The Chilcot Report about the Iraq War

Here is an interview I did yesterday about the long-awaited Chilcot Report into the clusterfuck that was and is Iraq:

The Chilcot Report on the Iraq War from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

MI5 officer has evidence of torture?

Well, this story is interesting me extremely, and for the obvious as well as the perhaps more arcanely legal reasons.

Apparently a former senior MI5 officer is asking permission to give evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament about the Security Service’s collusion in the US torture programme that was the pyroclastic flow from the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

I have long speculated about how people with whom I used to work, socialise with, have dinner with in the 1990s might have evolved from idealistic young officers into people who could condone or even participate in the torture of other human beings once the war on terror was unleashed in the last decade.

During the 1990s MI5 absolutely did not condone the use of torture – not only for ethical reasons, but also because an older generation was still knocking around and they had seen in the civil war in Northern Ireland quite how counter-productive such practices were.  Internment, secret courts, stress positions, sleep deprivation – all these policies acted as a recruiting sergeant for the Provisional IRA.

My generation – the first tasked with investigating the IRA in the UK and Al Qaeda globally – understood this.  We were there to run intelligence operations, help gather evidence, and if possible put suspected malefactors on trial. Even then, when ethical boundaries were breached, many raised concerns and many resigned.  A few of us even went public about our concerns.

But that is so much history.  As I said above, I have always wondered how those I knew could have stayed silent once the intelligence gloves came off after 9/11 and MI5 was effectively shanghaied into following the brutish American over-reaction.

Now it appears that there were indeed doubters within, there was indeed a divided opinion. And now it appears that someone with seniority is trying to use what few channels exist for whistleblowers in the UK to rectify this.

In fact, my contemporaries who stayed on the inside would now be the senior officers, so I really wonder who this is – I hope an old friend!

No doubt they will have voiced their concerns over the years and no doubt they will have been told just to follow orders.

I have said publicly over many years that there should be a meaningful channel for those with ethical concerns to present evidence and have them properly investigated. In fact, I have even said that the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament should be that channel if – and it’s a big if – they can have real investigatory powers and can be trusted not just to brush evidence under the carpet and protect the spies’ reputation.

So this takes me to the arcane legalities I alluded to at the start. During the David Shayler whistleblowing trials (1997-2003) all the legal argument was around the fact that he could have taken his concerns to any crown servant – up to the ISC or his MP and down to and including the bobby on the beat – and he would not have breached the Official Secrets Act. That was the argument upon which he was convicted.

Yet at the same time the prosecution also successfully argued during his trial in 2002 in the Old Bailey that there was a “clear bright line” against disclosure to anyone outside MI5 – (Section 1(1) OSA (1989) – without that organisation’s prior written consent.

The new case rather proves the latter position – that someone with ethical concerns has to “ask permission” to give evidence to the “oversight body”.

Only in the UK.

Now, surely in this uncertain and allegedly terrorist-stricken world, we have never had greater need for a meaningful oversight body and meaningful reform to our intelligence agencies if they go off-beam. Only by learning via safe external ventilation, learning from mistakes, reforming and avoiding group-think, can they operate in a way that is proportionate in a democracy and best protects us all.

US/UK spy chiefs cover up NSA surveillance scandal

First published on RT Op-Edge. Also on Information Clearing House and The Huffington Post.

The disparity in response to Edward Snowden’s disclosures within the USA and the UK is astonishing.  In the face of righteous public wrath, the US administration is contorting itself to ensure that it does not lose its treasured data-mining capabilities: congressional hearings are held, the media is on the warpath, and senior securocrats are being forced to admit that they have lied about the efficacy of endemic surveillance in preventing terrorism.

Just this week General Alexander, the head of the NSA with a long track record of misleading lying to government, was forced to admit that the endemic surveillance programmes have only helped to foil a couple of terrorist plots. This is a big difference from the previous number of 54 that he was touting around.

Cue calls for the surveillance to be reined in, at least against Americans. In future such surveillance should be restricted to targeted individuals who are being actively investigated.  Which is all well and good, but would still leave the rest of the global population living their lives under the baleful stare of the US panopticon. And if the capability continues to exist to watch the rest of the world, how can Americans be sure that the NSA et al won’t stealthily go back to watching them once the scandal has died down – or just ask their best buddies in GCHQ to do their dirty work for them?

I’m sure that the UK’s GCHQ will be happy to step into the breach. It is already partially funded by the NSA, to the tune of $100 million over the last few years; it has a long history of circumventing US constitutional rights to spy on US citizens (as foreigners), and then simply passing on this information to the grateful NSA, as we know from the old Echelon scandal; and it has far more legal leeway under British oversight laws. In fact, this is positively seen to be a selling point to the Americans from what we have seen in the Snowden disclosures.

GCHQ is absolutely correct in this assessment – the three primary UK intelligence agencies are the least accountable and most legally protected in any western democracy. Not only are they exempt from any real and meaningful oversight, they are also protected against disclosure by the draconian 1989 Official Secrets Act, designed specifically to criminalise whistleblowers, as well as having a raft of legislation to suppress media reporting should such disclosures emerge.

This might, indeed, be the reason that the UK media is not covering the Snowden disclosures more extensively – a self-censoring “D” Notice has been issued against the media, and The Guardian had its UK servers smashed up by the secret police. 1930s Germany, anyone?

Defenders of the status quo have already been out in force. Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is notionally responsible for GCHQ,  said cosily that everything was legal and proportionate, and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the current chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee in parliament last week staunchly declared that the ISC had investigated GCHQ and found that its data mining was all legal as it had ministerial approval.

Well that’s all OK then.  Go back to sleep, citizens of the UK.

What Hague and Rifkind neglected to say was that the ministerial warrantry system was designed to target individual suspects, not whole populations. Plus, as the Foreign secretary in charge of MI6 at the time of the illegal assassination plot against Gaddafi in 1996, Rifkind of all people should know that the spies are “economical with the truth“.

In addition, as I’ve written before, many former top spies and police have admitted that they misled lied to the ISC. Sure, Rifkind has managed to acquire some new powers of oversight for the ISC, but they are still too little and 20 years too late.

This mirrors what has been going on in the US over the last few years, with senior intelligence official after senior official being caught out lying to congressional committees.  While in the UK statements to the ISC have to date not been made under oath, statements made to the US Congress are – so why on earth are apparent perjurers like Clapper and Alexander even still in a job, let alone not being prosecuted?

It appears that the US is learning well from its former colonial master about all things official secrecy, up to and including illegal operations that can be hushed up with the nebulous and legally undefined concept of “national security”, the use of fake intelligence to take us to war, and the persecution of whistleblowers.

Except the US has inevitably super-sized the war on whistleblowers. While in the UK we started out with the 1911 Official Secrets Act, under which traitors could be imprisoned for 14 years, in 1989 the law was amended to include whistleblowers – for which the penalty is 2 years on each charge.

The US, however, only has its hoary old Espionage Act dating back to 1917 and designed to prosecute traitors. With no updates and amendments, this is the act that is now rolled out to threaten modern whistleblowers working in the digital age. And the provisions can go as far as the death penalty.

President Obama and the US intelligence establishment are using this law to wage a war on whistleblowers. During his presidency he has tried to prosecute seven whistleblowers under this Espionage Act – more than all the previous presidents combined – and yet when real spies are caught, as in the case of the Russian Spy Ring in 2010, Obama was happy to cut a deal and send them home.

An even more stark example of double standards has emerged this August, when a leak apparently jeopardised an ongoing operation investigating a planned Al Qaeda attack against a US embassy in the Middle East. This leak has apparently caused immediate and quantifiable damage to the capabilities of the NSA in monitoring terrorism, and yet nobody has been held to account.

But, hey, why bother with a difficult investigation into leaking when you can go after the low-hanging fruit – otherwise known as principled whistleblowers who “out” themselves for the public good?

This to me indicates what the US intelligence infrastructure deems to be the real current issue – “the insider threat” who might reveal crucial information about state crimes to the world’s population.

And yet the US representatives still trot out the tired old lines about terrorism. Senator Lindsey Graham stated this week that the current level of endemic surveillance would have prevented 9/11. Well, no, as previous intelligence personnel have pointed out. Coleen RowleyTime Person of the Year 2002 – is famous for highlighting that the US intelligence agencies had prior warning, they just didn’t join the dots. How much worse now would this process be with such a tsunami of data-mined intelligence?

In summary, it’s good to see at least a semblance of democratic oversight being played out in the USA, post-Snowden. It is a shame that such a democratic debate is not being held in the UK, which is now the key enabler of the USA’s chronic addiction to electronic surveillance.

However, I fear it is inevitably too little too late. As we have seen through history, the only protection against a slide towards totalitarianism is a free media that allows a free transfer of ideas between people without the need to self-censor.  The global US military-security complex is embedded into the DNA of the internet. We cannot rely on the USA to voluntarily hand back the powers it has grabbed, we can only work around them as Brazil has suggested it will do, and as the EU is contemplating.

Other than that, responsibility for our privacy rests in our own hands.

Dearlove Doublethink

Published on Consortium News, RT Op-Edge, and The Real News Network.

In a sensational article in a UK newspaper last weekend, the former head of the UK’s foreign intelligence gathering agency, MI6, appears to have broken the code of omerta around the fraudulent intelligence case used as the pretext for the Iraq war in 2003.

DearloveSir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 and current Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, contacted the UK’s Mail on Sunday newspaper to state that he had written his version of the (ab)use of intelligence in the run-up to the US/UK invasion of Iraq.  With the long-awaited and much-delayed official Chilcot Enquiry into the case for war about to be published, Dearlove is obviously aware that he might be blamed for the “sexing up” of the intelligence, and that Teflon Tony Blair might once again shuffle off all responsibility.

You’ll no doubt have some vague recollection that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the British government produced a couple of reports “making a case for war”, as Major General Michael Laurie said in his evidence to the enquiry in 2011: “We knew at the time that the purpose of the [September] dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence, and that to make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence the wording was developed with care.”

The first such report, the September Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed “sex up” the case for war as the deceased Iraqi weapons inspector Dr David Kelly exposed. It also included the fraudulent intelligence about Saddam Hussein trying to acquire uranium from Niger. It was this latter claim that Colin Powell used to such great effect at the UN Security Council.


Also, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy” Dossier, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Internet, but containing nuggets of raw MI6 intelligence – was presented by spy and politician alike as ominous premonitory intelligence.

Most memorably in the UK, it led to the bogus “Brits 45 minutes from Doom” front-page headline in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper, no less, on the eve of the crucial war vote in Parliament.

Interestingly from a British legal position, it appears that Tony Blair and his spin doctor Alastair Campbell released this report without the prior written permission of the head of MI6, which means that they would appear to be in breach of the UK’s draconian secrecy law, the Official Secrets Act (1989).

Thus was made the dodgy case for war.  All lies – millions of deaths and many more maimed, wounded, and displaced, yet no one held to account.

Subsequently, there was also the notorious leaked Downing Street Memo, where Sir Richard Dearlove was minuted as saying that the intelligence and facts were being fitted around the [predetermined war] policy.

On July 23, 2002 at a meeting at 10 Downing Street, Dearlove briefed Tony Blair and other senior officials on his talks with his American counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet, in Washington three days before.

In the draft minutes of that briefing, which were leaked to the London Times and published on May 1, 2005, Dearlove explains that George Bush had decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”  While then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dearlove explains matter-of-factly, “the intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”

Tony_BlairThere is no sign in the minutes that anyone hiccuped — much less demurred — at ”making a case for war” and furthering Blair’s determination to join Bush in launching the kind of “war of aggression” outlawed by the post-world war Nuremberg Tribunal and the UN treaty.

The acquiescence of the chief spies helped their political masters mainline into the body politic unassessed, raw intelligence and forged documents, with disastrous consequences for the people of Iraq and the world.

Yet Dearlove long remained unrepentant. Even as recently as 2011, post-retirement and bloated with honours, he continued to deny culpability. When questioned about the Downing Street Memo during an address to the prestigious Cambridge University Union Society by the fearless and fearsomely bright student, Silkie Carlo, Dearlove tried grandiloquently to brush her aside.

But were the remarks in the Memo really “taken out of context” as Dearlove tried to assert? No – the text of the Memo was clear and explicit.

So Dearlove could potentially have saved millions of lives across the Middle East if he had gone public then, rather than now as he is threatening, with his considered professional opinion about the intelligence facts being fitted around a preconceived war policy.

Would it not be lovely if these retired servants of the crown, replete with respect, status and honours, could actually take a stand while they are in a position to influence world events?

Doing so now, purely to preserve his reputation rather than to preserve lives, is even more “ethically flexible” than you would normally expect of an average MI6 intelligence officer. Perhaps that is why he floated to the top of the organisation.

Dearlove is right to be worried about how both Chilcot and history will judge him.  These intelligence failures and lies have been picked over and speculated about for years. They are an open secret.

But holding the gun of disclosure to the UK government’s head smacks of desperation.  He is quoted as saying that he has no plans to breach the Official Secrets Act by publishing his memoirs. But by publishing an account of the run-up to the Iraq war, he would be still guilty of a breach of the OSA. It has been established under UK law that any unauthorised disclosure crosses the “clear bright line” of the law. And Dearlove seems well aware of this – his original plan was for his account to be made available after his death.

Rectum_DefendeI can see why he would plan that – firstly he would not risk prosecution under the draconian terms of the OSA, but his account would, in his view, set the record straight and protect his reputation for posterity.  A posthumous win-win.

The official motto of the UK spies is “Regnum Defende” – defence of the realm. Serving intelligence officers mordantly alter this to “Rectum Defende” – politely translated as watch your back.

Dearlove seems to be living up to the motto.  He must be one very frightened old man to be contemplating such premature publication.

With credit and thanks to former CIA analyst, current truth-teller and general pain in the “regnum” to the intelligence establishment, Ray McGovern, and also Sander Venema for his elegantly classical reworking of the final image.

Spies need more oversight, not new powers

Published on, and Huffington Post UK.

Following the awful murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last week, the political securocrats who claim to represent the interests of the British intelligence services have swung into action, demanding yet further surveillance powers for MI5 and MI6 “in order to prevent future Woolwich-style attacks”.

As I’ve written before, it was heartening that the UK Prime Minister said in the aftermath of the attack that there would be no knee-jerk security reaction. However, that has not deterred certain intelligence sock-puppets from political opportunism – they stridently call for the resurrection of the draft Communications Data Bill that was earlier this year kicked into the long grass. If the hawks are successful, the new law would have implications not only for our freedoms at home, but also for our policy and standing abroad.

Recently the civil liberties camp acquired a surprising ally in this debate, with MI5 unexpectedly entering the fray.  And rightly so. There is absolutely no need for this new legislation, the requisite powers are already in place. Senior security sources have argued that those citing the Woolwich attack to promote the snoopers’ charter are using a “cheap argument”.

As I said in this recent BBC radio interview, all the necessary laws are already in place for MI5 either to passively monitor or aggressively investigate persons of interest under the original terms of IOCA (1985) and updated in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA 2000).

There now appears to be little doubt that the two Woolwich suspects were well and truly on the MI5 radar. It has been reported that they had been targets for at least 8 years and that Michael Adebolajo had been approached to work as an agent by MI5 as recently as 6 months ago.

One of his friends, Abu Nusaybah, recorded an interview for BBC’s Newsnight programme last week, only to be arrested by counter-terrorism police immediately afterwards. He stated that Adebolajo had been tortured and threatened with rape after his arrest in Kenya en route to Somalia, and that this treatment may have flipped him into more violent action. Indeed, the tale gets ever murkier, with reports yesterday stating that Adebolajo was snatched by the SAS in Kenya on the orders of MI5.

Other information has since been released by the organisation CagePrisoners indicating that Adebolajo’s family and friends had also been harrassed to pressurize him into reporting to MI5.

All of which obviates the early claims that Adebolajo was either a “lone wolf” or a low-priority target. It certainly indicates to me that MI5 will have at the very least been monitoring Adebolajo’s communications data, especially if they were trying to recruit him as a source. If that indeed turns out to have been the case, then without doubt MI5 will also have been intercepting the content of his communications, to understand his thinking and assess his access. Anything less would have been slipshod – a dereliction of duty – and all this could and should have been done under the existing terms of RIPA.

So what are the chances of some real oversight or answers?

If we’re talking about an independent inquiry, the chances are slim: the Inquiries Act (2005) passed little noticed into law, but it means that the government and the department under investigation can pretty much determine the scope and terms of the inquiry to which they are subject.

However, might we nail the flag of hope to the mast of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) – the committee tasked with overseeing the work of the UK intelligence agencies? The new DG of MI5, Andrew Parker, has already submitted a written report about Woolwich and will be giving evidence to the ISC in person next week about whether MI5 missed some vital intelligence or dropped the ball.

Th ISC of Parliament was established as part of the Intelligence Services Act (1994) – the law that finally brought MI6 and GCHQ under the umbrella of notional democratic oversight. MI5 had already come into the legal fold with the Security Service Act (1989).

As I have written before, initially the ISC was a democratic fig-leaf – its members were appointed by the PM not Parliament, it reported directly to the PM, and its remit only covered the policy, finance and administration of the UK’s intelligence agencies.

Until this year the ISC could not investigate operational matters, nor could it demand to see documents or question top spooks under oath. Indeed, it has been well reported that senior spies and police have long evaded meaningful scrutiny by being “economical with the truth”.

Former MI5 DG Sir Stephen Lander in 2001 said “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the committee early on“; a more recent DG, Sir Jonathan Evans, had to admit in 2008 that MI5 had lied about its involvement in torture; and Lord Blair, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had to apologise in 2008 for misleading the ISC about the number of thwarted terrorist attacks on his watch.

However the current Chair of the ISC, Sir Malcom Rifkind, has pursued a more muscular oversight role. And it seems he has at least won some battles. The one good element to have come out of the contentious Justice and Security Act (2013) appears to be that the ISC has more direct accountability to Parliament, rather than just to the PM (the devil is expressed in the detail: the ISC is now “of” Parliament, rather than “in” Parliament…).

Somewhat more pertinently, the ISC can now investigate operational matters, demand papers and witnesses, and it appears they now have a special investigator who can go and rummage around the MI5 Registry for information.

It remains to be seen how effective the ISC will realistically be in holding the intelligence agencies to account, even with these new powers. However, Sir Malcolm Rifkind has good reason to know how slippery the spies can be – after all, he was the Foreign Secretary in 1995/6, the years when MI6 was funding Al Qaeda associates to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi of Libya.  The attack went wrong, innocent people were killed and, crucially, it was illegal under UK law, as MI6 had not requested the prior written permission for such a plot from the Foreign Secretary, as required under Section 7(1) of the aforementioned ISA (1994). Rifkind has always claimed that he was not told about the plot by MI6.

So, in the interests of justice let us hope that the Rifkind and the other members of the ISC fully exercise their powers and that MI5’s new DG, Andrew Parker is somewhat more frank about the work of his agency than his predecessors have been. It is only through greater honesty and accountability that our intelligence agencies can learn from the mistakes of the past and better protect our country in the future.

Lies, damned lies, and newspaper reporting…

Also on the Huffington Post UK, RT, The Real News Network, nsnbc, and Information Clearing House:

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.

Thomas_FingarDr 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.

Amelia_HillSo 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:

Dear Sir

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 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

The Free Speech Debate

My recent interview for the excellent Oxford University Free Speech Debate project, run by Professor Timothy Garton Ash.  I discuss whistleblowing, the Official Secrets Act, Wikileaks and much more:

The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

Part Two of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:

21st Century Pacificism (The Old Stuff)

The_ScreamI have always been ideologically opposed to war and all the horrors that flow in its wake: agonising fear and death, famine, displacement, maiming, torture, rape, internment and the breakdown of all the hard-won values of civilised human law and behaviour.

Looking back, I think that was partly why I was attracted to work in diplomacy and how I ended up being enticed into intelligence. These worlds, although by no means perfect, could conceivably be seen as the last-ditch defences before a country goes bellowing into all-out war.

I marched against the Iraq war, toured the UK to speak at Stop the War meetings, worked with Make Wars History, and have ceaselessly spoken out and written about these and related issues.

Alastair_Campbell_1Today in the UK we have reached a consensus that Blair’s government lied to the country into the Iraq war on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction, and subsequently enabled the Bush administration to do the same in the USA, hyping up the threat of a nuclear Iraq using false intelligence provided by MI6.

Millions of people marched then, and millions of people continue to protest against the ongoing engorgement of the military/intelligence complex, but nothing ever seems to change.  It’s democratically disempowering and an enervating experience.  What can we do about it?

I have a couple of suggestions (The New Stuff), but first let’s look at some of the most egregious current fake realities.

David_CameronLast year we had the spectacle of the current No 10 incumbent, Dave Cameron, stating that the Libyan intervention would be nothing like Iraq – it would be “necessary, legal and right”. But there was no subsequent joined-up thinking, and Blair and his cronies have still not been held to account for the Iraq genocide, despite prima facie breaches of international war law and of the Official Secrets Act….

Abdelhakim-BelhajBut help might be at hand for those interested in justice, courtesy of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader, MI6 kidnapping and torture victim, and current military commander in Tripoli.

After NATO’s humanitarian bombing of Libya last year and the fall of Gaddafi’s regime, some seriously embarrassing paperwork was found in the abandoned office of Libyan Foreign Minister and former spy head honcho, Musa Kusa (who fled to the UK and subsequently on to Qatar).

These letters, sent in 2004 by former MI6 Head of Terrorism and current BP consultant, Sir Mark Allen, gloatingly offer up the hapless Belhaj to the Libyans for torture.  It almost seems like MI6 wanted a gold star from their new bestest friends.

Belhaj, understandably, is still slightly peeved about this and is now suing MI6. As a result, a frantic damage-limitation exercise is going on, with MI6 trying to buy his silence with a million quid, and scattering unattributed quotes across the British media: “it wasn’t us, gov, it was the, er, government….”.

Which drops either (or both) Tony Blair and Jack Straw eyebrow-deep in the stinking cesspit. One or other of them should have signed off on Belhaj’s kidnapping, knowing he would be tortured in Tripoli. Or perhaps they actually are innocent of this….. but if they didn’t sign off on the Belhaj extraordinary kidnapping, then MI6 was running rampant, working outside the law on their watch.

Either way, there are serious questions to be answered.

Jack_StrawBoth these upstanding politicians are, of course, suffering from political amnesia about this case. In fact, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary at the time of the kidnapping, has said that he cannot have been expected to know everything the spies got up to – even though that was precisely his job, as he was responsible for them under the terms of the Intelligence Security Act 1994, and should certainly have had to clear an operation so politically sensitive.

In the wake of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, what worries me now is that exactly the same reasons, with politicians mouthing exactly the same platitudinous “truths”, are being pushed to justify an increasingly inevitable strike against Iran.

Depressing as this all is, I would suggest that protesting each new, individual war is not the necessarily the most effective response.  Just as the world’s markets have been globalised, so manifestly to the benefit of all we 99%-ers, have many other issues.

Unlike Dave Cameron, we need to apply some joined-up thinking.  Global protest groups need to counter more than individual wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Sudan (North and South), Syria, Iran…… sorry, I’m getting writer’s cramp just enumerating all the current wars.

Give me a while to overcome my moral spasm, and I shall return with a few suggestions about possible ways forward – 21st Century Pacifism; the New Stuff.


Mediafabric talk, Prague, October 2011

Last October I had the pleasure of speaking at the excellent Mediafabric conference in Prague.  The focus of my talk was the future of intelligence, whistleblowing and journalism.

The event was organised by Sourcefabric, an international organisation that provides open source tools and solutions for journalists, so it was an eclectic and stimulating crowd of journalists, geeks, hacktavists and designers.   So well done and thank you to the organisers.

Here’s the video:

Journalists need to wise up to secrecy laws


I had a fantastic time at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kiev last weekend.  A huge  well done to the organisers for a great four days, and I loved having the chance to meet so many interesting and interested people from across the world!

I was invited to give the opening keynote speech (video to follow), where I discussed some of my experiences from the MI5 whistleblowing years, but then went on to apply the harsh lessons learned to the current situation vis a vis the issue of spy influence on the media today and the thorny issue of whistleblowing and the protection of sources.

Part of my talk focused on the control of the media by the spies in Britain.  As I have written before, this is very much a “carrot and stick” scenario: the soft aspect, of course, being cosy chats with selected journalists, well-timed career-enhancing scoops, as well as an increasingly unhealthy journalistic dependence on briefings coming out of the intelligence world and government.

The stick aspect includes the battery of harsh laws that can be called upon to suppress free reporting in the UK, which sometimes leads to self-censorship by the media.  These laws include:

Beginning_of_trialHow do I know all this?  Well, as you can see from many of the links in the above list, I’ve lived through much of this and have followed with great interest similar and related cases over the years.  More information about these issues can be found in this excellent report produced by Article 19 and Liberty over a decade ago.  The situation has not improved.

While in Kiev I attended an excellent session where two Russian journalists discussed the ramifications of reporting on the modern incarnation of the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB.

I was somewhat startled to hear that even in Russia journalists have more legal protection than those in the UK – ie they face no criminal legal sanction if they report whistleblower material from the Russian spy agencies.  In the UK journalists potentially face 2 years in prison for doing so, under the invidious Section 5 of the 1989 OSA.

Way to go, British democracy.

The Official Secrets Act – when will the British media learn?

I have been watching with a certain cynical interest the unfolding of Operation Weeting, one of the plethora of Metropolitan Police investigations into the UK phone hacking scandal, involving many of our favourite players: shady private investigators, predatory journalists, bent coppers, and politicians contorting themselves in an effort to protect both their own reputations and their Friends in High Places.  And the ripples are spreading internationally.  Nothing like a little bit of globilisation….

Rupert_and_Rebekah The Guardian newspaper has made most of the early running in exposing the corrupt practices of the now defunct News of the Screws, highlighting all the dubious tabloid practices of hacking, blagging, pinging, and god knows what else.  All this done with the help of bottom-feeding private investigators, but also manifestly with the help of corrupt police officers who were not averse to the idea of taking a bribe to help their friends in Wapping.  And how far might this "trickle down corruption" might have gone, um,  up?

Despite the self-righteousness of other UK newspapers, it has also now become apparent that these dubious and potentially illegal practices were common throughout Fleet Street, and other national newspapers are also under investigation.

And yet it appears that all this could have been nipped in the bud over a decade ago, when Steven Nott, a concerned British citizen, tried to expose the vulnerability of mobile phones after he stumbled across the practice by accident.  He took his findings to a variety of national newspapers, all of whom seem to have initially thought there was a good story, but every time the news was buried.  Well, I suppose it would be, wouldn't it – after all, why would hacks expose a practice that could be so useful?

But back to the dear old OSA and the media.

Police_news_international In yesterday's Observer newspaper, it was reported that the police have threatened the journalists at The Guardian with the Official Secrets Act (1989) to force them to disclose the identity of their source amongst the police officer(s) in Operation Weeting who leaked useful information to the newspaper to help its exposure of illegal practices.  And, rightly, the great and the good are up in arms about this draconian use of a particularly invidious law:

"John Cooper, a leading human rights lawyer and visiting professor at Cardiff University, echoed Evans's concerns. "In my view this is a misuse of the 1989 act," Cooper said. "Fundamentally the act was designed to prevent espionage. In extreme cases it can be used to prevent police officers tipping off criminals about police investigations or from selling their stories. In this instance none of this is suggested, and many believe what was done was in the public interest.

"Cooper added: "The police action is very likely to conflict with article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of speech."

But I think he's missing a bit of recent legal history here.  The UK had the 1911 OSA which was supposed to protect the country from espionage and traitors, who faced 14 years in prison upon conviction.  Needless to say this provision was rarely used – most of the cold war Soviet moles in the establishment were allowed to slink off to the USSR, or at the very most be stripped of their "K".

However, as I've written before, the revised 1989 OSA was much more useful for the establishment.  It was specifically put in place to stop whistleblowing after the embarrassment of the 1980s Clive Ponting/Belgrano case. 

Ponting The new act was specifically designed to strip away the "public interest" defence used by Ponting in his trial, and also to penalise journalists who had the temerity to report leaks and whistleblowing from the heart of the establishment.  The OSA (1989) has been used extensively since the late 1990s, despite the fact that many senior figures in the former Labour government opposed its provisions when it went through Parliament.   Journalists are just as liable as whistleblowers or "leakers" under the provisions of this act (the infamous Section 5).

So, back to The Guardian and its legal champions.  I agree with what they are saying: yes, the 1989 OSA  has a chilling effect on freedom of speech that unduly victimises both the whistleblower and the journalist; yes, it is a uniquely draconian law for a notional Western democracy to have on its books; yes, there should be a defence of "acting in the public interest"; and yes, the OSA should be deemed to be incompatible with Section 10(2) of the European Convention of Human Rights, guaranteeing free speech, which can only be circumscribed in the interests of "national security", itself a legally undefined, nebulous, and controversial phrase under British law.

David_Shayler_High_Court But if all the outraged lawyers read up on their case law, particularly the hearings and legal dogfights in the run up to Regina v Shayler cases, they will see that all these issues have been addressed, apparently to the satisfaction of the honourable m'luds who preside over British courts, and certainly to the establishment figures who like to use the OSA as their "get out of jail free" card.

So I wish The Guardian journalists well in this confrontation.  But I have to say, perhaps they would not have found themselves in this situation today vis a vis the OSA if, rather than just a few brave journalists, the media institutions themselves had put up a more robust fight against its provisions during its bastard birth in 1989 and its subsequent abuse.

It has been reported today that the police may have downgraded their investigation to a purely criminal matter, not the OSA.  Whatever happens does not obviate the need for the media to launch a concerted campaign to call for reform of the invidious OSA.  Just because one of their own is no longer threatened does not mean the chilling threat of this law has gone away.  As Martin Luther King said while imprisoned in 1963:

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

I would also suggest the new generation working in the British media urgently read this excellent booklet produced by John Wadham of Liberty and Article 19 way back in 2000 Download Article_19_Liberty_on_OSA_2000,  to remind themselves of fundamental arguments against draconian legislation such as the OSA and in favour of the freedom of the press.

Spies and the Media – my recent talk at the Centre for Investigative Journalism

Here's the film of my talk at the recent summer school at the Centre for Investigative Journalism in London a month ago:


Many thanks to Gavin and the rest of the CIJ team for such a stimulating and thought-provoking weekend!