Edward Snowden, Man of the Year

First pub­lished at RT Op-Edge.

When asked if Edward Snowden deserves to be the Man of the Year 2013, and I have been many times, my answer has to be a cat­egor­ic­al, resound­ing YES.

Sure, it has been an event­ful year and there are a lot of con­tenders. But Edward Snowden stands out for me for three key reas­ons:  his per­son­al and con­scious cour­age, the sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures and the con­tinu­ing, glob­al impact of what he did. Purely because of his actions we, the world’s cit­izens, are now able to have a dis­cus­sion about the nature of our civil­isa­tion and poten­tially call a halt to the fright­en­ing slide into a glob­al sur­veil­lance dysto­pia.

For the actions of Snowden have indeed laid bare the fact that we are liv­ing glob­al crisis of civil­isa­tion .  To date it is estim­ated the we have only seen about 1% of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed —  the merest hint of the tip of a mon­strous ice­berg.  What fur­ther hor­rors await us in 2014 and bey­ond?

The Per­son­al Risk

First of all, there is the per­son­al aspect.  Snowden has said that he does not want to be the story, he wants the focus to remain on the inform­a­tion.  I respect that, but it is worth remind­ing ourselves of the scale of sac­ri­fice this young man has made.  He had a well-paid job in Hawaii, an appar­ently happy rela­tion­ship, and good career pro­spects. All this he threw away to alert the world to the secret, illeg­al and dysto­pi­an sur­veil­lance sys­tem that has stealth­ily been smoth­er­ing the world.

But Snowden faced far more than merely throw­ing away a com­fort­able pro­fes­sion­al life. Over the last few years the US gov­ern­ment, appar­ently learn­ing well from its former colo­ni­al mas­ter the UK about the art of crush­ing of whis­tleblowers, has been waging a war against what it now deems the “insider threat” — ie per­sons of con­science who speak out. Pres­id­ent Obama has used the Espi­on­age Act (1917) to per­se­cute and pro­sec­ute more whis­tleblowers than all pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents in total before him.

This is indeed a “war on whis­tleblowers”. John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who refused to par­ti­cip­ate in the tor­ture pro­gramme and then exposed, it is cur­rently lan­guish­ing in pris­on; Thomas Drake, an earli­er NSA whis­tleblower, was threatened with 35 years in pris­on; young Chelsea Man­ning was mal­treated in pris­on, faced a kangaroo court, and is cur­rently serving a sim­il­ar sen­tence for the expos­ure of hideous war crimes against civil­ians in the Middle East. And the list goes on.

So not only did Edward Snowden turn his back on his career, he knew exactly the sheer scale of the leg­al risk he was tak­ing when he went pub­lic, dis­play­ing bravery very much above and bey­ond the call of duty.

The intel­li­gence apo­lo­gists in the media have inev­it­ably  shouted “nar­ciss­ism” about his brave step to out him­self, rather than just leak the inform­a­tion anonym­ously.  How­ever, these estab­lish­ment wind­bags are the real nar­ciss­ists. Snowden cor­rectly assessed that, had he not put his name to the dis­clos­ures, there would have been a witch-hunt tar­get­ing his former col­leagues and he wanted to pro­tect them. Plus, as he said in his very first pub­lic inter­view, he wanted to explain why he had done what he had done and what the implic­a­tions were for the world.

The Dis­clos­ures

The sheer scale and nature of the dis­clos­ures so far has been breath­tak­ing, and they just keep com­ing. They show that a vast, sub­ter­ranean sur­veil­lance state that has crept across the whole world, unknown and unchecked by the very politi­cians who are sup­posed to hold it to account. Indeed, not only have we learned that we are all under con­stant elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance, but these politi­cians are tar­geted too. This is a glob­al secret state run­ning amok and we are all now tar­gets.

Only yes­ter­day, Der Spiegel repor­ted more egre­gious examples of how the spies bug us: hard­ware hacks, com­puter vir­uses and even microwave wavelengths attack­ing both our com­puters and us – tin foil hats might not be such a bad idea after all.…

The Implic­a­tions

Snowden’s dis­clos­ures have laid bare the fact that the inter­net has been thor­oughly hacked, sub­ver­ted and indeed mil­it­ar­ised against we the people.  The basic free­dom of pri­vacy,  enshrined in the UN Declar­a­tion of Human Rights in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Second World War, has been des­troyed.

Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidu­al cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments, and cer­tainly not a shad­owy and unac­count­able secret state.

The cent­ral soci­et­al func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the state.

By risk­ing his life, Edward Snowden has allowed us all to see exactly the scale of the threat now facing us and to allow us the oppor­tun­ity to res­ist.  We all owe him a debt of grat­it­ude, and it is our duty to ensure that his cour­age and sac­ri­fice has not been in vain.

RT article about MI6’s Afghan “ghost money”

Here’s a link to my new art­icle, pub­lished exclus­ively today on RT’s Op-Edge news site.

I dis­cuss the recent news that MI6, in addi­tion to the CIA, has been pay­ing “ghost money” to the polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment in Afgh­anistan, oth­er examples of such med­dling, and the prob­able unin­ten­ded con­sequences.

The Value of Whistleblowers

I was recently invited to write an art­icle for the Nat West Busi­ness Sense online magazine about the poten­tial value and bene­fits of whis­tleblowers.  Here’s the link, and here’s the art­icle:

The con­tro­ver­sial issue of whis­tleblow­ing has been firmly thrust into the pub­lic con­scious­ness over the last few years with the ongo­ing saga of Wikileaks.

Often whis­tleblowers can get a bad rap in the media, deemed to be trait­ors, grasses or snitches.  How­ever, rather than a phe­nomen­on to be feared, if handled cor­rectly whis­tleblowers can often be bene­fi­cial to their organ­isa­tions.  Allow me to explain.

I have a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the pro­cess.  In the 1990s I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, gen­er­ally known as MI5, before resign­ing to help my former part­ner and col­league Dav­id Shayler blow the whistle on a cata­logue of incom­pet­ence  and crime.  As a res­ult we had to go on the run around Europe, lived in hid­ing and exile in France for 3 years, and saw our friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists arres­ted around us.  I was also arres­ted, although nev­er charged, and Dav­id went to pris­on twice for expos­ing the crimes of the spies. It was a heavy price to pay.

How­ever, it could all have been so dif­fer­ent if the UK gov­ern­ment had agreed to take his evid­ence of spy crimes, under­take to invest­ig­ate them thor­oughly, and apply the neces­sary reforms.  This would have saved us a lot of heartache, and could poten­tially have improved the work of the spies. But the government’s instinct­ive response is always to pro­tect the spies and pro­sec­ute the whis­tleblower, while the mis­takes and crimes go unin­vestig­ated and unre­solved. Or even, it often appears, to reward the mal­efact­ors with pro­mo­tions and gongs.

The dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) imposes a blanket ban on any dis­clos­ure what­so­ever.  As a res­ult, we the cit­izens have to take it on trust that our spies work with integ­rity. There is no mean­ing­ful over­sight and no account­ab­il­ity.

Many good people do indeed sign up to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, as they want a job that can make a dif­fer­ence and poten­tially save lives.  How­ever, once on the inside they are told to keep quiet about any eth­ic­al con­cerns: “don’t rock the boat, and just fol­low orders”.

In such an envir­on­ment there is no vent­il­a­tion, no account­ab­il­ity and no staff fed­er­a­tion, and this inev­it­ably leads to a gen­er­al con­sensus – a bul­ly­ing “group think” men­tal­ity.  This in turn can lead to mis­takes being covered up rather than les­sons learned, and then poten­tially down a dan­ger­ous mor­al slide.

As a res­ult, over the last dec­ade we have seen scan­dal heaped upon intel­li­gence scan­dal, as the spies allowed their fake and politi­cised inform­a­tion to be used make a false case for an illeg­al war in Iraq; we have seen them des­cend into a spir­al of extraordin­ary rendi­tion (ie kid­nap­ping) and tor­ture, for which they are now being sued if not pro­sec­uted; and we have seen that they facil­it­ate dodgy deals in the desert with dic­tat­ors.

But it is not all bleak.  Recently, Dr Tom Fin­gar received The Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence in Oxford for his work on com­pil­ing the US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate of 2007.  In this he sum­mar­ised the con­clu­sions of all 16 US intel­li­gence agen­cies by say­ing that Iran had ceased try­ing to devel­op a nuc­le­ar weapons cap­ab­il­ity in 2003.

There was immense polit­ic­al pres­sure on him to sup­press this evid­ence, but he went ahead with the report and thereby single-handedly hal­ted the US government’s rush to war with Iran.  By hav­ing the cour­age to do his job with integ­rity, Dr Fin­gar is respons­ible for sav­ing count­less lives across Iran.

In the world of intel­li­gence, where secrecy is para­mount, where crimes can hushed up, and where there is no aven­ue for voicing con­cern and dis­sent, it is per­haps inev­it­able that whis­tleblowers will con­tin­ue to emerge.

But in oth­er sec­tors of work mis­takes can be just as life threat­en­ing and the need for expos­ure just as great.  In the UK over the last few years many seni­or med­ic­al whis­tleblowers have emerged from the NHS, detail­ing mis­takes and incom­pet­ence that have put the pub­lic at risk.  Alas, rather than learn from mis­takes made, all too often NHS bosses have either vic­tim­ised the whis­tleblowers by sus­pend­ing them or ruin­ing their repu­ta­tion, or they have insisted that they sign gag­ging orders and then covered up the mis­takes.  Neither option is a good out­come either for staff mor­ale or for patient safety.

While the cul­ture of cov­er-up exists, so too will whis­tleblowers. How could this be resolved, and what would be the poten­tial bene­fits?

If employ­ers insti­tute a cul­ture of trust and account­ab­il­ity, where employ­ees with con­cerns can be fairly heard, the appro­pri­ate action taken, and justice done, the needs and imper­at­ives behind whis­tleblow­ing would dis­ap­pear. Poten­tial prob­lems could be nipped in the bud, improv­ing pub­lic trust and con­fid­ence in the prob­ity of the organ­isa­tion and avoid­ing all the bad pub­li­city fol­low­ing a whis­tleblow­ing case.

Plus, of course, the poten­tial whis­tleblowers would have a legit­im­ate aven­ue to go down, rather than hav­ing to turn their lives inside out – they would no longer need to jeop­ard­ise their pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion and all that goes with it such as career, income, social stand­ing and even, poten­tially their free­dom.

Hav­ing a sound pro­ced­ure in place to address staff con­cerns strikes me as a win-win scen­ario – for staff effi­ciency and mor­ale, the organisation’s oper­a­tion­al cap­ab­il­ity and repu­ta­tion, and poten­tially the wider pub­lic, too.

Sunday Telegraph Article, August 2010

Below is text of an art­icle I wrote, pub­lished in The Sunday Tele­graph a while ago about what it’s actu­ally like to enter the won­der­ful world of spy­ing (just in case it’s ever air­brushed out of his­tory!):

My so-called life as a spy”

Spies have always loved liv­ing in Pimlico: a civ­il­ised area in cent­ral Lon­don, handy for strolling to the office, and won­der­fully con­veni­ent for that mid­night dash to work if your oper­a­tion sud­denly goes live. Plus, the loc­al pubs are pretty good for the cus­tom­ary after-work moan.

Pimlico_flatI lived there myself when I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5 in the 1990s, so the murder of Gareth Wil­li­ams in a nearby street gave me a bit of a jolt. While his death remains shrouded in mys­tery, what has been repor­ted of his life sounds like clas­sic GCHQ.

There are dis­tinct cul­tures with­in each of the three major UK spy agen­cies: MI5, the UK domest­ic secur­ity ser­vice; MI6, the over­seas intel­li­gence organ­isa­tion; and GCHQ, the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions HQ.

MI6 officers, as people who may have to work inde­pend­ently and under­cov­er abroad, tend to be con­fid­ent, indi­vidu­al­ist­ic and “eth­ic­ally flex­ible”, while MI5 officers need to co-ordin­ate a broad range of resources and people to run an oper­a­tion, which requires great­er team-build­ing. Of the three agen­cies, GCHQ remains the most secret­ive and inward-look­ing, and is staffed pre­dom­in­antly with “boffin” types. Wil­li­ams, with his math­em­at­ic­al skills and loner tend­en­cies, would be a typ­ic­al employ­ee.

Des­pite the intel­li­gence com­munity present­ing a united front to the out­side world, cul­ture clashes between the three agen­cies are com­mon­place. Staff on second­ment between agen­cies – as Wil­li­ams was, from GCHQ to MI6 – can have a rough time fit­ting into a new envir­on­ment, work­ing with col­leagues who eye them with sus­pi­cion, as the divi­sions jockey for power, prestige and resources with­in White­hall.

So what is life like work­ing as a spy? The world of intel­li­gence is not so much isol­at­ing as insu­lat­ing. Even as you pro­ceed through the con­vo­luted recruit­ment pro­cess, you find your­self enter­ing a par­al­lel uni­verse, one that exists along­side your every­day life.

Thames_House_Millbank_EntranceFrom that first, explor­at­ory meet­ing with an intel­li­gence officer in an unmarked build­ing in cent­ral Lon­don, you have to with­draw a little from your old exist­ence. You are asked not to tell your fam­ily and friends, and imme­di­ately have to sign a noti­fic­a­tion of the rig­or­ous terms of the Offi­cial Secrets Act, whereby if you talk about your work, you risk impris­on­ment.

The pro­cess of induc­tion into this world is intriguing, flat­ter­ing and seduct­ive. The agen­cies tend to avoid the James Bond wan­nabes, and those inspired by the fake glam­our of Spooks. The key motiv­a­tion is gen­er­ally want­ing to do a job that can make a dif­fer­ence, pro­tect the coun­try and poten­tially save lives. The secret ele­ment adds spice and per­haps com­pensates for the anor­ex­ic pay. When I star­ted work­ing for MI5 in 1991, at the fast-track gradu­ate level, the start­ing salary was £14,500 pa – a good £5,000 less than my peer group from Cam­bridge earned in their blue-chip jobs. The pay has improved some­what since then, but you don’t become a spy for the money.

The vet­ting pro­cess is pro­trac­ted. For MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, officers are required to have the highest clear­ance – Developed Vet­ting. This begins with a home vis­it. Dis­con­cert­ingly, I soon found myself in the fam­ily sit­ting room being grilled about my sex life by a little, grey-haired lady who looked just like a favour­ite grand­moth­er, until you looked into her eyes.

Then the pro­cess widens. I had to nom­in­ate four friends who were will­ing to be inter­viewed about me, and they were asked to sug­gest yet more people… so secrecy becomes impossible. One friend, of a Left-wing hue, dis­ap­proved of my recruit­ment; even those who were sup­port­ive were reluct­ant to ask me too much. As I couldn’t talk to them freely about my life, they felt increas­ingly shut out, so I lost old friends along the way.

The_spy_who_loved_meUnsur­pris­ingly, new officers begin to social­ise increas­ingly with their col­leagues, and close friend­ships grow rap­idly. With­in this clique, we could talk shop at din­ner parties, use the same slang and ter­min­o­logy, dis­cuss our work, and whinge about our bosses. With out­siders, we could nev­er be fully ourselves. This, inev­it­ably, often led to more than friend­ships. What might oth­er­wise be called office romances flour­ished. I met my former part­ner, Dav­id Shayler, when we were both in our first post­ing in MI5.

Such rela­tion­ships were not exactly encour­aged, but were gen­er­ally seen as a good thing by man­age­ment – unless, of course, it was a clandes­tine mat­ter that could leave the officer vul­ner­able to black­mail. Such affairs were seen as vet­ting offences.

Among spies, an old double stand­ard held firm. There was one couple who were caught in flag­rante in the office, not once but twice. The male officer was put on “garden­ing leave” for six months; the woman was sacked.

For the first few weeks in the job, the feel­ing of unreal­ity and dis­lo­ca­tion is strong. The only sol­id inform­a­tion you have about your new pos­i­tion, as you walk into the office for the first time, is the grade at which you will be work­ing – noth­ing else.

My first post­ing was to the small counter-sub­ver­sion sec­tion, F2. Even though it was a desk job, the inform­a­tion I was deal­ing with came from sens­it­ive sources: inter­cep­ted com­mu­nic­a­tions, reports from agents who had pen­et­rated tar­get groups, police reports. And yet, with­in a few weeks, the hand­ling of such secret and intrus­ive inform­a­tion became entirely nor­mal.

Invest­ig­a­tions can be very fast-paced, par­tic­u­larly in the counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Gen­er­ally, officers work reg­u­lar hours but occa­sion­ally, if an oper­a­tion goes live, you work around the clock. If it proves a suc­cess, there might be a news item on the tele­vi­sion about it – but obvi­ously without the full back story. That can be a sur­real exper­i­ence. You feel pride that you’ve achieved what you signed up to do, but you can­not dis­cuss it with any­body out­side the office. At such moments, the dis­con­nect from main­stream life is intensely sharp.

Regnum_DefendeHow­ever, when some­thing goes wrong – a bomb goes off in which civil­ians die – the feel­ings are even more intense. Guilt, anger, frus­tra­tion, and a scramble to ensure that the blame doesn’t attach to your sec­tion. The offi­cial motto of MI5 is Regnum Defe
nde – defence of the realm. Staff mord­antly used to joke that it should more accur­ately be Rectum Defende.

Per­son­al secur­ity also ensures that there is a con­stant bar­ri­er between you and the nor­mal world. If you meet someone inter­est­ing at a party, you can­not say too much about what you do, and such reti­cence can appear unfriendly. The cov­er story that MI5 officers use is that they work as civil ser­vants at the Min­istry of Defence; for MI6, it is the For­eign Office. This usu­ally stops people from ask­ing too much more, either through dis­cre­tion or, frankly, bore­dom. Once or twice, people pushed me for more inform­a­tion, and my para­noia anten­nae imme­di­ately began to twitch: why are they so inter­ested? Are they spies or, God for­bid, journ­al­ists?

I had the mis­for­tune once of using this cov­er story at a party, only to find my inter­locutor actu­ally worked for the real Min­istry of Defence, and wanted to know which sec­tion I worked in, who my col­leagues were, how long I had been there… Thank­fully, the magic word “Box” – slang used to describe MI5 with­in White­hall, derived from the organisation’s old PO Box 500 num­ber – brought that line of con­ver­sa­tion to an abrupt halt.

As an intel­li­gence officer, you quickly learn to be dis­creet on the tele­phone and in emails. Oblique con­ver­sa­tions become the norm, and this bleeds into your per­son­al life, too, much to the frus­tra­tion of friends and fam­ily.

The inter­net is anoth­er chal­lenge. As a “spook”, the last thing you want to see is your pho­to­graph on a friend’s Face­book page. Or, even worse, hol­i­day snaps show­ing you in your Speedos, as the cur­rent head of MI6, Sir John Saw­yer, found to his cost last year.

And what about when you come to leave the intel­li­gence ser­vice, as I did after five years. Can you ever really have a nor­mal life after­wards, and shake off the mind­set?

Many of my former col­leagues have left and built careers in a wide vari­ety of areas. But I won­der how many still look auto­mat­ic­ally over their shoulders as they put their key in the front door; how many tear up paper before throw­ing it in the bin; and how many are reflex­ively reti­cent about their per­son­al life?

Would I want to be a spy these days? No, thank you. I’m hap­pi­er in the real world.

* Annie Machon is the author of Spies, Lies and Whis­tleblowers (Book Guild)

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.

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.

MI5 must back use of phone-taps

This is an art­icle of mine that appeared in The Guard­i­an on Wed­nes­day August 03 2005 .

Calls for justice

MI5 must back use of phone-taps

When I worked in MI5 in the 1990s, the use of tele­phone inter­cept mater­i­al (code­named Lin­en) was even then a hot top­ic of dis­cus­sion. Most of the new­er officers and the leg­al advisers advoc­ated its use. The MI5 old guard tried to claim that it was a sens­it­ive
tech­nique and if used in court, tele­phone intel­li­gence would be lost.

Every­one knows tele­phone lines can be bugged. And if, in a spe­cif­ic court case, evid­ence of par­tic­u­lar sens­it­iv­ity occurred in an inter­cept, its exist­ence could be pro­tec­ted by pub­lic interest immunity cer­ti­fic­ates.

The with­hold­ing of Lin­en is a hangover from the cold war, when tele­phone taps were used purely to gath­er intel­li­gence on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al tar­gets. Now that MI5 is doing largely police-style, evid­en­tial work to bring ter­ror­ists to tri­al, it needs to update its meth­ods.

Intel­li­gence gathered from bugs planted in a suspect’s prop­erty is already used as evid­ence in Brit­ish courts, although this is argu­ably a more sens­it­ive tech­nique. Most west­ern demo­cra­cies allow the use of intel­li­gence derived from tele­phone bugs.

Most Bel­marsh internees are incar­cer­ated on the basis of “secret and reli­able intel­li­gence” — ie tele­phone taps — which can­not be used in a court of law to charge them. Per­haps MI5 does not want Lin­en exposed to the scru­tiny of a court of law in these cases because the intel­li­gence is so weak.

In the early 1970s, the then prime min­is­ter, Har­old Wilson, was dis­suaded from employ­ing Judith Hart as a min­is­ter because of “secret and reli­able intel­li­gence”. It turned out that all she had done was ring up a friend who happened to work in the Com­mun­ist party HQ and call her “com­rade”, a prac­tice com­mon in leftwing circles at the time.

MI5 needs to drag itself into the 21st cen­tury and allow its intel­li­gence to be used as evid­ence. It needs to ensure that the new breed of ter­ror­ists threat­en­ing our coun­try can feel the full force of Brit­ish justice, nota bul­let in the back of the head.

Annie Machon is the author of Spies, Lies and Whis­tleblowers: MI5 and the Dav­id Shayler Affair

CPBF Article on the Shayler Trial

My art­icle in the Cam­paign for Press and Broad­cast­ing Free­dom journ­al:

In Novem­ber 2002 I wit­nessed one of the worst media stitch-ups in recent times. The Lon­don press has helped min­is­ters, many of whom voted against the Offi­cial Secrets Act (OSA) when it was passed in 1989, to per­se­cute, con­vict and impris­on MI5 whis­tleblower, Dav­id Shayler, with barely a mur­mur.

From the start, the gov­ern­ment focused on tra­du­cing David’s char­ac­ter to divert atten­tion not only from his alleg­a­tions but also from Tony Blair’s fail­ure to even hear what Dav­id had to say.

In case we for­get, this includes MI5 files on gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, MI5 fail­ing to stop IRA bombs going off in the UK, the wrong­ful con­vic­tion of two inno­cent Palestini­ans for the Israeli embassy bomb­ing in Lon­don in 1994, and an illeg­al phone tap on a Guard­i­an journ­al­ist.

Most hein­ous of all was the fact that in 1995 two MI6 officers gave £100,000 of tax­pay­ers’ money to extrem­ists linked to Al Qaeda to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gadaf­fi of Libya. The attack went wrong, killing inno­cent civil­ians. Mal­colm Rif­kind, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary of the day, did not sanc­tion the assas­sin­a­tion attempt, mak­ing it a crime under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

It also meant that shad­owy MI6 officers were decid­ing Brit­ish for­eign policy, not our elec­ted min­is­ters. So did our fear­less nation­al media call for the intel­li­gence ser­vices to be held to account? No. Instead craven edit­ors of nation­al news­pa­pers — who were only too
ready to enjoy the front-page stor­ies Dav­id provided — have left him to face the con­sequences of whis­tleblow­ing alone.

After sur­viv­ing three years of exile, he returned to the UK vol­un­tar­ily in August 2000. He then had to wait over two years for tri­al. After con­vic­tion, he spent three weeks locked up for 23 or 24 hours a day in an over­crowded 12’ x 8’ cell in HMP Bel­marsh before being trans­ferred to HMP Ford.

He had already served nearly four months in pris­on in Par­is, await­ing an unsuc­cess­ful extra­di­tion attempt. At tri­al, the gov­ern­ment felt that the risk of embar­rass­ment loomed large. The Home Sec­ret­ary, Dav­id Blun­kett, and the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, Jack Straw, there­fore signed Pub­lic Interest Immunity cer­ti­fic­ates (PIIs), “gag­ging orders”, against Dav­id to pre­vent him from say­ing any­thing in open court.

The judge, Mr Justice Moses of Mat­rix Churchill fame, acceded to these without a blush, and then imposed report­ing restric­tions on the pro­ceed­ings. The “D” Notice Com­mit­tee then advised against any media cov­er­age of these inter­ven­tions. Even though Dav­id had to con­duct his own defence in the courtroom, the judge and the pro­sec­u­tion cen­sored
any ques­tions he needed to put to anonym­ous MI5 wit­nesses.

Dav­id was also pre­ven­ted from explain­ing why he had gone to the press. Des­pite Dav­id going into this tri­al with both hands tied behind his back, and des­pite the judge order­ing the jury to con­vict, it still took a group of twelve ran­domly chosen people more than three hours to con­vict Dav­id. When they did so, some of the jur­ors were in tears. Although the courtroom was packed with journ­al­ists, the media wil­fully ignored the facts of the case.

The doc­u­ments alleged by the pro­sec­u­tion to con­tain “agent inform­a­tion” were just that – inform­a­tion gathered from agents and sum­mar­ized for gen­er­al gov­ern­ment con­sump­tion. In fact, in sum­ming up and sen­ten­cing, Mr Justice Moses made no ref­er­ence to agent lives being put at risk. He also made it abund­antly clear that he accep­ted that Dav­id was not motiv­ated by money; and that Dav­id believed he was act­ing in the pub­lic interest (even though the law did not allow such a defence in this case).

That is why the judge gave him the rel­at­ively light sen­tence of six months. Had Dav­id been a trait­or, as sec­tions of the media trum­peted, he would have been tried under Sec­tion 1 of the 1911 OSA and received a four­teen year sen­tence. A whis­tleblower does not oper­ate in a vacu­um. Journ­al­ists play an import­ant role in air­ing these sub­jects in our
“free” press.

In journ­al­ist­ic par­lance, Dav­id Shayler has been a fant­ast­ic­ally valu­able source for over five years. This has not been reflec­ted in his treat­ment. With a few extremely hon­our­able excep­tions, most hacks were merely inter­ested in leech­ing Dav­id of inform­a­tion rather than pro­tect­ing a man who risked everything to expose murder, ter­ror­ist fund­ing and incom­pet­ence on the part of the intel­li­gence ser­vices.

The truth is fright­en­ing. Edit­ors, MPs and min­is­ters are scared of the shad­owy people who really run this coun­try: the intel­li­gence ser­vices. By not hold­ing the ser­vices to account, the gov­ern­ment and media is let­ting them get away, lit­er­ally, with murder.