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…..

Discussing the Belhaj Torture Case with George Galloway

I enjoyed my inter­view on UK Talk Radio with George Gal­lo­way this even­ing about the set­tle­ment of the shock­ing Liy­ban Bel­haj tor­ture case — I have been fol­low­ing this for years and am very glad to see that he finally got justice.

Annie Machon, former MI5 Officer, dis­cusses Bel­haj rendi­tion case with George Gal­lo­way from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

I have been fol­low­ing the case since it star­ted, as you can see here from my art­icle in 2012. But I do now fear for Iran, after what has happened to Libya and Syr­ia.

MI5 officer has evidence of torture?

Well, this story is inter­est­ing me extremely, and for the obvi­ous as well as the per­haps more arcanely leg­al reas­ons.

Appar­ently a former seni­or MI5 officer is ask­ing per­mis­sion to give evid­ence to the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment about the Secur­ity Service’s col­lu­sion in the US tor­ture pro­gramme that was the pyro­clast­ic flow from the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

I have long spec­u­lated about how people with whom I used to work, social­ise with, have din­ner with in the 1990s might have evolved from ideal­ist­ic young officers into people who could con­done or even par­ti­cip­ate in the tor­ture of oth­er human beings once the war on ter­ror was unleashed in the last dec­ade.

Dur­ing the 1990s MI5 abso­lutely did not con­done the use of tor­ture — not only for eth­ic­al reas­ons, but also because an older gen­er­a­tion was still knock­ing around and they had seen in the civil war in North­ern Ire­land quite how counter-pro­duct­ive such prac­tices were.  Intern­ment, secret courts, stress pos­i­tions, sleep depriva­tion — all these policies acted as a recruit­ing ser­geant for the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA.

My gen­er­a­tion — the first tasked with invest­ig­at­ing the IRA in the UK and Al Qaeda glob­ally — under­stood this.  We were there to run intel­li­gence oper­a­tions, help gath­er evid­ence, and if pos­sible put sus­pec­ted mal­efact­ors on tri­al. Even then, when eth­ic­al bound­ar­ies were breached, many raised con­cerns and many resigned.  A few of us even went pub­lic about our con­cerns.

But that is so much his­tory.  As I said above, I have always wondered how those I knew could have stayed silent once the intel­li­gence gloves came off after 9/11 and MI5 was effect­ively shang­haied into fol­low­ing the bru­tish Amer­ic­an over-reac­tion.

Now it appears that there were indeed doubters with­in, there was indeed a divided opin­ion. And now it appears that someone with seni­or­ity is try­ing to use what few chan­nels exist for whis­tleblowers in the UK to rec­ti­fy this.

In fact, my con­tem­por­ar­ies who stayed on the inside would now be the seni­or officers, so I really won­der who this is — I hope an old friend!

No doubt they will have voiced their con­cerns over the years and no doubt they will have been told just to fol­low orders.

I have said pub­licly over many years that there should be a mean­ing­ful chan­nel for those with eth­ic­al con­cerns to present evid­ence and have them prop­erly invest­ig­ated. In fact, I have even said that the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment should be that chan­nel if — and it’s a big if — they can have real invest­ig­at­ory powers and can be trus­ted not just to brush evid­ence under the car­pet and pro­tect the spies’ repu­ta­tion.

So this takes me to the arcane leg­al­it­ies I alluded to at the start. Dur­ing the Dav­id Shayler whis­tleblow­ing tri­als (1997−2003) all the leg­al argu­ment was around the fact that he could have taken his con­cerns to any crown ser­vant — up to the ISC or his MP and down to and includ­ing the bobby on the beat — and he would not have breached the Offi­cial Secrets Act. That was the argu­ment upon which he was con­victed.

Yet at the same time the pro­sec­u­tion also suc­cess­fully argued dur­ing his tri­al in 2002 in the Old Bailey that there was a “clear bright line” against dis­clos­ure to any­one out­side MI5 — (Sec­tion 1(1) OSA (1989) — without that organisation’s pri­or writ­ten con­sent.

The new case rather proves the lat­ter pos­i­tion — that someone with eth­ic­al con­cerns has to “ask per­mis­sion” to give evid­ence to the “over­sight body”.

Only in the UK.

Now, surely in this uncer­tain and allegedly ter­ror­ist-stricken world, we have nev­er had great­er need for a mean­ing­ful over­sight body and mean­ing­ful reform to our intel­li­gence agen­cies if they go off-beam. Only by learn­ing via safe extern­al vent­il­a­tion, learn­ing from mis­takes, reform­ing and avoid­ing group-think, can they oper­ate in a way that is pro­por­tion­ate in a demo­cracy and best pro­tects us all.

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.

Exile — ExBerliner Article

My most recent art­icle for the ExBer­liner magazine:

What is exile? Oth­er than a term much used and abused by many new expats arriv­ing in Ber­lin, dic­tion­ary defin­i­tions point towards someone who is kept away from their home coun­try for polit­ic­al reas­ons, either by regal decree in the past or now more prob­ably self-imposed. But there are many oth­er ways to feel exiled – from main­stream soci­ety, from your fam­ily, faith, pro­fes­sion, polit­ics, and Ber­lin is now regarded as a haven.

How­ever, let’s focus on the clas­sic defin­i­tion and a noble tra­di­tion. Every coun­try, no mat­ter how appar­ently enlightened, can become a tyr­ant to its own cit­izens if they chal­lenge abuses of power. Voltaire was exiled in Eng­land for three years and soon after Tom Paine, a former excise man facing charges for sedi­tious libel, sought refuge in France. More recent fam­ous exiles include Dav­id Shayler, the MI5 whis­tleblower of the 1990s who fol­lowed in Paine’s foot­steps pretty much for the same fun­da­ment­al reas­ons, yet Alex­an­der Litv­inen­ko, the KBG whis­tleblower of the same era, iron­ic­ally found safe haven in exile in the UK.

So, being an exile effect­ively means that you have angered the power struc­tures of your home coun­try to such an extent that oth­er coun­tries feel com­pelled to give you refuge, partly for leg­al or prin­cipled reas­ons, but also for polit­ic­al expedi­ency. The cur­rent most fam­ous exile in the world is, of course, Edward Snowden, stran­ded by chance in Rus­sia en route to polit­ic­al asylum in Ecuador.

What does the act of flee­ing into exile actu­ally feel like? It is a wild leap into an unknown and pre­cari­ous future, with great risk and few fore­see­able rewards. At the same time, as you leave the shores of the per­se­cut­ing coun­try, evad­ing the author­it­ies, avoid­ing arrest and going on the run, there is an exhil­ar­at­ing, intense feel­ing of free­dom – a sense that the die has very much been cast. Your old way of life is irre­voc­ably at an end and the future is a blank slate on which you can write any­thing.

After Shayler and I fled to France in 1997, for the first year of the three we lived in exile we hid in a remote French farm­house just north of Limoges – the nearest vil­lage was 2 kilo­metres away, and the nearest town a dis­tant thirty. We lived in con­stant dread of that knock on the door and the ensu­ing arrest. And that, indeed, even­tu­ally did catch up with him.

As a res­ult, for Shayler it meant the world grew increas­ingly small, increas­ingly con­fined. Ini­tially, when we went on the run, we were free to roam across Europe – any­where but the UK. Then, after the French courts refused to extra­dite him to Bri­tain in 1998 to face tri­al for a breach of the dra­coni­an UK Offi­cial Secrets Act, France became the only place he could live freely. If he had then traveled to any oth­er European coun­try, the Brit­ish would have again attemp­ted to extra­dite him, prob­ably suc­cess­fully, so he was trapped.

How­ever, there are worse places than France in which to find your­self stran­ded. As well as being one of the most beau­ti­ful and var­ied coun­tries in the world it felt par­tic­u­larly poignant to end up exiled in Par­is for a fur­ther two years.

It was also con­veni­ently close to the UK, so friends, fam­ily, sup­port­ers and journ­al­ists could vis­it us reg­u­larly and bring Shayler sup­plies of such vital Brit­ish staples as bacon and HP source. But he still missed the simple pleas­ures in life, such as being free to watch his beloved foot­ball team, or being able to watch the crappy late night com­edy shows that the Brit­ish end­lessly churn out. Des­pite these small lacks, I shall always remem­ber those years in France fondly, as a place of great­er safety, a lit­er­al haven from per­se­cu­tion.

Of course, all this was in the era before the stand­ard­ised European Arrest war­rant, when nation­al sov­er­eignty and nation­al laws actu­ally coun­ted for some­thing. Find­ing a secure place of exile now would be almost an impossib­il­ity in Europe if you home coun­try really wanted to pro­sec­ute you.

Many West­ern expats now talk of being “exiled in Ber­lin”, and they may indeed be self-exiled in search of a more sym­patico life style, a buzzy group of like-minded peers, work oppor­tun­it­ies or whatever. But until they have felt the full force of an extra­di­tion war­rant, before the fuzz has actu­ally felt their col­lars, this is real­ist­ic­ally exile as a life­style choice, rather than exile as a des­per­ate polit­ic­al neces­sity or, in Edward Snowden’s case, a poten­tially exist­en­tial require­ment.

Code Red Media Launch in Perugia

I am very happy to announce a new ini­ti­at­ive, Code Red,  that Simon Dav­ies (the founder of Pri­vacy Inter­na­tion­al and The Big Broth­er Awards) and I have been organ­ising over the last few months.  In fact, not just us, but a panoply of glob­al pri­vacy and anti-sur­veil­lance cam­paign­ers from many areas of expert­ise.

Simon and I have known each oth­er for years, way back to 2002, when he gave one of the earli­est Win­ston Awards to Dav­id Shayler, in recog­ni­tion of his work towards try­ing to expose sur­veil­lance and pro­tect pri­vacy. That award cere­mony, hos­ted by comedi­an and act­iv­ist Mark Thomas, was one of the few bright points in that year for Dav­id and me — which included my nearly dying of men­ingit­is in Par­is and David’s vol­un­tary return to the UK to “face the music”; face the inev­it­able arrest, tri­al and con­vic­tion for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act that fol­lowed on from his dis­clos­ures about spy crimin­al­ity.

Any­way, enough of a detour down memory lane — back to Code Red. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this web­site will know that I have some slight interest in the need to pro­tect our pri­vacy for both per­son­al reas­ons and soci­et­al good. Over the last 18 years since help­ing to expose the crimes of the Brit­ish spies, I have worked with the media, law­yers, cam­paign­ers, hack­ers, NGOs, politi­cians, wonks, geeks, whis­tleblowers, and won­der­fully con­cerned cit­izens around the world — all the time arguing against the encroach­ing and stealthy powers of the deep, secret state and bey­ond.

While many people are con­cerned about this threat to a demo­crat­ic way of life, and in fact so many people try to push back, I know from exper­i­ence the dif­fer­ent pres­sures that can be exer­ted against each com­munity, and the lack of aware­ness and mean­ing­ful com­mu­nic­a­tion that can often occur between such groups.

So when Simon pos­ited the idea of Code Red — an organ­isa­tion that can func­tion­ally bring all these dis­par­ate groups togeth­er, to learn from each oth­er, gain strength and thereby work more effect­ively, it seemed an obvi­ous next step.

Some pro­gress has already been make in this dir­ec­tion, with inter­na­tion­al whis­tleblower con­fer­ences, crypto­parties, train­ing for journ­al­ists about how to pro­tect their sources, cam­paigns to pro­tect whis­tleblowers, act­iv­ist and media col­lect­ives, and much more.  We in Code Red recog­nise all this amaz­ing work and are not try­ing to rep­lic­ate it.

But we do want to do is improve the flow of com­mu­nic­a­tion — would it not be great to have a glob­al clear­ing house, a record, of what works, what does not, a repos­it­ory of expert­ise from all these inter-related dis­cip­lines from a round the world that we can all learn from?

This is one of the goals of Code Red, which launched to the media at the Inter­na­tion­al Journ­al­ism Fest­iv­al in Per­u­gia a few weeks ago.  We were then lucky enough to also hold a launch to the tech/hacktivist com­munity in Ber­lin a few days after at C Base — the moth­er-ship of hack­ers.

Here is the film of the Per­u­gia launch:

Code Red — launched in Per­u­gia, April 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

No encryption? How very rude.

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

It struck me today that when I email a new con­tact I now reflex­ively check to see if they are using PGP encryp­tion.  A hap­pily sur­pris­ing num­ber are doing so these days, but most people would prob­ably con­sider my circle of friends and acquaint­ance to be eclect­ic at the very least, if not down­right eccent­ric, but then that’s prob­ably why I like them.

There are still alarm­ing num­bers who are not using PGP though, par­tic­u­larly in journ­al­ist circles, and I have to admit that when this hap­pens I do feel a tad miffed, as if some basic mod­ern cour­tesy is being breached.

It’s not that I even expect every­body to use encryp­tion — yet — it’s just that I prefer to have the option to use it and be able to have the pri­vacy of my own com­mu­nic­a­tions at least con­sidered. After all I am old enough to remem­ber the era of let­ter writ­ing, and I always favoured a sealed envel­ope to a post­card.

And before you all leap on me with cries of “using only PGP is no guar­an­tee of secur­ity.…” I do know that you need a suite of tools to have a fight­ing chance of real pri­vacy in this NSA-sat­ur­ated age: open source soft­ware, PGP, TOR, Tails, OTR, old hard­ware, you name it.  But I do think the wide-spread adop­tion of PGP sets a good example and gets more people think­ing about these wider issues.  Per­haps more of us should insist on it before com­mu­nic­at­ing fur­ther.

Why is this in my mind at the moment?  Well, I am cur­rently work­ing with an old friend, Simon Dav­ies, the founder of Pri­vacy Inter­na­tion­al and the Big Broth­er Awards. He cut his first PGP key in 2000, but then left it to with­er on the vine. As we are in the pro­cess of set­ting up a new pri­vacy ini­ti­at­ive called Code Red (more of which next week) it seemed imper­at­ive for him to set a good example and “start using” again.

Any­way, with the help of one of the god­fath­ers of the Ber­lin crypto­parties, I am happy to report that the fath­er of the pri­vacy move­ment can now ensure your pri­vacy if you wish to com­mu­nic­ate with him.

I am proud to say that my aware­ness of PGP goes back even fur­ther.  The first time I heard of the concept was in 1998 while I was liv­ing in hid­ing in a remote farm­house in cent­ral France, on the run from MI5, with my then part­ner, Dav­id Shayler.

Our only means of com­mu­nic­a­tion with the out­side world was a com­puter and a dial-up con­nec­tion and Dav­id went on a steep learn­ing curve in all things geek to ensure a degree of pri­vacy.  He helped build his own web­site (sub­sequently hacked, pre­sum­ably by GCHQ or the NSA as it was a soph­ist­ic­ated attack by the stand­ards of the day) and also installed the newly-avail­able PGP. People com­plain now of the dif­fi­culties of installing encryp­tion, but way back then it was the equi­val­ent of scal­ing Mount Everest after a few light strolls in the park to limber up.  But he man­aged it.

Now, of course, it is rel­at­ively easy, espe­cially if you take the time to attend a Crypto­party — and there will be inev­it­ably be one hap­pen­ing near you some place soon.

Crypto­parties began in late 2012 on the ini­ti­at­ive of Ash­er Wolf in Aus­tralia.  The concept spread rap­idly, and after Snowden went pub­lic in May 2013, accel­er­ated glob­ally. Indeed, there have been vari­ous reports about the “Snowden Effect”.  Only last week there was an art­icle in the Guard­i­an news­pa­per say­ing that 72% of Brit­ish adults are now con­cerned about online pri­vacy. I hope the 72% are tak­ing advant­age of these geek gath­er­ings.

The US-based comedi­an, John Oliv­er, also recently aired an inter­view with Edward Snowden.  While this was slightly pain­ful view­ing for any whis­tleblower — Oliv­er had done a vox pop in New York that he showed to Snowden, where most inter­viewees seemed unaware of him and uncar­ing about pri­vacy — there was a per­cept­ible shift of opin­ion when the issue of, shall we say, pic­tures of a sens­it­ive nature were being inter­cep­ted.

Offi­cially this spy pro­gramme is called Optic Nerve, an issue that many of us have been dis­cuss­ing to some effect over the last year.  In the Oliv­er inter­view this trans­mog­ri­fied into “the dick pic pro­gramme”.  Well, whatever gets the mes­sage out there effect­ively.… and it did.

We all have things we prefer to keep private — be it dick pics, bank accounts, going to the loo, talk­ing to our doc­tor, our sex lives, or even just talk­ing about fam­ily gos­sip over the phone.  This is not about hav­ing any­thing to hide, but most of us do have an innate sense of pri­vacy around our per­son­al issues and deal­ings and this is all now lost to us, as Edward Snowden has laid bare.

As I have also said before, there are wider soci­et­al implic­a­tions too — if we feel we are being watched in what we watch, read, say, write, organ­ise, and con­duct our rela­tion­ships, then we start to self-cen­sor.  And this is indeed already anoth­er of the quan­ti­fied Snowden effects. This is dele­ter­i­ous to the free flow of inform­a­tion and the cor­rect func­tion­ing of demo­crat­ic soci­et­ies.  This is pre­cisely why the right to pri­vacy is one of the core prin­ciples in the 1948 Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights.

Les­sons had then been learned from the Nazi book burn­ings and the Gestapo spy state, and pri­vacy was recog­nised as a pre-requis­ite of open demo­cracy. Yet now we see seni­or and sup­posedly well-informed US politi­cians call­ing for the mod­ern equi­val­ent of book burn­ings and fail­ing to rein in the glob­al abuses of the NSA.

How quickly the les­sons of his­tory can be for­got­ten and how care­lessly we can cast aside the hard-won rights of our ancest­ors.

Edward Snowden, at great per­son­al risk, gave us the neces­sary inform­a­tion to for­mu­late a push back. At the very least we can have enough respect for the sac­ri­fices he made and for the rights of our fel­low human beings to take basic steps to pro­tect both our own and their pri­vacy.

So please start using open source encryp­tion at the very least. It would be rude not to.

Newsletter Excerpt re Edward Snowden

For read­ers who have not yet signed up to my monthly news­let­ter, here is the excerpt about Edward Snowden from my June edi­tion, with a little update at the end:

The Edward Snowden saga is riv­et­ing for me on so many levels.You’ll no doubt be aware of the case, unless you have been liv­ing in a cup­board for the last few weeks.  Snowden is the brave young NSA con­tract­or who has blown the whistle on a range of glob­al sur­veil­lance pro­grammes that the Amer­ic­ans and the Brits have developed over the last few years to fight the war on ter­ror­ism spy on all of us.

The sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures so far is incred­ible and has huge implic­a­tions for what remains of our demo­crat­ic way of life. Just today more inform­a­tion emerged to show that the NSA has been spy­ing on key EU insti­tu­tions — which might go some way to explain­ing why so much recent EU legis­la­tion appears to favour the interests of US cor­por­at­ism over those of European cit­izens.…

Pun­dits have been call­ing him the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower since Daniel Ells­berg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Viet­nam war 40 years ago.  But I would go fur­ther.  In my view Edward Snowden is the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower in mod­ern his­tory because, while Ells­berg dis­closed vital inform­a­tion, it was largely a mat­ter that affected the Amer­ic­ans and the hap­less Viet­namese.  What Snowden has exposed, just to date, impacts all of us around the world.

Snowden has con­firmed the darkest fears of leg­al experts, geeks and con­cerned glob­al cit­izens about the sheer scale of the sur­veil­lance soci­ety we all now live under.  Not only are our intel­li­gence agen­cies run­ning amok, they do so using the infra­struc­ture of the glob­al inter­net mega­corps.  What he has laid bare is the fact that we are all already liv­ing under full-blown fas­cism.

He played it so well with that early film stat­ing very clearly his motiv­a­tion to go pub­lic — to defend a way of life that he saw was under threat. He appears to have learned from the mis­takes of pre­vi­ous whis­tleblowers.  He chose a journ­al­ist who under­stands the issues and has the fire in the belly and the inter­na­tion­al pro­file to fight his corner.  Glenn Gre­en­wald is a fear­less cam­paign­ing law­yer-turned-journ­al­ist who for years has been defend­ing the work of Wikileaks, with the irony being that he is now the new Assange, being attacked, threatened and smeared for report­ing the dis­clos­ures.

Of course, I and many oth­er former whis­tleblowers have been swamped by the usu­al fren­zied media tsunami, called up for inter­view after inter­view.  For me this began just as I was about to turn in for the night at 11.30pm on 9th June, when RT rang me up ask­ing for an urgent live inter­view just as the iden­tity of Snowden was emer­ging across the world’s media.  After a frantic 15 minutes sort­ing out the makeup and the tech (in that order, nat­ur­ally), I was wide awake again and speak­ing on live TV.  From that came a slew of oth­er requests over the next few days, includ­ing many pro­grammes on the BBC, Sky News, and mul­tiple radio and news­pa­per inter­views.  I could barely find time to leave my phone and com­puter to get to the bath­room.…  Then the wave receded for a few days before Snowden fled to Rus­sia, when the whole cycle began again.

Read­ing about Snowden going on the run also brought back a num­ber of per­son­al memor­ies for me. In 1997 I fled the UK with Dav­id Shayler only 12 hours ahead of his ini­tial dis­clos­ures about MI5 crimin­al­ity break­ing in the UK media. We were pur­sued across Europe, and had a month lit­er­ally on the run, fol­lowed by a year liv­ing in hid­ing in la France Pro­fonde before Dav­id was arres­ted, pending extra­di­tion, at the request of the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  He spent almost 4 months in a Par­is pris­on before the French released him — their view being that he was a whis­tleblower, which was deemed to be a polit­ic­al offence for which France spe­cific­ally does not extra­dite.  We lived more openly in Par­is for anoth­er two years, although Dav­id was trapped in France — had he trav­elled to anoth­er coun­try the whole ghastly extra­di­tion pro­cess would have star­ted again.

Well, there are worse places than France to be trapped in exile, but even so it was dif­fi­cult for him.  How much more so for Edward Snowden, whose options are more ser­i­ously con­strained and who faces life in pris­on in the US if he is caught?  Know­ing the pen­al­ties he faces and being aware of the track­ing cap­ab­il­it­ies and the ruth­less dis­reg­ard for the law and human rights of the mod­ern US intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, his bravery in expos­ing the glob­al US sur­veil­lance state is truly breath-tak­ing.

To fin­ish, here is one of my recent Sky News inter­views about the Edward Snowden case:

Sky TV inter­view on Snowden case from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Addendum: today’s news told us that Bolivi­an Pres­id­ent, Evo Morales’s offi­cial, dip­lo­mat­ic­ally pro­tec­ted, plane have been barred from fly­ing home from Moscow over much of Euro air­space, where he had been par­ti­cip­at­ing in high-level talks.  The reas­on being that Edward Snowden might have been be on board. Mor­ales was groun­ded in Aus­tria and had to sub­mit to a police search of the plane, against all dip­lo­mat­ic pro­tocol.  No Snowden was found, nat­ur­ally.

I see this as a very clev­er move by per­sons unknown — test­ing exactly what the inter­na­tion­al response would be if Edward Snowden tries to fly out of Rus­sia.  And the Europeans, under undoubted pres­sure from the US, have fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

The US-Euro com­pli­cit pat­sies have been flushed out by this dip­lo­mat­ic scan­dal. Demon­stra­tions are appar­ently already occur­ring against the French embassy in Bolivia.  And this on the same day that the French Pres­id­ent, Fran­cois Hol­lande, used the Snowden dis­clos­ures to delay the rightly-maligned US-EU trade agree­ment.

So, even as the French use the Snowden dis­clos­ures for polit­ic­al advant­age, they appar­ently refuse to assist the source.  Which is unfor­tu­nate — my memory of French law is that whis­tleblow­ing is deemed a polit­ic­al act and the French spe­cific­ally do not extra­dite for alleged polit­ic­al offences.

Per­haps the French con­sti­tu­tion and law have changed since Sarkozy took France into NATO.…

Interview on the Abby Martin show, RT America

My recent inter­view on “Break­ing the Set”, Abby Martin’s show on RT Amer­ica, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblow­ing:

Secret Agent Turns Whis­tleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

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

The Real News Network Interview on Whistleblowing

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

The Scandinavian Tour 2012

I had an immensely stim­u­lat­ing time dur­ing my recent mini-tour of Scand­inavi­an invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ences, meet­ing informed, inter­est­ing, and inter­ested people.

The focus of my talks was the nex­us between the intel­li­gence world and the media — les­sons I had learned, researched and deduced dur­ing the whis­tleblow­ing years and bey­ond.  I have heard so many hair-rais­ing media stor­ies over the years.…

And, hav­ing listened to the exper­i­ences of journ­al­ists from a wide vari­ety of oth­er coun­tries, it seems I am on the right track.

Grav_talkFirst stop was the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden, where I gave a talk and had the pleas­ure of meet­ing invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists who con­firmed what I was say­ing, even if some of them didn’t think I had quite gone far enough!  We also had fun at the “min­gel” even­ing.

Next stop, next day, was the SKUP con­fer­ence in Nor­way where I did a talk, and also a debate about the media and whis­tleblowers.  Note to self: nev­er, ever agree to do a morn­ing debate after the legendary SKUP party the night before.

Finally, last week­end, I vis­ited the Tutki 2012 journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Fin­land (Down­load Helsinki_Talk).  The response was over­whelm­ingly pos­it­ive, and once again I had con­firm­a­tion of what I was say­ing from the journ­al­ists them­selves.

So what can we do about this situ­ation?  I shall keep spread­ing the word, and the journ­al­ists them­selves just need to keep say­ing a resound­ing “no” to the induce­ments, at least if they want to work on mean­ing­ful invest­ig­a­tions.  And what real journ­al­ist doesn’t, au fond?

Next stop Geneva, which is why I’m limber­ing up with the French.

A blast from the past

How strange to stumble across this art­icle in the Guard­i­an news­pa­per yes­ter­day, which describes a journalist’s jus­ti­fi­ably para­noid exper­i­ences inter­view­ing Dav­id Shayler and me back in 2000 while writ­ing an art­icle for Esquire magazine.

The author, Dr Eamonn O’Neill, now a lec­turer in journ­al­ism at Strath­clyde Uni­ver­sity, spent a few days with us in Lon­don and Par­is way back when.

Shayler_Esquire_2000The Esquire art­icle high­lights the para­noia and sur­veil­lance that we had to live with at the time, and the con­tra­dict­ory brief­ings and slanders that were com­ing out of the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment and the media. O’Neill also intel­li­gently tries to address the motiv­a­tions of a whis­tleblower.

When it was pub­lished I was mildly uncom­fort­able about this art­icle — I felt it didn’t do Dav­id full justice, nor did it appear to get quite to the heart of the issues he was dis­cuss­ing.  I sup­pose, at the time, I was just too enmeshed in the whole situ­ation.

Now, with hind­sight, it is more per­spic­a­cious than I had thought.  And rather sad.

This art­icle is a timely remind­er of how vicious the estab­lish­ment can be when you cause it embar­rass­ment and pain; the treat­ment meted out to Dav­id Shayler was bru­tal.  And yet noth­ing has changed to this day, as we can see with the ongo­ing pur­suit and vili­fic­a­tion of Wikileaks.

The Extradition Farce — why the delay in reform?

Out­rage con­tin­ues to swell about the per­emp­tory extra­di­tion of Brit­ish cit­izens to face tri­al on tenu­ous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tire­less cam­paign­ing of dis­traught fam­ily mem­bers, a grow­ing anger in the UK press, and indig­nant ques­tions and debates in Par­lia­ment — even our somn­am­bu­lant MPs have roused them­selves to state that Some­thing Must be Done — the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a grow­ing con­sensus, why the delay?  I have a the­ory, but first let’s review some of the most troub­ling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to wide­spread pub­lic atten­tion  is the dec­ade-long extra­di­tion battle of Gary McKin­non.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effect­ively served a 10-year sen­tence, uncer­tain of his future and unable to work in his chosen pro­fes­sion.  Thanks to the indefatig­able cam­paign­ing of his moth­er, Janis Sharp, his case has received wide­spread sup­port from the media and politi­cians alike.

Des­pite this the Home Sec­ret­ary, Theresa May (who has recently been work­ing so hard in Jordan to pro­tect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abom­in­ably over mak­ing a decision about wheth­er Gary should be extra­dited to the US to face a pos­sible 70-year pris­on sen­tence — even though the UK invest­ig­a­tion into his alleged crime was aban­doned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of stu­dent Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no Brit­ish laws.  He is facing a 10 year max­im­um secur­ity sen­tence if extra­dited.  Once again, his moth­er, Julia, is tire­lessly fight­ing and cam­paign­ing for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tap­pin, a retired busi­ness­man and golf club pres­id­ent, has been shipped off to a Texas high secur­ity pen­it­en­tiary fol­low­ing what sounds like a US entrap­ment oper­a­tion (a tech­nique not leg­ally admiss­able in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sen­tence if con­victed.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDes­pite hav­ing turned him­self in, this eld­erly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is con­sidered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fight­ing.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remem­ber liv­ing through a sim­il­ar, if mer­ci­fully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK gov­ern­ment tried and failed to extra­dite Dav­id Shayler from France to the UK to stand tri­al for a breach of the OSA. I remem­ber with crys­tal clar­ity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he dis­ap­peared into a for­eign leg­al sys­tem without trace, the anguish about his life in an ali­en pris­on.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remem­ber the fright­en­ing moment when I real­ised I had to step up and fight for him — the leg­al case, deal­ing with MPs and the end­less media work, includ­ing the ter­ror of live TV inter­views.  And all this when you are wor­ried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learn­ing curve?

In the wake of the recent extra­di­tion cases, there have been ques­tions in Par­lia­ment, motions, debates, reviews (Down­load Review), and there is an ongo­ing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and pre­vent McKin­non, O’Dywer and many oth­ers being sac­ri­ficed on the Amer­ic­an leg­al altar — the concept of “judi­cial rendi­tion”, as I have men­tioned before.

Well, I have a the­ory, one derived from per­son­al exper­i­ence.  The Brit­ish media — most not­ably the Daily Mail — inveigh against the uni­lat­er­al extra­di­tion of UK cit­izens to the USA’s bru­tal pris­on régime.  There is also some con­cern about extra­di­tion to oth­er European jur­is­dic­tions — usu­ally on the fringes to the south and east of the con­tin­ent, regions where the Brit­ish seem to have a vis­cer­al fear of cor­rupt offi­cials and kangaroo courts.

But what many com­ment­at­ors seem to miss is the cru­cial leg­al con­nec­tion — the extra­di­tion arrange­ments that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many oth­er leg­al banana repub­lics com­par­able leg­al sys­tems to face out­rageous sen­tences are, in fact, embed­ded with­in the Extra­di­tion Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest War­rant, the the act that was rushed through Par­lia­ment in the midst of the post-9/11 ter­ror­ism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is cur­rently being used and abused to extra­dite Juli­an Assange to Sweden merely for police ques­tion­ing (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “tem­por­ar­ily sur­rendered” to the delights of the US judi­cial pro­cess. Hmm, could this pos­sibly be the reas­on for the delay in reform­ing the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant leg­al wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its cit­izens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 Dav­id Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestini­an stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand tri­al. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing tri­al.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their leg­al opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestini­an case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should nev­er, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing moth­er, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extra­di­tion?