Security forces endanger agent lives, not whistleblowers…

Our esteemed gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies and police forces always attack whis­tleblowers and organ­isa­tions such as Wikileaks on the grounds that unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure of clas­si­fied inform­a­tion puts the lives of agents and inform­ants at risk.

Bob_QuickAgent iden­tit­ies, along with ongo­ing oper­a­tions (as Former Assist­ant Com­mis­sion­er of Spe­cial Oper­a­tions at the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police, Bob Quick, found to his cost two years ago) and sens­it­ive invest­ig­at­ory tech­niques, are indeed in need of pro­tec­tion.  Much else is not — par­tic­u­larly inform­a­tion about lies, cov­er-ups, incom­pet­ence and crime.

Indeed, once you delve behind the scream­ing head­lines that whis­tleblower dis­clos­ures have risked agent lives, you often find that this is abso­lutely not the case — in fact their motiv­a­tion is usu­ally to pre­vent fur­ther need­less tor­ture, death and war crimes.  So the US Defence Sec­ret­ary, Robert Gates, was forced to admit that Wikileaks had indeed not endangered lives with the pub­lic­a­tion of the Afghan War Logs last year, and Dav­id Shayler’s tri­al judge, in his form­al rul­ing, stated that “no lives had been put at risk” by his whis­tleblow­ing.

Instead, there is a grow­ing body of evid­ence to sug­gest that the secur­ity forces are the very organ­isa­tions not tak­ing the pro­tec­tion and after­care of their agents ser­i­ously.

Mark Kennedy, the under­cov­er police officer who spied on UK envir­on­ment­al protest groups, has gone on the record to say that the super­vi­sion, care and psy­cho­lo­gic­al sup­port provided to him was woe­fully lack­ing.   Kev­in Fulton, a serving sol­dier who infilt­rated the IRA on behalf of the notori­ous Forces Research Unit, has sim­il­arly been hung out to dry and is now attempt­ing to sue the Brit­ish Gov­ern­ment to provide the prom­ised, adequate after­care.

Mar­tin McGart­land, who worked as a source in North­ern Ire­land at the height of “The Troubles” and is cred­ited with sav­ing 50 lives, has also borne the brunt of this lais­sez faire atti­tude since he stopped work­ing for intel­li­gence.  He has the scars to prove it too, hav­ing sur­vived assas­sin­a­tion attempts, and once blindly leap­ing out of a third floor win­dow in an frantic attempt to escape tor­ture at the hands of the IRA.  As he says:

Who would put their lives on the line nowadays when they can read what hap­pens to those who did?”, McGart­land says. “I can’t go home and the IRA are sup­posed to be a former ter­ror­ist group. Nobody is hunt­ing down my attack­ers and nobody in author­ity seems to care. That has a dir­ect impact on recruit­ing agents.…”

Denis_DonaldsonThe most egre­gious case is of Denis Don­ald­son, Sinn Féin’s Head of Admin­is­tra­tion at Stor­mont in North­ern Ire­land who was outed as a MI5 and police spy by Gerry Adams in 2006.  He was bru­tally murdered a few months later, allegedly by the Real IRA, hav­ing received little pro­tec­tion or sup­port from his erstwhile spook hand­lers.

So who is really more likely expose cur­rent agents to the risk of psy­cho­lo­gic­al dam­age, tor­ture and death, or to deter future agents from volun­teer­ing to work with the secur­ity forces?  Prin­cipled whis­tleblowers who expose crime and incom­pet­ence with due care for pro­tect­ing real secrets, or the spooks who take a cava­lier approach to the pas­tor­al care of their agents, and then hang them out to dry once their use­ful­ness is at an end?

Agent Names Lost

So the good times keep on rolling for the spook com­munity in the UK.  An officer of the Ser­i­ous Organ­ised Crime Agency (SOCA) appar­ently lost top secret inform­a­tion such as the names of under­cov­er agents while trav­el­ling in Ecuador.

LanderSOCA is a rel­at­ively new agency set up in 2004 to police organ­ised crime, par­tic­u­larly that revolving around the illeg­al drug trade.  The agency has the mis­for­tune to have as Chair­man Steph­en Lander, erstwhile boss of MI5; a man whose man­age­ment style was known as “Stalinesque”. 

Even before this latest blun­der, con­cerns had been raised by SOCA staff about inef­fect­ive and top-heavy man­age­ment (shades of MI5 in the 1990s)and recent ques­tions have been asked about wheth­er the agency was pro­du­cing mean­ing­ful res­ults, as the price of illi­cit drugs has plummeted on UK streets, indic­at­ing a glut of recent imports. 

This latest blun­der will hardly have reas­sured min­is­ters.  Reportedly, the hap­less SOCA officer lost a USB stick con­tain­ing the names of under­cov­er agents involved in the drug war in Ecuador, as well as inform­a­tion relat­ing to 5 years’ worth of invest­ig­a­tions.   The blun­der has reportedly jeop­ard­ised oper­a­tions that have cost in the region of £100 mil­lion.

Agent iden­tit­ies are, rightly, the most pro­tec­ted of secret inform­a­tion.  This is an unfor­giv­able gaff, and yet the officer is appar­ently only facing “dis­cip­lin­ary charges”. 

So, if you are a whis­tleblower expos­ing hein­ous spy crimes, you are put on tri­al and sent to pris­on, even if the tri­al judge acknow­ledges that no lives were ever put at risk through your dis­clos­ures.  How­ever, if you care­lessly leave top secret agent inform­a­tion lying around in hos­tile ter­rit­ory, you don’t even get the sack, let alone face pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.

I would sug­gest that the next intel­li­gence whis­tleblower to emerge from the shad­ows should simply claim to have dropped a USB stick out­side the offices of a nation­al news­pa­per.  A rap over the knuckles will then be the worst that they face!