A couple of recent interviews about the themes of UK and EU security, going forward.
My interview on RT.com about yet another attack against Julian Assange, editor in chief of Wikileaks, that threatens press freedom everywhere:
The UK Ministry of Defence announced on 21 September the establishment of yet another British spy agency, an amalgam of military and security service professionals designed to wage cyber war against terrorists, Russia and organised crime. The new agency will have upwards of 2000 staff (the size MI5 was when I worked there in the 1990s, so not inconsiderable). I have been asked for a number of interviews about this and here are my thoughts in long form.
The UK already has a plethora of spy agencies:
To provide American context, MI6 equates to the CIA, GCHQ and the NCSC equate to the NSA, and the NCA to the FBI. Which rather begs the question of where exactly MI5 fits into the modern scheme – or is it just an anachronistic and undemocratic throw-back, a typically British historical muddle, or perhaps the UK’s very own Stasi?
So why the new and expensive agency at a time of national financial uncertainty?
Of course I acknowledge the fact that the UK deserves to retain a comprehensive and impressive defence capability, provided it is used for that purpose rather than illegal, needless wars based on spurious political reasons that cost innocent lives. Every country has the right and the need to protect itself, and the cybers are the newly-defined battle lines.
Moreover, it might be overly simplistic to suggest that this is just more empire-building on the part of the thrusting and ambitious young Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson. Perhaps he really does believe that the UK military needs augmenting after years of cuts, as the former Deputy Chairman of the UK Conservative Party and er, well-known military expert, Lord Ashcroft, wrote in the Daily Mail. But why a whole new intelligence agency at huge cost? Surely all the existing agencies should already be able to provide adequate defence?
Additionally, by singling out Russia as the hostile, aggressor state, when for years the West has also been bewailing Chinese/Iranian/North Korean et al hacking, smacks to me of political opportunism in the wake of “Russiagate”, the Skripals, and Russia’s successful intervention in Syria. Those of a cynical bent among us might see this as politically expedient to create the eternal Emmanuel Goldstein enemy to justify the ever-metastasising military-security complex. But, hey, that is a big tranche of the British, and potentially the post-Brexit, British economy.
The UK intelligence agencies are there to protect “national security and the economic well-being of the state”. So I do have some fundamental ethical and security concerns based on recent Western history. If the new organisation is to go on the cyber offensive what, precisely does that mean – war, unforeseen blow back, or what?
If we go by what the USA has been exposed as doing over the last couple of decades, partly from NSA whistleblowers including Bill Binney, Tom Drake and Edward Snowden, and partly from CIA and NSA leaks into the public domain, a cyber offensive capability involves stockpiling zero day hacks, back doors built into the internet monopolies, weaponised malware such as STUXNET (now out there, mutating in the wild), and the egregious breaking of national laws and international protocols.
To discuss these points in reverse order: among so many other revelations, in 2013 Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ had cracked Belgacom, the Belgian national telecommunications network – that of an ally; he also revealed that the USA had spied on the German Chancellor’s private phone, as well as many other German officials and journalists; that GCHQ had been prostituting itself to the NSA to do dirty work on its behalf in return for $100 million; and that most big internet companies had colluded with allowing the NSA access to their networks via a programme called PRISM. Only last month, the EU also accused the UK of hacking the Brexit negotiations.
Last year Wikileaks reported on the Vault 7 disclosures – a cache of CIA cyber weapons it had been stockpiling. It is worth reading what Wikileaks had to say about this, analysising the full horror of how vulnerable such a stockpile makes “we, the people”, vulnerable to criminal hacking.
Also, two years ago a huge tranche of similarly hoarded NSA weapons was acquired by a criminal organisation called the Shadow Brokers, who initially tried to sell them on the dark web to the highest bidder but then released them into the wild. The catastrophic crash of NHS computers in the UK last year was because one of these cyber weapons, Wannacry, fell into the wrong criminal hands. How much more is out there, available to criminals and terrorists?
The last two examples will, I hope, expose just how vulnerable such caches of cyber weapons and vulnerabilities can be if not properly secured. And, as we have seen, even the most secret of organisations cannot guarantee this. To use the American vernacular, they can come back and bite you in the ass.
And the earlier NSA whistleblowers, including Bill Binney and Tom Drake, exposed just how easy it is for the spooks to manipulate national law to suit their own agenda, with warrant-less wiretapping, breaches of the US constitution, and massive and needless overspend on predatory snooping systems such as TRAILBLAZER.
Indeed, we had the same thing in the UK when Theresa May succeeded in finally ramming through the invidious Investigatory Powers Act (IPA 2016). When she presented it to parliament as Home Secretary, she implied that it was legalising what GCHQ has previously been doing illegally since 2001, and extend their powers to include bulk metadata hacking, bulk data set hacking and bulk hacking of all our computers and phones, all without meaningful government oversight.
Other countries such as Russia and China have passed similar surveillance legislation, claiming as a precedent the UK’s IPA as justification for what are claimed by the West to be egregious privacy crackdowns.
The remit of the UK spooks is to protect “national security” (whatever that means, as we still await a legal definition) and the economic well-being of the state. I have said this many times over the years – the UK intelligence community is already the most legally protected and least accountable of that of any other Western democracy. So, with all these agencies and all these draconian laws already at their disposal, I am somewhat perplexed about the perceived need for yet another costly intelligence organisation to go on the offensive. What do they want? Outright war?
In the wake of another apparently victimised whistleblower emerging from the US intelligence community, here is an interview on the subject on RT:
Recently I was invited to be on the global council of a new tech policy intitiative called the Good Technology Collective, based in Berlin.
~ Founded by a group of technology enthusiasts led by 1aim co-founders Torben Friehe and Yann Leretaille, the GTC will serve as a crucial European forum for piloting technological advances in the 21st century. Through its Expert Council, it will bring together leading founders, engineers, scientists, journalists, and activists, who will research, generate conversation around, and offer counsel as to the societal impact of AI, virtual reality, Internet of Things, and data surveillance.
“We believe that there are ethical questions concerning how frontier technologies will affect our daily lives,” Leretaille said. “As a society, Europe deserves broad and accessible discussions of these issues, hosted by those who appreciate, understand, and worry about them the most.” ~
The Good Technology Collective (GTC), a new European think-tank addressing ethical issues in technology, will officially open its doors in Berlin on December 15th. The grand opening will kick off at 7:30PM (CET) at Soho House Berlin and I shall be one of the guest speakers.
Invitations are limited for the grand opening. Those interested in attending should contact: email@example.com; or, fill in the invitation form at: https://goo.gl/Xpndjk.
And here is an introductory interview I did for GTC recently:
Why We Must Fight for Privacy
We live in a society where shadowy figures influence what makes the news, who goes to jail, and even who lives or dies.
We live in a system where corporations and the state work together to take control of our information, our communications, and potentially even our future digital souls.
So we do not merely have the right, but rather the obligation, to fight for our privacy.
It is a simple human right that is essential for a functioning democracy.
But we are a long way away from having that right guaranteed, and we have been for a long time.
My Time as a Spy
I spent six years working with MI5, the British domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, in the 1990s. It was a time of relative peace after the Cold War and before the horrors of September 11, 2001, when the gloves came off in the War on Terror.
And even then, I was horrified by what I saw.
There was a constant stream of illegal wiretaps and files kept on hundreds of thousands of our citizens, activists, journalists, and politicians.
Innocent people were sent to prison due to suppressed evidence in the 1994 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London. IRA bombings that could have been prevented were allowed to take place, and the MI6 funded a plot to murder Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi using Al Qaeda affiliates. He survived, others did not.
This is just part of the corruption I saw intelligence and security agencies engage in.
The public and many politicians believe these agencies are accountable to them, but that is simply not how things work in reality. More often than not, we only know what they want us to hear.
State Manipulates News and Politics
I witnessed government agencies manipulate the news through guile and charm, at times even writing it themselves. Fake news is not new. The state has long shaped media coverage using various methods.
This was the case in the analogue era, and things have become worse in the era of the Web.
In the end, I felt there was no choice but to blow the whistle, knowing that it would end my career. My partner and I resigned, and we went into hiding.
We spent years on the run for breaching the UK Official Secrets Act. We would have been imprisoned if caught.
We fled Britain in 1997, spending three years in a French farmhouse and a location in Paris. My partner went to prison, twice, and we learned indelible lessons about state power along the way.
Learning the Value of Privacy
We also learned the value of privacy.
As high-value targets, we knew our communications and relatives were monitored.
So when I called or emailed my mother, I had to self-censor. I had to assume that her house was bugged, as yours could be.
Our friends were pressured into cooperating with the police. It was one way we were stripped of our privacy, corroding our spirit.
You lose trust in everyone around you, and you do not say anything that could give you away.
Surveillance Has Moved with the Times
That was then. Today, surveillance is part of our daily lives, on the Internet and in the street.
Edward Snowden recently revealed the scale of government surveillance. And it is mind-boggling.
The Snowden Effect, as it is known, has made 28 percent of the people in the United Kingdom rethink their online habits. If we do not feel we have privacy, then in a way it does not matter if someone is watching us. We will self-censor anyway. Just in case.
This has a tangible impact on society. It is the road to a world like Orwell’s 1984.
Legitimate activists know they can be watched. This means that protestors may think twice before getting involved with pressing issues. Surveillance is a sure-fire means of stifling democracy.
We Are All Being Watched
Snowden revealed that Internet companies opened their doors to the U.S. National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He also disclosed that British intelligence was handing over information on Europeans to American intelligence agencies.
Both government agencies can access our video communications. Apparently their personnel were forced to sit through so many explicit “romantic” video calls that they later had to receive counseling.
It might sound amusing. But it shows that the state is regularly invading our privacy.
And that is just government agencies. The corporate world is surveilling us, too. Companies have been granted exceptional powers to see who is sharing information and files across the Internet.
When the FBI Is a Corporate Tool
In New Zealand, Kim Dotcom developed MegaUpload. It did have legitimate users, but the fact that some distributed pirated intellectual property led to an FBI raid on his home.
Likely under the influence of the FBI, the New Zealand authorities permitted surveillance to bolster the U.S. extradition case against him. In October 2012, Prime Minister John Key publicly apologized to Dotcom, saying that the mistakes made by New Zealand’s Government Communications and Security Bureau before and during the raid were “appalling.”
This was all a massive infringement on New Zealand’s sovereignty. One must wonder how the corporate world can wield so much influence that the FBI is able to a raid the home of an entrepreneur on foreign land.
This is not how government agencies are meant to work. It is a pincer movement between the corporations and the state.
This Is the Definition of Fascism
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini defined fascism as the merging of the state and the corporate world. And it is becoming increasingly clear that we are heading in this direction.
We are all constantly connected through our smartphones and computers. Incidentally, any hardware, even USB cables, produced after 1998 probably comes with a backdoor entry point for the government.
We also freely provide information on Facebook that would have taken security and intelligence agencies weeks to assemble before the era of digital communications.
We need to know who is watching that information, who can take it, and who can use it against us.
Research conducted today may one day lead to our entire consciousness being uploaded into a computer. Humans could become software-based. But who might be able to manipulate that information and how?
It is vital for us to start thinking about questions such as these.
Secret Legislation Can Change Our World
In Europe, we are seeing the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) forced upon us. It is a ghastly piece of legislation through which corporate lobbyists can negatively affect 500 million people.
Its investor-state dispute settlement clause grants multinational corporations the legal status of a nation-state. If they feel government policies threaten their profits, they can sue governments in arbitration tribunals. The treaty paperwork is kept in a guarded room that not even politicians working on the legislation can access freely.
Similar projects were attempted before, but they were overturned by the weight of public opinion. The public spoke out and protested to ensure that the legislation never came to pass.
We must protect our right to democracy and the rule of law, free from corporate intervention.
A Perfect Storm for Privacy?
A perfect storm against privacy is brewing. A debate continues over how much control the state should exercise over the Internet amid the threat of terrorism, which has become part of modern life.
Add to this the increasing tension between the United States and Russia and climate change, and things could get quite messy, quite fast.
We need privacy so we can protest when we need to. We need to be able to read and write about these topics, and discuss them. We cannot rely on the mainstream media alone.
We need privacy to be proper citizens. This includes the right to lobby our politicians and express our concerns.
We also have to be aware that politicians do not know what the intelligence and security services are doing. We need to take our privacy into our own hands.
As a start, we must all begin using encryption, open-source software and other tools to make sure we have privacy. If we do not, we will lose our democracy.
It took our ancestors hundreds of years of blood, sweat, tears and death to win the right to privacy.
We must defend that legacy.
Since 2002 a unique award ceremony has taken place annually in either the USA or Europe: the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. This year it occurred in Washington DC on 22 September and was given to veteran journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Seymour Hersh.
Why unique? Well the group comprising the Sam Adams Associates is made up of former Western intelligence, military and diplomatic professionals, many of whom have spoken out about abuses and crimes committed by their employers. For their pains, most have lost their jobs and some have also lost their liberty.
Laureates include US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley (Time person of the year in 2002 and the first SAA laureate), publisher Julian Assange, UK Ambassador Craig Murray, and co-ordinator of the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in 2007, Dr Tom Fingar.
The common theme that binds this disparate group together into a rather weird, wonderful and very informal global club is that they have all attempted to shine a light on the dark corners of government, to speak truth to power and expose wrongdoing and “fake news” for the greater good of humanity. It is appalling that they have to pay such a high personal price for doing this, which is why the Sam Adams Associates provides recognition and presents as its annual award — a candle stick, the “corner brightener”.
The Sam Adams Award has, over most recent years, gone to bona fide whistleblowers such as Tom Drake, Bill Binney, Jess Raddack and Chelsea Manning, while publishers, such as Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame, have also received recognition. But Seymour Hersh is the first mainstream journalist to receive the accolade.
Hersh has a long and illustrious career, beginning with his exposure of the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam war in 1969 . But it was an article he wrote about the April 2017 chemical attack in Syria that won him the award this year.
To remind people, on 4th April this year a chemical weapon was reportedly used against the civilian population of Idlib Province in Syria and civilians were reportedly killed. Ahead of any possible investigation, the international media unilaterally declared that the Assad régime had attacked its own people; President Trump immediately ordered a retaliatory strike on the Syrian Air Force base from where the alleged attackers launched their fighter jets, and was lauded by the militatry-industrial complex for firm and decisive action.
Except – this was all based on a lie, as Hersh established. However, despite his journalistic reputation, he was unable to publish this story in the American mainstream media, and instead had it published in Germany’s Die Welt.
The event in Washington this year was a game of two halves – the first was the dinner where Seymour Hersh was presented with his award, lauded by both former intelligence professionals and fellow investigative journalists for his work. It was a recognition of the value of true journalism – speaking truth to power and attempting to hold that power to account.
The second half of the evening, which Mr Hersh was unable to attend because of prior commitments, was the more general annual SAA celebration of all things truth telling and whistleblowing. I had the honour of MCing the event, which included a speech from Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg, SAA founder Ray McGovern and many more.
Between us all we have decades of service and experience across different continents. Despite this geographical spread, common themes continue to emerge as they always do at Sam Adams events: official obfuscation, spy spin, media control, illegal war and more.
What to do? We shall continue to speak out in our work around the world – I just hope that the awareness spreads about the fake news that is daily peddled in the mainstream media and that more people begin to look behind the headlines and search for the truth of what is going on.
Whistleblowers, as well as their enablers in the publishing and media world, remain the regulators of last resort for truth and for justice.
Here is a link to the opening segment — other parts can be found on Youtube via World Beyond War 2017:
My recent RT interview about the French intelligence report that exonerated Russia of trying to hack the recent presidential election, despite the claims of new President, Emmanual Macron. The same thing has happened in Germany too, much to Merkel’s displeasure..
And so the tapestry of lies begins to fray:
Here are a couple of the interviews I have done this month, the first marking the release of US army whistleblower, Chelsea Manning and the second, ironically, discussing leaks from the US intelligence community, the most recent of which adversely impacted the investigation into the recent appalling Manchester bombing in the UK:
My RT interview today about the statement made by the Chair of the US Congressional Chair of the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, about the lack of any evidence of collusion between the Trump administration and Russia:
Yet again Wikileaks has come good by exposing just how much we are being spied upon in this brave new digital world — the Vault 7 release has provided the proof for what many of us already knew/suspected — that our smart gadgets are little spy devices.
Here are a couple of interviews I did for the BBC and RT on the subject: