The Art of State Trolling – a Growing Market

Last week, while I was doing a number of talks for Funzing.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: rsvp@goodtechnologycollective.com; or, fill in the invitation form at: https://goo.gl/Xpndjk.

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:

privacy_innovation

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:

de_govt_touts_typewriters

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.