Our esteemed governments, intelligence agencies and police forces always attack whistleblowers and organisations such as Wikileaks on the grounds that unauthorised disclosure of classified information puts the lives of agents and informants at risk.
Agent identities, along with ongoing operations (as Former Assistant Commissioner of Special Operations at the Metropolitan Police, Bob Quick, found to his cost two years ago) and sensitive investigatory techniques, are indeed in need of protection. Much else is not — particularly information about lies, cover-ups, incompetence and crime.
Indeed, once you delve behind the screaming headlines that whistleblower disclosures have risked agent lives, you often find that this is absolutely not the case — in fact their motivation is usually to prevent further needless torture, death and war crimes. So the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, was forced to admit that Wikileaks had indeed not endangered lives with the publication of the Afghan War Logs last year, and David Shayler’s trial judge, in his formal ruling, stated that “no lives had been put at risk” by his whistleblowing.
Instead, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the security forces are the very organisations not taking the protection and aftercare of their agents seriously.
Mark Kennedy, the undercover police officer who spied on UK environmental protest groups, has gone on the record to say that the supervision, care and psychological support provided to him was woefully lacking. Kevin Fulton, a serving soldier who infiltrated the IRA on behalf of the notorious Forces Research Unit, has similarly been hung out to dry and is now attempting to sue the British Government to provide the promised, adequate aftercare.
Martin McGartland, who worked as a source in Northern Ireland at the height of “The Troubles” and is credited with saving 50 lives, has also borne the brunt of this laissez faire attitude since he stopped working for intelligence. He has the scars to prove it too, having survived assassination attempts, and once blindly leaping out of a third floor window in an frantic attempt to escape torture at the hands of the IRA. As he says:
“Who would put their lives on the line nowadays when they can read what happens to those who did?”, McGartland says. “I can’t go home and the IRA are supposed to be a former terrorist group. Nobody is hunting down my attackers and nobody in authority seems to care. That has a direct impact on recruiting agents.…”
The most egregious case is of Denis Donaldson, Sinn Féin’s Head of Administration at Stormont in Northern Ireland who was outed as a MI5 and police spy by Gerry Adams in 2006. He was brutally murdered a few months later, allegedly by the Real IRA, having received little protection or support from his erstwhile spook handlers.
So who is really more likely expose current agents to the risk of psychological damage, torture and death, or to deter future agents from volunteering to work with the security forces? Principled whistleblowers who expose crime and incompetence with due care for protecting real secrets, or the spooks who take a cavalier approach to the pastoral care of their agents, and then hang them out to dry once their usefulness is at an end?