Edward Snowden — the Globalisation of Whistleblowing

I have held back from writ­ing about the Edward Snowden NSA whis­tleblow­ing case for the last week — partly because I was immersed in the res­ult­ing media inter­views and talks, and partly because I wanted to watch how the story developed, both polit­ic­ally and in the old media. The reac­tion of both can tell you a lot.

That does not mean that I did not have a very pos­it­ive response to what Snowden has done. Far from it. The same night the story broke about who was behind the leaks, I dis­cussed the implic­a­tions on an RT inter­view and called what he did Whis­tleblow­ing 2.0.

Why did I say that? Well, it appeared from his ini­tial video inter­view with The Guard­i­an that he had learned from pre­vi­ous whis­tleblow­ing cases: he had watched the media and care­fully chosen a journ­al­ist, Glenn Gre­en­wald, with a good track record on the rel­ev­ant issues who would prob­ably fight his corner fear­lessly; his inform­a­tion clearly demon­strated that the intel­li­gence agen­cies were spin­ning out of con­trol and build­ing sur­veil­lance states; he care­fully chose a jur­is­dic­tion to flee to that might have the clout to pro­tect him leg­ally against the wrath of an over-mighty USA; and he has used his inter­net and media savvy to gain as much expos­ure and pro­tec­tion as quickly as pos­sible.

edward_snowdenPlus, he has been incred­ibly brave, con­sid­er­ing the dra­coni­an war on whis­tleblowers that is cur­rently being waged by the Amer­ic­an admin­is­tra­tion. There have been three oth­er NSA whis­tleblowers in recent years, all also talk­ing about endem­ic sur­veil­lance. All have paid a high per­son­al price, all dis­played great bravery in the face of adversity yet, sadly, none has achieved the same level of inter­na­tion­al impact. Were we just deaf to their warn­ings, or has Snowden played this bet­ter?

I think a bit of both.  He’s a geek, a young geek, he will have seen what happened to oth­er whis­tleblowers and appears to have taken steps to avoid the same pit­falls. He has gone pub­lic to pro­tect his fam­ily and pre­vent harm to his former col­leagues in any ensu­ing witch-hunt. And he has fled the coun­try in order to remain at liberty to argue his case, which is key to keep­ing the story alive for more than a week in the gad­fly minds of the old media. I know, I’ve been involved in the same pro­cess.

He has blown the whistle to pro­tect an Amer­ic­an way of life he thinks “worth dying for”. Yet he has broadened out the issues inter­na­tion­ally — what hap­pens in Amer­ica impacts the rest of the world. This, in my view, is cru­cial.  I have been writ­ing for years that the US is increas­ingly claim­ing glob­al leg­al hege­mony over the entire inter­net, as well as the right to kid­nap, tor­ture and murder for­eign­ers at will.

The Pat­ri­ot Act has not only shred­ded the US con­sti­tu­tion, it also now appar­ently has glob­al reach for as long as our craven gov­ern­ments allow it to. Now we know that this is not some abstract concept, the­ory or spec­u­la­tion — we are all poten­tially being watched

Edward Snowden argued his case very effect­ively in a live chat on The Guard­i­an news­pa­per web­site. It became clear that he is indeed a new gen­er­a­tion of whisteblower. This is not someone who wit­nessed one crime and imme­di­ately felt he had to speak out. This is a tech­nic­al expert who watched, over time and with dis­may, the encroach­ing Big Broth­er sur­veil­lance state that is tak­ing over the world via the NSA and its clones.

He is young, he had faith that a new gov­ern­ment would mean change, but in the end felt com­pelled to take con­sidered action when he wit­nessed the unac­count­able mis­sion creep, the lim­ited and inef­fec­tu­al over­sight, and the neutered politi­cians who rush to reas­sure us that everything is leg­al and pro­por­tion­ate when they really have no idea what the spy agen­cies get up to.

In both the US and the UK the spies repeatedly get away with lying to the notion­al over­sight bod­ies about mis­takes made, rules bent, and illeg­al oper­a­tions. Former seni­or CIA ana­lyst, Ray McGov­ern, has cata­logued the US lies, and here are a few home-brewed Brit­ish examples. The inter­net com­pan­ies have also been wrig­gling on the hook over the last week.

Snowden appears to be very aware not only of poten­tial state level sur­veil­lance but also the glob­al cor­por­at­ist aspect of the sub­ver­sion of the basic com­pan­ies most people use to access the inter­net — Google, Face­book, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Skype et al. A few pion­eers have been dis­cuss­ing the need to pro­tect one­self from such cor­por­at­ist over­sight for years, and such pion­eers have largely been ignored by the main­stream: they’re “just geeks” they are “para­noid”, “tin foil hat” etc.

Edward Snowden has laid bare the truth of this glob­al­ised, cor­por­at­ist Big Broth­er state. From his pub­lic state­ments so far, he seems very alive to the inter­na­tion­al aspects of what he is reveal­ing. This is not just about Amer­ic­ans being snooped on, this affects every­body. We are all sub­ject to the bru­tal hege­mony that US securo­crats and cor­por­a­tions are try­ing to impose on us, with no rights, no redress under the law.

Big_Brother_posterWe have already seen this with the illeg­al US state take-down of Kim Dotcom’s secure cloud ser­vice, Megaup­load, with the glob­al per­se­cu­tion of Wikileaks, with Obama’s war on whis­tleblowers, with the NDAA, with the asym­met­ric extra­di­tion cases, with the drone wars across the Middle East and Cent­ral Asia.….  where to stop?

Snowden, through his incred­ible act of bravery, has con­firmed our worst fears. It is not just cor­por­a­tions that have gone glob­al — sur­veil­lance has too. And now, thank­fully, so too are whis­tleblowers.

What troubles me some­what is the way that the old media is respond­ing — even The Guard­i­an, which broke the story. Glenn Gre­en­wald is an excel­lent, cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist and I have no doubt what­so­ever that he will fight to the wire for his source.

How­ever, the news­pa­per as an entity seems to be hold­ing back the free flow of inform­a­tion. Char­it­ably, one could assume that this is to max­im­ise the impact of Snowden’s dis­clos­ures. Less char­it­ably, one could also see it as a way to eke out the stor­ies to max­im­ise the newspaper’s profits and glory. Again, it’s prob­ably a bit of both.

How­ever, I do not think this will ulti­mately work in the best interests of the whis­tleblower, who needs to get the inform­a­tion out there now, and get the whole debate going now.

Plus, today it was repor­ted that a D-Notice had been issued against the UK media last week. I have writ­ten before about this invi­di­ous self-cen­sor­ship with which the Brit­ish media col­lab­or­ates: seni­or edit­ors and seni­or mil­it­ary per­son­nel and spooks meet to agree wheth­er or not stor­ies may act against “nation­al secur­ity” (still a leg­ally undefined phrase), and ban pub­lic­a­tions accord­ingly. And this is “vol­un­tary” — what does that say about our press hold­ing power to account, when they will­ingly col­lude in the sup­pres­sion of inform­a­tion?

Plus, some of the key journ­al­ists at The Guard­i­an who were involved in the Wikileaks stitch-up are also now peck­ing away at the Snowden story. The old media are still con­tinu­ing to act as a bot­tle­neck of the free flow of inform­a­tion from whis­tleblowers to the pub­lic domain. In the post-Wikileaks era, this is a ret­ro­grade step. It is not for them to assess what the pub­lic needs to know, nor is it down to them to ana­lyse and second-guess why any whis­tleblower is doing what they are doing.

As Edward Snowden stated: “The con­sent of the gov­erned is not con­sent if it is not informed”.

Spies need more oversight, not new powers

Pub­lished on www​.polit​ics​.co​.uk, and Huff­ing­ton Post UK.

Fol­low­ing the awful murder of Drum­mer Lee Rigby in Wool­wich last week, the polit­ic­al securo­crats who claim to rep­res­ent the interests of the Brit­ish intel­li­gence ser­vices have swung into action, demand­ing yet fur­ther sur­veil­lance powers for MI5 and MI6 “in order to pre­vent future Wool­wich-style attacks”.

As I’ve writ­ten before, it was heart­en­ing that the UK Prime Min­is­ter said in the after­math of the attack that there would be no knee-jerk secur­ity reac­tion. How­ever, that has not deterred cer­tain intel­li­gence sock-pup­pets from polit­ic­al oppor­tunism — they stridently call for the resur­rec­tion of the draft Com­mu­nic­a­tions Data Bill that was earli­er this year kicked into the long grass. If the hawks are suc­cess­ful, the new law would have implic­a­tions not only for our freedoms at home, but also for our policy and stand­ing abroad.

Recently the civil liber­ties camp acquired a sur­pris­ing ally in this debate, with MI5 unex­pec­tedly enter­ing the fray.  And rightly so. There is abso­lutely no need for this new legis­la­tion, the requis­ite powers are already in place. Seni­or secur­ity sources have argued that those cit­ing the Wool­wich attack to pro­mote the snoop­ers’ charter are using a “cheap argu­ment”.

As I said in this recent BBC radio inter­view, all the neces­sary laws are already in place for MI5 either to pass­ively mon­it­or or aggress­ively invest­ig­ate per­sons of interest under the ori­gin­al terms of IOCA (1985) and updated in the Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (RIPA 2000).

There now appears to be little doubt that the two Wool­wich sus­pects were well and truly on the MI5 radar. It has been repor­ted that they had been tar­gets for at least 8 years and that Michael Ade­bolajo had been approached to work as an agent by MI5 as recently as 6 months ago.

One of his friends, Abu Nusay­bah, recor­ded an inter­view for BBC’s News­night pro­gramme last week, only to be arres­ted by counter-ter­ror­ism police imme­di­ately after­wards. He stated that Ade­bolajo had been tor­tured and threatened with rape after his arrest in Kenya en route to Somalia, and that this treat­ment may have flipped him into more viol­ent action. Indeed, the tale gets ever mur­ki­er, with reports yes­ter­day stat­ing that Ade­bolajo was snatched by the SAS in Kenya on the orders of MI5.

Oth­er inform­a­tion has since been released by the organ­isa­tion Cage­Pris­on­ers indic­at­ing that Adebolajo’s fam­ily and friends had also been har­rassed to pres­sur­ize him into report­ing to MI5.

All of which obvi­ates the early claims that Ade­bolajo was either a “lone wolf” or a low-pri­or­ity tar­get. It cer­tainly indic­ates to me that MI5 will have at the very least been mon­it­or­ing Adebolajo’s com­mu­nic­a­tions data, espe­cially if they were try­ing to recruit him as a source. If that indeed turns out to have been the case, then without doubt MI5 will also have been inter­cept­ing the con­tent of his com­mu­nic­a­tions, to under­stand his think­ing and assess his access. Any­thing less would have been slip­shod — a derel­ic­tion of duty — and all this could and should have been done under the exist­ing terms of RIPA.

So what are the chances of some real over­sight or answers?

If we’re talk­ing about an inde­pend­ent inquiry, the chances are slim: the Inquir­ies Act (2005) passed little noticed into law, but it means that the gov­ern­ment and the depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion can pretty much determ­ine the scope and terms of the inquiry to which they are sub­ject.

How­ever, might we nail the flag of hope to the mast of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment (ISC) — the com­mit­tee tasked with over­see­ing the work of the UK intel­li­gence agen­cies? The new DG of MI5, Andrew Park­er, has already sub­mit­ted a writ­ten report about Wool­wich and will be giv­ing evid­ence to the ISC in per­son next week about wheth­er MI5 missed some vital intel­li­gence or dropped the ball.

Th ISC of Par­lia­ment was estab­lished as part of the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (1994) — the law that finally brought MI6 and GCHQ under the umbrella of notion­al demo­crat­ic over­sight. MI5 had already come into the leg­al fold with the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act (1989).

As I have writ­ten before, ini­tially the ISC was a demo­crat­ic fig-leaf — its mem­bers were appoin­ted by the PM not Par­lia­ment, it repor­ted dir­ectly to the PM, and its remit only covered the policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion of the UK’s intel­li­gence agen­cies.

Until this year the ISC could not invest­ig­ate oper­a­tion­al mat­ters, nor could it demand to see doc­u­ments or ques­tion top spooks under oath. Indeed, it has been well repor­ted that seni­or spies and police have long evaded mean­ing­ful scru­tiny by being “eco­nom­ic­al with the truth”.

Former MI5 DG Sir Steph­en Lander in 2001 said “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee early on”; a more recent DG, Sir Jonath­an Evans, had to admit in 2008 that MI5 had lied about its involve­ment in tor­ture; and Lord Blair, former Com­mis­sion­er of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police, had to apo­lo­gise in 2008 for mis­lead­ing the ISC about the num­ber of thwarted ter­ror­ist attacks on his watch.

How­ever the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has pur­sued a more mus­cu­lar over­sight role. And it seems he has at least won some battles. The one good ele­ment to have come out of the con­ten­tious Justice and Secur­ity Act (2013) appears to be that the ISC has more dir­ect account­ab­il­ity to Par­lia­ment, rather than just to the PM (the dev­il is expressed in the detail: the ISC is now “of” Par­lia­ment, rather than “in” Par­lia­ment…).

Some­what more per­tin­ently, the ISC can now invest­ig­ate oper­a­tion­al mat­ters, demand papers and wit­nesses, and it appears they now have a spe­cial invest­ig­at­or who can go and rum­mage around the MI5 Registry for inform­a­tion.

It remains to be seen how effect­ive the ISC will real­ist­ic­ally be in hold­ing the intel­li­gence agen­cies to account, even with these new powers. How­ever, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind has good reas­on to know how slip­pery the spies can be — after all, he was the For­eign Sec­ret­ary in 1995/6, the years when MI6 was fund­ing Al Qaeda asso­ci­ates to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya.  The attack went wrong, inno­cent people were killed and, cru­cially, it was illeg­al under UK law, as MI6 had not reques­ted the pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion for such a plot from the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, as required under Sec­tion 7(1) of the afore­men­tioned ISA (1994). Rif­kind has always claimed that he was not told about the plot by MI6.

So, in the interests of justice let us hope that the Rif­kind and the oth­er mem­bers of the ISC fully exer­cise their powers and that MI5’s new DG, Andrew Park­er is some­what more frank about the work of his agency than his pre­de­cessors have been. It is only through great­er hon­esty and account­ab­il­ity that our intel­li­gence agen­cies can learn from the mis­takes of the past and bet­ter pro­tect our coun­try in the future.

Woolwich murder — the “why?” should be obvious

The bru­tal murder in Wool­wich last week of Drum­mer Lee Rigby rightly caused shock and out­rage. Inev­it­ably there has been a media feed­ing frenzy about “ter­ror­ist” attacks and home-grown rad­ic­al­isa­tion.  Brit­ish Prime Min­is­ter, Dav­id Camer­on, felt it neces­sary to fly back from a key meet­ing in France to head up the Brit­ish secur­ity response.

One slightly heart­en­ing piece of news to emerge from all the hor­ror is that the PM has stated, at least for now, that there will be no knee-jerk secur­ity crack-down in the wake of this killing.  Sure, secur­ity meas­ures have been ramped up around mil­it­ary bases in the UK, but cyn­ic­al calls from the securo­crats to rean­im­ate a pro­posed “snoop­ers’ charter”, aka the draft Com­mu­nic­a­tions Data Bill, have for now been dis­coun­ted. And rightly so — MI5 already has all the neces­sary powers to mon­it­or sus­pects.

How­ever, there does still seem to be a polit­ic­ally disin­genu­ous view about the motiv­a­tion behind this murder.  Yet the sus­pects them­selves made no secret of it — indeed they stayed at the scene of the crime for twenty minutes appar­ently encour­aging pho­tos and smart phone record­ings in order to get across their mes­sage.  When the police armed response team finally arrived, the sus­pects reportedly charged at the police bran­dish­ing knives and pos­sibly a gun.  They were shot, but not fatally.  This may have been attemp­ted “sui­cide by cop” — delayed until they had said their piece.

This does not strike me as the actions of “crazed killers” as has been repor­ted in the media; rather it reminds me of the cold and cal­cu­lated actions of Nor­we­gi­an mass mur­der­er, Anders Breivik. The Wool­wich murder was designed to max­im­ize the impact of the mes­sage in this social media age.

And the mes­sage being? Well, it was indeed cap­tured on smart phone and sent out to the world.  The killers clearly stated that this was a polit­ic­al action designed to high­light the grue­some viol­ence daily meted out across North Africa, the Middle East, and Cent­ral Asia as a res­ult of the west­ern policy of mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion­ism.

This mani­fests in a vari­ety of ways: viol­ent res­ist­ance and insur­gency against pup­pet gov­ern­ments as we see in Iraq; interne­cine civil war in coun­tries such as post-NATO inter­ven­tion Libya; cov­ert wars fought by west­ern prox­ies, as we see in Syr­ia; or overt attacks in Yemen, Somalia, Afgh­anistan and Pakistan, where US and UK con­trolled drones tar­get mil­it­ants named for assas­sin­a­tion on pres­id­en­tially-approved CIA kill lists with the res­ult­ing col­lat­er­al murder of com­munity gath­er­ings, chil­dren and wed­ding parties.

All this does not jus­ti­fy the appalling murder in Wool­wich, and the per­pet­rat­ors must face justice for the crime.  How­ever, it does go some way to explain­ing why such an atro­city occurred, and we as a soci­ety need to face up to the facts or this will hap­pen again.

Say­ing this does not make me an apo­lo­gist for ter­ror­ism, any more than it did journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald — a writer who has had the journ­al­ist­ic attack dogs unleashed on him for sim­il­ar views. Bey­ond the group-think deni­al­ism with­in the Wash­ing­ton Belt­way and the West­min­ster Vil­lage, the cause and effect are now widely-recog­nised. Indeed, in her 2010 testi­mony to the Chil­cot Inquiry about the Iraq War, former head of MI5 Eliza Man­ning­ham-Buller said pre­cisely the same thing — and I don’t think any­one would dare to label her “an apo­lo­gist for ter­ror­ism”.

The seed of Islam­ic extrem­ism was planted by west­ern colo­ni­al­ism, propag­ated by the 1953 CIA and MI6 coup against Pres­id­ent Mossade­gh of Iran, watered by their sup­port for a fledging Al Qaeda in the 1980s Afghan res­ist­ance to the Soviet inva­sion, and is now flour­ish­ing as a means both of viol­ently attempt­ing to eject west­ern occupy­ing forces from Muslim coun­tries and gain­ing retri­bu­tion against the West.

We need to face up to this new real­ity. The bru­tal murder of this sol­dier may be a one-off attack, but I doubt it.  Indeed, sim­il­ar attacks against French sol­diers in Toulouse occurred last year, and this week­end there has already been what appears to be a copy-cat attack against a sol­dier in Par­is.

In this endem­ic sur­veil­lance soci­ety ter­ror­ist groups are all too aware of the vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies inher­ent in large-scale, co-ordin­ated attacks, the plan­ning of which can be picked up by sigint or from inter­net “chat­ter”. Much sim­pler to go for the low-tech atro­city and cyn­ic­ally play the all-per­vas­ive social media angle for max­im­um cov­er­age.

The UK media has repor­ted that the Wool­wich sus­pects have been on the Brit­ish intel­li­gence radar for the last 8 years, but MI5 failed to take prompt action. The inev­it­able gov­ern­ment enquiry has been prom­ised, but the fall-back defens­ive pos­i­tion, already being trot­ted out by former spies and ter­ror­ism experts across the media is that the secur­ity ser­vices are nev­er going to be in a pos­i­tion to accur­ately pre­dict when every rad­ic­al­ised per­son might “flip” into viol­ence and that such “lone wolf” attacks are the most dif­fi­cult to stop.

As more news emerges, this is look­ing increas­ingly disin­genu­ous. Reports have emerged that one of the sus­pects, Michael Ade­bolajo, was approached to work as an agent for MI5 half a year ago, appar­ently after he had been arres­ted and assaul­ted by police in Kenya. This may be anoth­er example of the secur­ity ser­vices’ failed Pre­vent ini­ti­at­ive that seems to be caus­ing more harm that good with­in the young Brit­ish Muslim com­munity.

This story has been com­poun­ded by the recent intriguing arrest of one of Adebolajo’s friends, the self-styled Abu Nusay­bah, imme­di­ately after he had fin­ished record­ing an inter­view about this for the BBC’s News­night pro­gramme.  The Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Counter-Ter­ror­ism Com­mand swooped at the Beeb and arres­ted the man on ter­ror­ism charges: he has now dis­ap­peared into the maw of the leg­al sys­tem.

The only long-term and poten­tially effect­ive solu­tion is to address the fun­da­ment­al issues that lead to Islam­ic viol­ence and ter­ror­ism and begin nego­ti­ations. The UK, at least, has been through this pro­cess before dur­ing the 1990s, when it was attempt­ing to resolve the civil war in North­ern Ire­land. Indeed my former boss, Eliza Man­ning­ham-Buller, stated as much dur­ing a BBC lec­ture in 2011, say­ing that the US and UK gov­ern­ments need to nego­ti­ate with Al Qaeda to reach a polit­ic­al set­tle­ment.

Over the last 20 years, Al Qaeda has con­sist­ently deman­ded the remov­al of the west­ern (pre­dom­in­antly US) mil­it­ary pres­ence from the Middle East. Since the 9/11 attacks our polit­ic­al elites and media have equally con­sist­ently spun us the line that Al Qaeda car­ries out attacks because it “hates our way of life, hates our freedoms”.

Unless our gov­ern­ments acknow­ledge the prob­lems inher­ent in con­tin­ued and viol­ent west­ern inter­ven­tion­ism, unless they can accept that the war on ter­ror res­ults in rad­ic­al­isa­tion, “blow­back” and yet more inno­cent deaths, and until they admit that nego­ti­ation is the only viable long-term solu­tion, we are all con­demned to remain trapped in this ghastly cycle of viol­ence.

MI6 “ghost money”

Here’s the full art­icle about MI6 “ghost money”, now also pub­lished at the Huff­ing­ton Post UK:

Afghan Pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai, has recently been cri­ti­cised for tak­ing “ghost money” from the CIA and MI6. The sums are inev­it­ably unknown, for the usu­al reas­ons of “nation­al secur­ity”, but are estim­ated to have been tens of mil­lions of dol­lars. While this is nowhere near the eyebleed­ing $12 bil­lion shipped over to Iraq on pal­lets in the wake of the inva­sion a dec­ade ago, it is still a sig­ni­fic­ant amount.

And how has this money been spent?  Cer­tainly not on social pro­jects or rebuild­ing ini­ti­at­ives.  Rather, the report­ing indic­ates, the money has been fun­nelled to Karzai’s cronies as bribes in a cor­rupt attempt to buy influ­ence in the coun­try.

None of this sur­prises me. MI6 has a long and ignoble his­tory of try­ing to buy influ­ence in coun­tries of interest.  In 1995/96 it fun­ded a “ragtag group of Islam­ic extrem­ists”, headed up by a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer, in an illeg­al attempt to try to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi.  The attack went wrong and inno­cent people were killed.  When this scan­dal was exposed, it caused an out­cry.

Yet a mere 15 years later, MI6 and the CIA were back in Libya, provid­ing sup­port to the same “rebels”, who this time suc­ceeded in cap­tur­ing, tor­tur­ing and killing Gad­dafi, while plunging Libya into appar­ently end­less interne­cine war. This time around there was little inter­na­tion­al out­cry, as the world’s media por­trayed this aggress­ive inter­fer­ence in a sov­er­eign state as “human­it­ari­an relief”.

And we also see the same in Syr­ia now, as the CIA and MI6 are already provid­ing train­ing and com­mu­nic­a­tions sup­port to the rebels — many of whom, par­tic­u­larly the Al Nusra fac­tion in con­trol of the oil-rich north-east of Syr­ia are in fact allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq.  So in some coun­tries the UK and USA use drones to tar­get and murder “mil­it­ants” (plus vil­la­gers, wed­ding parties and oth­er assor­ted inno­cents), while in oth­ers they back ideo­lo­gic­ally sim­il­ar groups.

Recently we have also seen the West­ern media mak­ing unveri­fied claims that the Syr­i­an régime is using chem­ic­al weapons against its own people, and our politi­cians leap­ing on these asser­tions as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for openly provid­ing weapons to the insur­gents too. Thank­fully, oth­er reports are now emer­ging that indic­ate it was the rebels them­selves who have been using sar­in gas against the people. This may halt the rush to arms, but not doubt oth­er sup­port will con­tin­ue to be offered by the West to these war crim­in­als.

So how is MI6 secretly spend­ing UK tax­pay­ers’ money in Afgh­anistan? Accord­ing to west­ern media report­ing, it is being used to prop up war­lords and cor­rupt offi­cials. This is deeply unpop­u­lar amongst the Afghan people, lead­ing to the danger of increas­ing sup­port for a resur­gent Taliban.

There is also a sig­ni­fic­ant over­lap between the cor­rupt polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment and the illeg­al drug trade, up to and includ­ing the president’s late broth­er, Ahmed Wali Kar­zai.  So, anoth­er unin­ten­tion­al con­sequence may be that some of this unac­count­able ghost money is prop­ping up the drug trade.

Afgh­anistan is the world’s lead­ing pro­du­cer of heroin, and the UN reports that poppy growth has increased dra­mat­ic­ally. Indeed, the UN estim­ates that acre­age under poppy growth in Afgh­anistan has tripled over the last 7 years.  The value of the drug trade to the Afghan war­lords is now estim­ated to be in the region of $700 mil­lion per year.  You can buy a lot of Kalash­nikovs with that.

So on the one hand we have our west­ern gov­ern­ments bank­rupt­ing them­selves to fight the “war on ter­ror”, break­ing inter­na­tion­al laws and mur­der­ing mil­lions of inno­cent people across North Africa, the Middle East, and cent­ral Asia while at the same time shred­ding what remain of our hard-won civil liber­ties at home.

On the oth­er hand, we appar­ently have MI6 and the CIA secretly bank­rolling the very people in Afgh­anistan who pro­duce 90% of the world’s heroin. And then, of course, more scarce resources can be spent on fight­ing the failed “war on drugs” and yet anoth­er pre­text is used to shred our civil liber­ties.

This is a luc­rat­ive eco­nom­ic mod­el for the bur­geon­ing mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex.

How­ever, it is a lose-lose scen­ario for the rest of us.

RT article about MI6’s Afghan “ghost money”

Here’s a link to my new art­icle, pub­lished exclus­ively today on RT’s Op-Edge news site.

I dis­cuss the recent news that MI6, in addi­tion to the CIA, has been pay­ing “ghost money” to the polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment in Afgh­anistan, oth­er examples of such med­dling, and the prob­able unin­ten­ded con­sequences.

The Value of Whistleblowers

I was recently invited to write an art­icle for the Nat West Busi­ness Sense online magazine about the poten­tial value and bene­fits of whis­tleblowers.  Here’s the link, and here’s the art­icle:

The con­tro­ver­sial issue of whis­tleblow­ing has been firmly thrust into the pub­lic con­scious­ness over the last few years with the ongo­ing saga of Wikileaks.

Often whis­tleblowers can get a bad rap in the media, deemed to be trait­ors, grasses or snitches.  How­ever, rather than a phe­nomen­on to be feared, if handled cor­rectly whis­tleblowers can often be bene­fi­cial to their organ­isa­tions.  Allow me to explain.

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 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 dec­ade 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 desert with dic­tat­ors.

But it is not all bleak.  Recently, Dr Tom Fin­gar received The Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence in Oxford for his work on com­pil­ing the US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate of 2007.  In this he sum­mar­ised the con­clu­sions of all 16 US intel­li­gence agen­cies by say­ing that Iran had ceased try­ing to devel­op a nuc­le­ar weapons cap­ab­il­ity in 2003.

There was immense polit­ic­al pres­sure on him to sup­press this evid­ence, but he went ahead with the report and thereby single-handedly hal­ted the US government’s rush to war with Iran.  By hav­ing the cour­age to do his job with integ­rity, Dr Fin­gar is respons­ible for sav­ing count­less lives across Iran.

In the world of intel­li­gence, where secrecy is para­mount, where crimes can hushed up, and where there is no aven­ue for voicing con­cern and dis­sent, it is per­haps inev­it­able that whis­tleblowers will con­tin­ue to emerge.

But in oth­er sec­tors of work mis­takes can be just as life threat­en­ing and the need for expos­ure just as great.  In the UK over the last few years many seni­or med­ic­al whis­tleblowers have emerged from the NHS, detail­ing mis­takes and incom­pet­ence that have put the pub­lic at risk.  Alas, rather than learn from mis­takes made, all too often NHS bosses have either vic­tim­ised the whis­tleblowers by sus­pend­ing them or ruin­ing their repu­ta­tion, or they have insisted that they sign gag­ging orders and then covered up the mis­takes.  Neither option is a good out­come either for staff mor­ale or for patient safety.

While the cul­ture of cov­er-up exists, so too will whis­tleblowers. How could this be resolved, and what would be the poten­tial bene­fits?

If employ­ers insti­tute a cul­ture of trust and account­ab­il­ity, where employ­ees with con­cerns can be fairly heard, the appro­pri­ate action taken, and justice done, the needs and imper­at­ives behind whis­tleblow­ing would dis­ap­pear. Poten­tial prob­lems could be nipped in the bud, improv­ing pub­lic trust and con­fid­ence in the prob­ity of the organ­isa­tion and avoid­ing all the bad pub­li­city fol­low­ing a whis­tleblow­ing case.

Plus, of course, the poten­tial whis­tleblowers would have a legit­im­ate aven­ue to go down, rather than hav­ing to turn their lives inside out – they would no longer need to jeop­ard­ise their pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion and all that goes with it such as career, income, social stand­ing and even, poten­tially their free­dom.

Hav­ing a sound pro­ced­ure in place to address staff 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, too.

Security and liberty — the aftermath of the Boston bombings

An abbre­vi­ated ver­sion of this art­icle was pub­lished by RT Op-Edge yes­ter­day.

News of the two bombs in Boston, in which 3 people have so far died and more than 100 have been injured, has rico­cheted around the world.  Bey­ond the grim stat­ist­ics, there is little con­crete evid­ence about the who and the why, and nor will there be pos­sibly for days or even weeks.  This con­fu­sion is inev­it­able in the wake of such an attack, as the intel­li­gence agen­cies and police play frantic catch-up to identi­fy the per­pet­rat­ors and, we hope, bring them to justice — although of course in post-Pat­ri­ot Act, post-NDAA Amer­ica, the per­pet­rat­ors are more likely to find their names on the CIA’s pres­id­en­tially-approved kill list.

In the absence of facts, the media fills its air­waves with spec­u­la­tion and repe­ti­tion, thereby inad­vert­ently whip­ping up yet more fear and uncer­tainty.  The fall-out from this is an erup­tion of pre­ju­dice in the social media, with desk bound her­oes jump­ing to con­clu­sions and advoc­at­ing viol­ent repris­als against whole swathes of the Middle East.  And this fear and hate plays straight into the hands of the “enemy-indus­tri­al com­plex” so aptly described by Tom Engel­hardt recently.

With that in mind, let’s take a moment to pay our respects to those who died in ter­ror­ist attacks on Monday. Even a quick surf through the inter­net pro­duces a grim and no doubt incom­plete tally: Iraq (55); Afgh­anistan (7); Somalia (30); Syr­ia (18); Pakistan (4); USA (3). All these num­bers rep­res­ent someone’s child, moth­er, friend, broth­er, loved one, and all will be mourned.

Alas, not all of these vic­tims will receive as much air-time as the unfor­tu­nates caught up in the Boston attacks. And this is espe­cially the case where attacks are car­ried out by the Amer­ic­an mil­it­ary against sus­pec­ted “insur­gents” across the Middle East.

Indeed, on the same day The Tele­graph repor­ted that the UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on counter-ter­ror­ism and human rights, fam­ous Brit­ish bar­ris­ter Ben Emmer­son (Queen’s Coun­sel), had stated that drone strikes across the Middle East were illeg­al under inter­na­tion­al law. Their con­tin­ued use only served to legit­im­ise Al Qaeda attacks against the US mil­it­ary and its infra­struc­ture in the region.

bradley_manningAs we saw in 2010 when Wikileaks released the video, “Col­lat­er­al Murder”, such atro­cit­ies are covered up for years, denied by the gov­ern­ment, nor will the per­pet­rat­ors be held to account — they are prob­ably still serving in the mil­it­ary. Instead the whis­tleblower who exposed this crime, Brad­ley Man­ning, lan­guishes in pris­on facing a court mar­tial, and the pub­lish­er of the mater­i­al, Wikileaks, faces glob­al repres­sion and a secret fed­er­al grand jury indict­ment.

With its end­less, spec­u­lat­ive scare­mon­ger­ing about the Boston attacks, the US media plays a diabol­ic­al role in fur­ther­ing the work of the attack­ers — ie ter­ror­ising the pop­u­la­tion, indu­cing them to live in a state of abject fear.  Of course, once suit­ably ter­ror­ised, the US people will be even more will­ing to give away what remains of their his­tor­ic freedoms, all in the name of increas­ing their secur­ity.  Well, we know the views of one late, great Amer­ic­an on this sub­ject, Ben­jamin Frank­lin: “those who would give up essen­tial liberty to pur­chase a little tem­por­ary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

Indeed, the abrog­a­tion of liberty in the USA has pat­ently not res­ul­ted in great­er secur­ity, as Boston has so bru­tally demon­strated. No soci­ety can pro­tect itself abso­lutely against ter­ror­ism.

In a demo­cracy, just as rights come with respons­ib­il­it­ies, so freedoms come with risk. And we need to remem­ber that those freedoms were hard-won by our ancest­ors and will be equally dif­fi­cult to win back if we heed­lessly throw them away now, while the risks remain stat­ist­ic­ally neg­li­gible.

Guantanamo_BaySuc­cess­ive US gov­ern­ments have already decim­ated the basic rights of the US people in the post-9/11 secur­ity pan­ic. At the sharp end, people, both glob­ally and now also in Amer­ica, can be extraordin­ar­ily rendered (kid­napped) to black pris­on sites and tor­tured for years on the word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, they can be denied due leg­al pro­cess, and they can be killed on pres­id­en­tial decree by drone strikes — a real-world ver­sion of the snuff video.

Addi­tion­ally, the US has des­cen­ded into a pan­op­tic­an sur­veil­lance state, with endem­ic data-min­ing of com­mu­nic­a­tions, air­borne drone spy­ing, and the cat­egor­isa­tion of pro­test­ers as “domest­ic extrem­ists” or even “ter­ror­ists” who are then beaten up by mil­it­ar­ised police forces. This oti­ose secur­ity theatre con­stantly reminds US cit­izens to be afraid, be very afraid, of the enemy with­in.

Ter­ror­ist atro­cit­ies are crim­in­al acts, they are not a sep­ar­ate form of “evil­tude”, to use George Bush-era ter­min­o­logy.  As such, the crim­in­als behind such attacks should be invest­ig­ated, evid­ence gathered, and they should be tried in front of a jury of their peers, where justice can be done and be seen to be done. So it is troub­ling that the Boston FBI bur­eau chief, Richard Des­Laur­i­ers, is today quoted in the New York Times as say­ing he is work­ing on “a crim­in­al invest­ig­a­tion that is a poten­tial ter­ror­ist invest­ig­a­tion”. The pre­cise dif­fer­ence being?

Like­wise, ter­ror­ist attacks are not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation, even events on the scale of 9/11.  How­ever, I would sug­gest that the response of the secur­ity-indus­tri­al com­plex poses a great­er exist­en­tial threat to the future well-being of the USA. The post-9/11 secur­ity crack­down in the USA has eroded core demo­crat­ic val­ues, while the mil­it­ary response across the Middle East has bank­rup­ted Amer­ica and cre­ated a gen­er­a­tion of poten­tial enemies.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Com­pare and con­trast the response of the Nor­we­gi­an people in the after­math of the ter­ror­ist attacks and murder of 77 people by Anders Breivik. As a coun­try, there was a need to see justice done, but not to allow such an appalling attack to com­prom­ise the val­ues of the soci­ety and des­troy a cher­ished way of life for all.  And this the Nor­we­gi­an people achieved.

BishopsgateSim­il­arly between the late 1980s and the late 1990s the UK endured Lock­er­bie, Omagh, Bish­opsgate, Canary Wharf, and Manchester, to name but a few major atro­cit­ies.  A good sum­mary of the ter­ror­ist attacks against Lon­don alone over the last 150 years can be found here, with the first Tube bomb­ing occur­ring in 1885.  A pilot, Patrick Smith, also recently wrote a great art­icle about air­craft secur­ity and the sheer scale of the ter­ror­ist threat to the West in the 1980s — and asks a very per­tin­ent ques­tion: just how would we col­lect­ively react to such a stream of atro­cit­ies now?

Dur­ing the 1990s, at the height of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA’s bomb­ing cam­paign on main­land Bri­tain, I lived in cent­ral Lon­don and worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5). Put­ting aside my pro­fes­sion­al life, I have per­sonal memor­ies of what it was like to live under the shad­ow of ter­ror­ism.  I remem­ber mak­ing my way to work in 1991 and com­mut­ing through Vic­toria train sta­tion in Lon­don 10 minutes before a bomb, planted in a rub­bish bin, exploded on the sta­tion con­course.  One per­son was killed, and many sus­tained severe injur­ies.  One per­son had their foot blown off — the image haunted me for a long time.

I also vividly remem­ber, two years later, sit­ting at my desk in MI5’s May­fair office, and hear­ing a dull thud in the back­ground — this turned out to be a bomb explod­ing out­side Har­rods depart­ment store in Knights­bridge.  And let’s not for­get the almost daily dis­rup­tion to the tube and rail net­works dur­ing the 1990s because of secur­ity alerts.  Every Lon­doner was exhor­ted to watch out for, and report, any sus­pi­cious pack­ages left at sta­tions or on streets.

Lon­don­ers grew used to such incon­veni­ence; they grumbled a bit about the dis­rup­tion and then got on with their lives — echoes of the “keep calm and carry on” men­tal­ity that evolved dur­ing the Blitz years.  In the 1990s the only notice­able change to London’s diurn­al rhythm was that there were few­er US tour­ists clog­ging up the streets — an early indic­a­tion of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate, para­noid US reac­tion to a per­ceived ter­ror­ist threat.

In con­trast to the post-9/11 years, the UK did not then react by shred­ding the basic freedoms of its people.  There were cer­tainly con­tro­ver­sial cases and heated debates about how long you could hold a ter­ror­ist sus­pect without charge, but the way of life con­tin­ued much as before. Now, twelve years after 9/11 — an attack on a dif­fer­ent con­tin­ent — the UK has all the laws in place to enact a de facto police state with­in days.

Life and liberty are both pre­cious. It is always tra­gic when lives are be lost in the name of some twis­ted or arcane polit­ic­al cause; it is even more tra­gic when the liberty of all is also lost as a res­ult.

Statue_of_Liberty_7My heart goes out to those who were injured and to the friends and fam­il­ies who have lost loved ones in the Boston attacks, in the same way it goes out to all those who were killed and maimed across the Middle East yes­ter­day.

How­ever, I do urge cau­tion in the US response; evid­ence needs to be gathered and justice seen to be done. Anoth­er secur­ity crack­down on a fear­ful US pop­u­la­tion will hurt Amer­ic­ans much more than two bombs in Boston ever could, while yet more remotely-con­trolled revenge killings across the Middle East will kill, maim and dis­place many more thou­sands.

I shall leave you with a quote from anoth­er great Amer­ic­an, Thomas Jef­fer­son:

Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the acci­dent­al opin­ion of the day; but a series of oppres­sions, begun at a dis­tin­guished peri­od, and pur­sued unal­ter­ably through every change of min­is­ters too plainly proves a delib­er­ate, sys­tem­at­ic plan of redu­cing us to slavery.

Will MI6 “fix” intelligence on Iran?

By:    Ray McGov­ern, former CIA ana­lyst and Annie Machon, former MI5 intel­li­gence officer

Recent remarks by the head of MI6, Sir John Saw­ers, leave us won­der­ing if the Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice is pre­par­ing to “fix” intel­li­gence on Iran, as his imme­di­ate pre­de­cessor, Sir John Scar­lett, did on Iraq.

Scarlett’s pre-Iraq war role in cre­at­ing “dodgy dossiers” hyp­ing the threat of non-exist­ent “weapons of mass destruc­tion” is well known.  As for Saw­ers, the red warn­ing light for politi­ciz­a­tion blinked brightly on July 4, as he told Brit­ish seni­or civil ser­vants that Iran is “two years away” from becom­ing a “nuc­le­ar weapons state.”  How did Saw­ers come up with “two years?”

Since late 2007, the bench­mark for weigh­ing Iran’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram has been the unan­im­ous assess­ment by all 16 U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies that Iran hal­ted its nuc­le­ar weapons pro­gram in late 2003 and that, as of mid-2007, had not restar­ted it.  Those judg­ments have been reval­id­ated every year since — des­pite strong pres­sure to bow to more omin­ous — but evid­ence-light — assess­ments by Israel and its neo-con­ser­vat­ive sup­port­ers.

Intel­li­gence Can Make a Dif­fer­ence

The 2007 the US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate helped to thwart plans to attack Iran in 2008, the last year of the Bush/Cheney admin­is­tra­tion.  This shines through in George Bush’s own mem­oir, Decision Points, in which he rues the NIE’s “eye-pop­ping declar­a­tion: ‘We judge with high con­fid­ence that in fall 2003, Tehran hal­ted its nuc­le­ar weapons pro­gram.’”

Bush con­tin­ues, “But after the NIE, how could I pos­sibly explain using the mil­it­ary to des­troy the nuc­le­ar facil­it­ies of a coun­try the intel­li­gence com­munity said had no act­ive nuc­le­ar weapons pro­gram?” (Decision Points, p. 419)

Hands tied on the mil­it­ary side, US cov­ert oper­a­tions flowered, with $400 mil­lion appro­pri­ated at that same time for a major escal­a­tion of the dark-side struggle against Iran, accord­ing to mil­it­ary, intel­li­gence, and con­gres­sion­al sources cited by Sey­mour Her­sh in 2008.  This clandes­tine but all-too-real war on Iran has included attacks with com­puter vir­uses, the murders of Ira­ni­an sci­ent­ists, and what the Israel­is call the “unnat­ur­al” demise of seni­or offi­cials like Revolu­tion­ary Guards Major Gen­er­al Has­san Moghad­dam fath­er of Iran’s mis­sile pro­gram.

Moghad­dam was killed in a large explo­sion last Novem­ber, with Time magazine cit­ing a “west­ern intel­li­gence source” as say­ing the Israel’s Mossad was behind the blast.  More threat­en­ing still to Iran are the severe eco­nom­ic sanc­tions, which are tan­tamount to an act of war.

Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu and pro-Israel neo-con­ser­vat­ives in the U.S. and else­where have been push­ing hard for an attack on Iran, seiz­ing every pre­text they can find.  Net­an­yahu was sus­pi­ciously fast off the blocks, for example, in claim­ing that Iran was behind the tra­gic ter­ror­ist bomb­ing of Israeli tour­ists in Bul­garia on July 18, des­pite Bul­gari­an author­it­ies and even the White House warn­ing that it is too early to attrib­ute respons­ib­il­ity.

Netanyahu’s instant indict­ment of Iran strongly sug­gests he is look­ing for excuses to up the ante.  With the Per­sian Gulf look­ing like an acci­dent wait­ing to hap­pen, stocked as it is with war­ships from the U.S., the U.K. and else­where — and with no fail-safe way of com­mu­nic­at­ing with Ira­ni­an nav­al com­mand­ers — an escal­a­tion-gen­er­at­ing acci­dent or pro­voca­tion is now more likely than ever.

July 23: Mark­ing a Day of Infamy

Oddly, Sawers’s speech of July 4 came just as an import­ant date approached — the tenth anniversary of a sad day for Brit­ish intel­li­gence on Iraq.  On July 23, 2002 at a meet­ing at 10 Down­ing Street, then-MI6 head, John Dear­love, briefed Tony Blair and oth­er seni­or offi­cials on his talks with his Amer­ic­an coun­ter­part, CIA Dir­ect­or George Ten­et, in Wash­ing­ton three days before.

In the offi­cial minutes of that brief­ing (now known as the Down­ing Street Memo), which were leaked to the Lon­don Times and pub­lished on May 1, 2005, Dear­love explains that George Bush has decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “jus­ti­fied by the con­junc­tion of ter­ror­ism and weapons of mass destruc­tion.”  While then-For­eign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dear­love explains mat­ter-of-factly, “The intel­li­gence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”

There is no sign in the minutes that any­one hic­cupped — much less demurred — at mak­ing a case for war and fur­ther­ing Blair’s determ­in­a­tion to join Bush in launch­ing the kind of “war of aggres­sion” out­lawed by the post-world war Nurem­berg Tribunal and the UN treaty.

Helped by the acqui­es­cence of their chief spies, the Blair gov­ern­ment main­lined into the body polit­ic un-assessed, raw intel­li­gence and forged doc­u­ments, with dis­astrous con­sequences for the world.

UK cit­izens were spoon-fed fake intel­li­gence in the Septem­ber Dossier (2002) and then, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy Dossier”, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thes­is culled from the Inter­net — all presen­ted by spy and politi­cian alike as omin­ous pre­mon­it­ory intel­li­gence.

So was made the case for war. All lies, res­ult­ing in hun­dreds of thou­sands dead and maimed and mil­lions of Iraqis dis­placed — yet no one held to account.

Sir Richard Dear­love, who might have pre­ven­ted this had he had the integ­rity to speak out, was allowed to retire with full hon­ours and became the Mas­ter of a Cam­bridge col­lege.  John Scar­lett, who as chair of the Joint Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee signed off the fraud­u­lent dossiers, was rewar­ded with the top spy job at MI6 and a knight­hood. George W. Bush gave George Ten­et the Pres­id­en­tial Medal of Free­dom — the highest civil­ian award.

What need have we for fur­ther proof? “So are they all, all hon­our­able men” — remin­is­cent of those stand­ing with Bru­tus in Shakespeare’s play, but with no Mark Anthony to expose them and stir the appro­pri­ate pop­u­lar reac­tion.

Therein lies the prob­lem: instead of being held account­able, these “hon­our­able men” were, well, hon­oured. Their soft land­ings offer a nox­ious object les­son for ambi­tious bur­eau­crats who are ready to play fast and loose with the truth and trim their sails to the pre­vail­ing winds.

Ill-got hon­ours offer neither deterrent nor dis­in­cent­ive to cur­rent and future intel­li­gence chiefs temp­ted to fol­low suit and cor­rupt intel­li­gence rather than chal­lenge their polit­ic­al lead­ers with hard, un-“fixed” facts. Integ­rity? In this milieu integ­rity brings know­ing smirks rather than hon­ours. And it can get you kicked out of the club.

Fix­ing Intel­li­gence on Iran

Are we in for anoth­er round of “fix­ing” — this time on Iran? We may know soon.  Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Net­an­yahu, cit­ing the ter­ror­ist attack in Bul­garia, has already provided what amounts to a vari­ation on Dearlove’s ten-year old theme regard­ing how war can be “jus­ti­fied by the con­junc­tion of ter­ror­ism and weapons of mass destruc­tion.”

Accord­ing to the Jer­u­s­alem Post on July 17, Net­an­yahu said that all coun­tries that under­stand that Iran is an export­er of world ter­ror must join Israel in “stat­ing that fact clearly,” in order to emphas­ize the import­ance of pre­vent­ing Iran from obtain­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon.

Appear­ing yes­ter­day on Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation, Net­an­yahu returned to that theme. Put­ting the blame for the ter­ror­ist attack in Bul­garia squarely on Iran (and Hezbol­lah), Net­an­yahu warned of the increased dangers that would accrue if Iran acquired nuc­le­ar weapons. “What would be the con­sequences if the most dan­ger­ous régime in the world got the world’s most dan­ger­ous weapons?”.

Will MI6 chief Saw­ers mod­el his con­duct on that of his pre­de­cessors who “jus­ti­fied” war on Iraq? Will he “fix” intel­li­gence around U.K./U.S./Israeli policy on Iran? Par­lia­ment­ary over­seers should demand a brief­ing from Saw­ers forth­with, before erstwhile bull­dog Bri­tain is again dragged like a poodle into anoth­er unne­ces­sary war.

Annie Machon is a former intel­li­gence officer in the UK’s MI5 Secur­ity Ser­vice and Ray McGov­ern is a fomer U.S Army Intel­li­gence Officer and CIA ana­lyst.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism article

Here is a recent art­icle I wrote for The Bur­eau of Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism, about our slide into a sur­veil­lance state.  

TBIJ sup­por­ted Wikileaks dur­ing the release of the Spy­Files. The issue is of such cru­cial import­ance for our demo­cracy, I was dis­ap­poin­ted that more of the main­stream media did not fol­low up on the stor­ies provided.

Here’s the text:

Ana­lys­is: the slide into a sur­veil­lance state

Fifty years ago, Pres­id­ent Eis­en­hower warned of the ‘dis­astrous rise’ of the mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al com­plex. His fears proved all too accur­ate.

Now in the post-9/11 world, the threat goes even fur­ther: the mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al com­plex is evolving into the mil­it­ary-intel­li­gence com­plex. It is a world, I fear, that is pro­pelling us into a dysto­pi­an sur­veil­lance night­mare.

I have seen this night­mare unfold from close quar­ters. In the mid-90s I was an intel­li­gence officer for MI5, the UK domest­ic secur­ity ser­vice. That is, until I resigned to help my former part­ner and col­league Dav­id Shayler blow the whistle on a cata­logue of incom­pet­ence, cov­er-ups and crimes com­mit­ted by spies. We naively hoped that this would lead to an inquiry, and a review of intel­li­gence work and account­ab­il­ity with­in the notori­ously secret­ive Brit­ish sys­tem.

The blun­ders and illeg­al oper­a­tions that we wit­nessed in our six years at MI5 took place at what is prob­ably the most eth­ic­al and account­able dec­ade in the Brit­ish spy­ing service’s 100-year his­tory.

Even then, they were get­ting away with pretty much whatever they wanted.

Since the attacks of 9/11, I have watched with increas­ing dis­may as more powers, money and resources have been pumped into the inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence com­munity to com­bat the neb­u­lous ‘war on ter­ror’. As a res­ult, civil liber­ties have been eroded in our own coun­tries, and count­less inno­cent people have been killed, maimed and dis­placed across the Middle East.

The Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (RIPA), which was designed to allow our spy agen­cies to law­fully inter­cept our com­mu­nic­a­tions to counter ter­ror­ism and organ­ised crime, has been routinely used and abused by almost 800 pub­lic bod­ies. MI5 admit­ted to mak­ing 1,061 mis­takes or ‘admin­is­trat­ive errors’ this year alone in its applic­a­tion of RIPA, accord­ing to the Inter­cep­tion of Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion­er, Sir Paul Kennedy.

Intel­li­gence creep extends to the police, as we saw with the under­cov­er police scan­dal earli­er this year, where the unac­count­able Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit was dis­covered to be infilt­rat­ing harm­less and legit­im­ate protest groups for years on end.

It is a world, I fear, that is pro­pelling us into a dysto­pi­an sur­veil­lance night­mare.

Even bey­ond the under­cov­er cops, we have seen an explo­sion in cor­por­ate spy­ing. This involves mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies such as Xe (formerly Black­wa­ter), Kroll, Aegis and Dili­gence offer­ing not just secur­ity muscle in hot­spots around the world, but also bespoke oper­a­tions enabling big cor­por­a­tions to check out staff or to infilt­rate and invest­ig­ate protest groups that may embar­rass the com­pan­ies.

The mer­cen­ary spy oper­ates without any over­sight what­so­ever, and can even be gran­ted immunity from pro­sec­u­tion, as Xe enjoyed when oper­at­ing in Iraq.

The last dec­ade has also been a boom time for com­pan­ies provid­ing high-tech sur­veil­lance cap­ab­il­it­ies. One aspect of this in the UK – the endem­ic CCTV cov­er­age – is notori­ous. Loc­al coun­cils have inves­ted in mobile CCTV smart spy cars, while cam­er­as that bark orders to you on the street have been tri­alled in Middles­brough.

Drones are increas­ingly used for aer­i­al sur­veil­lance – and the poten­tial for mil­it­ar­isa­tion of these tools is clear.

All this des­pite the fact that the head of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police depart­ment that is respons­ible for pro­cessing all this sur­veil­lance inform­a­tion stated pub­licly that CCTV evid­ence is use­less in help­ing to solve all but 3% of street rob­ber­ies in Lon­don. In fact, since CCTV has been rolled out nation­ally, viol­ent crime on the streets of Bri­tain has increased.

But, hey, who cares about facts when secur­ity is Big Busi­ness? Someone, some­where, is get­ting very rich by rolling out ever more Orwellian sur­veil­lance tech­no­logy. And while the tech­no­logy might not be used against the wider UK cit­izenry in a par­tic­u­larly malig­nant man­ner – yet – the same com­pan­ies are cer­tainly allow­ing their tech­no­lo­gies to find their way to the more viol­ent and repress­ive Middle East­ern states.

That would nev­er hap­pen in Bri­tain – would it? We retain an optim­ist­ic faith in the long-term benign inten­tions of our gov­ern­ment, while tut-tut­ting over Syr­i­an police snatch squads pre-empt­ively arrest­ing sus­pec­ted dis­sid­ents. Yet this has already happened in the UK: before the roy­al wed­ding in April, pro­test­ers were pre-empt­ively arres­ted to ensure that they would not cause embar­rass­ment. The intent is the same in Syr­ia and Bri­tain. Only the scale and bru­tal­ity dif­fers – at the moment.

When I worked for MI5 in the 1990s I was appalled how eas­ily tele­phone inter­cep­tion could be used illeg­ally, and how eas­ily the spies could hide their incom­pet­ence and crimes from the gov­ern­ment. In the last dec­ade it has become much worse, with seni­or spies and police officers repeatedly being caught out lying to the tooth­less Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment. And this is only the offi­cial intel­li­gence sec­tor.

How much worse is the endem­ic sur­veil­lance car­ried out by the cor­por­ate spy industry?

The bal­ance of power, bolstered by new tech­no­lo­gies, is shift­ing over­whelm­ingly in favour of the Big Broth­er state – well, almost. The WikiLeaks mod­el is help­ing level the play­ing field, and whatever hap­pens to this trail­blaz­ing organ­isa­tion, the prin­ciples and tech­no­logy are out there and will be rep­lic­ated. This genie can­not be put back in the bottle. This – com­bined with the work of informed MPs, invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists and poten­tially the occa­sion­al whis­tleblower – gives me hope that we can halt this slide into a Stasi state.

Annie Machon is a former spy with MI5, the Brit­ish intel­li­gence agency work­ing to pro­tect the UK’s nation­al secur­ity against threats such as ter­ror­ism and espi­on­age.
You can read Annie Machon’s blog ‘Using Our Intel­li­gence’ here.

Book review in The Sunday Express

Noth­ing like being paid to read a book — a win-win situ­ation for me. 

Here’s a link to my review in the Sunday Express news­pa­per of a new his­tory of MI6, called “The Art of Betray­al” by Gor­don Corera, the BBC’s Secur­ity Cor­res­pond­ent.

And here’s the art­icle:

REVIEW: THE ART OF BETRAYALLIFE AND DEATH IN THE BRITISH SECRET SERVICE
Fri­day August 19, 2011
By Annie Machon

THE Art of Betray­al: Life and Death in the Brit­ish Secret Ser­vice
Gor­don Corera Weiden­feld & Nich­olson, £20

THE INTRODUCTION to The Art Of Betray­al, Gor­don Corera’s unof­fi­cial post-war his­tory of MI6, raises ques­tions about the mod­ern rel­ev­ance and eth­ic­al frame­work of our spies. It also provides an anti­dote to recent offi­cial books cel­eb­rat­ing the cen­ten­ar­ies of MI5 and MI6.

Corera, the BBC’s secur­ity cor­res­pond­ent, has enjoyed priv­ileged access to key spy play­ers from the past few dec­ades and, writ­ing in an enga­ging, easy style, he picks up the story of MI6 at the point where the “offi­cial” his­tory grinds to a halt after the Second World War.

Spy geeks will enjoy the swash­buck­ling stor­ies from the Cold War years and he offers an intel­li­gent explor­a­tion of the men­tal­ity of betray­al between the West and the former Soviet Uni­on, focus­ing on the notori­ous Philby, Pen­kovsky and Gordi­evsky cases among many oth­ers.

For the more cyn­ic­al read­er, this book presents some prob­lems. Where Corera dis­cusses the aim­less years of MI6 post-Cold War attempts at rein­ven­tion, fol­lowed by the mus­cu­lar, mor­ally ambigu­ous post-9/11 world, he ref­er­ences quotes from former top spies and offi­cial inquir­ies only, all of which need to be read with a healthy degree of skep­ti­cism. To use a mem­or­able quote from the Six­ties Pro­fumo Scan­dal, also men­tioned in the book: “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

In Corera’s view, there has always been inher­ent ten­sion in MI6 between the “doers” (who believe that intel­li­gence is there to be acted upon James Bond-style and who want to get their hands dirty with cov­ert oper­a­tions) and the “thinkers” (those who believe, à la George Smi­ley, that know­ledge is power and should be used behind the scenes to inform offi­cial gov­ern­ment policy).

He demon­strates that the “doers” have often been in con­trol and the image of MI6 staffed by gung-ho, James Bond wan­nabes is cer­tainly a ste­reo­type I recog­nise from my years work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer for the sis­ter spy organ­isa­tion, MI5.

The prob­lem, as this book reveals, is that when the action men have the cul­tur­al ascend­ancy with­in MI6 events often go badly wrong through estab­lish­ment com­pla­cency, betray­al or mere enthu­si­ast­ic ama­teur­ism.

That said, the oppos­ing cul­ture of the “thinkers”, or patient intel­li­gence gather­ers, led in the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties to intro­spec­tion, mole-hunt­ing para­noia and scler­osis.

Wor­ry­ingly, many former officers down the years are quoted as say­ing that they hoped there was a “real” spy organ­isa­tion behind the appar­ently ama­teur out­fit they had joined, a sen­ti­ment shared by most of my intake in the Nineties.

Nor does it appear that les­sons were learned from his­tory: the Oper­a­tion Gla­dio débâcle in Albania and the top­pling of Iran’s first demo­crat­ic­ally-elec­ted Pres­id­ent Mossad­eq in the Fifties could have provided valu­able les­sons for MI6 in its work in Afgh­anistan, Iraq, and Libya over the past two dec­ades.

Corera is remark­ably coy about Libya des­pite the wealth of now pub­licly-avail­able inform­a­tion about MI6’s med­dling in the Lock­er­bie case, the illeg­al assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi­in 1996 and the dirty, MI6-brokered oil deals of the past dec­ade.

Corera pulls togeth­er his recur­ring themes in the final chapters, explor­ing the com­prom­ise of intel­li­gence in jus­ti­fy­ing the Iraq war, describ­ing how the “doers” pumped unveri­fied intel­li­gence from unproven agents dir­ectly into the veins of White­hall and Wash­ing­ton.

Many civil ser­vants and middle-rank­ing spies ques­tioned and doubted but were told to shut up and fol­low orders. The res­ults are all-too tra­gic­ally well known.

Corera does not, how­ever, go far enough.

He appre­ci­ates that the glob­al reach of MI6 main­tains Britain’s place in an exclus­ive club of world powers. At what price, though?

Here is the ques­tion he should per­haps have asked: in light of all the mis­takes, betray­als, liber­ties com­prom­ised, les­sons unlearned and deaths, has MI6 out­lived its use­ful­ness?

Annie Machon is a former MI5 intel­li­gence officer and author.

Ver­dict 4/5

Guardian article: the role of the spies in the UK

Here’s the text of an art­icle I wrote for The Guard­i­an a while ago, where I sug­gest we need a fresh per­spect­ive and some clear think­ing on the role of the spies in the UK

Worth reit­er­at­ing, fol­low­ing the pre-empt­ive arrest of pro­test­ers:

Mark_KennedyThe cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men, start­ing with PC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”, has high­lighted the iden­tity crisis afflict­ing the Brit­ish secur­ity estab­lish­ment. Private under­cov­er police units are hav­ing their James Bond moment – cider shaken, not stirred – while MI5 has become ever more plod-like, yet without the accom­pa­ny­ing over­sight. How has this happened to our demo­cracy without any pub­lic debate?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously tar­nished. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

Acpo_logoIt should there­fore come as little sur­prise that Acpo, the private lim­ited com­pany com­pris­ing seni­or police officers across the coun­try, came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. Acpo set up the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU). This first focused primar­ily on anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able, Stasi-like unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism. So, plod has become increas­ingly spooky. What of the spooks?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks are now allegedly doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 oper­ate out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. The remit of the intel­li­gence and secur­ity com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment only cov­ers the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role. The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

Climate_camp_and_policeThe core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 70s-90s.

Once we under­stand the real threats, we as a nation can dis­cuss the steps to take to pro­tect ourselves; what meas­ures should be taken and what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.

Guantanamo Files: was Bin Hamlili really an MI6 source?

My recent art­icle in The Guard­i­an news­pa­per about the strange, sad case of yet anoth­er Guantanamo vic­tim.

Guantá­namo Bay files: Was Bin Ham­lili really an MI6 source?

With dirty tricks rife in the secret ser­vice we may nev­er know the truth about the Algeri­an carpet-seller’s ver­sion of events.

Anoth­er cache of intel­li­gence nas­ties has emerged, blink­ing, into the main­stream media day­light by way of WikiLeaks. This time, the inform­a­tion is drawn from offi­cial Guantá­namo reports on detain­ees, draw­ing on inform­a­tion gleaned over the years of “enhanced” inter­rog­a­tions.

One case that caught my atten­tion was that of Algeri­an car­pet seller Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin Ham­lili, an alleged “al-Qaida oper­at­ive, facil­it­at­or, cour­i­er, kid­nap­per and assas­sin” who also appar­ently worked as an agent of CSIS (Cana­dian Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice) and our very own MI6. So was this man a double-agent, play­ing his own lonely game and caught between the demands of his al-Qaida con­tacts and his west­ern hand­lers? Or has MI6 been employ­ing its very own al-Qaida assas­sin?

The report states that this is Bin Hamlili’s story in his own words – no doubt freely uttered as he emerged, splut­ter­ing, from yet anoth­er inter­rog­a­tion. It appears that he entered the mujahideen world when he was a child in the 1980s, fight­ing the Soviet occu­pa­tion of Afgh­anistan. An era when the group was very much an ally of the west, fun­ded, trained and armed by the CIA and MI6 in the fight against the Soviet Uni­on.

This could very well have led to MI6 and/or CSIS approach­ing Bin Ham­lili as a poten­tial source of human intel­li­gence. Humint sources are the crown jew­els of intel­li­gence work – able to reach parts bey­ond the range of elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance. The down­side, of course, is that they are merely human and need strong sup­port and backup to sur­vive their dan­ger­ous job, year after year. This is some­thing that is not always provided to them and they can often end up feel­ing exposed, increas­ingly para­noid and in real danger, play­ing every side just to sur­vive.

While some agents do indeed suf­fer a genu­ine revul­sion towards their earli­er alle­gi­ances – the basic ideo­lo­gic­al shift – and try to atone by help­ing the spooks, most are entrapped by the oth­er three points in the clas­sic spy acronym: money, ideo­logy, com­prom­ise, ego. These are more shaded, com­pelled motiv­a­tions that can lead to resent­ment and poten­tial double-deal­ing, and require close agent hand­ling and care. Unfor­tu­nately, this is often lack­ing.

So wel­come to the clas­sic intel­li­gence “hall of mir­rors”. Was Bin Ham­lili really an MI6 source? Or was this just an attempt to stop the tor­ture in Guantá­namo, how­ever tem­por­ar­ily? Per­haps he was play­ing both sides? Or per­haps he faith­fully repor­ted back to his CSIS/MI6 hand­lers but his reports were not effect­ively acted on – this hap­pens in the intel­li­gence agen­cies – and the culp­able officers brushed these mis­takes under the car­pet by claim­ing “agent unre­li­ab­il­ity” or “lack of co-oper­a­tion”.

Or, more wor­ry­ingly, Bin Ham­lili might indeed have had an effect­ive work­ing rela­tion­ship with his hand­lers and was actu­ally tasked in his work as pro­vocateur or even ter­ror­ist, for some arcane intel­li­gence pur­poses. But once caught, he was deemed to be polit­ic­ally embar­rass­ing and hung out to dry.

This would cer­tainly not be the first time this has happened to intel­li­gence agents. Dirty tricks were intrins­ic in the dirty war in North­ern Ire­land from the early 1970s, and agents such as Mar­tin McGart­land, Denis Don­ald­son (deceased) and Kev­in Fulton have learned all too bru­tally what the phrase “hung out to dry” really means.

This was not restric­ted to North­ern Ire­land. In 1996, MI6 illeg­ally fun­ded an “al-Qaida” coup to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi, using as its agent a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer. The attempt mani­festly failed, although inno­cent people were killed in the attempt. This was all hushed up at the time, but now seems rather tame as we watch our defence sec­ret­ary, Liam Fox, fly out to dis­cuss with his US coun­ter­part, Robert Gates, the overt assas­sin­a­tion of Gad­dafi using pred­at­or drones. State ter­ror­ism as the new dip­lomacy?

I doubt we shall ever now know the truth behind Bin Hamlili’s report. The expos­ure of the Guantá­namo régime high­lights once again that tor­ture is coun­ter­pro­duct­ive – it panders to the pre­con­cep­tions of the inter­rog­at­ors and acts as a recruit­ing ground for future poten­tial ter­ror­ists. This used to be the con­sensus even with­in our intel­li­gence agen­cies, pre-9/11. They need to re-remem­ber the les­sons of his­tory, and their human­ity.

My article about the role of the spies, The Guardian, 24 January 2011

Annie_1_Heleen_Banner Here’s a link to my art­icle in The Guard­i­an today, explor­ing the con­fused roles of mod­ern Brit­ish spies, and look­ing at some ways to sort out the mess.  Both the police and the spooks seem to be hav­ing a bit of an iden­tity crisis at the moment…

 

Are envir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists really a spy­ing pri­or­ity?

Rev­el­a­tions about police­men spy­ing on envir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists sug­gest we need a sense of per­spect­ive on threats to the nation.

The cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men, start­ing with PC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”, has high­lighted the iden­tity crisis afflict­ing the Brit­ish secur­ity estab­lish­ment. Private under­cov­er police units are hav­ing their James Bond moment – cider shaken, not stirred – while MI5 has become ever more plod-like, yet without the accom­pa­ny­ing over­sight. How has this happened to our demo­cracy without any pub­lic debate?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously tar­nished. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that Acpo, the private lim­ited com­pany com­pris­ing seni­or police officers across the coun­try, came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. Acpo set up the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU). This first focused primar­ily on anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able, Stasi-like unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism. So, plod has become increas­ingly spooky. What of the spooks?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks are now allegedly doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 oper­ate out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. The remit of the intel­li­gence and secur­ity com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment only cov­ers the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role. The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 70s-90s.

Once we under­stand the real threats, we as a nation can dis­cuss the steps to take to pro­tect ourselves; what meas­ures should be taken and what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.