Here is my most recent RT interview, live as Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in a US prison for blowing the whistle and exposing war crimes:
Published in the Huffington Post UK:
Over the last week more sound, fury and indignation has cascaded forth from the US media, spilling into the European news, about the American government and the Associated Press spying scandal.
Last week it emerged that the US Department of Justice monitored the telephones of, gasp, journalists working at AP. Apparently this was done to try to investigate who might have been the source for a story about a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen. However, the dragnet seems to have widened to cover almost 100 journalists and potentially threatened governmental leakers and whistleblowers who, in these days of systematic security crackdowns in the US, are fast becoming Public Enemy No 1.
Now it appears that the US DoJ has been reading the emails of a senior Fox News reporter. And this has got the US hacks into a frightful tizz. What about the First Amendment?
Well, what about the fact that the Patriot Act shredded most of the US Constitution a decade ago?
Also, who is actually facing the security crackdown here? The US journalists are bleating that their sources are drying up in the face of a systematic witch hunt by the US administration. That must be hard for the journalists — hard at least to get the stories and by-lines that ensure their continued employment and the ability to pay the mortgage. This adds up to the phrase du jour: a “chilling effect” on free speech.
Er, yes, but how much harder for the potential whistleblowers? They are the people facing not only a loss of professional reputation and career if caught, but also all that goes with it. Plus, now, they are increasingly facing draconian prison sentences under the recently reanimated and currently much-deployed US 1917 Espionage Act for exposing issues in the public interest. Ex-NSA Thomas Drake faced decades in prison for exposing corruption and waste, while ex-CIA John Kiriakou is currently languishing in prison for exposing the use of torture.
The US government has learned well from the example of the UK’s Official Secrets Acts — laws that never actually seem to be wielded against real establishment traitors, who always seem to be allowed to slip away, but which have been used frequently and effectively to stifle dissent, cover up spy crimes, and to spare the blushes of the Establishment.
So, two points:
Firstly, the old media could and should have learned from the new model that is Wikileaks and its ilk. Rather than asset stripping the organisation for information, while abandoning the alleged source, Bradley Manning, and the founder, Julian Assange, to their fates, Wikileaks’s erstwhile allies could and morally should campaign for them. The issues of the free flow of information, democracy and justice are bigger than petty arguments about personality traits.
Plus, the old media appear to have a death wish: to quote the words of the former New York Times editor and Wikileaks collaborator Bill Keller, Wikileaks is not a publisher — it is a source, pure and simple. But surely, if Wikileaks is “only” a source, it must be protected at all costs — that is the media’s prime directive. Journalists have historically gone to prison rather than give away their sources.
However, if Wikileaks is indeed deemed to be a publisher and can be persecuted this way, then all the old media are equally vulnerable. And indeed that is what we are witnessing now with these spying scandals.
Secondly, these so-called investigative journalists are surprised that their phones were tapped? Really?
If they are doing proper, worthwhile journalism, of course their comms will be tapped in a post-Patriot Act, surveillance-state world. Why on earth are they not taking their own and their sources’ security seriously? Is it amateur night?
In this day and age, any serious journalist (and there are still a few honourable examples) will be taking steps to protect the security of their sources. They will be tooled up, tech-savvy, and they will have attended Crypto-parties to learn security skills. They will also be painfully aware that a whistleblower is a person potentially facing prison, rather than just the source of a career-making story.
If mainstream journalists are serious about exposing corruption, holding power to account, and fighting for justice they need to get serious about source protection too and get teched-up. Help is widely available to those who are interested. Indeed, this summer the Centre for Investigative Journalism is hosting talks in London on this subject, and many other international journalism conferences have done the same over the last few years.
Sadly, the level of interest and awareness remains relatively low — many journalists retain a naïve trust in the general legality of their government’s actions: the authorities may bend the rules a little for “terrorists”, but of course they will abide by the rules when it comes to the media.….
.…or not. Watergate now looks rather quaint in comparison.
As for me: well, I have had some help and have indeed been teched-up. My laptop runs the free Ubuntu Linux (the 64 bit version for grown-ups) from an encrypted solid state hard drive. I have long and different passwords for every online service I use. My mail and web server are in Switzerland and I encrypt as much of my email as possible. It’s at least a start.
And here’s what I have to say about why journalists should think about these issues and how they can protect both themselves and their sources: Opening keynote “The Big Dig Conference” from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
Published in The Huffington Post UK, 2 October 2012
Only in the mad world of modern British politics could it be possible to connect MPs, drones and royal breasts. Is this sounding a little too bizarre? Let me explain.…
Way back in 2008 Conservative MP Damien Green, who was at the time the Shadow Minister for Immigration, was arrested on suspicion of eliciting leaks from a Home Office civil servant that appeared to confirm the then Labour government was covering up UK immigration figures.
When I say arrested, this was not the standard, civilised and pre-arranged appointment at the local nick, which the police traditionally allow their political “masters” or, for that matter, their buddies at News International.
Oh no, this was a full-on, Cold War-style arrest, carried out by the Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism command (known in the old days as Special Branch). Intriguingly, civil servants appeared to have misleadingly hyped up the need for a heavy-handed police response by stating that they were “in no doubt that there has been considerable damage to national security already as a result of some of these leaks”.
And indeed, the resulting arrests bore all the hall-marks of a national security case: secret police, dawn raids, and counter-terrorism style searches of the family home, the constituency office, and — shock — an invasion of Green’s office in parliament.
Yet Green was not arrested under the terms of the Official Secrets Act. Instead, both he and his hapless whistleblower, Christopher Galley, were only seized on suspicion of breaching some arcane Victorian law (“aiding and abetting misconduct in public office”). I suppose arresting a sitting MP for a breach of the OSA would have been just too politically tricky.
Leaving aside the understandable upset caused to Green’s wife and children by the raid on their home, plus the fact that the police violated not only their personal effects such as bed sheets and love letters but also confidential legal papers about child abuse cases that Mrs Green was working on, what really caused outrage in the media and political classes was the fact that Plod had dared to invade the hallowed ground of parliament.
There was an outcry from politicians about the “encroaching police state”. The case was duly dropped, the senior officer, Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, had to resign (but only after committing yet another political gaffe), and other stories, such as the MP expenses scandal, grabbed the attention of the mainstream media.
Roll on four years, and Damien Green has now ascended to the giddy heights of Home Office Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice. Well, meeting his new staff must have been an interesting experience for him.
But what is this man now doing in his eminent role, to stop the slide into the encroaching police state that is the UK? Of all people, one would expect him to be sensitive to such issues.
Sadly, he appears to have already gone native on the job. It was reported yesterday that he is proposing the use of police drones to spy on the UK population, but in an “appropriate and proportionate” manner of course.
The concept of small aerial drones being used by UK police has been mooted for a few years now — indeed some police forces and security agencies have already bought them. But whereas the initial, standard justification was that it would help in the “war on terror” (as it has so ably done in the Middle East, where innocent families are routinely slaughtered in the name of assassinating militants), mission-creep has already set in. Damien Green stated at the launch of the new National Police Air Service (NPAS) that drones could be useful monitoring protests and traffic violations. It has even been reported that the Home Office plans to use non-lethal weapons to do so.
Of course there are problems around the use of drones in UK airspace. Our skies are already very crowded and they could present a hazard to aircraft, although the BBC has reported that drones could be airborne in the next few years. This appears to be the only argument holding the use of drones in check — forget about civil liberties and privacy issues.
This is particularly pertinent as we look at the evolution of drone technology. Currently the UK police are discussing toy-sized drones, but it has already been reported that drones the size of birds or even insects, with autonomous intelligence or swarm capabilities are being developed. And don’t even get me started on the subject of potential militarisation.…
There is a whole debate to be had about what can be viewed and what cannot — where does the public sphere end and the private begin? A couple of years ago I suggested somewhat facetiously that our best hope of defeating the introduction of surveillance drones in the UK might be indignant celebs suing the paparazzi for using the technologies. But perhaps the ante has already been upped in the recent fall-out from the Duchess of Cambridge and her royally papped breasts.
If drone technology becomes widespread, then nobody will have any privacy anywhere. But who knows, before we get to that stage perhaps HM Queen will come out swinging on the side of privacy for her granddaughter-in-law, if not for the rest of her “subjects”. If that were to happen then no doubt Damien Green will abandon his new-found enthusiasm for these airborne surveillance pests; if not to stop the “encroaching police state” of which he must have such colourful recollections, then at least to safeguard any potential knighthood in his rosy ministerial future.
The first case, the one hitting the headlines this week, is that of Jordanian-born alleged terrorist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged passport almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absentia of terrorist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in seven other countries for terrorist-related offences. He has been labeled Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been variously interned, placed under control order, and held in maximum security prisons.
The UK courts ruled that he should be deported to stand trial in his native country, but these rulings were recently overturned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had concerns that Jordanian diplomatic assurances that he would not be tortured could not be relied on, and that evidence against him in any retrial there might have been obtained using torture.
As a result, Mr Justice Mitting of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T-PIM (the new control order). This decision has predictably roused the frothing wrath of the Home Office and the readership of the Daily Mail. Politicians of all flavours have rushed out their sound bites condemning the ECtHR decision.
But can they not see that it is the complacency and the very disdain for law that the British political and intelligence infrastructure has displayed for the last decade that has created this mess in the first place? If, instead of kidnapping, torture, assassination, and indeed internment without trial within the UK, the rule of law had been followed, the country would not currently find itself in this legal quagmire.
There used to be a notion that you used due process to investigate a terrorist suspect as you would any other suspected criminal: gather the evidence, present the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, hold a trial in front of a jury, and work towards a conviction.
How quaintly old-fashioned that all seems today. Instead, since 9/11 and the inception of the hysterically brutal “war on terror” led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into prison for years on the secret word of anonymous intelligence officers, where even the suspects’ lawyers are not allowed to see the information against their clients. The British legal system has become truly Kafkaesque.
Which leads me to the second case. This was a quote in yesterday’s Guardian about the Abu Qatada ruling:
“The Conservative backbencher Dominic Raab echoed Blunkett’s anger: “This result is a direct result of the perverse ruling by the Strasbourg court. It makes a mockery of human rights law that a terrorist suspect deemed ‘dangerous’ by our courts can’t be returned home, not for fear that he might be tortured, but because European judges don’t trust the Jordanian justice system.””
In the case of Julian Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice system? While the Swedish judicial system may have an ostensibly more fragrant reputation than that of Jordan, 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, to bastardise the above quote, who now really trusts the American justice system?
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.
Forget about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech journalism that has exposed corrupt practices across the world over the years. The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retaliation for the embarrassment he has caused by exposing US double dealing and war crimes over the last decade, and no doubt as a dreadful example to deter others.
The alleged Wikileaks source, US soldier Private Bradley Manning, has been kept in inhumane and degrading conditions for well over a year and will now be court-martialed. The general assumption is that this process was designed to break him, so that he would implicate Assange and possibly other Wikileaks associates.
In my view, that means that any US trial of Assange could essentially be relying on evidence obtained under torture. And if Assange is extradited and and judicially rendered to the US, he too will face torturous conditions.
So, to summarise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight countries for terrorist offences, has already been convicted twice in his home country, but who cannot be extradited.
And on the other hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or convicted of anything, but is merely wanted for questioning on minor and apparently trumped up charges in another country, yet who has also been imprisoned in solitary confinement and held under house arrest. And it looks like the British authorities are happy to collude in his extradition.
Both these men potentially face a mistrial and both may potentially experience what is now euphemistically known as “degrading and inhumane treatment”.
But because one faces being sent back to his home country — now seen for the purposes of his case as a banana republic with a corrupt judicial system that relies on evidence extracted under torture — he shall probably not be extradited. However, the other faces being sent to an alien country well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judicial system oops, sorry, as a banana republic with a corrupt judicial system that relies on evidence extracted under torture.
The UK has become a legal laughing stock around the world and our judicial framework has been bent completely out of shape by the requirements of the “war on terror” and the rapidly developing corporate fascism of our government.
The UK is currently celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens. Perhaps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he discussed in one of his best-known novels, “A Tale of Two Cities”. Do we want our country to slide further down the path of state terrorism — a phrase adopted from the original Grande Terreur of the French Revolution?
We need to seize back our basic rights, the due process of law, and justice.
OK, so I’m a crap blogger — but I have to say that my access to the internet was severely limited during my travels across Canada! And then I had to go back to the UK, then NL.…
Canada was great — the first national speaking tour organised by the country’s 9/11 groups. And before you roll your eyes, these are citizens’ groups that are calling for a new enquiry — in response to a mountain of evidence from hundreds of credible experts around the world, who question the official account peddled by the 9/11 Commission.
Bearing in mind how the issue of 9/11 has been used and abused by our dear governments to justify the endless “war on terror”, the use of torture, the wars in the Middle East and the erosion of our freedoms at home, I think any concerned and responsible citizen should, at the very least, keep an open mind about this issue and do their own research. Especially as the 9/11 Commission was, in the words of its two chairs, Keane and Hamilton, “set up to fail”!
But back to the tour. Huge thanks go to Patrick, the national organiser of the tour, who had the vision and commitment to pull the whole thing together, as well as sort out all the logistics and arrange a constant flow of media interviews for me, of which more below. And of course to the organisers of the events: Elizabeth, Rukshana, Mark, JF, Michael, Adam, Adnan, Graeme, and all the other activists — too many to name individually.
I had to fly to Vancouver via Chicago O’Hare, which spooked me to begin with. I’ve been through that airport before and it has, in the past, lived up to its well-deserved reputation for power-crazed immigration officers. However, I got a real sweetie — we ended up having an interesting chat about the nature of democracy, before he cracked a smile and waved me through.
In comparison, Vancouver airport is a Zen experience — all native art installations and waterfalls. As I emerged blinking into the late afternoon sunshine (it was about 3am by my body clock), I was greeted by the Vancouver posse and whisked away in the Truth Bus to food, wine and another radio interview.
I did a series of radio and newspaper interviews the next morning (thanks, Rukshana’s mum for the use of the phone!), before being whisked off on a tour of Vancouver by Rukshana and Georgina. The city blew me away with its beauty — mountains up close, parks, sea and arty quarters. If it wasn’t so
damned close to the US border, I would be seriously tempted to move
At the end of the afternoon, I had a fab time being interviewed on Vancouver 1410 CFUN drivetime radio, before one more telephone interview and a well-earned glass of champagne at Georgina and Darren’s.
After this day of recovery, I was then invited onto the Bill Good Show the next morning. Bill is the grand old man of BC media, and he was a excellent interviewer. I had half an hour with him, and the show went out to over a quarter of a million people.
The meeting that night was a great success — I could feel the energy and interest of the audience as I spoke for 1 1/2 hours, and then had over an hour more of questions. I think it’s wrong for the media to say people are no longer interested in politics — they’re just not that interested in the established political hierarchies and systems.
If I had thought Vancouver lovely, the scenery was even more beautiful as I took the ferry down the bay to Victoria, past small wooded islands. Of course, that was the moment my camera decided to pack up…
I had a lovely couple of days in Victoria, pampered by Elizabeth and Brian, shown the beauties of the island and meeting a number of activists. I also had the pleasure of meeting Rowland Morgan, (co-author with Ian Henshall) of the excellent bestseller, “9/11 Revealed”.
I’d done a number of interviews before arriving on the island. The Victoria event was very well attended and I had a standing ovation at the end.
Then it was back to Vancouver for another hour-long interview on Co-op Radio and a pot luck supper with the activists, before flying off to Ottawa for the eastern leg of the tour. I arrived at midnight to be greeted by the lovely Marjorie and Cam, who hosted me for a couple of nights. My sleep was all too brief, as I had to get up at 4.30 to make a 6am radio interview.
The Ottawa event was smaller (I would say it was an extremely rainy night!), but perfectly formed. Despite this, the group seemed very enthused about putting on future events.
The next day brought a Greyhound bus ride up to Montréal. Such moments in life are when you wish you’d put Simon and Garfunkel on your I-pod. My 18 hours in Montréal were hectic — and we only just made it to the meeting on time, what with an excellent dinner and terrible traffic. The meeting was really vibrant. Afterwards, when everyone else was heading out to party, I had to slink back to my bed for a brief 4 hours sleep, before getting a train at 6.30 to Toronto.
I hit the ground running, with a lunchtime interview, then a peace demo in the city centre. Clinton and Bush Jr were in town, giving a talk to 5000 of the faithful who were flush enough to cough up between $200 and $5000 to hear their bien pensees. Independent media did a couple of good interviews with me. Shamefully, the Stop the War Toronto group only managed to rustle up about 1,000 protesters outside the conference centre, and then refused to give a platform to Splitting the Sky, a Canadian peace activist who had attempted to arrest Bush for war crimes when he visited Calgary in April, and who had himself been arrested for his pains. However, some other peace activists had some good coverage!
The next day, having caught up on some sleep at last, I had an excellent time at the Toronto university radio station, where we had a lively hour-long interview, before heading off to my event at the university.
Next stop, Waterloo University, where I did a round of interviews accompanied by the journalist and campaigner, Barrie Zwicker. The format that night changed to an interview on stage conducted by him, which worked really well.
The final stop of the tour was Hamilton where, after another all-too-brief night, I had three morning interviews — 2 on radio, and one recorded for the TV evening news. A lovely Lebanese lunch with a group of professors from the university followed, and then a much needed chance to sleep it off, before heading out to the final gig, organised by Professor Graeme MacQueen and hosted by Mohawk College. Well, they always say the last one is the best — and I had an amazing evening. Over an hour of talk, following by 1 1/2 hours of questions from an interested and informed audience.
So a great time in an amazing country. Thanks once again to all who made this tour such a success, and good luck with your future plans!
In January 2009 I was invited to talk at ETH0, a small but select hacker camp held in the wilds of the Netherlands. The crowd was young, hip, informed — and very interested in the use and abuse of intelligence and particularly the erosion of our most basic civil liberties. Events like this give me hope.
Some of the organisers are also involved in planning a major techno-political hacker festival, Hacking at Random, in NL this summer. An event not to be missed!
For context, here’s a little bit of background information about the UK’s spy agencies, and the legal constraints within which they are supposed to operate.
There are three primary agencies: MI5 (the UK Security Service), MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service — SIS) and GCHQ (the Government Communications HQ). Beyond this inner circle, there is the Metropolitan Police Special Branch (MPSB), the special branches of every other police force in the UK, military intelligence, and Customs, amongst others.
MI5 and MI6 were set up in 1909 during the build up to the First World War, when their remit was to uncover German spies. For the next 80 years they didn’t officially exist and operated outside the law.
In 1989 MI5 was put on a legal footing for the first time when parliament passed the Security Service Act. This stated that it had to work within legal parameters, and if it wanted to do something that would otherwise be illegal, such as breaking into and bugging someone’s house, it had to get the written permission of its political master, the Home Secretary. Without that, MI5 would be breaking the law just as you or I would be.
MI6 and GCHQ were not put on a legal footing until the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, and are answerable to the Foreign Secretary. The same Act also set up the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament as a sop to democratic oversight. The ISC is responsible for overseeing the policy, finance and administration of the three agencies. It has absolutely no remit to look at their operational running, nor can it investigate alleged crimes committed by them. Even if it could, the ISC has no power to call for witnesses or demand documents from the spooks. Moreover, the committee is appointed by the Prime Minister, answerable only to him, and he can vet its findings. Much of the ISC’s annual reports are blanked out.
When I was recruited by MI5 in the early 1990s, the organisation was at great pains to explain that it worked within the law, was accountable, and its work was mainly investigating terrorism. Once I began working there, this quickly proved to be untrue. MI5 is incompetent, it breaks the law, connives at the imprisonment of innocent people, illegally bugs people, lies to government (on whom it holds personal files) and turns a blind eye to false flag terrorism. This is why I resigned and helped to blow the whistle.
With all this hysteria about the threat from Al Qaeda, and the avalanche of new powers and resources being thrown at the spooks, as well the erosion of our liberties, we need to keep a cool head. Why don’t our politicians take a step back and ask what precisely are the scale and nature of the threats facing this country, and how can we best police them? As Sir Ian Blair recently showed, we cannot take the security forces’ words about this at face value.
There’s a lot of historic baggage attached to MI5 and 6, particularly after their dirty tricks against the left in the 1980s. As they are now primarily doing a policing job against terrorism, why not just clear the decks and start again? Set up a dedicated counter-terrorism agency, which is properly accountable to parliament, as the police already are and the spies are not.
As it stands the UK has the most secretive intelligence agencies in the western world. They are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, and protected by the draconian Official Secrets Act. The 1989 OSA makes it a criminal offence for anyone to blow the whistle on crimes committed by the spies, and it is no longer possible for a whistleblower to argue that they acted in the public interest.
No other western democracy has spies who are quite so unaccountable, nor so protected from scrutiny by the law. The closest analogies are probably the intelligence agencies of countries such as Libya or Iran. Particularly as we now know that MI5 and MI6 officers are conniving in extraordinary rendition and the use of torture.
Are they legal? Yes, now, in theory. Do they abide by the law? Only when it suits them. Are they ethical? Absolutely not.
An interesting article appeared in The Sunday Times today, stating that Britain’s top policeman, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Ian Blair, had “unwittingly” misled the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee about the need to increase the period of detention without charge for terrorist suspects in the UK from 28 to 42 days. Blair claimed that 12 major terrorist operations had been foiled in Britain since 2005. In fact, the article reports that only 6 plots have been stopped. Blair has had to issue a grovelling apology via the Press Association for this, umm, gaffe.
But the article neglects to tell us how and why this new information came to light. So allow me to speculate.
The Met, along with its shadowy cohorts in MI5, is entrusted with protecting Britain from terrorist threats. Since 9/11 and the all-pervasive war on terror, Britain’s security forces have been granted sweeping new powers, resources and a huge increase in staffing levels to do this job. To ensure this is justified, they are continually telling us of the huge threat we face from terrorism and how successful they are in protecting us. It is in their interests to talk this up.
Meanwhile, over on the south bank of the river, MI6 continues to suffer from the loss of prestige brought about by its mistakes and lack of good intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. There is no love lost between these three agencies, as they compete for power and resources. So, to use a good civil service phrase, I cannot rule out the possibility that someone in MI6 leaked this information to have a pop at the Met and MI5.
However, there is a more serious aspect to this incident. But for this information emerging, MPs and public alike would have had no way of knowing that the perceived threat from terrorism had been grossly inflated in order for the police to gain yet more powers. We would have had to take Sir Ian’s word.
Well, we’ve been here before many, many times, most notoriously when the intelligence agencies would have us believe that Saddam had WMD that could attack British interests with 45 minutes. This, of course, led to the Iraq war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
So how can we ensure we are told the truth by the spies? Well, greater accountability and effective parliamentary oversight would be a step in the right direction. But we don’t just need the correct mechanisms in place in parliament. We also need MPs with the knowledge, intelligence and integrity to ask the difficult questions when faced with bogus assertions.