A Tale of Two Tortures

First pub­lished by Con​sor​ti​um​news​.com.

It was with some dis­be­lief that I read of two tor­ture-related stor­ies emer­ging around the same time last week. The first was about the leg­al vic­tory of Abdul Hakim Bel­haj, Liby­an dis­sid­ent, kid­nap vic­tim of MI6 and the CIA, and tor­ture vic­tim of Col­on­el Gad­dafi. UK gov­ern­ment­al apo­lo­gies were finally made and repar­a­tion paid. For once justice was seen to be done and the use of tor­ture con­demned.

Mean­while, across the pond last week the reverse side of the same coin was on full dis­gust­ing dis­play. Our Amer­ic­an chums are in the pro­cess of attempt­ing to appoint an alleged notori­ous tor­turer as the head of the CIA.

While nom­in­ee Gina Haspel had soft-ball ques­tions lobbed at her by a tame pack of sen­at­ors at her con­firm­a­tion hear­ing, retired CIA seni­or ana­lyst, former pres­id­en­tial briefer, and now justice act­iv­ist, Ray McGov­ern, who stood up and said what the Sen­at­ors knew, but would not say; namely that she super­vised — dir­ectly, on site — the water­board­ing of Al Nashiri, who had been kid­napped and brought to the first secret CIA pris­on abroad (in Thai­l­and) for “inter­rog­a­tion.” McGov­ern was dragged out by four burly police, thrown to the ground, and injured when addi­tion­al police piled on. Here is a link to the video of this assault.

By jux­ta­pos­ing these two incid­ents I am not try­ing to make the point that the UK is mor­ally bet­ter than the USA when it comes to tor­ture over the last 17 years – mani­festly it has not been – but cer­tainly in the time I served in MI5 in the 1990s the use of tor­ture was ver­boten. Partly for eth­ic­al reas­ons, but mainly because the Brit­ish Deep State had learned to its cost how counter-pro­duct­ive the use of tor­ture and illeg­al impris­on­ment could be dur­ing the early stages of the bit­ter civil war in North­ern Ire­land in the 1970s.

Unfor­tu­nately those hard-won les­sons were gen­er­a­tion­al, and that peer group began to retire in the late 1990s. As a res­ult, come the after­math of 9/11, when the USA lurched down a path of harsh mil­it­ary retali­ation, illeg­al war, kid­nap­ping and tor­ture, the com­pli­ant Brit­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies fol­lowed hel­ter-skel­ter down the same path, all in the name of the spe­cial intel­li­gence rela­tion­ship.

So, back to the Bel­haj case. To get to the root of this I shall need to trans­port you back to 1995. Although the US-fun­ded Mujahideen in Afgh­anistan was by then morph­ing into Al Qaeda and had just about hit the radar of MI5 as an emer­gent, if region­al threat, peace seemed to be break­ing out all over the world: the Cold War was offi­cially over, a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion to the civil war in North­ern Ire­land was in the mak­ing, and there even seemed to be some pro­gress with the run­ning polit­ic­al sore that is Palestine and the Israeli occu­pa­tion, with the Oslo Accords of 1993.

How­ever, Libya – at that time a “rogue” nation – was still on the West­ern intel­li­gence hit list. Partly because it was sus­pec­ted by the UK gov­ern­ment to have been behind the Lock­er­bie bomb­ing in 1988 and the search for the per­pet­rat­ors was a top level pri­or­ity for MI6 in which it had failed for years to make any pro­gress, and partly because Gad­dafi had largely closed the huge Liby­an oil reserves to West­ern oil com­pan­ies.

So when, in 1995, a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer (sub­sequently code­named TUNWORTH) walked into the Brit­ish embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the res­id­ent spook, MI6 leapt at the chance to get rid of Gad­dafi, solve the Lock­er­bie case, and allow Bri­tain and its allies to once again plun­der the vast Liby­an oil reserves.

TUNWORTH had a group of “rag-tag Islam­ist extrem­ists” to carry out this coup attempt, and wanted sup­port and money from MI6, which was quickly offered. The attack was illeg­al under UK law, which required a min­is­teri­al sign-off before such an oper­a­tion, it went wrong, and it killed inno­cent people. How much hein­ous could it get? Here is the full account of this failed coup attempt.

So how does this fit in with Abdul Hakim Bel­haj? Well, it turns out he was the co-founder of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group (LIFG), the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had fun­ded for this attack. As a res­ult, he was a wanted man in Libya. And after Gaddafi’s return to the inter­na­tion­al fold fol­low­ing his notori­ous deal in the desert with then-UK Prime Min­is­ter, Tony Blair, in 2004, Bel­haj was the gift from MI6 that sealed the deal.

In 2004 he and his preg­nant wife were tracked down and inter­cep­ted by MI6 in Kuala Lum­pur, Malay­sia. They were flown to Bangkok in Thai­l­and and held in a CIA black site, before onward trans­it to Libya. The flight took 18 hours, and both Bel­haj and his preg­nant wife were lashed to the floor of a US mil­it­ary trans­port plan for the dur­a­tion.

Bel­haj was sub­sequently held in the notori­ous Abu Selim pris­on for the next six years where he was repeatedly and hideously tor­tured. He was finally released under an amnesty brokered by Gaddafi’s son and heir, Saif al-Islam, in 2010.

All that might have been that, except the West made a cata­stroph­ic decision to once again try to depose Col­on­el Gad­dafi in 2011. This time the charge was led not by the USA but by France and its Pres­id­ent at the time, Nic­olas Sarkozy, but ably backed up by the ever-reli­able UK and USA, in a “human­it­ari­an inter­ven­tion” to pro­tect the cit­izens of Islam­ist Benghazi – which by the way was not under dir­ect threat at the time. Anoth­er fab­ric­ated excuse for a West­ern war of aggres­sion.

(As a side note, Sarkozy is cur­rently under invest­ig­a­tion for illeg­ally accept­ing fifty mil­lion euros from Gad­dafi to fund his bid for the French Pres­id­ency in the 2007 elec­tion, and in the same year Gad­dafi was awar­ded a full state vis­it to France.)

This time the West achieved openly and shame­lessly, in the gaze of the world’s media, what they had failed to do shame­fully and in secret in 1996: it toppled Gad­dafi, who was caught, bru­tal­ised and buggered with a bay­on­et, murdered, and his mutil­ated corpse  left on dis­play for days. His son, Saif al-Islam was cap­tured, tor­tured and imprisoned. He is now free and re-enter­ing the polit­ic­al fray in Libya.

In the chaos that fol­lowed the over­throw of Gad­dafi, Human Rights Watch staff made it to Libya and found a cache of doc­u­ments left in the office of notori­ous intel­li­gence chief, Musa Kusa, who had fled the coun­try ini­tially to the UK and then fled on to Qatar.

Amongst these doc­u­ments was a let­ter from the MI6 Head of Counter-Ter­ror­ism, Sir Mark Allen, dated from 2004. He had helped facil­it­ate the “deal in the desert”, and wrote a con­grat­u­lat­ory let­ter to Musa Kusa about being able to help facil­it­ate the cap­ture of Bel­haj, and effect­ively to see him as a “gift” to the Liby­an régime in 2004, as a ges­ture of good will.  Here is an excerpt from Allen’s let­ter to Musa Kusa, sub­mit­ted by Belhaj’s law­yers:

I con­grat­u­late you on the safe arrival of [Mr Bel­haj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demon­strate the remark­able rela­tion­ship we have built over recent years.….Amusingly, we got a request from the Amer­ic­ans to chan­nel requests for inform­a­tion from [Mr Bel­haj] through the Amer­ic­ans. I have no inten­tion of doing any such thing. The intel­li­gence about [Mr Bel­haj] was Brit­ish… I feel I have the right to deal with you dir­ect on this”.

Because of that good will, the Gad­dafi régime fatally trus­ted its new rela­tion­ship with the West; and a man and his preg­nant wife suffered, and the coun­try as a whole con­tin­ues to suf­fer immensely from the ensu­ing civil war that fol­lowed Gaddafi’s assas­sin­a­tion..

The court case last week in the UK was a vic­tory for them. Bel­haj him­self, des­pite suc­cess­ive UK gov­ern­ments offer­ing one mil­lion pounds to drop the case, has always stated that he only required £1, plus an acknow­ledge­ment and apo­logy from the UK gov­ern­ment about what happened to him. This week he finally received it.

For her ordeal, his wife accep­ted half of the amount offered. The three UK key play­ers – PM Tony Blair, For­eign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw, and MI6 Sir Mark Allen nat­ur­ally have yet again not been called to account. Not a blem­ish to their repu­ta­tions….

So are we likely to see the same admis­sion of guilt from the instig­at­ors of the US tor­ture pro­gramme?

Far from it. Even if the Gina Haspel con­firm­a­tion hear­ing in Wash­ing­ton goes against her, the fact she was even con­sidered for the post of head­ing the CIA is utterly shame­less. As was the dis­gust­ing treat­ment of CIA pen­sion­er and peace pro­test­er, Ray McGov­ern.

Swedish SVT TV Interview, November 2014

Here’s an inter­view I did while at the excel­lent Inter­net­dagarna con­fer­ence in Stock­holm last month.  It cov­ers all things whis­tleblower, going on the run, and spy account­ab­il­ity:

Inter­view on Swedish SVT TV, Novem­ber 2014 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Russia — once again Public Enemy No 1

The last Soviet lead­er, Mikhail Gorbachev, said at the cel­eb­ra­tion of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall last week­end that we are facing a new Cold War. What are the geo­pol­it­ic­al real­it­ies behind this state­ment?

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

Last week­end I was invited onto RT to do an inter­view about the com­mem­or­a­tion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, par­tic­u­larly focus­ing on the speech delivered by the last Soviet lead­er, Mikhail Gorbachev, dur­ing his vis­it to Ber­lin.

I would like to expand on some of the top­ics I men­tioned — how to encap­su­late an altern­at­ive geo­pol­it­ic­al per­spect­ive dif­fer­ent from the West­ern ortho­doxy in under four minutes? A task even Monty Python would find chal­len­ging!

The first issue was Gorbachev’s com­ments about a new Cold War. I would agree, and this is being fab­ric­ated by the USA, as that coun­try always needs an Emmanuel Gold­stein fig­ure to jus­ti­fy its mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al com­plex that is bank­rupt­ing the coun­try and bru­tal­ising the world, while enrich­ing the US olig­archs to the det­ri­ment of civil soci­ety every­where.

The first front line in this new Cold War is the inter­net. In the 1990s the USA had a golden oppor­tun­ity — in fact a per­fect storm of oppor­tun­it­ies. It was the last super­power left stand­ing in a newly uni­polar world, his­tory had offi­cially ended and cap­it­al­ism had tri­umphed. The Soviet Uni­on had dis­in­teg­rated and the newly shorn Rus­sia was tot­ter­ing, its vast nation­al wealth being assidu­ously asset-stripped by the glob­al­ised neo­con élite.

Plus, the new world wide web was expo­nen­tially grow­ing and the key pion­eers were pre­dom­in­antly Amer­ic­an com­pan­ies. After an ini­tially pan­icked phase of play­ing catch-up in the 1990s, west­ern spy agen­cies saw the poten­tial for total mas­tery of the inter­net, cre­at­ing a sur­veil­lance pan­op­ticon that the KGB or the Stasi could only have fan­tas­ised about. With thanks to Edward Snowden, we are now begin­ning to get glimpses of the full hor­ror of the sur­veil­lance under which we all now live.

But it is not all down to the NSA.  Build­ing on the old Ech­el­on mod­el, which was so nearly over­thrown in Europe back in July 2001, the NSA has sub­orned, bought and pros­ti­tuted oth­er west­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies across Europe to do its bid­ding.  Ger­many, at the nex­us of east and west Europe, remains a front line in this battle, with the BND pos­sibly work­ing uncon­sti­tu­tion­ally to do the NSA’s bid­ding, even appar­ently to the det­ri­ment of its own nation­al interest. The politi­cians (some) and hackt­iv­ists (many) are fight­ing back.

But it is the geo­graph­ic­al bound­ar­ies that have shif­ted most sig­ni­fic­antly since the fall of the Wall.  Here I need to cred­it former seni­or CIA officer, pres­id­en­tial advisor and cur­rent peace act­iv­ist Ray McGov­ern, for all the use­ful inform­a­tion he provided dur­ing his vari­ous talks and inter­views across Europe a couple of months ago.

Ray, a flu­ent Rus­si­an speak­er, worked as a Soviet expert for much of his career in the CIA. As such he was privy to the behind-the-scenes nego­ti­at­ing that occurred after the fall of the Wall.  When this happened the USA pushed for Ger­man reuni­fic­a­tion but was wor­ried about the 260,000 Soviet troops sta­tioned in the former GDR. They cut a deal with Gorbachev, stat­ing that NATO would not move “one inch” fur­ther than Ger­many after reuni­fic­a­tion. This the Sovi­ets accep­ted, and with­drew their troops.

NATO_Expansion_2Well, we all know what has happened since. NATO has expan­ded east at an amaz­ing rate, now encom­passing a fur­ther 12 east­ern European coun­tries includ­ing the Balt­ic States and Poland, which the US has used as a base for an increas­ing num­ber of “defens­ive” mis­sile sys­tems. In 2008 NATO also issued a declar­a­tion that Geor­gia and Ukraine would be wel­come to join, tak­ing the front line up to the bor­ders of Rus­sia. Coin­cid­ent­ally, both these coun­tries in recent years have been por­trayed as the vic­tims of “Rus­si­an expan­sion­ism”

In 2008 Geor­gia invaded the dis­puted eth­nic Rus­si­an region of South Osse­tia. Rus­sia moved to pro­tect the people and gave the Geor­gi­an mil­it­ary a bloody nose. Any­one remem­ber that? At the time it was por­trayed across the West­ern media as Rus­si­an aggres­sion, but the facts have emerged since to dis­prove this ver­sion of events.

Sim­il­arly, this year we have seen a viol­ent coup over­throw demo­crat­ic­ally-elec­ted Pres­id­ent Yanukovych of Ukraine when he was inclined to stay with­in the Rus­si­an sphere of influ­ence rather than ally the coun­try more closely to the EU under the asset-strip­ping aus­ter­ity meas­ures deman­ded by the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund. Vic­tor­ia Nuland, the US Assist­ant Sec­ret­ary of State respons­ible for Europe, was heard to dis­cuss the US had over pre­vi­ous years pumped $5 bil­lion into Ukraine to sub­vert it, that the newly installed Prime Min­is­ter would be “their man”, and “fuck the EU”.

And yet still Rus­sia is blamed for aggres­sion. I am not an apo­lo­gist for Rus­sia, but the facts speak for them­selves even if they are not widely repor­ted in the West­ern main­stream media.

But why on earth would the US be med­dling in Ukraine? Would an expan­sion of NATO be suf­fi­cient excuse in America’s self-inter­ested eyes?  Prob­ably not.

Which leads me on to a very inter­est­ing art­icle by Eric Zuesse. The argu­ment of his well-researched and ref­er­enced report is that it all comes down to energy sup­plies once again.  When does it not?

The USA has some unsa­voury allies in the Middle East, includ­ing theo­crat­ic dic­tat­or­ships such as Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar.  Their vast energy reserves are not only essen­tial to the USA, but also the trad­ing of these reserves in the petro­dol­lar mono­poly is vital to prop­ping up the bank­rupt US eco­nomy.

Rus­sia, at the moment, is the primary energy sup­pli­er to the EU — the world’s largest mar­ket. Iran, a Rus­si­an cli­ent, wanted to build a pipeline via Syr­ia with Pres­id­ent Assad’s approv­al, to exploit this vast mar­ket.  How­ever, Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar and the USA appar­ently have oth­er plans involving a pipeline from Qatar via Syr­ia to Europe.

Hence the urgent need to over­throw Assad and put a Sunni pup­pet gov­ern­ment in place, more pal­at­able to those pulling the strings. Qatar’s pre­ferred can­did­ate of choice would be more mod­er­ate, such as the Muslim Broth­er­hood. Saudi, on the oth­er hand, would have no com­punc­tion about installing a hard-line fun­da­ment­al­ist régime in place — up to and includ­ing ISIS. And thus the murder, may­hem and human suf­fer­ing erupt­ing across the region now. This is an appalling real life example of the hor­rors inher­ent in Brzezinski’s psy­cho­path­ic “grand chess­board”.

It is widely accep­ted tru­ism today, over a dec­ade after the “war on ter­ror” began, that all the wars in the Middle East were launched to pro­tect America’s oil and energy interests. Less well known is the country’s des­per­ate scramble to pro­tect the petro­dol­lar mono­poly. If that fails, the dol­lar will no longer remain the world’s reserve cur­rency and the USA is fin­an­cially screwed.

If you look at all the recent wars, inva­sions, and “human­it­ari­an inter­ven­tions” that have res­ul­ted in col­lapsed coun­tries and anarchy across whole regions, it is clear that bey­ond oil and gas the key issue is money: pre-2003 Iraq tried to trade what oil it could in euros not dol­lars and Sad­dam Hus­sein was deposed; des­pite being wel­comed briefly back into the inter­na­tion­al fold, once Libya’s Col­on­el Gad­dafi began to talk about estab­lish­ing an Afric­an gold dinar cur­rency, backed by Libya’s oil wealth to chal­lenge the petro­dol­lar, he too was toppled; Assad wanted to facil­it­ate energy pipelines to Europe for Rus­sia and Iran, and he was attacked; even Iran tried to trade its energy reserves in euros, and lo and behold it was almost invaded in 2008; and finally Rus­sia itself trades some of its energy in rubles.

As people say, always fol­low the money.

So, in my view, this is the cur­rent geo­pol­it­ic­al situ­ation. Rus­sia is now strong enough, with its dom­in­a­tion of Europe’s energy sup­ply, its back­ing of Middle East­ern coun­tries that want to break away from the US sphere of influ­ence, and its trade deals and estab­lish­ment of an inde­pend­ent glob­al invest­ment devel­op­ment bank with oth­er BRICS coun­tries, that it can chal­lenge the US hege­mony.

How­ever, threaten the petro­dol­lar mono­poly and thereby the very fin­an­cial solvency of the United States of Amer­ica and you are sud­denly Pub­lic Enemy No 1.

As I said, I am by no means an apo­lo­gist for Rus­sia — I tell it like I see it. To west­ern sens­ib­il­it­ies, Rus­sia has some ser­i­ous domest­ic issues to address: human rights abuses dur­ing the bru­tal Chechen war; its sus­pec­ted involve­ment in the death by poloni­um-210 pois­on­ing of KGB defect­or Alex­an­der Litv­inen­ko in Lon­don in 2006; its overly-pun­it­ive drug laws; and human rights abuses against dis­sid­ents, the LGBT com­munity, and journ­al­ists. Yet the West has merely mouthed plat­it­ud­in­ous objec­tions to all these issues.

So why now is Rus­sia being inter­na­tion­ally excor­i­ated and pen­al­ised for actions for which it is not respons­ible?  Over the last few years it has looked states­man­like com­pared to the US and its vas­sal states: it was not involved with the Libya fiasco, it has giv­en safe haven to NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden, and it hal­ted the rush to yet anoth­er dis­astrous west­ern war in Syr­ia.

Nor, to my west­ern European sens­ib­il­it­ies, are Amer­ica and its aco­lytes too pristine either, with their mass sur­veil­lance, pres­id­en­tially-approved kill lists, illeg­al wars, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and drone bomb­ings. Not to men­tion their domest­ic addic­tion to gun own­er­ship and the death pen­alty, but that’s anoth­er story.…

Yet the US media-enabled pro­pa­ganda machines jus­ti­fy all of the above and demon­ise anoth­er coun­try, cre­at­ing yet anoth­er fresh bogey­man to jus­ti­fy yet more “defence” spend­ing.

The Rus­si­an bear is being baited, increas­ingly sur­roun­ded by yap­ping curs. I thought this sport had been made illeg­al hun­dreds of years ago, at least in Europe — but obvi­ously not in the dirty realm of inter­na­tion­al polit­ics.  It is a mar­vel the bear has not lashed out more in the face of such pro­voca­tion.

There was a chance for peace when the Wall came down 25 years ago. If the US had upheld its side of the gentlemen’s agree­ment about not expand­ing NATO, if the neo­con pred­at­ors had not pounced on Rus­sia, and if closer integ­ra­tion could have been achieved with Europe, the future could have been rosy.

Unfor­tu­nately, I have to agree with Gorbachev — we are indeed facing a new Cold War, and this time it is of America’s mak­ing. But Europe will bear the brunt, through trade sanc­tions, energy short­ages and even, poten­tially, war. It is time we Europeans broke away from our Amer­ic­an vas­salage and looked to our own future.

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.

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.

Interview on the Abby Martin show, RT America

My recent inter­view on “Break­ing the Set”, Abby Martin’s show on RT Amer­ica, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblow­ing:

Secret Agent Turns Whis­tleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Talk at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism

Wikileaks spokes­man, Kris­tinn Hrafns­son, invited me to speak at the Iceland­ic Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism while I was in Ice­land in Feb­ru­ary.

While focus­ing on the inter­sec­tion and con­trol between intel­li­gence and the media, my talk also explores many of my oth­er cur­rent areas of interest.

Ice­land Journ­al­ists talk 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Real News Network Interview on Whistleblowing

Part One of my recent inter­view on the excel­lent, inde­pend­ent and fear­less Real News Net­work:

A blast from the past

How strange to stumble across this art­icle in the Guard­i­an news­pa­per yes­ter­day, which describes a journalist’s jus­ti­fi­ably para­noid exper­i­ences inter­view­ing Dav­id Shayler and me back in 2000 while writ­ing an art­icle for Esquire magazine.

The author, Dr Eamonn O’Neill, now a lec­turer in journ­al­ism at Strath­clyde Uni­ver­sity, spent a few days with us in Lon­don and Par­is way back when.

Shayler_Esquire_2000The Esquire art­icle high­lights the para­noia and sur­veil­lance that we had to live with at the time, and the con­tra­dict­ory brief­ings and slanders that were com­ing out of the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment and the media. O’Neill also intel­li­gently tries to address the motiv­a­tions of a whis­tleblower.

When it was pub­lished I was mildly uncom­fort­able about this art­icle — I felt it didn’t do Dav­id full justice, nor did it appear to get quite to the heart of the issues he was dis­cuss­ing.  I sup­pose, at the time, I was just too enmeshed in the whole situ­ation.

Now, with hind­sight, it is more per­spic­a­cious than I had thought.  And rather sad.

This art­icle is a timely remind­er of how vicious the estab­lish­ment can be when you cause it embar­rass­ment and pain; the treat­ment meted out to Dav­id Shayler was bru­tal.  And yet noth­ing has changed to this day, as we can see with the ongo­ing pur­suit and vili­fic­a­tion of Wikileaks.

Libya, MI6, and torture — interview on Press TV

Libya, MI6, tor­ture, and more happy sub­jects dis­cussed recently on “Africa Today” on Press TV

The pro­gramme was inter­est­ing, informed and bal­anced.  Do have a watch:

Libyans caught between a rock and a hard place

This art­icle in today’s New York Times, par­tic­u­larly these fol­low­ing two para­graphs, sent a shiver down my spine for the fate of the Liby­an people:

Abdelhakim-Belhaj“The most power­ful mil­it­ary lead­er is now Abdel Hakim Bel­haj, the former lead­er of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.The grow­ing influ­ence of Islam­ists in Libya raises hard ques­tions about the ulti­mate char­ac­ter of the gov­ern­ment and soci­ety that will rise in place of Col. Muam­mar el-Qaddafi’s auto­cracy.….

.…Mr. Bel­haj has become so much an insider lately that he is seek­ing to unseat Mah­moud Jib­ril, the Amer­ic­an-trained eco­nom­ist who is the nom­in­al prime min­is­ter of the inter­im gov­ern­ment, after Mr. Jib­ril obliquely cri­ti­cized the Islam­ists.”

The Liby­ans, finally free of Gaddafi’s 42-year dic­tat­or­ship, now seem faced with a choice between an Islam­ist fac­tion that has stated pub­licly that it wants to base the new con­sti­tu­tion on Sharia — a state­ment that must have caused a few ripples amongst Libya’s edu­cated and rel­at­ively  eman­cip­ated women — or a new gov­ern­ment headed up by an Amer­ic­an-trained eco­nom­ist. 

Shock_DoctrineAnd we all know what hap­pens to coun­tries when such eco­nom­ists move in: asset strip­ping, the syphon­ing off of the nation­al wealth to transna­tion­al mega-corps, and a plunge in the people’s liv­ing stand­ards.  If you think this sounds extreme, then do get your hands on a copy of Naomi Klein’s excel­lent “Shock Doc­trine” — required read­ing for any­one who wants to truly under­stand the grow­ing glob­al fin­an­cial crisis.

Of course, this would be an ideal out­come for the US, UK and oth­er west­ern forces who inter­vened in Libya. 

Mr Bel­haj is, of course, anoth­er mat­ter.  Not only would an Islam­ist Libya be a poten­tially dan­ger­ous res­ult for the West, but should Bel­haj come to power he is likely to be some­what hos­tile to US and par­tic­u­larly Brit­ish interests.  

Why?  Well, Abdul Hakim Bel­haj has form.  He was a lead­ing light in the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group, a ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion which bought into the ideo­logy of “Al Qaeda” and which had made many attempts to depose or assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi, some­times with the fin­an­cial back­ing of the Brit­ish spies, most not­ably in the failed assas­sin­a­tion plot of 1996.

Of course, after 9/11 and Gaddafi’s rap­proche­ment with the West, this col­lab­or­a­tion was all air-brushed out of his­tory — to such an extent that in 2004 MI6 was instru­ment­al in  kid­nap­ping Bel­haj, with the say-so of the CIA, and “extraordin­ar­ily ren­der­ing” him to Tripoli in 2004, where he suffered 6 years’ tor­ture at the hands of Libya’s bru­tal intel­li­gences ser­vices.  After this, I doubt if he would be minded to work too closely with UK com­pan­ies.

So I’m will­ing to bet that there is more behind-the-scenes med­dling from our spooks, to ensure the ascend­ency of Jib­ril in the new gov­ern­ment.  Which will be great for West­ern busi­ness, but not so great for the poor Liby­ans.….

Spy documents found in Libya reveal more British double dealing

Musa_KousaA cache of highly clas­si­fied intel­li­gence doc­u­ments was recently dis­covered in the aban­doned offices of former Liby­an spy mas­ter, For­eign Min­is­ter and high-pro­file defect­or, Musa Kusa.

These doc­u­ments have over the last couple of weeks provided a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the grow­ing links in the last dec­ade between the former UK Labour gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly Tony Blair, and the Gad­dafi régime.  They have dis­played in oily detail the degree of toady­ing that the Blair gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to coun­ten­ance, not only to secure luc­rat­ive busi­ness con­tracts but also to gloss over embar­rass­ing epis­odes such as Lock­er­bie and the false flag MI6-backed 1996 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi.

These doc­u­ments have also appar­ently revealed dir­ect involve­ment by MI6 in the “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” to Tripoli and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  Iron­ic­ally it has been repor­ted that they were wanted for being mem­bers of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group, the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had backed in its failed 1996 coup.

The sec­u­lar dic­tat­or­ship of Col Gad­dafi always had much to fear from Islam­ist extrem­ism, so it is per­haps unsur­pris­ing that, after Blair’s notori­ous “deal in the desert” in 2004, the Gad­dafi régime used its con­nec­tions with MI6 and the CIA to hunt down its enemies.  And, as we have all been end­lessly told, the rules changed after 9/11…

The tor­ture  vic­tims, one of whom is now a mil­it­ary com­mand­er of the rebel Liby­an forces, are now con­sid­er­ing suing the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time, has tried to shuffle off any blame, stat­ing that he could not be expec­ted to know everything that MI6 does.

Well, er, no — part of the job descrip­tion of For­eign Sec­ret­ary is indeed to over­see the work of MI6 and hold it to demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity, espe­cially about such ser­i­ous policy issues as “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture.  Such oper­a­tions would indeed need the min­is­teri­al sign-off to be leg­al under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

There has been just so much hot air from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment about how the Gib­son Tor­ture Inquiry will get to the bot­tom of these cases, but we all know how tooth­less such inquir­ies will be, cir­cum­scribed as they are by the terms of the Inquir­ies Act 2005.  We also know that Sir Peter Gib­son him­self has for years been “embed­ded” with­in the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity and is hardly likely to hold the spies mean­ing­fully to account.

MoS_Shayler_11_09_2011So I was par­tic­u­larly intrigued to hear that the the cache of doc­u­ments showed the case of Dav­id Shayler, the intel­li­gence whis­tleblower who revealed the 1996 Gad­dafi assas­sin­a­tion plot and went to pris­on twice for doing so, first in France in 1998 and then in the UK in 2002, was still a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion between the Liby­an and UK gov­ern­ments in 2007. And, as I have writ­ten before, as late as 2009 it was obvi­ous that this case was still used by the Liby­ans for lever­age, cer­tainly when it came to the tit-for-tat nego­ti­ations around case of the murder in Lon­don out­side the Liby­an Embassy of WPC Yvonne Fletch­er in 1984.

Of course, way back in 1998, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment was all too ready to crush the whis­tleblower rather than invest­ig­ate the dis­clos­ures and hold the spies to account for their illeg­al and reck­less acts.  I have always felt that this was a fail­ure of demo­cracy, that it ser­i­ously under­mined the future work and repu­ta­tion of the spies them­selves, and par­tic­u­larly that it was such a shame for the fate of the PBW (poor bloody whis­tleblower).

But it now appears that the Brit­ish intel­li­gence community’s sense of omni­po­tence and of being above the law has come back to bite them.  How else explain their slide into a group-think men­tal­ity that par­ti­cip­ates in “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture?

One has to won­der if wily old Musa Kusa left this cache of doc­u­ments behind in his aban­doned offices as an “insur­ance policy”, just in case his defec­tion to the UK were not to be as com­fort­able as he had hoped — and we now know that he soon fled to Qatar after he had been ques­tioned about the Lock­er­bie case.

But wheth­er an hon­est mis­take or cun­ning power play, his actions have helped to shine a light into more dark corners of Brit­ish gov­ern­ment lies and double deal­ing vis a vis Libya.…