The UK Spies: Ineffective, Unethical and Unaccountable

The text of my article for e-International Relations, March 2008:

The UK Intelligence Community: Ineffective, Unethical and Unaccountable

The USA and the UK are enmeshed in an apparently unending war of attrition – sorry peacekeeping – in Iraq.  Why? Well, we may remember that the UK was assured by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, in sincere terms, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction which could be deployed again British interests within 45 minutes.  Indeed the press was awash with “45 minutes from Armageddon” headlines on 18th March 2003, the day of the crucial war debate in the British parliament. The implication was that Britain was directly at threat from the evil Iraqis.

The US varied the diet.  George Bush, in his State of the Union address before the war, assured his nation that Iraq had been attempting to buy material to make nuclear weapons from Niger.  The American media and public fell for this claim, hook, line and sinker.

What do these two erroneous claims have in common?  Well, both were “sexed up” for public consumption.

We all know now that there never were any WMDs to be found in Iraq.  After 10 years of punitive sanctions, the country simply didn’t have the capability, even if it had the will, to develop them.  The Niger claim is even more tenuous.  This was based on an intelligence report emanating from the British Secret Intelligence Service (commonly know as SIS or MI6), which was based on forgeries.

We have had headline after screaming headline stating that yet another terrorist cell has been rounded up in Britain. The Ricin plot? The beheading of a British Muslim serviceman? The liquid bombs on airplanes?  Yet, if one reads the newspapers carefully, one finds that charges are dropped quietly after a few months.

So, why is this happening?  I can hazard a few guesses.  In the 1990s I worked for 6 years as an intelligence officer for MI5, investigating political “subversives”, Irish terrorists, and Middle Eastern terrorism.  In late 1996 I, with my then partner and colleague David Shayler, left the service in disgust at the incompetent and corrupt culture to blow the whistle on the UK intelligence establishment.  This was not a case of sour grapes – we were both competent officers who regularly received performance related bonuses.

However, we had grown increasingly concerned about breaches of the law; ineptitude (which led to bombs going off that could and should have been prevented); files on politicians; the jailing of innocent people; illegal phone taps; and the illegal sponsoring of terrorism abroad, funded by UK tax-payers.

The key reason that we left and went public is probably one of the most heinous crimes – SIS funded an Islamic extremist group in Libya to try to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1996.  The attack failed, but killed innocent people.  The attack was also illegal under British law.  The 1994 intelligence Services Act, which put SIS on a legal footing for the first time in its 80 year history, stated that its officers were immune from prosecution in the UK for illegal acts committed abroad, if they had the prior written permission of its political master – ie the Foreign Secretary.  In this case they did not.

So, the assassination attempt was not only immoral, unethical and highly reckless in a volatile area of the world, but also illegal under British law.

In August 1997 we went public in a national British newspaper about our concerns.  We hoped that the newly-elected Labour government would take our evidence and begin an investigation of the intelligence agencies.  After all, many Labour MPs had been on the receiving end of spook investigations in their radical youth.  Many had also opposed the draconian UK law, the Official Secrets Act (OSA 1989), which deprived an intelligence whistleblower of a public interest defence.

However, it was not to be.  I have no proof, but I can speculate that the Labour government did the spies’ bidding for fear of what might be on their MI5 files. They issued an injunction against David and the national press.  They failed to extradite him from France in 1998 but, when he returned voluntarily to face trail in the UK in 2000, they lynched him in the media.  They also ensured that, through a series of pre-trial legal hearings, he was not allowed to say anything in his own defence and was not able to freely question his accusers.  Indeed the judge ordered the jury to convict.

The whole sorry saga of the Shayler affair shows in detail how the British establishment will always shoot the messenger to protect its own interests.  If the British government had taken Shayler’s evidence, investigated his disclosures, and reformed the services so that they were subject to effective oversight and had to obey the law, they may well be working more efficiently to protect us from threats to our national’s security.  After all, the focus of their work is now counter-terrorism, and they use the same resources and techniques as the police.  Why should they not be subject to the same checks and balances?

Instead, MI5 and SIS continue to operate outside meaningful democratic control.  Their cultures are self-perpetuating oligarchies, where mistakes are glossed over and repeated, and where questions and independent thought are discouraged.  We deserve better.


Spies,Lies and Whistleblowers: MI5 and the David Shayler Affair

My book about the Shayler affair (including the MI6 plot to assasinate Col. Gaddafi) and my experiences as an Intelligence Officer in MI5.

I was invited on to “The Richard and Judy Show” in 2005 to talk about my book, and it is featured on the show’s website.

William Podmore was kind enough to review my work:

In this remarkable book, Annie Machon makes serious allegations against the British state’s intelligence services, MI5 and MI6. Ms Machon and her partner David Shayler are former high-ranking MI5 officers, both now retired from the service. The book’s allegations derive from their experiences and deserve at least to be the subject of inquiry.

She asserts that MI5 has illegally investigated thousands of British citizens for their political views; that there was collusion between the Army Forces Research Unit and loyalist terrorists; that MI5 failed to stop four major terrorist attacks in Britain, even though it had reliable evidence; and that MI5 and MI6 let a known Libyan terrorist into Britain and let him set up a terrorist network here.

She alleges that MI6’s counter-Iranian section used the Sunday Telegraph (and the journalists Con Coughlin, John Simpson and Dominic Lawson) to try to blame Iran for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, the destruction of flight PA103. MI6 was trying to deflect attention from the fact that it was actually a Libyan retaliation for the US bombing of Tripoli (backed by Thatcher) in 1986.

The book’s most significant allegation is that MI6 illegally paid tens of thousands of pounds to Al-Qa’ida in 1995-96 to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi and seize power in Libya. In the attempted coup, several innocent civilians and security police were killed. If this is true, MI6, a British state agency, sponsored our terrorist enemies in a conspiracy to murder, which resulted in the killing of innocent civilians.

But Blair refuses to hear any evidence against the intelligence services, and prosecutes and harasses critics and whistleblowers. The Intelligence and Security Committee, set up under the 1994 Intelligence Services Act to oversee the services, is no use, because it is appointed by and reports only to the Prime Minister.

The intelligence services should work under the rule of law and respect democratic rights. Terrorist suspects should be arrested and brought to trial under criminal law, not detained, or executed, without trial, as has happened in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

The intelligence services are supposed to protect us, but it would appear that they have instead connived in terrorism, putting us at greater risk of terrorist attack.

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) also highlighted it.

The book can be ordered through Amazon.

Lecture: What can we do to counter the Spies?

My CCC talk in Berlin in December 2007 about the role of Intelligence agencies in society.

In the name of protecting national security, spy agencies are being given sweeping new powers and resources. Their intelligence has been politicised to build a case for the disastrous war in Iraq, they are failing to stop terrorist attacks, and they continue to collude in illegal acts of internment and torture, euphemistically called “extraordinary rendition”. Most western democracies have already given so many new powers to the spies that we are effectively living in police states. As an informed community, what can we do about this?

Here is the presentation page on the CCC-2007-website. A video of the talk can be downloaded from the talk-page or watched directly through Google-video. I was honoured to receive a standing ovation at the end of my talk.  A write-up of the talk can be found here.  Enjoy!

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

This did make me laugh – The Onion News strikes again! Who says the Americans have no understanding of satire?

Diebold voting computers leak critical info, messing up the whole charade around the 2008 US Presidential election.