TrebleThink: the new American hypocrisy

George Orwell is just so old-world, retro and quaintly British.  Gone are the days of simple DoubleThink.  The Americans inevitably had to supersize the concept.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was last week speaking at the George Washington University about political activism and freedom of expression:


Now we appear to have entered the realm of TrebleThink.

McGovern_injuries1 McGovern_injuries2At the meeting Ray McGovern, army veteran, long-term CIA analyst, and now internationally-renowned peace activist chose to exercise his right to freedom of expression by standing up and silently turning his back on Clinton during her speech.

For his pains 71-year-old McGovern sustained painfully injuries while being forcibly removed by nameless "security personnel", before ending up in a tiny police cell.  On his eventual release he had to take a taxi to hospital for treatment.

Hillary Clinton did not even stumble over her words during McGovern's arrest.

The startling hypocrisy of Clinton's speech is clear on three different fronts:

1) She is defending the rights of activists in the Middle East to speak out against corrupt governments, while ignoring the brutalisation of a fellow citizen for silently using those very rights in America.

2) She's doing so while speaking out about the vital role of internet freedoms – indeed standing behind a podium with the words "Internet Freedom" written on it – in informing citizens and spreading democracy.  Yet at the same time a secretly-convened US Grand Jury is frantically scrabbling around for any pretext whatsoever to prosecute Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.  And yet another is investigating attacks against the collaborating US corporations that pulled the plug on Wikileaks support last year.  Ironically, on the same day as Clinton's speech, Twitter was in court fighting US government attempts to obtain personal information of alleged Wikileaks supporters.  No doubt Clinton would condemn the former Egyptian government if it had done the same thing.

3) And let's not forget that the USA is hosting the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day this year too.  This was announced on the very day Julian Assange was arrested in the UK.

The hypocrisy is flagrant. As I said, welcome to the world of TrebleThink.  You read it here first….


BBC article: could 7/7 have been prevented?

Peter Taylor, a respected journalist at the BBC, argues that if there had been more cooperation between MI5 and regional police Special Branches, then the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005 could have been prevented.  His thesis appears to be that MI5 did not work closely enough with the police (the executive branch) of the UK’s intelligence community: the aptly-named Operation Crevice has exposed the cracks in the unified public facade of the UK intelligence community.

However, Taylor assures us that this problem is in the past, with MI5 officers and Special Branch police now happily working side by side in regional offices across the UK.  So that’s OK then.

It continues to surprise me that seasoned British journalists repeatedly fall into the post-9/11 group-think of the USA – that terrorism is a new phenomenon.  Rather startlingly, Taylor’s article even asserts that the FBI had the Crevice information in real-time, while the West Yorks SB was left in the dark.

Those in the UK with a memory longer than a mayfly’s will be aware that this country endured 30 years of Irish Republican terrorism, and during the 1990s MI5 had lead responsibility for investigating this threat.  So from 1993 the spooks did indeed work side-by-side with their regional SB counter-parts across the country.  During this period the emphasis was on gathering both intelligence to pre-emptively thwart terrorist plots and also evidence to use in the ensuing court cases.  And there were some notable successes.

So what changed in the following decade?  Did the spooks retreat back behind the barricades of their London HQ, Thames House, as the ink dried on the Good Friday Agreement?  Were the hard-won lessons of the 1990s so quickly forgotten?

Well, certainly other lessons from the civil war in Nortern Ireland appear to have been expunged from the collective intelligence memory.  For example, the use of torture, military tribunals, internment and curfews were all used extensively in the early years of the NI conflict and all were spectacularly counter-productive, acting as a recruiting ground for new generations of terrorists.  Yet these practices now once again appear to be implicitly condoned by MI5 and MI6 in the USA’s brutal “war on terror”.

So one would hope that this new BBC programme calls for a reappraisal of our intelligence infrastructure.  Why should we mindlessly continue to accept the status quo, when this results in lessons being forgotten and mistakes being repeated?  How about the BBC calling for a root and branch review of the threats the UK realistically faces, and the most efeective way to guard against them, while working within the democratic process?



Cambridge Union Society Talk on PSTV, January 2011

Paradigm Shift TV (Sky 201 and 203)  produced this film of my talk at the Cambridge Union Society in January 2011:

With thanks to Keith and Steve!

Durham Union Society Talk, 16 February 2011

DUS_logo It's a busy couple of months for talks, and I have the pleasure of speaking at the Durham Union Society tomorrow night (16th February).

My talk will be focusing on the modern role of intelligence agencies, the war on terror, what it's like to be recruited to work as a spook, whistleblowing, Wikileaks, police states and civil liberties.  An eclectic mix.

The talk is open to all students, not just members of the Union, so if you're in the area and have the time, do come along!

New attack on Wikileaks

I read this rather worrying article in The Independent today.  I know that this is refracted through the mainstream media, but if it is accurate….

Why am I so concerned?  Well, the article appears to show that vital coding to enable secret submissions from potential whistleblowers across the world was removed from the Wikileaks site a few months ago.

Now, unfortunately I’m not a geek, but I presume this means that potential whistleblowers have been unable to submit information to Wikileaks over the last few months – just at the time when the website hit the global consciousness.

But the worst case scenario would be if, just when potential whistleblowers are most likely to have become aware of the site and want to use it, the protection of anonymity was unexpectedly and surreptitiously removed from the website when they make submissions.

Either way, we urgently need clarification.

Varsity newspaper interview, February 2011

The Secret Service: “A very British mess”

Olivia Crellin interrogates Annie Machon on her life after MI5

by Olivia Crellin

Thursday 3rd February 2011

Annie Machon, former MI5 agent, is the image of glamour and guts. Her blonde hair, of the bombshell variety, frames a face that, far from being that of the reserved and stealthy spook, exudes energy, enthusiasm, and openness.

Andrew_Griffin_Varsity_Newspaper_2011Unlike her former partner, the whistleblower David Shayler, Machon seems to have emerged relatively unscathed from the years immediately following the couple’s attempts to reveal serious MI5 blunders in 1996.

Now working as a self-professed “author, media pundit, journalist, campaigner and prominent public speaker”, she has made a “new way of life” out of selling herself, her past, and her story. And she’s doing a good job.

Machon, who studied Classics at Cambridge, is the most recent in a long line of famous spies to have emerged from the University – most notably the Cambridge Spies who defected to the Russians during the Cold War.

Best known for her whistle-blowing on issues such as MI5’s alleged involvement in the attempted assassination on Gaddafi, Machon is an oft-consulted expert on current affairs topics such as Wikileaks, the infiltration of activist groups, and the 9/11 Truth Movement, critiquing what she sees as contemporary society’s descent into a “police state”.

Commenting on the “very British mess” that is the current UK Intelligence Services, Machon’s answers to my questions blend personal anecdote with hard-hitting assertions. She sounds convincing. Despite no longer having any insider information, she still has plenty to say.

Recruited during the “marginally golden ethical era” of the 1990s, Machon’s experience of MI5 was nevertheless riddled with antiquation, confusion, insularity and suffocation.

Drawing attention to MI5 and MI6’s “culture of just-follow-orders”, an ethos that former head of MI5 Dame Stella Rimington also acknowledged, Machon believes that the UK Intelligence Services have, for a long time, been their own worst enemy.

Entrenched in unnecessary laws, a “hangover” from the organisation’s counter-espionage origins, Machon states that until the spooks “open up a little bit to constructive criticism from the other side, so that [MI5] can get a bit of fresh air, they’re going to spiral down into… torture and things.”

While Machon asserts that there was no use of torture in her time with the agency – it was considered “counter-productive” and “unethical” – she did hear some horror stories from the older boys’ experience in Northern Ireland including one case concerning an agent, codenamed Steak Knife, who was permitted to torture and even kill his fellow intelligence officers in order to keep his cover in the “Nutting Squad” of the IRA – “A sick James Bond gotten out of hand.”

Machon refers to these stories as “a sort of petri dish of the abuses that we are seeing now with the Muslim community”. Just as the trend to target one group of society returns, the use of torture, as experienced in Ireland, comes full circle. “It makes me shiver,” Machon tells me, “that people who were perhaps my friends, idealistic twenty-somethings when I was an officer, who I might’ve had drinks with, had dinner with, whatever, might be those people now.”

While there seems to be a “democratic will” to get rid of “some of the more Draconian laws from under the last government”, Machon believes that instances such as Mark Kennedy’s undercover infiltration of an activist group demands society to take a closer look at the ways in which we protect national security. “Once you start eroding someone’s civil liberties on one front, it’ll cascade. That’s how Germany found itself in a Fascist state in the 1930s,” the former-spy asserts. “They didn’t wake up one morning and Hitler was in power. It’s a very slippery slope.” This is why Machon, above all other issues, is calling for an “adult debate” about the workings of Secret Intelligence in a “mature democracy”.

One organization that Machon sees as contributing to this debate is Wikileaks. Machon praised this form of new media, calling it “fantastic” as a “high-tech conduit to enable whistleblowers” in contrast to the “self-censorship and fear” of the mainstream press, which blocks the flow of such information to the public.

Machon advised students at the Cambridge Union to find alternative sources of information for their news, citing countries’ deceptive use of false-flag terrorism. “I’m not saying that every major terrorist atrocity might be a dirty trick, but you have to keep that possibility in the back of your mind,” she warned.

“It’s all about a sort of breach of trust,” Machon concludes, which is “corrosive for a democracy.” Whether it’s an issue like 9/11, or the bailing out of the banks or the war in Iraq, Machon asserts that the erosion of civil liberties is finally forcing society to “become democratically engaged again, which cannot be bad.”

In many ways Annie Machon is serving her country as stealthily and determinedly as if she had never left MI5. Taking the “same sort of fundamental drive to try and make a difference, to try and change things for the better,” into this new arena of her work, she hands me a red-and-black business card with her shades-toting self on it and the phrase “Using Our Intelligence” emblazoned on the front.

“There’s always the debate,” she tells me cryptically, “is it better to be inside the tent pissing out or outside the tent pissing in?”

Cambridge Union Society, 28th January 2011

CUS_3Well I had a fab time revisiting the old place last week to do a talk at the Union Society – somewhere I spent many happy hours, oh, aeons ago!

Many thanks to Rebecca and the rest of the team for organising and hosting the event, and to Silkie for setting the whole ball rolling.

It was a busy weekend.  The Friday evening began with an all-too-brief appearance at the first meeting of a new group, MI7 – can I say that, or is it a state secret? – organised by Silkie and Charlie Veitch of the Love Police

CUS_1It was strange to go back to the Union as a speaker after so long and so many unusual experiences.  The audience seemed to stay wide awake for my hour-long talk, and the questions afterwards were interesting, lively and varied.  I was also encouraged to see that ideas deemed to be "radical" only a few years ago are now going mainstream.

The next day was taken up with interviews for The Cambridge Student and Varsity student newspapers, Sky 203 Channel,  and a photo shoot with QH Photography for a gallery exhibition in London later this year.

The Cambridge Student journalists gamely allowed the interview to be film by Sky 203 – not the easiest of scenarios.

"Varsity" newspaper did a colourful and intelligent interview – thanks Olivia! – which was rapidly followed on the newspaper website today with this puff piece about MI6. 

I can only assume that this is merely balanced news reporting, especially as the Master of Pembroke College, Chair of the Trustee Board of the Union Society, and former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, will be speaking at the Union in a couple of weeks….. 

Cambridge_1Certainly an interesting juxtaposition!

The photo shoot was fun, and the results will be appearing in London at the end of this year.  As you can see from the photo on the left, Huy takes a mean picture.

I also ran into Ryan J-W Smith, who is in the process of completing his intriguing film, 2Plus2Makes4.  Limited private and festival screenings are expected this summer.

The film synopsis asks some fundamental questions:

"How close are we to sliding into Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare, ‘1984’? Controversial, shocking, powerful and honest – starring Tony Benn, Gore Vidal, former MI5, CIA, FBI agents, Senators, Presidential Nominees, etc.  A ‘Must-See’ feature documentary from award-winning filmmaker, Ryan J-W Smith. Smith’s previous films have received 16 International Film Festival Selections, 5 ‘Best Film’ Nominations, and 4 ‘Best Film’ wins."