDAA Amer­ica, the per­pet­rat­ors are more likely to find their names on the CIA’s presidentially-approved kill list.

In the absence of facts, the media fills its air­waves with spec­u­la­tion and repe­ti­tion, thereby inad­vert­ently whip­ping up yet more fear and uncer­tainty.  The fall-out from this is an erup­tion of pre­ju­dice in the social media, with desk bound her­oes jump­ing to con­clu­sions and advoc­at­ing viol­ent repris­als against whole swathes of the Middle East.  And this fear and hate plays straight into the hands of the “enemy-industrial com­plex” so aptly described by Tom Engel­hardt recently.

With that in mind, let’s take a moment to pay our respects to those who died in ter­ror­ist attacks on Monday. Even a quick surf through the inter­net pro­duces a grim and no doubt incom­plete tally: Iraq (55); Afgh­anistan (7); Somalia (30); Syria (18); Pakistan (4); USA (3). All these num­bers rep­res­ent someone’s child, mother, friend, brother, loved one, and all will be mourned.

Alas, not all of these vic­tims will receive as much air-time as the unfor­tu­nates caught up in the Boston attacks. And this is espe­cially the case where attacks are car­ried out by the Amer­ican mil­it­ary against sus­pec­ted “insur­gents” across the Middle East.

Indeed, on the same day The Tele­graph repor­ted that the UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on counter-terrorism and human rights, fam­ous Brit­ish bar­ris­ter Ben Emmer­son (Queen’s Coun­sel), had stated that drone strikes across the Middle East were illegal under inter­na­tional law. Their con­tin­ued use only served to legit­im­ise Al Qaeda attacks against the US mil­it­ary and its infra­struc­ture in the region.

bradley_manningAs we saw in 2010 when Wikileaks released the video, “Col­lat­eral Murder”, such atro­cit­ies are covered up for years, denied by the gov­ern­ment, nor will the per­pet­rat­ors be held to account — they are prob­ably still serving in the mil­it­ary. Instead the whis­tleblower who exposed this crime, Brad­ley Man­ning, lan­guishes in prison facing a court mar­tial, and the pub­lisher of the mater­ial, Wikileaks, faces global repres­sion and a secret fed­eral grand jury indict­ment.

With its end­less, spec­u­lat­ive scare­mon­ger­ing about the Boston attacks, the US media plays a diabol­ical role in fur­ther­ing the work of the attack­ers — ie ter­ror­ising the pop­u­la­tion, indu­cing them to live in a state of abject fear.  Of course, once suit­ably ter­ror­ised, the US people will be even more will­ing to give away what remains of their his­toric freedoms, all in the name of increas­ing their secur­ity.  Well, we know the views of one late, great Amer­ican on this sub­ject, Ben­jamin Frank­lin: “those who would give up essen­tial liberty to pur­chase a little tem­por­ary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

Indeed, the abrog­a­tion of liberty in the USA has pat­ently not res­ul­ted in greater secur­ity, as Boston has so bru­tally demon­strated. No soci­ety can pro­tect itself abso­lutely against terrorism.

In a demo­cracy, just as rights come with respons­ib­il­it­ies, so freedoms come with risk. And we need to remem­ber that those freedoms were hard-won by our ancest­ors and will be equally dif­fi­cult to win back if we heed­lessly throw them away now, while the risks remain stat­ist­ic­ally negligible.

Guantanamo_BaySuc­cess­ive US gov­ern­ments have already decim­ated the basic rights of the US people in the post-9/11 secur­ity panic. At the sharp end, people, both glob­ally and now also in Amer­ica, can be extraordin­ar­ily rendered (kid­napped) to black prison sites and tor­tured for years on the word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, they can be denied due legal pro­cess, and they can be killed on pres­id­en­tial decree by drone strikes — a real-world ver­sion of the snuff video.

Addi­tion­ally, the US has des­cen­ded into a pan­op­tican sur­veil­lance state, with endemic data-mining of com­mu­nic­a­tions, air­borne drone spy­ing, and the cat­egor­isa­tion of pro­test­ers as “domestic extrem­ists” or even “ter­ror­ists” who are then beaten up by mil­it­ar­ised police forces. This oti­ose secur­ity theatre con­stantly reminds US cit­izens to be afraid, be very afraid, of the enemy within.

Ter­ror­ist atro­cit­ies are crim­inal acts, they are not a sep­ar­ate form of “evil­tude”, to use George Bush-era ter­min­o­logy.  As such, the crim­in­als behind such attacks should be invest­ig­ated, evid­ence gathered, and they should be tried in front of a jury of their peers, where justice can be done and be seen to be done. So it is troub­ling that the Boston FBI bur­eau chief, Richard Des­Laur­i­ers, is today quoted in the New York Times as say­ing he is work­ing on “a crim­inal invest­ig­a­tion that is a poten­tial ter­ror­ist invest­ig­a­tion”. The pre­cise dif­fer­ence being?

Like­wise, ter­ror­ist attacks are not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation, even events on the scale of 9/11.  How­ever, I would sug­gest that the response of the security-industrial com­plex poses a greater exist­en­tial threat to the future well-being of the USA. The post-9/11 secur­ity crack­down in the USA has eroded core demo­cratic val­ues, while the mil­it­ary response across the Middle East has bank­rup­ted Amer­ica and cre­ated a gen­er­a­tion of poten­tial enemies.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Com­pare and con­trast the response of the Nor­we­gian people in the after­math of the ter­ror­ist attacks and murder of 77 people by Anders Breivik. As a coun­try, there was a need to see justice done, but not to allow such an appalling attack to com­prom­ise the val­ues of the soci­ety and des­troy a cher­ished way of life for all.  And this the Nor­we­gian people achieved.

BishopsgateSim­il­arly between the late 1980s and the late 1990s the UK endured Lock­er­bie, Omagh, Bish­opsgate, Canary Wharf, and Manchester, to name but a few major atro­cit­ies.  A good sum­mary of the ter­ror­ist attacks against Lon­don alone over the last 150 years can be found here, with the first Tube bomb­ing occur­ring in 1885.  A pilot, Patrick Smith, also recently wrote a great art­icle about air­craft secur­ity and the sheer scale of the ter­ror­ist threat to the West in the 1980s — and asks a very per­tin­ent ques­tion: just how would we col­lect­ively react to such a stream of atro­cit­ies now?

Dur­ing the 1990s, at the height of the Pro­vi­sional IRA’s bomb­ing cam­paign on main­land Bri­tain, I lived in cent­ral Lon­don and worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s domestic Secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5). Put­ting aside my pro­fes­sional life, I have per­sonal memor­ies of what it was like to live under the shadow of ter­ror­ism.  I remem­ber mak­ing my way to work in 1991 and com­mut­ing through Vic­toria train sta­tion in Lon­don 10 minutes before a bomb, planted in a rub­bish bin, exploded on the sta­tion con­course.  One per­son was killed, and many sus­tained severe injur­ies.  One per­son had their foot blown off — the image haunted me for a long time.

I also vividly remem­ber, two years later, sit­ting at my desk in MI5’s May­fair office, and hear­ing a dull thud in the back­ground — this turned out to be a bomb explod­ing out­side Har­rods depart­ment store in Knights­bridge.  And let’s not for­get the almost daily dis­rup­tion to the tube and rail net­works dur­ing the 1990s because of secur­ity alerts.  Every Lon­doner was exhor­ted to watch out for, and report, any sus­pi­cious pack­ages left at sta­tions or on streets.

Lon­don­ers grew used to such incon­veni­ence; they grumbled a bit about the dis­rup­tion and then got on with their lives — echoes of the “keep calm and carry on” men­tal­ity that evolved dur­ing the Blitz years.  In the 1990s the only notice­able change to London’s diurnal rhythm was that there were fewer US tour­ists clog­ging up the streets — an early indic­a­tion of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate, para­noid US reac­tion to a per­ceived ter­ror­ist threat.

In con­trast to the post-9/11 years, the UK did not then react by shred­ding the basic freedoms of its people.  There were cer­tainly con­tro­ver­sial cases and heated debates about how long you could hold a ter­ror­ist sus­pect without charge, but the way of life con­tin­ued much as before. Now, twelve years after 9/11 — an attack on a dif­fer­ent con­tin­ent — the UK has all the laws in place to enact a de facto police state within days.

Life and liberty are both pre­cious. It is always tra­gic when lives are be lost in the name of some twis­ted or arcane polit­ical cause; it is even more tra­gic when the liberty of all is also lost as a result.

Statue_of_Liberty_7My heart goes out to those who were injured and to the friends and fam­il­ies who have lost loved ones in the Boston attacks, in the same way it goes out to all those who were killed and maimed across the Middle East yesterday.

How­ever, I do urge cau­tion in the US response; evid­ence needs to be gathered and justice seen to be done. Another secur­ity crack­down on a fear­ful US pop­u­la­tion will hurt Amer­ic­ans much more than two bombs in Boston ever could, while yet more remotely-controlled revenge killings across the Middle East will kill, maim and dis­place many more thousands.

I shall leave you with a quote from another great Amer­ican, Thomas Jefferson:

Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the acci­dental opin­ion of the day; but a series of oppres­sions, begun at a dis­tin­guished period, and pur­sued unal­ter­ably through every change of min­is­ters too plainly proves a delib­er­ate, sys­tem­atic plan of redu­cing us to slavery.

A Tangled Web

Also pub­lished on the Huff­ing­ton Post UK.

A couple of days ago I was invited onto RT Arabic TV to do an inter­view about the ongo­ing cluster­fuck that is Syria, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on the issue of West­ern jihadis allegedly flood­ing into the country.

The premise, pushed across much of the West­ern media, is that these newly trained jihadis will then return home chock-full of insur­gency know-how, ready to unleash ter­ror on their unwit­ting host countries.

And, yes, there is an ele­ment of truth in this:  the les­sons of the US-backed mujahideen in 1980s Afgh­anistan and onwards across the Middle East since then is test­a­ment to that. Not that this les­son seems to have been absorbed by West­ern gov­ern­ments, who con­tinue reck­lessly to back “rebel” forces across North Africa and the Middle East.

Or has it, at least on a cer­tain level? If you do a little dig­ging into where these stor­ies are eman­at­ing from, another pic­ture emerges.

Farr 1.jpgThe basis for these scare stor­ies is a heavily-spun recent report, pro­duced by the Office for Secur­ity and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT).  What is this, you might ask? Well, it appears to be a sine­cure within the UK’s Home Office.  The head of the organ­isa­tion is a hawk­ish securo­crat called Charles Farr, a former senior MI6 officer from the cold war era.

In 2007 Mr Farr (OBE) moved to his new home at the Home Office, where he is con­veni­ently in a rela­tion­ship with Fiona Cun­ning­ham, spe­cial advisor to his new boss the Home Sec­ret­ary Theresa May. Oh, and then he applied to be the civil ser­vant in charge of the Home Office, but was recently turned down for that job a couple of months ago.

So how is Farr now spend­ing his time?  Well, he has just released a report, and it appears that he is behind some of the most egre­gious recent assaults on basic Brit­ish freedoms.

Where to begin? His depart­ment was behind the Pre­vent cam­paign — sup­posedly a social ini­ti­at­ive to reach out to dis­af­fected youth in Bri­tain and help “pre­vent” their rad­ic­al­isa­tion. Unfor­tu­nately, Pre­vent has been pub­licly lam­basted for intim­id­at­ing young Muslim men and try­ing to brow­beat them into report­ing on their communities.

On top of that, Charles Farr has, it has been repor­ted, been one of the key lob­by­ists push­ing for the total­it­arian “Snoop­ers’ Charter” — a pro­posed law that would allow the intel­li­gence and law enforce­ment agen­cies to hoover up all our data communications.

And finally, Mr Farr is one of the key sup­port­ers of the utterly undemo­cratic new Justice and Secur­ity Bill that enshrines the concept of “secret courts”, all done in the name of pro­tect­ing “national secur­ity”, natch.  Or in other words, cov­er­ing up the embar­rass­ment of the intel­li­gence agen­cies when they are caught red-handed in illegal activ­it­ies such as kid­nap­ping and tor­ture.

So, is it purely coin­cid­ental that this is the same upstand­ing Brit­ish pub­lic ser­vant report­ing that Syria will be a new breeding-ground for rad­ic­al­ised Muslim youth attack­ing the UK? Or might there be a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that the threat could be yet another excuse to be used to ramp up the case for all these undemo­cratic and deeply unpop­u­lar new laws?

Let’s not to for­get that the UK has a his­tory of back­ing such insur­gency groups when it suits them, and then turn­ing on them for polit­ical expedi­ency — shades of Abdel Hakim Bel­haj in Libya, any­one? It strikes me that the situ­ation in Syria is evolving along sim­ilar lines.

So let’s retain a healthy scep­ti­cism about the wheels and cogs of ves­ted interests and media manip­u­la­tion whirr­ing behind securo­crats such as Charles Farr. The pre­dic­tions of his Office for Secur­ity and Counter-Terrorism could have dam­aging con­sequences for our liber­ties in the UK; they could also have poten­tially fatal con­sequences for many thou­sands of people in Syria and the wider Middle East.