Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)


Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP).

Pro­hib­i­tion has nev­er worked, as proven through­out his­tory. 

Around the world many judges, law­yers, officers from the police, cus­toms, and intel­li­gence organ­isa­tions, as well as many oth­er experts, are chal­len­ging the failed concept of the “war on drugs”.   This policy, in place for dec­ades now in many coun­tries des­pite its mani­fest, abject and repeated fail­ure, crim­in­al­ises great swathes of our pop­u­la­tions, causes health prob­lems, social prob­lems and untold suf­fer­ing, and funds organ­ised crime and ter­ror­ist groups, rather than provid­ing poten­tially enorm­ous tax rev­en­ue to the state. 

It is time for a mature, calm debate about the issue, rather than hys­ter­ic­al, tabloid head­lines.

I am hon­oured to be one of this group speak­ing out.


LEAP State­ment of Prin­ciples

1. LEAP does not pro­mote the use of drugs and is deeply con­cerned about the extent of drug abuse world­wide. LEAP is also deeply con­cerned with the destruct­ive impact of viol­ent drug gangs and car­tels every­where in the world. Neither prob­lem is remedied by the cur­rent policy of drug pro­hib­i­tion. Indeed, drug abuse and gang viol­ence flour­ish in a drug pro­hib­i­tion envir­on­ment, just as they did dur­ing alco­hol pro­hib­i­tion.

2. LEAP advoc­ates the elim­in­a­tion of the policy of drug pro­hib­i­tion and the inaug­ur­a­tion of a replace­ment policy of drug con­trol and reg­u­la­tion, includ­ing reg­u­la­tions impos­ing appro­pri­ate age restric­tions on drug sales and use, just as there are age restric­tions on mar­riage, sign­ing con­tracts, alco­hol, tobacco, oper­at­ing vehicles and heavy equip­ment, vot­ing and so on.

3. LEAP believes that adult drug abuse is a health prob­lem and not a law-enforce­ment mat­ter, provided that the abuse does not harm oth­er people or the prop­erty of oth­ers.

4. LEAP believes that adult drug use, how­ever dan­ger­ous, is a mat­ter of per­son­al free­dom as long as it does not impinge on the free­dom or safety of oth­ers.

5. LEAP speak­ers come from a wide diver­gence of polit­ic­al thought and social con­science and recog­nize that in a post-pro­hib­i­tion world it will take time to strike a prop­er reg­u­lat­ory bal­ance, blend­ing private, pub­lic and med­ic­al mod­els to best con­trol and reg­u­late “illi­cit drugs.” LEAP speak­ers are free to advoc­ate their view of bet­ter post-pro­hib­i­tion stratagems without toe­ing a LEAP “party line.”

6. LEAP recog­nizes that even in a post-pro­hib­i­tion world, still, drugs can be dan­ger­ous and poten­tially addict­ive, requir­ing appro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tion and con­trol. Even in a free-mar­ket eco­nomy, reas­on­able reg­u­la­tion for the pur­poses of pub­lic health is a long-stand­ing, accep­ted prin­ciple. Such reg­u­la­tion must not allow cas­u­al, unfettered or indis­crim­in­ate drug sales.

7. LEAP believes that gov­ern­ment has a pub­lic health oblig­a­tion to accur­ately ascer­tain the risks asso­ci­ated with the use of each “illi­cit drug” and a duty to clearly com­mu­nic­ate that inform­a­tion to the pub­lic by means of labeling and warn­ings sim­il­ar to what is done regard­ing food, tobacco, alco­hol and medi­cine.

8. LEAP believes that an inor­din­ate num­ber of people have been mis­guidedly incar­cer­ated for viol­a­tion of zero-tol­er­ant, non­vi­ol­ent, con­sen­su­al “drug crimes.” The end of drug pro­hib­i­tion will allow those per­sons to be promptly released, to have their record of con­vic­tion expunged, and their civil rights com­pletely restored. How­ever, the repeal of drug pro­hib­i­tion does not imply the exon­er­a­tion from charges for con­nec­ted offenses, such as viol­ent crimes, gun crimes, theft, or driv­ing under the influ­ence of drugs. Fur­ther­more, LEAP believes that people using alco­hol or oth­er drugs must be held account­able for any mis­be­ha­vi­or, which harms oth­er people or prop­erty of oth­ers, while under the influ­ence of mind-alter­ing sub­stances.

9. LEAP believes that per­sons suf­fer­ing from drug abuse afflic­tions and addic­tion, who want help, should be provided with a vari­ety of help, includ­ing drug treat­ment and drug main­ten­ance, even for unin­sured addicts. LEAP believes that with an end to drug pro­hib­i­tion and regained con­trol of crim­in­al justice expendit­ures, a frac­tion of those sav­ings would be more than suf­fi­cient to pay for expan­ded addic­tion ser­vices.

10. LEAP recog­nizes that dif­fer­ent “illi­cit drugs” pose dif­fer­ing risks of harm. As such, in a post-pro­hib­i­tion world, LEAP recog­nizes that an appro­pri­ate set of reg­u­la­tions and con­trol for one sub­stance may not be a suit­able or suf­fi­cient reg­u­la­tion and con­trol for anoth­er sub­stance. LEAP believes that the nation states of the world and vari­ous states with­in the United States must be giv­en the reg­u­lat­ory lat­it­ude to try new mod­els that wisely bal­ance the notions of free­dom over one’s own body with the need for com­mon sense reg­u­la­tion of drugs to reduce death, dis­ease, addic­tion and harm.




The murder of Pat Finucane

Mov­ing swiftly past the pruri­ent, thigh-rub­bing glee that most of the old media seems to be exhib­it­ing over the alleged details of Juli­an Assange’s love life, let’s re-focus on the heart of the Wikileaks dis­clos­ures, and most import­antly the aims under­pin­ning them: trans­par­ency, justice, and an informed cit­izenry liv­ing with­in fully-func­tion­ing demo­cra­cies.  Such quaint notions.

In the media mael­strom of the Cableg­ate dis­clos­ures, and the res­ult­ing infant­ile and thug­gish threats of the Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al class, is easy to lose sight of the fact that many of the leaked doc­u­ments refer to scan­dals, cor­rup­tion and cov­er-ups in a range of coun­tries, not just the good old US of A.

Pat_FinucaneOne doc­u­ment that recently caught my atten­tion related to the notori­ous murder twenty-one years ago of civil rights act­iv­ist, Pat Finu­cane, in North­ern Ire­land.  Finu­cane was a well-known law­yer who was shot and killed in front of his wife and three small chil­dren.  There has long been spec­u­la­tion that he was tar­geted by Prot­est­ant ter­ror­ist groups, in col­lu­sion with the NI secret police, the army’s notori­ous and now-dis­ban­ded Forces Research Unit (FRU), and/or MI5.

Well, over a dec­ade ago former top plod, Lord (John) Stevens, began an inquiry that did indeed estab­lish such state col­lu­sion, des­pite hav­ing his inquiry offices burnt out in the pro­cess by person/s allegedly unknown half-way through the invest­ig­a­tion.  Stevens fought on, pro­du­cing a damning report in 2003 con­firm­ing the notion of state col­lu­sion with Irish Loy­al­ist ter­ror­ist activ­it­ies, but nev­er did cla­ri­fy exactly what had happened to poor Pat Finu­cane.

How­ever, Finu­cane’s trau­mat­ised fam­ily has nev­er stopped demand­ing justice.  The recent dis­clos­ure shines a light on some of the back-room deals around this scan­dal, and for that I’m sure many people thank Wikileaks.

The “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land — such a quint­es­sen­tially Brit­ish under­state­ment, in any oth­er coun­try it would have been called a civil war — were decept­ive, murky and vicious on both sides.  “Col­lu­sion” is an elast­ic word that stretches bey­ond the strict notion of the state.  It is well-known that the US organ­is­tion, NORAID, sup­por­ted by many Amer­ic­ans claim­ing Irish ances­try, was a major fun­drais­ing chan­nel for, um, Sinn Féin, the polit­ic­al wing of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA, from the 1970s onwards. 

Peter_kingSuch net­works provided even more sup­port than Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya with his arms ship­ments, and the cash well only dried up post‑9/11.  As you can see in this recent art­icle in the The Tele­graph, even the incom­ing Chair­man of the House Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, New York Con­gress­man Peter King (who iron­ic­ally called for the des­ig­na­tion of Wkileaks as a “for­eign ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion”) appears to have been a life long sup­port­er of Sinn Féin.

With this in the back of our minds, it appears that Dub­lin and Wash­ing­ton kept push­ing for a full inquiry into Finu­cane’s murder — and in 2005 it looked like MI5 would finally co-oper­ate

How­ever, the dev­il was in the detail. Coin­cid­ent­ally, 2005 was the year that the UK gov­ern­ment rushed through a new law, the Inquir­ies Act, which scan­dal­ously allowed any depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion (in this case MI5) to dic­tate the terms and scope of the inquiry. 

Col­lu­sion by any state in the unlaw­ful arrest, tor­ture, and extraju­di­cial murder of people — wheth­er its own cit­izens or oth­ers — is state ter­ror­ism.  Let’s not mince our words here.  Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al provides a clear defin­i­tion of this concept.

As the The Guard­i­an  art­icle about Finu­cane so succintly puts it:

When a state sanc­tions the killing of cit­izens, in par­tic­u­lar cit­izens who are law­yers, it puts the rule of law and demo­cracy in jeop­ardy. And when a state enlists aux­il­i­ary assas­sins, it cedes its mono­poly over state secrets: it may feel omni­po­tent, but it is also vul­ner­able to dis­clos­ure.”

Mercenaries1Indeed.  North­ern Ire­land was like a Petri dish of human rights abuses: tor­ture, Dip­lock courts (aka mil­it­ary tribunals), kid­nap­pings, curfews, shoot-to-kill, inform­ers, and state col­lu­sion in assas­sin­a­tions.

The infec­tion has now spread.  These are pre­cisely the tac­tics cur­rently used by the US, the UK and their “aux­il­i­ary assas­sins” across great swathes of the Middle East.  Per­haps this explains why our nation states have been out­flanked and have ceded their mono­poly over secrets.

Will justice ever be done?  In the past I would have said, sadly, that would be highly unlikely.  How­ever,  cour­ageous organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks and its ilk are improv­ing the odds.

BBC Radio4 Woman’s Hour, 1 December 2010

Fun and games dis­cuss­ing the role of the female MI5 intel­li­gence officer, and the organ­isa­tion’s ongo­ing attempts to recruit them.  The oth­er guest on the show was MI5’s offi­cial his­tor­i­an, Chris­toph­er Andrew.

Link to the BBC Radio4 Woman’s Hour show.

Reg­u­lar as clock­work, this story comes around every few years as you can see from this inter­view I did for The Inde­pend­ent in 2006.  This sug­gests to me that MI5 not only has a prob­lem recruit­ing female spooks, but also can­’t keep hold of them!

The Ghost of Daniel Ellsberg

Pentagon_papers This is an excel­lent art­icle from a European tech­no­logy strategist and futur­ist.  It suc­cinctly sums up all that is wrong with the old medi­a’s cov­er­age of the Wikileaks story over the last year, where people obsess about the tech­no­logy, the web­site and the per­son­al life of Juli­an Assange.

As the art­icle says, we should be focus­ing on the core issues: illeg­al wars, war crimes, murder, tor­ture, cor­por­ate and polit­ic­al cor­rup­tion, and dip­lo­mat­ic dupli­city.

Let’s address the mes­sage, not attack the mes­sen­ger, and cer­tainly not the medi­um.



RTTV interview — in defence of Wikileaks

On 6 Decem­ber I appeared on RTTV’s CrossTalk dis­cus­sion pro­gramme along­side whis­tleblow­ing UK ex-dip­lo­mat Carne Ross, to talk about the implic­a­tions of Wikileaks:



Secrecy laws come out of the closet

Finally the true inten­tions behind the dra­coni­an Brit­ish law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act, and sim­il­ar espi­on­age-related laws in oth­er coun­tries such as the USA, have been laid bare.  All is revealed — these laws appar­ently have noth­ing what­so­ever to do with pro­tect­ing nation­al secur­ity and coun­ter­ing espi­on­age — their primary pur­pose is to stifle dis­sent and legit­im­ate cri­ti­cism of the state.

How can I tell?  Well, look at the reac­tion to the ongo­ing Wikileaks rev­el­a­tions, as opposed to today’s UK spy scan­dal involving the par­lia­ment­ary assist­ant of a hitherto unre­mark­able MP

WikileaksThe now-notori­ous Wikileaks site has been going since 2007 and, in this brief time, has shone a bright light on such nas­ties as Trafigura, the BNP, Sci­ento­logy, Cli­mateg­ate, Guantanamo, the Aus­trali­an inter­net black­list, Sarah Pal­in, and much more.

The site achieved world-wide notori­ety this year with four big stor­ies — start­ing with the har­row­ing film “Col­lat­er­al Murder”, which demon­strated clearly that the Pentagon had been lying to the dis­traught fam­il­ies of the vic­tims of this video-game nasty for years. 

Since then Wikileaks has clev­erly worked with selec­ted media oulets such as The Guard­i­an, The New York Times and Der Spiegel in Ger­many to give us the Afghan War logs and Iraq war files, which exposed endem­ic bru­tal­ity, tor­ture and war crimes (all in the name of spread­ing demo­cracy, of course), and cul­min­at­ing over the last week with the ongo­ing Cableg­ate expose.

The response?  Well the major­ity of the old media, par­tic­u­larly those that did­n’t share in the juicy scoops, has been in attack mode: con­demning whis­tleblow­ing; vil­i­fy­ing the char­ac­ter of Wikileaks spokes­per­son, Juli­an Assange; and glee­fully report­ing the wide­spread cyber­space crack­down (Amazon pulling the site, Payp­al stop­ping con­tri­bu­tions, the ongo­ing hack attacks). 

But this is just so much hot air — what about the real sub­stance of the dis­clos­ures?  The viol­ent hor­ror, war crimes, and gov­ern­ment lies?  Why is our so-called Fourth Estate not demand­ing a response to all this ter­rible evid­ence?

Julian_AssangeHow­ever, it is the reac­tion of the US polit­ic­al class that is most gob-smack­ingly shock­ing.  The half-wits call for Assange’s pro­sec­u­tion under the US Espi­on­age Act (even though he’s an Aus­trali­an); to have him executed, assas­sin­ated by drone attack, or unlaw­fully dis­ap­peared as an “unlaw­ful com­batant”; and make hys­ter­ic­al calls for Wikileaks to be placed on the US list of pro­scribed for­eign ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions.  Daniel Ells­berg, the fam­ous Pentagon Papers whis­tleblower, fears for Assange’s life.

Well, you can always tell how effect­ive a whis­tleblower is by the response you engender when telling truth to power, and this is a pretty strik­ing vin­dic­a­tion.

Of course, Juli­an Assange is not strictly speak­ing a whis­tleblower per se.  He is the next gen­er­a­tion — a highly-cap­able, high-tech con­duit, using his “hack­iv­ist” skills to out-pace and out-smart those who seek to con­ceal vital inform­a­tion.

As he said dur­ing a TED​.com inter­view last sum­mer, he strives to live by the ideal that to be a man is to be “cap­able and gen­er­ous, not to cre­ate vic­tims, but to nur­ture them…”.  And this is indeed the pro­tec­tion Wikileaks offers, an aven­ue of secure dis­clos­ure for people of con­science on the inside, without their hav­ing to go pub­lic to estab­lish the bona fides of what they are say­ing, with the res­ult­ing vic­tim­isa­tion, loss of career, liberty, and pos­sibly life.

Still, politi­cians seem unable to make the dis­tinc­tion — they are solely focused on loss of face, embar­rass­ment, and shor­ing up the wall of secrecy that allows them to get away with lies, tor­ture and war crimes.  I hope that com­mon sense will pre­vail and Assange will not become anoth­er sac­ri­fi­cial vic­tim on the altar of “nation­al secur­ity”.

Katia_ZSo why did I say at the start that the secrecy laws have come out of the closet?  Well, in the wake of all this recent media and polit­ic­al hys­teria about Wikileaks, this little espi­on­age gem appeared in the UK media today.   Essen­tially, the UK Home Sec­ret­ary is boot­ing out an alleged Rus­si­an spy, Ms Katia Zat­uliv­eter who, des­pite get­ting through secur­ity vet­ting (MI5, any­one?), was really an SVR agent  work­ing as the Par­lia­ment­ary assist­ant to Mike Han­cock MP — a man who hap­pens to have a spe­cial interest in Rus­sia and who serves on the UK’s Par­lia­ment­ary Defence Select Com­mit­tee.

Now, in the old days such alleged activ­ity would mean an auto­mat­ic arrest and prob­able pro­sec­u­tion for espi­on­age under the Offi­cial Secrets Acts (1911 and 1989). If we go with what the old media has repor­ted, this would seem to be a clear-cut case.  Dur­ing the Cold War for­eign spies work­ing under dip­lo­mat­ic cov­er could be dis­creetly PNGed (the jar­gon for declar­ing a dip­lo­mat per­sona non grata).  How­ever, this young woman was work­ing in Par­lia­ment, there­fore can have no such dip­lo­mat­ic cov­er.  But deport­a­tion and the avoid­ance of embar­rass­ment seems to be the order of the day — as we saw also with the explu­sion of the Rus­si­an spy ring from the US last sum­mer).

Which demon­strates with a start­ling clar­ity the real inten­tions behind the Brit­ish OSA and the Amer­ic­an Espi­on­age Act.  The full force of these laws will auto­mat­ic­ally be brought to bear against those expos­ing crime in high and secret places, pour enour­ager les autres,  but will rarely be used against real spies. 

Proof pos­it­ive, I would sug­gest, that these laws were draf­ted to pre­vent cri­ti­cism, dis­sent and whis­tleblow­ing, as I’ve writ­ten before, but not mean­ing­fully to pro­tect our nation­al secur­ity.  One can but hope that the Wikileaks débâcle acts as the long-over­due final nail in the OSA coffin.

Would it not be won­der­ful if our “esteemed” legis­lat­ors could learn from recent events, draw a col­lect­ive deep breath, and finally get to grips with those who pose a real threat to our nations — the people who lie to take us into illeg­al wars, and intel­li­gence officers involved in tor­ture, assas­sin­a­tion and espi­on­age?

Pastor Martin Niemoeller Updated

First they came for the Irish in the 1980s,

But I was not Irish so I did not speak up.

Then they came for the Muslims after 9/11,

But I was not a Muslim, so I did not speak up.

Then they came for the “domest­ic extrem­ists”,

But I was not an act­iv­ist, so I did not speak up.

Then they came for me;

and there was nobody left to speak up for me.


And here’s the ori­gin­al.

Sunday Telegraph Article, August 2010

Below is text of an art­icle I wrote, pub­lished in The Sunday Tele­graph a while ago about what it’s actu­ally like to enter the won­der­ful world of spy­ing (just in case it’s ever air­brushed out of his­tory!):

My so-called life as a spy”

Spies have always loved liv­ing in Pimlico: a civ­il­ised area in cent­ral Lon­don, handy for strolling to the office, and won­der­fully con­veni­ent for that mid­night dash to work if your oper­a­tion sud­denly goes live. Plus, the loc­al pubs are pretty good for the cus­tom­ary after-work moan.

Pimlico_flatI lived there myself when I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5 in the 1990s, so the murder of Gareth Wil­li­ams in a nearby street gave me a bit of a jolt. While his death remains shrouded in mys­tery, what has been repor­ted of his life sounds like clas­sic GCHQ.

There are dis­tinct cul­tures with­in each of the three major UK spy agen­cies: MI5, the UK domest­ic secur­ity ser­vice; MI6, the over­seas intel­li­gence organ­isa­tion; and GCHQ, the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions HQ.

MI6 officers, as people who may have to work inde­pend­ently and under­cov­er abroad, tend to be con­fid­ent, indi­vidu­al­ist­ic and “eth­ic­ally flex­ible”, while MI5 officers need to co-ordin­ate a broad range of resources and people to run an oper­a­tion, which requires great­er team-build­ing. Of the three agen­cies, GCHQ remains the most secret­ive and inward-look­ing, and is staffed pre­dom­in­antly with “boffin” types. Wil­li­ams, with his math­em­at­ic­al skills and loner tend­en­cies, would be a typ­ic­al employ­ee.

Des­pite the intel­li­gence com­munity present­ing a united front to the out­side world, cul­ture clashes between the three agen­cies are com­mon­place. Staff on second­ment between agen­cies – as Wil­li­ams was, from GCHQ to MI6 – can have a rough time fit­ting into a new envir­on­ment, work­ing with col­leagues who eye them with sus­pi­cion, as the divi­sions jockey for power, prestige and resources with­in White­hall.

So what is life like work­ing as a spy? The world of intel­li­gence is not so much isol­at­ing as insu­lat­ing. Even as you pro­ceed through the con­vo­luted recruit­ment pro­cess, you find your­self enter­ing a par­al­lel uni­verse, one that exists along­side your every­day life.

Thames_House_Millbank_EntranceFrom that first, explor­at­ory meet­ing with an intel­li­gence officer in an unmarked build­ing in cent­ral Lon­don, you have to with­draw a little from your old exist­ence. You are asked not to tell your fam­ily and friends, and imme­di­ately have to sign a noti­fic­a­tion of the rig­or­ous terms of the Offi­cial Secrets Act, whereby if you talk about your work, you risk impris­on­ment.

The pro­cess of induc­tion into this world is intriguing, flat­ter­ing and seduct­ive. The agen­cies tend to avoid the James Bond wan­nabes, and those inspired by the fake glam­our of Spooks. The key motiv­a­tion is gen­er­ally want­ing to do a job that can make a dif­fer­ence, pro­tect the coun­try and poten­tially save lives. The secret ele­ment adds spice and per­haps com­pensates for the anor­ex­ic pay. When I star­ted work­ing for MI5 in 1991, at the fast-track gradu­ate level, the start­ing salary was £14,500 pa – a good £5,000 less than my peer group from Cam­bridge earned in their blue-chip jobs. The pay has improved some­what since then, but you don’t become a spy for the money.

The vet­ting pro­cess is pro­trac­ted. For MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, officers are required to have the highest clear­ance – Developed Vet­ting. This begins with a home vis­it. Dis­con­cert­ingly, I soon found myself in the fam­ily sit­ting room being grilled about my sex life by a little, grey-haired lady who looked just like a favour­ite grand­moth­er, until you looked into her eyes.

Then the pro­cess widens. I had to nom­in­ate four friends who were will­ing to be inter­viewed about me, and they were asked to sug­gest yet more people… so secrecy becomes impossible. One friend, of a Left-wing hue, dis­ap­proved of my recruit­ment; even those who were sup­port­ive were reluct­ant to ask me too much. As I couldn’t talk to them freely about my life, they felt increas­ingly shut out, so I lost old friends along the way.

The_spy_who_loved_meUnsur­pris­ingly, new officers begin to social­ise increas­ingly with their col­leagues, and close friend­ships grow rap­idly. With­in this clique, we could talk shop at din­ner parties, use the same slang and ter­min­o­logy, dis­cuss our work, and whinge about our bosses. With out­siders, we could nev­er be fully ourselves. This, inev­it­ably, often led to more than friend­ships. What might oth­er­wise be called office romances flour­ished. I met my former part­ner, Dav­id Shayler, when we were both in our first post­ing in MI5.

Such rela­tion­ships were not exactly encour­aged, but were gen­er­ally seen as a good thing by man­age­ment – unless, of course, it was a clandes­tine mat­ter that could leave the officer vul­ner­able to black­mail. Such affairs were seen as vet­ting offences.

Among spies, an old double stand­ard held firm. There was one couple who were caught in flag­rante in the office, not once but twice. The male officer was put on “garden­ing leave” for six months; the woman was sacked.

For the first few weeks in the job, the feel­ing of unreal­ity and dis­lo­ca­tion is strong. The only sol­id inform­a­tion you have about your new pos­i­tion, as you walk into the office for the first time, is the grade at which you will be work­ing – noth­ing else.

My first post­ing was to the small counter-sub­ver­sion sec­tion, F2. Even though it was a desk job, the inform­a­tion I was deal­ing with came from sens­it­ive sources: inter­cep­ted com­mu­nic­a­tions, reports from agents who had pen­et­rated tar­get groups, police reports. And yet, with­in a few weeks, the hand­ling of such secret and intrus­ive inform­a­tion became entirely nor­mal.

Invest­ig­a­tions can be very fast-paced, par­tic­u­larly in the counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Gen­er­ally, officers work reg­u­lar hours but occa­sion­ally, if an oper­a­tion goes live, you work around the clock. If it proves a suc­cess, there might be a news item on the tele­vi­sion about it – but obvi­ously without the full back story. That can be a sur­real exper­i­ence. You feel pride that you’ve achieved what you signed up to do, but you can­not dis­cuss it with any­body out­side the office. At such moments, the dis­con­nect from main­stream life is intensely sharp.

Regnum_DefendeHow­ever, when some­thing goes wrong – a bomb goes off in which civil­ians die – the feel­ings are even more intense. Guilt, anger, frus­tra­tion, and a scramble to ensure that the blame doesn’t attach to your sec­tion. The offi­cial motto of MI5 is Regnum Defe
nde – defence of the realm. Staff mord­antly used to joke that it should more accur­ately be Rectum Defende.

Per­son­al secur­ity also ensures that there is a con­stant bar­ri­er between you and the nor­mal world. If you meet someone inter­est­ing at a party, you can­not say too much about what you do, and such reti­cence can appear unfriendly. The cov­er story that MI5 officers use is that they work as civil ser­vants at the Min­istry of Defence; for MI6, it is the For­eign Office. This usu­ally stops people from ask­ing too much more, either through dis­cre­tion or, frankly, bore­dom. Once or twice, people pushed me for more inform­a­tion, and my para­noia anten­nae imme­di­ately began to twitch: why are they so inter­ested? Are they spies or, God for­bid, journ­al­ists?

I had the mis­for­tune once of using this cov­er story at a party, only to find my inter­locutor actu­ally worked for the real Min­istry of Defence, and wanted to know which sec­tion I worked in, who my col­leagues were, how long I had been there… Thank­fully, the magic word “Box” – slang used to describe MI5 with­in White­hall, derived from the organisation’s old PO Box 500 num­ber – brought that line of con­ver­sa­tion to an abrupt halt.

As an intel­li­gence officer, you quickly learn to be dis­creet on the tele­phone and in emails. Oblique con­ver­sa­tions become the norm, and this bleeds into your per­son­al life, too, much to the frus­tra­tion of friends and fam­ily.

The inter­net is anoth­er chal­lenge. As a “spook”, the last thing you want to see is your pho­to­graph on a friend’s Face­book page. Or, even worse, hol­i­day snaps show­ing you in your Speedos, as the cur­rent head of MI6, Sir John Saw­yer, found to his cost last year.

And what about when you come to leave the intel­li­gence ser­vice, as I did after five years. Can you ever really have a nor­mal life after­wards, and shake off the mind­set?

Many of my former col­leagues have left and built careers in a wide vari­ety of areas. But I won­der how many still look auto­mat­ic­ally over their shoulders as they put their key in the front door; how many tear up paper before throw­ing it in the bin; and how many are reflex­ively reti­cent about their per­son­al life?

Would I want to be a spy these days? No, thank you. I’m hap­pi­er in the real world.

* Annie Machon is the author of Spies, Lies and Whis­tleblowers (Book Guild)