Have British Spies been hacking the EU?

First pub­lished by Con­sor­ti­um News.

Just after mid­night on 16 August I was called by LBC in Lon­don for a com­ment on a break­ing story on the front page of The Daily Tele­graph about Brit­ish spies hack­ing the EU. Even though I had just retired to bed, the story was just too irres­ist­ible, but a radio inter­view is always too short to do justice to such a con­vo­luted tale. Here are some longer thoughts.

For those who can­not get past the Tele­graph pay wall, the gist is that that the EU has accused the Brit­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies of hack­ing the EU’s side of the nego­ti­ations. Appar­ently some highly sens­it­ive and neg­at­ive slides about the Brit­ish Prime Minister’s plan for Brexit, the Chequers Plan, had landed in the lap of the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment, which then lob­bied the EU to sup­press pub­lic­a­tion.

Of course, this could be a genu­ine leak from the Brus­sels sieve, as Brit­ish sources are claim­ing (well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?). How­ever, it is plaus­ible that this is the work of the spies, either by recruit­ing a paid-up agent well-placed with­in the Brus­sels bur­eau­cracy, or through elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance.

Before dis­miss­ing the lat­ter option as con­spir­acy the­ory, the Brit­ish spies do have form. In the run up to the Iraq war in 2003, the USA and UK were des­per­ate to get a UN Secur­ity Coun­cil res­ol­u­tion to invade Iraq, thus provid­ing a fig leaf of appar­ent legit­im­acy to the illeg­al war. How­ever, some coun­tries with­in the UN had their doubts and the USA asked Britain’s listen­ing post, GCHQ, to step up its sur­veil­lance game. Fore­warned is fore­armed in del­ic­ate inter­na­tion­al nego­ti­ations.

How do we know this? A brave GCHQ whis­tleblower called Kath­er­ine Gun leaked the inform­a­tion to The Observ­er. For her pains, she was threatened with pro­sec­u­tion under the dra­coni­an terms of the UK’s 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act, and faced two years in pris­on. The case was only dropped three weeks before her tri­al was due to begin, partly because of the feared pub­lic out­cry, but mainly because her law­yers threatened to use the leg­al defence of “neces­sity” – a defence won only three years before dur­ing the case of MI5 whis­tleblower, Dav­id Shayler. Tan­gen­tially, a film is this year being made about Gun’s story.

We also have con­firm­a­tion from one of the early 2013 Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures that GCHQ had hacked its way into the Bel­ga­com net­work – the nation­al tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions sup­pli­er in Bel­gi­um. Even back then there was an out­cry from the EU bod­ies, wor­ried that the UK (and by exten­sion its closest intel­li­gence buddy the USA), would gain lever­age with stolen know­ledge.

So, yes, it is per­fectly feas­ible that the UK could have done this, even though it was illeg­al back in the day. GCHQ’s inces­tu­ous rela­tion­ship with the America’s NSA gives it massively great­er cap­ab­il­it­ies than oth­er European intel­li­gence agen­cies, and the EU knows this well, which is why is is con­cerned to retain access to the UK’s defence and secur­ity powers post-Brexit, and also why it has jumped to these con­clu­sions about hack­ing.

But that was then and this is now. On 1st Janu­ary 2017 the UK gov­ern­ment finally signed a law called the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act, gov­ern­ing the leg­al frame­work for GCHQ to snoop. The IPA gave GCHQ the most dra­coni­an and invas­ive powers of any west­ern demo­cracy. Oth­er­wise known in the Brit­ish media as the “snoop­ers’ charter”, it had been defeated in Par­lia­ment for years, but Theresa May, then Home Sec­ret­ary, pushed it through in the teeth of leg­al and civil soci­ety oppos­i­tion. This year the High Court ordered the UK gov­ern­ment to redraft the IPA as it is incom­pat­ible with European law.

The IPA leg­al­ised what GCHQ had pre­vi­ously been doing illeg­ally post-9/11, includ­ing bulk metadata col­lec­tion, bulk data hack­ing, and bulk hack­ing of elec­tron­ic devices.

It also notion­ally gave the gov­ern­ment great­er over­sight of the spies’ actions, but these meas­ures remain weak and offer no pro­tec­tion if the spies choose to keep quiet about what they are doing. So if GCHQ did indeed hack the EU, it is feas­ible that the For­eign Sec­ret­ary and the Prime Min­is­ter remained ignor­ant of what was going on, des­pite being leg­ally required to sign off on such oper­a­tions. In which case the spies would be run­ning amok.

It is also feas­ible that they were indeed fully briefed and an argu­ment could be made that they would be cor­rect to do so. GCHQ and the oth­er spy agen­cies are required to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being” of Great Bri­tain, and I can cer­tainly see a strong argu­ment could be made that they were doing pre­cisely that, provided they had pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion for such a sens­it­ive oper­a­tion, if they tried to get advance intel­li­gence about the EU’s Brexit strategy.

This argu­ment becomes even more power­ful when you con­sider the prob­lems around the fraught issue of the bor­der between North­ern Ire­land and Ire­land, an issue about which the EU is being par­tic­u­larly intransigent. If a deal is not made then the 1998 Good Fri­day Agree­ment could be under threat and civil war might again break out in North­ern Ire­land. You can­not get much more “nation­al secur­ity” than that and GCHQ would be jus­ti­fied in this work, provided it has acquired the neces­sary leg­al sign-offs from its polit­ic­al mas­ters.

How­ever, these argu­ments will do noth­ing to appease the enraged EU offi­cials. No doubt the UK gov­ern­ment will con­tin­ue to state that this was a leak from a Brus­sels insider and oil will, pub­licly at least, be seen to have been poured on troubled dip­lo­mat­ic waters.

How­ever, behind the scenes this will mul­tiply the mutu­al suspicion,and will no doubt unleash a witch hunt through the cor­ridors of EU power, with top civil ser­vant Martin Sel­mayr (aka The Mon­ster) cast as Witchfind­er Gen­er­al. With him on your heels, you would have to be a very brave leak­er, whis­tleblower, or even paid-up agent work­ing for the Brits to take such a risk.

So, per­haps this is indeed a GCHQ hack. How­ever jus­ti­fi­able this might be under the leg­ally neb­u­lous concept of “nation­al secur­ity”, this will pois­on fur­ther the already tox­ic Brexit nego­ti­ations. As Angela Merkal fam­ously if dis­en­gen­ously said after the Snowden rev­el­a­tion that the USA had hacked her mobile phone: “no spy­ing among friends”. But per­haps this is an out­dated concept – nor has the EU exactly been entirely friendly to Brexit Bri­tain.

I am just wait­ing for the first hys­ter­ic­al claim that it was the Rus­si­ans instead or, fail­ing them, former Trump strategist-in-chief, Steve Ban­non, reportedly cur­rently on a mis­sion to build a divis­ive Alt-Right Move­ment across Europe…..

Whistleblowers — RT Interview

In the wake of anoth­er appar­ently vic­tim­ised whis­tleblower emer­ging from the US intel­li­gence com­munity, here is an inter­view on the sub­ject on RT:

Britain’s Brave New World just got Braver

First pub­lished by Con­sor­ti­um News.

On 5th June 2018 the UK Home Sec­ret­ary, Sajid Javid, unveiled his new counter-ter­ror­ism ini­ti­at­ive that he says is tar­get­ing an ever-meta­stas­ising threat, yet it raises a raft of new ques­tions about people’s rights.

The gov­ern­ment is act­ing on the imper­at­ive that some­thing needs to be done. But MI5 — offi­cially known as the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice and the lead organ­isa­tion in com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism with­in the UK — has already, since the start of the war on ter­ror, doubled in size and has also been prom­ised yet more staff over the next two years.

Yet des­pite these boos­ted resources for MI5, as well as increased fund­ing and sur­veil­lance powers for the entire UK intel­li­gence com­munity, vir­tu­ally every ter­ror attack car­ried out in the UK over the last few years has been com­mit­ted by someone already known to the author­it­ies. Indeed, the Manchester bomber, Sal­man Abedi, had been aggress­ively invest­ig­ated but MI5 ignored vital intel­li­gence and closed down the act­ive invest­ig­a­tion shortly before he car­ried out the attack.

This fail­ure to tar­get known threats is not just a UK prob­lem. Attacks across Europe over the last few years have repeatedly been car­ried out by people already on the loc­al secur­ity radar.

New approaches are needed. But this latest offer­ing appears to be a med­ley of already failed ini­ti­at­ives and more wor­ry­ingly a poten­tially dan­ger­ous blue­print for a techno-Stasi state.

The main points of the new Home Office plan include: mak­ing MI5 share intel­li­gence on 20,000 “sub­jects of con­cern” with a wide range of organ­isa­tions, includ­ing loc­al coun­cils, cor­por­a­tions, loc­al police, social work­ers, and teach­ers; call­ing on inter­net com­pan­ies to detect and erad­ic­ate extrem­ist or sus­pi­cious con­tent; mak­ing online mar­ket­places such as Amazon and eBay report sus­pi­cious pur­chases; increas­ing sur­veil­lance of big events and infra­struc­ture; and passing even tough­er anti-ter­ror­ism laws.

This all sounds reas­on­able to those who are fear­ful of ran­dom attacks on the streets or at events – that is unless one has seen in the past how some ini­ti­at­ives have already been proven to fail or can fore­see in the future whole­sale abuse of increased sur­veil­lance powers.

Intel­li­gence is not Evid­ence

The most chilling part of the MI5 plan is shar­ing intel­li­gence on 20,000 sub­jects of con­cern. First of all, this is intel­li­gence – by nature gathered from a range of secret sources that MI5 would nor­mally wish to pro­tect. When com­mu­nic­at­ing with counter-ter­ror­ism police, intel­li­gence agen­cies will nor­mally hide the source, but that will require an immense amount of work for 20,000 cases before the inform­a­tion can be shared. Secondly, bear in mind that intel­li­gence is not evid­ence. Effect­ively MI5 will be cir­cu­lat­ing par­tially assessed sus­pi­cions, per­haps even rumours, about indi­vidu­als, very widely about people who can­not be charged with any crime but who will fall under a deep shad­ow of sus­pi­cion with­in their com­munit­ies.

Also if this intel­li­gence is spread as widely as is cur­rently being sug­ges­ted, it will land in the laps of thou­sands of pub­lic bod­ies – for instance, schools, coun­cils, social care organ­isa­tions, and loc­al police. Mul­tiple prob­lems could arise from this. There will no doubt be leaks and gos­sip with­in com­munit­ies – so-and-so is being watched by MI5 and so on.

There will also be the inev­it­able mis­sion-creep and abuse of power that we saw almost 20 years ago when a whole range of the same pub­lic bod­ies were allowed access to the new eaves­drop­ping and sur­veil­lance law, the Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (2000). Back then, loc­al coun­cils were abus­ing counter-ter­ror­ism legis­la­tion to catch people who might be try­ing to play school catch­ment areas (dis­tricts) to get their chil­dren into bet­ter schools, or even, and I kid you not, might be cockle-rust­ling on their loc­al beach. Of course, such intrus­ive elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance powers have been sig­ni­fic­antly increased since then, with the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act 2017, that allows bulk stor­age, bulk data­set hack­ing and hack­ing per se.

All this fol­lows the notori­ous Home Office counter-ter­ror­ism PREVENT scheme – the failed par­ent of these new pro­pos­als.

A dec­ade ago PREVENT was designed to reach out, build bridges with Muslim com­munit­ies across Bri­tain, encour­aging them to report any sus­pi­cious beha­viour to the author­it­ies to nip incip­i­ent rad­ic­al­isa­tion in the bud. Unfor­tu­nately it did not quite work out that way. Young Muslims told stor­ies of pres­sure from MI5 to spy on their com­munit­ies. It des­troyed com­munity trust rather than built it.

Unfor­tu­nately, this new Home Office scheme goes even fur­ther down the wrong path. It asks teach­ers, social work­ers, the loc­al police and oth­er author­ity fig­ures to go bey­ond report­ing sus­pi­cious beha­viour to actu­ally be giv­en a list of names to keep a awatch on “sub­jects of interest”.

The last time such a sys­tem of com­munity inform­ants used in Europe was ended when the Ber­lin Wall came down in 1989 and East Germany’s Stasi sys­tem of a vast net­work of inform­ers was revealed in all its hor­ror. How iron­ic that the same sys­tem that was devised to pro­tect the East Ger­man youth from the “dec­ad­ent influ­ence” of West­ern ideals is now being pro­posed in a “dec­ad­ent” West­ern coun­try to spy on its own youth for traces of rad­ic­al­isa­tion.

Cor­por­ate Allies

Suf­fice to say that if the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment can­not even make the inter­net titans such as Google and Face­book pay their fair share in taxes, nor call Facebook’s Mark Zuck­er­berg to account in Par­lia­ment about the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­ica scan­dal, then good luck for­cing them make a mean­ing­ful effort to root out extrem­ist mater­i­al.

But even if they do agree, this idea is fraught with the trouble­some ques­tion of who gets to decide wheth­er some­thing is extrem­ist mater­i­al or a dis­sent­ing opin­ion against the estab­lish­ment?  Face­book, Google and You­tube are already enga­ging in what can only be called cen­sor­ship by de-rank­ing in search res­ults mater­i­al from legit­im­ate dis­sid­ent web­sites that they, with no his­tory of exer­cising news judge­ment, deem “fake news”.Such estab­lished news sites such as Wikileaks, Con­sor­ti­um­News and World Social­ist Web Site as well as many oth­ers lis­ted on the notori­ous and unre­li­able Pro­pOrNot list have taken a sig­ni­fic­ant hit since these restric­tions came into play on 23 April 2017.

Amazon, eBay and oth­er retail com­pan­ies are being asked to report sus­pi­cious sales of pre­curs­or mater­i­als for bombs and oth­er weapons. Car hire com­pan­ies will be asked to report sus­pi­cious indi­vidu­als hir­ing cars and lor­ries. Algorithms to detect weapons pur­chases may be feas­ible, but deny­ing rent­als to merely “sus­pi­cious” indi­vidu­als who’ve com­mit­ted no crimes strays into Stasi ter­rit­ory.

Back in the era of fer­til­iser lorry and nail bombs, laws were put in place across Europe to require fer­til­iser com­pan­ies to report strange pur­chases – from people who were not registered agri­cul­tur­al­ists, for example, Unfor­tu­nately, this law was eas­ily sub­ver­ted by Nor­we­gi­an right-wing ter­ror­ist, Anders Breivik, who simply worked to estab­lish a farm and then leg­ally pur­chased the ingredi­ents for his Oslo car bomb in 2011.

You are Being Watched

The UK is known as hav­ing the most CCTV cam­er­as per cap­ita in the West­ern world. There have been vari­ous plans mooted (some leaked to Wikileaks) to hook these up to cor­por­a­tions such as Face­book for imme­di­ate face tag­ging cap­ab­il­it­ies, and the devel­op­ment of algorithms that can identi­fy sus­pi­cious beha­viour in real time and the police can move to inter­cept the “sus­pect”.

Face recog­ni­tion cam­er­as are being tri­alled by three police forces in the UK – with soft­ware that can allegedly watch crowds at events and in sta­tions and poten­tially identi­fy known crim­in­als and sus­pects in a crowd and alert the police who will imme­di­ately move in and inter­cept.

Unfor­tu­nately, accord­ing to Big Broth­er Watch in the UK, these com­puter sys­tems have up to a 98% fail­ure rate. If the Home Sec­ret­ary is really sug­gest­ing that such dodgy soft­ware is going to be used to police our pub­lic spaces I would sug­gest that he ask his geeks to go back and do their home­work.

Do we really want to live in a coun­try where our every move­ment is watched by tech­no­logy, with the police wait­ing to pounce; a coun­try where if we are run­ning late or are hav­ing a stressed work day and seem “strange” to a per­son in a car hire com­pany, we can be tracked as a poten­tial ter­ror­ist; where chil­dren need to fear that if they ask awk­ward, if inter­ested, ques­tions of their teach­ers or raise fam­ily con­cerns with social care, they might already be on a watch list and their file is stack­ing up slowly in the shad­ows?

That way lies total­it­ari­ansim. I have been track­ing how a state can slide unthink­ingly into such a situ­ation for years, par­tic­u­larly look­ing at such warn­ings from his­tory as 1930s Ger­many and, over the last dec­ade, I have ser­i­ously begun to fear for my coun­try.

If these meas­ures go through Bri­tons could be liv­ing under SS-GB – the name of a book by the excel­lent spy writer, Len Deighton, in his envi­sion­ing of what the UK would have been like if the Nazis had suc­ceed in invad­ing dur­ing World War Two. The ulti­mate irony is that the acronym attrib­uted to MI5 at inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence con­fer­ences way back in the 1990s used to be UK SSUK Secur­ity Ser­vice. I hear it has changed now….

The Sam Adams Associates — the Weirdest Club in the World

Since 2002 a unique award cere­mony has taken place annu­ally in either the USA or Europe: the Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence. This year it occurred in Wash­ing­ton DC on 22 Septem­ber and was giv­en to vet­er­an journ­al­ist and Pulitzer Prize win­ning journ­al­ist, Sey­mour Her­sh.

Why unique? Well the group com­pris­ing the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates is made up of former West­ern intel­li­gence, mil­it­ary and dip­lo­mat­ic pro­fes­sion­als, many of whom have spoken out about abuses and crimes com­mit­ted by their employ­ers. For their pains, most have lost their jobs and some have also lost their liberty.

Laur­eates include US army whis­tleblower Chelsea Man­ning, NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden, FBI whis­tleblower Coleen Row­ley (Time per­son of the year in 2002 and the first SAA laur­eate), pub­lish­er Juli­an Assange, UK Ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray, and co-ordin­at­or of the US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate on Iran in 2007, Dr Tom Fin­gar.

The com­mon theme that binds this dis­par­ate group togeth­er into a rather weird, won­der­ful and very inform­al glob­al club is that they have all attemp­ted to shine a light on the dark corners of gov­ern­ment, to speak truth to power and expose wrong­do­ing and “fake news” for the great­er good of human­ity. It is appalling that they have to pay such a high per­son­al price for doing this, which is why the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates provides recog­ni­tion and presents as its annu­al award — a candle stick, the “corner bright­en­er”.

The Sam Adams Award has, over most recent years, gone to bona fide whis­tleblowers such as Tom Drake, Bill Bin­ney, Jess Rad­dack and Chelsea Man­ning, while pub­lish­ers, such as Juli­an Assange of Wikileaks fame, have also received recog­ni­tion. But Sey­mour Her­sh is the first main­stream journ­al­ist to receive the accol­ade.

Her­sh has a long and illus­tri­ous career, begin­ning with his expos­ure of the My Lai mas­sacre in the Viet­nam war in 1969 . But it was an art­icle he wrote about the April 2017 chem­ic­al attack in Syr­ia that won him the award this year.

To remind people, on 4th April this year a chem­ic­al weapon was reportedly used against the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of Idlib Province in Syr­ia and civil­ians were reportedly killed. Ahead of any pos­sible invest­ig­a­tion, the inter­na­tion­al media uni­lat­er­ally declared that the Assad régime had attacked its own people; Pres­id­ent Trump imme­di­ately ordered a retali­at­ory strike on the Syr­i­an Air Force base from where the alleged attack­ers launched their fight­er jets, and was lauded by the mil­it­atry-indus­tri­al com­plex for firm and decis­ive action.

Except – this was all based on a lie, as Her­sh estab­lished. How­ever, des­pite his journ­al­ist­ic repu­ta­tion, he was unable to pub­lish this story in the Amer­ic­an main­stream media, and instead had it pub­lished in Germany’s Die Welt.

————

The event in Wash­ing­ton this year was a game of two halves – the first was the din­ner where Sey­mour Her­sh was presen­ted with his award, lauded by both former intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als and fel­low invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists for his work. It was a recog­ni­tion of the value of true journ­al­ism – speak­ing truth to power and attempt­ing to hold that power to account.

The second half of the even­ing, which Mr Her­sh was unable to attend because of pri­or com­mit­ments, was the more gen­er­al annu­al SAA cel­eb­ra­tion of all things truth telling and whis­tleblow­ing. I had the hon­our of MCing the event, which included a speech from Edward Snowden, Daniel Ells­berg, SAA founder Ray McGov­ern and many more.

Between us all we have dec­ades of ser­vice and exper­i­ence across dif­fer­ent con­tin­ents. Des­pite this geo­graph­ic­al spread, com­mon themes con­tin­ue to emerge as they always do at Sam Adams events: offi­cial obfus­ca­tion, spy spin, media con­trol, illeg­al war and more.

What to do? We shall con­tin­ue to speak out in our work around the world – I just hope that the aware­ness spreads about the fake news that is daily peddled in the main­stream media and that more people begin to look behind the head­lines and search for the truth of what is going on.

Whis­tleblowers, as well as their ena­blers in the pub­lish­ing and media world, remain the reg­u­lat­ors of last resort for truth and for justice.

Here is a link to the open­ing seg­ment — oth­er parts can be found on You­tube via World Bey­ond War 2017:

#NoWar2017 Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates with Ed Snowden, Daniel Ells­berg, Annie Machon and Eliza­beth Mur­ray from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

French intelligence exonerates Russia of election hacking

My recent RT inter­view about the French intel­li­gence report that exon­er­ated Rus­sia of try­ing to hack the recent pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, des­pite the claims of new Pres­id­ent, Emmanu­al Mac­ron. The same thing has happened in Ger­many too, much to Merkel’s dis­pleas­ure..

And so the tapestry of lies begins to fray:

No Evid­ence of Rus­si­an Hack­ing of French Elec­tion from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

A Couple of Interviews

Here are a couple of the inter­views I have done this month, the first mark­ing the release of US army whis­tleblower, Chelsea Man­ning and the second, iron­ic­ally, dis­cuss­ing leaks from the US intel­li­gence com­munity, the most recent of which adversely impacted the invest­ig­a­tion into the recent appalling Manchester bomb­ing in the UK:

The Impact of Chelsea Man­ning from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

US Intel­li­gence Leak­ing from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Crosstalk debate on Russiagate

A recent debate about “Rus­siagate” on RT’s Crosstalk show, with CIA whis­tleblower, John Kiriakou, and former US dip­lo­mat, James Jat­ras, along with host Peter Lav­elle.

Debunk­ing some of the wilder intel­li­gence claims.….

Crosstalk on “Rus­siagate” from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

CIA and MI5 hacking our “Internet of Things”

Yet again Wikileaks has come good by expos­ing just how much we are being spied upon in this brave new digit­al world — the Vault 7 release has provided the proof for what many of us already knew/suspected — that our smart gad­gets are little spy devices.

Here are a couple of inter­views I did for the BBC and RT on the sub­ject:

BBCCIA and MI5 Hack our TVs from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

And:

Wikileaks release info re CIA/MI5 hacks from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Fake Intelligence

Here’s a recent inter­view I did for RT UK’s flag­ship news pro­gramme, Going Under­ground with Afsh­in Rat­tansi, about the whole fake news, fake intel­li­gence alleg­a­tions swirl­ing around Pres­id­ent Trump’ admin­is­tra­tion at the moment:

RT Going Under­ground — the Issue of US Fake Intel­li­gence from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

German spy agency penetrated by ISIS

My recent inter­view about the Ger­man domest­ic spy agency, the BfV — the Office for the Pro­tec­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, iron­ic­ally — being allegedly infilt­rated by ISIS.

ISIS Agent in Ger­man Spy Agency from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

What price whistleblowers?

First pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News.

For­give my “infam­ously flu­ent French”, but the phrase “pour encour­ager les autres” seems to have lost its fam­ously iron­ic qual­ity. Rather than mak­ing an example of people who dis­sent in order to pre­vent future dis­sid­ence, now it seems that the USA is glob­ally pay­ing bloody big bucks to people in order to encour­age them to expose the crimes of their employ­ers – well, at least if they are work­ing for banks and oth­er fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions.

I have been aware for a few years that the USA insti­tuted a law in 2010 called the Dodd-Frank Act that is designed to encour­age people employed in the inter­na­tion­al fin­ance com­munity to report mal­feas­ance to the Secur­it­ies and Exchange Com­mis­sion (SEC), in return for a sub­stan­tial per­cent­age of any mon­ies recouped.

This law seems to have pro­duced a boom­ing busi­ness for such high-minded “whis­tleblowers” – if that could be the accur­ate term for such actions? They are cel­eb­rated and can receive multi-mil­lion dol­lar pay days, the most recent (unnamed) source receiv­ing $20 mil­lion.

Nor is this US ini­ti­at­ive just poten­tially bene­fit­ing US cit­izens – it you look at the small print at the bot­tom of this page, dis­clos­ures are being sent in from all over the world.

Which is all to the pub­lic good no doubt, espe­cially in the wake of the 2008 glob­al fin­an­cial crash and the ensu­ing fall-out that hit us all.  We need more clar­ity about arcane casino bank­ing prac­tices that have bank­rup­ted whole coun­tries, and we need justice.

But does rather send out a num­ber of con­tra­dict­ory mes­sages to those in oth­er areas of work who might also have con­cerns about the leg­al­ity of their organ­isa­tions, and which may have equal or even graver impacts on the lives of their fel­low human beings.

If you work in fin­ance and you see irreg­u­lar­it­ies it is appar­ently your leg­al duty to report them through appro­pri­ate chan­nels – and then count the $$$ as they flow in as reward – wheth­er you are a USA cit­izen or based else­where around the world. Such is the power of glob­al­isa­tion, or at least the USA’s self-appoin­ted role as the glob­al hege­mon.

How­ever, if you hap­pen to work in the US gov­ern­ment, intel­li­gence agen­cies or mil­it­ary, under the terms of the Amer­ic­an Con­sti­tu­tion it would also appear to be your sol­emn duty under oath to report illeg­al­it­ies, go through the offi­cially des­ig­nated chan­nels, and hope reform is the res­ult.

But, from all recent examples, it would appear that you get damn few thanks for such pat­ri­ot­ic actions.

Take the case of Thomas Drake, a former seni­or NSA exec­ut­ive, who in 2007 went pub­lic about waste and wan­ton expendit­ure with­in the agency, as I wrote way back in 2011. Tom went through all the pre­scribed routes for such dis­clos­ures, up to and includ­ing a Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Des­pite all this, Tom was abruptly snatched by the FBI in a viol­ent dawn raid and threatened with 35 years in pris­on.  He (under the ter­ri­fy­ing Amer­ic­an plea bar­gain sys­tem) accep­ted a mis­dimean­our con­vic­tion to escape the hor­rors of fed­er­al charges, the res­ult­ing loss of all his civic rights and a poten­tial 35 years in pris­on.  He still, of course, lost his job, his impec­cable pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion, and his whole way of life.

He was part of a NSA group which also included Bill Bin­ney, the former Tech­nic­al Dir­ect­or of the NSA, and his fel­low whis­tleblowers Kirk Wiebe, Ed Lou­mis and Diane Roark.

These brave people developed an elec­tron­ic mass-sur­veil­lance pro­gramme called Thin Thread that could win­now out those people who were genu­inely of secur­ity interest and worth tar­get­ing, a pro­gramme which would have cost the US $1.4 mil­lion, been con­sist­ent with the terms of the Amer­ic­an con­sti­tu­tion and, accord­ing to Bin­ney, could poten­tially have stopped 9/11 and all the attend­ant hor­rors..

Instead, it appears that backs were scratched and favours called in with the incom­ing neo-con gov­ern­ment of George W Bush in 2000, and anoth­er pro­gramme called Trail Bla­izer was developed, to the tune of $1.2 bil­lion – and which spied on every­one across Amer­ica (as well as the rest of the world) and thereby broke, at the very least, the terms of the Amer­ic­an con­sti­tu­tion.

Yet Bill Bin­ney was still sub­jec­ted to a FBI SWAT team raid – he was dragged out of the shower early one morn­ing at gun-point. All this is well doc­u­mented in an excel­lent film “A Good Amer­ic­an” and I recom­mend watch­ing it.

Rather a con­trast to the treat­ment of fin­an­cial whis­tleblowers – no retali­ation and big bucks. Under that law, Bill would have received a pay­out of mil­lions for pro­tect­ing the rights of his fel­low cit­izens as well as sav­ing the Amer­ic­an pub­lic purse to the tune of over a bil­lion dol­lars. But, of course, that is not exactly in the long-term busi­ness interests of our now-glob­al sur­veil­lance pan­op­ticon.

Pres­id­ent Dwight Eis­en­hower, in his vale­dict­ory speech in 1961, warned of the sub­vers­ive interests of the “mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al” com­plex.  That seems so quaint now.  What we are facing is a ster­oid-pumped, glob­al­ised mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance industry that will do any­thing to pro­tect its interests.  And that includes crush­ing prin­cipled whis­tleblowers “pour encour­ager les autres“.

Yet that mani­festly has not happened, as I need to move on to the even-more-egre­gious cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

The former, as you may remem­ber, was a former Amer­ic­an army private cur­rently serving 35 years in a US mil­it­ary pris­on for expos­ing the war crimes of the USA. She is the most obvi­ous vic­tim of out­go­ing-Pres­id­ent Obama’s war on whis­tleblowers, and surely deserving of his sup­posed out­go­ing clem­ency.

The lat­ter, cur­rently stran­ded in Rus­sia en route from Hong Kong to polit­ic­al asylum in Ecuador is, in my view and as I have said before, the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower in mod­ern his­tory. But he gets few thanks – indeed incom­ing US Trump admin­is­tra­tion appointees have in the past called for the death pen­alty.

So all this is such a “won­der­fully out­stand­ing encour­age­ment” to those in pub­lic ser­vice in the USA to expose cor­rup­tion – not. Work for the banks and anonym­ously snitch – $$$kerch­ing! Work for the gov­ern­ment and blow the whistle – 30+ years in pris­on or worse. Hmmm.

If Pres­id­ent-Elect Don­ald Trump is ser­i­ous about “drain­ing the swamp” then per­haps he could put some ser­i­ous and mean­ing­ful pub­lic ser­vice whis­tleblower pro­tec­tion meas­ures in place, rather than pro­sec­ut­ing such pat­ri­ots?

After all, such meas­ures would be a win-win situ­ation, as I have said many times before – a prop­er and truly account­able chan­nel for poten­tial whis­tleblowers to go to, in the expect­a­tion that their con­cerns will be prop­erly heard, invest­ig­ated and crim­in­al actions pro­sec­uted if neces­sary.

That way the intel­li­gence agen­cies can become truly account­able, sharpen their game, avoid a scan­dal and bet­ter pro­tect the pub­lic; and the whis­tleblower does not need ruin their life, los­ing their job, poten­tially their free­dom and worse.

After all, where are the most hein­ous crimes wit­nessed?  Sure, bank crimes impact the eco­nomy and the lives of work­ing people; but out-of-con­trol intel­li­gence agen­cies that kid­nap, tor­ture and assas­sin­ate count­less people around the world, all in secret, actu­ally end lives.

All that said, oth­er West­ern lib­er­al demo­cra­cies are surely less dra­coni­an than the USA, no?

Well, unfor­tu­nately not.  Take the UK, a coun­try still in thrall to the glam­or­ous myth of James Bond, and where there have been mul­tiple intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers from the agen­cies over the last few dec­ades – yet all of them have auto­mat­ic­ally faced pris­on.  In fact, the UK sup­pres­sion of intel­li­gence, gov­ern­ment, dip­lo­mat­ic, and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers seems to have acted as an exem­plar to oth­er coun­tries in how you stifle eth­ic­al dis­sent from with­in.

Sure, the pris­on sen­tences for such whis­tleblow­ing are not as dra­coni­an under the UK Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) as the ana­chron­ist­ic US Espi­on­age Act (1917). How­ever, the clear bright line against *any* dis­clos­ure is just as stifling.

In the UK, a coun­try where the intel­li­gence agen­cies have for the last 17 years been illeg­ally pros­ti­tut­ing them­selves to advance the interests of a for­eign coun­try (the USA), this is simply unac­cept­able. Espe­cially as the UK has just made law the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (2016), against all expert advice, which leg­al­ises all this pre­vi­ously-illeg­al activ­ity and indeed expan­ded the hack­ing powers of the state.

More wor­ry­ingly, the ultra-lib­er­al Nor­way, which blazed a calm and human­ist trail in its response to the mur­der­ous white-suprem­acist ter­ror­ist attacks of Anders Breivik only 5 years ago, has now pro­posed a dra­coni­an sur­veil­lance law.

And Ger­many – a coun­try hor­ri­fied by the Snowden rev­el­a­tions in 2013, with its memor­ies of the Gestapo and the Stasi – has also just expan­ded the sur­veil­lance remit of its spooks.

In the face of all this, it appears there has nev­er been a great­er need of intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers across the West­ern world. Yet it appears that, once again, there is one law for the bankers et al – they are cashed up, lauded and rewar­ded for report­ing leg­al­it­ies.

For the rest of the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, it’s pro­sec­u­tion and per­se­cu­tion as usu­al, des­pite the fact that they may indeed be serving the most pro­found of pub­lic interests – free­dom, pri­vacy and the abil­ity to thereby have a func­tion­ing demo­cracy.

As always – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. So back to my flu­ent French, ref­er­enced at the start: we are, it seems, all still mired in the merde.

 

 

Webstock, New Zealand, 2016

Now, I speak all over the world at con­fer­ences and uni­ver­sit­ies about a whole vari­ety of inter­con­nec­ted issues, but I do want to high­light this con­fer­ence from earli­er this year and give a shout out for next year’s. Plus I’ve finally got my hands on the video of my talk.

Web­stock cel­eb­rated its tenth anniversary in New Zea­l­and last Feb­ru­ary, and I was for­tu­nate enough to be asked to speak there.  The hosts prom­ised a unique exper­i­ence, and the event lived up to its repu­ta­tion.

Webstock_2016They wanted a fairly clas­sic talk from me — the whis­tleblow­ing years, the les­sons learnt and cur­rent polit­ic­al implic­a­tions, but also what we can to do fight back, so I called my talk “The Pan­op­ticon: Res­ist­ance is Not Futile”, with a nod to my sci-fi fan­dom.

So why does this par­tic­u­lar event glow like a jew­el in my memory? After expun­ging from my mind, with a shud­der of hor­ror, the 39 hour travel time each way, it was the whole exper­i­ence. New Zea­l­and com­bines the friend­li­ness of the Amer­ic­ans — without the polit­ic­al mad­ness and the guns, and the egal­it­ari­an­ism of the Nor­we­gi­ans — with almost equi­val­ent scenery. Add to that the warmth of the audi­ence, the eclecticism of the speak­ers, and the pre­ci­sion plan­ning and aes­thet­ics of the con­fer­ence organ­isers and you have a win­ning com­bin­a­tion.

Our hosts organ­ised ver­tigo-indu­cing events for the speak­ers on the top of mile-high cliffs, as well as a sur­pris­ingly fun vis­it to a tra­di­tion­al Brit­ish bowl­ing green. Plus I had the excite­ment of exper­i­en­cing my very first earth­quake — 5.9 on the Richter scale appar­ently. I shall make no cheap jokes about the earth mov­ing, espe­cially in light of the latest quakes to hit NZ this week, but the hotel did indeed sway around me and it wasn’t the loc­al wine, excel­lent as it is.

I men­tioned eclecticism — the qual­ity of the speak­ers was fero­ciously high, and I would like to give a shout out to Debbie Mill­man and her “joy of fail­ure” talk, Harry Roberts, a ser­i­ous geek who crowd-sourced his talk and ended up talk­ing ser­i­ously about cock­tails, moths, Chum­bawamba and more, advert­ising guru Cindy Gal­lop who is inspir­ing women around the world and pro­mot­ing Make Love Not Porn, and Casey Ger­ald, with his evan­gel­ic­ally-inspired but won­der­fully human­ist­ic talk to end the event.

All the talks can be found here.

It was a fab­ulous week.  All I can say is thank you to Tash, Mike, and the oth­er organ­isers.

If you ever have the chance to attend or speak at the event in the future, I ser­i­ously recom­mend it.

And here’s the video of my talk:

Head of MI5 goes public

Andrew_ParkerFor the first time a serving head of a major intel­li­gence ser­vice in the UK, Andrew Park­er the Dir­ect­or Gen­er­al of the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, has giv­en an inter­view to a nation­al news­pa­per.

Inter­est­ingly, he gave this inter­view to The Guard­i­an, the paper that has won awards for pub­lish­ing a num­ber of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures about endem­ic illeg­al spy­ing and, for its pains, had its com­puters ritu­ally smashed up by the powers that be.

The tim­ing was also inter­est­ing — only two weeks ago the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Tribunal (the only leg­al body that can actu­ally invest­ig­ate alleg­a­tions of spy crime in the UK and which has so far been an unex­cep­tion­al cham­pi­on of their prob­ity) broke ranks to assert that the UK spies have been illeg­ally con­duct­ing mass sur­veil­lance for 17 years — from 1998 to 2015.

This we could all deduce from the dis­clos­ures of a cer­tain Edward Snowden in 2013, but it’s good to have it offi­cially con­firmed.

Yet at the same time the much-derided Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Bill has been oil­ing its way through the Par­lia­ment­ary sys­tem, with the cul­min­a­tion this week.

This “Snoop­ers’ Charter”, as it is known, has been repeatedly and fer­vently rejec­ted for years.

It has been ques­tioned in Par­lia­ment, chal­lenged in courts, and soundly con­demned by former intel­li­gence insiders, tech­nic­al experts, and civil liber­ties groups, yet it is the walk­ing dead of UK legis­la­tion — noth­ing will kill it. The Zom­bie keeps walk­ing.

It will kill all notion of pri­vacy — and without pri­vacy we can­not freely write, speak, watch, read, activ­ate, or res­ist any­thing future gov­ern­ments choose to throw at us. Only recently I read an art­icle about the pos­sib­il­ity of Face­book assess­ing someone’s phys­ic­al or men­tal health — poten­tially lead­ing to all sorts of out­comes includ­ing get­ting a job or rent­ing a flat.

And this dove­tails into the early Snowden dis­clos­ure of the pro­gramme PRISM — the com­pli­city of the inter­net mega­corps — as well as the secret back doors what were built into them.

It will be the end of demo­cracy as we (sort of ) know it today. And, as we know from the Snowden dis­clos­ures, what hap­pens in the UK will impact not just Europe but the rest of the world.

So how does this all link into the MI5 head honcho’s first live inter­view?  Well, the tim­ing was inter­est­ing — ahead of the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Bill passing oleagin­ously into law and with the ongo­ing demon­isa­tion of Rus­sia.

Here is an inter­view I gave to RT about some of these issues:

Com­ment­ary on MI5’s first nwspa­per inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.