Former MI6 spy v Wikileaks editor: First Amendment Rights

First pub­lished on RT Op-Ed on 24 August 2018.

While it is all too easy to become frus­trated and annoyed by what passes for news in the leg­acy media these days, this art­icle in the Daily Mail did arouse my par­tic­u­lar ire early one morn­ing – and in this instance no par­tic­u­lar blame attaches to the news­pa­per, it is simply report­ing some unpal­at­able facts.

The gist of it is that former Brit­ish MI6 intel­li­gence officer and cur­rent mer­cen­ary spy-for-hire, Chris­toph­er Steele, author of the dis­cred­ited “Dirty Dossier” about Don­ald Trump, has been accor­ded First Amend­ment rights in a court case in the USA.

You might won­der why this art­icle caused me so much splut­ter­ing annoy­ance over my break­fast? Steele’s treat­ment is in marked con­trast to that accor­ded to Wikileaks pub­lish­er and edit­or in chief, Juli­an Assange, and the hypo­crisy is breath­tak­ing. Allow me to expound.

Chris­toph­er Steele is a Brit­ish intel­li­gence officer of pretty much my vin­tage. Accord­ing to what is avail­able pub­licly, he worked for MI6, the Brit­ish over­seas intel­li­gence gath­er­ing agency, for 22 years, serving in Rus­si­an in the early 90s and in Par­is at the end of that dec­ade – around the time that MI5 whis­tleblower, Dav­id Shayler, was imprisoned in that city pending a failed extra­di­tion case to the UK. It is prob­able that Steele would have been mon­it­or­ing us then.

After being outed as an MI6 officer in 1999 by his former col­league, Richard Tom­lin­son, he was pretty much desk-bound in Lon­don until he resigned in 2009 to set up, in the inim­it­able way of so many former spooks, a private con­sultancy that can provide plaus­ibly deni­able ser­vices to cor­por­a­tions and per­haps their former employ­ers.

Steele estab­lished just such a mer­cen­ary spy out­fit, Orbis Busi­ness Intel­li­gence, with anoth­er ex-col­league Chris Bur­rows in 2009. Orbis made its name in expos­ing cor­rup­tion at the heart of FIFA in 2015 and was there­after approached as an out-sourced part­ner by Fusion GPS – the com­pany ini­tially hired to dig dirt on pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Don­ald Trump in 2016 by one of his Repub­lic­an rivals and which then went on to dig up dirt on behalf of Hil­ary Clinton’s DNC.

The res­ult is what has become known as the “Dirty Dossier”, a grubby col­lec­tion of pruri­ent gos­sip with no real evid­ence or prop­erly sourced inform­a­tion. As a former MI6 intel­li­gence officer, Steele should be hanging his head in shame at such a shoddy and embar­rass­ingly half-baked report.

On a slightly tan­gen­tial note, there has been some spec­u­la­tion, sup­pressed in the UK at least via the D Notice cen­sor­ship sys­tem, that MI6 agent and Rus­si­an trait­or Sergei Skri­p­al, the vic­tim of the alleged Novichok pois­on­ing in the UK earli­er this year, remained in con­tact with his hand­ler Pablo Miller, who also is repor­ted to work for Orbis Busi­ness Intel­li­gence. If this were indeed the case, then it would be a logic­al assump­tion that Orbis, via Miller, might well have used Skri­p­al as one of its “reli­able sources” for the Dossier.

Des­pite all this, Steele has won a leg­al case in the USA, where he had been sued by three Rus­si­an olig­archs who claimed that the Dirty Dossier tra­duced their repu­ta­tions. And he won on the basis that his report was pro­tec­ted by First Amend­ment rights under the con­sti­tu­tion of the USA, which guar­an­tees US cit­izens the right to free­dom of expres­sion. Des­pite the fact that Steele is Brit­ish:

But Judge Anthony Epstein dis­agreed, writ­ing in his judg­ment that “advocacy on issues of pub­lic interest has the capa­city to inform pub­lic debate, and thereby fur­thers the pur­poses of the First Amend­ment, regard­less of the cit­izen­ship or res­id­ency of the speak­ers”.”

This is the nub of the issue: Steele, a former offi­cial UK intel­li­gence officer and cur­rent mer­cen­ary spy-for-hire, is gran­ted leg­al pro­tec­tion by the Amer­ic­an courts for dig­ging up and sub­sequently leak­ing what appears to be con­tro­ver­sial and defam­at­ory inform­a­tion about the cur­rent Pres­id­ent as well as vari­ous Rus­si­ans, all paid for by Trump’s polit­ic­al oppon­ents. And Steele is giv­en the full pro­tec­tion of the US leg­al sys­tem.

On the oth­er hand we have an award-win­ning journ­al­ist and pub­lish­er, Juli­an Assange, whose organ­isa­tion Wikileaks has nev­er been found to report any­thing fac­tu­ally incor­rect in over 10 years, being told that if he were to be extra­dited from his cur­rent polit­ic­al asylum in the Ecuadori­an embassy in Lon­don to face the full wrath of a venge­ful Amer­ic­an estab­lish­ment, he is not entitled to claim pro­tec­tion of the First Amend­ment because his is an Aus­trali­an cit­izen not an Amer­ic­an.

It has been an open secret for years that the US gov­ern­ment has installed a secret Grand Jury in Vir­gin­ia (the home of the CIA) to invest­ig­ate Assange and bring him to “justice” for pub­lish­ing embar­rass­ing US gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments as well as evid­ence of war crimes. There have been calls from US politi­cians for the death sen­tence, life in pris­on without parole, and even assas­sin­a­tion. The US has been scrab­bling around for years to try to find any charge it could poten­tially throw at him – hell, it will prob­ably make up a new law just for him, so des­per­ate as it is to make an example of him.

How­ever, the fake “Rus­siagate” nar­rat­ive gave the US deep state an addi­tion­al spur – against all evid­ence and Assange’s own state­ments – it alleges that “Rus­sia” hacked the DNC and Podesta emails and Assange was the con­duit to make them pub­lic. This is seen as a win-win for the US estab­lish­ment, appar­ently if erro­neously prov­ing that Rus­sia hacked the US pres­id­en­tial elec­tion and con­firm­ing that Assange runs an “non-state hos­tile intel­li­gence agency”, accord­ing to cur­rent CIA Dir­ect­or, Mike Pom­peo

Except he does not. He is an edit­or run­ning a high-tech pub­lish­ing out­fit that has caused embar­rass­ment to gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions around the world, not just Amer­ica. If he can be pro­sec­uted for pub­lish­ing inform­a­tion very much in the pub­lic interest, then all the leg­acy media feed­ing off the Wikileaks hydrant of inform­a­tion are equally vul­ner­able.

This being the case, surely he of all people requires the pro­tec­tion of the First Amend­ment in the USA? Oth­er­wise the concept that free media can hold power to account is surely dead?

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.

ITV Good Morning Britain, 13 January 2017

The role of MI6 and its former officer, Chris­toph­er Steele, in the com­pil­ing of the “dirty dossier” against Pres­id­ent-elect Don­ald Trump:

Good Morn­ing Bri­tain 13 01 17 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

BBC News Channel, 12 January 2017

As the story about the fake “dirty dossier” com­plied on Don­ald Trump by former MI6 officer, Chris­toph­er Steele, gath­er impetus, I was asked to do ultiple inter­views. Here is the first with the BBC News Chan­nel:

BBC News Chan­nel from Annie Machon on Vimeo.