Here’s a recent interview I did about the recent Iran nuclear deal, adding some context and history and trying to cut through some of today’s media myths:
The controversial issue of whistleblowing has been firmly thrust into the public consciousness over the last few years with the ongoing saga of Wikileaks.
Often whistleblowers can get a bad rap in the media, deemed to be traitors, grasses or snitches. However, rather than a phenomenon to be feared, if handled correctly whistleblowers can often be beneficial to their organisations. Allow me to explain.
I have a nodding acquaintance with the process. In the 1990s I worked as an intelligence officer for the UK domestic Security Service, generally known as MI5, before resigning to help my former partner and colleague David Shayler blow the whistle on a catalogue of incompetence and crime. As a result we had to go on the run around Europe, lived in hiding and exile in France for 3 years, and saw our friends, family and journalists arrested around us. I was also arrested, although never charged, and David went to prison twice for exposing the crimes of the spies. It was a heavy price to pay.
However, it could all have been so different if the UK government had agreed to take his evidence of spy crimes, undertake to investigate them thoroughly, and apply the necessary reforms. This would have saved us a lot of heartache, and could potentially have improved the work of the spies. But the government’s instinctive response is always to protect the spies and prosecute the whistleblower, while the mistakes and crimes go uninvestigated and unresolved. Or even, it often appears, to reward the malefactors with promotions and gongs.
The draconian Official Secrets Act (1989) imposes a blanket ban on any disclosure whatsoever. As a result, we the citizens have to take it on trust that our spies work with integrity. There is no meaningful oversight and no accountability.
Many good people do indeed sign up to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, as they want a job that can make a difference and potentially save lives. However, once on the inside they are told to keep quiet about any ethical concerns: “don’t rock the boat, and just follow orders”.
In such an environment there is no ventilation, no accountability and no staff federation, and this inevitably leads to a general consensus – a bullying “group think” mentality. This in turn can lead to mistakes being covered up rather than lessons learned, and then potentially down a dangerous moral slide.
As a result, over the last decade we have seen scandal heaped upon intelligence scandal, as the spies allowed their fake and politicised information to be used make a false case for an illegal war in Iraq; we have seen them descend into a spiral of extraordinary rendition (ie kidnapping) and torture, for which they are now being sued if not prosecuted; and we have seen that they facilitate dodgy deals in the desert with dictators.
But it is not all bleak. Recently, Dr Tom Fingar received The Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in Oxford for his work on compiling the US National Intelligence Estimate of 2007. In this he summarised the conclusions of all 16 US intelligence agencies by saying that Iran had ceased trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability in 2003.
There was immense political pressure on him to suppress this evidence, but he went ahead with the report and thereby single-handedly halted the US government’s rush to war with Iran. By having the courage to do his job with integrity, Dr Fingar is responsible for saving countless lives across Iran.
In the world of intelligence, where secrecy is paramount, where crimes can hushed up, and where there is no avenue for voicing concern and dissent, it is perhaps inevitable that whistleblowers will continue to emerge.
But in other sectors of work mistakes can be just as life threatening and the need for exposure just as great. In the UK over the last few years many senior medical whistleblowers have emerged from the NHS, detailing mistakes and incompetence that have put the public at risk. Alas, rather than learn from mistakes made, all too often NHS bosses have either victimised the whistleblowers by suspending them or ruining their reputation, or they have insisted that they sign gagging orders and then covered up the mistakes. Neither option is a good outcome either for staff morale or for patient safety.
While the culture of cover-up exists, so too will whistleblowers. How could this be resolved, and what would be the potential benefits?
If employers institute a culture of trust and accountability, where employees with concerns can be fairly heard, the appropriate action taken, and justice done, the needs and imperatives behind whistleblowing would disappear. Potential problems could be nipped in the bud, improving public trust and confidence in the probity of the organisation and avoiding all the bad publicity following a whistleblowing case.
Plus, of course, the potential whistleblowers would have a legitimate avenue to go down, rather than having to turn their lives inside out – they would no longer need to jeopardise their professional reputation and all that goes with it such as career, income, social standing and even, potentially their freedom.
Having a sound procedure in place to address staff concerns strikes me as a win-win scenario – for staff efficiency and morale, the organisation’s operational capability and reputation, and potentially the wider public, too.
A recent Make Wars History event in the UK Parliament, hosted by John McDonnell MP, with Chris Coverdale and myself speaking. Some practical steps we can all take to make wars history:
RT TV interview earlier this afternoon on US deployment of Anti-Ballistic Missile Defence systems in Alaska.
And also thank you to Kim Dotcom setting up the new file-sharing site, Mega, which replaces his illegally-taken-down global site, MegaUpload. I have somewhere safe, I think, to store my interviews!
What a shambolic disgrace that MegaUpload raid was, and what a classic example of the global corporatist agenda that I discuss in the interview.
I do love geeks.
Where to start with this tangled skein of media spin, misrepresentation and outright hypocrisy?
Last week the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence presented this year’s award to Dr Tom Fingar at a ceremony jointly hosted by the prestigious Oxford Union Society.
Dr Fingar, currently a visiting lecturer at Oxford, had in 2007 co-ordinated the production of the US National Intelligence Estimate — the combined analysis of all 16 of America’s intelligence agencies — which assessed that the Iranian nuclear weaponisation programme had ceased in 2003. This considered and authoritative Estimate directly thwarted the 2008 US drive towards war against Iran, and has been reaffirmed every year since then.
By the very fact of doing his job of providing dispassionate and objective assessments and resisting any pressure to politicise the intelligence (à la Downing Street Memo), Dr Fingar’s work is outstanding and he is the winner of Sam Adams Award, 2012. This may say something about the parlous state of our intelligence agencies generally, but don’t get me started on that…
Anyway, as I said, the award ceremony was co-hosted by the Oxford Union Society last week, and many Sam Adams Associates attended, often travelling long distances to do so. Former winners were asked to speak at the ceremony, such as FBI Coleen Rowley, GCHQ Katherine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and former UK Ambassador Craig Murray. Other associates, including CIA Ray McGovern, diplomats Ann Wright and Brady Kiesling and myself also said a few words. As former insiders and whistleblowers, we recognised the vitally important work that Dr Fingar had done and all spoke about the importance of integrity in intelligence.
One other previous winner of the Sam Adams Award was also invited to speak — Julian Assange of Wikileaks. He spoke eloquently about the need for integrity and was gracious in praising the work of Dr Fingar.
All the national and international media were invited to attend what was an historic gathering of international whislteblowers and cover an award given to someone who, by doing their job with integrity, prevented yet further ruinous war and bloodshed in the Middle East.
Few attended, still fewer reported on the event, and the promised live streaming on Youtube was blocked by shadowy powers at the very last minute — an irony considering the Oxford Union is renowned as a free speech society.
But worse was to come. The next day The Guardian newspaper, which historically fell out with Wikileaks, published a myopic hit-piece about the event. No mention of all the whistleblowers who attended and what they said, no mention of the award to Dr Fingar, no mention of the fact that his work saved the Iranian people from needless war.
Oh no, the entire piece focused on the tawdry allegations emanating from Sweden about Julian Assange’s extradition case. Discounting the 450 students who applauded all the speeches, discounting all the serious points raised by Julian Assange during his presentation, and discounting the speeches of all the other internationally renowned whistleblowers present that evening, The Guardian’s reporter, Amelia Hill, focused on the small demo outside the event and the only three attendees she could apparently find to criticise the fact that a platform, any platform, had been given to Assange from his political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy.
So this is where we arrive at the deep, really deep, hypocrisy of the evening. Amelia Hill is, I’m assuming, the same Guardian journalist who was threatened in 2011 with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. She had allegedly been receiving leaks from the Metropolitan Police about the on-going investigation into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
At the time Fleet Street was up in arms — how dare the police threaten one of their own with prosecution under the OSA for exposing institutional corruption? Shades of the Shayler case were used in her defence. As I wrote at the time, it’s a shame the UK media could not have been more consistently robust in condemning the chilling effects of the OSA on the free-flow of information and protect all the Poor Bloody Whistleblowers, and not just come out fighting when it is one of their own being threatened. Such is the way of the world.…
But really, Ms Hill — if you are indeed the same reporter who was threatened with prosecution in 2011 under the OSA — examine your conscience.
How can you write a hit-piece focusing purely on Assange — a man who has designed a publishing system to protect potential whistleblowers from precisely such draconian secrecy laws as you were hyperbolically threatened with? And how could you, at the same time, airbrush out of history the testimony of so many whistleblowers gathered together, many of whom have indeed been arrested and have faced prosecution under the terms of the OSA or US secrecy legislation?
Have you no shame? You know how frightening it is to be faced with such a prosecution.
Your hypocrisy is breath-taking.
The offence was compounded when the Sam Adams Associates all wrote a letter to The Guardian to set the record straight. The original letter is reproduced below, and this is what was published. Of course, The Guardian has a perfect right under its Terms and Conditions to edit the letter, but I would like everyone to see how this can be used and abused.
And the old media wonders why they are in decline?
Letter to The Guardian, 29 January 2013:
With regard to the 24 January article in The Guardian entitled “Julian Assange Finds No Allies and Tough Queries in Oxford University Talk,” we question whether the newspaper’s reporter was actually present at the event, since the account contains so many false and misleading statements.
If The Guardian could “find no allies” of Mr. Assange, it did not look very hard! They could be found among the appreciative audience of the packed Oxford Union Debate Hall, and — in case you missed us — in the group seated right at the front of the Hall: the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.
Many in our group — which, you might be interested to know co-sponsored the event with Oxford Union — had traveled considerable distances at our own expense to confer the 10th annual Sam Adams award to Dr. Thomas Fingar for his work on overseeing the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that revealed the lack of an Iranian nuclear weaponization program.
Many of us spoke in turn about the need for integrity in intelligence, describing the terrible ethical dilemma that confronts government employees who witness illegal activity including serious threats to public safety and fraud, waste and abuse.
But none of this made it into what was supposed to pass for a news article; neither did any aspect of the acceptance speech delivered by Dr. Fingar. Also, why did The Guardian fail to provide even one salient quote from Mr Assange’s substantial twenty-minute address?
By censoring the contributions of the Sam Adams Associates and the speeches by Dr. Fingar and Mr. Assange, and by focusing exclusively on tawdry and unproven allegations against Mr. Assange, rather than on the importance of exposing war crimes and maintaining integrity in intelligence processes, The Guardian has succeeded in diminishing none but itself.
The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence:
Ann Wright (retired Army Colonel and Foreign Service Officer of US State Department), Ray McGovern (retired CIA analyst), Elizabeth Murray (retired CIA analyst), Coleen Rowley (retired FBI agent), Annie Machon (former MI5 intelligence officer), Thomas Drake (former NSA official), Craig Murray (former British Ambassador), David MacMichael (retired CIA analyst), Brady Kiesling (former Foreign Service Officer of US State Department), and Todd Pierce (retired U.S. Army Major, Judge Advocate, Guantanamo Defense Counsel).
The Real News Network coverage of the recent Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, with contributions from many of the whistleblowers involved:
The SAAII is one of the few international recognitions for those within the intelligence community who follow their conscience, often at great professional and personal cost.
This year’s winner is Dr Tom Fingar, who headed up the 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. He collated the official assessments of all 16 of America’s intelligence agencies, which unanimously assessed that Iran had ceased trying to build a nuclear weapon in 2003. This evidence-based analysis made it impossible for the Bush administration to push through its plans to launch a war against Iran in 2008. This excellent article by ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains Dr Fingar’s achievements far better than I could.
Over the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of working with the Union officers and fellow SAAIIers, especially renowned peace activists Ray McGovern and Elizabeth Murray (formerly of the US National Intelligence Council), to organise this event. Many of us will be speaking that evening, and Julian Assange will be doing a live video link.
All this in recognition of Dr Fingar’s contribution to professional, ethical intelligence work. Even in this “gloves-off”, post-9/11 world, it is heartening to hear that is possible.
I hope that many people can support and report on this event.
My recent interview on RT about the Petraeus Affair and the possible real reasons for his exposure and resignation:
By: Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and Annie Machon, former MI5 intelligence officer
Recent remarks by the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, leave us wondering if the Secret Intelligence Service is preparing to “fix” intelligence on Iran, as his immediate predecessor, Sir John Scarlett, did on Iraq.
Scarlett’s pre-Iraq war role in creating “dodgy dossiers” hyping the threat of non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” is well known. As for Sawers, the red warning light for politicization blinked brightly on July 4, as he told British senior civil servants that Iran is “two years away” from becoming a “nuclear weapons state.” How did Sawers come up with “two years?”
Since late 2007, the benchmark for weighing Iran’s nuclear program has been the unanimous assessment by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and that, as of mid-2007, had not restarted it. Those judgments have been revalidated every year since — despite strong pressure to bow to more ominous — but evidence-light — assessments by Israel and its neo-conservative supporters.
Intelligence Can Make a Difference
The 2007 the US National Intelligence Estimate helped to thwart plans to attack Iran in 2008, the last year of the Bush/Cheney administration. This shines through in George Bush’s own memoir, Decision Points, in which he rues the NIE’s “eye-popping declaration: ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’”
Bush continues, “But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” (Decision Points, p. 419)
Hands tied on the military side, US covert operations flowered, with $400 million appropriated at that same time for a major escalation of the dark-side struggle against Iran, according to military, intelligence, and congressional sources cited by Seymour Hersh in 2008. This clandestine but all-too-real war on Iran has included attacks with computer viruses, the murders of Iranian scientists, and what the Israelis call the “unnatural” demise of senior officials like Revolutionary Guards Major General Hassan Moghaddam father of Iran’s missile program.
Moghaddam was killed in a large explosion last November, with Time magazine citing a “western intelligence source” as saying the Israel’s Mossad was behind the blast. More threatening still to Iran are the severe economic sanctions, which are tantamount to an act of war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel neo-conservatives in the U.S. and elsewhere have been pushing hard for an attack on Iran, seizing every pretext they can find. Netanyahu was suspiciously fast off the blocks, for example, in claiming that Iran was behind the tragic terrorist bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on July 18, despite Bulgarian authorities and even the White House warning that it is too early to attribute responsibility.
Netanyahu’s instant indictment of Iran strongly suggests he is looking for excuses to up the ante. With the Persian Gulf looking like an accident waiting to happen, stocked as it is with warships from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere — and with no fail-safe way of communicating with Iranian naval commanders — an escalation-generating accident or provocation is now more likely than ever.
July 23: Marking a Day of Infamy
Oddly, Sawers’s speech of July 4 came just as an important date approached — the tenth anniversary of a sad day for British intelligence on Iraq. On July 23, 2002 at a meeting at 10 Downing Street, then-MI6 head, John Dearlove, briefed Tony Blair and other senior officials on his talks with his American counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet, in Washington three days before.
In the official minutes of that briefing (now known as the Downing Street Memo), which were leaked to the London Times and published on May 1, 2005, Dearlove explains that George Bush has decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.” While then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dearlove explains matter-of-factly, “The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”
There is no sign in the minutes that anyone hiccupped — much less demurred — at making a case for war and furthering Blair’s determination to join Bush in launching the kind of “war of aggression” outlawed by the post-world war Nuremberg Tribunal and the UN treaty.
Helped by the acquiescence of their chief spies, the Blair government mainlined into the body politic un-assessed, raw intelligence and forged documents, with disastrous consequences for the world.
UK citizens were spoon-fed fake intelligence in the September Dossier (2002) and then, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy Dossier”, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Internet — all presented by spy and politician alike as ominous premonitory intelligence.
So was made the case for war. All lies, resulting in hundreds of thousands dead and maimed and millions of Iraqis displaced — yet no one held to account.
Sir Richard Dearlove, who might have prevented this had he had the integrity to speak out, was allowed to retire with full honours and became the Master of a Cambridge college. John Scarlett, who as chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee signed off the fraudulent dossiers, was rewarded with the top spy job at MI6 and a knighthood. George W. Bush gave George Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award.
What need have we for further proof? “So are they all, all honourable men” — reminiscent of those standing with Brutus in Shakespeare’s play, but with no Mark Anthony to expose them and stir the appropriate popular reaction.
Therein lies the problem: instead of being held accountable, these “honourable men” were, well, honoured. Their soft landings offer a noxious object lesson for ambitious bureaucrats who are ready to play fast and loose with the truth and trim their sails to the prevailing winds.
Ill-got honours offer neither deterrent nor disincentive to current and future intelligence chiefs tempted to follow suit and corrupt intelligence rather than challenge their political leaders with hard, un-“fixed” facts. Integrity? In this milieu integrity brings knowing smirks rather than honours. And it can get you kicked out of the club.
Fixing Intelligence on Iran
Are we in for another round of “fixing” — this time on Iran? We may know soon. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, citing the terrorist attack in Bulgaria, has already provided what amounts to a variation on Dearlove’s ten-year old theme regarding how war can be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”
According to the Jerusalem Post on July 17, Netanyahu said that all countries that understand that Iran is an exporter of world terror must join Israel in “stating that fact clearly,” in order to emphasize the importance of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Appearing yesterday on Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation, Netanyahu returned to that theme. Putting the blame for the terrorist attack in Bulgaria squarely on Iran (and Hezbollah), Netanyahu warned of the increased dangers that would accrue if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. “What would be the consequences if the most dangerous régime in the world got the world’s most dangerous weapons?”.
Will MI6 chief Sawers model his conduct on that of his predecessors who “justified” war on Iraq? Will he “fix” intelligence around U.K./U.S./Israeli policy on Iran? Parliamentary overseers should demand a briefing from Sawers forthwith, before erstwhile bulldog Britain is again dragged like a poodle into another unnecessary war.
Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer in the UK’s MI5 Security Service and Ray McGovern is a fomer U.S Army Intelligence Officer and CIA analyst.
I keep returning to this subject, but it is troubling me deeply. Reading the runes, all things point to the fact that we are being actively groomed for yet another Middle Eastern war.
As I’ve said before, the picture is clearly being drawn for those who wish to join the dots. At the end of last year the entire US intelligence infrastructure formally assessed that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. This, of course, did not suit the hawkish neo-con agenda in the States.
Then Mossad, the Israeli intelligence outfit, conveniently pops up claiming that it has new, shit-hot intelligence that disproves the US assessment. Mossad passes this on to the heads of MI6 and the CIA, and shortly afterwards the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, visits George Bush on a state visit to America to discuss his “concerns” about Iran.
The third part of the equation fell into place this week. Con Coughlin, writing in the right-wing UK national newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, unquestioningly regurgitates information from anonymous intelligence sources who state that Iran is now developing weapons grade uranium.
Coughlin has form. For many years he worked for The Sunday Telegraph, otherwise known as the in-house journal of MI6. Readers of this site will know that MI6 has a section called Information Operations (I/Ops), which manipulates the media either by planting false stories or massaging the facts to suit MI6’s interests. Well, rather embarrassingly, Coughlin’s involvement in one such operation was exposed a few years ago.
In 1995 he was shown “information” by an MI6 officer whom he described as “a senior banking official” proving that Colonel Gadaffi’s son, Saif Al Islam, was involved in a money-laundering scam with Iran. Coughlin dutifully reported this, and this story was used by the Foreign Office to deny Al Islam a visa to live in the UK.
What Coughlin, and his then editor Dominic Lawson (whose brother-in-law was a senior MI6 officer), didn’t appear to know as he took this story down in shorthand, was the MI6 officer was from I/Ops, and that he was planting this story in the press to ensure that the son of a then Priority 1 Joint Intelligence Committee target could not come over the UK and live high on the hog. Too politically embarrassing, old bean.
Al Islam naturally sued, and The Sunday Torygraph duly settled out of court once it realised that intelligence whistleblower David Shayler knew the inside track on this libellous story and was prepared to give evidence in court.
Coughlin was also instrumental in getting stories linking Saddam Hussein to WMD and Al Qaeda into the national UK media in the run-up to the Iraq war, although the vigilent reader will notice these stories often contradict themselves. So it’s interesting that he’s now breaking more “news” suggesting precisely what Mossad and governments of the UK and the USA would have us believe: that Iran is a real, developing nuclear threat, and that there is a sound case for war.
As I posted on on 7 May, Israeli intelligence is claiming it has new intelligence that proves the recent US National Intelligence Estimate wrong in its assessment of the nuclear threat posed by Iran.
Mossad claims to have solid intelligence that proves Iran is still trying to develop a nuclear military capability. There have been recent high-level talks about this between the intelligence agencies of the US, UK and Israel.
A report in The Guardian today now indicates that the politicians are following suit. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is set to meet President Bush today to discuss the threat from Iran. It would not surprise me if the US soon announces that it has proof of Iran’s nuclear intent, and tries to push for another a “pre-emptive”, and highly illegal, attack.
The Sunday Times reported last weekend that Sir John Scarlett, the current head of MI6, is to fly to Israel at the end of the month to meet his counter-part, Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad. Whitehall has tried to downplay the meeting as “routine”. However, the focus of the meeting appears to be to discuss Israel’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear capability.
In recent years the neo-cons in power in the US have made no secret of their desire to “finish the job” in the Middle East and attack Iran. For the last two years there has been much sabre-rattling on both sides. The polemics from the US usually coincided with Iran’s plans to trade increasing amounts of its oil in euros. The south west region of Iran has vast oil reserves, and if Iran switched trading currencies, this would have an extremely detrimental effect on the power of the petrodollar, and the American economy as a whole.
Lest we forget, Saddam Hussein had also begun to trade in euros what little oil he could prior to the Iraq war in 2003. Scarlett, a career MI6 officer, played a leading role in making the case for that war. At the time he was Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and came to public attention when he signed off the notorious September Dossier. It has since become apparent that Iraq did not have WMD, nor was it trying to acquire uranium from Niger, as MI6 had stated in the dossier. This claim was based on forged documents.
So the timing of the new Israeli intelligence is interesting, to say the least. Last week, Iran announced that it was going to trade ALL its oil in euros and the yen, and Israel appears to be furiously lobbying the US and UK about Iran’s increasing nuclear threat. Israeli intelligence sources are claiming that they have information “on a par with” that which led to the bombing of the Syrian nuclear power station.
Based on this, they are asking the US government to reassess the level of threat posed by Iran. In December 2007 the combined thinking of the whole of America’s intelligence infrastructure was published in the US National Intelligence Estimate. It clearly stated that Iran had stopped developing its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 because of international pressure.
But the apparent triumph of international diplomacy does not suit the agenda of the hawks in the US administration. What could be better than to have the spy agencies of its closest allies conveniently reveal new intelligence saying that Iran now poses an increasing nuclear threat?