RT Breaking the Set — interview about spies with Abby Martin

Here’s my inter­view from yes­ter­day on RT’s excel­lent Break­ing the Set show with host, Abby Mar­tin.  We dis­cussed all things spy, sur­veil­lance, Snowden, over­sight, and pri­vacy.  A fun and lively inter­view!  Thanks, Abby.

Brit­ish Spies Con­trolling the Past, Present and Future — Inter­view with Annie Machon from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Year of Edward Snowden

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge. Also on Con­sor­tium News, Huff­ing­ton Post, and the Sam Adams Award web­site.

A year ago I stumbled  across a story about a wor­ry­ing new sur­veil­lance pro­gramme developed by the NSA: Prism. While nobody was iden­ti­fied as the source of the dis­clos­ure, I was awe­struck by the bravery of this unknown person.

At that time the Obama admin­is­tra­tion had been waging an aggress­ive war on whis­tleblowers: ex-CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s tor­ture pro­gramme, was lan­guish­ing in prison while the tor­tur­ers went free; Kirk Wiebe, Wil­liam Bin­ney and Thomas Drake of the NSA had nar­rowly escaped pro­sec­u­tion for expos­ing NSA mal­feas­ance — indeed, des­pite hav­ing gone through all the approved chan­nels, Drake had faced a 35-year prison sen­tence; and of course the kangaroo court had just star­ted to try Chelsea Man­ning for her expos­ure of US war crimes. Inev­it­ably, it is the whis­tleblower Man­ning who is now serving a 35 year stretch in prison, not the war criminals.

Pres­id­ent Obama has used and abused the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers dur­ing his years in the White House more times than all his pre­de­cessors put together, while at the same time allow­ing a bone fide spy ring — the Rus­sian illeg­als exposed in 2010 — to return home. This para­noid hunt for the “insider threat” has been going on since at least 2008, as we know from doc­u­ments leaked to Wikileaks in 2010.

Against this back­ground, fully aware of the hideous risks he was tak­ing and the pro­spect of the rest of his life behind bars, a young man stepped for­ward. Four days after the ini­tial Prism dis­clos­ure, Edward Snowden announced to the world that he was the source of the story and many more to come. He was clear then about his motiv­a­tion and he remains clear now in the few inter­views he has done since: what he had seen on the inside of the NSA caused him huge con­cern. The Amer­ican intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, along with its equi­val­ent agen­cies across the world, was con­struct­ing a global sur­veil­lance net­work that not only threatened  the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, but also eroded the pri­vacy of all the world’s citizens.

The global sur­veil­lance state wanted to “mas­ter the inter­net”, as another dis­clos­ure proved, and the UK’s GCHQ stepped up to the plate. As increas­ing num­bers of us con­duct aspects of our lives over the inter­net (be it bank­ing, health, social lives, organ­isa­tions, act­iv­ism, rela­tion­ships) this grow­ing lack of pri­vacy strikes at the very root of demo­cracy. Pri­vacy was enshrined as a basic human right in the UN Declar­a­tion in 1948 pre­cisely because without it we are vul­ner­able to the encroach­ments and abuses of the state. What Snowden has dis­closed would the the Stasi’s wet dream and goes far bey­ond the dystopic hor­rors of George Orwell’s novel “1984”.

So what did Snowden dis­close?  Prism was only the start, and that was bad enough — a pro­gramme to scoop up all our metadata: whom we’re in con­tact with, for how long, what we’re read­ing, what we’re view­ing. NSA apo­lo­gists say that this is not invas­ive, it is not look­ing at the con­tents of com­mu­nic­a­tions. I can assure your that metadata is intel­li­gence gold dust. It can provide a far more detailed over­view of a person’s life than any indi­vidual com­mu­nic­a­tion often can.

But it gets worse. Then came Tem­pora and asso­ci­ated doc­u­ments that dis­closed that the UK’s GCHQ was main­lin­ing inform­a­tion from the transat­lantic fibre optic cables, which affected all European cit­izens, as well as dis­play­ing how GCHQ was pros­ti­tut­ing itself to the NSA for money and put­ting NSA object­ives above the pri­or­it­ies of the UK government.

And then XKey­score, enthu­si­ast­ic­ally used by Germany’s BND, pre­sum­ably without the know­ledge of its polit­ical mas­ters.  There have been many more: Brazil’s Pet­ro­bras oil com­pany, the French tele­phone net­work, char­it­ies, the Mus­cu­lar access point and the massive Fas­cia data­base, which con­tains tril­lions of device-location records.…. Where to stop?

This year Britain’s Joint Threat Research Intel­li­gence Group was using Squeaky Dol­phin’s real-time mon­it­or­ing of social media net­works, and the bulk col­lec­tion of private web­cam images via the Optic Nerve programme.

This last most grimly does away with the “done noth­ing wrong, noth­ing to hide” argu­ment. In this era of fam­il­ies liv­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and long dis­tance rela­tion­ships, video skype is increas­ingly used to stay in con­tact with loved ones.  And this con­tact can be some­what intim­ate at times between couples. On video. Any­one who has ever used skype for such pur­poses must surely be feel­ing violated?

Out of this mor­ass of spy­ing came moments of per­sonal annoy­ance for west­ern politi­cians, not least the inform­a­tion that Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was also being tapped, as were those of numer­ous other politi­cians. Which rather blows out of the water the much-abused argu­ment that all this sur­veil­lance is to stop ter­ror­ists. On what planet would the NSA spooks need to live to ser­i­ously think that Merkel could be deemed a terrorist?

All these dis­clos­ures are of the gravest pub­lic interest. Yet how have west­ern politi­cians reacted?  In the usual way — shoot the mes­sen­ger. All the stand­ard li(n)es have been trot­ted out by the spies: Snowden was too junior to know what he is talk­ing about, and was  “just” a con­trac­ted sys­tems admin­is­trator (this line says more the ignor­ance of the politi­cians about all things tech than any­thing about Snowden’s job); that Snowden is a traitor for flee­ing to Rus­sia, when in fact he was trapped there by the USA with­draw­ing his pass­port while in transit to Latin Amer­ica; or that he should “man up” and return to the US to stand trial. There were even appar­ently calls from the spies for him to be extraju­di­cially murdered.

Des­pite this, his dis­clos­ures have res­ul­ted in con­gres­sional hear­ings in the US, where senior spooks have been caught out lying about the effic­acy of these spy pro­grammes.  A US fed­eral judge has declared the NSA’s activ­it­ies uncon­sti­tu­tional, and minor reforms are under­way to pro­tect the rights of US cit­izens within their own country.

Which is a start.  How­ever, that still leaves the rest of us liv­ing under the bale­ful gaze of the NSA and its vassals.

The Brit­ish response has been largely muted, with politi­cians imme­di­ately assur­ing the grate­ful cit­izens of the UK that everything done by the spies is legal and pro­por­tion­ate, when in fact it was mani­festly not. Nor is this any con­sol­a­tion for the rest of Europe’s cit­izens — after all, why should the Brit­ish For­eign Sec­ret­ary be able to take it upon him­self to author­ise inter­cept pro­grammes such as Tem­pora that sweep up the com­mu­nic­a­tions of an entire continent?

Press dis­cus­sion of Snowden’s dis­clos­ures in the UK has been largely muted because of a cen­sor­ship notice slapped on the media, while the Guard­ian news­pa­per that helped to break the story had its hard disks smashed up by GCHQ.

Other coun­tries have dis­played a more robust response, with Brazil plan­ning to build its own transat­lantic cables to Europe to avoid the Tem­pora pro­gramme, and in Ger­many people have been demand­ing that the con­sti­tu­tion be upheld and pri­vacy ensured against the Amer­ican sur­veil­lance behemoth.

The European par­lia­ment­ary Civil Liber­ties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) com­mit­tee has held months-long hear­ings with evid­ence from tech experts, whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers about what it should do to pro­tect EU cit­izens from the pred­a­tions of the US.  Edward Snowden him­self gave a state­ment. This is all well and good, but it would be more help­ful if they could give Snowden asylum in Europe and also put in place some mean­ing­ful meas­ures to pro­tect our rights one year on — in fact, all they would need to do is enact the pro­vi­sions of the European parliament’s own July 2001 report into the Ech­elon fiasco.

Ech­elon, some of you may remem­ber, was a global proto-surveillance net­work, where the intel­li­gence agen­cies of the US, UK, New Zea­l­and, Aus­tralia, and Canada (now called Five Eyes) could all share product and sub­vert over­sight meas­ures in each oth­ers’ coun­tries. In 2001 the EU recom­men­ded that Europe develop its own inter­net infra­struc­ture and move away from its depend­ency on US cor­por­ate pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware.  All good sug­ges­tions, but all too soon for­got­ten after 9/11 and the rush to the “war on terror”.

One year on from Snowden I would sug­gest that these meas­ures should indeed be imple­men­ted. The European Par­lia­ment needs to take action now and show its 500 mil­lion cit­izens that it is ser­i­ous about pro­tect­ing their rights rather than pan­der­ing to the demands of the US gov­ern­ment and its cor­por­ate sponsors.

So, on this anniversary, I want to salute the bravery of Edward Snowden. His con­scious cour­age has given us all a fight­ing chance against a corporate-industrial-intelligence com­plex that is run­ning amok across the world.   I hope that we can all find within us an answer­ing cour­age to do what is right and indeed take back our rights. His bravery and sac­ri­fice must not be in vain.

CIA Chief visits Ukraine — Why?

My recent inter­view on RT about Ukraine and inter­ven­tion­ism, both West and East:

cia_ukraine

US mis­cal­cu­lated will of Ukrain­ian people from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Oxford Union Society Debate

I recently had the pleas­ure of tak­ing part in a debate at the Oxford Union Soci­ety.  I spoke to the pro­pos­i­tion that “this house believes Edward Snowden is a hero”, along with US journ­al­ist Chris Hedges, NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, and former UK gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Chris Huhne.

The cham­ber was full and I am happy to report that we won the debate by 212 votes to 171, and that Oxford stu­dents do indeed see Edward Snowden as a hero.  Here is my speech:

oxfordunion

Oxford Union Soci­ety Debate from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

BBC “World Have Your Say” debate

A recent inter­view on BBC World Ser­vice radio, on “World Have Your Say”.  An inter­est­ing debate with some other former intel­li­gence types:

BBC World Ser­vice “World Have Your Say” inter­view 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.

OHM 2013 — The Joy of Geeks

ohm2013_logoHome and recovered from the rigours of the amaz­ing geek­fest, OHM 2013.

This was a 5-day fest­ival in the Neth­er­lands where 3000 geeks, act­iv­ists and whis­tleblowers gathered to have fun and also try to put the world to rights.  And this crowd, out of all act­iv­ist groups, has a fight­ing chance. The geeks are tooled-up, tech-savvy, and increas­ingly politi­cised after all the recent assaults on the inter­net and wider freedoms.

These include all the anti-piracy meas­ures (inter­est­ingly, Rus­sia has just joined the lost war that is the anti-piracy legis­la­tion, and the Rus­sian pir­ates are going to form a Pir­ate Church, as this will give them spe­cial pro­tec­tions and rights under the law). It also includes all the invi­di­ous inter­na­tional agree­ments that the US and its Euro-vassals are try­ing to force down the throats of reluct­ant pop­u­la­tions: ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, TAFTA.… you name it, there’s a whole new anti-freedom alpha­bet soup out there in addi­tion to the spook acronyms.

Not to men­tion all the illegal US take-downs of legit­im­ate busi­ness web­sites, such as Megaup­load, and the pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance powers of the NSA and its global intel­li­gence bud­dies, long sus­pec­ted by many and now proven by the dis­clos­ures of the cour­ageous Edward Snowden.

So it was lovely to see at OHM an increas­ing politi­cisa­tion. This was partly because of all the above recent hor­rors, but also because the OHM organ­isers had pulled together a strong polit­ical and whis­tleblow­ing speaker track. The attack against digital civil liber­ties is inex­tric­ably linked to and reflect­ive of the full-frontal attack on our his­toric real-world freedoms:  endemic sur­veil­lance, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, CIA kill lists, illegal wars, drone strikes, secret courts, and many other encroach­ing hor­rors that I have writ­ten about ad nauseam. And this is just what we know about.

sinking_shipIn my view our West­ern demo­cra­cies have been at least fatally holed, if they have not yet foundered. Which, of course, means that our viol­ent, inter­ven­tion­ist attempts to bring “demo­cracy” to the devel­op­ing world are derided as hypo­crit­ical at best, and viol­ently res­isted at worst.

The new front-line of this struggle is “cyber” war­fare — be it the illegal aggress­ive attacks of such US/Israeli vir­uses against Iran such as Stuxnet (that is now roam­ing free in the wild and mutat­ing), or the slower wars of attri­tion against “pir­ates”, hack­ers, Wikileaks, and the grow­ing war on whis­tleblowers such as Brad­ley Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

Well, geeks are the new res­ist­ance and they have a fight­ing chance in my view. And this is why I think that they are our best hope.

SAMSUNGThis was my exper­i­ence of OHM. Three thou­sand of the best and the bright­est from around the world gathered together not just to have fun play­ing with bleeding-edge tech, hack­ing and build­ing toys, and cre­at­ing slightly sur­real, if beloved, hover-pets (see right), but also who turned out in their thou­sands to listen to and absorb the exper­i­ences of a num­ber of inter­na­tional intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers. In the wake of the Edward Snowden case, this is a hot topic in these circles and there was a huge impetus to help.

We whis­tleblowers had a fab­ulous time too. One is a “natural-born geek” — Tom Drake, formerly of the NSA, who was threatened with 35 years in prison because he dared to dis­close prob­lems with his organ­isa­tion. His law­yer, gov­ern­ment lawyer-turned-whistleblower Jes­selyn Radack, also spoke of her exper­i­ences. Coleen Row­ley, the FBI whis­tleblower who exposed the intel­li­gence fail­ure in the US in the run-up to 9/11 and was voted Time Per­son of the Year in 2002 also gave a fant­astic talk called “Secrecy Kills”, and former CIA ana­lyst and pres­id­en­tial “briefer”, Ray McGov­ern, gave the open­ing key­note speech, focus­ing on the need to speak out and pre­serve our rights. I fin­ished the quin­tet of whis­tleblowers and provided the Euro-perspective.

And of course the pat­ron saint of whis­tleblowers also did one of the key talks — but he had to be beamed in. Julian Assange, who was free to attend HAR, the last such event in the Neth­er­lands four years ago, was unavoid­ably detained in his embassy refuge in the UK.

OHM_Great_Spook_Panel_2013

Photo by Rein­oud van Leeuwen (http://​rein​oud​.van​.leeuwen​.net/)

The whis­tleblowers all came together for one of the big ses­sions of OHM — the “Great Spook Panel”, mod­er­ated by the indom­it­able Nick Farr. The panel was basic­ally a call to arms for the next gen­er­a­tion. This addressed the need to stand up to pro­tect our rights against all the egre­gious erosions that have occurred since 9/11.  The response was hugely enthu­si­astic. I hope this goes global, and the wider com­munity fol­lows up.

It cer­tainly did in one way. Ray McGov­ern announced the estab­lish­ment of the Edward Snowden Defence Fund at the end of the panel dis­cus­sion, and the dona­tions poured in for the rest of the event.

So a very suc­cess­ful fest­ival. How do I make that assess­ment? Well, on top of all the fun, vari­ety of talks and net­work­ing, the Dutch intel­li­gence ser­vice, the AIVD (an unfortunate-sounding name to most Eng­lish speak­ers), reques­ted a plat­form at the event after the Great Spook Panel was announced in the programme.

Such an act­ive and open response shows a degree of push-back against a per­ceived “threat”. No doubt the organ­isa­tion wanted to inject the estab­lish­ment anti-venom before the truth-tellers had their say. Any­way, on the grounds that most whis­tleblowers are gen­er­ally denied a main­stream media plat­form and/or are smeared, the AIVD was pro­hib­ited the stage.

Of course, the AIVD would have been very wel­come to buy a ticket like nor­mal humans or pay the cor­por­ate rate to attend to show sup­port for the com­munity — its officers might have learned something.…

RT interview as Bradley Manning conviction was announced

I was live on RT as the con­vic­tion of Brad­ley Man­ning was announced:

RT inter­view as the con­vic­tion of Brad­ley Man­ning was announced from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

German complicity in NSA PRISM surveillance programme

My latest inter­view on RT about the Ger­man intel­li­gence agen­cies’ com­pli­city in the PRISM sur­veil­lance pro­gramme:

Revealed: Ger­many part­ner of NSA, Merkel denies know­ledge from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Edward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures first revealed that the NSA had been spy­ing on EU insti­tu­tions; cue Ger­man anger.

Then it was revealed that Ger­many is seen as a Class 3 part­ner in sur­veil­lance by the USA. This means that they are not deemed by the NSA to be intel­li­gence part­ners but rather tar­gets — in the same way as China, Iraq, and Saudi Ara­bia. This means that on aver­age half a bil­lion Ger­man com­mu­nic­a­tions are hoovered up by the NSA every month. And this des­pite a strong con­sti­tu­tion devised to pre­vent such excesses, as the memor­ies of the Gestapo and the Stasi still res­on­ate; cue Ger­man anger.

And now it appears that, des­pite their (unknown?) Class 3 status, the Ger­man intel­li­gence ser­vices, the for­eign BND and the domestic BfV, have them­selves been main-lining off the NSA’s illegal PRISM pro­gramme; cue Ger­man.… polit­ical embar­rass­ment.
With friends like the USA, who needs enemies?

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more cir­cum­spect title: “Brit­ish police secretly oper­ated out­side demo­cratic con­trol for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the global impact of the ongo­ing Edward Snowden saga, a smal­ler but still import­ant whis­tleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Fran­cis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an under­cover cop in the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Force’s secret Spe­cial Demon­stra­tions Squad (SDS) sec­tion. In this role, Fran­cis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could dis­credit the fam­ily of murdered black teen­ager, Stephen Lawrence and thereby derail their cam­paign for a full and effect­ive police invest­ig­a­tion into his death.  The Lawrence fam­ily cor­rectly believed that the ori­ginal invest­ig­a­tion had been fumbled because of  insti­tu­tional police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were pos­ing as act­iv­ists to infilt­rate protest groups will come as no shock after the cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men in 2011, start­ing with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fel­low” act­iv­ists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scan­dal. This has res­ul­ted in an enquiry into the shad­owy activ­it­ies of these most secret officers, accus­a­tions that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice sup­pressed key evid­ence in crim­inal tri­als, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (pre­dom­in­antly male) police officers seduced.

But the dis­clos­ures of Peter Fran­cis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the band­wagon, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and pro­vok­ing con­front­a­tions with the far-right Brit­ish National Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s book­shop in south Lon­don in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could poten­tially just about argue that the under­cover officers were try­ing to gather advance intel­li­gence to pre­vent pub­lic dis­order and riot­ing, although the sheer scale of the oper­a­tion was utterly disproportionate.

How­ever, what is com­pletely bey­ond the Pale is this appar­ent attempt to smear the trau­mat­ised fam­ily of a murder vic­tim in order to derail their cam­paign for justice.

The role of under­cover cops spy­ing on their fel­low cit­izens who are polit­ic­ally act­ive is dis­taste­ful in a demo­cracy. And the fact that, until the ori­ginal scan­dal broke in 2011, the recon­sti­t­uted SDS con­tin­ued to tar­get peace and envir­on­mental protest groups who offered no threat what­so­ever to national secur­ity is dis­grace­ful — it smacks of the Stasi in East Germany.

To make mat­ters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became appar­ent that the SDS Ver­sion 2.0 was oper­at­ing out­side the formal hier­archy of the police, with what little demo­cratic over­sight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the National Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fief­dom of a private lim­ited com­pany — the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  Within a notional demo­cracy, this is just gobsmacking.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intelligence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ical “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-terrorism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-terrorism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and animal rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously den­ted. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cover cops – known then to MI5 as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that ACPO came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domestic extrem­ists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primar­ily on poten­tially viol­ent animal rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domestic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ical beliefs and activism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-terrorism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on trial in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks have been doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US counterparts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years oper­ated out­side any real­istic demo­cratic over­sight and con­trol. Until this year, the remit of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment has only covered the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by senior spies and police officers.

The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­conian Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­istic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “national secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-meaning envir­on­mental pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sional ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sional IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we under­stand the real threats can we as a nation dis­cuss the neces­sary steps to take to pro­tect ourselves effect­ively; what meas­ures should be taken, what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­cratic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work within the law.

It is only by going through this pro­cess that can we ensure such scan­dals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s con­fes­sions but the sheer scale of the endemic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-overdue national debate becomes ever more necessary.

Iceland Tour

Well, this will be an inter­est­ing week.  On the invit­a­tion of Snar­rotin, the Icelandic civil liber­ties organ­isa­tion, I’m off to Ice­land for a series of talks and inter­views on behalf of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (www​.leap​.cc).

Ice­land is an inspir­a­tional and inter­est­ing coun­try.  Fol­low­ing the 2008 credit crash, the Icelanders bucked inter­na­tional trends and actu­ally held some of their rul­ing élite — the politi­cians and bankers who had brought about these fin­an­cial prob­lems — to account.  The gov­ern­ment fell, some bankers were fired and pro­sec­uted, and the Icelandic people are hav­ing a ser­i­ous rethink about the way their demo­cracy could and should work.

And indeed why should the people pay the price for the decisions made in their name by an unac­count­able élite?  One could spe­ciously argue that the people had a mean­ing­ful choice at the bal­lot box.… but back in the real, 21st cen­tury polit­ical world, Ice­land was as stitched-up as all other notional West­ern demo­cra­cies.  The worst alleg­a­tion that can be thrown at the people was that they were dis­en­gaged, unin­volved and side­lined from how their coun­try was really run — as many of us across the West feel to this day.

But appar­ently no longer in Ice­land: since the fin­an­cial crisis the cit­izens of this small demo­cracy have re-engaged in the polit­ical pro­cess, and the future is look­ing rosy.

New, account­able politi­cians have been elec­ted to form a new gov­ern­ment. Cit­izens have been involved in draw­ing up a new con­sti­tu­tion, and heated debates are chal­len­ging the estab­lished shib­boleths of the cor­por­at­ist gov­ern­ing class: revolving around such issues as fin­ance, inter­net freedoms, free media, ter­ror­ism, and how a mod­ern coun­try should be run in the interest of the many. And next week, I hope, a rethink of the country’s oblig­a­tions to the inter­na­tional “war on drugs”.

While the issue is strenu­ously ignored by the West­ern gov­ern­ing élite, it is now widely recog­nised that the cur­rent pro­hib­i­tion strategy has failed out­right: drug traf­fick­ing and use has increased, the street price of drugs has plummeted and they are endem­ic­ally avail­able, whole com­munit­ies have been imprisoned, whole coun­tries have become narco-states and des­cen­ded into drug war viol­ence, and the only people to profit are the organ­ised crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions that reap vast profits. Oh, and of course the banks kept afloat with dirty drug money, the mil­it­ar­ised drug enforce­ment agen­cies, and the politi­cians who now, hypo­crit­ic­ally, want to look “tough on crime” des­pite alleg­a­tions that they also dabbled in their youth.….

Well, the time has come for an adult dis­cus­sion about this failed policy, using facts and not just empty rhetoric.

So, a week dis­cuss­ing all my favour­ite happy top­ics: the “war” on drugs, the “war” on ter­ror, and the “war” on the inter­net.  My type of mini-break!

LEAP_logo

British politicians Droning on

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 2 Octo­ber 2012

Only in the mad world of mod­ern Brit­ish polit­ics could it be pos­sible to con­nect MPs, drones and royal breasts. Is this sound­ing a little too bizarre? Let me explain.…

Way back in 2008 Con­ser­vat­ive MP Damien Green, who was at the time the Shadow Min­is­ter for Immig­ra­tion, was arres­ted on sus­pi­cion of eli­cit­ing leaks from a Home Office civil ser­vant that appeared to con­firm the then Labour gov­ern­ment was cov­er­ing up UK immig­ra­tion figures.

When I say arres­ted, this was not the stand­ard, civ­il­ised and pre-arranged appoint­ment at the local nick, which the police tra­di­tion­ally allow their polit­ical “mas­ters” or, for that mat­ter, their bud­dies at News International.

Oh no, this was a full-on, Cold War-style arrest, car­ried out by the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Counter-Terrorism com­mand (known in the old days as Spe­cial Branch). Intriguingly, civil ser­vants appeared to have mis­lead­ingly hyped up the need for a heavy-handed police response by stat­ing that they were “in no doubt that there has been con­sid­er­able dam­age to national secur­ity already as a res­ult of some of these leaks”.

And indeed, the res­ult­ing arrests bore all the hall-marks of a national secur­ity case: secret police, dawn raids, and counter-terrorism style searches of the fam­ily home, the con­stitu­ency office, and — shock — an inva­sion of Green’s office in parliament.

Yet Green was not arres­ted under the terms of the Offi­cial Secrets Act. Instead, both he and his hap­less whis­tleblower, Chris­topher Gal­ley, were only seized on sus­pi­cion of breach­ing some arcane Vic­torian law (“aid­ing and abet­ting mis­con­duct in pub­lic office”).  I sup­pose arrest­ing a sit­ting MP for a breach of the OSA would have been just too polit­ic­ally tricky.

Leav­ing aside the under­stand­able upset caused to Green’s wife and chil­dren by the raid on their home, plus the fact that the police viol­ated not only their per­sonal effects such as bed sheets and love let­ters but also con­fid­en­tial legal papers about child abuse cases that Mrs Green was work­ing on, what really caused out­rage in the media and polit­ical classes was the fact that Plod had dared to invade the hal­lowed ground of parliament.

There was an out­cry from politi­cians about the “encroach­ing police state”. The case was duly dropped, the senior officer, Assist­ant Com­mis­sioner Bob Quick, had to resign (but only after com­mit­ting yet another polit­ical gaffe), and other stor­ies, such as the MP expenses scan­dal, grabbed the atten­tion of the main­stream media.

Roll on four years, and Damien Green has now ascen­ded to the giddy heights of Home Office Min­is­ter of State for Police and Crim­inal Justice. Well, meet­ing his new staff must have been an inter­est­ing exper­i­ence for him.

But what is this man now doing in his emin­ent role, to stop the slide into the encroach­ing police state that is the UK? Of all people, one would expect him to be sens­it­ive to such issues.

Sadly, he appears to have already gone nat­ive on the job. It was repor­ted yes­ter­day that he is pro­pos­ing the use of police drones to spy on the UK pop­u­la­tion, but in an “appro­pri­ate and pro­por­tion­ate” man­ner of course.

The concept of small aer­ial drones being used by UK police has been mooted for a few years now — indeed some police forces and secur­ity agen­cies have already bought them. But whereas the ini­tial, stand­ard jus­ti­fic­a­tion was that it would help in the “war on ter­ror” (as it has so ably done in the Middle East, where inno­cent fam­il­ies are routinely slaughtered in the name of assas­sin­at­ing mil­it­ants), mission-creep has already set in.  Damien Green stated at the launch of the new National Police Air Ser­vice (NPAS) that drones could be use­ful mon­it­or­ing protests and traffic viol­a­tions. It has even been repor­ted that the Home Office plans to use non-lethal weapons to do so.

Of course there are prob­lems around the use of drones in UK air­space.  Our skies are already very crowded and they could present a haz­ard to air­craft, although the BBC has repor­ted that drones could be air­borne in the next few years.  This appears to be the only argu­ment hold­ing the use of drones in check — for­get about civil liber­ties and pri­vacy issues.

This is par­tic­u­larly per­tin­ent as we look at the evol­u­tion of drone tech­no­logy.  Cur­rently the UK police are dis­cuss­ing toy-sized drones, but it has already been repor­ted that drones the size of birds or even insects, with autonom­ous intel­li­gence or swarm cap­ab­il­it­ies are being developed. And don’t even get me star­ted on the sub­ject of poten­tial militarisation.…

There is a whole debate to be had about what can be viewed and what can­not — where does the pub­lic sphere end and the private begin? A couple of years ago I sug­ges­ted some­what facetiously that our best hope of defeat­ing the intro­duc­tion of sur­veil­lance drones in the UK might be indig­nant celebs suing the paparazzi for using the tech­no­lo­gies.  But per­haps the ante has already been upped in the recent fall-out from the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge and her roy­ally papped breasts.

If drone tech­no­logy becomes wide­spread, then nobody will have any pri­vacy any­where. But who knows, before we get to that stage per­haps HM Queen will come out swinging on the side of pri­vacy for her granddaughter-in-law, if not for the rest of her “sub­jects”. If that were to hap­pen then no doubt Damien Green will aban­don his new-found enthu­si­asm for these air­borne sur­veil­lance pests; if not to stop the “encroach­ing police state” of which he must have such col­our­ful recol­lec­tions, then at least to safe­guard any poten­tial knight­hood in his rosy min­is­terial future.

What whistleblowers want

Whis­tleblowers want the sun and the moon — or at least they want to get their inform­a­tion out there, they want to make a dif­fer­ence, they want a fair hear­ing, and they don’t want to pay too high a per­sonal price for doing so.

Is that too much to ask? The decision to expose crimin­al­ity and bad prac­tice for the pub­lic good has ser­i­ous, life-changing implications.

By going pub­lic about ser­i­ous con­cerns they have about their work­place, they are jeop­ard­ising their whole way of life: not just their pro­fes­sional repu­ta­tion and career, but all that goes with it, such as the abil­ity to pay the mort­gage, their social circle, their fam­ily life, their rela­tion­ship…  Plus, the whis­tleblower can poten­tially risk prison or worse.

So, with these risks in mind, they are cer­tainly look­ing for an avenue to blow the whistle that will offer a degree of pro­tec­tion and allow them to retain a degree of con­trol over their own lives.  In the old days, this meant try­ing to identify an hon­our­able, cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist and a media organ­isa­tion that had the clout to pro­tect its source.  While not impossible, that could cer­tainly be dif­fi­cult, and becomes increas­ingly so in this era of endemic elec­tronic surveillance.

Today the other option is the secure, high-tech pub­lish­ing con­duit, as trail-blazed by Wikileaks. While this does not provide the poten­tial bene­fits of work­ing with a cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist, it does provide anonym­ity and a cer­tain degree of con­trol to the mod­ern whis­tleblower, plus it allows their inform­a­tion to reach a wide audi­ence without either being filtered by the media or blocked by gov­ern­ment or cor­por­ate injunctions.

As someone who has a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the reper­cus­sions of blow­ing the whistle on a secret gov­ern­ment agency, I have liked the Wikileaks model since I first stumbled across it in 2009.

As with most truly revolu­tion­ary ideas, once pos­ited it is blind­ingly obvious.

Never before has this been tech­nic­ally pos­sible — the idea that a whistleblower’s inform­a­tion could be made freely avail­able to the cit­izens of the world, in order to inform their demo­cratic choices, with no block­age, not cen­sor­ship, no fil­ter­ing or “inter­pret­a­tion” by the cor­por­ate media.

This is par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant in an age when the global media has been con­sol­id­ated in the hands of a few mul­tina­tion­als, and when these mul­tina­tion­als have a cer­tain, shall we say “cosy”, rela­tion­ship with many of top our politi­cians and power elites.

The con­trol of the main­stream media by the spooks and gov­ern­ments has been the focus of many of my recent talks.  These cor­rupt inter-relationships have also been recently laid bare with the News Inter­na­tional phone-hacking scandals.

The days of gar­ner­ing news from one favoured paper or TV bul­letin are long gone. Few people now trust just one media out­let — they skip across a vari­ety of news sources, try­ing to eval­u­ate the truth for them­selves. But even that can be prob­lem­atic when some­thing big occurs, such as the “jus­ti­fic­a­tion” for the inva­sion of Iraq or Libya, and the cur­rent beat of war drums against Iran, when the cor­por­ate media mys­ter­i­ously achieves a consensus.

Hence the demo­cratic dis­con­nect, hence the dis­trust, and hence (in part) the plum­met­ing profits of the old media.

Wikileaks is based on a simple concept -  it allows the people to read the source mater­ial for them­selves and make up their own minds based on real inform­a­tion.  This led to expos­ure of all kinds of global nas­ties way before the massive 2010 US data-dump.

Des­pite this approach, the impact was ini­tially sub­dued until Wikileaks col­lab­or­ated with the old media.  This, as we all know, did indeed pro­duce the cov­er­age and aware­ness of those issues deemed import­ant as it was filtered through the MSM. This has also inev­it­ably lead to ten­sions between the new model hackt­iv­ists and the old-school journalists.

No gov­ern­ment, least of all the USA, likes to have demands for justice and trans­par­ency forced upon it, and the push back since 2010 has been massive across the world in terms of an appar­ently illegal fin­an­cial block­ade, opaque legal cases and a media back­lash. Cer­tain of Wikileaks’s erstwhile media part­ners have col­lab­or­ated in this, turn­ing on one of their richest sources of inform­a­tion in history.

How­ever, Wikileaks is more than a media source.  It is a whole new model — a high-tech pub­lisher that offers a safe con­duit for whis­tleblowers to cache and pub­li­cise their inform­a­tion without imme­di­ately hav­ing to over­turn (and in some cases risk) their lives.

For this work, Wikileaks has over the years won a num­ber of inter­na­tion­ally pres­ti­gi­ous journ­al­ism awards.

Inev­it­ably, crit­ics in the main­stream media seem to want to have their cake and eat it too: one early part­ner, the New York Times, has writ­ten that it doesn’t recog­nise Wikileaks as a journ­al­ist organ­isa­tion or a pub­lisher — it is a source, pure and simple.

Either way, by say­ing this the media are surely shoot­ing them­selves in the cor­por­ate feet with both bar­rels. If Wikileaks is indeed “just” a source (the NYT seems to be blithely for­get­ting that good journ­al­ism is entirely depend­ent on its sources), then the media are break­ing their prime dir­ect­ive: pro­tect a source at all costs.

How­ever, if Wikileaks is a journ­al­ism or pub­lish­ing organ­isa­tion and as such is being tar­geted by the US gov­ern­ment, then all other media are surely equally at risk in the future?

By not stand­ing up for Wikileaks in either capa­city, it appears that the old media have a death wish.

Over the years whis­tleblowers around the world have demon­strated their trust in Wikileaks, as it was set up by someone emer­ging from the ori­ginal bona fide hacker com­munity.   And rightly so — let’s not for­get that no source has been exposed through the fail­ure of the organisation’s technology.

Many media organ­isa­tions rushed to emu­late its suc­cess by try­ing to set up their own “secure” whis­tleblow­ing repos­it­or­ies.  What the media execs failed to under­stand was the hacker ethos, the open source men­tal­ity: they went to their techie depart­ment or com­mer­cial IT ser­vice pro­viders and said “we want one”, but failed to under­stand both the ethos and the secur­ity con­cerns around closed, pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware sys­tems, often chan­nelled through the post–Pat­riot Act, post–CISPA USA.

Other, appar­ently well-meaning organ­isa­tions, also tried to emu­late the Wikileaks model, but most have died a quiet death over the last year.  Per­haps, again, for want of real trust in their ori­gin or tech security?

Why on earth would any security-conscious whis­tleblower, emer­ging out of a gov­ern­ment, mil­it­ary or intel­li­gence organ­isa­tion, trust such a set-up?  If someone comes out of such an envir­on­ment they will know all-too-well the scale of the push-back, the pos­sible entrap­ments, and the state-level resources that will be used to track them down. They either need an über-secure whis­tleblow­ing plat­form, or they need journ­al­ists and law­yers with fire in their belly to fight the fight, no mat­ter what.

So now to Open­Leaks — appar­ently the brainchild of Wikileaks defector Daniel Domsheit-Berg. He and the shad­owy “Archi­tect” fam­ously fell out with Julian Assange in late 2010, just when the polit­ical heat was ramp­ing up on the organ­isa­tion.  They left, reportedly tak­ing some of the cru­cial cod­ing and a tranche of files with them, and Domsheit-Berg decided to set up a rival organ­isa­tion called Open­Leaks.  As a res­ult of his actions, Domsheit-Berg was uniquely cast out of the inter­na­tional hacker group, the CCC in Berlin.

He now seems to have been wel­comed back into the fold and Open­Leaks appears, finally, to be ready to receive whis­tleblower information.

How­ever, there is a cru­cial dif­fer­ence between the two organ­isa­tions.  Where Wikileaks wants to lay the inform­a­tion out there for pub­lic eval­u­ation, Open­Leaks will merely act as a repos­it­ory for cer­tain approved main­stream media organ­isa­tions to access. We are back to the ori­ginal block­age of the cor­por­ate media decid­ing what inform­a­tion we, the people, should be allowed to ingest.

I would not wish to com­ment on Domsheit-Berg’s motiv­a­tion, but to me this seems to be an even worse option for a whis­tleblower than dir­ectly con­tact­ing a cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist with a proven track record of cov­er­ing hard-core stor­ies and fight­ing for the cause.

With Open­Leaks, the whis­tleblower loses not only the auto­matic wide­spread dis­sem­in­a­tion of their inform­a­tion, but also any semb­lance of con­trol over which journ­al­ists will be work­ing on their story.  Their inform­a­tion will be parked on the web­site and any­one from pre-selected media organ­isa­tions will be able to access, use and poten­tially abuse it.

One could say that Open­Leaks oper­ates as a secure sta­ging plat­form where a whis­tleblower can safely store sens­it­ive doc­u­ments and inform­a­tion.… but the founder allegedly removed and des­troyed sens­it­ive files from Wikileaks when he jumped ship in 2010.  Could any whis­tleblower really trust that Open­Leaks would not sim­il­arly “dis­ap­pear” shit-hot inform­a­tion in the future?

Plus, there is the added worry for any rightly-paranoid whis­tleblower that the founder of Open­Leaks so eas­ily aban­doned Wikileaks when under pres­sure.  Who’s to say that this would not hap­pen again, if the full might of the Pentagon were brought to bear on OpenLeaks?

Open­Leaks offers neither the per­sonal sup­port of work­ing with a trus­ted journ­al­ist and a media organ­isa­tion with the clout to fight back, nor does it provide full dis­clos­ure to the wider pub­lic to side-step poten­tial media self-censorship and gov­ern­ment law suits, as the ori­ginal Wikileaks model does.

As such Open­Leaks seems, at least to this par­tic­u­lar whis­tleblower, to be an evol­u­tion­ary blip — a ret­ro­grade step — in the quest for justice and accountability.