The Art of State Trolling — a Growing Market

Last week, while I was doing a num­ber of talks for Fun​z​ing​.com in Lon­don, I was invited into RT to dis­cuss a new report about the US mil­it­ary advert­ising for pro­gram­mers who could devel­op soft­ware that tar­geted Ira­ni­an, Chinese and Rus­si­an audi­ences via social media.

The tim­ing proved inter­est­ing. Only days before, it was revealed by @musalbas at the CCC and then via Wikileaks that the UK gov­ern­ment listen­ing post, GCHQ, had appar­ently been doing the same thing since 2009.

And then, coin­cid­ent­ally, only a couple of days after the US dis­clos­ure, it was repor­ted that Rus­sia was now trolling Wiki­pe­dia.

A war of words ensued — and let’s hope that is all it remains. How­ever, this report in the NYT today fills me with dread.

Here is my con­tri­bu­tion from last week:

Pentagon devel­op­ing auto­mated social media troll farms from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Good Technology Collective

Recently I was invited to be on the glob­al coun­cil of a new tech policy inti­ti­at­ive called the Good Tech­no­logy Col­lect­ive, based in Ber­lin.

~ Foun­ded by a group of tech­no­logy enthu­si­asts led by 1aim co-founders Torben Friehe and Yann Lere­taille, the GTC will serve as a cru­cial European for­um for pilot­ing tech­no­lo­gic­al advances in the 21st cen­tury. Through its Expert Coun­cil, it will bring togeth­er lead­ing founders, engin­eers, sci­ent­ists, journ­al­ists, and act­iv­ists, who will research, gen­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion around, and offer coun­sel as to the soci­et­al impact of AI, vir­tu­al real­ity, Inter­net of Things, and data sur­veil­lance.

We believe that there are eth­ic­al ques­tions con­cern­ing how fron­ti­er tech­no­lo­gies will affect our daily lives,” Lere­taille said. “As a soci­ety, Europe deserves broad and access­ible dis­cus­sions of these issues, hos­ted by those who appre­ci­ate, under­stand, and worry about them the most.” ~

The Good Tech­no­logy Col­lect­ive (GTC), a new European think-tank address­ing eth­ic­al issues in tech­no­logy, will offi­cially open its doors in Ber­lin on Decem­ber 15th. The grand open­ing will kick off at 7:30PM (CET) at Soho House Ber­lin and I shall be one of the guest speak­ers.

Invit­a­tions are lim­ited for the grand open­ing. Those inter­ested in attend­ing should con­tact:; or, fill in the invit­a­tion form at: https://​goo​.gl/​X​p​n​djk.

And here is an intro­duct­ory inter­view I did for GTC recently:

Why We Must Fight for Pri­vacy

We live in a soci­ety where shad­owy fig­ures influ­ence what makes the news, who goes to jail, and even who lives or dies.

We live in a sys­tem where cor­por­a­tions and the state work togeth­er to take con­trol of our inform­a­tion, our com­mu­nic­a­tions, and poten­tially even our future digit­al souls.

So we do not merely have the right, but rather the oblig­a­tion, to fight for our pri­vacy.

It is a simple human right that is essen­tial for a func­tion­ing demo­cracy.

But we are a long way away from hav­ing that right guar­an­teed, and we have been for a long time.

My Time as a Spy

I spent six years work­ing with MI5, the Brit­ish domest­ic counter-intel­li­gence and secur­ity agency, in the 1990s. It was a time of rel­at­ive peace after the Cold War and before the hor­rors of Septem­ber 11, 2001, when the gloves came off in the War on Ter­ror.

And even then, I was hor­ri­fied by what I saw.

There was a con­stant stream of illeg­al wireta­ps and files kept on hun­dreds of thou­sands of our cit­izens, act­iv­ists, journ­al­ists, and politi­cians.

Inno­cent people were sent to pris­on due to sup­pressed evid­ence in the 1994 bomb­ing of the Israeli Embassy in Lon­don. IRA bomb­ings that could have been pre­ven­ted were allowed to take place, and the MI6 fun­ded a plot to murder Liby­an lead­er Col­on­el Gad­dafi using Al Qaeda affil­i­ates. He sur­vived, oth­ers did not.

This is just part of the cor­rup­tion I saw intel­li­gence and secur­ity agen­cies engage in.

The pub­lic and many politi­cians believe these agen­cies are account­able to them, but that is simply not how things work in real­ity. More often than not, we only know what they want us to hear.

State Manip­u­lates News and Polit­ics

I wit­nessed gov­ern­ment agen­cies manip­u­late the news through guile and charm, at times even writ­ing it them­selves. Fake news is not new. The state has long shaped media cov­er­age using vari­ous meth­ods.

This was the case in the ana­logue era, and things have become worse in the era of the Web.

In the end, I felt there was no choice but to blow the whistle, know­ing that it would end my career. My part­ner and I resigned, and we went into hid­ing.

We spent years on the run for breach­ing the UK Offi­cial Secrets Act. We would have been imprisoned if caught.

We fled Bri­tain in 1997, spend­ing three years in a French farm­house and a loc­a­tion in Par­is. My part­ner went to pris­on, twice, and we learned indelible les­sons about state power along the way.

Learn­ing the Value of Pri­vacy

We also learned the value of pri­vacy.

As high-value tar­gets, we knew our com­mu­nic­a­tions and rel­at­ives were mon­itored.

So when I called or emailed my moth­er, I had to self-cen­sor. I had to assume that her house was bugged, as yours could be.

Our friends were pres­sured into cooper­at­ing with the police. It was one way we were stripped of our pri­vacy, cor­rod­ing our spir­it.

You lose trust in every­one around you, and you do not say any­thing that could give you away.

Sur­veil­lance Has Moved with the Times

That was then. Today, sur­veil­lance is part of our daily lives, on the Inter­net and in the street.

Edward Snowden recently revealed the scale of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance. And it is mind-bog­gling.

The Snowden Effect, as it is known, has made 28 per­cent of the people in the United King­dom rethink their online habits. If we do not feel we have pri­vacy, then in a way it does not mat­ter if someone is watch­ing us. We will self-cen­sor any­way. Just in case.

This has a tan­gible impact on soci­ety. It is the road to a world like Orwell’s 1984.

Legit­im­ate act­iv­ists know they can be watched. This means that protest­ors may think twice before get­ting involved with press­ing issues. Sur­veil­lance is a sure-fire means of stifling demo­cracy.

We Are All Being Watched

Snowden revealed that Inter­net com­pan­ies opened their doors to the U.S. Nation­al Secur­ity Agency and the Brit­ish Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions Headquar­ters (GCHQ). He also dis­closed that Brit­ish intel­li­gence was hand­ing over inform­a­tion on Europeans to Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence agen­cies.

Both gov­ern­ment agen­cies can access our video com­mu­nic­a­tions. Appar­ently their per­son­nel were forced to sit through so many expli­cit “romantic” video calls that they later had to receive coun­sel­ing.

It might sound amus­ing. But it shows that the state is reg­u­larly invad­ing our pri­vacy.

And that is just gov­ern­ment agen­cies. The cor­por­ate world is sur­veilling us, too. Com­pan­ies have been gran­ted excep­tion­al powers to see who is shar­ing inform­a­tion and files across the Inter­net.

When the FBI Is a Cor­por­ate Tool

In New Zea­l­and, Kim Dot­com developed MegaUp­load. It did have legit­im­ate users, but the fact that some dis­trib­uted pir­ated intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty led to an FBI raid on his home.

Likely under the influ­ence of the FBI, the New Zea­l­and author­it­ies per­mit­ted sur­veil­lance to bol­ster the U.S. extra­di­tion case against him. In Octo­ber 2012, Prime Min­is­ter John Key pub­licly apo­lo­gized to Dot­com, say­ing that the mis­takes made by New Zealand’s Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Secur­ity Bur­eau before and dur­ing the raid were “appalling.

This was all a massive infringe­ment on New Zealand’s sov­er­eignty. One must won­der how the cor­por­ate world can wield so much influ­ence that the FBI is able to a raid the home of an entre­pren­eur on for­eign land.

This is not how gov­ern­ment agen­cies are meant to work. It is a pin­cer move­ment between the cor­por­a­tions and the state.

This Is the Defin­i­tion of Fas­cism

Itali­an dic­tat­or Benito Mus­solini defined fas­cism as the mer­ging of the state and the cor­por­ate world. And it is becom­ing increas­ingly clear that we are head­ing in this dir­ec­tion.

We are all con­stantly con­nec­ted through our smart­phones and com­puters. Incid­ent­ally, any hard­ware, even USB cables, pro­duced after 1998 prob­ably comes with a back­door entry point for the gov­ern­ment.

We also freely provide inform­a­tion on Face­book that would have taken secur­ity and intel­li­gence agen­cies weeks to assemble before the era of digit­al com­mu­nic­a­tions.

We need to know who is watch­ing that inform­a­tion, who can take it, and who can use it against us.

Research con­duc­ted today may one day lead to our entire con­scious­ness being uploaded into a com­puter. Humans could become soft­ware-based. But who might be able to manip­u­late that inform­a­tion and how?

It is vital for us to start think­ing about ques­tions such as these.

Secret Legis­la­tion Can Change Our World

In Europe, we are see­ing the Transat­lantic Trade Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) forced upon us. It is a ghastly piece of legis­la­tion through which cor­por­ate lob­by­ists can neg­at­ively affect 500 mil­lion people.

Its investor-state dis­pute set­tle­ment clause grants mul­tina­tion­al cor­por­a­tions the leg­al status of a nation-state. If they feel gov­ern­ment policies threaten their profits, they can sue gov­ern­ments in arbit­ra­tion tribunals. The treaty paper­work is kept in a guarded room that not even politi­cians work­ing on the legis­la­tion can access freely.

Sim­il­ar pro­jects were attemp­ted before, but they were over­turned by the weight of pub­lic opin­ion. The pub­lic spoke out and pro­tested to ensure that the legis­la­tion nev­er came to pass.

We must pro­tect our right to demo­cracy and the rule of law, free from cor­por­ate inter­ven­tion.

A Per­fect Storm for Pri­vacy?

A per­fect storm against pri­vacy is brew­ing. A debate con­tin­ues over how much con­trol the state should exer­cise over the Inter­net amid the threat of ter­ror­ism, which has become part of mod­ern life.

Add to this the increas­ing ten­sion between the United States and Rus­sia and cli­mate change, and things could get quite messy, quite fast.

We need pri­vacy so we can protest when we need to. We need to be able to read and write about these top­ics, and dis­cuss them. We can­not rely on the main­stream media alone.

We need pri­vacy to be prop­er cit­izens. This includes the right to lobby our politi­cians and express our con­cerns.

We also have to be aware that politi­cians do not know what the intel­li­gence and secur­ity ser­vices are doing. We need to take our pri­vacy into our own hands.

As a start, we must all begin using encryp­tion, open-source soft­ware and oth­er tools to make sure we have pri­vacy. If we do not, we will lose our demo­cracy.

It took our ancest­ors hun­dreds of years of blood, sweat, tears and death to win the right to pri­vacy.

We must defend that leg­acy.

CIA threatens cyber attacks against Russia

The CIA was recently repor­ted to have issued the threat of cyber attacks against the Rus­si­an lead­er­ship, in retali­ation for alleged and unsub­stan­ti­ated claims that Rus­sia is try­ing to influ­ence the Amer­ic­an elec­tions.

Here is an inter­view I did yes­ter­day about this, and wider, issues:

Amer­ic­ans should fear elec­tion hack­ing by US estab­lish­ment, not Rus­sia’ from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Blacklist — how to go on the run

Recently I did this inter­view for BBC Click to pro­mote the third series of the excel­lent US spy series “The Black­list”:

How to go on the run from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
The series is appar­ently huge in the USA — and I can see why, as it is good — but little known to date in the UK.

The Nice terror attack

Here is an inter­view I did in the middle of the night for RT about the Nice ter­ror­ist lorry attack:

And here is the art­icle I men­tioned about the French spy chief warn­ing that the next prob­lem­at­ic epis­ode could lead to civil unrest/war.

The (Il)legality of UK Drone Strikes

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

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

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

World’s Greatest Spy Movies — C4 Trailer

UK nation­al TV sta­tion, Chan­nel Four, recently aired a pro­gramme called “The World’s Greatest Spy Movies”, ask­ing former spooks to com­ment about the real­ity (or not) of icon­ic spy films over the dec­ades. It was a fun inter­view to do, and here’s the trail­er:

TRAILER The World’s Greatest Spy Movies Chan­nel 4 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Trident Whistleblower

My inter­view on RT yes­ter­day about the young whis­tleblower, Sub­mar­iner Wil­li­am McNeilly, who exposed ser­i­ous secur­ity con­cerns about the UK’s nuc­le­ar deterrent sys­tem, Tri­dent:

Annie Machon Tri­dent Whis­tleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Today it was repor­ted that McNeilly turned him­self in to the police at Edin­burgh air­port and is cur­rently in mil­it­ary cus­tody.

AcTVism film trailer

The AcTV­ism Munich media col­lect­ive is releas­ing a film on 19th April fea­tur­ing Noam Chom­sky, The Real News Net­work’s Paul Jay and  myself.

Filmed last Janu­ary, we dis­cussed the old and new media, act­iv­ism, and much more.

Here’s the trail­er:

AcTV­ism Trail­er — Chom­sky, Machon and Jay from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Whistleblower panel discussion at Logan Symposium

Here is a pan­el dis­cus­sion I did about whis­tleblow­ing at the Logan Sym­posi­um in Lon­don last Novem­ber. With me on the pan­el are Eileen Chubb, a UK health care whis­tleblower who runs Com­pas­sion in Care and is cam­paign­ing for Edna’s Law, and Bea Edwards of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject.  With thanks to @newsPeekers for film­ing this.

news­Peek­sLIVE whis­tleblower inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Turkish TV Interview

Here’s the first half of a long inter­view I did last month for the invest­ig­at­ive news pro­gramme in Tur­key, Yaz Boz, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblower and tech secur­ity:

Yaz Boz — Turk­ish news Inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Privacy as Innovation Interview

A recent inter­view I gave while in Stock­holm to the Pri­vacy as Innov­a­tion pro­ject:


German politician wants return to typewriters to evade US surveillance

A com­ment piece from last week on RT about Ger­man politi­cians want­ing to go back to paper-based com­mu­nic­a­tions to evade the US spy pan­op­ticon:


And here is the full text of the inter­view I gave on RT Op Edge:

Both type­writer and strong encryp­tion is going to slow down com­mu­nic­a­tion, but uphold­ing a basic demo­crat­ic right of pri­vacy seems to be more import­ant, former MI5 agent Annie Machon told RT.

Amid the Amer­ic­an-Ger­man espi­on­age scan­dal, Ger­man politi­cians are con­sid­er­ing going back to old-fash­ioned manu­al type­writers for con­fid­en­tial doc­u­ments in order to pro­tect nation­al secrets from Amer­ic­an NSA sur­veil­lance.

RT: Why would Ger­many think of using type­writers as a secur­ity meas­ure?

Annie Machon: What I find inter­est­ing is that we have a situ­ation where even our demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives have to think deeply and ser­i­ously about how to pro­tect the pri­vacy of their com­mu­nic­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly when the invest­ig­a­tion of the very sub­ject of inva­sion of the pri­vacy of the cit­izens, which is what the Bundestag at the moment is doing in Ger­many, try­ing to hold hear­ings to work out what exactly the NSA has been doing, which might be con­tra­ven­ing the con­sti­tu­tion of Ger­many. It is very dif­fi­cult now but it is still pos­sible to pro­tect your elec­tron­ic com­mu­nic­a­tions, but I think this announce­ment, this sort of state­ment by the Bundestag rep­res­ent­at­ive about going back to type­writers is inter­est­ing. It just makes a very strong point that we all need to be aware of the fact that we can be spied on at any time.

RT: Do you think every­one would fol­low Germany’s example?

AM: I think more and more people are con­cerned about their pri­vacy because of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures. He has done the world a huge ser­vice with great per­son­al cost, expos­ing the pred­a­tions of the US Intel­li­gence agen­cies and the NSA par­tic­u­larly, as well as a num­ber of European agen­cies. In the past all coun­tries spied on each oth­er because they wanted to gain advant­age over oth­er coun­tries, not neces­sar­ily their enemies, just an advant­age eco­nom­ic­ally or polit­ic­ally. How­ever, what we are see­ing at the moment is the res­ult of what was the per­fect storm for the USA in the 1990s, it was a per­fect oppor­tun­ity for them, because at that point the Cold War had ended, they were the sole remain­ing super­power on the plan­et, and pre­cisely at that moment we had the evol­u­tion of the inter­net, a huge tech explo­sion of com­mu­nic­a­tions. They saw the oppor­tun­ity and they went for it. Of course they did because that meant that they could embed whatever they wanted into the infra­struc­ture that the whole world now uses for com­mu­nic­a­tion. Of course they were not going to turn this oppor­tun­ity down, and they haven’t. That is what Edward Snowden dis­closed.

So we have the situ­ation now when everything can con­ceiv­ably be hoovered up by the NSA and its vas­sal states in Europe, everything can con­ceiv­ably be stored for ever and be used against cit­izens in the future if the laws change. And everything can con­ceiv­ably be known amongst the private delib­er­a­tions of our parliament’s demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives. It’s worse than Orwellian.

It would be naïve to think that the US would not take up this oppor­tun­ity, but of course they did, and these are the res­ults we are liv­ing in. It would be lovely to think that we could go back to the era of hav­ing pri­vacy in our lives that our gov­ern­ments would have power to ensure we had it, but in this glob­al­ized world it is very dif­fi­cult to ensure that. One of the things that is little known out of all Snowden’s dis­clos­ures is the fact that it is not just what we send over the inter­net, it is also hard­ware, the com­puters, the tech­no­logy we actu­ally use that can already be com­prom­ised by the NSA. This is one of the things that came out just after Christ­mas last year. So we are liv­ing in a very com­plex world but there are very simple steps we can take, both the gov­ern­ments and the cit­izens, to pro­tect our demo­crat­ic and our basic right to pri­vacy.

RT:Wouldn’t using type­writers slow things down in terms of com­mu­nic­a­tion? Why not use oth­er, more mod­ern ways of pro­tect­ing com­mu­nic­a­tion?

AM: Either going back to using pen paper or type­writer or using very strong encryp­tion is going to slow down one’s com­mu­nic­a­tion, there is no doubt about it. The point is though, what is more import­ant, is it access to the latest celebrity gos­sip on the inter­net or is it actu­ally uphold­ing a basic demo­crat­ic right of pri­vacy. Because if we don’t have pri­vacy, then we lose our free­dom to com­mu­nic­ate eas­ily and in private, we lose our free­dom to ingest inform­a­tion via video, audio or from read­ing, we can­not plan, we can­not con­duct private per­son­al rela­tion­ships over the inter­net. So what is the price of a little bit of incon­veni­ence when it comes to pro­tect­ing our basic rights? I think that how­ever light-heartedly the Ger­man politi­cian men­tioned using type­writers, when it comes to prop­er secur­ity issues with­in gov­ern­ment, he is prob­ably abso­lutely right. Last year there was a report as well, say­ing that some of the Rus­si­an secur­ity oper­at­ors were now using type­writers too. We will all have to think about that, and it’s just a jolt­ing wake up call to make us all think about that by stat­ing that the Ger­man gov­ern­ment is now going back to type­writers for cer­tain things.

RT: What kind of solu­tion do you see? Should people rely on their gov­ern­ments for pro­tec­tion of their pri­vacy?

AM: There is a danger that people and the gov­ern­ment will become very para­noid about try­ing to pro­tect against the pred­a­tions of the NSA and its vas­sals in Europe. How­ever, I’m not sure as we as cit­izens can rely on gov­ern­ments to pro­tect our pri­vacy because all gov­ern­ments would want to know what is going on on the inter­net for legit­im­ate reas­ons as well, to try to track down the ille­git­im­ate crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists. But it can be easy for them to hoover up all the per­son­al inform­a­tion and we, as cit­izens, need that have that guar­an­tee of pri­vacy. So one of the things we can do as cit­izens is to take respons­ib­il­ity in our own hands. We can indeed source all tech­no­lo­gies, source com­puters pre-2008 that have not built-in hard­ware back­doors. We can use decent PGP encryp­tion, we can use Tor to hide what we are look­ing at in the inter­net, we can use oth­er encryp­tion meth­od­o­lo­gies to pro­tect our pri­vacy, and we need to. I think it’s a very inter­est­ing cross­roads in our his­tory, both as civil­iz­a­tions, as demo­cracy and as indi­vidu­als, but also how we view the tech­no­logy, how we use it, how we can bet­ter use it to pro­tect our life, so that is going it be an ongo­ing debate. I’m very pleased to see this in Ger­many par­tic­u­larly. The politi­cians seem to be wak­ing up around these issues and want­ing debate these issues because the USA has got away with it for long enough across the West.