Club of Amsterdam

Last week I had the pleas­ure of speak­ing at the Club of Ams­ter­dam.  The top­ic under dis­cus­sion was “The future of digit­al iden­tity”.  Many thanks to Felix and the team. A lively even­ing.

Annie Machon at the Club of Ams­ter­dam from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
First pub­lished in my news­let­ter last week, amongst much else. Do sign up!

How to stop war — Make Wars History

A recent Make Wars His­tory event in the UK Par­lia­ment, hos­ted by John McDon­nell MP, with Chris Cover­dale and myself speak­ing.  Some prac­tic­al steps we can all take to make wars his­tory:

Make Wars His­tory talk in Par­lia­ment, April 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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.

A Tangled Web

Also pub­lished on the Huff­ing­ton Post UK.

A couple of days ago I was invited onto RT Arab­ic TV to do an inter­view about the ongo­ing cluster­fuck that is Syr­ia, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on the issue of West­ern jihadis allegedly flood­ing into the coun­try.

The premise, pushed across much of the West­ern media, is that these newly trained jihadis will then return home chock-full of insur­gency know-how, ready to unleash ter­ror on their unwit­ting host coun­tries.

And, yes, there is an ele­ment of truth in this:  the les­sons of the US-backed mujahideen in 1980s Afgh­anistan and onwards across the Middle East since then is test­a­ment to that. Not that this les­son seems to have been absorbed by West­ern gov­ern­ments, who con­tin­ue reck­lessly to back “rebel” forces across North Africa and the Middle East.

Or has it, at least on a cer­tain level? If you do a little dig­ging into where these stor­ies are eman­at­ing from, anoth­er pic­ture emerges.

Farr 1.jpgThe basis for these scare stor­ies is a heav­ily-spun recent report, pro­duced by the Office for Secur­ity and Counter-Ter­ror­ism (OSCT).  What is this, you might ask? Well, it appears to be a sine­cure with­in the UK’s Home Office.  The head of the organ­isa­tion is a hawk­ish securo­crat called Charles Farr, a former seni­or MI6 officer from the cold war era.

In 2007 Mr Farr (OBE) moved to his new home at the Home Office, where he is con­veni­ently in a rela­tion­ship with Fiona Cun­ning­ham, spe­cial advisor to his new boss the Home Sec­ret­ary Theresa May. Oh, and then he applied to be the civil ser­vant in charge of the Home Office, but was recently turned down for that job a couple of months ago.

So how is Farr now spend­ing his time?  Well, he has just released a report, and it appears that he is behind some of the most egre­gious recent assaults on basic Brit­ish freedoms.

Where to begin? His depart­ment was behind the Pre­vent cam­paign — sup­posedly a social ini­ti­at­ive to reach out to dis­af­fected youth in Bri­tain and help “pre­vent” their rad­ic­al­isa­tion. Unfor­tu­nately, Pre­vent has been pub­licly lam­basted for intim­id­at­ing young Muslim men and try­ing to brow­beat them into report­ing on their com­munit­ies.

On top of that, Charles Farr has, it has been repor­ted, been one of the key lob­by­ists push­ing for the total­it­ari­an “Snoop­ers’ Charter” — a pro­posed law that would allow the intel­li­gence and law enforce­ment agen­cies to hoover up all our data com­mu­nic­a­tions.

And finally, Mr Farr is one of the key sup­port­ers of the utterly undemo­crat­ic new Justice and Secur­ity Bill that enshrines the concept of “secret courts”, all done in the name of pro­tect­ing “nation­al secur­ity”, natch.  Or in oth­er words, cov­er­ing up the embar­rass­ment of the intel­li­gence agen­cies when they are caught red-handed in illeg­al activ­it­ies such as kid­nap­ping and tor­ture.

So, is it purely coin­cid­ent­al that this is the same upstand­ing Brit­ish pub­lic ser­vant report­ing that Syr­ia will be a new breed­ing-ground for rad­ic­al­ised Muslim youth attack­ing the UK? Or might there be a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that the threat could be yet anoth­er excuse to be used to ramp up the case for all these undemo­crat­ic and deeply unpop­u­lar new laws?

Let’s not to for­get that the UK has a his­tory of back­ing such insur­gency groups when it suits them, and then turn­ing on them for polit­ic­al expedi­ency — shades of Abdel Hakim Bel­haj in Libya, any­one? It strikes me that the situ­ation in Syr­ia is evolving along sim­il­ar lines.

So let’s retain a healthy scep­ti­cism about the wheels and cogs of ves­ted interests and media manip­u­la­tion whirr­ing behind securo­crats such as Charles Farr. The pre­dic­tions of his Office for Secur­ity and Counter-Ter­ror­ism could have dam­aging con­sequences for our liber­ties in the UK; they could also have poten­tially fatal con­sequences for many thou­sands of people in Syr­ia and the wider Middle East.

Silfur Egils Interview, Iceland

My recent inter­view on Iceland’s premi­er news dis­cus­sion show, Sil­fur Egils, hos­ted by the excel­lent Egill Hel­gas­on.

The name refers to an old Norse saga about a hero, an earli­er Egill, throw­ing hand­fuls of sil­ver to the ground so he could make the Vik­ing politicos of the day scrabble around in the dirt try­ing to pick up the coins.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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.

UK Anonymous Radio Interview

Here’s the link to my inter­view tonight on UK Anonym­ous Radio — I had a great time and found it a fun, wide-ran­ging, and stim­u­lat­ing hour.  I hope you do too.  So, thank you Anonym­ous.

And also thank you to Kim Dot­com set­ting up the new file-shar­ing site, Mega, which replaces his illeg­ally-taken-down glob­al site, MegaUp­load.  I have some­where safe, I think, to store my inter­views!

What a sham­bol­ic dis­grace that MegaUp­load raid was, and what a clas­sic example of the glob­al cor­por­at­ist agenda that I dis­cuss in the inter­view.

I do love geeks.

The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

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

The Real News Network Interview on Whistleblowing

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

Gestapo Courts

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 30 Septem­ber 2012

Pub­lished in The Real News Net­work, 30 Septem­ber 2012

A lot of sound and fury has been expen­ded in the Brit­ish media over the last few months about the Coali­tion gov­ern­ment’s pro­pos­al to enact secret courts via the pro­posed Justice and Secur­ity Bill — purely for ter­ror­ist cases, you under­stand. Which, of course, is OK as we all know ter­ror­ists are by defin­i­tion the Bad­dies.

Except we need to drill down into the detail of the pro­pos­als, have a look at some his­tory, and think through the future implic­a­tions.

The concept of secret courts emerged from the offi­cial UK spook sec­tor — MI5 and MI6 have been lob­by­ing hard for such pro­tec­tion over recent years.  Their argu­ment revolves around a num­ber of civil cases, where Brit­ish vic­tims of extraordin­ary rendi­tion and sub­sequent tor­ture have sued the pants off the spies through civil courts and received some recom­pense for their years of suf­fer­ing.

The most notori­ous case was that of Binyam Mohamed, who was repeatedly tor­tured in a black pris­on in Morocco, with Brit­ish spies allegedly con­trib­ut­ing to his ques­tion­ing. And we’re not talk­ing about a few stress pos­i­tions, awful as they are. Mohamed was strung up and had his penis repeatedly slashed with a razor.

MI5 and MI6 are aggrieved because they could not defend them­selves in the res­ult­ant civil actions brought against them, and they (and their former polit­ic­al mas­ter Jack Straw) are par­tic­u­larly wor­ried about future cases around the MI6-organ­ised Liby­an rendi­tions exposed last year.  The spies’ argu­ment is that hav­ing to pro­duce evid­ence in their own defence would dam­age that ever-flex­ible but curi­ously vague concept of “nation­al secur­ity”.

Well, they would say that, would­n’t they?

The spooks have tra­di­tion­ally used the “nation­al secur­ity” argu­ment as the ulti­mate get-out-of-jail-free card.  It has nev­er been leg­ally defined, but it is unfail­ingly effect­ive with judges and politi­cians.

We saw sim­il­ar argu­ments dur­ing the post‑9/11 secur­ity flap, when many ter­ror­ist sus­pects were scooped up and interned in high secur­ity Brit­ish pris­ons such as Bel­marsh on the say-so of face­less intel­li­gence officers. No evid­ence needed to be adduced, nor could it be chal­lenged. The sub­sequent con­trol order sys­tem was equally Kafkaesque.

That’s not to say that cer­tain interned indi­vidu­als might not have been an act­ive threat to the UK.  How­ever, in the “good” old days (god, I sound ancient), sus­pects would have had evid­ence gathered against them, been tried by a jury, con­victed and imprisoned. The sys­tem was nev­er per­fect and evid­ence could be egre­giously with­held, but at least appeals were pos­sible, most not­ably in the case of the Birm­ing­ham Six.

Since 9/11 even breath­ing the word “ter­ror­ist” has meant that all these his­tor­ic com­mon law prin­ciples seem to have been jet­tisoned.  Even before the pro­posed enshrine­ment of “secret courts” in the new Bill, they are already being used in the UK — the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeal Com­mis­sion (SIAC) tribunals hear secret evid­ence and the defend­ant’s chosen law­yer is not allowed to attend. Instead a spe­cial, gov­ern­ment-approved advoc­ate is appoin­ted to “rep­res­ent the interests” of the defend­ant who is not allowed to know what his accusers have to say. And there was no appeal.

But all this is so unne­ces­sary.  The powers are already in place to be used (and abused) to shroud our notion­ally open court pro­cess in secrecy.  Judges can exclude the press and the pub­lic from court rooms by declar­ing the ses­sion in cam­era for all or part of the pro­ceed­ings.  Plus, in nation­al secur­ity cases, gov­ern­ment min­is­ters can also issue Pub­lic Interest Immunity Cer­ti­fic­ates (PIIs) that not only bar the press from report­ing the pro­ceed­ings, but can also ban them from report­ing they are gagged — the gov­ern­ment­al super-injunc­tion.

So the powers already exist to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity”.  No, the real point of the new secret courts is to ensure that the defend­ant and, par­tic­u­larly in my view, their chosen law­yers can­not hear the alleg­a­tions if based on intel­li­gence of any kind. Yet even the spies them­selves agree that the only type of intel­li­gence that really needs to be kept secret involves ongo­ing oper­a­tions, agent names, and sens­it­ive oper­a­tion­al tech­niques.

 And as for the right to be tried by a jury of your peers — for­get it.  Of course jur­ies will have no place in such secret courts.  The only time we have seen such dra­coni­an judi­cial meas­ures in the UK out­side a time of offi­cial war was dur­ing the Troubles in North­ern Ire­land — the infam­ous Dip­lock Courts — begin­ning in the 1970s and which incred­ibly were still in use this year.

I am not an apo­lo­gist of ter­ror­ism although I can under­stand the social injustice that can lead to it.  How­ever, I’m also very aware that the threat can be arti­fi­cially ramped up and manip­u­lated to achieve pre­con­ceived polit­ic­al goals.

I would sug­gest that the concept of secret courts will prove fatally dan­ger­ous to our demo­cracy.  It may start with the concept of get­ting the Big Bad Ter­ror­ist, but in more polit­ic­ally unstable or strin­gent eco­nom­ic times this concept is wide open to mis­sion creep.

We are already see­ing a slide towards expand­ing the defin­i­tion of “ter­ror­ist” to include “domest­ic extrem­ists”, act­iv­ists, single issue cam­paign­ers et al, as I have writ­ten before. And just recently inform­a­tion was leaked about a new pub­lic-private EU ini­ti­at­ive, Clean IT, that pro­poses ever more invas­ive and dra­coni­an poli­cing powers to hunt down “ter­ror­ists” on the inter­net. This pro­pos­al fails to define ter­ror­ism, but does provide for endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance of the EU. Pure cor­por­at­ism.

Allow­ing secret courts to try people on the say-so of a shad­owy, unac­count­able and bur­geon­ing spy com­munity lands us straight back in the pages of his­tory: La Ter­reur of revolu­tion­ary France, the creepy sur­veil­lance of the Stasi, or the dis­ap­pear­ances and tor­ture of the Gestapo.

Have we learned noth­ing?

Interview about Iran on The Real News Network

Fol­low­ing on from the art­icle former CIA ana­lyst, Ray McGov­ern, and I co-authored last month about the pos­sible “fix­ing” of intel­li­gence around Iran, here is a sub­sequent inter­view we did for The Real News Net­work:

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 Lindmo Show, Norway

Fol­low­ing on from my talk at the Nor­we­gi­an SKUP invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in March, I was invited onto the Anne Lindmo Show in Nor­way on 4 May.

Anne is one of the most fam­ous and respec­ted journ­al­ists in Nor­way, and her chat show is extremely pop­u­lar on prime time NRK TV on Fri­day nights.  We had a lively ses­sion dis­cuss­ing the world of spy­ing, what it was like to blow the whistle and go on the run, and the per­son­al price that has to be paid.

Here’s the link to the whole show, and here’s my seg­ment:

Lindmo inter­view on Nor­we­gi­an TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.