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 coöper­a­tion 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 façade 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.”