Webstock, New Zealand, 2016

Now, I speak all over the world at con­fer­ences and uni­ver­sit­ies about a whole vari­ety of inter­con­nec­ted issues, but I do want to high­light this con­fer­ence from earli­er this year and give a shout out for next year’s. Plus I’ve finally got my hands on the video of my talk.

Web­stock cel­eb­rated its tenth anniversary in New Zea­l­and last Feb­ru­ary, and I was for­tu­nate enough to be asked to speak there.  The hosts prom­ised a unique exper­i­ence, and the event lived up to its repu­ta­tion.

Webstock_2016They wanted a fairly clas­sic talk from me — the whis­tleblow­ing years, the les­sons learnt and cur­rent polit­ic­al implic­a­tions, but also what we can to do fight back, so I called my talk “The Pan­op­ticon: Res­ist­ance is Not Futile”, with a nod to my sci-fi fan­dom.

So why does this par­tic­u­lar event glow like a jew­el in my memory? After expun­ging from my mind, with a shud­der of hor­ror, the 39 hour travel time each way, it was the whole exper­i­ence. New Zea­l­and com­bines the friend­li­ness of the Amer­ic­ans — without the polit­ic­al mad­ness and the guns, and the egal­it­ari­an­ism of the Nor­we­gi­ans — with almost equi­val­ent scenery. Add to that the warmth of the audi­ence, the eclecticism of the speak­ers, and the pre­ci­sion plan­ning and aes­thet­ics of the con­fer­ence organ­isers and you have a win­ning com­bin­a­tion.

Our hosts organ­ised ver­tigo-indu­cing events for the speak­ers on the top of mile-high cliffs, as well as a sur­pris­ingly fun vis­it to a tra­di­tion­al Brit­ish bowl­ing green. Plus I had the excite­ment of exper­i­en­cing my very first earth­quake — 5.9 on the Richter scale appar­ently. I shall make no cheap jokes about the earth mov­ing, espe­cially in light of the latest quakes to hit NZ this week, but the hotel did indeed sway around me and it wasn’t the loc­al wine, excel­lent as it is.

I men­tioned eclecticism — the qual­ity of the speak­ers was fero­ciously high, and I would like to give a shout out to Debbie Mill­man and her “joy of fail­ure” talk, Harry Roberts, a ser­i­ous geek who crowd-sourced his talk and ended up talk­ing ser­i­ously about cock­tails, moths, Chum­bawamba and more, advert­ising guru Cindy Gal­lop who is inspir­ing women around the world and pro­mot­ing Make Love Not Porn, and Casey Ger­ald, with his evan­gel­ic­ally-inspired but won­der­fully human­ist­ic talk to end the event.

All the talks can be found here.

It was a fab­ulous week.  All I can say is thank you to Tash, Mike, and the oth­er organ­isers.

If you ever have the chance to attend or speak at the event in the future, I ser­i­ously recom­mend it.

And here’s the video of my talk:

Karma Police

As I type this I am listen­ing to one of my all-time favour­ite albums, Radiohead’s sem­in­al “OK, Com­puter”, that was released in spring 1997. The first time I heard it I was spell­bound by its edgi­ness, com­plex­ity, exper­i­ment­al­ism and polit­ic­al over­tones. My part­ner at the time, Dav­id Shayler, took longer to get it. Self-admit­tedly tone deaf, he nev­er under­stood what he laugh­ingly called the “music con­spir­acy” where people just “got” a new album and played it to death.

ST_Spies_on_the_RunHis opin­ion changed drastic­ally over the sum­mer of ’97 after we had blown the whistle on a series of crimes com­mit­ted by the UK’s spy agen­cies. As a res­ult of our actions — the first reports appeared in the Brit­ish media on 24 July 1997 — we had fled the coun­try and gone on the run around Europe for a month. At the end of this sur­real back­pack­ing hol­i­day I returned to the UK to face arrest, pack up our ran­sacked home, and try to com­fort our trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies who had known noth­ing of our whis­tleblow­ing plans.

OK, Com­puter” was the soundtrack to that month spent on the run across the Neth­er­lands, Bel­gi­um, France and Spain. Tak­ing ran­dom trains, mov­ing from hotel to hotel, and using false names, our lives were dis­lo­cated and unreal. So in each hotel room we tried to recre­ate a sense of home­li­ness — some candles, a bottle of wine, natch, and some music. In the two small bags, into which I had packed the essen­tials for our unknown future life, I had man­aged to squeeze in my port­able CD play­er (remem­ber those?), tiny speak­ers and a few cher­ished CDs. Such are the pri­or­it­ies of youth.

The joy of Radi­o­head broke upon Dav­id dur­ing that month — par­tic­u­larly the track “Exit Music (for a Film)”, which encap­su­lated our feel­ings as we fled the UK togeth­er. Once we were holed up in a prim­it­ive French farm­house for the year after our month on the run, this was the album that we listened to last thing at night, hold­ing onto each oth­er tightly to ward off the cold and fear. Rev­el­ling in the music, we also drew strength from the dis­sid­ent tone of the lyr­ics.

So it was with some mirth­ful incredu­lity that I yes­ter­day read on The Inter­cept that GCHQ named one of its most ini­quit­ous pro­grammes after one of the clas­sic songs from the album — “Karma Police”.

In case you missed this, the basic premise of GCHQ was to devel­op a sys­tem that could snoop on all our web searches and thereby build up a pro­file of each of our lives online — our interests, our pec­ca­dilloes, our polit­ics, our beliefs. The pro­gramme was developed between 2007 and 2008 and was deemed func­tion­al in 2009. Who knows what inform­a­tion GCHQ has sucked up about you, me, every­one, since then?

As I have said many times over the years since Snowden and who knows how many oth­ers began to expose the out-of-con­trol spy agen­cies, this is dis­pro­por­tion­ate in soi-dis­sent demo­cra­cies. It is cer­tainly not law­ful by any stretch of the ima­gin­a­tion. UK gov­ern­ment­al war­rants — which are sup­posed to reg­u­late and if neces­sary cir­cum­scribe the activ­it­ies of the spy snoop­ers — have repeatedly been egre­giously abused.

They are sup­posed to make a case for tar­geted sur­veil­lance of people sus­pec­ted of being a threat to the UK’s nation­al secur­ity or eco­nom­ic well-being. The war­rants, blindly signed by the Home or For­eign Sec­ret­ary, are not designed to author­ise the indus­tri­al inter­cep­tion of everyone’s com­mu­nic­a­tions. This is a crime, plain and simple, and someone should be held to account.

Talk­ing of crimes, after a month on the run with Dav­id, I returned (as I had always planned to do) to the UK. I knew that I would be arres­ted, purely on the grounds that I had been an MI5 officer and was Dav­id Shayler’s girl­friend and had sup­por­ted his whis­tleblow­ing activ­it­ies. In fact my law­yer, John Wadham who was the head of the UK’s civil liber­ties uni­on, Liberty, had nego­ti­ated with the police for my return to the UK and hand myself into the police for ques­tion­ing. He flew out to Bar­celona to accom­pany me back to the UK almost exactly eight­een years ago today.

Annie_arrestDes­pite the pre-agree­ments, I was arres­ted at the immig­ra­tion desk at Gatwick air­port by six burly Spe­cial Branch police officers and then driv­en by them up to the counter-ter­ror­ism inter­view room in Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don, where I was inter­rog­ated for the max­im­um six hours before being released with no charge.

The music play­ing on the radio dur­ing this drive from the air­port to my cell? Radiohead’s “Karma Police”.

One can but hope that karma will come into play. But per­haps the end­ing of “Exit Music…”  is cur­rently more per­tin­ent — we hope that you choke, that you choke.….

After all, the spies do seem to be chok­ing on an over­load of hoovered-up intel­li­gence — pretty much every “ISIS-inspired” attack in the west over the last couple of years has reportedly been car­ried out by people who have long been on the radar of the spies.  Too much inform­a­tion can indeed be bad for our secur­ity, our pri­vacy and our safety.

Exile — ExBerliner Article

My most recent art­icle for the ExBer­liner magazine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newsletter Excerpt re Edward Snowden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blast from the past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Sunday Tribune Interview, 2005

Irish Sunday Tribune, July 2005

What really went on in the secret ser­vice?

Suz­anne Breen

THEYRE 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, Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers, 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

May 2005 — The Times

MI5 kept schoolboy on its files

The partner of David Shayler reveals how a letter to the Communist Party brought its youthful author to the attention of the security services

August 2005

A BOY who wrote a let­ter to the Brit­ish Com­mun­ist Party for a school pro­ject ended up with his own MI5 file, a former Secur­ity Ser­vice officer claimed yes­ter­day.

The boy had asked for inform­a­tion for his school top­ic, but his let­ter was secretly opened by MI5 in the 1970s when the Com­mun­ist Party was still regarded as a hot­bed of sub­ver­sion, accord­ing to Annie Machon, who worked for the domest­ic intel­li­gence ser­vice from 1991 to 1996.

Ms Machon is the part­ner of Dav­id Shayler, the former MI5 officer jailed under the Offi­cial Secrets Act for dis­clos­ing inform­a­tion acquired in the ser­vice.

In a book which has been passed for pub­lic­a­tion by her former employ­ers, Ms Machon says that the schoolboy’s let­ter was copied, as was all cor­res­pond­ence to the Brit­ish Com­mun­ist Party at that time, “and used to cre­ate a PF (per­son­al file), where he was
iden­ti­fied as a ‘?com­mun­ist sym­path­iser’ ”.

On anoth­er occa­sion, a man who was divor­cing his wife wrote to MI5 claim­ing that she was involved in Com­mun­ism, and she was the sub­ject of a per­son­al file, Ms Machon claims in her book, Spies, Lies & Whis­tleblowers.

She saw the two files, among “more than a mil­lion” when work­ing at MI5, and claimed that they had been in the Secur­ity Ser­vice archives for 20 years. “Why was this inform­a­tion still avail­able to desk officers some 20 years after these indi­vidu­als had first come to atten­tion, in less than sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances?” she writes.

Mr Shayler also made alleg­a­tions about the con­tents of per­son­al Secur­ity Ser­vice files
in 1997, after he left the agency. He said that there were files on Jack Straw, Peter Man­del­son, Peter Hain, Mo Mow­lam, John Len­non and the Sex Pis­tols, among oth­ers. Mr Shayler was charged under the Offi­cial Secrets Act for dis­clos­ing oth­er secret inform­a­tion acquired when he was a serving intel­li­gence officer, and was sen­tenced at the Old Bailey
to six months in pris­on in 2002.

Ms Machon, 36, who worked in three depart­ments of MI5 — counter-sub­ver­sion, Irish ter­ror­ism and inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism — joins a rel­at­ively short list of former Secur­ity Ser­vice officers who have man­aged to write books without end­ing up in jail.

The last former MI5 officer to get clear­ance was Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, who was
Dir­ect­or-Gen­er­al of the ser­vice from 1992 to 1996.

Peter Wright, who made alleg­a­tions of bug­ging and burg­lary by the Secur­ity Ser­vice in Spycatch­er, pub­lished in 1987, got away with it by mov­ing to Tas­mania.

Ms Machon repeats alleg­a­tions made by Mr Shayler that MI6 helped to fund an assas­sin­a­tion attempt against Col­on­el Gad­dafi, the Liby­an lead­er, in 1996. It was dis­missed by Robin Cook, the former For­eign Sec­ret­ary, as “pure fantasy”.

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.

Guardian Interview 2002 — The spy who loved me

Stu­art Jef­fries of The Guard­i­an inter­viewed me in Novem­ber 2002:

The Spy who Loved Me

Annie Machon quit her job at MI5 and endured three years on the run — all for the sake of her part­ner Dav­id Shayler, who was jailed last week. She tells Stu­art Jef­fries why.

Annie Machon fell in love with a spy code­named G9A/1. It was 1991 and she had been work­ing in MI5’s counter-sub­vers­ives sec­tion for two months. “The first thing I noticed about him is that he’s leon­ine,” she says over lunch. “I think he’s drop-dead gor­geous. We’d be in sec­tion meet­ings which we’d get dragged to occa­sion­ally and told what to think. He stood out because he asked the awk­ward ques­tions. He was very clear-cut and chal­len­ging.”

G9A/1 was Dav­id Shayler, the reneg­ade Brit­ish spy who last week was sen­tenced to six months for break­ing the Offi­cial Secrets Act after leak­ing secret doc­u­ments to the press. He’s the one reg­u­larly branded as a fat, sweaty, boozy, big-mouthed trait­or. The kind of upstart who might take his mar­tini stirred rather than shaken. “Yes, that’s what they say, isn’t it?” says Machon, as she lights anoth­er cigar­ette. She exhales. “He’s noth­ing like that. Every­body loves to por­tray him as this slob from the north-east. But he’s not only a whis­tleblower try­ing to do some­thing hon­our­able. He’s also really intel­li­gent. I love him, and am very proud of him for what he did.”

Some people think you’re the brains behind Shayler. “That’s not true. When I star­ted at MI5, I went in as GD5. GD stands for gen­er­al duties. It’s very gradist. Dave went in as GD4, which meant that they were fast track­ing him. They thought he was really sharp. And they were right. In fact, he’s very sparky and great com­pany. We just clicked, basic­ally.” How did MI5 bosses feel about office romances? “They encour­aged them. They regarded those sorts of rela­tion­ships as polit­ic­ally expedi­ent, and oper­a­tion­ally quite sens­ible. There were quite a few couples at MI5.”

How did Annie Machon, a clas­sics gradu­ate from Gir­ton Col­lege, Cam­bridge, get recruited as a spook in the first place? A nudge in the quad, a glass of sherry with a shifty don? “No, I had sat the exam to be a dip­lo­mat. Then I got a let­ter.” She was impressed by the 10-month recruit­ment pro­cess. “It was very thor­ough with lots of tests and back­ground checks. It seemed like a pro­fes­sion­al organ­isa­tion. We were sup­posed to be part of the new gen­er­a­tion. People from dif­fer­ent back­grounds and dif­fer­ent exper­i­ences were sup­posed to be brought in — people who could think on their feet and think lat­er­ally. We both joined think­ing it soun­ded good for the coun­try, which sounds quite ideal­ist­ic now.”

When did scep­ti­cism set in? “Very quickly.” Machon and Shayler were employed to look for reds under the bed, but they couldn’t find any, even though they stud­ied the file on that dan­ger­ous leftwing sub­vers­ive Peter Man­del­son ever so assidu­ously. “We were basic­ally try­ing to track down old com­mun­ists, Trot­sky­ists and fas­cists, which to us seemed like a waste of time. The Ber­lin Wall had come down sev­er­al years before. We were both hor­ri­fied that dur­ing the 1992 elec­tion we were sum­mar­ising files on any­body who stood for par­lia­ment. We were also hor­ri­fied by the scale of the invest­ig­a­tions. We both argued most voci­fer­ously that we shouldn’t be doing this.”

After two years, both Machon and Shayler were moved to T-branch, where they worked on coun­ter­ing Irish ter­ror­ist threats on the main­land. “We were both doing well. We were good oper­at­ives and they wanted the best in that sec­tion. I don’t want to be egot­ist­ic­al but that was the truth.”

The pair hoped that this rel­at­ively new sec­tion would oper­ate bet­ter. “There were sev­er­al young and tal­en­ted agents who did their best. But because of man­age­ment cock-ups they couldn’t do their jobs prop­erly and peoples’ lives were lost.” What was the prob­lem? “They had all these old man­agers who had been there for donkey’s years. They were caught in the wrong era — instead of deal­ing with stat­ic tar­gets, they had a mobile threat in the IRA and they just couldn’t hack it. It was a night­mare, espe­cially because there were so many agen­cies involved — MI5, Spe­cial Branch, the RUC, GCHQ. They all had their own interests. That was why Bish­opsgate happened.” Shayler later claimed that MI5 could have stopped the 1993 IRA bomb­ing of Bish­opsgate in the City of Lon­don, which left one dead and 44 injured.

Why didn’t you leave then? “It was very easy to get into a stas­is. You have lots of friends there. But when you get to a more estab­lished sec­tion like the Middle East ter­ror­ism sec­tion and you see it’s the same, then you think about quit­ting.”

In 1995, Shayler dis­covered that MI6 had paid an agent who was involved in the plot to assas­sin­ate the Liby­an lead­er, Muam­mar Gadafy. Why was that wrong? “Apart from the immor­al­ity of it, the gen­er­al con­sensus from the intel­li­gence com­munity was that the assas­sin­a­tion of a well-estab­lished head of state by an Islam­ic fun­da­ment­al­ist in a very volat­ile area was not a good idea. It was crazy, but these bozos at MI6 wanted to have a crack at him.”

Then there was the case in which MI5 tapped a journalist’s phone. “For us, that’s what broke the camel’s back. A tap was only to be used in extremis, and this was noth­ing like that.”

Why didn’t you go quietly? “Well, oth­er officers did. In the year we left, 14 officers resigned. The aver­age fig­ure was usu­ally four. It was very scary. Dave is someone who thinks he should fight for what he believes in. And I knew what he was talk­ing about. I knew he had to have the sup­port against the massed forces of dark­ness. When you work there, the only per­son you can report some­thing to is the head of MI5 but if you’re com­plain­ing about alleged crimes on behalf of MI5, they’re not going to allow you to do that, so you’re in a Catch 22 situ­ation.”

In August 1997, Shayler sold his story to the Mail on Sunday. The day before pub­lic­a­tion the couple fled to Utrecht in Hol­land. “We left before the piece came out because they would have knocked down our doors and arres­ted Dave. I felt ter­ri­fied. But we man­aged to stay one step ahead.” Why was he the whis­tle­bower rather than you? “He had more access to what was going on — he was right in the middle of the Gadafy plot — and felt very strongly about it.”

The couple ended up in a French farm­house. “It was in the middle of nowhere. No TV, no car. For 10 months we spent every day togeth­er. He would write his nov­el dur­ing the day.” What were you doing? “I was keep­ing house. We enjoyed each other’s com­pany.” No rows? “Plenty.”

The couple tried to nego­ti­ate to return to Bri­tain without Shayler being pro­sec­uted, but with an under­tak­ing that his alleg­a­tions be offi­cially invest­ig­ated. “We got a com­plete lack of interest.” Then, dur­ing a stay in Par­is, Shayler was arres­ted in a hotel lobby. “We’d just been watch­ing Middles­brough on TV. They lost, of course. Then I didn’t see him for two months.” He spent nearly four months in La Santé, Paris’s top-secur­ity pris­on which also houses Car­los the Jack­al who used to yell “Dav­id Eng­lish!” to the reneg­ade spy from his cell. “I was bereft.” How are you going to deal with his cur­rent impris­on­ment? “I’ll just deal with it. It’s hor­rible, but I’m tough.”

A French judge ruled the extra­di­tion demand was polit­ic­ally motiv­ated and released him. The couple then ren­ted a flat in Par­is and holed up for a year. “As far as the Brit­ish author­it­ies were con­cerned, we could rot. They didn’t want us to come back. We made a little money from journ­al­ism, but this wasn’t the life we wanted.” Why in August 2000 did the spies decide to come home? “We had man­aged to nego­ti­ate a return without risk­ing months of remand. Dave thought he would be able to present his case to peers: yes, he did take £40,000 from the Mail on Sunday but that isn’t why he told the story. He nev­er got the chance. In the tri­al they tied his hands behind his back. He couldn’t say any­thing to the jury. The report­ing restric­tions were extraordin­ary.”

She vis­ited Shayler in jail for the first time on Tues­day. How was he? “He’ll be all right.” Now what? “I wait. And in the mean­time, we get our leg­al case togeth­er. We’re going to Europe, Brit­ish justice is use­less.”

Wouldn’t you like to put all this behind you and get on with your lives. “We will. But not yet. It could take five years to clear his name.” Machon, poised and clad in black, turns a cigar­ette in her fin­gers. “You know, when I star­ted this case I was in my 20s. Now I’m 34. I don’t think I’ll have fin­ished with it until I’m in my 40s. I wish I’d nev­er got involved with MI5. I wouldn’t touch them with a barge­pole if I had my time again.” I leave Machon alone at a café table writ­ing a let­ter to the man no longer code­named G9A/1.