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 Fein, 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 Fein.

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 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 debacle 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)