Spy documents found in Libya reveal more British double dealing

Musa_KousaA cache of highly clas­si­fied intel­li­gence doc­u­ments was recently dis­covered in the aban­doned offices of former Liby­an spy mas­ter, For­eign Min­is­ter and high-pro­file defect­or, Musa Kusa.

These doc­u­ments have over the last couple of weeks provided a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the grow­ing links in the last dec­ade between the former UK Labour gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly Tony Blair, and the Gad­dafi régime.  They have dis­played in oily detail the degree of toady­ing that the Blair gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to coun­ten­ance, not only to secure luc­rat­ive busi­ness con­tracts but also to gloss over embar­rass­ing epis­odes such as Lock­er­bie and the false flag MI6-backed 1996 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi.

These doc­u­ments have also appar­ently revealed dir­ect involve­ment by MI6 in the “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” to Tripoli and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  Iron­ic­ally it has been repor­ted that they were wanted for being mem­bers of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group, the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had backed in its failed 1996 coup.

The sec­u­lar dic­tat­or­ship of Col Gad­dafi always had much to fear from Islam­ist extrem­ism, so it is per­haps unsur­pris­ing that, after Blair’s notori­ous “deal in the desert” in 2004, the Gad­dafi régime used its con­nec­tions with MI6 and the CIA to hunt down its enemies.  And, as we have all been end­lessly told, the rules changed after 9/11…

The tor­ture  vic­tims, one of whom is now a mil­it­ary com­mand­er of the rebel Liby­an forces, are now con­sid­er­ing suing the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time, has tried to shuffle off any blame, stat­ing that he could not be expec­ted to know everything that MI6 does.

Well, er, no — part of the job descrip­tion of For­eign Sec­ret­ary is indeed to over­see the work of MI6 and hold it to demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity, espe­cially about such ser­i­ous policy issues as “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture.  Such oper­a­tions would indeed need the min­is­teri­al sign-off to be leg­al under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

There has been just so much hot air from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment about how the Gib­son Tor­ture Inquiry will get to the bot­tom of these cases, but we all know how tooth­less such inquir­ies will be, cir­cum­scribed as they are by the terms of the Inquir­ies Act 2005.  We also know that Sir Peter Gib­son him­self has for years been “embed­ded” with­in the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity and is hardly likely to hold the spies mean­ing­fully to account.

MoS_Shayler_11_09_2011So I was par­tic­u­larly intrigued to hear that the the cache of doc­u­ments showed the case of Dav­id Shayler, the intel­li­gence whis­tleblower who revealed the 1996 Gad­dafi assas­sin­a­tion plot and went to pris­on twice for doing so, first in France in 1998 and then in the UK in 2002, was still a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion between the Liby­an and UK gov­ern­ments in 2007. And, as I have writ­ten before, as late as 2009 it was obvi­ous that this case was still used by the Liby­ans for lever­age, cer­tainly when it came to the tit-for-tat nego­ti­ations around case of the murder in Lon­don out­side the Liby­an Embassy of WPC Yvonne Fletch­er in 1984.

Of course, way back in 1998, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment was all too ready to crush the whis­tleblower rather than invest­ig­ate the dis­clos­ures and hold the spies to account for their illeg­al and reck­less acts.  I have always felt that this was a fail­ure of demo­cracy, that it ser­i­ously under­mined the future work and repu­ta­tion of the spies them­selves, and par­tic­u­larly that it was such a shame for the fate of the PBW (poor bloody whis­tleblower).

But it now appears that the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity’s sense of omni­po­tence and of being above the law has come back to bite them.  How else explain their slide into a group-think men­tal­ity that par­ti­cip­ates in “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture?

One has to won­der if wily old Musa Kusa left this cache of doc­u­ments behind in his aban­doned offices as an “insur­ance policy”, just in case his defec­tion to the UK were not to be as com­fort­able as he had hoped — and we now know that he soon fled to Qatar after he had been ques­tioned about the Lock­er­bie case.

But wheth­er an hon­est mis­take or cun­ning power play, his actions have helped to shine a light into more dark corners of Brit­ish gov­ern­ment lies and double deal­ing vis a vis Libya.…

Fair trials in the UK courts? Anyone?

This art­icle in today’s Guard­i­an about the ongo­ing reper­cus­sions of the Mark Kennedy under­cov­er cop scan­dal earli­er this year piqued my interest.

Mark_KennedyIt appears that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice (CPS) has sup­pressed key evid­ence about the all-too-appar­ent inno­cence of envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers in the run-up to their tri­als.  In this case Mark Kennedy aka Stone, the police­man who for years infilt­rated protest groups across Europe, had cov­ertly recor­ded con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the plan­ning ses­sions to break into Ratcliffe-on-Soar power sta­tion.

Kennedy offered to give evid­ence to prove that the unit he worked for at the time, the private and unac­count­able ACPO-run Nation­al Pub­lic Order Invest­ig­a­tions Unit (NPOIU), had witheld this key evid­ence.  It now appears that the police are claim­ing that they passed all the inform­a­tion on to the CPS, which then seems to have neg­lected  to hand it over to the pro­test­ers’ defence law­yers.

Keir_StarmerWhich makes it even more fas­cin­at­ing that in April this year the Dir­ect­or of Pub­lic Pro­sec­u­tions, fam­ous civil liber­ties QC Keir Starm­er no less, took the unpre­ced­en­ted step of encour­aging those same pro­test­ers to appeal against their con­vic­tions because of poten­tial “police” cov­er-ups.

It’s just amaz­ing, isn’t it, that when vital inform­a­tion can be kept safely under wraps these doughty crime-fight­ing agen­cies present a united front to the world?  But once someone shines a light into the slith­ery dark corners, they all scramble to avoid blame and leak against each oth­er?

And yet this case is just the tip of a titan­ic leg­al ice­berg, where for years the police and the CPS have been in cahoots to cov­er up many cases of, at best, mis­com­mu­nic­a­tion, and at worst out­right lies about incom­pet­ence and poten­tially crim­in­al activ­ity.

Ian_TomlinsonA couple of months ago George Mon­bi­ot provided an excel­lent sum­mary of recent “mis­state­ments” (a won­der­fully euphemist­ic neo­lo­gism) by the police over the last few years, includ­ing such blatant cases as the death of Ian Tom­lin­son dur­ing the Lon­don G20 protests two years ago, the ongo­ing News of the World phone hack­ing case, and the counter-ter­ror­ism style exe­cu­tion, sorry, shoot­ing of the entirely inno­cent Jean Charles de Menezes, to name but a few.

Mon­bi­ot also dwelt at length on the appalling case of Michael Doherty, a con­cerned fath­er who dis­covered that his 13 year-old daugh­ter was appar­ently being groomed by a pae­do­phile over the inter­net.  He took his con­cerns to the police, who brushed the issue aside.  When Doherty tried to push for a more informed and pro­act­ive response, he was the one who was snatched from his house in an early morn­ing raid and ended up in court, accused of abus­ive and angry phone calls to the sta­tion in a sworn state­ment by a mem­ber of the rel­ev­ant police force, sorry, ser­vice.

And that would have been that — he would have appar­ently been bang to rights on the word of a police sec­ret­ary — apart from the fact he had recor­ded all his phone calls to the police and kept metic­u­lous notes on the pro­gress of the case.  Only this evid­ence led to his right­ful acquit­tal.

As Mon­bi­ot rightly con­cludes, “justice is impossible if we can­not trust police forces to tell the truth”.

It appears that the notion of “cit­izen journ­al­ists” is just sooo 2006.  Now we all need to be not only journ­al­ists but also “cit­izen law­yers”, just in case we have to defend ourselves against poten­tial police lies.  Yet these are the very organ­isa­tions that are paid from the pub­lic purse to pro­tect civil soci­ety.  Is it any won­der that so many people have a grow­ing dis­trust of them and con­cerns about an encroach­ing, Stasi-like, police state?

This is all part of engrained, top-down Brit­ish cul­ture of secrecy that allows the amorph­ous “secur­ity ser­vices” to think they can get away with any­thing and everything if they make a force­ful enough pub­lic state­ment: black is white, tor­ture is “enhanced inter­rog­a­tion”, and war is peace (or at least a “peace­keep­ing” mis­sion in Libya.…).  Espe­cially if there is no mean­ing­ful over­sight.  We have entered the Orwellian world of NewS­peak.

But plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  This all happened in the 1970s and 80s with the Irish com­munity, and also in the 1990s with the ter­rible mis­car­riage of justice around the Israeli embassy bomb­ing in 1994.  If you have the time, please do read the detailed case here: Down­load Israeli_Embassy_Case

We need to remem­ber our his­tory.

Libya: my enemy’s enemy is my friend, until he becomes my enemy again…

UK Prime Min­is­ter, Dav­id Camer­on, reportedly made the start­ling state­ment recently that the mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion in Libya “unlike Iraq, is neces­sary, leg­al and right”. 

Blair_takes_the_oathWould it not be won­der­ful if he could take the next logic­al step towards joined-up think­ing and con­sider send­ing our esteemed Middle East Peace Envoy, a cer­tain Mr T Blair, over for a spot of por­ridge at the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Court in The Hag­ue?  After all, Camer­on has now clearly implied that the Iraq war was “unne­ces­sary, illeg­al and wrong”.….

But back to Libya.  With the ongo­ing crisis — now war — much is being writ­ten about how the pre­vi­ous UK gov­ern­ment col­lab­or­ated with the Gad­dafi régime in the last dec­ade — while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coali­tion gov­ern­ment where, no doubt, sim­il­ar levels of coöper­a­tion and back-slap­ping and money-grub­bing were going on at the highest levels to ensure the con­tinu­ing flow of oil con­tracts to the UK.

But, yes, we should be dis­sect­ing the Labour/Gaddafi power bal­ance.  Gad­dafi had New Labour over the pro­ver­bi­al (oil) bar­rel from the late 1990s, when MI5 whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler exposed the failed and illeg­al MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Col­on­el Gad­dafi, using as fall-guys a rag-tag group of Islam­ic extrem­ists.  The newly-elec­ted Labour gov­ern­ment’s knee-jerk response at the time was to believe the spook’s deni­als and cov­er-up for them.  Per­haps not so sur­pris­ing, as the gov­ern­ment min­is­ters of the day were uncom­fort­ably aware that the spies held files on them.  But this craven response did leave the gov­ern­ment pos­i­tion exposed, as Gad­dafi well knew.

MoS_G_Plot-credible_1997The CIA was fully cog­nis­ant of this failed plot at the time, as were the French intel­li­gence ser­vices.  The Gad­dafi Plot is once again being ref­er­enced in the media, includ­ing the Tele­graph, and a recent edi­tion of the Huff­ing­ton Post.  The details are still rel­ev­ant, as it appears that our enter­pris­ing spooks are yet again reach­ing out to a rag-tag group of rebels — primar­ily Islam­ists and the Senussi roy­al­ists based around Benghazi. 

The les­sons of the reck­less and ill-thought out Gad­dafi Plot were brushed under the car­pet, so his­tory may yet again be doomed to repeat itself.  Yes, Gad­dafi has been one of the biggest back­ers of ter­ror­ism ever, and yes he has bru­tal­ised parts of his own pop­u­la­tion, but if he were deposed how can the West be sure that those step­ping into the power vacu­um would not be even more dan­ger­ous?

Musa_Kousa_Hillary_Clinton_NY_2010The Liby­an gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to use the 1996 MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot as lever­age in its nego­ti­ations with the New Labour gov­ern­ment right up until (pub­licly at least) 2009.  Musa Kousa, the cur­rent For­eign Min­is­ter, played a key role through­out.  For many years Kousa was the head of the Liby­an Extern­al Secur­ity Organsi­ation and was widely seen as the chief archi­tect of inter­na­tion­al Liby­an-backed ter­ror­ism against the USA, the UK and France. 

Anoth­er appar­ent example of this mor­al black­mail caught my eye recently — this report in the Daily Mail.  Saif al-Islam Gad­dafi was afforded MI6-backed pro­tec­tion when he was finally allowed into the UK in Septem­ber 2002 to study at the LSE

The tim­ing was par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, as only months earli­er Saif had won a libel case against the UK’s Sunday Tele­graph news­pa­per.  A grov­el­ling apo­logy was made by the news­pa­per, but Saif refrained from ask­ing for “exem­plary dam­ages” — which he would almost cer­tainly have won.  The res­ult­ing pay-off for this restraint appears to be that a mere five months later he was wel­comed into the UK with MI6-facil­it­ated pro­tec­tion.

Saif’s rela­tions with the UK had not always been so rosy. As back­ground to this case, in 1995 the Sunday Tele­graph had fallen hook, line and sinker for a MI6 clas­sic pro­pa­ganda oper­a­tion.  As The Guard­i­an repor­ted, the secret­ive MI6 media manip­u­la­tion sec­tion, Inform­a­tion Oper­a­tions, (I/Ops), had suc­cess­fully spun a fake story to hap­less spook hack, Con Cough­lin, that Gad­dafi Juni­or was involved in cur­rency fraud.  This story was fake, but the paper trail it pro­duced was used by the spies as a pre­text to pre­vent Saif from enter­ing the UK at the time. 

Saif_Prince_AndrewBy 2002 this was all old his­tory, of course.  Saif was wel­comed to the UK, offi­cially to study for his MA and PhD at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics (and show­ing his grat­it­ude to that august insti­tu­tion with a hefty dona­tion of £1.5 mil­lion — it makes the new tuition fees for UK stu­dents seem bet­ter value for money), and unof­fi­cially to chum up to vari­ous Estab­lish­ment ena­blers to end Liby­a’s pari­ah status, open up luc­rat­ive trade chan­nels, and get the SAS to train up Liby­a’s spe­cial forces

The UK mil­it­ary must be just lov­ing that now.….

So I get the feel­ing that the UK gov­ern­ment has over the last dec­ade indeed “danced with the dev­il”.  After dec­ades of view­ing Libya and Col­on­el Gad­dafi as a Pri­or­ity One JIC intel­li­gence tar­get, the UK gov­ern­ment fell over itself to appease the Gad­dafi régime in the wake of the bungled assas­sin­a­tion attempt in 1996 and the libelling of his son.  These were the sticks Gad­dafi used; the car­rots were undoubtedly the Saif/MI6-facil­it­ated oil con­tracts

Of course, all this is now pretty much a moot point, fol­low­ing Dave Camer­on’s “neces­sary, leg­al and right” mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion.  If the wily old Col­on­el man­ages to hang on grimly to some semblence of power (and he has an impress­ive track-record of sur­viv­ing against the odds), then I doubt if he’ll be happy to coöper­ate with Brit­ish oil com­pan­ies in the future.  At the very least. 

Gad­dafi has already threatened “ven­geance” against the West, and it was repor­ted today that MI5 is tak­ing this all-too-pre­d­it­able risk ser­i­ously.

If Gad­dafi is deposed, who can real­ist­ic­ally pre­dict the inten­tions and cap­ab­il­it­ies of those who will fill the power vacu­um?  We should have learnt from Afgh­anistan and Iraq: my enemy’s enemy is my friend — until he becomes my enemy again.….

 

Diamonds and Rust

Diamonds_and_rust_in_the_bullringSo Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya has been dish­ing out the dip­lo­mat­ic gifts gen­er­ously to the former US admin­is­tra­tion.  Lis­ted in the pub­lic declar­a­tion are even such items as a dia­mond ring presen­ted to former Sec­ret­ary of State, Condaleeza Rice, and oth­er gifts to the value of $212,000.

This seems a slightly uneven dis­tri­bu­tion of lar­gesse from the Middle East to the West.  Before 9/11 and the ensu­ing war on ter­ror, Gad­dafi was still seen by the west as the head of a “rogue state”.  Bombs, rather than gifts, were more likely to rain down on him.

How­ever, since 2001 he has come back into the fold and is as keen as the coali­tion of the “will­ing” to counter the threat from Islam­ic extrem­ist ter­ror­ists.  So now he’s the new best­est friend of the US and UK gov­ern­ments in this unend­ing fight. 

But that was kind of inev­it­able, was­n’t it?  As a sec­u­lar Middle East­ern dic­tat­or, Gad­dafi has tra­di­tion­ally had more to fear from Islam­ists than has the West.  Par­tic­u­larly when these same Islam­ist groups have received ongo­ing sup­port from those very gov­ern­ments that are now cosy­ing up to Gad­dafi.

Just to remind you, the reas­on I helped Dav­id Shayler in his whis­tleblow­ing on the crimes of MI5 and MI6 was because of just such a plot- the attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion of Gad­dafi in 1996 that was fun­ded by the UK extern­al intel­li­gence gath­er­ing agency, MI6.  In 1995 Shayler, then the head of the Liby­an sec­tion in MI5,  was offi­cially briefed by his coun­ter­part in MI6, Dav­id Wat­son (oth­er­wise known as PT16/B), about an unfold­ing plot to kill Gad­dafi.  A Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer, sub­sequently code-named Tun­worth, walked in to the Brit­ish embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the res­id­ent spook. 

Tun­worth said he was the head of a “ragtag group of Islam­ic extrem­ists” (who sub­sequently turned out to have links to Al Qaeda — at a time when MI5 had begun to invest­ig­ate the group), who wanted to effect a coup against Col­on­el Gad­dafi.  They needed fund­ing to do this, and that was where MI6 came in.  As a quid pro quo, Tun­worth prom­ised to hand over the two Lock­er­bie supsects for tri­al in Europe , which had for years been one of MI6’s pri­or­ity tar­gets — not to men­tion all those juicy oil con­tracts for BP et al.

Over the course of about 5 months, MI6 paid Tun­worth’s group over $100,000, thereby becom­ing con­spir­at­ors in a murder plot.  Cru­cially, MI6 did not get the pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion of their polit­ic­al mas­ter, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, mak­ing this action illeg­al under the terms of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act

Mani­festly, this coup attempt did not work — Gad­dafi is now a strong ally of our west­ern gov­ern­ments.  In fact, an explo­sion occurred beneath the wrong car in a caval­cade con­tain­ing Gad­dafi as he returned from the Liby­an People’s Con­gress in Sirte.  But inno­cent people died in the explo­sion and the ensu­ing secur­ity shoot-out.

So, MI6 fun­ded an illeg­al, highly reck­less plot in a volat­ile part of world that res­ul­ted in the deaths of inno­cent people.  How more hein­ous a crime could there be?  But to this day, des­pite a leaked MI6 doc­u­ment that proved they knew the exist­ence of the pro­posed plot, and des­pite oth­er intel­li­gence sources back­ing up Shayler­’s dis­clos­ures, the UK gov­ern­ment has still refused to hold an enquiry.  Quite the oppos­ite — they threw the whis­tleblower in pris­on twice and tried to pro­sec­ute the invest­ig­at­ing journ­al­ists.

Some people may call me naïve for think­ing that the intel­li­gence agen­cies should not get involved in oper­a­tions like this.  Put­ting aside the retort that the spies often con­flate the idea of the nation­al interest with their own, short-sighted career­ism, I would like to remind such cyn­ics that we are sup­posed to be liv­ing in mod­ern demo­cra­cies, where even the secret state is sup­posed to oper­ate with­in the rule of law and demo­crat­ic over­sight.  Illeg­al assas­sin­a­tion plots, the use of tor­ture, and false flag, state-sponsored ter­ror­ism should remain firmly with­in the retro, pulp-fic­tion world of James Bond.

RSC Play about the Shayler Case

In Lon­don in 2001 the Roy­al Shakespeare Com­pany per­formed a play called “Epi­taph for the Offi­cial Secrets Act” by Paul Green­grass (who co-wrote the notori­ous book “Spycatch­er”).  The play focused on the polit­ic­al issues around whis­tleblow­ing and the Shayler case.

It was an excel­lent play, with an intel­li­gent ana­lys­is of the cur­rent mess that is secrecy legis­la­tion in the UK, but it was rather strange to see act­ors using words your own words on stage.

The fol­low­ing report appeared in “The Observ­er”:

Shayler is a model spy for MI5 play

by Vanessa Thorpe, Arts Cor­res­pond­ent, 2001

Henry V, Macbeth and Ham­let, the great
Shakespearean prot­ag­on­ists who strut before audi­ences at
Strat­ford-upon-Avon, are to be joined tomor­row by a new name, the
former MI5 reneg­ade, Dav­id Shayler.

A new play by Paul Green­grass, the screen­writer respons­ible for ITV’s
upcom­ing film about Bloody Sunday and for the award-win­ning tele­vi­sion
dram­at­isa­tion of The Murder of Steph­en Lawrence , is to be premiered
tomor­row night by the Roy­al Shakespeare Com­pany.

Epi­taph
for the Offi­cial Secrets Act will also fea­ture Shayler­’s girl­friend,
Annie Machon, and the MI5’s first woman dir­ect­or, Stella Rim­ing­ton. ‘It
is a play about the year that MI5 first decided to recruit a new sort
of agent,’ explained Simon Reade, the RSC’s dram­at­urge, refer­ring to
1991, when the secret ser­vice briefly turned away from their
estab­lished Oxbridge source of gradu­ates and advert­ised for applic­ants
from the wider pop­u­la­tion.

The play starts with a
read­ing of the advert­ise­ment that news­pa­pers ran at the time,’ said
Reade, who developed the piece with Green­grass for its six-night run.
‘The ad showed an empty chair under the words “Godot isn’t com­ing”.’
The play then deals with some of the changes that fol­lowed as Rim­ing­ton
took con­trol of an organ­isa­tion that was fight­ing to redefine itself.

Machon and Shayler, both from the gradu­ate intake that was then new, are iden­ti­fied only by their first names.

News of their the­at­ric­al debut came as a shock to Shayler and Machon,
who are in Lon­don await­ing Shayler­’s tri­al on charges of breach­ing the
Offi­cial Secrets Act. Machon said: ‘It is rather alarm­ing to find that
we are both going to played by act­ors.’


August 2007 Mail on Sunday Article

Dav­id Shayler­’s former part­ner reveals: How the bul­ly­ing State crushed him
By ANNIE MACHON

Link to daily mail ori­gin­al — link to Daily Mail com­ments

Ten years ago this month former MI5 officer Dav­id Shayler made shock­ing rev­el­a­tions in this news­pa­per about how Bri­tain’s spies were unable to deal with the grow­ing threat of glob­al ter­ror­ism.

He dis­closed how MI5’s pecu­li­ar obses­sion with bur­eau­cracy and secrecy pre­ven­ted cru­cial inform­a­tion being used to stop bomb­ings. And he told how insuf­fi­cient agents and inept decision-mak­ing meant that ter­ror­ist groups were not prop­erly mon­itored.

None of his ori­gin­al dis­clos­ures was shown to be wrong. Indeed, in 2005 the bomb­ings in Lon­don proved the whis­tleblower cor­rect: MI5 was not equipped to counter ter­ror on our streets.

The Gov­ern­ment response to Dav­id’s dis­clos­ures was to place a gag­ging order on The Mail on Sunday and launch a six-year cam­paign to dis­cred­it and per­se­cute Shayler. Alastair Camp­bell threatened to ‘send in the heav­ies’ and the whis­tleblower was forced into exile abroad, jailed twice and sued for dam­ages; his friends and fam­ily were har­assed and some arres­ted.

He faced a bleak, uncer­tain future and for many years he was under intense stress and pres­sure, often isol­ated and always under sur­veil­lance. I had a ring­side seat for the ‘Get Shayler’ oper­a­tion because I was an MI5 officer at the same time (1991−96) and also his girl­friend and co-cam­paign­er until last year when I ended my rela­tion­ship with a broken man.

I wit­nessed first-hand the extraordin­ary psy­cho­lo­gic­al, phys­ic­al and emo­tion­al bur­den of being a whis­tleblower when the full power of the secret State is launched against you. A dec­ade on the res­ults of that per­ni­cious cam­paign became clear when I heard that Dav­id had pro­claimed him­self as “The Mes­si­ah” and “God” and could pre­dict the weath­er. I was saddened but not shocked. The story of Dav­id Shayler is not just one of a whis­tleblower but also an indict­ment of the lack of demo­cracy and account­ab­il­ity in Bri­tain.

I first met Dav­id when we were both work­ing in F2, the counter-sub­ver­sion sec­tion of MI5, where we were repeatedly reas­sured that MI5 had to work with­in the law. We were young and keen to help pro­tect our coun­try. I noticed Dav­id imme­di­ately, as he was very bright, and always asked the dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Over a peri­od of a year we became friends, and then we fell in love.

In the run-up to the 1992 Gen­er­al Elec­tion we were involved in assess­ing any par­lia­ment­ary can­did­ate and poten­tial MP. This meant that they all had their names cross-ref­er­enced with MI5’s data­base. If any can­did­ates had a file, this was reviewed. We saw files on most of the top politi­cians of the past dec­ade, from Tony Blair down, some­thing that gave us con­cerns.

We then both moved to G Branch, the inter­na­tion­al counter-ter­ror­ist divi­sion, with Dav­id head­ing the Liby­an sec­tion. It was here that he wit­nessed a cata­logue of errors and crimes: the illeg­al phone-tap­ping of a prom­in­ent Guard­i­an journ­al­ist, the fail­ure of MI5 to pre­vent the bomb­ing of the Israeli embassy in Lon­don in July 1994, which res­ul­ted in the wrong­ful con­vic­tion of two inno­cent Palestini­ans, and the attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion of Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya.

Dav­id raised this with his bosses at the time but they showed no interest. So we resigned from MI5 after decid­ing to go pub­lic to force an inquiry into the Gad­dafi plot.

After The Mail on Sunday rev­el­a­tions we decamped to France while Dav­id tried to get the Gov­ern­ment to take his evid­ence and invest­ig­ate MI5’s crimes, some­thing, to this day, it has refused to do. Rather than address­ing the prob­lem, the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices tried to shoot the mes­sen­ger. They planted stor­ies claim­ing Dav­id was a fan­tas­ist, over­looked for pro­mo­tion, and was too juni­or to know what he was talk­ing about. These are clas­sic tac­tics used against whis­tleblowers and were wheeled out again when Dr Dav­id Kelly took his life.

We even­tu­ally returned home in 2000, by which time Dav­id felt isol­ated and angry. He began to dis­trust friends and thought that many of them might be report­ing on him. He was con­vinced he was con­stantly fol­lowed and began to take pho­to­graphs of people in the street. When the tri­al star­ted, and with Dav­id effect­ively gagged, the jury had no choice but to con­vict.

He received a six-month sen­tence but the judg­ment exon­er­ated him of pla­cing agents’ lives at risk, con­ced­ing that he had spoken out in what he thought to be the pub­lic interest. Dav­id had blown the whistle with the best of motives. He had exposed hein­ous State crimes up to and includ­ing murder, yet he was the one in pris­on with his repu­ta­tion in tat­ters. His release from jail saw a changed man. Dav­id was full of anger, frus­tra­tion and bit­ter­ness and became depressed and with­drawn. He was drawn to the spir­itu­al teach­ings of kab­ba­l­ah, and became obsessed with the sub­ject instead of focus­ing on what we should do to sur­vive. Last sum­mer, I went away for a week­end. When I returned, Dav­id had shaved off all his hair and his eye­brows as part of his spir­itu­al evol­u­tion. He knew that I had always loved his long, thick hair, so it felt like a per­son­al slap in the face. He was in trouble. He was quick to anger if any­one ques­tioned him. He became obsess­ive about little details, espoused wacky the­or­ies and shunned his fam­ily and old friends. His para­noia also escal­ated. His exper­i­ence of being houn­ded and vil­i­fied for a dec­ade had left a deep per­se­cu­tion com­plex. Even­tu­ally the strain was too much and I ended the rela­tion­ship.

It was dif­fi­cult as we had shared so much over the 14 years we had been togeth­er, but it felt that we were no longer a team – Dav­id was focus­ing only on eso­ter­ic issues. Look­ing back, I am still proud of what we did. I believe that if you wit­ness the crimes that we did, you have to take action. But the price for tak­ing that stand against a bully State can be high. It is tra­gic to see an hon­our­able and brave man crushed in this way. The Brit­ish Estab­lish­ment is ruth­less in pro­tect­ing its own interests rather than those of our coun­try. Today Dav­id Shayler is liv­ing testi­mony to that.

Fig Leaf to the Spies

The lack of any mean­ing­ful over­sight of the UK’s intel­li­gence com­munity was high­lighted again last week, when The Daily Mail repor­ted that a cru­cial fax was lost in the run-up to the 7/7 bomb­ings in Lon­don in 2005.

There has yet to be an offi­cial enquiry into the worst ter­ror­ist atro­city on the UK main­land, des­pite the call for one from trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies and sur­viv­ors and the legit­im­ate con­cerns of the Brit­ish pub­lic. To date, we have had to make do with an “offi­cial nar­rat­ive” writ­ten by a face­less bur­eau­crat and pub­lished in May 2006. As soon as it was pub­lished, the then Home Sec­ret­ary, John Reid, had to cor­rect egre­gious fac­tu­al errors when present­ing it to Par­lia­ment.

The Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee (ISC) also did a shoddy first job, when it cleared the secur­ity forces of all wrong-doing in its ini­tial report pub­lished at the same time. It claimed a lack of resources had hampered MI5’s counter-ter­ror­ism efforts.

How­ever, fol­low­ing a use­ful leak, it emerged that MI5 had not only been aware of at least two of the alleged bombers before the attack, it had been con­cerned enough to send a fax up to West York­shire Police Spe­cial Branch ask­ing them to invest­ig­ate Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehz­ad Tan­weer. This fax was nev­er acted upon.

So the ISC has been forced to pro­duce anoth­er report, this time appar­ently admit­ting that, yes, there had been intel­li­gence fail­ures, most not­ably the lost fax. West York­shire SB should have acted on it. But the intel­li­gence officer in MI5 respons­ible for this invest­ig­a­tion should have chased it up when no response was forth­com­ing.

This second ISC report, which has been sit­ting on the Prime Minister’s desk for weeks already, is said to be “dev­ast­at­ing”. How­ever, I’m will­ing to bet that if/when it sees the light of day, it will be any­thing but.

The ISC is at best an over­sight fig leaf. It was formed in 1994, when MI6 and GCHQ were put on a stat­utory foot­ing for the first time with the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act. At the time the press wel­comed this as a great step for­ward towards demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity for the intel­li­gence com­munity. Well, it could not have been worse than the pre­vi­ous set-up, when MI5, MI6 and GCHQ did not offi­cially exist. They were not required to obey the laws of the land, and no MP was allowed to ask a ques­tion in Par­lia­ment about their activ­it­ies. As 1980s whis­tleblower Peter Wright so suc­cinctly put it, the spies could bug and burgle their way around with impun­ity.

So the estab­lish­ment of the ISC was a (very) lim­ited step in the right dir­ec­tion. How­ever, it is not a Par­lia­ment­ary Com­mit­tee. Its mem­bers are selec­ted by the Prime Min­is­ter, and it is answer­able only to the PM, who can vet its find­ings. The remit of the ISC only cov­ers mat­ters of spy policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance. It is not empowered to invest­ig­ate alleg­a­tions of oper­a­tion­al incom­pet­ence nor crimes com­mit­ted by the spies. And its annu­al report has become a joke with­in the media, as there are usu­ally more redac­tions than coher­ent sen­tences.

The ISC’s first big test came in the 1990s fol­low­ing the Shayler and Tom­lin­son dis­clos­ures. These involved detailed alleg­a­tions of illeg­al invest­ig­a­tions, bungled oper­a­tions and assas­sin­a­tion attempts against for­eign heads of state. It is dif­fi­cult to con­ceive of more hein­ous crimes com­mit­ted by our shad­owy spies.

But how did the ISC react? If one reads the reports from the rel­ev­ant years, the only aspect that exer­cised the ISC was Shayler’s inform­a­tion that MI5 had on many MPs and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters. The ISC was reas­sured by MI5 that would no longer be able to use these files. That’s it.

For­get about files being illeg­ally held on hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent UK cit­izens; for­get about the illeg­al phone taps, the pre­vent­able deaths on UK streets from IRA bombs, inno­cent people being thrown in pris­on, and the assas­sin­a­tion attempt against Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya. The fear­less and etern­ally vigil­ant ISC MPs were primar­ily con­cerned about receiv­ing reas­sur­ance that their files would no longer be vet­ted by MI5 officers on the basis of mem­ber­ship to “sub­vers­ive” organ­isa­tions. What were they afraid of – that shame­ful evid­ence of early left-wing activ­ity from their fiery youth might emerge? Heav­en for­bid under New Labour.

Barely a day goes by when news­pa­per head­lines do not remind us of ter­rible threats to our nation­al secur­ity. Only in the last week, the UK media has repor­ted that the threat of espi­on­age from Rus­sia and China is at its highest since the days of the Cold War; that resur­gent Repub­lic­an ter­ror groups in North­ern Ire­land pose a graver danger to us even than Al Qaeda; that rad­ic­al­ised Brit­ish Muslim youth are return­ing from fight­ing with the Taliban to wage war on the streets of the UK. We have to take all this on trust, des­pite the intel­li­gence com­munity’s appalling track record of bend­ing the truth to gain more powers and resources. This is why mean­ing­ful over­sight is so vitally import­ant for the health of our demo­cracy. The ISC is a long way from provid­ing that.

Straw Man

The gov­ern­ment is push­ing through yet anoth­er piece of legis­la­tion designed to provide “pub­lic ser­vice hon­esty, integ­rity and inde­pend­ence” to the Brit­ish people. As part of this strategy, the draft Con­sti­tu­tion­al Renew­al Bill even con­tains a sec­tion to provide pro­tec­tion for gov­ern­ment whis­tleblowers. Need­less to say, spies are auto­mat­ic­ally excluded (see sec­tion 25 (2) of the draft Bill).

The draft Bill states that any whis­tleblowers from with­in the ranks of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will be dealt with intern­ally. This has always been the case for MI5 and 6 (des­pite the government’s breath­tak­ing lies dur­ing the Shayler case that he could have gone to any crown ser­vant with his con­cerns). How­ever, in the case of GCHQ, this Bill will take away employ­ees’ rights to go to an inde­pend­ent Com­mis­sion­er, to bring it into dra­coni­an line with its sis­ter agen­cies.

So, to put this bluntly, those in our intel­li­gence agen­cies who exper­i­ence eth­ic­al qualms about their work or, even worse, wit­ness crimes, will have to take their con­cerns to the head of the very agency com­mit­ting these crimes. Let’s guess how far these com­plaints will go.

Now, some might say that it’s naïve to think that the intel­li­gence agen­cies don’t com­mit illeg­al or uneth­ic­al acts. All I can say to that is — grow up. James Bond is a myth. Even the bad old days of the Cold War when, as former MI5 officer Peter Wright put it, MI5 could “bug and burgle its way around Lon­don” with impun­ity are long gone. The 1985 Inter­cep­tion of Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act (and sub­sequent legis­la­tion), the 1989 Secur­ity Ser­vice Act, and the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, have put paid to that. In line with basic human rights, the spies now have to apply for min­is­teri­al per­mis­sion based on, ahem, a sol­id intel­li­gence case, to aggress­ively invest­ig­ate a tar­get.

Dur­ing the 10 month peri­od of my recruit­ment to MI5 in 1990, I was repeatedly told that the organ­isa­tion had to obey the law; that it was evolving into a mod­ern counter-ter­ror­ism agency. If that is indeed the case, then why is MI5 still to this day not account­able in the same way as the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch, which does the same work?

And who is the brave politi­cian ensur­ing that our intel­li­gence com­munity can remain shrouded in secrecy and pro­tec­ted from cri­ti­cism by the full force of the law? Stand up Justice Min­is­ter Jack Straw.

It just remains for me to say that Straw has a cer­tain his­tory in this area. In 1997, when Shayler blew the whistle, Straw was the Home Sec­ret­ary, the gov­ern­ment min­is­ter charged with over­see­ing MI5. One of Shayler’s early dis­clos­ures was that MI5 held files on a num­ber of politi­cians, includ­ing Straw him­self. Did Straw demand to see his file in angry dis­be­lief? No, he meekly did the spies’ bid­ding and issued a blanket injunc­tion against Shayler and the UK’s nation­al media.

But think about it — this is a clas­sic Catch 22 situ­ation. Either MI5 was right to open a file on Straw because he was a polit­ic­al sub­vers­ive and a danger to nation­al secur­ity – in which case, should he not have imme­di­ately resigned as Home Sec­ret­ary? Or MI5 got it wrong about Straw. In which case he should have been invest­ig­at­ing this mis­take and demand­ing to know how many oth­er inno­cent UK cit­izens had files wrongly and illeg­ally opened on them.

But Straw did neither. Per­haps he was wor­ried about what the spies could reveal about him? It’s inter­est­ing that he is yet again rush­ing to pro­tect their interests….

 

The UK Spies: Ineffective, Unethical and Unaccountable

The text of my art­icle for e‑International Rela­tions, March 2008:

The UK Intel­li­gence Com­munity: Inef­fect­ive, Uneth­ic­al and Unac­count­able

The USA and the UK are enmeshed in an appar­ently unend­ing war of attri­tion – sorry peace­keep­ing — in Iraq.  Why? Well, we may remem­ber that the UK was assured by former Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair, in sin­cere terms, that Sad­dam Hus­sein pos­sessed weapons of mass destruc­tion which could be deployed again Brit­ish interests with­in 45 minutes.  Indeed the press was awash with “45 minutes from Armaged­don” head­lines on 18th March 2003, the day of the cru­cial war debate in the Brit­ish par­lia­ment. The implic­a­tion was that Bri­tain was dir­ectly at threat from the evil Iraqis.

The US var­ied the diet.  George Bush, in his State of the Uni­on address before the war, assured his nation that Iraq had been attempt­ing to buy mater­i­al to make nuc­le­ar weapons from Niger.  The Amer­ic­an media and pub­lic fell for this claim, hook, line and sinker.

What do these two erro­neous claims have in com­mon?  Well, both were “sexed up” for pub­lic con­sump­tion.

We all know now that there nev­er were any WMDs to be found in Iraq.  After 10 years of pun­it­ive sanc­tions, the coun­try simply didn’t have the cap­ab­il­ity, even if it had the will, to devel­op them.  The Niger claim is even more tenu­ous.  This was based on an intel­li­gence report eman­at­ing from the Brit­ish Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice (com­monly know as SIS or MI6), which was based on for­ger­ies.

We have had head­line after scream­ing head­line stat­ing that yet anoth­er ter­ror­ist cell has been roun­ded up in Bri­tain. The Ricin plot? The behead­ing of a Brit­ish Muslim ser­vice­man? The liquid bombs on air­planes?  Yet, if one reads the news­pa­pers care­fully, one finds that charges are dropped quietly after a few months.

So, why is this hap­pen­ing?  I can haz­ard a few guesses.  In the 1990s I worked for 6 years as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5, invest­ig­at­ing polit­ic­al “sub­vers­ives”, Irish ter­ror­ists, and Middle East­ern ter­ror­ism.  In late 1996 I, with my then part­ner and col­league Dav­id Shayler, left the ser­vice in dis­gust at the incom­pet­ent and cor­rupt cul­ture to blow the whistle on the UK intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment.  This was not a case of sour grapes – we were both com­pet­ent officers who reg­u­larly received per­form­ance related bonuses.

How­ever, we had grown increas­ingly con­cerned about breaches of the law; ineptitude (which led to bombs going off that could and should have been pre­ven­ted); files on politi­cians; the jail­ing of inno­cent people; illeg­al phone taps; and the illeg­al spon­sor­ing of ter­ror­ism abroad, fun­ded by UK tax-pay­ers.

The key reas­on that we left and went pub­lic is prob­ably one of the most hein­ous crimes – SIS fun­ded an Islam­ic extrem­ist group in Libya to try to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi in 1996.  The attack failed, but killed inno­cent people.  The attack was also illeg­al under Brit­ish law.  The 1994 intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, which put SIS on a leg­al foot­ing for the first time in its 80 year his­tory, stated that its officers were immune from pro­sec­u­tion in the UK for illeg­al acts com­mit­ted abroad, if they had the pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion of its polit­ic­al mas­ter – ie the For­eign Sec­ret­ary.  In this case they did not.

So, the assas­sin­a­tion attempt was not only immor­al, uneth­ic­al and highly reck­less in a volat­ile area of the world, but also illeg­al under Brit­ish law.

In August 1997 we went pub­lic in a nation­al Brit­ish news­pa­per about our con­cerns.  We hoped that the newly-elec­ted Labour gov­ern­ment would take our evid­ence and begin an invest­ig­a­tion of the intel­li­gence agen­cies.  After all, many Labour MPs had been on the receiv­ing end of spook invest­ig­a­tions in their rad­ic­al youth.  Many had also opposed the dra­coni­an UK law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act (OSA 1989), which deprived an intel­li­gence whis­tleblower of a pub­lic interest defence.

How­ever, it was not to be.  I have no proof, but I can spec­u­late that the Labour gov­ern­ment did the spies’ bid­ding for fear of what might be on their MI5 files. They issued an injunc­tion against Dav­id and the nation­al press.  They failed to extra­dite him from France in 1998 but, when he returned vol­un­tar­ily to face trail in the UK in 2000, they lynched him in the media.  They also ensured that, through a series of pre-tri­al leg­al hear­ings, he was not allowed to say any­thing in his own defence and was not able to freely ques­tion his accusers.  Indeed the judge ordered the jury to con­vict.

The whole sorry saga of the Shayler affair shows in detail how the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment will always shoot the mes­sen­ger to pro­tect its own interests.  If the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment had taken Shayler’s evid­ence, invest­ig­ated his dis­clos­ures, and reformed the ser­vices so that they were sub­ject to effect­ive over­sight and had to obey the law, they may well be work­ing more effi­ciently to pro­tect us from threats to our national’s secur­ity.  After all, the focus of their work is now counter-ter­ror­ism, and they use the same resources and tech­niques as the police.  Why should they not be sub­ject to the same checks and bal­ances?

Instead, MI5 and SIS con­tin­ue to oper­ate out­side mean­ing­ful demo­crat­ic con­trol.  Their cul­tures are self-per­petu­at­ing olig­arch­ies, where mis­takes are glossed over and repeated, and where ques­tions and inde­pend­ent thought are dis­cour­aged.  We deserve bet­ter.

 

Spies,Lies and Whistleblowers: MI5 and the David Shayler Affair

My book about the Shayler affair (includ­ing the MI6 plot to assas­in­ate Col. Gad­dafi) and my exper­i­ences as an Intel­li­gence Officer in MI5.

I was invited on to “The Richard and Judy Show” in 2005 to talk about my book, and it is fea­tured on the show’s web­site.

Wil­li­am Pod­more was kind enough to review my work:

In this remark­able book, Annie Machon makes ser­i­ous alleg­a­tions against the Brit­ish state’s intel­li­gence ser­vices, MI5 and MI6. Ms Machon and her part­ner Dav­id Shayler are former high-rank­ing MI5 officers, both now retired from the ser­vice. The book’s alleg­a­tions derive from their exper­i­ences and deserve at least to be the sub­ject of inquiry.

She asserts that MI5 has illeg­ally invest­ig­ated thou­sands of Brit­ish cit­izens for their polit­ic­al views; that there was col­lu­sion between the Army Forces Research Unit and loy­al­ist ter­ror­ists; that MI5 failed to stop four major ter­ror­ist attacks in Bri­tain, even though it had reli­able evid­ence; and that MI5 and MI6 let a known Liby­an ter­ror­ist into Bri­tain and let him set up a ter­ror­ist net­work here.

She alleges that MI6’s counter-Ira­ni­an sec­tion used the Sunday Tele­graph (and the journ­al­ists Con Cough­lin, John Simpson and Domin­ic Lawson) to try to blame Iran for the 1988 Lock­er­bie bomb­ing, the destruc­tion of flight PA103. MI6 was try­ing to deflect atten­tion from the fact that it was actu­ally a Liby­an retali­ation for the US bomb­ing of Tripoli (backed by Thatch­er) in 1986.

The book’s most sig­ni­fic­ant alleg­a­tion is that MI6 illeg­ally paid tens of thou­sands of pounds to Al-Qa’ida in 1995–96 to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi and seize power in Libya. In the attemp­ted coup, sev­er­al inno­cent civil­ians and secur­ity police were killed. If this is true, MI6, a Brit­ish state agency, sponsored our ter­ror­ist enemies in a con­spir­acy to murder, which res­ul­ted in the killing of inno­cent civil­ians.

But Blair refuses to hear any evid­ence against the intel­li­gence ser­vices, and pro­sec­utes and har­asses crit­ics and whis­tleblowers. The Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, set up under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act to over­see the ser­vices, is no use, because it is appoin­ted by and reports only to the Prime Min­is­ter.

The intel­li­gence ser­vices should work under the rule of law and respect demo­crat­ic rights. Ter­ror­ist sus­pects should be arres­ted and brought to tri­al under crim­in­al law, not detained, or executed, without tri­al, as has happened in North­ern Ire­land and else­where.

The intel­li­gence ser­vices are sup­posed to pro­tect us, but it would appear that they have instead con­nived in ter­ror­ism, put­ting us at great­er risk of ter­ror­ist attack.

The Cam­paign for Press and Broad­cast­ing Free­dom (CPBF) also high­lighted it.

The book can be ordered through Amazon.

Emel Magazine, November 2007

Inter­view in Emel Magazine, Novem­ber 2007

Table Talk

Espi­on­age, intrigue and life-on-the-run are all part and par­cel of Annie Machon’s his­tory. Sad­ia Chow­dhury speaks to the former MI5 agent about the con­sequences of expos­ing what goes on behind the scenes at one of the world’s most renowned secret
ser­vices.

It was the Sat­urday night of the August bank-hol­i­day  week­end in 1997 when Annie Machon and her boy­friend packed their bags and took the first two seats they could find out of Bri­tain.  They had spent the last ten months of
their lives try­ing to settle into their new jobs know­ing that a day would come when they would blow the whistle on  their former employ­er
and turn their lives upside down.

Machon had turned her back on a six-year career as a spy to stand by the man she loved.  Her boy­friend was Dav­id Shayler, a high-fly­ing MI5 officer who exposed, what he said, was the Intel­li­gence Ser­vice’s plot to assas­sin­ate the Liby­an lead­er, Muam­mar Gad­dafi.

The two are no longer togeth­er but as we meet for cof­fee in a Lon­don hotel, Machon shows no regret at the way things took shape.  Dressed entirely in black, it’s her sun­shine blonde hair that lights up an oth­er­wise dull back­ground to the city’s scaf­fold-clad land­scape.

Her life as an MI5 officer was no James Bond film, but you can still see that Machon is the per­fect spy.  With an unsus­pect­ing face and a hand­shake that feels like you have known her all your life, the 39 year old cam­paign­er res­cinds the myth of the glam­or­ous, mar­tini-sip­ping spy world.  “No, it’s much, much more mundane”, she laments before telling me that much of the job can con­sti­tute mind numb­ing behind-the-desk work.

But unknown to Machon at the time, a career that star­ted off as a simple applic­a­tion to work for the For­eign Office, soon developed into a plot fit for a block­buster Hol­ly­wood movie.

My first reac­tion was ‘It’s MI5!’  I was really quite frightened”, she says, recall­ing a let­ter from the Min­istry of Defence which offered her altern­at­ive jobs with the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices.  “My fath­er was with me when I opened the lat­ter and he just said ‘let’s see what hap­pens’. ”

What ‘happened’ was ten months of intens­ive applic­a­tion pro­cesses for the Cam­bridge Clas­sics stu­dent to under­go at the estab­lish­ment. Recov­er­ing from a post-Cold War repu­ta­tion marred with embar­rass­ing rev­el­a­tions and intel­li­gence fail­ures, Machon says her recruit­ers insisted they were aim­ing to work with­in the leg­al frame­work for the
first time.

It was 1990, only one year after the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act placed the Ser­vice on a stat­utory
basis: a fact that helped Machon believe what she was being told. “They were say­ing ‘we obey the law, we work with­in the law; we don’t do all the polit­ic­al stuff like we used to’.  But unfor­tu­nately my first post­ing was in the polit­ic­al sec­tion so I learnt quite quickly that they had lied to me.”

Machon con­fesses a scep­tic­al atti­tude soon developed after she was instruc­ted to uncov­er “old com­mun­ists” sum­mar­ising files on any­body who stood for par­lia­ment in the 1992 elec­tions.  Shar­ing her strong con­cerns was one Dav­id Shayler, a former Sunday Times journ­al­ist who had worked with her in F2, the counter-sub­ver­sion sec­tion of MI5.

With­in a year, the two fell in love — a bond that was to see them stand togeth­er against what she describes as a cata­logue of errors and crimes com­mit­ted by MI5.  “There was a lot of con­cern about how MI5 was­n’t obey­ing the law and how it was get­ting its pri­or­it­ies wrong,” Machon says, hasten­ing to add that oth­er officers had approached man­age­ment with their con­cerns only to be told to shut up.  “Most organ­isa­tions are pyr­am­id shaped and MI5 has this bulge in the middle, full of man­agers who aren’t going any­where because they’re not very good at their jobs.  But they don’t get sacked and they were the ones block­ing a lot of the new ideas that were com­ing in.”

One con­sequence of this incom­pet­ence, Machon explains, left MI5 with blood on its hands. Machon and Shayler were moved to T Branch, where they worked on coun­ter­ing Irish ter­ror­ist threats.  Shayler was to claim later that MI5 could have pre­ven­ted the 1993 IRA bomb­ing of Bish­opsgate in the City of Lon­don, which left one dead and 44 injured.

You’re in the fir­ing line,” Machon tells me plainly, paus­ing a moment as the wait­ress brings cof­fee to our table.  She goes on to describe the events that lead her to leave MI5 before slowly push­ing down on the fil­ter.  It was still the early 1990s and Machon’s part­ner Shayler was now head of the Liby­an desk, respons­ible for ‘Middle East­ern ter­ror­ism’.

He was allegedly briefed by his MI6 coun­ter­part about a plot to assas­sin­ate the Liby­an lead­er.  It is thought the plan involved fund­ing and equip­ping a Liby­an oppos­i­tion group which Machon describes as an “Islam­ic extrem­ist net­work” to carry out the deed.  In March 1996, a bomb exploded in the coastal city of Sirte, miss­ing Gad­dafi’s motor­cade but killing sev­er­al civil­ians.  Shayler claimed that MI6 had been involved in the failed assas­sin­a­tion attack without the author­isa­tion of the then for­eign sec­ret­ary — as
required under Eng­lish and inter­na­tion­al law.  The Intel­li­gence Ser­vices denied any involve­ment in this, or sev­er­al oth­er cases that Shayler accuses the Ser­vice of being com­pli­cit in.  One of those incid­ents took place in July 1994, when a car bomb exploded out­side the Israeli embassy in Lon­don injur­ing 20 people: an attack Shayler says had pri­or know­ledge of and could have pre­ven­ted.

Half-way through her cof­fee, Machon goes back to the events of 1996 when she and Shayler decided to leave.  “It was incre­ment­al because you got pos­ted every two years to a new sec­tion and you think ‘okay, that sec­tion was wrong but the new sec­tion has dif­fer­ent man­agers and is going to be bet­ter’.  But we moved three times and every time we saw the same mis­takes hap­pen.  Then the Gad­dafi plot pushed our decision to leave.”  Nor was it just Shayler and Machon who quit the Intel­li­gence Ser­vice that year.  Four­teen oth­er officers who had all been recruited around the same time left MI5 in the same year — up from an aver­age of two or three depar­tures a year.

It took about a year to get the whole thing work­ing.  After about ten months, we got this
phone call — Dav­id was called by The Mail on Sunday to meet the edit­or and we were giv­en three days notice that our lives were going to be turned upside down.”  Machon recalls how the Mail’s edit­or offered Shayler cash to leave the coun­try and avoid arrest.
“At that stage after a year of build-up, we just packed up and left.

The couple flew out to Hol­land, then on to France, spend­ing the next month on the run mov­ing from hotel to hotel almost every night.  Machon then decided to return to the UK, and does­n’t hes­it­ate as she relates the story — one she’s prob­ably told a thou­sand times but one that still brings a look of amuse­ment to her face.  “I flew back with my law­yer John
Wadham, head of Liberty, the human rights organ­isa­tion.  He had already told the police that I was com­ing back — on which flight, at what time, and that I was going to hand myself in.  So it was a bit of a shock to be met at immig­ra­tion by six Spe­cial Branch officers who pulled me off to a counter-ter­ror­ism suite in Char­ing Cross police sta­tion!”

Machon was released after a day of ques­tion­ing and a week later joined Shayler back in
France.  “We had ten months holed up in this freez­ing cold, really remote farm house.  And dur­ing that time we tried to nego­ti­ate with the gov­ern­ment say­ing ‘look, we have all this oth­er evid­ence to give you so you can build an enquiry’, but they just strung it out, kept us quiet, and did noth­ing.”

It was a par­tic­u­larly stress­ful time for both Shayler and Machon; as whis­tleblowers they had depended on sup­port from the press, but with Diana’s death just a week after their story broke, Machon says they lost the sup­port that had been build­ing amongst the media.  “We did­n’t know what to do.  We had no chance of get­ting anoth­er job because once you blow the whistle, oth­er big organ­isa­tions don’t trust you.”  But does she regret what she did?  “No.  You can­’t regret any­thing in life.  I am still proud of what Dav­id and I did.  Someone has got to take a stand some­times.”

The ques­tion is of course, wheth­er she will have trouble tak­ing that stand now: espe­cially as after a dec­ade since The Mail on Sunday art­icle was released and after hav­ing spent years on the run togeth­er, Machon and Shayler split up last year.  Dav­id Shayler now lives in Devon and fre­quents the media over a dif­fer­ent rev­el­a­tion:  his recent con­vic­tion that he is the Mes­si­ah.  In a recent tele­vi­sion appear­ance he said “As the Holy Spir­it is God incarn­ate as essence, I am God incarn­ated as spir­it and man.”  Machon takes a moment to con­tem­plate and in reac­tion to my ques­tion simply says, “The stress just got to him.”  Her answers now become short­er and short­er.  “We sep­ar­ated last year”, before adding, “I’m sure even­tu­ally we’ll regain our friend­ship.”

But does­n’t Machon think her former part­ner­’s claims will ruin their cred­ib­il­ity?  “I think yes, it has des­troyed his cred­ib­il­ity and I think that’s tra­gic.  It’s a gift for the intel­li­gence agency — they can turn around and say ‘oh, well, he always was mad — he’s a fan­tas­ist’,
which is unfor­tu­nate because what we were talk­ing about was so import­ant in terms of where our demo­cracy is and who really runs this coun­try.”

A final sip of cof­fee con­cludes our meet­ing as Machon pre­pares to leave the grey city­scape back­drop for yet anoth­er appoint­ment.  Though scorn of recent rev­el­a­tions seeks to under­mine what the two ex-spies were fight­ing for, when it comes to strug­gling to unveil the truth, Annie Machon for one can­not be as eas­ily dis­missed.

AltVoices Article, June 2007

My art­icle in Alt​Voices​.org, June 2007:

THE OFFICIAL SILENCING ACT

Last month the UK’s dra­coni­an secrecy laws were again used to crim­in­al­ise two hon­our­able whis­tleblowers. The UK’s supine main­stream media failed both to ques­tion the valid­ity of these con­vic­tions and to hold the gov­ern­ment to account.

by Annie Machon

On May 9 Dav­id Keogh, a 50-year-old com­mu­nic­a­tions officer in the Cab­in­et Office, and Leo O’Con­nor, 44, a research­er for an anti-war Labour MP, were con­victed of breach­ing the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989).

Keogh’s crime was to have leaked an “extremely sens­it­ive” memo to O’Connor, detail­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about Iraq between Tony Blair and George W. Bush in April 2004.

Keogh passed the doc­u­ment to O’Connor to give to his MP in the hope it would reach the pub­lic domain, expose Bush as a “mad­man”, and lead to ques­tions in Par­lia­ment. The memo was deemed to be so secret that much of the tri­al was held in cam­era.

Keogh was found guilty of two breaches of the OSA, O’Connor of one, and they received sen­tences of six months and three months respect­ively.

This bald sum­mary of the case was all that appeared in the main­stream UK media. No doubt many people will have taken this case at face value. After all, the UK should be able to pro­tect its nation­al secur­ity and impose tough leg­al sanc­tions for treach­ery, shouldn’t it?

Except that this was not treach­ery. Keogh and O’Connor were not passing the UK’s secrets to an enemy power. They acted from con­science to expose pos­sible wrong­do­ing at the highest level.

The media should have use this tri­al to address the ongo­ing debate in the UK about the con­tinu­al use and abuse of the OSA. Unfor­tu­nately for the Brit­ish people, the media toed the offi­cial line and kept quiet.

The UK’s secrecy laws are a very Brit­ish muddle. The first OSA was enacted in 1911 to pro­sec­ute trait­ors. This law remained in place until the 1980s, when the Thatch­er gov­ern­ment was rocked by the alleg­a­tions of civil ser­vant Clive Pont­ing about a cov­er-up over the attack on the Argen­tine ship the Gen­er­al Bel­grano dur­ing the Falk­lands War.

Dur­ing his tri­al, Pont­ing relied on the pub­lic interest defence avail­able under the 1911 Act. He was acquit­ted, and the Con­ser­vat­ive gov­ern­ment imme­di­ately drew up a new law, the 1989 OSA. This new law was designed primar­ily to intim­id­ate and silence whis­tleblowers. Treach­ery is still pro­sec­uted under the 1911 Act.

The 1989 Act, opposed at the time by Tony Blair and most of the cur­rent Labour gov­ern­ment, ensures that any­one who is or has been a mem­ber of the intel­li­gence com­munity faces two years in pris­on if they dis­close inform­a­tion relat­ing to their work without per­mis­sion, regard­less of wheth­er they are blow­ing the whistle on crim­in­al activ­ity.

Since com­ing to power in 1997, Blair’s gov­ern­ment has repeatedly used this Act to sup­press legit­im­ate dis­sent, silence polit­ic­al oppos­i­tion and pro­tect crim­in­als with­in the intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment.

In 1997, MI6 whis­tleblower Richard Tom­lin­son had no option but to plead guilty dur­ing his tri­al, and was sen­tenced to six months in pris­on.

Around the same time MI5 whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler dis­closed the illeg­al 1995 MI6 plot to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya, as well as a string of oth­er crimes com­mit­ted by MI5.

Dur­ing his tri­al Shayler argued that, under Art­icle 10 of the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights, legis­la­tion such as the OSA is only pro­por­tion­ate in sup­press­ing a whistleblower’s right to speak out in order to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity”.

How­ever, his judges effect­ively ruled that this right should also be cur­tailed for “nation­al interest” con­sid­er­a­tions. This neb­u­lous concept, undefined for the pur­poses of the OSA, is routinely wheeled out to spare the blushes of politi­cians and incom­pet­ent spy agen­cies.

In 2002 Shayler did win from the courts the defence of “neces­sity”. How­ever, the Law Lords spe­cific­ally denied him this defence without hear­ing his evid­ence. Shayler was con­victed in Novem­ber 2002 of three breaches of the OSA and sen­tenced to six months in pris­on.

In 2003 the late Dr Dav­id Kelly would also have faced an OSA tri­al for his alleged com­ments about the gov­ern­ment “sex­ing up” the notori­ous dodgy dossier before the war in Iraq.

The 1989 OSA does not just apply to those in and around the intel­li­gence com­munity. Oth­er civil ser­vants, as well as journ­al­ists who pub­lish their dis­clos­ures, face the same pris­on sen­tence if the pro­sec­u­tion can prove “dam­age to nation­al secur­ity”. Keogh and O’Connor were con­victed under these pro­vi­sions, although the pro­sec­u­tion reportedly relied only on the “nation­al interest” argu­ment.

The UK gov­ern­ment is increas­ingly con­cerned about secur­ity leaks dur­ing the unend­ing “war on ter­ror”, and is now talk­ing about doub­ling to four years the sen­tence for whis­tleblow­ing.

By fail­ing to chal­lenge this or to cam­paign for the res­tor­a­tion of the pub­lic interest defence, journ­al­ists are com­pli­cit in crim­in­al­ising hon­our­able people. The media’s craven atti­tude allows the gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence agen­cies to con­tin­ue lit­er­ally to get away with murder.

Legal doublethink re whistleblowers — my CPBF article, July 2006

Thanks to Wikileaks the concept of whis­tleblow­ing is once again, rightly, back in the prime-time news slots.

To high­light the Brit­ish leg­al double­think when it comes to whis­tleblow­ing cases, I repro­duce below an art­icle I wrote in 2006 for the excel­lent UK Cam­paign for Press and Broad­cast­ing Free­dom organ­isa­tion (CPBF).

Basic­ally, the rul­ing stated that a whis­tleblower can­not repeat their own dis­clos­ures in pub­lic, even though any­one else in the world can:

Hogarth_judge In 2006 I had­n’t heard of Mr “Justice” Eady (he had yet to reach his max­im­um velo­city), but he seems to have built up of bit of form since then.  He is now most notori­ous for his pun­it­ive rul­ings in many “libel tour­ismcases and celeb sex scan­dals, not to men­tion the odi­ous concept of the super-injunc­tion, start­lingly exem­pli­fied in the Trafigura case about alleg­a­tions of dump­ing tox­ic waste off the Ivory Coast — one of Wikileak­s’s earli­er media suc­cesses.

Obvi­ously Eady, the man in charge of rul­ing on UK free­dom of expres­sion cases, was the per­son to go to if you had some­thing to hide.

Thank­fully he was replaced earli­er this year by Michael Tugend­hat QC, who flu­ently rep­res­en­ted the medi­a’s corner dur­ing the Shayler whis­tleblow­ing years, and some of Eady’s most egre­gious decisions have already been over­turned by his suc­cessor.

 

CPBF_Logo  Anoth­er suc­cess for Brit­ish justice — Annie Machon (31÷7÷06)

It was anoth­er resound­ing suc­cess for Brit­ish justice, accord­ing to Annie Machon. Mr Justice Eady gran­ted a per­man­ent injunc­tion against Dav­id Shayler in the High Court today (Fri­day 28 July). In a breath­tak­ing rul­ing, Eady stated that Dav­id was not entitled to present evid­ence or cross-exam­ine his accusers (again), but instead issued a sum­mary judge­ment based on asser­tions made by MI5.

This means that Dav­id can now only talk about a restric­ted range of dis­clos­ures — spe­cific­ally what appeared in the Mail on Sunday on 24 August 1997. This means that he can­not talk about a whole range of top­ics which are in the pub­lic domain and have already been cleared via the injunc­tion and for the pub­lic­a­tion of my book, Spies, Lies and Whis­tleblowers.

Spe­cific­ally, this means that, while I and the rest of the world can talk about state-sponsored false-flag ter­ror­ism, includ­ing the Gad­dafi plot, Dav­id is banned. Very con­veni­ent when the 911 cam­paign is tak­ing off.

The tem­por­ary injunc­tion was issued in Septem­ber 1997 on the expli­cit under­stand­ing that a full leg­al hear­ing would be needed before it could be made per­man­ent. Dav­id has now been denied this.

Also, the injunc­tion has been abused repeatedly, for example allow­ing the gov­ern­ment to spin lies against him when he wished to reveal the wrong­ful con­vic­tion of two inno­cent Palestini­ans, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh, for the bomb­ing of the Israeli embassy in Lon­don in 1994. Also, when he tried to alert the gov­ern­ment to murder and a major ter­ror­ist attack organ­ised by MI6 officers in the Gad­dafi plot, he did so leg­ally via the injunc­tion.

For his pains, he was the one thrown in pris­on in Par­is in 1998.

The injunc­tion has also repeatedly been used to intim­id­ate journ­al­ists (one of whom was tried and con­victed) and to stop the media invest­ig­at­ing the crimin­al­ity of MI5 and MI6. With this rul­ing, the judge has also abol­ished at one stroke the medi­a’s right to pub­lish whis­tleblowers’ testi­mony if they can argue it caused no dam­age to nation­al secur­ity.

If any future whis­tleblower emerges from the intel­li­gence ser­vices, and is injunc­ted, the media has lost this defence, enshrined by par­lia­ment in crim­in­al law (Sec­tion 1.5 of the OSA). And why is an injunc­tion neces­sary any­way? There already exists a crim­in­al sanc­tion under the Offi­cial Secret Act. The judge was kind enough to say that the injunc­tion was for David’s own good and would stop him hav­ing to break the OSA again! We are through the look­ing glass.

Yours in won­der­land, Annie

Sunday Tribune Interview, 2005

Irish Sunday Tribune, July 2005

What really went on in the secret ser­vice?

Suz­anne Breen

THEY’RE prob­ably out there now, walk­ing about, look­ing for tar­gets, ” says former spy,  Annie Machon, as she sur­veys the bust­ling bars, res­taur­ants and shops in Gatwick Air­port.  MI5 used Heath­row and Gatwick in train­ing courses.  Officers would be sent to the air­ports and instruc­ted to come back with one per­son’s name, address, date of birth, occu­pa­tion and pass­port or driv­ing licence num­ber … the basic inform­a­tion for MI5 to open a per­son­al file.

They’d have to go up to a com­plete stranger and start chat­ting to them. One male officer nearly got arres­ted.  It was much easi­er for women officers … nobody’s sus­pi­cious of a woman ask­ing ques­tions.”

Tall, blonde and strik­ingly eleg­ant, Machon (37) could have stepped out of a TV spy drama. She arrives in a simple black dress, with pearl ear­rings, and per­fect oyster nails.  She is charm­ingly polite but, no mat­ter how many ques­tions you ask, she retains the slightly detached, inscrut­able air that prob­ably made her good at her job.

A Cam­bridge Clas­sics gradu­ate, her book, <em>Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers</em>, has just been pub­lished. She worked in ‘F’ branch … MI5’s counter-sub­ver­sion sec­tion … and ‘T’ branch, where she had a rov­ing brief on Irish ter­ror­ism.  MI5 took 15 months to vet the book. Sec­tions have been blacked out. If Machon dis­closes fur­ther inform­a­tion without approv­al, she could face pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.

She left MI5 deeply dis­il­lu­sioned. In 1997, she went on the run from the UK with her boy­friend, former fel­low spy Dav­id Shayler (39). He was sub­sequently jailed for dis­clos­ing secrets, includ­ing that MI6 had allegedly fun­ded a plot to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi.

Machon had “respons­ib­il­ity and free­dom” in MI5 when com­bat­ing Irish ter­ror­ism. “It was won­der­ful when you got res­ults, when you stopped a bomb. That was why I’d joined.  There was a huge under­stand­ing of the IRA and the North­ern Ire­land con­flict.  We wer­en’t just a bunch of big­ots say­ing “string up the ter­ror­ists”. Some man­agers might have had that atti­tude but it was­n’t shared by most officers.  They acknow­ledged the IRA as the most pro­fes­sion­al ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion they’d dealt with. Loy­al­ists, and repub­lic­an splinter groups like the INLA, were a lot less soph­ist­ic­ated.”

Machon did­n’t wit­ness state col­lu­sion but is “watch­ing with interest” as cases unfold. She voices some eth­ic­al con­cerns: MI5 ran a Garda officer as an undeclared agent, which was illeg­al in the Repub­lic.  If it wanted to tap a phone in the Repub­lic, no war­rant was needed and there was no over­sight pro­ced­ure. An MI5 officer simply asked GCHQ, which inter­cepts com­mu­nic­a­tion, to set it up.

MI5’s approach to the law led to bizarre situ­ations:

Officers cov­ertly entered a house in North­ern Ire­land to install bug­ging equip­ment.  They trashed it up and stole things to make it look like a burg­lary. But MI5 law­yers said it was­n’t leg­ally accept­able to steal so the officers had to go and put the goods back which made it look even more sus­pi­cious.”

Machon atten­ded secur­ity meet­ings in North­ern Ire­land. Her life was nev­er in danger, she says. The only col­leagues she knew who were killed were on the Chinook heli­copter which crashed off the Mull of Kintyre in 1994.

Machon had joined the intel­li­gence ser­vices three years earli­er. She worked from an office in Bolton Street, May­fair, one of MI5’s three build­ings in Lon­don.  “It was very dilap­id­ated.  There were ancient phones, with wires cross­ing the floor stuck down with tape.  It had battered wooden desks and thread­bare car­pets. There were awful lime-green walls. The dress code in MI5 was very Marks and Spen­cer. MI6 (which com­bats ter­ror­ism abroad) was much smarter, more Saville Row.”

MI5’s pres­ence in the build­ing was meant to be a secret but every­body knew, says Machon: “The guide on the open-top Lon­don tour bus which passed by would tell pas­sen­gers, ‘and on your right is MI5’.  We were advised to get out of tax­is at the top of the street, not the front door, but all the drivers knew any­way. Later, we moved to mod­ern headquar­ters in Thames House.”

Being a spy isn’t what people think, Machon says.  “It was­n’t exactly James Bond, with glam­or­ous, cock­tail-drink­ing espi­on­age.  There were excit­ing bits, like meet­ing agents in safe houses, but there were plenty of bor­ing days.  Mostly, I’d be pro­cessing ‘lin­en’ — the product from tele­phone taps … or read­ing inter­cep­ted mail or agents’ reports. You get to know your tar­gets well from eaves­drop­ping on their lives.  You learn all sorts of things, like if they’re sleep­ing with someone behind their part­ner­’s back. It’s sur­real know­ing so much about people you don’t know; and then it rap­idly becomes very nor­mal.”

Machon claims the intel­li­gence ser­vices were often sham­bol­ic, and blun­ders meant three IRA bombs in 1993 … includ­ing Bish­opsgate, which cost £350m …could have been pre­ven­ted.  “MI5 has this super-slick image but some­times it was just a very Brit­ish muddle.  Tapes from tele­phone taps would be binned without being tran­scribed because there was­n’t the per­son­nel to listen to them.  On occa­sions, MI5 did respond quickly, but then it could take weeks to get a war­rant for a phone tap because man­agers pondered so long over the applic­a­tion word­ing … wheth­er to use ‘but’ or ‘how­ever’, ‘may’ or ‘might’.

Mobile sur­veil­lance (who fol­low tar­gets) were bloody good. There were some amaz­ingly cap­able officers who were often wasted.  Des­pite everything prom­ised about MI5 mod­ern­ising, it remained very hier­arch­ic­al, with the old guard, which had cut its teeth in the Cold War, dom­in­at­ing.  They were used to a stat­ic tar­get. They’re not up to the job of deal­ing with mobile extrem­ist Islam­ic ter­ror­ism. We’ve been play­ing catch-up with al Qaeda for years.”

Machon says MI5 pays sur­pris­ingly badly: “I star­ted on £15,000 … entrants now get about £20,000. A detect­ive con­stable in the Met was on twice my salary.  Of course, it’s about more than money but you must reward to keep good people.  If you pay pea­nuts, you end up with mon­keys.”

Machon grew up in Guern­sey, in the Chan­nel Islands, the daugh­ter of a news­pa­per edit­or. “I was apolit­ic­al. My only know­ledge of spy­ing was watch­ing John Le Car­re’s drama Tinker, Tail­or, Sol­dier, Spy.”  After tak­ing For­eign Office exams, she received a let­ter on MoD note­pa­per.  “There may be oth­er jobs you would find more inter­est­ing, ” it said. Intrigued, she rang. It was MI5.

Dur­ing the recruit­ment pro­cess, every aspect of her life from the age of 12 was invest­ig­ated. “I’d to nom­in­ate four friends from dif­fer­ent phases of my life. After they were ques­tioned, they had to nom­in­ate anoth­er four people.  I con­fessed to smoking dope twice. I was quizzed about my sexu­al his­tory by a sweet old lady who looked like my grand­moth­er but resembled Miss Marple in her inter­rog­a­tion.  She asked if I was gay.  The rules have since changed, but then MI5 regarded homo­sexu­al­ity as a defect. If you lied and were found out, you’d be sacked on the spot.  In the­ory, they regarded promis­cu­ity as a weak­ness, but there were plenty of extra-mar­it­al affairs. One couple were twice caught shag­ging in the office.  The male officer, who was very bad at his job, was put on ‘garden­ing leave’ … sent home on full pay. The woman, an Arab­ic-speak­ing trans­lat­or who was great at her job, was sacked.”

A cul­ture of “rampant drunk­en­ness” exis­ted, says Machon: “There was an oper­a­tion against a Czech dip­lo­mat who was also a spy.  The officer run­ning it got pissed, went round with his mates to the dip­lo­mat’s house, and shouted oper­a­tion­al details through the let­ter-box at him.”

Recruits were encour­aged to tell fam­ily and close friends they were MI5, and any­one else that they worked for the MoD.

MI5 had one mil­lion per­son­al files (PFs), Machon says. “I came across files on celebrit­ies, prom­in­ent politi­cians, law­yers, and journ­al­ists. It was ridicu­lous. There were files on Jack Straw, Mo Mow­lam, Peter Hain, Patri­cia Hewitt, Ted Heath, Tony and Cher­ie Blair, Gareth Peirce, and Mohamed Al Fayed.  There was a file on ‘sub­vers­ives’ in the music industry, includ­ing the Sex Pis­tols and UB40.

At recruit­ment, I was told MI5 no longer obsessed about ‘reds under the bed’, yet there was a file on a school­boy who had writ­ten to the Com­mun­ist Party ask­ing for inform­a­tion for a school pro­ject.  A man divor­cing his wife had writ­ten to MI5 say­ing she was a com­mun­ist, so a file was opened on her. MI5 nev­er des­troys a file.”

The rank­ing in import­ance of tar­gets could be sur­pris­ing. PF3 was (and is) Leon Trot­sky; PF2, Vladi­mir Ilych Len­in; PF1 was Eamon De Valera.

MI5 cur­rently has around 3,000 employ­ees. About a quarter are officers; the rest are tech­nic­al, admin­is­trat­ive and oth­er sup­port staff, accord­ing to Machon.

In recent years, MI5 appoin­ted two female dir­ect­or gen­er­als … Stella Rim­ming­ton, and the cur­rent dir­ect­or gen­er­al, Dame Eliza Man­ning­ham-But­ler. “I always found Stella very cold and I was­n’t impressed with her cap­ab­il­it­ies. There was an ele­ment of token­ism in her appoint­ment.  Eliza is like Ann Wid­de­combe’s bossy sis­ter, ” says Machon, mis­chiev­ously rais­ing an eye­brow. “She scares a lot of men. She is seen as hand-bag­ging her way to the top.”

Machon says the only way of respond­ing to the grow­ing ter­ror­ist threat is for the present intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture to be replaced by a single counter-ter­ror­ist agency.  The intense rivalry between MI5, MI6, Spe­cial Branch and mil­it­ary intel­li­gence means they’re often more hos­tile to each oth­er than to their tar­gets. ID cards and fur­ther dra­coni­an secur­ity legis­la­tion will offer no pro­tec­tion, she says.

Machon was act­ive in the anti-war cam­paign. She believes there is an “80% chance” that Dr Dav­id Kelly, the gov­ern­ment sci­ent­ist who ques­tioned the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruc­tion with­in 45 minutes, did­n’t com­mit sui­cide but was murdered on MI5’s instruc­tions.

Oth­er sus­pi­cious minds won­der if Machon and Shayler ever left MI5. Could it be an elab­or­ate plot to make them more effect­ive agents? By pos­ing as whis­tleblowers, they gain the entry to rad­ic­al, leftwing circles.

Machon dis­misses this the­ory: “It would be very deep cov­er indeed to go to those lengths. Gareth Peirce is our soli­cit­or. She trusts us and she’s no fool.” Machon says while they have no regrets, they’ve paid a huge emo­tion­al and fin­an­cial price for chal­len­ging the secret state. They sur­vive on money from the odd news­pa­per art­icle and TV inter­view. Home is a small ter­raced house in East­bourne, east Sus­sex, where they grow toma­toes and have two cats.

Are they still friends with serving MI5 officers? “No com­ment!” says Machon with a smile. These days, she goes places she nev­er did.

When she addresses leftwing meet­ings, someone often approaches at the end.  “You must know my file?” they say.

Spies, Lies & Whis­tleblowers’ by Annie Machon is pub­lished by The Book Guild, £17.95