Thought police

Here is the full inter­view I did recently for RT about the announce­ment of a new sec­tion of the UK Met­ro­pol­it­an Police ded­ic­ated to hunt­ing down “inter­net trolls”.

And here is the clip used in the inter­view:

Thought Police from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

War on Drugs has failed — ENCOD Article

Below is an art­icle I recently wrote for the excel­lent European drug policy reform organ­isa­tion, European Coali­tion for Just and Effect­ive Drug PoliciesENCOD.  And here is the link to the ori­gin­al on the ENCOD web­site.

I have had the hon­our of serving as the European Dir­ect­or of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP) for the last four years, and have been thrilled to over­see the estab­lish­ment of thriv­ing nation­al groups in the UK and Ger­many, with the pos­sib­il­ity of more on the hori­zon. In my view, law enforce­ment offers a unique and crit­ic­al voice to the inter­na­tion­al drug policy reform debate.

LEAP, foun­ded in 2002, today has over 150,000 sup­port­ers and speak­ers in 20 coun­tries. We con­sist of police officers, law­yers, judges, pris­on gov­ernors, pro­ba­tion officers, intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary per­son­nel, and even inter­na­tion­al drug czars. What unites us is a shared pro­fes­sion­al know­ledge, exper­i­enced across the full spec­trum of law enforce­ment, that drug pro­hib­i­tion has egre­giously failed.

Over the last 50 years glob­al drug use has expo­nen­tially increased, the potency of illeg­al drugs has increased, they are ubi­quit­ously avail­able, and the price of street drugs has gone through the floor. Faced with this inform­a­tion, how can our gov­ern­ments claim they are win­ning the “war on drugs” to cre­ate a “drug free world”?

Quite the oppos­ite – pro­hib­i­tion has enabled a glob­al and expo­nen­tially grow­ing black mar­ket.

I became aware of drug pro­hib­i­tion fail­ure while I was work­ing for MI5 back in the 1990s. One of my post­ings involved invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ist logist­ics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Cus­toms across the UK. This exper­i­ence made me aware that the “war” had been lost. It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive over­lap between the illeg­al drug mar­ket and ter­ror­ist fund­ing.

The US DEA estim­ates that over half the des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist groups around the world gain the bulk of their fund­ing from drugs money. So on the one hand pro­hib­it­ing drugs and fight­ing the “war on drugs” sends the mar­ket under­ground and the res­ult­ing massive profits provide a key rev­en­ue stream to ter­ror­ists, not least ISIS which con­trols part of the flow of heroin from cent­ral Asia into Europe. On the oth­er hand the West is also waging the “war on ter­ror” to fight these same groups.

So what our gov­ern­ments give the mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex with one hand, they also give with the oth­er.

But is not all bad news. Coun­tries in Lat­in Amer­ica and states in North Amer­ica are leg­al­ising can­nabis, safe injec­tion rooms have rolled out across Europe, Canada is look­ing to leg­al­ise can­nabis, and the decrim­in­al­isa­tion of drugs has been hugely suc­cess­ful in coun­tries such as Por­tugal and the Czech Repub­lic.

Even at the UN level, which recently held a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion Gen­er­al Assembly Spe­cial Ses­sion in New York, the concept of harm reduc­tion is at least now being tabled by some coun­tries, although the pro­gress is gla­cial.

The times may not be chan­ging fast enough for many of us in the drug policy reform world, des­pite baby steps being made in the right dir­ec­tion by some coun­tries. Yet even the more pro­gress­ive coun­tries with­in the inter­na­tion­al com­munity are still con­strained by the leg­al straight jack­et that is the UN drug treaty frame­work.

And while harm reduc­tion is good pro­gress in that it no longer crim­in­al­ises those who choose to use, it utterly fails to address the big­ger prob­lem that I men­tioned before: that the crim­in­al­isa­tion of cer­tain drugs drives the mar­ket under­ground, provid­ing huge profits to organ­ised crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist groups around the world every year. Pro­hib­i­tion has unleashed the biggest crime wave the world has ever seen. As with alco­hol pro­hibiton in 20th cen­tury Amer­ica, only leg­al­isa­tion and reg­u­la­tion will remove this mar­ket from the greedy grasp of crim­in­als.

I have just watched a old BBC News­night debate between comedi­an and act­or, Rus­sell Brand, and right-wing writer and com­ment­at­or, Peter Hitchens. The debate encap­su­lated the entrenched pos­i­tions of both the reform­ist and pro­hib­i­tion­ist camps. The former was rep­res­en­ted by Brand, a former drug user in recov­ery, advoc­at­ing abstin­ence-based ther­apy. The lat­ter by Hitchens, an anti-drug war­ri­or largely approach­ing the issue from a mor­al­ity pos­i­tion, who argued that tak­ing drugs is a crime and that all such crimes should be pro­sec­uted as a deterrence.

While nat­ur­ally I lean more towards the pos­i­tion of Brand, who two years ago elec­tri­fied a rather tur­gid annu­al UN Com­mis­sion on Nar­cot­ic Drugs meet­ing in Vienna by call­ing for full drug leg­al­isa­tion, and also while respect­ing his per­son­al exper­i­ences, I do think he’s miss­ing a trick.

Yes, those with drug depend­en­cies need help and com­pas­sion not pris­on, but the vast major­ity of those who choose to use do so recre­ation­ally, just for fun, and nev­er devel­op an addic­tion, just as only a minor­ity of those who choose to drink go on to devel­op alco­hol­ism. And yet the para­met­ers of the drug debate rarely stray bey­ond the well-worn issue of “prob­lem” users, both amongst reform­ist as well as pro­hib­i­tion­ist circles. We do not call all drink­ers alco­hol­ics so why, in the pub­lic dis­course, are all users of oth­er drugs clumped togeth­er as “addicts” in high-pro­file debates?

As for Hitchens, I remain baffled. He seems to think that all laws are immut­able, graven in stone with words from on high, and as such must there­fore be strictly enforced. This is tosh. All laws change and evolve to reflect the chan­ging mores of the soci­et­ies which write them. If this were not to hap­pen, we in the West would still burn witches, own slaves, not allow women to vote, out­law homo­sexu­al­ity and, in Amer­ica of course, alco­hol would remain pro­hib­ited. Yet now, all these out­dated, unjust, and cruel laws have been swept away,

In 2014 LEAP pub­lished a Pro­posed Amend­ment of the UN Treat­ies, in which we argue that all drugs should be brought with­in the orbit of the World Health Organ­isa­tion Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Tobacco Con­trol (2003). We argue that only full reg­u­la­tion and con­trol of the drug mar­ket will end the scourge of the illeg­al glob­al drug trade. Until this hap­pens at least $320 bil­lion per year profits will con­tin­ue to bene­fit only crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions.

The “war on drugs” has failed.

Albert Ein­stein, who was not exactly a dullard, said that the very defin­i­tion of insan­ity was to con­tin­ue to do the same thing, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will even­tu­ally get a dif­fer­ent out­come. That is what we are see­ing with pro­hib­i­tion.

It is time for this insan­ity to cease.

Karma Police

As I type this I am listen­ing to one of my all-time favour­ite albums, Radiohead’s sem­in­al “OK, Com­puter”, that was released in spring 1997. The first time I heard it I was spell­bound by its edgi­ness, com­plex­ity, exper­i­ment­al­ism and polit­ic­al over­tones. My part­ner at the time, Dav­id Shayler, took longer to get it. Self-admit­tedly tone deaf, he nev­er under­stood what he laugh­ingly called the “music con­spir­acy” where people just “got” a new album and played it to death.

ST_Spies_on_the_RunHis opin­ion changed drastic­ally over the sum­mer of ’97 after we had blown the whistle on a series of crimes com­mit­ted by the UK’s spy agen­cies. As a res­ult of our actions — the first reports appeared in the Brit­ish media on 24 July 1997 — we had fled the coun­try and gone on the run around Europe for a month. At the end of this sur­real back­pack­ing hol­i­day I returned to the UK to face arrest, pack up our ran­sacked home, and try to com­fort our trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies who had known noth­ing of our whis­tleblow­ing plans.

OK, Com­puter” was the soundtrack to that month spent on the run across the Neth­er­lands, Bel­gi­um, France and Spain. Tak­ing ran­dom trains, mov­ing from hotel to hotel, and using false names, our lives were dis­lo­cated and unreal. So in each hotel room we tried to recre­ate a sense of home­li­ness — some candles, a bottle of wine, natch, and some music. In the two small bags, into which I had packed the essen­tials for our unknown future life, I had man­aged to squeeze in my port­able CD play­er (remem­ber those?), tiny speak­ers and a few cher­ished CDs. Such are the pri­or­it­ies of youth.

The joy of Radi­o­head broke upon Dav­id dur­ing that month — par­tic­u­larly the track “Exit Music (for a Film)”, which encap­su­lated our feel­ings as we fled the UK togeth­er. Once we were holed up in a prim­it­ive French farm­house for the year after our month on the run, this was the album that we listened to last thing at night, hold­ing onto each oth­er tightly to ward off the cold and fear. Rev­el­ling in the music, we also drew strength from the dis­sid­ent tone of the lyr­ics.

So it was with some mirth­ful incredu­lity that I yes­ter­day read on The Inter­cept that GCHQ named one of its most ini­quit­ous pro­grammes after one of the clas­sic songs from the album — “Karma Police”.

In case you missed this, the basic premise of GCHQ was to devel­op a sys­tem that could snoop on all our web searches and thereby build up a pro­file of each of our lives online — our interests, our pec­ca­dilloes, our polit­ics, our beliefs. The pro­gramme was developed between 2007 and 2008 and was deemed func­tion­al in 2009. Who knows what inform­a­tion GCHQ has sucked up about you, me, every­one, since then?

As I have said many times over the years since Snowden and who knows how many oth­ers began to expose the out-of-con­trol spy agen­cies, this is dis­pro­por­tion­ate in soi-dis­sent demo­cra­cies. It is cer­tainly not law­ful by any stretch of the ima­gin­a­tion. UK gov­ern­ment­al war­rants — which are sup­posed to reg­u­late and if neces­sary cir­cum­scribe the activ­it­ies of the spy snoop­ers — have repeatedly been egre­giously abused.

They are sup­posed to make a case for tar­geted sur­veil­lance of people sus­pec­ted of being a threat to the UK’s nation­al secur­ity or eco­nom­ic well-being. The war­rants, blindly signed by the Home or For­eign Sec­ret­ary, are not designed to author­ise the indus­tri­al inter­cep­tion of everyone’s com­mu­nic­a­tions. This is a crime, plain and simple, and someone should be held to account.

Talk­ing of crimes, after a month on the run with Dav­id, I returned (as I had always planned to do) to the UK. I knew that I would be arres­ted, purely on the grounds that I had been an MI5 officer and was Dav­id Shayler’s girl­friend and had sup­por­ted his whis­tleblow­ing activ­it­ies. In fact my law­yer, John Wadham who was the head of the UK’s civil liber­ties uni­on, Liberty, had nego­ti­ated with the police for my return to the UK and hand myself into the police for ques­tion­ing. He flew out to Bar­celona to accom­pany me back to the UK almost exactly eight­een years ago today.

Annie_arrestDes­pite the pre-agree­ments, I was arres­ted at the immig­ra­tion desk at Gatwick air­port by six burly Spe­cial Branch police officers and then driv­en by them up to the counter-ter­ror­ism inter­view room in Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don, where I was inter­rog­ated for the max­im­um six hours before being released with no charge.

The music play­ing on the radio dur­ing this drive from the air­port to my cell? Radiohead’s “Karma Police”.

One can but hope that karma will come into play. But per­haps the end­ing of “Exit Music…”  is cur­rently more per­tin­ent — we hope that you choke, that you choke.….

After all, the spies do seem to be chok­ing on an over­load of hoovered-up intel­li­gence — pretty much every “ISIS-inspired” attack in the west over the last couple of years has reportedly been car­ried out by people who have long been on the radar of the spies.  Too much inform­a­tion can indeed be bad for our secur­ity, our pri­vacy and our safety.

Re:publica — The War on Concepts

This week I made my first vis­it to the re:publica annu­al geek­fest in Ber­lin to do a talk called “The War on Con­cepts”. In my view this, to date, includes the four wars — on drugs, ter­ror, the inter­net, and whis­tleblowers. No doubt the num­ber will con­tin­ue to rise.

Here’s the video:

republica_2015_Annie_Machon_The_War_on_Concepts from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Niemoeller Redux

Pub­lished on RT Op Edge and Con­sor­ti­um News.

I reg­u­larly revis­it the fam­ous Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoeller poem from the Nazi era as his words remain res­on­ant in our post-9/11, “war on ter­ror” world. Over the last week threads of vari­ous alarm­ing stor­ies have con­verged, so here is my latest update:

First they came for the Muslims, but I was not a Muslim so did not speak up.

Then they came for the whis­tleblowers, but I was not a whis­tleblower so did not speak up.

Then they came for the “domest­ic extrem­ists”, but I was not an act­iv­ist so did not speak up.

And when they came for me, there was nobody left to speak up for me.

Allow me to explain this cur­rent ver­sion. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this web­site will be well aware of my hor­ror at the glob­al rape of basic human rights in the West’s fight against the “war on ter­ror” since 9/11: the kid­nap­pings, the tor­ture, the CIA pres­id­en­tially-approved weekly assas­sin­a­tion lists, the drone bomb­ings, the illeg­al wars.…

All these meas­ures have indeed tar­geted and ter­ror­ised the Muslim com­munity around the world. In the UK I have heard many stor­ies of Brit­ish Muslims wary of attend­ing a fam­ily event such as a wed­ding of their cous­ins in Pakistan or wherever, in case they get snatched, tor­tured or drone bombed.

Now it appears that even Brit­ish cit­izens who choose to donate to UK char­it­ies offer­ing human­it­ari­an relief in war zones such as Syr­ia can be arres­ted under counter-ter­ror­ism laws.

moazzam_beggMoazzam Begg, the dir­ect­or of Cage (the UK NGO cam­paign­ing about the com­munity impact of the war on ter­ror) was again seized last week. As I have writ­ten before, this is a man who has already exper­i­enced the hor­rors of Bagram air­base and Guantanamo. When he was released he became a cam­paign­er for oth­ers in the same plight and set up the Cage cam­paign which has gained quite some trac­tion over the last few years.

Over a year ago he vis­ited Syr­ia on a fact-find­ing mis­sion, invest­ig­at­ing those who had been sum­mar­ily detained and tor­tured in the con­flict. Last Decem­ber he had his pass­port seized on spuri­ous grounds He wrote about this trip quite openly, and yet now, a year on, has been arres­ted and charged with “train­ing ter­ror­ists and fund rais­ing” in Syr­ia. This is a high-pro­file cam­paign­er who oper­ates in the full glare of the media. How cred­u­lous does one have to be to believe that Begg, after all his exper­i­ences and run­ning this cam­paign, is now involved in “ter­ror­ism”?  Really, any­one?

Since then oth­er people involved in Brit­ish char­it­ies offer­ing aid to the dis­placed peoples of Syr­ia have also been scooped up. But this is just affect­ing the Brit­ish Muslim com­munity, right? There’s “no smoke without fire”, and it does not impinge the lives of most people in the UK, so there has been no wide­spread out­cry.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

Then we have the ongo­ing “war on whis­tleblowers” that I have dis­cussed extens­ively. This affects every sec­tor of soci­ety in every coun­try, but most ser­i­ously affects whis­tleblowers emer­ging from cent­ral gov­ern­ment, the mil­it­ary and the intel­li­gence agen­cies. They are the ones most likely to wit­ness the most hein­ous crimes, and they are the ones auto­mat­ic­ally crim­in­al­ised by secrecy laws.

This is most appar­ent in the UK, where the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) spe­cific­ally crim­in­al­ises whis­tleblow­ing, and in the USA, where Pres­id­ent Obama has invoked the 1917 Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers more times than all oth­er pres­id­ents com­bined over the last cen­tury. If that is not a “war on whis­tleblowers”, I don’t know what is.

This, of course, is a para­noid over-reac­tion to the work of Wikileaks, and the brave actions of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden. This is what Obama’s gov­ern­ment deems to be the “insider threat”.  Yet it is only through great­er trans­par­ency that we can oper­ate as informed cit­izens; it is only through great­er account­ab­il­ity that we can hope to obtain justice. And in this era, when we are routinely lied into illeg­al wars, what could be more import­ant?

But intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers are rare, spe­cial­ised and easy to stig­mat­ise as the “oth­er” and now, the insider threat — not quite of the nor­mal world. The issues they dis­close can seem a bit remote, not linked to most people’s daily exper­i­ences.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

But now to my third revamped line of the Pas­tor Niemoeller poem: the act­iv­ists or, to use cur­rent police ter­min­o­logy, the “domest­ic extrem­ists”. This, surely, does impinge on more people’s exper­i­ence of life. If you want to go out and demon­strate against a war, in sup­port of Occupy, for the envir­on­ment, whatever, you are surely exer­cising your demo­crat­ic rights as cit­izens, right?

Er, well no, not these days. I have writ­ten before about how act­iv­ists can be crim­in­al­ised and even deemed to be ter­ror­ists by the police (think Lon­don Occupy in 2011 here). I’m think­ing of the ongo­ing Brit­ish under­cov­er cop scan­dal which con­tin­ues to rumble on.

For those of you out­side the UK, this is a scan­dal that erup­ted in 2010. There is was a sec­tion of secret police who were infilt­rated into act­iv­ist groups under secret iden­tit­ies to live the life, report back, and even poten­tially work as ena­blers or agents pro­vocateurs. As the scan­dal has grown it appears that some of these cops fathered chil­dren with their tar­gets and spied on the griev­ing fam­il­ies of murder vic­tims.

This sounds like the East Ger­man Stasi, but was hap­pen­ing in the UK in the last couple of dec­ades. A gov­ern­ment enquiry has just been announced and many old cases against act­iv­ists will be reviewed to see if tar­nished “evid­ence” was involved in the tri­als and sub­sequent con­vic­tions.

But again this does not affect most people bey­ond the act­iv­ist com­munity.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

jesselyn_radackNow, people who have always assumed they have cer­tain pro­tec­tions because of their pro­fes­sions, such as law­yers and journ­al­ists, are also being caught in this drag­net. Juli­an Assange’s law­yer, Jen­nifer Robin­son, dis­covered she was on a flight watch list a few years ago. More recently Jes­selyn Radack, human rights dir­ect­or of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject and leg­al advisor to Edward Snowden, was stopped and inter­rog­ated at the UK bor­der.

And just this week a Dutch invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist, Brenno de Winter, was unable to do his job since his name was placed on alert in all nation­al gov­ern­ment build­ings. The police accused him of hack­ing-related crimes and burg­lary. They had to retract this when the smear cam­paign came to light.

Brenno has made his name by free­dom of inform­a­tion requests from the Dutch pub­lic sec­tor and his sub­sequent invest­ig­a­tions, for which he was named Dutch Journ­al­ist of the Year in 2011. Hardly sub­ver­sion, red in tooth and claw, but obvi­ously now deemed to be an exist­en­tial, nation­al secur­ity threat to the Neth­er­lands.

Nor is this a Dutch prob­lem — we have seen this in the US, where journ­al­ists such as James Ris­en and Bar­rett Brown have been houn­ded merely for doing their jobs, and the Glenn Greenwald’s part­ner, Dav­id Mir­anda, was detained at Lon­don Heath­row air­port under counter-ter­ror­ism laws.

Journ­al­ists, who always some­what com­pla­cently thought they had spe­cial pro­tec­tions in West­ern coun­tries, are being increas­ingly tar­geted when try­ing to report on issues such as pri­vacy, sur­veil­lance, whis­tleblower dis­clos­ures and wars.

Only a few are being tar­geted now, but I hope these cases will be enough to wake the rest up, while there is still the chance for them to take action.…

.…before there is nobody left to speak up for us.

LEAP talk at Akzept drug conference in Bielefeld

Here’s a talk I did last week at the inter­na­tion­al Akzept Con­fer­ence in Biele­feld about pro­hib­i­tion and the failed “war on drugs”:

Akzept Kon­gress 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

International Day of Privacy, Berlin Demo

The Inter­na­tion­al Day of Pri­vacy was cel­eb­rated glob­ally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden bring­ing extra energy and res­on­ance to the sub­ject.

I was invited take part in a demon­stra­tion in Ber­lin, cul­min­at­ing with a talk at the hugely sym­bol­ic Branden­burg Gate. Here’s the talk:

Another abuse of UK terrorism laws

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

Dav­id Mir­anda had just spent a week in Ber­lin, before fly­ing back to his home coun­try, Brazil, via London’s Heath­row air­port. As he attemp­ted to trans­it on to his flight home — not enter the UK, mind you, just make an inter­na­tion­al con­nec­tion —  he was pulled to one side by the UK’s bor­der secur­ity officers and ques­tioned for nine hours, as well as hav­ing all his tech­nic­al equip­ment con­fis­cated.

Glenn Greenwald and his partner David MirandaHe was detained for the max­im­um peri­od allowed under the dra­coni­an terms of Sched­ule 7 of the UK’s Ter­ror­ism Act (2000).  His appar­ent “crime”? To be the part­ner of cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald who broke the Edward Snowden whis­tleblow­ing stor­ies.

Miranda’s deten­tion has caused out­rage, rightly, around the world. Dip­lo­mat­ic rep­res­ent­a­tions have been made by the Brazili­an gov­ern­ment to the Brit­ish, UK MPs are ask­ing ques­tions, and The Guard­i­an news­pa­per (which is the primary pub­lish­er of  Greenwald’s stor­ies), has sent in the law­yers.

This epis­ode is troub­ling on so many levels, it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.

Magna_CartaFirstly, the Ter­ror­ism Act (2000) is designed to invest­ig­ate, er, ter­ror­ism — at least, so you would think. How­ever it is all too easy for mis­sion creep to set in, as I have been say­ing for years.  The defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism has expan­ded to cov­er act­iv­ists, plac­ard wavers, and pro­test­ers as well as, now appar­ently, the part­ners of journ­al­ists.  The old under­stand­ing of due leg­al pro­cess is merely yet anoth­er quaint, Brit­ish arte­fact like the Magna Carta and habeas cor­pus.

In the UK we now have secret courts cov­er­ing all things “nation­al secur­ity”, we have per­vas­ive Big Broth­er sur­veil­lance as exem­pli­fied by GCHQ’s TEMPORA pro­gramme, and we have our spies involved in kid­nap­ping and tor­ture.

So Sched­ule 7 of the Ter­ror­ism Act is just anoth­er small nail in the coffin of his­tor­ic Brit­ish freedoms. Under its terms, any­one can be pulled aside, detained and ques­tioned by bor­der secur­ity guards if they are “sus­pec­ted of” involve­ment in, the com­mis­sion­ing of, or fin­an­cial sup­port for ter­ror­ism. The detain­ee is not allowed to speak to a law­yer, nor are they allowed not to answer ques­tions, on pain of crim­in­al pro­sec­u­tion. Plus their prop­erty can be indef­in­itely seized and ran­sacked, includ­ing com­puters, phones, and oth­er gad­gets.

Under Sched­ule 7 people can be ques­tioned for a max­im­um of 9 hours. After that, the author­it­ies either have to apply for a form­al exten­sion, charge and arrest, or release. Accord­ing to a UK gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment, 97% people are ques­tioned for less than 1 hour then released and only 0.06% are held for six hours.  Mir­anda was held up until the last minute of the full nine hours before being released without charge.

Secondly, this abuse of power dis­plays all too clearly the points that Edward Snowden has dis­closed via Gre­en­wald about a bur­geon­ing and out-of-con­trol sur­veil­lance state. The deten­tion of Mir­anda dis­plays all the obsess­ive vin­dict­ive­ness of a wounded secret state that is buzz­ing around, angry as a wasp. Snowden has the pro­tec­tion of the only state cur­rently with the power to face down the brute might of US “dip­lomacy”, and Gre­en­wald still has the shreds of journ­al­ist pro­tec­tions around him.

Friends and part­ners, how­ever, can be seen as fair game.

I know this from bit­ter per­son­al exper­i­ence. In 1997 former MI5 intel­li­gence officer, Dav­id Shayler, blew the whistle on a whole range of UK spy crimes: files on gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, illeg­al phone taps, IRA bombs that could have been pre­ven­ted, inno­cent people in pris­on, and an illeg­al MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi, which went wrong and inno­cent people died.

Work­ing with a major UK news­pa­per and with due respect for real nation­al secrets, he went pub­lic about these crimes.  Pre-empt­ively we went on the run togeth­er, so that we could remain free to argue about and cam­paign around the dis­clos­ures, rather than dis­ap­pear­ing into a max­im­um secur­ity pris­on for years. After a month on the run across Europe, I returned to the UK to work with our law­yers, see our trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies, and pack up our smashed-up, police-raided flat.

Annie_arrest_BWIn Septem­ber 1997 I flew back with my law­yer from Spain to Lon­don Gatwick. I knew that the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch wanted to inter­view me, and my law­yer had nego­ti­ated this ahead of my travel.  Des­pite this, I was arres­ted at the immig­ra­tion desk by six heav­ies, and car­ted off to a counter-ter­ror­ism suite at Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don, where I was inter­rog­ated for six hours.

At that point I had done noth­ing more than sup­port Dav­id. As anoth­er ex-MI5 officer I agreed that the spies needed great­er over­sight and account­ab­il­ity, but actu­ally my arrest was because I was his girl­friend and going after me would be lever­age against him. But is got worse — two days later Shayler’s two best friends and his broth­er were arres­ted on flag­rantly trumped-up charges. None of us was ever charged with any crime, but we were all kept on police bail for months.

Look­ing back, our treat­ment was designed to put more pres­sure on him and “keep him in his box” — it was pure intim­id­a­tion. Journ­al­ists and stu­dents were also threatened, har­assed, and in one case charged and con­victed for hav­ing the temer­ity to expose spy crimes dis­closed by Shayler. To this day, none of the crim­in­als in the UK intel­li­gence agency has ever been charged or con­victed.

So the threats and intim­id­a­tion around the Snowden case, and the deten­tion of Greenwald’s part­ner, are old, old tac­tics. What is new is the sheer scale of blatant intim­id­a­tion, the sheer bru­tish force. Des­pite the full glare of glob­al inter­net and media cov­er­age, the US and UK spooks still think they can get away with this sort of intim­id­a­tion. Will they? Or will we, the glob­al cit­izenry, draw a line in the sand?

Oh, and let’s not for­get the sheer hypo­crisy as well — the US con­demns Snowden for seek­ing refuge in Rus­sia, and cas­tig­ates that coun­try for its civil rights record on cer­tain issues. Be that as it may, the US estab­lish­ment should look to the log in its own eye first — that one of its young cit­izens faces the death sen­tence or life-long incar­cer­a­tion for expos­ing (war) crimes against the glob­al com­munity as well as the country’s own con­sti­tu­tion.

There is an inter­na­tion­ally-recog­nised leg­al pre­ced­ent from the Nurem­burg Nazi tri­als after World War 2: “just fol­low­ing orders” is not a defence under any law, par­tic­u­larly when those orders lead to vic­tim­isa­tion, war crimes and gen­o­cide.  The UK bor­der guards, as well as the inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence com­munit­ies and mil­it­ary, would do well to heed that power­ful les­son from his­tory.

So this overzeal­ous use of a law to detain the part­ner of a journ­al­ist merely trav­el­ling through the UK should make us all pause for thought. The West has long inveighed against total­it­ari­an regimes and police states. How can they not recog­nise what they have now become? And how long can we, as cit­izens, con­tin­ue to turn a blind eye?

Keeping Abreast of Privacy Issues

In the wake of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures about endem­ic glob­al sur­veil­lance, the rather thread­bare old argu­ment about “if you have done noth­ing wrong and have noth­ing to hide, you have noth­ing to fear” has been trot­ted out by many Big Broth­er apo­lo­gists.

But it’s not about doing any­thing wrong, it’s about hav­ing an enshrined right to pri­vacy — as recog­nised in the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  And this was enshrined in the wake of the hor­rors of World War 2, and for very good reas­on.  If you are denied pri­vacy to read or listen, if you are denied pri­vacy to speak or write, and if you are denied pri­vacy about whom you meet and see, then free­dom has died and total­it­ari­an­ism has begun.

Those were the les­sons learned from the growth of fas­cism in the 1930s and 1940s.  If you lose the right to pri­vacy, you also lose the abil­ity to push back against dic­tat­or­ships, cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, and all the attend­ant hor­rors.

How quickly we for­get the les­sons of his­tory: not just the rights won over the last cen­tury, but those fought and died for over cen­tur­ies. We recent gen­er­a­tions in the West have grown too bloated on ease, too fin­an­cially fat and socially com­pla­cent, to fully appre­ci­ate the freedoms we are cas­u­ally throw­ing away.

body_armourSo what sparked this mini-rant? This art­icle I found in my Twit­ter stream (thanks @LossofPrivacy). It appears that a US police depart­ment in Detroit has just sent out all the tra­di­tion­ally vital stat­ist­ics of its female officers to the entire depart­ment — weight, height and even the bra size of indi­vidu­al female police officers have been shared with the staff, purely because of an email gaffe.

Well people make mis­takes and hit the wrong but­tons. So this may not sound like much, but appar­ently the women in ques­tion are not happy, and rightly so. In the still macho envir­on­ment of law enforce­ment, one can but cringe at the “josh­ing” that fol­lowed.

Put­ting aside the obvi­ous ques­tion of wheth­er we want our police officers to be tooled up like Rob­ocop, this minor débâcle high­lights a key point of pri­vacy. It’s not that one needs to hide one’s breasts as a woman — they are pretty much obvi­ous for chris­sakes — but does every­one need to know the spe­cif­ics, or is that per­son­al inform­a­tion one step too far? And as for a woman’s weight, don’t even go there.….

So these cops in Detroit, no doubt all up-stand­ing pil­lars of their com­munit­ies, might have learned a valu­able les­son. It is not a “them and us” situ­ation — the “them” being “ter­ror­ists”, act­iv­ists, com­mun­ists, lib­er­als, Teabag­gers — whatever the theme du jour hap­pens to be.

It is about a fun­da­ment­al need for pri­vacy as human beings, as the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge also dis­covered last year. This is not just about height, bra size or, god for­bid, one’s weight. This is about big­ger issues if not big­ger boobs. We all have some­thing we want kept private, be it bank state­ments, bonk­ing, or bowel move­ments.

How­ever, with endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance, we have already lost our pri­vacy in our com­mu­nic­a­tions and in our daily routines — in Lon­don it is estim­ated that we are caught on CCTV more than 300 times a day just going about our daily busi­ness.

More import­antly, in this era of fin­an­cial, eco­nom­ic and polit­ic­al crises, we are los­ing our free­dom to read and watch, to speak and meet, and to protest without fear of sur­veil­lance. It is the Stasi’s wet dream, real­ised by those unas­sum­ing chaps (and obvi­ously the chapesses with boobs) in law enforce­ment, the NSA, GCHQ et al.

But it is not just the nation state level spies we have to worry about. Even if we think that we could not pos­sibly be import­ant enough to be on that par­tic­u­lar radar (although Mr Snowden has made it abund­antly clear that we all are), there is a bur­geon­ing private sec­tor of cor­por­ate intel­li­gence com­pan­ies who are only too happy to watch, infilt­rate and destabil­ise social, media and protest groups. “Psy­ops” and “astro-turf­ing” are ter­ri­fy­ing words for any­one inter­ested in human rights, act­iv­ism and civil liber­ties. But this is the new real­ity.

So, what can we do? Let’s remem­ber that most law enforce­ment people in the var­ied agen­cies are us — they want a stable job that feels val­ued, they want to provide for their fam­il­ies, they want to do the right thing. Reach out to them, and help those who do have the cour­age to speak out and expose wrong­do­ing, be it law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion­als speak­ing out against the failed “war on drugs” (such as those in LEAP) or intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers expos­ing war crimes, illeg­al sur­veil­lance and tor­ture.

Thomas_PaineBut also have the cour­age to protest and throw the tired old argu­ment back in the faces of the secur­ity proto-tyr­ants. This is what the found­ing fath­ers of the USA did: they risked being hanged as trait­ors by the Brit­ish Crown in 1776, yet they still made a stand. Using the “sedi­tious” writ­ings of Tom Paine, who ended up on the run from the UK, they had the cour­age to speak out, meet up and fight for what they believed in, and they pro­duced a good first attempt at a work­able demo­cracy.

Unfor­tu­nately, the USA estab­lish­ment has long been cor­rup­ted and sub­ver­ted by cor­por­at­ist interests. And unfor­tu­nately for the rest of the world, with the cur­rent geo-polit­ic­al power bal­ance, this still has an impact on most of us, and provides a clear example of how the chan­ging polit­ic­al land­scape can shift the goal posts of “accept­able” beha­viour — one day your are an act­iv­ist wav­ing a plac­ard, the next you are poten­tially deemed to be a “ter­ror­ist”.

But also remem­ber — we are all, poten­tially, Tom Paine. And as the end­less, neb­u­lous, and frankly largely bogus “war on ter­ror” con­tin­ues to rav­age the world and our demo­cra­cies, we all need to be.

In this post-PRISM world, we need to take indi­vidu­al respons­ib­il­ity to pro­tect our pri­vacy and ensure we have free media. At least then we can freely read, write, speak, and meet with our fel­low cit­izens. We need this pri­vacy to be the new res­ist­ance to the creep­ing total­it­ari­an­ism of the glob­al elites.

Read the sem­in­al books of Tom Paine (while you still can), weep, and then go forth.….

With thanks to my moth­er for the title of this piece. It made me laugh.

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more cir­cum­spect title: “Brit­ish police secretly oper­ated out­side demo­crat­ic con­trol for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the glob­al impact of the ongo­ing Edward Snowden saga, a smal­ler but still import­ant whis­tleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Fran­cis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an under­cov­er cop in the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Force’s secret Spe­cial Demon­stra­tions Squad (SDS) sec­tion. In this role, Fran­cis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could dis­cred­it the fam­ily of murdered black teen­ager, Steph­en Lawrence and thereby derail their cam­paign for a full and effect­ive police invest­ig­a­tion into his death.  The Lawrence fam­ily cor­rectly believed that the ori­gin­al invest­ig­a­tion had been fumbled because of  insti­tu­tion­al police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were pos­ing as act­iv­ists to infilt­rate protest groups will come as no shock after the cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men in 2011, start­ing with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fel­low” act­iv­ists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scan­dal. This has res­ul­ted in an enquiry into the shad­owy activ­it­ies of these most secret officers, accus­a­tions that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice sup­pressed key evid­ence in crim­in­al tri­als, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (pre­dom­in­antly male) police officers seduced.

But the dis­clos­ures of Peter Fran­cis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Steph­en Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the band­wag­on, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and pro­vok­ing con­front­a­tions with the far-right Brit­ish Nation­al Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s book­shop in south Lon­don in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could poten­tially just about argue that the under­cov­er officers were try­ing to gath­er advance intel­li­gence to pre­vent pub­lic dis­order and riot­ing, although the sheer scale of the oper­a­tion was utterly dis­pro­por­tion­ate.

How­ever, what is com­pletely bey­ond the Pale is this appar­ent attempt to smear the trau­mat­ised fam­ily of a murder vic­tim in order to derail their cam­paign for justice.

The role of under­cov­er cops spy­ing on their fel­low cit­izens who are polit­ic­ally act­ive is dis­taste­ful in a demo­cracy. And the fact that, until the ori­gin­al scan­dal broke in 2011, the recon­sti­t­uted SDS con­tin­ued to tar­get peace and envir­on­ment­al protest groups who offered no threat what­so­ever to nation­al secur­ity is dis­grace­ful — it smacks of the Stasi in East Ger­many.

To make mat­ters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became appar­ent that the SDS Ver­sion 2.0 was oper­at­ing out­side the form­al hier­archy of the police, with what little demo­crat­ic over­sight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fief­dom of a private lim­ited com­pany — the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  With­in a notion­al demo­cracy, this is just gobsmack­ing.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously den­ted. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then to MI5 as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that ACPO came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primar­ily on poten­tially viol­ent anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks have been doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years oper­ated out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. Until this year, the remit of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment has only covered the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by seni­or spies and police officers.

The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we under­stand the real threats can we as a nation dis­cuss the neces­sary steps to take to pro­tect ourselves effect­ively; what meas­ures should be taken, what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.

It is only by going through this pro­cess that can we ensure such scan­dals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s con­fes­sions but the sheer scale of the endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-over­due nation­al debate becomes ever more neces­sary.

Taken to court.…

A fun inter­view with Heimir Már Pétursson on TV2, filmed dur­ing my recent tour of Ice­land:

Ice­land TV 2 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Iceland Tour

Well, this will be an inter­est­ing week.  On the invit­a­tion of Snar­rot­in, the Iceland­ic civil liber­ties organ­isa­tion, I’m off to Ice­land for a series of talks and inter­views on behalf of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (www​.leap​.cc).

Ice­land is an inspir­a­tion­al and inter­est­ing coun­try.  Fol­low­ing the 2008 cred­it crash, the Icelanders bucked inter­na­tion­al trends and actu­ally held some of their rul­ing élite — the politi­cians and bankers who had brought about these fin­an­cial prob­lems — to account.  The gov­ern­ment fell, some bankers were fired and pro­sec­uted, and the Iceland­ic people are hav­ing a ser­i­ous rethink about the way their demo­cracy could and should work.

And indeed why should the people pay the price for the decisions made in their name by an unac­count­able élite?  One could spe­ciously argue that the people had a mean­ing­ful choice at the bal­lot box.… but back in the real, 21st cen­tury polit­ic­al world, Ice­land was as stitched-up as all oth­er notion­al West­ern demo­cra­cies.  The worst alleg­a­tion that can be thrown at the people was that they were dis­en­gaged, unin­volved and side­lined from how their coun­try was really run — as many of us across the West feel to this day.

But appar­ently no longer in Ice­land: since the fin­an­cial crisis the cit­izens of this small demo­cracy have re-engaged in the polit­ic­al pro­cess, and the future is look­ing rosy.

New, account­able politi­cians have been elec­ted to form a new gov­ern­ment. Cit­izens have been involved in draw­ing up a new con­sti­tu­tion, and heated debates are chal­len­ging the estab­lished shib­boleths of the cor­por­at­ist gov­ern­ing class: revolving around such issues as fin­ance, inter­net freedoms, free media, ter­ror­ism, and how a mod­ern coun­try should be run in the interest of the many. And next week, I hope, a rethink of the country’s oblig­a­tions to the inter­na­tion­al “war on drugs”.

While the issue is strenu­ously ignored by the West­ern gov­ern­ing élite, it is now widely recog­nised that the cur­rent pro­hib­i­tion strategy has failed out­right: drug traf­fick­ing and use has increased, the street price of drugs has plummeted and they are endem­ic­ally avail­able, whole com­munit­ies have been imprisoned, whole coun­tries have become narco-states and des­cen­ded into drug war viol­ence, and the only people to profit are the organ­ised crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions that reap vast profits. Oh, and of course the banks kept afloat with dirty drug money, the mil­it­ar­ised drug enforce­ment agen­cies, and the politi­cians who now, hypo­crit­ic­ally, want to look “tough on crime” des­pite alleg­a­tions that they also dabbled in their youth.….

Well, the time has come for an adult dis­cus­sion about this failed policy, using facts and not just empty rhet­or­ic.

So, a week dis­cuss­ing all my favour­ite happy top­ics: the “war” on drugs, the “war” on ter­ror, and the “war” on the inter­net.  My type of mini-break!


The End of Privacy and Freedom of Thought?

I saw this chilling report in my Twit­ter feed today (thanks @Asher_Wolf): Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing deep pack­et inspec­tion tech­no­logy to throttle peer to peer shar­ing over the inter­net.

Des­pite being a clas­si­cist not a geek by train­ing, this sounds like I know what I’m talk­ing about, right?  Well some­what to my own sur­prise, I do, after years of expos­ure to the “hackt­iv­ist” eth­os and a grow­ing aware­ness that geeks may our last line of defence against the cor­por­at­ists.  In fact, I recently did an inter­view on The Keiser Report about the “war on the inter­net”.

Offi­cially, Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing this cap­ab­il­ity to pro­tect those fra­gile busi­ness flowers (surely “broken busi­ness mod­els” — Ed) with­in the enter­tain­ment and copy­right indus­tries — you know, the com­pan­ies who pimp out cre­at­ive artists, pay most of them a pit­tance while keep­ing the bulk of the loot for them­selves, and then whine about how P2P file shar­ing and the cir­cu­la­tion and enjoy­ment of the artists’ work is theft?

But who, ser­i­ously, thinks that such tech­no­logy, once developed, will not be used and abused by all and sun­dry, down to and includ­ing our bur­geon­ing police state appar­at­us? If the secur­ity forces can use any tool, no mat­ter how sor­did, they will do so, as has been recently repor­ted with the UK under­cov­er cops assum­ing the iden­tit­ies of dead chil­dren in order to infilt­rate peace­ful protest groups.

Writer and act­iv­ist, Cory Doc­torow, summed this prob­lem up best in an excel­lent talk at the CCC hack­er­fest in Ber­lin in 2011:

The shred­ding of any notion of pri­vacy will also have a chilling effect not only on the pri­vacy of our com­mu­nic­a­tions, but will also res­ult in our begin­ning to self-cen­sor the inform­a­tion we ingest for fear of sur­veil­lance (Nazi book burn­ings are so 20th Cen­tury).  It will, inev­it­ably, also lead us to self-cen­sor what we say and what we write, which will slide us into an Orwellian dysto­pia faster than we could say “Aaron Swartz”.

As Columbi­an Pro­fess­or of Law, Eben Moglen, said so elo­quently last year at anoth­er event in Ber­lin — “free­dom of thought requires free media”:

Two of my favour­ite talks, still freely avail­able on the inter­net. Enjoy.

The House I Live In” — drug panel discussion

I recently rep­res­en­ted LEAP at a pan­el dis­cus­sion in Lon­don about the failed war on drugs after a screen­ing of the excel­lent film The House I Live In, along with Steve Rolles of Trans­form and Niamh East­wood of Release:

Oval Space Cinema Club: ‘The House I Live In’ — Pan­el Dis­cus­sion from Oval Space on Vimeo.