Fake Intelligence

Here’s a recent inter­view I did for RT UK’s flag­ship news pro­gramme, Going Under­ground with Afsh­in Rat­tansi, about the whole fake news, fake intel­li­gence alleg­a­tions swirl­ing around Pres­id­ent Trump’ admin­is­tra­tion at the moment:

RT Going Under­ground — the Issue of US Fake Intel­li­gence from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Donald Trump v the Spooks

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News on 16 Janu­ary 2017.

The clash between plu­to­crat­ic Pres­id­ent-elect Trump and the CIA is shap­ing up to be the heavy-weight prize fight of the cen­tury, and Trump at least is approach­ing it with all the enter­tain­ing bom­bast of Mohammed Ali at the top of his game. Rather than fol­low­ing the tra­di­tion of doing dirty polit­ic­al deals in dark corners, more com­monly known as fix­ing the match, Trump has come out swinging in the full glare of the media.

In that corner we have a deal-mak­ing, bil­lion­aire “man of the people” who, to European sens­ib­il­it­ies at least, reputedly espouses some of the mad­der US domest­ic obses­sions and yet has seemed to offer hope to many aggrieved Amer­ic­ans. How­ever, it is his pro­fessed pos­i­tion on build­ing a rap­proche­ment with Rus­sia and cooper­at­ing with Moscow to sort out the Syr­i­an mess that caught my atten­tion and that of many oth­er inde­pend­ent com­ment­at­ors inter­na­tion­ally.

In the oppos­ite corner his oppon­ents have pushed the CIA into the ring to deliv­er the knock-out blow, but this has yet to land.  Des­pite jab after failed jab, Trump keeps evad­ing the blows and comes rat­tling back against all the odds. One has to admire the guy’s foot­work.

So who are the oppon­ents ranged behind the CIA, yelling encour­age­ment through the ropes? The obvi­ous cul­prits include the US mil­it­ary indus­tri­al com­plex, whose bot­tom line relies on an era of unend­ing war. As jus­ti­fic­a­tion for extract­ing bil­lions — even tril­lions — of dol­lars from Amer­ic­an tax­pay­ers, there was a need for fright­en­ing vil­lains such as Al Qaeda and, even more so, the head chop­pers of ISIS.  How­ever, since the Rus­si­an inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia in 2015, those vil­lains no longer packed so scary a punch, so a more endur­ing vil­lain, like Emmanuel Gold­stein, the prin­cip­al enemy in George Orwell’s “1984”, was required.  Rus­sia was the obvi­ous new choice, the old favour­ite from the Cold War play book.

The west­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies have a ves­ted interest in etern­al enemies to ensure both etern­al fund­ing and etern­al power, hence the CIA’s entry into the fight. As former Brit­ish MP and long-time peace act­iv­ist George Gal­lo­way so elo­quently said in a recent inter­view, an unholy alli­ance is now being formed between the “war party” in the US, the mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al-intel­li­gence com­plex and those who pre­vi­ously would have pub­licly spurned such accom­plices: Amer­ic­an pro­gress­ives and their tra­di­tion­al host, the Demo­crat­ic Party.

Yet, if the DNC had not done its best to rig the primar­ies in favour of Hil­lary Clin­ton, then per­haps we would not be in this pos­i­tion. Bernie Sanders would now be the Pres­id­ent-elect.

These estab­lish­ment forces have also revealed to the wider world a fact long known but largely dis­missed as con­spir­acy the­ory by the cor­por­ate main­stream media, that the two-party sys­tem in both the US and the UK is a sham. In fact, we are gov­erned by a glob­al­ised élite, work­ing in its own interest while ignor­ing ours. The Demo­crats, openly dis­gruntled by Hil­lary Clinton’s elec­tion loss and being seen to jump into bed so quickly with the spooks and the war­mon­gers, have laid this real­ity bare.

In fact, respec­ted US invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist Robert Parry recently wrote that an intel­li­gence con­tact admit­ted to him before the elec­tion that the intel­li­gence agen­cies did not like either of the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. This may go some way to explain­ing the FBI’s inter­ven­tion in the run up to the elec­tion against Hil­lary Clin­ton, as well as the CIA’s attempts to de-legit­im­ise Trump’s vic­tory after­wards.

Wheth­er that was indeed the case, the CIA has cer­tainly held back no punches since Trump’s elec­tion. First the evid­ence-lite asser­tion that it was the Rus­si­ans who hacked the DNC emails and leaked them to Wikileaks: then the fake news about Rus­sia hack­ing the vot­ing com­puters; that then morph­ed into the Rus­si­ans “hacked the elec­tion” itself; then they “hacked” into the US elec­tric grid via a Ver­mont util­ity.  All this without a shred of fact-based evid­ence provided, but Obama’s expul­sion of 35 Rus­si­an dip­lo­mats last month solid­i­fied this dubi­ous real­ity in Amer­ic­ans’ minds.

All this has so far cul­min­ated, of course, in the “dirty dossier” alleg­a­tions last week about Trump, which he has rightly knocked down — it was des­per­ately poor stuff.

This last item, from a Brit­ish per­spect­ive, is par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing. It appears that a Wash­ing­ton dirt-dig­ging com­pany was hired by a Repub­lic­an rival to Trump to unearth any poten­tial Rus­si­an scan­dals dur­ing the primar­ies; once Trump had won the nom­in­a­tion this dirt-dig­ging job­bery was then taken over by a Demo­crat sup­port­er of Hil­lary Clin­ton. The anti-Trump invest­ig­a­tion was then sub-con­trac­ted to an alleged former Brit­ish spy, an ex-MI6 man named Chris­toph­er Steele.

Much has already been writ­ten about Steele and the com­pany, much of it con­tra­dict­ory as no doubt befits the life of a former spy. But it is a stand­ard career tra­ject­ory for insiders to move on to cor­por­ate, mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies, and this is what Steele appears to have done suc­cess­fully in 2009.  Of course much is pre­dic­ated on main­tain­ing good work­ing rela­tions with your former employ­ers.

That is the aspect that interests me most — how close a link­age did he indeed retain with his former employ­ers after he left MI6 in 2009 to set up his own private spy com­pany? The answer is import­ant because com­pan­ies such has his can also be used as cut-outs for “plaus­ible deni­ab­il­ity” by offi­cial state spies.

Of course, I’m not sug­gest­ing that happened in this case, but Steele reportedly remained on good terms with MI6 and was well thought of.  For a man who had not been sta­tioned in Rus­sia for over 20 years, it would per­haps have been nat­ur­al for him to turn to old chums for use­ful con­nec­tions.

But this ques­tion is of extreme import­ance at a crit­ic­al junc­ture for the UK; if indeed MI6 was com­pli­cit or even aware of this dirt dig­ging, as it seems it might have been, then that is a huge dip­lo­mat­ic prob­lem for the government’s attempts to devel­op a strong work­ing rela­tion­ship with the US, post-Brexit. If MI6’s sticky fin­gers were on this case, then the organ­isa­tion has done the pre­cise oppos­ite of its offi­cial task — “to pro­tect nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being of the UK”.

MI6 and its US intel­li­gence chums need to remem­ber their des­ig­nated and legis­lated roles with­in a demo­cracy — to serve the gov­ern­ment and pro­tect nation­al secur­ity by gath­er­ing intel­li­gence, assess­ing it impar­tially and mak­ing recom­mend­a­tions on which the gov­ern­ment of the day will choose to act or not as the case may be.

The spies are not there to fake intel­li­gence to suit the agenda of a par­tic­u­lar régime, as happened in the run-up to the illeg­al Iraq war, nor are they there to endem­ic­ally spy on their own pop­u­la­tions (and the rest of the world, as we know post-Snowden) in a point­less hunt for sub­vers­ive activ­ity, which often trans­lates into legit­im­ate polit­ic­al act­iv­ism and acts of indi­vidu­al expres­sion.

And most espe­cially the intel­li­gence agen­cies should not be try­ing to sub­vert demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted gov­ern­ments. And yet this is what the CIA and a former seni­or MI6 officer, along with their power­ful polit­ic­al allies, appear to be now attempt­ing against Trump.

If I were an Amer­ic­an I would be wary of many of Trump’s domest­ic policies. As a European con­cerned with great­er peace rather than increas­ing war, I can only applaud his con­struct­ive approach towards Rus­sia and his offer to coöper­ate with Moscow to staunch the blood­shed in the Middle East.

That, of course, may be nub of his fight with the CIA and oth­er ves­ted interests who want Rus­sia as the new bogey­man.  But I would bet that Trump takes the CIA’s slurs per­son­ally. After all, giv­en the ugli­ness of the accus­a­tions and the lack of proof, who would not?

So, this is a world cham­pi­on­ship heavy-weight fight, over who gets to hold office and wield power, an area where the US and UK intel­li­gence agen­cies have con­sid­er­able exper­i­ence in rig­ging matches and knock­ing out oppon­ents. Think, for instance, Ira­ni­an Prime Min­is­ter Mohammad Mossad­eq in 1953; Chilean Pres­id­ent Sal­vador Allende in 1973; Iraqi lead­er Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003; and Liby­an lead­er Muam­mar Gad­dafi in 2011. Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-Assad in Syr­ia is punch-drunk but still stand­ing, thanks to some good corner sup­port from Rus­sia.

How­ever, it would appear that Trump is a stranger to the spies’ self-defined Queens­bury Rules in which tar­gets are deemed para­noid if they try to alert the pub­lic to the planned “régime change” or they become easy tar­gets by stay­ing silent. By con­trast, Trump appears shame­less and pug­na­cious. Street-smart and self-pro­mot­ing, he seems com­fort­able with bare-knuckle fight­ing.

This match has already gone into the middle rounds with Trump still boun­cing around on his toes and rel­ish­ing the fight. It would be iron­ic if out of this nasty prize fight came great­er world peace and safely for us all.

Is the USA Facing a Coup d’Etat?

On 18 Decem­ber last year I wrote an art­icle about the pos­sib­il­ity of a coup d’état in the USA, planned and executed by the CIA and oth­er par­ti­cipants in the Deep State.

At the time I just wanted to high­light the poten­tial prob­lems that were arising from the CIA’s and the Amer­ic­an élite’s objec­tion to a Trump pres­id­ency and fail­ure of the Clin­ton can­did­acy.

How­ever, fol­low­ing fake news of the “Ver­mont hack” and the fail­ure of the debunked report on “Rus­si­an hack­ing” of the elec­tion last week, it seems that the CIA and the wider deep state is dra­mat­ic­ally rais­ing the stakes today, with leaks to the media of dubi­ous reports from a cor­por­ate spy com­pany alleging cor­rup­tion and sexu­al devi­ancy.  How low can they go?

I would laugh at this far­rago of non­sense if this escal­a­tion of accus­a­tion did not imply such an increas­ingly deadly course, on the part of the Amer­ic­an estab­lish­ment, to push for a show­down with Rus­sia at any cost in 2017.

First pub­lished on RT:

I fear that soon the cur­tain will finally be brought down on the pup­pet show that passes for demo­cracy in Amer­ica, and those who for dec­ades have been pulling the strings will come raging into the light, red in tooth and claw. The illu­sion that the people really have a choice of pres­id­ent every four years will be irre­par­ably shattered.

The old Brit­ish tru­ism that “it does not mat­ter whom you vote for, the gov­ern­ment always gets in” can also be applied to the US pres­id­ency — usu­ally all can­did­ates are approved and massively fun­ded by the mod­ern incarn­a­tion of Eisenhower’s infam­ous “mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al com­plex” and then assidu­ously sup­por­ted by cheer­lead­ers in the old cor­por­ate media, leav­ing the elect­or­ate with damn little mean­ing­ful choice.

This has been true from Reagan to Bush the First, from Clin­ton the First to Bush the Second and then on to Obama (the First?). It was sup­posed to have been true in the most recent elec­tion, where the élite’s choice poin­ted towards a con­test between Bush the Third or Clin­ton the Second, either one of whom would have worked to the interests of Wall Street and con­tin­ued the increas­ingly dan­ger­ous, inter­ven­tion­ist, and hawk­ish glob­al US for­eign policy.

As a little aside, since when did the USA fall for the concept of inher­ited polit­ic­al power, a de facto new mon­archy?

But then an oxy­mor­on­ic bil­lion­aire “man of the people” crow­barred his way into the con­test and slashed all the strings of pup­petry and priv­ilege. Enter, stage left, the bullish, seem­ingly big­oted, and bemus­ingly suc­cess­ful Don­ald Trump.

As a Brit, cur­rently cut adrift in a pre-Brexit Europe, I hold no brief for the dangers he may or may not pose to the much-vaunted Amer­ic­an way of life in the good ol’ home­land.  How­ever, as I have stated before, with The Donald’s appar­ent determ­in­a­tion to fol­low a strategy of US isol­a­tion­ism, to cut a deal in Syr­ia, and effect a rap­proche­ment with Rus­sia, the wider world may just have dodged a nuc­le­ar bul­let or at least an era of unend­ing war.

Plus, the Amer­ic­an people appear to have wanted a change, any change, from the hered­it­ary priv­ilege of the Wash­ing­ton élite. That change could well have come from anoth­er out­sider, Bernie Sanders, if he had been giv­en a fair chance.  How­ever, as we know from the leaked Demo­crat­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (DNC) and Podesta emails, the Demo­crat­ic Party would stop at noth­ing to ensure the anoint­ing of the chosen one — Clin­ton the Second

So why do I think that there may be a coup d’état loom­ing in America’s near future?

Trump was elec­ted on the prom­ise of “drain­ing the swamp” of the Wash­ing­ton polit­ic­al and cor­por­ate elites — this is deeply threat­en­ing to the ves­ted interests, not least the CIA, whose daily brief­ings have been spurned by Trump, thereby rup­tur­ing the co-depend­ent rela­tion­ship between the pres­id­ent and the polit­icly com­prom­ised intel­li­gence agen­cies that has exis­ted since 9/11 and which has caused so much glob­al harm, start­ing with the ill-informed and illeg­al rush to war in Iraq in 2003. I shall return to the CIA later.

The Amer­ic­an élite is facing the inaug­ur­a­tion of a self-pro­fessed out­sider who is threat­en­ing all their eas­ily-bought priv­ileges, one who seems more inter­ested in cut­ting deals than bomb­ing coun­tries. Nor do they like his nom­in­ees to high office, espe­cially that of Rex Tiller­son, the cur­rent CEO of Exxon­Mobil,  to the post of Sec­ret­ary of State — after all, he has a track record of cut­ting deals too and with the Rus­si­ans no less, and such a per­son as the top US dip­lo­mat might, gasp, help to bring to a close the new not-so-Cold War that is so import­ant to the hawk­ish war­mon­gers and their mas­ters in the thriv­ing US arms and secur­ity industry.

There­fore once Trump had been declared the offi­cial Repub­lic­an nom­in­ee, the estab­lish­ment push-back was all too pre­dict­able. The story of “Rus­si­an hack­ing” was ini­tially trailed merely as media bait to divert the press from the real story — Hil­lary Clinton’s poten­tially illeg­al use of a private web serv­er while act­ing as Sec­ret­ary of State.

Then in Novem­ber Wikileaks began to release even more dam­aging emails from the DNC and the Podesta files, which demon­strated quite how the Demo­crats had stitched up the can­did­acy of Bernie Sanders.  The Demo­crats imme­di­ately cried foul — it must indeed be the Rus­si­ans hack­ing their files and hand­ing the inform­a­tion to Wikileaks (now cast as a Rus­si­an stooge — a move extremely use­ful in America’s ongo­ing attempts to frame the pro­sec­u­tion of Wikileaks edit­or Juli­an Assange as “espi­on­age”, even though he is an Aus­trali­an pub­lish­er stuck in Europe).

Unusu­ally Assange went on the record to say the emails Wikileaks pub­lished did not come from the Rus­si­ans: Wikileaks tra­di­tion­ally refuses to dis­cuss its sources.

Then former UK Ambas­sad­or and Wikileaks ally, Craig Mur­ray, went pub­lic by say­ing that, while he was in Wash­ing­ton earli­er this year, he was giv­en files that were then pub­lished on Wikileaks. His view is that the inform­a­tion came from a Demo­crat whis­tleblower with leg­al access — it was a leak by an insider, not a hack by an out­sider.

Also earli­er this week a group of former seni­or US intel­li­gence offi­cials, includ­ing the former Tech­nic­al Dir­ect­or of the NSA, wrote an open let­ter to Con­gress explain­ing that, if indeed the Rus­si­ans had hacked the DNC, the NSA would have been able to provide evid­ence to to prove this.  Yet, at such a time of poten­tial con­sti­tu­tion­al crisis, none has been forth­com­ing, either dir­ectly or via the CIA, even in the face of calls for the usu­al con­gres­sion­al hear­ings and spe­cial invest­ig­a­tions.

So there is appar­ently no sub­stant­ive evid­ence of Rus­si­an hack­ing dur­ing the elec­tion.  How­ever, there does appear to be some evid­ence around the issue of Clinton’s illeg­al serv­er.

Elev­en days before the Amer­ic­an elec­tion the Dir­ect­or of the FBI, in the wake of the Anthony Wein­er sex­ting case, reopened the invest­ig­a­tion into the Clin­ton serv­er scan­dal and pub­lished the fact, as he said, in the nation­al interest. This caused howls of rage from the Demo­crats, and again “Rus­si­an hack­ing” was hyped in the media, thereby eas­ily con­flat­ing the concept of the illeg­al serv­er, the alleged hacks, the Rus­si­ans, into one big lump of geek-speak that most people would not have the will to dis­en­tangle.  Two days before the elec­tion, James Comey backed down, but the hack­ing seed had ger­min­ated.

Now it is com­ing into bloom — last week the CIA re-entered the fray, with reports about Rus­si­an hack­ing leaked to both the Wash­ing­ton Post and the New York Times. Since then, name­less “intel­li­gence sources” and grand­stand­ing politi­cians have been fall­ing over them­selves to speak to this sub­ject, but it all remains very evid­ence-lite.

Plus there is appar­ently by no means a con­sensus amongst all sev­en­teen of the US intel­li­gence agen­cies with regards to the CIA’s claims.  Indeed, until recently the FBI has dir­ectly con­tra­dicted them, and the FBI is in the busi­ness of pulling togeth­er evid­ence to pro­sec­ute a case under law.

That, now, is all chan­ging. Only recently it was repor­ted that the FBI is now sup­port­ing the CIA’s “beliefs”.  I was puzzled about this volte face until I read this prom­in­ent op-ed by Clin­ton cam­paign man­ager, John Podesta, in the Wash­ing­ton Post where, in addi­tion to blam­ing the Rus­si­ans for “hack­ing the elec­tion” (note, no longer just the DNC emails and his own), he is attack­ing the FBI and its head, James Comey, and sug­gest­ing that the organ­isa­tion is broken and “what’s broken in the FBI must be fixed and quickly”. Per­haps, for whatever reas­on, Comey can see the over­turn­ing of the elec­tion res­ult as a real pos­sib­il­ity now and is des­per­ately row­ing back.

In par­al­lel, it seems that the CIA is fear­ful of retali­ation if, against all their endeav­ours, Don­ald Trump does indeed get sworn in as the 45th pres­id­ent of the USA on 20th Janu­ary next year.  That goes some way to explain­ing why they are chal­len­ging the elec­tion res­ult by push­ing this line that the Rus­si­ans “hacked the elec­tion”, the new head­line that has morph­ed through the glob­al MSM over the last couple of days from belief to estab­lished fact, with no evid­ence pro­duced.

The CIA claims that Rus­si­an “hack­ers” were delving around in the emails of both the Demo­crat­ic Nation­al Con­gress as well as the Repub­lic­an equi­val­ent for months before the Novem­ber elec­tion.  And yet only the Demo­crat emails were, the CIA asserts, passed on to Wikileaks and thereby pub­lished to order to sway the elec­tion res­ult. Where is the proof? They have pro­duced no evid­ence, in the face of of expert testi­mony from former seni­or intel­li­gence officers as well as dir­ect asser­tions from Wikileaks about the source of the DNC leaks. Indeed, the Dir­ect­or of Nation­al Intel­li­gence, James Clap­per, is refus­ing to brief the Con­gres­sion­al intel­li­gence com­mit­tees’ repeated requests to give a brief­ing.

That has not stopped the glob­al main­stream media from whip­ping up an ima­gined new truth: that the Rus­si­ans “hacked the elec­tion”. And the media frenzy has grown expo­nen­tially over the last few days.

This is why I fear an Amer­ic­an coup d’état, pos­sibly start­ing as soon as 19th Decem­ber, the date when the Elect­or­al Col­lege meets to rat­i­fy the elec­tion of Trump.  All this Cold-War, anti-Rus­si­an hys­teria is being used as a stick to beat the Elect­or­al Col­lege mem­bers into ignor­ing their duty and vote in the way dir­ec­ted by the major­ity of the people of their state whom they are pledged to rep­res­ent. Plus, who knows what juicy car­rots may also have been offered?

If enough prove faith­less to the elect­or­ate, then the elec­tion res­ult will be over­turned and Clin­ton the Second could ascend to the Amer­ic­an throne. Even if the Elect­or­al Col­lege does its sworn duty to the people, I fear that the CIA anti-Trump cam­paign may now have gathered so much momentum that the estab­lish­ment may still find a way, any way pos­sible, to stop Trump’s inaug­ur­a­tion as pres­id­ent — after all we still have five weeks to get through before 20th Janu­ary.

Trump is a known unknown and retains poten­tial pos­sib­il­it­ies intriguing to the wider world.  How­ever, if the Elect­or­al Col­lege starts a coup d’état on Monday and against all con­sti­tu­tion­al norms the coron­a­tion of Clin­ton pro­ceeds, we know all too well what lies ahead: war.

Shades of Watergate — the fake Russian Hacking

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News.

The Demo­crat­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (DNC) of the USA has been hacked — cue a nation­al Amer­ic­an trauma, alleg­a­tions of dirty tricks, fears that demo­cracy has been sub­ver­ted, all lead­ing to what the next US pres­id­ent would call “our long nation­al night­mare”.

But, no, I am not talk­ing about the cur­rent Russo-phobic hys­teria cur­rently engulf­ing the US media, replete with claims about “fake news”, expelled Rus­si­an dip­lo­mats, and a lack of skep­ti­cism about the evid­ence-lite hack­ing alleg­a­tions.

Instead I am dip­ping back into his­tory — the old Water­gate Scan­dal — when Richard Nixon’s “plumb­ers” stole inform­a­tion the old-fash­ioned way; they broke into the DNC offices, rifled the files and planted listen­ing devices. On 17 June 1972, when police cap­tured five burg­lars inside the DNC offices at the Water­gate build­ing in Wash­ing­ton, the case slowly unfol­ded over the next two years until Pres­id­ent Nix­on resigned on 9 August 1974, and was replaced by Vice Pres­id­ent Ger­ald Ford who declared “our long nation­al night­mare is over”.

Dur­ing those two years, The Wash­ing­ton Post became inter­na­tion­ally and jus­ti­fi­ably fam­ous for break­ing the story about Richard Nixon’s role in the Water­gate cov­er-up and — since then — gen­er­a­tions of cub report­ers have dreamed of being the next Wood­ward or Bern­stein. Besides lead­ing to the down­fall of the men­dacious and para­noid Nix­on, the scan­dal con­trib­uted to the rein­ing in of an out-of-con­trol intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment cul­min­at­ing in the Church Com­mit­tee hear­ings of 1975.

What fol­lowed was great­er, if unfor­tu­nately tem­por­ary, con­trol of the US intel­li­gence agen­cies and at least an appar­ent respect for the rights of Amer­ic­an cit­izens under the terms of the US Con­sti­tu­tion. The work of The Wash­ing­ton Post then was indeed rel­ev­ant and world chan­ging.

The film depic­tion of the Post’s invest­ig­a­tion — All the President’s Men — cel­eb­rated this exposé and con­firmed in West­ern minds that our won­der­ful free press spoke truth to power.  And per­haps, in this case, the press did (although I have to say that I pre­ferred the melt­down scene in the proph­et­ic film The Net­work, which envi­sioned the slide of the news media into rat­ings-driv­en mad­ness).

But — regard­ing The Wash­ing­ton Post — how the mighty have fallen. Over the last couple of months, The Post has blown what was left of its journ­al­ist­ic repu­ta­tion out of the water.

First it unblush­ingly repor­ted the Pro­pOrNot “black­list” of “fake news” inter­net sites that were allegedly work­ing at the Kremlin’s com­mand to swing the US elec­tion to Don­ald Trump, except that list encom­passed many of the most reput­able inde­pend­ent (ie not US cor­por­ate-owned) Eng­lish-lan­guage inter­na­tion­al news sites. Threatened with angry writs from some of the sites, the paper quickly prin­ted a dis­claim­er dis­tan­cing itself from the anonym­ous people behind Pro­pOrNot, but still not apo­lo­gising for the McCarthy­ist­ic smear.

Then, last Fri­day, the paper was at it again — breath­lessly report­ing that the Ver­mont energy grid was appar­ently hacked by the scape­goat du jour, Rus­sia. Although there should have been some obvi­ous ques­tions asked: why Ver­mont?  What has that state ever done to Rus­sia? Well, not much as it turns out; nor Rus­sia to Ver­mont.

Yet again the Post has revised its report­ing down to the fact that a laptop, com­pletely uncon­nec­ted to the grid accord­ing to the energy provider’s state­ment, had been infec­ted by mal­ware. In oth­er words, there was no Rus­si­an hack­ing into the Ver­mont power grid.

And yet, because it’s The Wash­ing­ton Post, this fake break­ing “news” was taken ser­i­ously and meta­stas­ised through the body polit­ic of Amer­ica and bey­ond. This Rus­si­an hack­ing became a “post-truth” real­ity, no mat­ter how fact-free the ori­gin­al story. (I hereby pro­pose a #fact­freed­iet for us all on Twit­ter for Janu­ary, so we can high­light this phe­nomen­on.)

But here is the obvi­ous next ques­tions: why did this non-story appear in The Wash­ing­ton Post and why now? Has the paper sud­denly fallen prey to a revamped Oper­a­tion Mock­ing­bird, its edit­or­i­al stuffed to the gills with CIA agents of influ­ence?

As I have writ­ten before, the CIA and its asso­ci­ates with­in the Deep State appear to be hell bent on under­min­ing the legit­im­acy of the Trump elec­tion res­ult and this hyp­ing of Rus­si­an hack­ing is one of the key weapons in this struggle. So per­haps the Deep State play­ers are (re)activating a few agents of influ­ence in the main­stream Amer­ic­an media?

But there may pos­sibly be a more tan­gen­tial explan­a­tion for The Wash­ing­ton Post’s plunge into fic­tion: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon​.com and one of the wealth­i­est people in the world. Amazon is not only the favour­ite pur­vey­or of all goods online, but also sus­pec­ted (at least in the UK) of massive tax avoid­ance scams as well as abus­ive employ­ment prac­tices in the same coun­try.

Bezos is also, since 2013, the proud own­er of The Wash­ing­ton Post, a pur­chase that her­al­ded his unex­pec­ted busi­ness swerve into the old main­stream media. The deal to buy the news­pa­per was repor­ted in the busi­ness press to have cost him $250 mil­lion.

Inter­est­ingly in the same year Amazon cut a deal to devel­op a cloud-based ser­vice for the CIA — a deal worth a repor­ted $600 mil­lion over ten years. It also appears that this ser­vice has expan­ded across all 17 of America’s intel­li­gence agen­cies, so who can tell what it might be worth to Amazon now and in the future?

It is no doubt just an inter­est­ing coin­cid­ence that the Bezos-owned Wash­ing­ton Post is the fount of the cur­rent stream of CIA asser­tions that the Rus­si­ans are hack­ing key USA insti­tu­tions, start­ing with the DNC — which then some­how became “hack­ing the elec­tion” — and now the util­ity grid. Bezos him­self has asser­ted that he exerts no dir­ect con­trol over the edit­or­i­al decisions of the news­pa­per, and he has left in place many of the neo­con­ser­vat­ive edit­ors who pre­ceded his stew­ard­ship, so there may not be any need for dir­ect orders.

Of course, all state-level play­ers, includ­ing the Rus­si­ans and cer­tainly the Amer­ic­ans, are going to be prob­ing the basic sys­tems under­pin­ning all our coun­tries for vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.  That is what intel­li­gence agen­cies do, and it is also what mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies do on behalf of their cor­por­ate cli­ents, and what hack­ers (either of the crim­in­al fla­vour or the socially-minded hackt­iv­ists) do too. The dodgy mal­ware, the code, the vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies are all out there, often for sale or squir­relled away by the nation­al spy agen­cies for poten­tial future advant­age.

Whatever the truth about the DNC hack­ing alleg­a­tions, The Wash­ing­ton Post sadly seems unin­ter­ested in prop­erly pur­su­ing it — indeed it seems inter­ested in little bey­ond pur­su­ing the spe­cif­ic polit­ic­al agenda of fan­ning a dan­ger­ous dis­trust of Rus­sia and under­min­ing the legit­im­acy of the Pres­id­ent-elect Trump.

If such a com­pli­ant cor­por­ate cul­ture had exis­ted back in 1972 at the time of the first DNC “hack”, the Water­gate Scan­dal would surely nev­er have been exposed. And the old media still won­ders why it is no longer trus­ted?

German spy agency penetrated by ISIS

My recent inter­view about the Ger­man domest­ic spy agency, the BfV — the Office for the Pro­tec­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, iron­ic­ally — being allegedly infilt­rated by ISIS.

ISIS Agent in Ger­man Spy Agency from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Perils of Censorship in the Digital Age

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge.

The ripple effects of the Don­ald Trump elec­tion vic­tory in Amer­ica con­tin­ue to wash over many dif­fer­ent shorelines of pub­lic opin­ion, like so many mini-tsuna­mis hit­ting the Pacific rim over the last few last weeks.  The seis­mic changes have indeed been glob­al, and not least in Europe.

First up, the Euro­crats have been get­ting in a bit of a flap about the future of NATO, as I recently wrote.  In the past I have also writ­ten about the per­ceived “insider threat” - in oth­er words, whis­tleblowers — that has been wor­ry­ing gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies across the West­ern world.

Cur­rently the Twit­ter­sphere is light­ing up around the issue of “fake news”, with West­ern main­stream media (news pur­vey­ors of the utmost unsul­lied prob­ity, nat­ur­ally) blam­ing Trump’s unex­pec­ted vic­tory vari­ously on the US alt-media shock jocks, fake news trolls and bots, and sov­er­eign-state media out­lets such as the Rus­si­an RT and Sput­nik.

In the wake of US Demo­crat claims that Rus­sia was inter­fer­ing in the elec­tion pro­cess (not a prac­tice that the USA has ever engaged in in any oth­er coun­try around the world what­so­ever), we now have the US Green Party pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate appar­ently spon­tan­eously call­ing for recounts in three key swing-states in the USA.

The Ger­man gov­ern­ment has already expressed con­cern that such “fake” news might adversely influ­ence the almost inev­it­able re-elec­tion for a fourth term as Chan­cel­lor, Angela Merkel.  Des­pite hav­ing been pro­claimed the closest part­ner of the USA by Pres­id­ent Obama on his recent speed-dat­ing vis­it to Europe, and per­haps wary of the rising nation­al­ist anger (I hes­it­ate to write nation­al social­ist anger, but cer­tainly its ugly face is there too in the Ger­man crowd) Merkal is get­ting in an elect­or­al first strike.

At a slightly more wor­ry­ing level, the European Par­lia­ment on 23 Novem­ber voted for a res­ol­u­tion to counter “pro­pa­ganda” from Rus­sia — and incred­ibly equated that country’s media with ter­ror­ist groups such as ISIS — the very organ­isa­tion that Rus­sia is cur­rently try­ing to help crush in Syr­ia and which the West and NATO are at least offi­cially opposed to.

Equat­ing the con­tent of licensed and net­worked media out­lets — how­ever much they may chal­lenge West­ern ortho­dox­ies — to the hor­rors of ISIS snuff videos seems to me to be wil­fully blind if not down­right and dan­ger­ously delu­sion­al. Or per­haps we should just call it pro­pa­ganda too?

Whatever happened to the rights of free­dom of expres­sion enshrined in the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights? Or the concept that a plur­al­ity of opin­ion encour­ages a healthy demo­cracy?

In Amer­ica too, we have had reports this week that Google and Face­book are cen­sor­ing alleged “fake” news.  This is the start of a very slip­pery slope. Soon any­one who dis­sents from the ortho­doxy will be deemed fake and dis­ap­pear into the cor­por­ate memory black hole.  Google in 2014 sug­ges­ted a pre­curs­or to this, the Know­ledge Vault, a search sys­tem that would pro­mote approved web­sites and dis­ap­pear those deemed inac­cur­ate at least by Google algorithms. But who con­trols those?

Once again our cor­por­ate over­lords seem to be march­ing remark­ably in time — almost a lock step — with the mood of the polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment.

So how did this all kick off? With remark­ably pres­ci­ent tim­ing, in Octo­ber the arch-neo­con­ser­vat­ive UK-based think tank, the Henry Jack­son Soci­ety, pub­lished a report entitled “Putin’s Use­ful Idi­ots: Britain’s Right, Left and Rus­sia”. Well, at least it got its apo­strophes right, but much of the rest is just so much hate-filled bile against those who call out the failed Wash­ing­ton Con­sensus.

The Henry Jack­son Soci­ety is an odi­ous organ­isa­tion that was foun­ded in Cam­bridge elev­en years ago. One of its ini­tial sig­nat­or­ies was Sir Richard Dear­love, former head of the UK’s for­eign intel­li­gence agency MI6, and of some per­son­al notori­ety for ped­dling the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruc­tion that took the UK into the dis­astrous and illeg­al Iraq war in 2003, as well as feed­ing in the fake intel­li­gence about Iraq try­ing to acquire urani­um from Niger that US Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell used as a jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the same war at the United Nations.

Des­pite all this, he remains hap­pily retired, bloated with hon­ours, while at the same time threat­en­ing the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment with his full mem­oirs to posthum­ously pre­serve his repu­ta­tion and avoid pro­sec­u­tion for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act, as I have writ­ten before.

The Henry Jack­son Soci­ety has also fol­ded into itself an organ­isa­tion called the Centre for Social Cohe­sion — appar­ently estab­lished to build bet­ter integ­ra­tion for the Muslim com­munity in the UK, but which for the last dec­ade has done noth­ing but stir up Islamo­pho­bia. As oth­ers have writ­ten, the phrase “mod­ern McCarthy­ites” might not be stretch­ing this concept too far. And now it seems to be turn­ing its ire against Rus­sia.

Its emphas­is has been unre­lent­ingly anti-Islam for many years, so it was inter­est­ing that this estab­lish­ment-embed­ded Soci­ety had a fully-formed report about the renewed Red Men­ace sub­vert­ing our West­ern media just ready and wait­ing to be pub­lished ahead of the US elec­tions.

So where does this all leave us?

It may well be that Face­book will begin to dis­ap­pear so-called fake news — which could have reper­cus­sions for all the act­iv­ist groups that, against all advice and com­mon sense, con­tin­ue to offer up their plans/organise events on that medi­um.

We may see the same cen­sor­ship on Google, as well as dis­sid­ent web­sites dis­ap­pear­ing down the pro­posed memory-hole of the Know­ledge Vault. Sure, such pages may be recor­ded on sites like the Way­Back Machine et al, but who really searches through that reflex­ively? Most us us don’t even get through the first page of Google hits any­way. In our digit­al age, this will make the 20th cen­tury prac­tice of your ana­logue dic­tat­or — the air­brush­ing of polit­ic­al oppon­ents out of his­tory — look pos­it­ively quaint.

But, just as the Guten­berg Press was a rad­ic­al innov­a­tion in the 15th cen­tury that led to a rap­id spread of writ­ten ideas and the res­ult­ing cen­sor­ship, repres­sion and a thriv­ing under­ground media, so the the cur­rent crack­down will lead to the same push-back.

Then we have to con­sider the poten­tial cen­sor­ship of state-owned news out­lets such as RT, the Chinese CCTV, and the Ira­ni­an Press TV. Where will that leave oth­er state-owned organ­isa­tions such as the BBC, RAI and oth­er inter­na­tion­al Euro-broad­casters? Oh, of course, they are part of the West­ern media club, so it’s all hun­key-dorey and busi­ness as usu­al.

But this can be a two-sided fight — only two months ago RT’s UK bankers, the state-owned Nat West Bank, announced that they were going to shut down the channel’s UK accounts, with no reas­on or redress. I gath­er that a sim­il­ar threat was then issued against the BBC in Rus­sia, and the case was quietly dropped.

Over the last 20 years I have been inter­viewed by hun­dreds of major media out­lets across Europe, many of them state-owned.  How­ever, it is only when I appear on RT​.com that I am accused of sup­port­ing a state-pro­pa­ganda out­let, of being a use­ful idi­ot — and this has become increas­ingly marked over the last couple of years.

All these meas­ures smack of an ill-informed and out-of-touch pan­ic reac­tion by a hitherto com­pla­cent estab­lish­ment. Before they attempt to air­brush his­tory, we need to remem­ber that his­tory teaches some use­ful les­sons about such elit­ist crack­downs: they nev­er end well for any­one.

What price whistleblowers?

First pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News.

For­give my “infam­ously flu­ent French”, but the phrase “pour encour­ager les autres” seems to have lost its fam­ously iron­ic qual­ity. Rather than mak­ing an example of people who dis­sent in order to pre­vent future dis­sid­ence, now it seems that the USA is glob­ally pay­ing bloody big bucks to people in order to encour­age them to expose the crimes of their employ­ers – well, at least if they are work­ing for banks and oth­er fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions.

I have been aware for a few years that the USA insti­tuted a law in 2010 called the Dodd-Frank Act that is designed to encour­age people employed in the inter­na­tion­al fin­ance com­munity to report mal­feas­ance to the Secur­it­ies and Exchange Com­mis­sion (SEC), in return for a sub­stan­tial per­cent­age of any mon­ies recouped.

This law seems to have pro­duced a boom­ing busi­ness for such high-minded “whis­tleblowers” – if that could be the accur­ate term for such actions? They are cel­eb­rated and can receive multi-mil­lion dol­lar pay days, the most recent (unnamed) source receiv­ing $20 mil­lion.

Nor is this US ini­ti­at­ive just poten­tially bene­fit­ing US cit­izens – it you look at the small print at the bot­tom of this page, dis­clos­ures are being sent in from all over the world.

Which is all to the pub­lic good no doubt, espe­cially in the wake of the 2008 glob­al fin­an­cial crash and the ensu­ing fall-out that hit us all.  We need more clar­ity about arcane casino bank­ing prac­tices that have bank­rup­ted whole coun­tries, and we need justice.

But does rather send out a num­ber of con­tra­dict­ory mes­sages to those in oth­er areas of work who might also have con­cerns about the leg­al­ity of their organ­isa­tions, and which may have equal or even graver impacts on the lives of their fel­low human beings.

If you work in fin­ance and you see irreg­u­lar­it­ies it is appar­ently your leg­al duty to report them through appro­pri­ate chan­nels – and then count the $$$ as they flow in as reward – wheth­er you are a USA cit­izen or based else­where around the world. Such is the power of glob­al­isa­tion, or at least the USA’s self-appoin­ted role as the glob­al hege­mon.

How­ever, if you hap­pen to work in the US gov­ern­ment, intel­li­gence agen­cies or mil­it­ary, under the terms of the Amer­ic­an Con­sti­tu­tion it would also appear to be your sol­emn duty under oath to report illeg­al­it­ies, go through the offi­cially des­ig­nated chan­nels, and hope reform is the res­ult.

But, from all recent examples, it would appear that you get damn few thanks for such pat­ri­ot­ic actions.

Take the case of Thomas Drake, a former seni­or NSA exec­ut­ive, who in 2007 went pub­lic about waste and wan­ton expendit­ure with­in the agency, as I wrote way back in 2011. Tom went through all the pre­scribed routes for such dis­clos­ures, up to and includ­ing a Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Des­pite all this, Tom was abruptly snatched by the FBI in a viol­ent dawn raid and threatened with 35 years in pris­on.  He (under the ter­ri­fy­ing Amer­ic­an plea bar­gain sys­tem) accep­ted a mis­dimean­our con­vic­tion to escape the hor­rors of fed­er­al charges, the res­ult­ing loss of all his civic rights and a poten­tial 35 years in pris­on.  He still, of course, lost his job, his impec­cable pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion, and his whole way of life.

He was part of a NSA group which also included Bill Bin­ney, the former Tech­nic­al Dir­ect­or of the NSA, and his fel­low whis­tleblowers Kirk Wiebe, Ed Lou­mis and Diane Roark.

These brave people developed an elec­tron­ic mass-sur­veil­lance pro­gramme called Thin Thread that could win­now out those people who were genu­inely of secur­ity interest and worth tar­get­ing, a pro­gramme which would have cost the US $1.4 mil­lion, been con­sist­ent with the terms of the Amer­ic­an con­sti­tu­tion and, accord­ing to Bin­ney, could poten­tially have stopped 9/11 and all the attend­ant hor­rors..

Instead, it appears that backs were scratched and favours called in with the incom­ing neo-con gov­ern­ment of George W Bush in 2000, and anoth­er pro­gramme called Trail Bla­izer was developed, to the tune of $1.2 bil­lion – and which spied on every­one across Amer­ica (as well as the rest of the world) and thereby broke, at the very least, the terms of the Amer­ic­an con­sti­tu­tion.

Yet Bill Bin­ney was still sub­jec­ted to a FBI SWAT team raid – he was dragged out of the shower early one morn­ing at gun-point. All this is well doc­u­mented in an excel­lent film “A Good Amer­ic­an” and I recom­mend watch­ing it.

Rather a con­trast to the treat­ment of fin­an­cial whis­tleblowers – no retali­ation and big bucks. Under that law, Bill would have received a pay­out of mil­lions for pro­tect­ing the rights of his fel­low cit­izens as well as sav­ing the Amer­ic­an pub­lic purse to the tune of over a bil­lion dol­lars. But, of course, that is not exactly in the long-term busi­ness interests of our now-glob­al sur­veil­lance pan­op­ticon.

Pres­id­ent Dwight Eis­en­hower, in his vale­dict­ory speech in 1961, warned of the sub­vers­ive interests of the “mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al” com­plex.  That seems so quaint now.  What we are facing is a ster­oid-pumped, glob­al­ised mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance industry that will do any­thing to pro­tect its interests.  And that includes crush­ing prin­cipled whis­tleblowers “pour encour­ager les autres“.

Yet that mani­festly has not happened, as I need to move on to the even-more-egre­gious cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

The former, as you may remem­ber, was a former Amer­ic­an army private cur­rently serving 35 years in a US mil­it­ary pris­on for expos­ing the war crimes of the USA. She is the most obvi­ous vic­tim of out­go­ing-Pres­id­ent Obama’s war on whis­tleblowers, and surely deserving of his sup­posed out­go­ing clem­ency.

The lat­ter, cur­rently stran­ded in Rus­sia en route from Hong Kong to polit­ic­al asylum in Ecuador is, in my view and as I have said before, the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower in mod­ern his­tory. But he gets few thanks – indeed incom­ing US Trump admin­is­tra­tion appointees have in the past called for the death pen­alty.

So all this is such a “won­der­fully out­stand­ing encour­age­ment” to those in pub­lic ser­vice in the USA to expose cor­rup­tion – not. Work for the banks and anonym­ously snitch – $$$kerch­ing! Work for the gov­ern­ment and blow the whistle – 30+ years in pris­on or worse. Hmmm.

If Pres­id­ent-Elect Don­ald Trump is ser­i­ous about “drain­ing the swamp” then per­haps he could put some ser­i­ous and mean­ing­ful pub­lic ser­vice whis­tleblower pro­tec­tion meas­ures in place, rather than pro­sec­ut­ing such pat­ri­ots?

After all, such meas­ures would be a win-win situ­ation, as I have said many times before – a prop­er and truly account­able chan­nel for poten­tial whis­tleblowers to go to, in the expect­a­tion that their con­cerns will be prop­erly heard, invest­ig­ated and crim­in­al actions pro­sec­uted if neces­sary.

That way the intel­li­gence agen­cies can become truly account­able, sharpen their game, avoid a scan­dal and bet­ter pro­tect the pub­lic; and the whis­tleblower does not need ruin their life, los­ing their job, poten­tially their free­dom and worse.

After all, where are the most hein­ous crimes wit­nessed?  Sure, bank crimes impact the eco­nomy and the lives of work­ing people; but out-of-con­trol intel­li­gence agen­cies that kid­nap, tor­ture and assas­sin­ate count­less people around the world, all in secret, actu­ally end lives.

All that said, oth­er West­ern lib­er­al demo­cra­cies are surely less dra­coni­an than the USA, no?

Well, unfor­tu­nately not.  Take the UK, a coun­try still in thrall to the glam­or­ous myth of James Bond, and where there have been mul­tiple intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers from the agen­cies over the last few dec­ades – yet all of them have auto­mat­ic­ally faced pris­on.  In fact, the UK sup­pres­sion of intel­li­gence, gov­ern­ment, dip­lo­mat­ic, and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers seems to have acted as an exem­plar to oth­er coun­tries in how you stifle eth­ic­al dis­sent from with­in.

Sure, the pris­on sen­tences for such whis­tleblow­ing are not as dra­coni­an under the UK Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) as the ana­chron­ist­ic US Espi­on­age Act (1917). How­ever, the clear bright line against *any* dis­clos­ure is just as stifling.

In the UK, a coun­try where the intel­li­gence agen­cies have for the last 17 years been illeg­ally pros­ti­tut­ing them­selves to advance the interests of a for­eign coun­try (the USA), this is simply unac­cept­able. Espe­cially as the UK has just made law the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (2016), against all expert advice, which leg­al­ises all this pre­vi­ously-illeg­al activ­ity and indeed expan­ded the hack­ing powers of the state.

More wor­ry­ingly, the ultra-lib­er­al Nor­way, which blazed a calm and human­ist trail in its response to the mur­der­ous white-suprem­acist ter­ror­ist attacks of Anders Breivik only 5 years ago, has now pro­posed a dra­coni­an sur­veil­lance law.

And Ger­many – a coun­try hor­ri­fied by the Snowden rev­el­a­tions in 2013, with its memor­ies of the Gestapo and the Stasi – has also just expan­ded the sur­veil­lance remit of its spooks.

In the face of all this, it appears there has nev­er been a great­er need of intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers across the West­ern world. Yet it appears that, once again, there is one law for the bankers et al – they are cashed up, lauded and rewar­ded for report­ing leg­al­it­ies.

For the rest of the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, it’s pro­sec­u­tion and per­se­cu­tion as usu­al, des­pite the fact that they may indeed be serving the most pro­found of pub­lic interests – free­dom, pri­vacy and the abil­ity to thereby have a func­tion­ing demo­cracy.

As always – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. So back to my flu­ent French, ref­er­enced at the start: we are, it seems, all still mired in the merde.

 

 

Webstock, New Zealand, 2016

Now, I speak all over the world at con­fer­ences and uni­ver­sit­ies about a whole vari­ety of inter­con­nec­ted issues, but I do want to high­light this con­fer­ence from earli­er this year and give a shout out for next year’s. Plus I’ve finally got my hands on the video of my talk.

Web­stock cel­eb­rated its tenth anniversary in New Zea­l­and last Feb­ru­ary, and I was for­tu­nate enough to be asked to speak there.  The hosts prom­ised a unique exper­i­ence, and the event lived up to its repu­ta­tion.

Webstock_2016They wanted a fairly clas­sic talk from me — the whis­tleblow­ing years, the les­sons learnt and cur­rent polit­ic­al implic­a­tions, but also what we can to do fight back, so I called my talk “The Pan­op­ticon: Res­ist­ance is Not Futile”, with a nod to my sci-fi fan­dom.

So why does this par­tic­u­lar event glow like a jew­el in my memory? After expun­ging from my mind, with a shud­der of hor­ror, the 39 hour travel time each way, it was the whole exper­i­ence. New Zea­l­and com­bines the friend­li­ness of the Amer­ic­ans — without the polit­ic­al mad­ness and the guns, and the egal­it­ari­an­ism of the Nor­we­gi­ans — with almost equi­val­ent scenery. Add to that the warmth of the audi­ence, the eclecticism of the speak­ers, and the pre­ci­sion plan­ning and aes­thet­ics of the con­fer­ence organ­isers and you have a win­ning com­bin­a­tion.

Our hosts organ­ised ver­tigo-indu­cing events for the speak­ers on the top of mile-high cliffs, as well as a sur­pris­ingly fun vis­it to a tra­di­tion­al Brit­ish bowl­ing green. Plus I had the excite­ment of exper­i­en­cing my very first earth­quake — 5.9 on the Richter scale appar­ently. I shall make no cheap jokes about the earth mov­ing, espe­cially in light of the latest quakes to hit NZ this week, but the hotel did indeed sway around me and it wasn’t the loc­al wine, excel­lent as it is.

I men­tioned eclecticism — the qual­ity of the speak­ers was fero­ciously high, and I would like to give a shout out to Debbie Mill­man and her “joy of fail­ure” talk, Harry Roberts, a ser­i­ous geek who crowd-sourced his talk and ended up talk­ing ser­i­ously about cock­tails, moths, Chum­bawamba and more, advert­ising guru Cindy Gal­lop who is inspir­ing women around the world and pro­mot­ing Make Love Not Porn, and Casey Ger­ald, with his evan­gel­ic­ally-inspired but won­der­fully human­ist­ic talk to end the event.

All the talks can be found here.

It was a fab­ulous week.  All I can say is thank you to Tash, Mike, and the oth­er organ­isers.

If you ever have the chance to attend or speak at the event in the future, I ser­i­ously recom­mend it.

And here’s the video of my talk:

A Good American — Bill Binney

I have for a num­ber of years now been involved with a glob­al group of whis­tleblowers from the intel­li­gence, dip­lo­mat­ic and mil­it­ary world, who gath­er togeth­er every year as the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates to give an award to an indi­vidu­al dis­play­ing integ­rity in intel­li­gence.

This year’s award goes to former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s illeg­al tor­ture pro­gramme, but was the only officer to go to pris­on — for expos­ing CIA crimes.

The award cere­mony will be tak­ing place in Wash­ing­ton on 25 Septem­ber at the “World Bey­ond War” con­fer­ence.

Last year’s laur­eate, former Tech­nic­al Dir­ect­or of the NSA Bill Bin­ney, is cur­rently on tour across Europe to pro­mote an excel­lent film about both his and the oth­er stor­ies of the earli­er NSA whis­tleblowers before Edward Snowden — “A Good Amer­ic­an”.

The film is simply excel­lent, very human and very humane, and screen­ings will hap­pen across Europe over the next few months. Do watch if you can!

This is a film of the pan­el dis­cus­sion after a screen­ing in Lon­don on 18th Septem­ber:

A Good Amer­ic­an” — pan­el dis­cus­sion with ex-NSA Bill Bin­ney from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Fight for your Right to Privacy

A recent talk I gave to the excel­lent Spark​.me con­fer­ence in beau­ti­ful Montenegro:

Annie Machon at SparkMe con­fer­ence 2016 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Whistleblower Protections — RT Interview

Former US Attor­ney Gen­er­al, Eric Hold­er, has softened his stance on the Edward Snowden case and has tacitly admit­ted there should at least be a pub­lic interest leg­al defence for intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers.

Well, that’s my take — have a watch of my RT inter­view yes­ter­day or read here:

Dis­cuss­ing whis­tleblower pro­tec­tions from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Ibsen and Whistleblowers

The Chichester Fest­iv­al Theatre in the UK has been sta­ging Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People, explor­ing the com­plex­it­ies of whis­tleblow­ing.

The CFT asked me to write an art­icle for the fest­iv­al pro­gramme about the value and role, the dangers and oppor­tun­it­ies, for twenty-first cen­tury whis­tleblowers. Here it is:

The Reg­u­lat­ors of Last Resort

Let us play a little game of word asso­ci­ation. I write “Edward Snowden” — and what is the first thought to leap into your mind? Hero? Trait­or? Who?

Or might it be whis­tleblower?

The con­tro­ver­sial issue of whis­tleblow­ing, which is at the heart of Ibsen’s play, has been firmly thrust into the pub­lic con­scious­ness over the last few years with the ongo­ing saga of Wikileaks and with high pro­file cases such as that of Chelsea Man­ning and, of course, Snowden him­self.

Often whis­tleblowers can get a bad rap in the media, deemed to be trait­ors, grasses or snitches. Or they are set on such an hero­ic ped­es­tal that their example can actu­ally be dis­cour­aging, mak­ing you con­sider wheth­er you would ever take such a risk, often with the depress­ing con­clu­sion that it would be impossible for a whole range of prac­tic­al reas­ons – pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion, job secur­ity, fam­ily safety, even liberty.

How­ever, you have to ask your­self why, when faced with these risks and reper­cus­sions, indi­vidu­als (in the man­ner of the fic­tion­al Dr Stock­mann) do indeed speak out; why they do still con­sider the risks worth tak­ing? Par­tic­u­larly those emer­ging from the world of intel­li­gence, the mil­it­ary or the dip­lo­mat­ic corps who face the most griev­ous pen­al­ties.

The UK spy com­munity is the most leg­ally pro­tec­ted and least account­able of any West­ern demo­cracy, but the USA is catch­ing up fast. So, as a res­ult of such entrenched gov­ern­ment­al secrecy across these areas, whis­tleblow­ing is real­ist­ic­ally the only avail­able aven­ue to alert your fel­low cit­izens to abuses car­ried out secretly in their name.

I have a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the pro­cess. In the 1990s I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, gen­er­ally known as MI5, before resign­ing to help my former part­ner and col­league Dav­id Shayler blow the whistle on a cata­logue of incom­pet­ence and crime. As a res­ult we had to go on the run around Europe, lived in hid­ing and exile in France for 3 years, and saw our friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists arres­ted around us. I was also arres­ted, although nev­er charged, and Dav­id went to pris­on twice for expos­ing the crimes of the spies. It was a heavy price to pay.

How­ever, it could all have been so dif­fer­ent if the UK gov­ern­ment had agreed to take his evid­ence of spy crimes, under­take to invest­ig­ate them thor­oughly, and apply the neces­sary reforms. This would have saved us a lot of heartache, and could poten­tially have improved the work of the spies. But the government’s instinct­ive response is always to pro­tect the spies and pro­sec­ute the whis­tleblower, while the mis­takes and crimes go unin­vestig­ated and unre­solved. Or even, it often appears, to reward the mal­efact­ors with pro­mo­tions and gongs.

The dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) imposes a blanket ban on any dis­clos­ure what­so­ever. As a res­ult, we the cit­izens have to take it on trust that our spies work with integ­rity. There is no mean­ing­ful over­sight and no real account­ab­il­ity.

Many good people do indeed sign up to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, as they want a job that can make a dif­fer­ence and poten­tially save lives. How­ever, once on the inside they are told to keep quiet about any eth­ic­al con­cerns: “don’t rock the boat, and just fol­low orders”.

In such an envir­on­ment there is no vent­il­a­tion, no account­ab­il­ity and no staff fed­er­a­tion, and this inev­it­ably leads to a gen­er­al con­sensus – a bul­ly­ing “group think” men­tal­ity. This in turn can lead to mis­takes being covered up rather than les­sons learned, and then poten­tially down a dan­ger­ous mor­al slide.

As a res­ult, over the last 15 years we have seen scan­dal heaped upon intel­li­gence scan­dal, as the spies allowed their fake and politi­cised inform­a­tion to be used make a false case for an illeg­al war in Iraq; we have seen them des­cend into a spir­al of extraordin­ary rendi­tion (ie kid­nap­ping) and tor­ture, for which they are now being sued if not pro­sec­uted; and we have seen that they facil­it­ate dodgy deals in the deserts with dic­tat­ors.

Since the Shayler case in the late 1990s, oth­er UK whis­tleblowers have hit the head­lines: GCHQ’s Kath­er­ine Gun, who exposed illeg­al spy­ing on our so-called allies in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003. She man­aged to avoid pro­sec­u­tion because of a pos­sible leg­al defence of neces­sity that res­ul­ted from Shayler’s case. Or Ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray, who exposed the tor­ture of polit­ic­al dis­sid­ents in Uzbek­istan – and when I say tor­ture, I mean the boil­ing alive of polit­ic­al oppon­ents of the régime, with the pho­to­graphs to prove it. Mur­ray was not pro­sec­uted, but he lost his career and was tra­duced with taw­dry slurs about his per­son­al life across the Brit­ish media.

The USA is little bet­ter. Since 2001 many intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers there have faced a grim fate. Ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s tor­ture pro­gramme, lan­guished for three years in pris­on while the tor­tur­ers remain free; Bill Bin­ney, Ed Loomis, and Kirk Wiebe of the NSA were houn­ded and nar­rowly escaped pro­sec­u­tion for expos­ing NSA mal­feas­ance; a col­league, Tom Drake faced a 35-year pris­on sen­tence, des­pite hav­ing gone through all the approved, offi­cial chan­nels; and in 2013 a kangaroo court was held to try Chelsea Man­ning for her expos­ure of US war crimes. Inev­it­ably, it is the whis­tleblower Man­ning who is now serving a 35 year stretch in pris­on, not the war crim­in­als.

Pres­id­ent Obama has used and abused the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers dur­ing his years in the White House more times than all his pre­de­cessors put togeth­er, while at the same time allow­ing a bone fide spy ring – the Rus­si­an illeg­als includ­ing Anna Chap­man — to return home in 2010. This para­noid hunt for the “insider threat” — the whis­tleblower — has been going on since at least 2008, as we know from doc­u­ments leaked, iron­ic­ally, to Wikileaks in 2010.

Against this back­ground, fully aware of the hideous risks he was tak­ing and the pro­spect of the rest of his life behind bars, in 2013 a young man stepped for­ward – Edward Snowden.

He was clear then about his motiv­a­tion and he remains clear now in the few inter­views he has done since: what he had seen on the inside of the NSA caused him huge con­cern. The Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, along with its part­ner agen­cies across the world, was con­struct­ing a glob­al sur­veil­lance net­work that not only threatens the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, but also erodes the pri­vacy of all the world’s cit­izens.

Even against such a back­ground of oth­er brave whis­tleblowers, Snowden stands out for me for three key reas­ons: his per­son­al and con­scious cour­age at such a time, the sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures, and the con­tinu­ing, glob­al impact of what he exposed.

Unfor­tu­nately, while whis­tleblowers under­stand the leg­al risks they are tak­ing when they emerge from the intel­li­gence world or the dip­lo­mat­ic corps, they are often media vir­gins and are etern­ally sur­prised by the way the treat­ment meted out to them.

Until the turn of the mil­len­ni­um, intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers had no choice but to entrust them­selves to the estab­lished media. Some like “Deep Throat”, the source of the Water­gate scan­dal in 1970s Amer­ica, were dis­trust­ful and remained in the shad­ows. Oth­ers, such as Daniel Ells­berg who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, or Clive Pont­ing who in 1982 released inform­a­tion about the sink­ing of the Gen­er­al Bel­grano dur­ing the Falk­lands War, were for­tu­nate to work with cam­paign­ing journ­al­ists who fought both for their sources and the prin­ciple of press free­dom. Even when Shayler went pub­lic in the late 1990s, he had no option but to work with the estab­lished media.

From per­son­al exper­i­ence, I can attest to the fact that this is not always a pain­less exper­i­ence. With a few hon­or­able excep­tions, most of the journ­al­ists will just asset-strip their whis­tleblowers for inform­a­tion. They make their careers, while the whis­tleblower breaks theirs.

Plus, There are many ways our soi-dis­ant free press can be manip­u­lated and con­trolled by the spies. The soft power involves induct­ing journ­al­ists to be agents of influ­ence with­in their organ­isa­tion, or cosy chats between edit­ors and spies, or pro­pri­et­ors and top spies – that is how stor­ies can be spun or dis­ap­peared.

The hard power is extens­ive too — the applic­a­tion of laws such as libel, counter-ter­ror­ism laws, injunc­tions, and also the use of the OSA against journ­al­ists them­selves. Or even blatant intim­id­a­tion, as happened after The Guard­i­an news­pa­per pub­lished the early Snowden dis­clos­ures – the police went in and phys­ic­ally smashed up the hard drives con­tain­ing his inform­a­tion.

All this casts that well known chilling effect on the free­dom of the press and the free-flow of inform­a­tion from the gov­ern­ment to the gov­erned, which is so vital for an informed and par­ti­cip­at­ory cit­izenry.

Which brings me back to Wikileaks. Estab­lished in 2007, this provides a secure and high-tech con­duit for whis­tleblowers that gives them more con­trol and securely stores the doc­u­ments to prove their alleg­a­tions. This is also why the US gov­ern­ment saw it as such a threat and has pur­sued it in such a dra­coni­an and pun­it­ive way over the years since the first big rev­el­a­tions in 2010. Iron­ic­ally, this is also partly why much of the tra­di­tion­al media turned on Wikileaks – it threatened the old media busi­ness mod­el.

But from a whistleblower’s per­spect­ive, Wikileaks and its suc­cessors offer a brave new world. The tech­no­lo­gic­al genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

There is, of course, anoth­er pos­sible path. The intel­li­gence agen­cies could estab­lish mean­ing­ful chan­nels for vent­il­a­tion of staff con­cerns, where the evid­ence is prop­erly invest­ig­ated and reforms made as neces­sary. Hav­ing such a sound pro­ced­ure in place to address con­cerns strikes me as a win-win scen­ario for staff effi­ciency and mor­ale, the organisation’s oper­a­tion­al cap­ab­il­ity and repu­ta­tion, and poten­tially the wider pub­lic safety too.

How­ever, unless and until secret­ive gov­ern­ment­al organ­isa­tions insti­tute such legit­im­ate and effect­ive aven­ues for poten­tial whis­tleblowers to go down, embar­rass­ing dis­clos­ures will con­tin­ue. Nobody sets out to be a whis­tleblower but, absent effect­ive reforms, they will remain our reg­u­lat­ors of last resort.

The NSA and Guantanamo Bay

Yes­ter­day The Inter­cept released more doc­u­ments from the Edward Snowden trove.  These high­lighted the hitherto sus­pec­ted by unproven involve­ment of the NSA in Guantanamo Bay, extraordin­ary rendi­tion, tor­ture and inter­rog­a­tion.

Here is my inter­view on RT about the sub­ject:

Snowden dis­clos­ures about NSA and Guantanamo from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The (Il)legality of UK Drone Strikes

It was repor­ted in The Guard­i­an news­pa­per today that the UK par­lia­ment­ary joint com­mit­tee on human rights was ques­tion­ing the leg­al frame­work under­pin­ning the use of Brit­ish drone strikes against ter­ror­ist sus­pects.

Here is an inter­view I did for RT today about the ques­tion­able leg­al­ity of the UK drone strike pro­gramme:

The (Il)legalitiy of UK drone strikes? from Annie Machon on Vimeo.