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 me 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 AltVoices.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 cafe table writing a letter to the man no longer codenamed G9A/1.