CIA and MI5 hacking our “Internet of Things”

Yet again Wikileaks has come good by exposing just how much we are being spied upon in this brave new digital world – the Vault 7 release has provided the proof for what many of us already knew/suspected – that our smart gadgets are little spy devices.

Here are a couple of interviews I did for the BBC and RT on the subject:

BBC – CIA and MI5 Hack our TVs from Annie Machon on Vimeo.


Wikileaks release info re CIA/MI5 hacks from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

BBC World interview re UK spy accountability

Here’s a recent interview I did for BBC World about the three top British spies deigning, for the first time ever, to be publicly questioned by the Intelligence and Security Committee in parliament, which has a notional oversight role:

BBC World interview on UK Parlaimentary hearings on NSA/Snowden affair from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

It subsequently emerged that they only agreed to appear if they were told the questions in advance.  So much for this already incredibly limited oversight capability in a notional Western democracy…..

BBC “World Have Your Say” debate

A recent interview on BBC World Service radio, on “World Have Your Say”.  An interesting debate with some other former intelligence types:

BBC World Service “World Have Your Say” interview from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

BBC Sunday Morning Live – whistleblower debate

Here is a video of a debate I was involved with about whistleblowers on the most recent edition of BBC debate show, Sunday Morning Live. The question under discussion: are whistleblowers heroes or villains?

BBC Sunday Morning Live from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
A shame that some of the studio guests used this opportunity to launch ad hominem attacks rather than focus on the key question, but I’m glad I could contribute.

BBC Radio interview about the “snoopers’ charter”

Yesterday I gave an interview to BBC Radio Ulster about the security fall-out of the Woolwich murder and the cynical political opportunism of those calling, inevitably, for greater powers for the spies and a reintroduction of the proposed Communuications Data Bill, dubbed the “snoopers’ charter”.

Here is the link.

The Report on BBC Radio 4 – the Death of Gareth Williams

A look at the forensic and police failures around the investigation of the still inexplicable death of intelligence officer, Gareth Williams, in London in 2010.

Here’s the link.

BBC article: could 7/7 have been prevented?

Peter Taylor, a respected journalist at the BBC, argues that if there had been more cooperation between MI5 and regional police Special Branches, then the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005 could have been prevented.  His thesis appears to be that MI5 did not work closely enough with the police (the executive branch) of the UK’s intelligence community: the aptly-named Operation Crevice has exposed the cracks in the unified public facade of the UK intelligence community.

However, Taylor assures us that this problem is in the past, with MI5 officers and Special Branch police now happily working side by side in regional offices across the UK.  So that’s OK then.

It continues to surprise me that seasoned British journalists repeatedly fall into the post-9/11 group-think of the USA – that terrorism is a new phenomenon.  Rather startlingly, Taylor’s article even asserts that the FBI had the Crevice information in real-time, while the West Yorks SB was left in the dark.

Those in the UK with a memory longer than a mayfly’s will be aware that this country endured 30 years of Irish Republican terrorism, and during the 1990s MI5 had lead responsibility for investigating this threat.  So from 1993 the spooks did indeed work side-by-side with their regional SB counter-parts across the country.  During this period the emphasis was on gathering both intelligence to pre-emptively thwart terrorist plots and also evidence to use in the ensuing court cases.  And there were some notable successes.

So what changed in the following decade?  Did the spooks retreat back behind the barricades of their London HQ, Thames House, as the ink dried on the Good Friday Agreement?  Were the hard-won lessons of the 1990s so quickly forgotten?

Well, certainly other lessons from the civil war in Nortern Ireland appear to have been expunged from the collective intelligence memory.  For example, the use of torture, military tribunals, internment and curfews were all used extensively in the early years of the NI conflict and all were spectacularly counter-productive, acting as a recruiting ground for new generations of terrorists.  Yet these practices now once again appear to be implicitly condoned by MI5 and MI6 in the USA’s brutal “war on terror”.

So one would hope that this new BBC programme calls for a reappraisal of our intelligence infrastructure.  Why should we mindlessly continue to accept the status quo, when this results in lessons being forgotten and mistakes being repeated?  How about the BBC calling for a root and branch review of the threats the UK realistically faces, and the most efeective way to guard against them, while working within the democratic process?



BBC Report on Shayler’s conviction

The BBC report after David Shayler’s conviction in November 2002:

Former MI5 agent David Shayler is facing jail after being convicted of revealing security secrets.

Shayler, 36, was found guilty on three charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act.

He revealed secret documents to the Mail on Sunday newspaper in 1997, arguing he had a public duty to expose malpractice within the security services.

But the prosecution argued Shayler, who will be sentenced on Tuesday, had potentially placed the lives of secret agents at risk.  It said he betrayed a “life-long duty of confidentiality” by revealing classified matters.

Shayler, who represented himself, also told the Old Bailey jury he feared for his life at the time, because of something “far more serious” than anything published in the paper.  Shayler was remanded on bail for sentencing and could face up to two years’ imprisonment on each of the three counts.

Shayler copied 28 files on seven topics before leaving MI5 in October 1996.


Soon after, he accused MI5 of incompetence and leaked sensitive information to the Mail on Sunday, including allegations of financial links between the Provisional IRA and Libya.  He then fled to France with the £40,000 he earned from his revelations, but returned to Britain after three years knowing he faced arrest.

Outside court Shayler’s girlfriend Annie Machon – also a former MI5 officer – said: “David is a whistle-blower, pure and simple.   I’m shocked at the verdict. He deserves to be protected, not prosecuted.  David revealed malpractice, crime and incompetence on behalf of the intelligence service and he did it in the public interest.  He still believes it was right to do so. We believe judges in Europe will be more sceptical about the Official Secrets Act in this country.”

John Wadham, director of civil rights group Liberty and also Shayler’s solicitor, said they would consider taking the case to appeal and would continue their application to the European Court of Human Rights.

Pre-trial ruling

Maurice Frankel from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said there needed to be fundamental changes to the way in which such cases were dealt with.

A House of Lords hearing before the trial ruled that Shayler could not reveal details of the “serious” matter that allegedly put his life in danger.  It also refused him permission to argue his case with a “public interest defence” under the European Charter of Human Rights.

But following the conviction, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: “Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr Shayler’s actions, there should be a change in the law to ensure that a public interest defence can be undertaken.”

During the trial, Nigel Sweeney QC, for the Crown, said disclosure of even one piece of classified information could be the “final piece in the jigsaw” allowing hostile countries or organisations to identify British agents.

Mr Sweeney told the trial: “The nation’s agents may be unmasked.”

But Shayler told the court: “I was seeking to expose the truth.

‘No harm’

“I’m not the first person in history to stand up and tell the truth and be persecuted, and I doubt I’ll be the last.

His argument that no agents’ lives were put at risk was dismissed as “irrelevant” by the judge.

The jury was told current legislation allowed alternative action for whistle-blowing, such as telling the police or a government minister, instead of going to the media.

Jurors were allowed to see the weighty file of secret documents – but the names of agents and other ultra-sensitive information was obscured.