BBC Sunday Morning Live — whistleblower debate

Here is a video of a debate I was involved with about whis­tleblowers on the most recent edi­tion of BBC debate show, Sunday Morn­ing Live. The ques­tion under dis­cus­sion: are whis­tleblowers her­oes or vil­lains?

BBC Sunday Morn­ing Live from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
A shame that some of the stu­dio guests used this oppor­tun­ity to launch ad hom­inem attacks rather than focus on the key ques­tion, but I’m glad I could contribute.

The Real News Network Whistleblower Special

The Real News Net­work cov­er­age of the recent Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence, with con­tri­bu­tions from many of the whis­tleblowers involved:

More at The Real News

SAAII Award at the Oxford Union Society

On 23 Janu­ary the Oxford Union Soci­ety will be host­ing the Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence.

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.

Thomas_FingarThis 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.

Former SAAII win­ners include FBI Coleen Row­ley, GCHQ Kath­er­ine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and Wikileaks supremo Julian Assange.

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.

The Assange Witch Hunt

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 17 August 2012

A storm of dip­lo­matic sound and fury has broken over Ecuador’s decision to grant polit­ical asylum to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. The UK gov­ern­ment has threatened to breach all dip­lo­matic pro­tocol and inter­na­tional law and go into the embassy to arrest Assange.

The UK jus­ti­fies this by cit­ing the 1987 Dip­lo­matic and Con­su­lar Premises Act, a law appar­ently put in place fol­low­ing the 1984 shoot­ing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher from the Libyan Embassy in Lon­don.  The murder res­ul­ted in an 11-day siege, and the embassy staff even­tu­ally being expelled from the coun­try.  Nobody has yet been brought to justice for this murder.

It is hard to equate the grav­ity of the crime that brought about the 1987 legis­la­tion — the murder of a police­wo­man — with Assange’s situ­ation.  Des­pite the scream­ing head­lines, let us not for­get that he is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing in Sweden. Nev­er­the­less, the UK is pre­pared to over­turn all dip­lo­matic pro­tocol and cre­ate a dan­ger­ous inter­na­tional pre­ced­ent to “get their man”, des­pite there being a clear lack of jus­ti­fic­a­tion under the terms of the ’87 Act.

Many people in the west­ern media remain puzzled about Assange’s fear of being held cap­tive in the Swedish legal sys­tem. But can we really trust Swedish justice when it has been flag­rantly politi­cised and manip­u­lated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well doc­u­mented. Indeed, the Swedish justice sys­tem has the highest rate per cap­ita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flout­ing Art­icle 6 — the right to a fair trial.

If Assange were extra­dited merely for ques­tion­ing by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the legal terms of a “tem­por­ary sur­render”. And in the US, a secret Grand Jury has been con­vened in Vir­ginia to find a law — any law — with which to pro­sec­ute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can’t find an exist­ing law, they will prob­ably write a new one just for him.

So why all the sound and fury? What is this really all about?

Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech, award-winning journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  And cru­cially, in this war-torn, weary and fin­an­cially broken world, it offers a secure con­duit to whis­tleblowers who want to expose insti­tu­tional crime and cor­rup­tion for the pub­lic good.

Whis­tleblowers 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?

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 a secure, high-tech pub­lish­ing con­duit such as Wikileaks. This provides 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 long seen the value of the Wikileaks model — and I also under­stand quite why gov­ern­ments feel so threatened by it. After all, no gov­ern­ment or mega-corporation wants free­dom of inform­a­tion and trans­par­ency forced upon it, nor an informed cit­izenry ques­tion­ing its actions.

Our gov­ern­ments like to spout the phrase “if you have done noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide” as they roll out yet another intrus­ive sur­veil­lance measure.

Wikileaks has turned that right back at them — hence this modern-day witch-hunt.

The Extradition Farce — why the delay in reform?

Out­rage con­tin­ues to swell about the per­emp­tory extra­di­tion of Brit­ish cit­izens to face trial on tenu­ous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tire­less cam­paign­ing of dis­traught fam­ily mem­bers, a grow­ing anger in the UK press, and indig­nant ques­tions and debates in Par­lia­ment — even our somn­am­bu­lant MPs have roused them­selves to state that Some­thing Must be Done - the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a grow­ing con­sensus, why the delay?  I have a the­ory, but first let’s review some of the most troub­ling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to wide­spread pub­lic atten­tion  is the decade-long extra­di­tion battle of Gary McKin­non.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effect­ively served a 10-year sen­tence, uncer­tain of his future and unable to work in his chosen pro­fes­sion.  Thanks to the indefatig­able cam­paign­ing of his mother, Janis Sharp, his case has received wide­spread sup­port from the media and politi­cians alike.

Des­pite this the Home Sec­ret­ary, Theresa May (who has recently been work­ing so hard in Jordan to pro­tect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abom­in­ably over mak­ing a decision about whether Gary should be extra­dited to the US to face a pos­sible 70-year prison sen­tence — even though the UK invest­ig­a­tion into his alleged crime was aban­doned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of stu­dent Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no Brit­ish laws.  He is facing a 10 year max­imum secur­ity sen­tence if extra­dited.  Once again, his mother, Julia, is tire­lessly fight­ing and cam­paign­ing for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tap­pin, a retired busi­ness­man and golf club pres­id­ent, has been shipped off to a Texas high secur­ity pen­it­en­tiary fol­low­ing what sounds like a US entrap­ment oper­a­tion (a tech­nique not leg­ally admiss­able in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sen­tence if convicted.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDes­pite hav­ing turned him­self in, this eld­erly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is con­sidered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fight­ing.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remem­ber liv­ing through a sim­ilar, if mer­ci­fully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK gov­ern­ment tried and failed to extra­dite David Shayler from France to the UK to stand trial for a breach of the OSA. I remem­ber with crys­tal clar­ity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he dis­ap­peared into a for­eign legal sys­tem without trace, the anguish about his life in an alien prison.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remem­ber the fright­en­ing moment when I real­ised I had to step up and fight for him — the legal case, deal­ing with MPs and the end­less media work, includ­ing the ter­ror of live TV inter­views.  And all this when you are wor­ried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learn­ing curve?

In the wake of the recent extra­di­tion cases, there have been ques­tions in Par­lia­ment, motions, debates, reviews (Down­load Review), and there is an ongo­ing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and pre­vent McKin­non, O’Dywer and many oth­ers being sac­ri­ficed on the Amer­ican legal altar — the concept of “judi­cial rendi­tion”, as I have men­tioned before.

Well, I have a the­ory, one derived from per­sonal exper­i­ence.  The Brit­ish media — most not­ably the Daily Mail - inveigh against the uni­lat­eral extra­di­tion of UK cit­izens to the USA’s bru­tal prison régime.  There is also some con­cern about extra­di­tion to other European jur­is­dic­tions — usu­ally on the fringes to the south and east of the con­tin­ent, regions where the Brit­ish seem to have a vis­ceral fear of cor­rupt offi­cials and kangaroo courts.

But what many com­ment­at­ors seem to miss is the cru­cial legal con­nec­tion — the extra­di­tion arrange­ments that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many other legal banana repub­lics com­par­able legal sys­tems to face out­rageous sen­tences are, in fact, embed­ded within the Extra­di­tion Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest War­rant, the the act that was rushed through Par­lia­ment in the midst of the post-9/11 ter­ror­ism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is cur­rently being used and abused to extra­dite Julian Assange to Sweden merely for police ques­tion­ing (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “tem­por­ar­ily sur­rendered” to the delights of the US judi­cial pro­cess. Hmm, could this pos­sibly be the reason for the delay in reform­ing the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant legal wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its citizens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 David Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestinian stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand trial. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing trial.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their legal opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestinian case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should never, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing mother, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extradition?

WikiLeaks Discussion Panel with Julian Assange, HAR NL 2009

Last year I had the hon­our to meet Julian Assange, the founder of the bril­liant whis­tleblower web­site, WikiLeaks, that has been caus­ing such a stir recently with the release of the decryp­ted US mil­it­ary film,  “Col­lat­eral Murder”, and recently with the Afghan War Logs

I have noth­ing but respect for WikiLeaks — it shines a torch into the dark corners of cor­rupt gov­ern­ment and big busi­ness, and is the way for­ward in hold­ing these organ­isa­tions, which largely believe them­selves to be above the law, at least some­what to account. 

Julian was kind enough to invite me to take part in a panel dis­cus­sion with him at the Hack­ing at Ran­dom fest­ival in the Neth­er­lands last year.  The dis­cus­sion focused on whis­tleblow­ing and gov­ern­ment account­ab­il­ity.  Here’s the video: