Donald Trump v the Spooks

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News on 16 Janu­ary 2017.

The clash between plu­to­crat­ic Pres­id­ent-elect Trump and the CIA is shap­ing up to be the heavy-weight prize fight of the cen­tury, and Trump at least is approach­ing it with all the enter­tain­ing bom­bast of Mohammed Ali at the top of his game. Rather than fol­low­ing the tra­di­tion of doing dirty polit­ic­al deals in dark corners, more com­monly known as fix­ing the match, Trump has come out swinging in the full glare of the media.

In that corner we have a deal-mak­ing, bil­lion­aire “man of the people” who, to European sens­ib­il­it­ies at least, reputedly espouses some of the mad­der US domest­ic obses­sions and yet has seemed to offer hope to many aggrieved Amer­ic­ans. How­ever, it is his pro­fessed pos­i­tion on build­ing a rap­proche­ment with Rus­sia and cooper­at­ing with Moscow to sort out the Syr­i­an mess that caught my atten­tion and that of many oth­er inde­pend­ent com­ment­at­ors inter­na­tion­ally.

In the oppos­ite corner his oppon­ents have pushed the CIA into the ring to deliv­er the knock-out blow, but this has yet to land.  Des­pite jab after failed jab, Trump keeps evad­ing the blows and comes rat­tling back against all the odds. One has to admire the guy’s foot­work.

So who are the oppon­ents ranged behind the CIA, yelling encour­age­ment through the ropes? The obvi­ous cul­prits include the US mil­it­ary indus­tri­al com­plex, whose bot­tom line relies on an era of unend­ing war. As jus­ti­fic­a­tion for extract­ing bil­lions — even tril­lions — of dol­lars from Amer­ic­an tax­pay­ers, there was a need for fright­en­ing vil­lains such as Al Qaeda and, even more so, the head chop­pers of ISIS.  How­ever, since the Rus­si­an inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia in 2015, those vil­lains no longer packed so scary a punch, so a more endur­ing vil­lain, like Emmanuel Gold­stein, the prin­cip­al enemy in George Orwell’s “1984”, was required.  Rus­sia was the obvi­ous new choice, the old favour­ite from the Cold War play book.

The west­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies have a ves­ted interest in etern­al enemies to ensure both etern­al fund­ing and etern­al power, hence the CIA’s entry into the fight. As former Brit­ish MP and long-time peace act­iv­ist George Gal­lo­way so elo­quently said in a recent inter­view, an unholy alli­ance is now being formed between the “war party” in the US, the mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al-intel­li­gence com­plex and those who pre­vi­ously would have pub­licly spurned such accom­plices: Amer­ic­an pro­gress­ives and their tra­di­tion­al host, the Demo­crat­ic Party.

Yet, if the DNC had not done its best to rig the primar­ies in favour of Hil­lary Clin­ton, then per­haps we would not be in this pos­i­tion. Bernie Sanders would now be the Pres­id­ent-elect.

These estab­lish­ment forces have also revealed to the wider world a fact long known but largely dis­missed as con­spir­acy the­ory by the cor­por­ate main­stream media, that the two-party sys­tem in both the US and the UK is a sham. In fact, we are gov­erned by a glob­al­ised élite, work­ing in its own interest while ignor­ing ours. The Demo­crats, openly dis­gruntled by Hil­lary Clinton’s elec­tion loss and being seen to jump into bed so quickly with the spooks and the war­mon­gers, have laid this real­ity bare.

In fact, respec­ted US invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist Robert Parry recently wrote that an intel­li­gence con­tact admit­ted to him before the elec­tion that the intel­li­gence agen­cies did not like either of the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. This may go some way to explain­ing the FBI’s inter­ven­tion in the run up to the elec­tion against Hil­lary Clin­ton, as well as the CIA’s attempts to de-legit­im­ise Trump’s vic­tory after­wards.

Wheth­er that was indeed the case, the CIA has cer­tainly held back no punches since Trump’s elec­tion. First the evid­ence-lite asser­tion that it was the Rus­si­ans who hacked the DNC emails and leaked them to Wikileaks: then the fake news about Rus­sia hack­ing the vot­ing com­puters; that then morph­ed into the Rus­si­ans “hacked the elec­tion” itself; then they “hacked” into the US elec­tric grid via a Ver­mont util­ity.  All this without a shred of fact-based evid­ence provided, but Obama’s expul­sion of 35 Rus­si­an dip­lo­mats last month solid­i­fied this dubi­ous real­ity in Amer­ic­ans’ minds.

All this has so far cul­min­ated, of course, in the “dirty dossier” alleg­a­tions last week about Trump, which he has rightly knocked down — it was des­per­ately poor stuff.

This last item, from a Brit­ish per­spect­ive, is par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing. It appears that a Wash­ing­ton dirt-dig­ging com­pany was hired by a Repub­lic­an rival to Trump to unearth any poten­tial Rus­si­an scan­dals dur­ing the primar­ies; once Trump had won the nom­in­a­tion this dirt-dig­ging job­bery was then taken over by a Demo­crat sup­port­er of Hil­lary Clin­ton. The anti-Trump invest­ig­a­tion was then sub-con­trac­ted to an alleged former Brit­ish spy, an ex-MI6 man named Chris­toph­er Steele.

Much has already been writ­ten about Steele and the com­pany, much of it con­tra­dict­ory as no doubt befits the life of a former spy. But it is a stand­ard career tra­ject­ory for insiders to move on to cor­por­ate, mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies, and this is what Steele appears to have done suc­cess­fully in 2009.  Of course much is pre­dic­ated on main­tain­ing good work­ing rela­tions with your former employ­ers.

That is the aspect that interests me most — how close a link­age did he indeed retain with his former employ­ers after he left MI6 in 2009 to set up his own private spy com­pany? The answer is import­ant because com­pan­ies such has his can also be used as cut-outs for “plaus­ible deni­ab­il­ity” by offi­cial state spies.

Of course, I’m not sug­gest­ing that happened in this case, but Steele reportedly remained on good terms with MI6 and was well thought of.  For a man who had not been sta­tioned in Rus­sia for over 20 years, it would per­haps have been nat­ur­al for him to turn to old chums for use­ful con­nec­tions.

But this ques­tion is of extreme import­ance at a crit­ic­al junc­ture for the UK; if indeed MI6 was com­pli­cit or even aware of this dirt dig­ging, as it seems it might have been, then that is a huge dip­lo­mat­ic prob­lem for the government’s attempts to devel­op a strong work­ing rela­tion­ship with the US, post-Brexit. If MI6’s sticky fin­gers were on this case, then the organ­isa­tion has done the pre­cise oppos­ite of its offi­cial task — “to pro­tect nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being of the UK”.

MI6 and its US intel­li­gence chums need to remem­ber their des­ig­nated and legis­lated roles with­in a demo­cracy — to serve the gov­ern­ment and pro­tect nation­al secur­ity by gath­er­ing intel­li­gence, assess­ing it impar­tially and mak­ing recom­mend­a­tions on which the gov­ern­ment of the day will choose to act or not as the case may be.

The spies are not there to fake intel­li­gence to suit the agenda of a par­tic­u­lar régime, as happened in the run-up to the illeg­al Iraq war, nor are they there to endem­ic­ally spy on their own pop­u­la­tions (and the rest of the world, as we know post-Snowden) in a point­less hunt for sub­vers­ive activ­ity, which often trans­lates into legit­im­ate polit­ic­al act­iv­ism and acts of indi­vidu­al expres­sion.

And most espe­cially the intel­li­gence agen­cies should not be try­ing to sub­vert demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted gov­ern­ments. And yet this is what the CIA and a former seni­or MI6 officer, along with their power­ful polit­ic­al allies, appear to be now attempt­ing against Trump.

If I were an Amer­ic­an I would be wary of many of Trump’s domest­ic policies. As a European con­cerned with great­er peace rather than increas­ing war, I can only applaud his con­struct­ive approach towards Rus­sia and his offer to coöper­ate with Moscow to staunch the blood­shed in the Middle East.

That, of course, may be nub of his fight with the CIA and oth­er ves­ted interests who want Rus­sia as the new bogey­man.  But I would bet that Trump takes the CIA’s slurs per­son­ally. After all, giv­en the ugli­ness of the accus­a­tions and the lack of proof, who would not?

So, this is a world cham­pi­on­ship heavy-weight fight, over who gets to hold office and wield power, an area where the US and UK intel­li­gence agen­cies have con­sid­er­able exper­i­ence in rig­ging matches and knock­ing out oppon­ents. Think, for instance, Ira­ni­an Prime Min­is­ter Mohammad Mossad­eq in 1953; Chilean Pres­id­ent Sal­vador Allende in 1973; Iraqi lead­er Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003; and Liby­an lead­er Muam­mar Gad­dafi in 2011. Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-Assad in Syr­ia is punch-drunk but still stand­ing, thanks to some good corner sup­port from Rus­sia.

How­ever, it would appear that Trump is a stranger to the spies’ self-defined Queens­bury Rules in which tar­gets are deemed para­noid if they try to alert the pub­lic to the planned “régime change” or they become easy tar­gets by stay­ing silent. By con­trast, Trump appears shame­less and pug­na­cious. Street-smart and self-pro­mot­ing, he seems com­fort­able with bare-knuckle fight­ing.

This match has already gone into the middle rounds with Trump still boun­cing around on his toes and rel­ish­ing the fight. It would be iron­ic if out of this nasty prize fight came great­er world peace and safely for us all.

News debate on Russian “hacking” allegations

On 9 Janu­ary RT hos­ted a live streamed debate on its news show about the US intel­li­gence report that attemp­ted to prove that Rus­sia had “hacked” the US elec­tion.

Also in the debate were former CIA Dir­ect­or, James Wool­sey, and former CIA intel­li­gence officer, Larry John­son.

Here it is:

RT Debate about Intel­li­gence Report into alleged ‘Rus­si­an hack­ing’ (Streamed Live) from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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:

The US Election

No doubt you, as well as I, have been watch­ing the 2016 USA pres­id­en­tial elec­tion with a sense of appalled fas­cin­a­tion — has ever a cam­paign been fought so viciously in mod­ern West­ern polit­ics?

But the Amer­ic­ans have made their choice (between the dev­il and the deep blue sea), and will have to live with it. I hope it works out well for them.

How­ever, my focus is more on the implic­a­tions for the rest of the world. As a post-Brexit Brit based in Brus­sels, these are many-layered.

From the Brexit per­spect­ive the Trump vic­tory could be good for the UK — he appears to be more sym­path­et­ic to the so-called “spe­cial rela­tion­ship” than Obama.  He is also prob­ably more likely to try to cut deals with Rus­sia over Ukraine and the ongo­ing war in Syr­ia than the ultra-hawk­ish Hil­lary Clin­ton could ever bring her­self to do.

This can only be good for Europe, as the sanc­tions put in place after the US-backed Ukraine coup in 2014 are hurt­ing European trade.  Yet again, Europe has been caught between Rus­sia and the USA.

Also, let us not for­get the infam­ous quote from Assist­ant Sec­ret­ary of State, Vic­tor­ia Nuland, who said in 2014 “fuck the EU”, when it came to decision mak­ing in plan­ning the Ukrain­i­an coup.

But my main point is the European establishment’s response to the Trump pres­id­en­tial vic­tory. And let us not deceive ourselves here — this was an emphat­ic vic­tory. The Amer­ic­an people wanted a can­did­ate for change, for a push-back against the per­ceived Wash­ing­ton polit­ic­al élite.

Per­haps the elec­tion could have swung in anoth­er dir­ec­tion towards anoth­er can­did­ate for change — if Bernie Sanders had been the Demo­crat nom­in­ee.  Alas, as we know from the DNC files leaked to and pub­lished by Wikileaks, his cam­paign was under­mined by his own party in favour of Hil­lary Clin­ton, while pro­mot­ing Trump as the Repub­lic­an can­did­ate that Clin­ton could beat.

Hillary_Clinton_Pant_Suits_2016Hubris is nev­er a good look, just like “pant” suits.

What pains me most is the European main­stream media’s report­ing of Trump’s vic­tory: “lib­er­al demo­cracy” is under threat no less, and pop­u­lism is on the rise.

How­ever, those most wor­ried about “lib­er­al demo­cracy” tend to be the tech­no­crat­ic Euro­crats such as European Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Don­ald Tusk and European Com­mis­sion Pres­id­ent Jean-Claude Jun­ck­er.  And they are the very people try­ing to ram through the thor­oughly *neo*-liberal agen­das of CETA and  the Trans-Atlantic Trade Invest­ment Part­ner­ship — oth­er­wise known as TTIP, widely res­isted across Europe as a rape of our demo­cra­cies.

TTIP, if passed, would elim­in­ate any mean­ing­ful nation­al sov­er­eignty, repla­cing it with a glob­al cor­por­at­ist hege­mony that could sue our nation­al gov­ern­ments if they passed laws that could con­ceiv­ably — some­time in the future — pass laws that could — con­ceiv­ably in the future — inhib­it the profit-mak­ing cap­ab­il­it­ies of the cor­por­a­tions.

That, and nation­al asset-strip­ping, is the pure defin­i­tion of neo-lib­er­al­ism, and that is what our European over­lords want to enact.  Yet, at the same time, they are inveigh­ing against the death of “lib­er­al demo­cracy” after the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump.

Am I miss­ing some­thing here?

Defending Human Rights in a Digital Age

This is an (abbre­vi­ated) ver­sion of my con­tri­bu­tion to a pan­el dis­cus­sion about human rights in a digit­al age, hos­ted last Decem­ber by Pro­fess­or Mari­anne Frank­lin and Gold­smiths Uni­ver­sity in Lon­don:

Gold­smiths Uni­ver­sity Pri­vacy Dis­cus­sion, Decem­ber 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Parliamentary Evidence on the UK Investigatory Powers Bill

My writ­ten evid­ence to the Scru­tiny Com­mit­tee in the UK Houses of Par­lia­ment that is cur­rently examin­ing the much-dis­puted Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Bill (IP):

1. My name is Annie Machon and I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, com­monly referred to as MI5, from early 1991 until late 1996. I resigned to help my part­ner at the time, fel­low intel­li­gence officer Dav­id Shayler, expose a num­ber of instances of crime and incom­pet­ence we had wit­nessed dur­ing our time in the ser­vice.

2. I note that the draft IP Bill repeatedly emphas­ises the import­ance of demo­crat­ic and judi­cial over­sight of the vari­ous cat­egor­ies of intrus­ive intel­li­gence gath­er­ing by estab­lish­ing an Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Com­mis­sion­er as well as sup­port­ing Judi­cial Com­mis­sion­ers. How­ever, I am con­cerned about the real and mean­ing­ful applic­a­tion of this over­sight.

3. While in the Ser­vice in the 1990s we were gov­erned by the terms of the Inter­cep­tion of Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act 1985 (IOCA), the pre­curs­or to RIPA, which provided for a sim­il­ar sys­tem of applic­a­tions for a war­rant and min­is­teri­al over­sight.

4. I would like to sub­mit evid­ence that the sys­tem did not work and could be manip­u­lated from the inside.

5. I am aware of at least two instances of this dur­ing my time in the ser­vice, which were cleared for pub­lic­a­tion by MI5 in my 2005 book about the Shayler case, “Spies Lies, and Whis­tleblowers”, so my dis­cuss­ing them now is not in breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act. I would be happy to provide fur­ther evid­ence, either writ­ten or in per­son, about these abuses.

6. My con­cern about this draft Bill is that while the over­sight pro­vi­sions seem to be strengthened, with approv­al neces­sary from both the Sec­ret­ary of State and a Judi­cial Com­mis­sion­er, the interi­or pro­cess of applic­a­tion for war­rants will still remain opaque and open to manip­u­la­tion with­in the intel­li­gence agen­cies.

7. The applic­a­tion pro­cess for a war­rant gov­ern­ing inter­cep­tion or inter­fer­ence involved a case being made in writ­ing by the intel­li­gence officer in charge of an invest­ig­a­tion. This then went through four lay­ers of man­age­ment, with all the usu­al redac­tions and fin­ess­ing, before a final sum­mary was draf­ted by H Branch, signed by the DDG, and then dis­patched to the Sec­ret­ary of State. So the min­is­ter was only ever presen­ted with was a sum­mary of a sum­mary of a sum­mary of a sum­mary of the ori­gin­al intel­li­gence case.

8. Addi­tion­ally, the ori­gin­al intel­li­gence case could be erro­neous and mis­lead­ing. The pro­cess of writ­ing the war­rant applic­a­tion was merely a tick box exer­cise, and officers would routinely note that such intel­li­gence could only be obtained by such intrus­ive meth­ods, rather than explor­ing all open source options first. The reval­id­a­tion pro­cess could be even more cava­lier.

9. When prob­lems with this sys­tem were voiced, officers were told to not rock the boat and just fol­low orders. Dur­ing the annu­al vis­it by the Intel­li­gence Inter­cept Com­mis­sion­er, those with con­cerns were banned from meet­ing him.

10. Thus I have con­cerns about the real­ist­ic power of the over­sight pro­vi­sions writ­ten into this Bill and would urge an addi­tion­al pro­vi­sion. This would estab­lish an effect­ive chan­nel whereby officers with con­cerns can give evid­ence dir­ectly and in con­fid­ence to the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Com­mis­sion­er in the expect­a­tion that a prop­er invest­ig­a­tion will be con­duc­ted and with no reper­cus­sions to their careers inside the agen­cies. Here is a link to a short video I did for Oxford Uni­ver­sity three years ago out­lining these pro­pos­als:

11. This, in my view, would be a win-win scen­ario for all con­cerned. The agen­cies would have a chance to improve their work prac­tices, learn from mis­takes, and bet­ter pro­tect nation­al secur­ity, as well as avoid­ing the scan­dal and embar­rass­ment of any future whis­tleblow­ing scan­dals; the officers with eth­ic­al con­cerns would not be placed in the invi­di­ous pos­i­tion of either becom­ing com­pli­cit in poten­tially illeg­al acts by “just fol­low­ing orders” or risk­ing the loss of their careers and liberty by going pub­lic about their con­cerns.

12. I would also like to raise the pro­por­tion­al­ity issue. It strikes me that bulk inter­cept must surely be dis­pro­por­tion­ate with­in a func­tion­ing and free demo­cracy, and indeed can actu­ally harm nation­al secur­ity. Why? Because the use­ful, indeed cru­cial, intel­li­gence on tar­gets and their asso­ci­ates is lost in the tsunami of avail­able inform­a­tion. Indeed this seems to have been the con­clu­sion of every inquiry about the recent spate of “lone wolf” and ISIS-inspired attacks across the West – the tar­gets were all vaguely known to the author­it­ies but resources were spread too thinly.

13. In fact all that bulk col­lec­tion seems to provide is con­firm­a­tion after the fact of a suspect’s involve­ment in a spe­cif­ic incid­ent, which is surely spe­cific­ally police evid­en­tial work. Yet the jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the invas­ive inter­cept and inter­fer­ence meas­ures laid out in the Bill itself is to gath­er vital inform­a­tion ahead of an attack in order to pre­vent it – the very defin­i­tion of intel­li­gence. How is this pos­sible if the sheer scale of bulk col­lec­tion drowns out the vital nug­gets of intel­li­gence?

14. Finally, I would like to raise the point that the phrase “nation­al secur­ity” has nev­er been defined for leg­al pur­poses in the UK. Surely this should be the very first step neces­sary before for­mu­lat­ing the pro­posed IP Bill? Until we have such a leg­al defin­i­tion, how can we for­mu­late new and intrus­ive laws in the name of pro­tect­ing an undefined and neb­u­lous concept, and how can we judge that the new law will thereby be pro­por­tion­ate with­in a demo­cracy?

Re:publica — The War on Concepts

This week I made my first vis­it to the re:publica annu­al geek­fest in Ber­lin to do a talk called “The War on Con­cepts”. In my view this, to date, includes the four wars — on drugs, ter­ror, the inter­net, and whis­tleblowers. No doubt the num­ber will con­tin­ue to rise.

Here’s the video:

republica_2015_Annie_Machon_The_War_on_Concepts from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

No encryption? How very rude.

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

It struck me today that when I email a new con­tact I now reflex­ively check to see if they are using PGP encryp­tion.  A hap­pily sur­pris­ing num­ber are doing so these days, but most people would prob­ably con­sider my circle of friends and acquaint­ance to be eclect­ic at the very least, if not down­right eccent­ric, but then that’s prob­ably why I like them.

There are still alarm­ing num­bers who are not using PGP though, par­tic­u­larly in journ­al­ist circles, and I have to admit that when this hap­pens I do feel a tad miffed, as if some basic mod­ern cour­tesy is being breached.

It’s not that I even expect every­body to use encryp­tion — yet — it’s just that I prefer to have the option to use it and be able to have the pri­vacy of my own com­mu­nic­a­tions at least con­sidered. After all I am old enough to remem­ber the era of let­ter writ­ing, and I always favoured a sealed envel­ope to a post­card.

And before you all leap on me with cries of “using only PGP is no guar­an­tee of secur­ity.…” I do know that you need a suite of tools to have a fight­ing chance of real pri­vacy in this NSA-sat­ur­ated age: open source soft­ware, PGP, TOR, Tails, OTR, old hard­ware, you name it.  But I do think the wide-spread adop­tion of PGP sets a good example and gets more people think­ing about these wider issues.  Per­haps more of us should insist on it before com­mu­nic­at­ing fur­ther.

Why is this in my mind at the moment?  Well, I am cur­rently work­ing with an old friend, Simon Dav­ies, the founder of Pri­vacy Inter­na­tion­al and the Big Broth­er Awards. He cut his first PGP key in 2000, but then left it to with­er on the vine. As we are in the pro­cess of set­ting up a new pri­vacy ini­ti­at­ive called Code Red (more of which next week) it seemed imper­at­ive for him to set a good example and “start using” again.

Any­way, with the help of one of the god­fath­ers of the Ber­lin crypto­parties, I am happy to report that the fath­er of the pri­vacy move­ment can now ensure your pri­vacy if you wish to com­mu­nic­ate with him.

I am proud to say that my aware­ness of PGP goes back even fur­ther.  The first time I heard of the concept was in 1998 while I was liv­ing in hid­ing in a remote farm­house in cent­ral France, on the run from MI5, with my then part­ner, Dav­id Shayler.

Our only means of com­mu­nic­a­tion with the out­side world was a com­puter and a dial-up con­nec­tion and Dav­id went on a steep learn­ing curve in all things geek to ensure a degree of pri­vacy.  He helped build his own web­site (sub­sequently hacked, pre­sum­ably by GCHQ or the NSA as it was a soph­ist­ic­ated attack by the stand­ards of the day) and also installed the newly-avail­able PGP. People com­plain now of the dif­fi­culties of installing encryp­tion, but way back then it was the equi­val­ent of scal­ing Mount Everest after a few light strolls in the park to limber up.  But he man­aged it.

Now, of course, it is rel­at­ively easy, espe­cially if you take the time to attend a Crypto­party — and there will be inev­it­ably be one hap­pen­ing near you some place soon.

Crypto­parties began in late 2012 on the ini­ti­at­ive of Ash­er Wolf in Aus­tralia.  The concept spread rap­idly, and after Snowden went pub­lic in May 2013, accel­er­ated glob­ally. Indeed, there have been vari­ous reports about the “Snowden Effect”.  Only last week there was an art­icle in the Guard­i­an news­pa­per say­ing that 72% of Brit­ish adults are now con­cerned about online pri­vacy. I hope the 72% are tak­ing advant­age of these geek gath­er­ings.

The US-based comedi­an, John Oliv­er, also recently aired an inter­view with Edward Snowden.  While this was slightly pain­ful view­ing for any whis­tleblower — Oliv­er had done a vox pop in New York that he showed to Snowden, where most inter­viewees seemed unaware of him and uncar­ing about pri­vacy — there was a per­cept­ible shift of opin­ion when the issue of, shall we say, pic­tures of a sens­it­ive nature were being inter­cep­ted.

Offi­cially this spy pro­gramme is called Optic Nerve, an issue that many of us have been dis­cuss­ing to some effect over the last year.  In the Oliv­er inter­view this trans­mog­ri­fied into “the dick pic pro­gramme”.  Well, whatever gets the mes­sage out there effect­ively.… and it did.

We all have things we prefer to keep private — be it dick pics, bank accounts, going to the loo, talk­ing to our doc­tor, our sex lives, or even just talk­ing about fam­ily gos­sip over the phone.  This is not about hav­ing any­thing to hide, but most of us do have an innate sense of pri­vacy around our per­son­al issues and deal­ings and this is all now lost to us, as Edward Snowden has laid bare.

As I have also said before, there are wider soci­et­al implic­a­tions too — if we feel we are being watched in what we watch, read, say, write, organ­ise, and con­duct our rela­tion­ships, then we start to self-cen­sor.  And this is indeed already anoth­er of the quan­ti­fied Snowden effects. This is dele­ter­i­ous to the free flow of inform­a­tion and the cor­rect func­tion­ing of demo­crat­ic soci­et­ies.  This is pre­cisely why the right to pri­vacy is one of the core prin­ciples in the 1948 Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights.

Les­sons had then been learned from the Nazi book burn­ings and the Gestapo spy state, and pri­vacy was recog­nised as a pre-requis­ite of open demo­cracy. Yet now we see seni­or and sup­posedly well-informed US politi­cians call­ing for the mod­ern equi­val­ent of book burn­ings and fail­ing to rein in the glob­al abuses of the NSA.

How quickly the les­sons of his­tory can be for­got­ten and how care­lessly we can cast aside the hard-won rights of our ancest­ors.

Edward Snowden, at great per­son­al risk, gave us the neces­sary inform­a­tion to for­mu­late a push back. At the very least we can have enough respect for the sac­ri­fices he made and for the rights of our fel­low human beings to take basic steps to pro­tect both our own and their pri­vacy.

So please start using open source encryp­tion at the very least. It would be rude not to.

Turkey and the German spy scandal — RT

Inform­a­tion has emerged recently that the Ger­man spy agency, the BND, has been caught out bug­ging Hil­lary Clin­ton, John Kerry, and now the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment.

Today I did an inter­view on RT on the sub­ject.  Intriguingly, it appears this inform­a­tion was part of the cache of doc­u­ments an alleged mole in the BND sold to his US spy­mas­ters.

So what is really going on here?

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RT Breaking the Set — interview about spies with Abby Martin

Here’s my inter­view from yes­ter­day on RT’s excel­lent Break­ing the Set show with host, Abby Mar­tin.  We dis­cussed all things spy, sur­veil­lance, Snowden, over­sight, and pri­vacy.  A fun and lively inter­view!  Thanks, Abby.

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The Year of Edward Snowden

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge. Also on Con­sor­ti­um News, Huff­ing­ton Post, and the Sam Adams Award web­site.

A year ago I stumbled  across a story about a wor­ry­ing new sur­veil­lance pro­gramme developed by the NSA: Prism. While nobody was iden­ti­fied as the source of the dis­clos­ure, I was awe­struck by the bravery of this unknown per­son.

At that time the Obama admin­is­tra­tion had been waging an aggress­ive war on whis­tleblowers: ex-CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s tor­ture pro­gramme, was lan­guish­ing in pris­on while the tor­tur­ers went free; Kirk Wiebe, Wil­li­am Bin­ney and Thomas Drake of the NSA had nar­rowly escaped pro­sec­u­tion for expos­ing NSA mal­feas­ance — indeed, des­pite hav­ing gone through all the approved chan­nels, Drake had faced a 35-year pris­on sen­tence; and of course the kangaroo court had just star­ted to try Chelsea Man­ning for her expos­ure of US war crimes. Inev­it­ably, it is the whis­tleblower Man­ning who is now serving a 35 year stretch in pris­on, not the war crim­in­als.

Pres­id­ent Obama has used and abused the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers dur­ing his years in the White House more times than all his pre­de­cessors put togeth­er, while at the same time allow­ing a bone fide spy ring — the Rus­si­an illeg­als exposed in 2010 — to return home. This para­noid hunt for the “insider threat” has been going on since at least 2008, as we know from doc­u­ments leaked to Wikileaks in 2010.

Against this back­ground, fully aware of the hideous risks he was tak­ing and the pro­spect of the rest of his life behind bars, a young man stepped for­ward. Four days after the ini­tial Prism dis­clos­ure, Edward Snowden announced to the world that he was the source of the story and many more to come. He was clear then about his motiv­a­tion and he remains clear now in the few inter­views he has done since: what he had seen on the inside of the NSA caused him huge con­cern. The Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, along with its equi­val­ent agen­cies across the world, was con­struct­ing a glob­al sur­veil­lance net­work that not only threatened  the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, but also eroded the pri­vacy of all the world’s cit­izens.

The glob­al sur­veil­lance state wanted to “mas­ter the inter­net”, as anoth­er dis­clos­ure proved, and the UK’s GCHQ stepped up to the plate. As increas­ing num­bers of us con­duct aspects of our lives over the inter­net (be it bank­ing, health, social lives, organ­isa­tions, act­iv­ism, rela­tion­ships) this grow­ing lack of pri­vacy strikes at the very root of demo­cracy. Pri­vacy was enshrined as a basic human right in the UN Declar­a­tion in 1948 pre­cisely because without it we are vul­ner­able to the encroach­ments and abuses of the state. What Snowden has dis­closed would the the Stasi’s wet dream and goes far bey­ond the dystop­ic hor­rors of George Orwell’s nov­el “1984”.

So what did Snowden dis­close?  Prism was only the start, and that was bad enough — a pro­gramme to scoop up all our metadata: whom we’re in con­tact with, for how long, what we’re read­ing, what we’re view­ing. NSA apo­lo­gists say that this is not invas­ive, it is not look­ing at the con­tents of com­mu­nic­a­tions. I can assure your that metadata is intel­li­gence gold dust. It can provide a far more detailed over­view of a person’s life than any indi­vidu­al com­mu­nic­a­tion often can.

But it gets worse. Then came Tem­pora and asso­ci­ated doc­u­ments that dis­closed that the UK’s GCHQ was main­lin­ing inform­a­tion from the transat­lantic fibre optic cables, which affected all European cit­izens, as well as dis­play­ing how GCHQ was pros­ti­tut­ing itself to the NSA for money and put­ting NSA object­ives above the pri­or­it­ies of the UK gov­ern­ment.

And then XKey­score, enthu­si­ast­ic­ally used by Germany’s BND, pre­sum­ably without the know­ledge of its polit­ic­al mas­ters.  There have been many more: Brazil’s Pet­ro­bras oil com­pany, the French tele­phone net­work, char­it­ies, the Mus­cu­lar access point and the massive Fas­cia data­base, which con­tains tril­lions of device-loc­a­tion records.…. Where to stop?

This year Britain’s Joint Threat Research Intel­li­gence Group was using Squeaky Dol­phin’s real-time mon­it­or­ing of social media net­works, and the bulk col­lec­tion of private web­cam images via the Optic Nerve pro­gramme.

This last most grimly does away with the “done noth­ing wrong, noth­ing to hide” argu­ment. In this era of fam­il­ies liv­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and long dis­tance rela­tion­ships, video skype is increas­ingly used to stay in con­tact with loved ones.  And this con­tact can be some­what intim­ate at times between couples. On video. Any­one who has ever used skype for such pur­poses must surely be feel­ing viol­ated?

Out of this mor­ass of spy­ing came moments of per­son­al annoy­ance for west­ern politi­cians, not least the inform­a­tion that Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was also being tapped, as were those of numer­ous oth­er politi­cians. Which rather blows out of the water the much-abused argu­ment that all this sur­veil­lance is to stop ter­ror­ists. On what plan­et would the NSA spooks need to live to ser­i­ously think that Merkel could be deemed a ter­ror­ist?

All these dis­clos­ures are of the gravest pub­lic interest. Yet how have west­ern politi­cians reacted?  In the usu­al way — shoot the mes­sen­ger. All the stand­ard li(n)es have been trot­ted out by the spies: Snowden was too juni­or to know what he is talk­ing about, and was  “just” a con­trac­ted sys­tems admin­is­trat­or (this line says more the ignor­ance of the politi­cians about all things tech than any­thing about Snowden’s job); that Snowden is a trait­or for flee­ing to Rus­sia, when in fact he was trapped there by the USA with­draw­ing his pass­port while in trans­it to Lat­in Amer­ica; or that he should “man up” and return to the US to stand tri­al. There were even appar­ently calls from the spies for him to be extraju­di­cially murdered.

Des­pite this, his dis­clos­ures have res­ul­ted in con­gres­sion­al hear­ings in the US, where seni­or spooks have been caught out lying about the effic­acy of these spy pro­grammes.  A US fed­er­al judge has declared the NSA’s activ­it­ies uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, and minor reforms are under­way to pro­tect the rights of US cit­izens with­in their own coun­try.

Which is a start.  How­ever, that still leaves the rest of us liv­ing under the bale­ful gaze of the NSA and its vas­sals.

The Brit­ish response has been largely muted, with politi­cians imme­di­ately assur­ing the grate­ful cit­izens of the UK that everything done by the spies is leg­al and pro­por­tion­ate, when in fact it was mani­festly not. Nor is this any con­sol­a­tion for the rest of Europe’s cit­izens — after all, why should the Brit­ish For­eign Sec­ret­ary be able to take it upon him­self to author­ise inter­cept pro­grammes such as Tem­pora that sweep up the com­mu­nic­a­tions of an entire con­tin­ent?

Press dis­cus­sion of Snowden’s dis­clos­ures in the UK has been largely muted because of a cen­sor­ship notice slapped on the media, while the Guard­i­an news­pa­per that helped to break the story had its hard disks smashed up by GCHQ.

Oth­er coun­tries have dis­played a more robust response, with Brazil plan­ning to build its own transat­lantic cables to Europe to avoid the Tem­pora pro­gramme, and in Ger­many people have been demand­ing that the con­sti­tu­tion be upheld and pri­vacy ensured against the Amer­ic­an sur­veil­lance behemoth.

The European par­lia­ment­ary Civil Liber­ties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) com­mit­tee has held months-long hear­ings with evid­ence from tech experts, whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers about what it should do to pro­tect EU cit­izens from the pred­a­tions of the US.  Edward Snowden him­self gave a state­ment. This is all well and good, but it would be more help­ful if they could give Snowden asylum in Europe and also put in place some mean­ing­ful meas­ures to pro­tect our rights one year on — in fact, all they would need to do is enact the pro­vi­sions of the European parliament’s own July 2001 report into the Ech­el­on fiasco.

Ech­el­on, some of you may remem­ber, was a glob­al proto-sur­veil­lance net­work, where the intel­li­gence agen­cies of the US, UK, New Zea­l­and, Aus­tralia, and Canada (now called Five Eyes) could all share product and sub­vert over­sight meas­ures in each oth­ers’ coun­tries. In 2001 the EU recom­men­ded that Europe devel­op its own inter­net infra­struc­ture and move away from its depend­ency on US cor­por­ate pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware.  All good sug­ges­tions, but all too soon for­got­ten after 9/11 and the rush to the “war on ter­ror”.

One year on from Snowden I would sug­gest that these meas­ures should indeed be imple­men­ted. The European Par­lia­ment needs to take action now and show its 500 mil­lion cit­izens that it is ser­i­ous about pro­tect­ing their rights rather than pan­der­ing to the demands of the US gov­ern­ment and its cor­por­ate spon­sors.

So, on this anniversary, I want to salute the bravery of Edward Snowden. His con­scious cour­age has giv­en us all a fight­ing chance against a cor­por­ate-indus­tri­al-intel­li­gence com­plex that is run­ning amok across the world.   I hope that we can all find with­in us an answer­ing cour­age to do what is right and indeed take back our rights. His bravery and sac­ri­fice must not be in vain.

CIA Chief visits Ukraine — Why?

My recent inter­view on RT about Ukraine and inter­ven­tion­ism, both West and East:

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US mis­cal­cu­lated will of Ukrain­i­an people from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Oxford Union Society Debate

I recently had the pleas­ure of tak­ing part in a debate at the Oxford Uni­on Soci­ety.  I spoke to the pro­pos­i­tion that “this house believes Edward Snowden is a hero”, along with US journ­al­ist Chris Hedges, NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, and former UK gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Chris Huhne.

The cham­ber was full and I am happy to report that we won the debate by 212 votes to 171, and that Oxford stu­dents do indeed see Edward Snowden as a hero.  Here is my speech:

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Oxford Uni­on Soci­ety Debate from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

BBC “World Have Your Say” debate

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

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