UK sets up yet another costly spy agency

This art­icle was first pub­lished on RT Op Ed a month ago.

The UK Min­istry of Defence announced on 21 Septem­ber the estab­lish­ment of yet anoth­er Brit­ish spy agency, an amal­gam of mil­it­ary and secur­ity ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als designed to wage cyber war against ter­ror­ists, Rus­sia and organ­ised crime. The new agency will have upwards of 2000 staff (the size MI5 was when I worked there in the 1990s, so not incon­sid­er­able). I have been asked for a num­ber of inter­views about this and here are my thoughts in long form.

The UK already has a pleth­ora of spy agen­cies:

  • MI5 – the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, largely coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism and espi­on­age;
  • MI6 – the Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice, tasked with gain­ing intel­li­gence abroad;
  • GCHQ – the gov­ern­ment elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance agency and best buds with the US NSA;
  • Nation­al Cyber Secur­ity Centre – an off­shoot that pro­tects the UK against cyber attacks, both state and crim­in­al;
  • NCA – the Nation­al Crime Agency, mainly invest­ig­at­ing organ­ised crime;
  • not to men­tion the police and Cus­toms cap­ab­il­it­ies.

To provide Amer­ic­an con­text, MI6 equates to the CIA, GCHQ and the NCSC equate to the NSA, and the NCA to the FBI. Which rather begs the ques­tion of where exactly MI5 fits into the mod­ern scheme – or is it just an ana­chron­ist­ic and undemo­crat­ic throw-back, a typ­ic­ally Brit­ish his­tor­ic­al muddle, or per­haps the UK’s very own Stasi?

So why the new and expens­ive agency at a time of nation­al fin­an­cial uncer­tainty?

Of course I acknow­ledge the fact that the UK deserves to retain a com­pre­hens­ive and impress­ive defence cap­ab­il­ity, provided it is used for that pur­pose rather than illeg­al, need­less wars based on spuri­ous polit­ic­al reas­ons that cost inno­cent lives. Every coun­try has the right and the need to pro­tect itself, and the cybers are the newly-defined battle lines.

Moreover, it might be overly simplist­ic to sug­gest that this is just more empire-build­ing on the part of the thrust­ing and ambi­tious young Sec­ret­ary of State for Defence, Gav­in Wil­li­am­son. Per­haps he really does believe that the UK mil­it­ary needs aug­ment­ing after years of cuts, as the former Deputy Chair­man of the UK Con­ser­vat­ive Party and er, well-known mil­it­ary expert, Lord Ash­croft, wrote in the Daily Mail. But why a whole new intel­li­gence agency at huge cost? Surely all the exist­ing agen­cies should already be able to provide adequate defence?

Addi­tion­ally, by singling out Rus­sia as the hos­tile, aggressor state, when for years the West has also been bewail­ing Chinese/Ira­ni­an/North Korean et al hack­ing, smacks to me of polit­ic­al oppor­tunism in the wake of “Rus­siagate”, the Skri­pals, and Russia’s suc­cess­ful inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia. Those of a cyn­ic­al bent among us might see this as polit­ic­ally expedi­ent to cre­ate the etern­al Emmanuel Gold­stein enemy to jus­ti­fy the ever-meta­stas­ising mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex. But, hey, that is a big tranche of the Brit­ish, and poten­tially the post-Brexit, Brit­ish eco­nomy.

The UK intel­li­gence agen­cies are there to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being of the state”. So I do have some fun­da­ment­al eth­ic­al and secur­ity con­cerns based on recent West­ern his­tory. If the new organ­isa­tion is to go on the cyber offens­ive what, pre­cisely does that mean – war, unfore­seen blow back, or what?

If we go by what the USA has been exposed as doing over the last couple of dec­ades, partly from NSA whis­tleblowers includ­ing Bill Bin­ney, Tom Drake and Edward Snowden, and partly from CIA and NSA leaks into the pub­lic domain, a cyber offens­ive cap­ab­il­ity involves stock­pil­ing zero day hacks, back doors built into the inter­net mono­pol­ies, weapon­ised mal­ware such as STUXNET (now out there, mutat­ing in the wild), and the egre­gious break­ing of nation­al laws and inter­na­tion­al pro­to­cols.

To dis­cuss these points in reverse order: among so many oth­er rev­el­a­tions, in 2013 Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ had cracked Bel­ga­com, the Bel­gian nation­al tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions net­work – that of an ally; he also revealed that the USA had spied on the Ger­man Chancellor’s private phone, as well as many oth­er Ger­man offi­cials and journ­al­ists; that GCHQ had been pros­ti­tut­ing itself to the NSA to do dirty work on its behalf in return for $100 mil­lion; and that most big inter­net com­pan­ies had col­luded with allow­ing the NSA access to their net­works via a pro­gramme called PRISM. Only last month, the EU also accused the UK of hack­ing the Brexit nego­ti­ations.

Last year Wikileaks repor­ted on the Vault 7 dis­clos­ures – a cache of CIA cyber weapons it had been stock­pil­ing. It is worth read­ing what Wikileaks had to say about this, ana­lys­ising the full hor­ror of how vul­ner­able such a stock­pile makes “we, the people”, vul­ner­able to crim­in­al hack­ing.

Also, two years ago a huge tranche of sim­il­arly hoarded NSA weapons was acquired by a crim­in­al organ­isa­tion called the Shad­ow Brokers, who ini­tially tried to sell them on the dark web to the highest bid­der but then released them into the wild. The cata­stroph­ic crash of NHS com­puters in the UK last year was because one of these cyber weapons, Wan­nac­ry, fell into the wrong crim­in­al hands. How much more is out there, avail­able to crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists?

The last two examples will, I hope, expose just how vul­ner­able such caches of cyber weapons and vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies can be if not prop­erly secured. And, as we have seen, even the most secret of organ­isa­tions can­not guar­an­tee this. To use the Amer­ic­an ver­nacu­lar, they can come back and bite you in the ass.

And the earli­er NSA whis­tleblowers, includ­ing Bill Bin­ney and Tom Drake, exposed just how easy it is for the spooks to manip­u­late nation­al law to suit their own agenda, with war­rant-less wiretap­ping, breaches of the US con­sti­tu­tion, and massive and need­less over­spend on pred­at­ory snoop­ing sys­tems such as TRAILBLAZER.

Indeed, we had the same thing in the UK when Theresa May suc­ceeded in finally ram­ming through the invi­di­ous Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (IPA 2016). When she presen­ted it to par­lia­ment as Home Sec­ret­ary, she implied that it was leg­al­ising what GCHQ has pre­vi­ously been doing illeg­ally since 2001, and extend their powers to include bulk metadata hack­ing, bulk data set hack­ing and bulk hack­ing of all our com­puters and phones, all without mean­ing­ful gov­ern­ment over­sight.

Oth­er coun­tries such as Rus­sia and China have passed sim­il­ar sur­veil­lance legis­la­tion, claim­ing as a pre­ced­ent the UK’s IPA as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for what are claimed by the West to be egre­gious pri­vacy crack­downs.

The remit of the UK spooks is to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity” (whatever that means, as we still await a leg­al defin­i­tion) and the eco­nom­ic well-being of the state. I have said this many times over the years – the UK intel­li­gence com­munity is already the most leg­ally pro­tec­ted and least account­able of that of any oth­er West­ern demo­cracy. So, with all these agen­cies and all these dra­coni­an laws already at their dis­pos­al, I am some­what per­plexed about the per­ceived need for yet anoth­er costly intel­li­gence organ­isa­tion to go on the offens­ive. What do they want? Out­right war?

News debate on Russian “hacking” allegations

On 9 Janu­ary RT hos­ted a live streamed debate on its news show about the US intel­li­gence report that attemp­ted to prove that Rus­sia had “hacked” the US elec­tion.

Also in the debate were former CIA Dir­ect­or, James Wool­sey, and former CIA intel­li­gence officer, Larry John­son.

Here it is:

RT Debate about Intel­li­gence Report into alleged ‘Rus­si­an hack­ing’ (Streamed Live) from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The NSA “Brain Drain”

The former head of the NSA, Keith Alex­an­der, is repor­ted to have said that the agency is facing a “brain drain” of its best staff, pre­dom­in­antly the young­er ones. Here is my per­spect­ive on this:

The NSA “Brain Drain” 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.

Perils of Censorship in the Digital Age

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge.

The ripple effects of the Don­ald Trump elec­tion vic­tory in Amer­ica con­tin­ue to wash over many dif­fer­ent shorelines of pub­lic opin­ion, like so many mini-tsuna­mis hit­ting the Pacific rim over the last few last weeks.  The seis­mic changes have indeed been glob­al, and not least in Europe.

First up, the Euro­crats have been get­ting in a bit of a flap about the future of NATO, as I recently wrote.  In the past I have also writ­ten about the per­ceived “insider threat” - in oth­er words, whis­tleblowers — that has been wor­ry­ing gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies across the West­ern world.

Cur­rently the Twit­ter­sphere is light­ing up around the issue of “fake news”, with West­ern main­stream media (news pur­vey­ors of the utmost unsul­lied prob­ity, nat­ur­ally) blam­ing Trump’s unex­pec­ted vic­tory vari­ously on the US alt-media shock jocks, fake news trolls and bots, and sov­er­eign-state media out­lets such as the Rus­si­an RT and Sput­nik.

In the wake of US Demo­crat claims that Rus­sia was inter­fer­ing in the elec­tion pro­cess (not a prac­tice that the USA has ever engaged in in any oth­er coun­try around the world what­so­ever), we now have the US Green Party pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate appar­ently spon­tan­eously call­ing for recounts in three key swing-states in the USA.

The Ger­man gov­ern­ment has already expressed con­cern that such “fake” news might adversely influ­ence the almost inev­it­able re-elec­tion for a fourth term as Chan­cel­lor, Angela Merkel.  Des­pite hav­ing been pro­claimed the closest part­ner of the USA by Pres­id­ent Obama on his recent speed-dat­ing vis­it to Europe, and per­haps wary of the rising nation­al­ist anger (I hes­it­ate to write nation­al social­ist anger, but cer­tainly its ugly face is there too in the Ger­man crowd) Merkal is get­ting in an elect­or­al first strike.

At a slightly more wor­ry­ing level, the European Par­lia­ment on 23 Novem­ber voted for a res­ol­u­tion to counter “pro­pa­ganda” from Rus­sia — and incred­ibly equated that country’s media with ter­ror­ist groups such as ISIS — the very organ­isa­tion that Rus­sia is cur­rently try­ing to help crush in Syr­ia and which the West and NATO are at least offi­cially opposed to.

Equat­ing the con­tent of licensed and net­worked media out­lets — how­ever much they may chal­lenge West­ern ortho­dox­ies — to the hor­rors of ISIS snuff videos seems to me to be wil­fully blind if not down­right and dan­ger­ously delu­sion­al. Or per­haps we should just call it pro­pa­ganda too?

Whatever happened to the rights of free­dom of expres­sion enshrined in the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights? Or the concept that a plur­al­ity of opin­ion encour­ages a healthy demo­cracy?

In Amer­ica too, we have had reports this week that Google and Face­book are cen­sor­ing alleged “fake” news.  This is the start of a very slip­pery slope. Soon any­one who dis­sents from the ortho­doxy will be deemed fake and dis­ap­pear into the cor­por­ate memory black hole.  Google in 2014 sug­ges­ted a pre­curs­or to this, the Know­ledge Vault, a search sys­tem that would pro­mote approved web­sites and dis­ap­pear those deemed inac­cur­ate at least by Google algorithms. But who con­trols those?

Once again our cor­por­ate over­lords seem to be march­ing remark­ably in time — almost a lock step — with the mood of the polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment.

So how did this all kick off? With remark­ably pres­ci­ent tim­ing, in Octo­ber the arch-neo­con­ser­vat­ive UK-based think tank, the Henry Jack­son Soci­ety, pub­lished a report entitled “Putin’s Use­ful Idi­ots: Britain’s Right, Left and Rus­sia”. Well, at least it got its apo­strophes right, but much of the rest is just so much hate-filled bile against those who call out the failed Wash­ing­ton Con­sensus.

The Henry Jack­son Soci­ety is an odi­ous organ­isa­tion that was foun­ded in Cam­bridge elev­en years ago. One of its ini­tial sig­nat­or­ies was Sir Richard Dear­love, former head of the UK’s for­eign intel­li­gence agency MI6, and of some per­son­al notori­ety for ped­dling the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruc­tion that took the UK into the dis­astrous and illeg­al Iraq war in 2003, as well as feed­ing in the fake intel­li­gence about Iraq try­ing to acquire urani­um from Niger that US Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell used as a jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the same war at the United Nations.

Des­pite all this, he remains hap­pily retired, bloated with hon­ours, while at the same time threat­en­ing the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment with his full mem­oirs to posthum­ously pre­serve his repu­ta­tion and avoid pro­sec­u­tion for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act, as I have writ­ten before.

The Henry Jack­son Soci­ety has also fol­ded into itself an organ­isa­tion called the Centre for Social Cohe­sion — appar­ently estab­lished to build bet­ter integ­ra­tion for the Muslim com­munity in the UK, but which for the last dec­ade has done noth­ing but stir up Islamo­pho­bia. As oth­ers have writ­ten, the phrase “mod­ern McCarthy­ites” might not be stretch­ing this concept too far. And now it seems to be turn­ing its ire against Rus­sia.

Its emphas­is has been unre­lent­ingly anti-Islam for many years, so it was inter­est­ing that this estab­lish­ment-embed­ded Soci­ety had a fully-formed report about the renewed Red Men­ace sub­vert­ing our West­ern media just ready and wait­ing to be pub­lished ahead of the US elec­tions.

So where does this all leave us?

It may well be that Face­book will begin to dis­ap­pear so-called fake news — which could have reper­cus­sions for all the act­iv­ist groups that, against all advice and com­mon sense, con­tin­ue to offer up their plans/organise events on that medi­um.

We may see the same cen­sor­ship on Google, as well as dis­sid­ent web­sites dis­ap­pear­ing down the pro­posed memory-hole of the Know­ledge Vault. Sure, such pages may be recor­ded on sites like the Way­Back Machine et al, but who really searches through that reflex­ively? Most us us don’t even get through the first page of Google hits any­way. In our digit­al age, this will make the 20th cen­tury prac­tice of your ana­logue dic­tat­or — the air­brush­ing of polit­ic­al oppon­ents out of his­tory — look pos­it­ively quaint.

But, just as the Guten­berg Press was a rad­ic­al innov­a­tion in the 15th cen­tury that led to a rap­id spread of writ­ten ideas and the res­ult­ing cen­sor­ship, repres­sion and a thriv­ing under­ground media, so the the cur­rent crack­down will lead to the same push-back.

Then we have to con­sider the poten­tial cen­sor­ship of state-owned news out­lets such as RT, the Chinese CCTV, and the Ira­ni­an Press TV. Where will that leave oth­er state-owned organ­isa­tions such as the BBC, RAI and oth­er inter­na­tion­al Euro-broad­casters? Oh, of course, they are part of the West­ern media club, so it’s all hun­key-dorey and busi­ness as usu­al.

But this can be a two-sided fight — only two months ago RT’s UK bankers, the state-owned Nat West Bank, announced that they were going to shut down the channel’s UK accounts, with no reas­on or redress. I gath­er that a sim­il­ar threat was then issued against the BBC in Rus­sia, and the case was quietly dropped.

Over the last 20 years I have been inter­viewed by hun­dreds of major media out­lets across Europe, many of them state-owned.  How­ever, it is only when I appear on RT​.com that I am accused of sup­port­ing a state-pro­pa­ganda out­let, of being a use­ful idi­ot — and this has become increas­ingly marked over the last couple of years.

All these meas­ures smack of an ill-informed and out-of-touch pan­ic reac­tion by a hitherto com­pla­cent estab­lish­ment. Before they attempt to air­brush his­tory, we need to remem­ber that his­tory teaches some use­ful les­sons about such elit­ist crack­downs: they nev­er end well for any­one.

Donald Trump and implications for NATO

Pres­id­ent-elect of the USA, Don­ald Trump, said dur­ing his cam­paign that oth­er NATO mem­bers should pay a fair con­tri­bu­tion and not rely on the USA to always bail them out.

On 13th Novem­ber the Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al of NATO, Jens Stol­ten­berg, defen­ded his organ­isa­tion in UK news­pa­per The Observ­er.

Here is a short inter­view I gave to RT on these devel­op­ments:

Don­ald Trump and NATO from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

CIA threatens cyber attacks against Russia

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

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

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

NATO planes bomb Syrian government forces

The dip­lo­mat­ic row rumbles on after US-led air strikes hit Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment forces in Deir ez-Zour, killing 62 sol­diers and injur­ing over 100.  This happened only a few days into a week-long tri­al cease­fire designed to be a pre­curs­or to US-Rus­si­an joint oper­a­tions against ISIS.

It has now been repor­ted that Brit­ish forces were involved and, need­less to say, that the cease­fire is over, with the Rus­si­ans and the Syr­i­ans nat­ur­ally being blamed.

Here is my ini­tial ana­lys­is last Sat­urday imme­di­ately after the bomb­ings, pre­dict­ing that the US would have great­er prob­lems rein­ing in the vari­ous mili­tias than Rus­sia would in ensur­ing that Syr­ia held to the cease­fire:

US air strike on Syr­i­an mil­it­ary — RT inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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.

Ex-CIA Chief advocates murder

Well, this was an inter­est­ing one.  As I was step­ping out of the shower this morn­ing, my phone rang — RT ask­ing if I could do an inter­view asap.

The sub­ject under dis­cus­sion?  A former act­ing head of the CIA appar­ently recom­mend­ing that the USA cov­ertly start to murder any Ira­ni­an and Rus­si­an cit­izens oper­at­ing against ISIS in Syr­ia, and bomb Pres­id­ent Assad “to scare him, not to kill him”.

I know — an Alice Though the Look­ing Glass moment.  Here is the link to inter­view that Michael Morell gave.

And here is my take on this:

CIA_Chief_wants_to_Assassinate_Iranians_and Rus­si­ans from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Nice terror attack

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

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

The Chilcot Report about the Iraq War

Here is an inter­view I did yes­ter­day about the long-awaited Chil­cot Report into the cluster­fuck that was and is Iraq:

The Chil­cot Report on the Iraq War from Annie Machon on Vimeo.