Recent interviews: UK Cyber Security, Kim Dotcom, and Iraq

I’ve done a few more interviews this month for RT, on a variety of issues:

US boots on the ground in Iraq

USA Boots on the Ground in Iraq – again. from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The extradition case against Megaupload’s founder, Kim Dotcom

Megaupload’s Kim Dotcom faces extradition from NZ to USA from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

And the launch of the UK’s new Cyber Security Centre, soon after the new Investigatory Powers Act (aka the “snoopers’ charter”) became law

The launch of the UK’s new National Cyber Security Centre from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Chilcot Report about the Iraq War

Here is an interview I did yesterday about the long-awaited Chilcot Report into the clusterfuck that was and is Iraq:

The Chilcot Report on the Iraq War from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The New Terrorism

First published on RT Op-Edge

Two horrors have dwelt in my mind for the last twenty years, ever since I read reports about terrorist groups while an impressionable young intelligence officer. The first involves the use of power tools as instruments of torture; drills, industrial sanders, angle grinders. This is no secret now and the meme has been much used and abused by Hollywood and series such as “24”, but I still feel uncomfortable every time I am dragged into the “boy toy” section of a home improvement mega-store.

The second has recently hit the news as a grim result of ISIS, the ultra-violent Sunni sect that has swept across much of Syria and Iraq, imposing the most draconian form of Sharia law in its wake upon the hapless citizens of formerly secular states.  I pity the poor women, and I pity still more the men of these communities faced with the option of submission or gruesome murder.

For this is the other image that haunts me: in 1995 six western tourists were abducted by a Kashmiri separatist group, Al Faran. One of the abductees, a Norwegian called Hans Christian Ostro, was found decapitated, his head had been hacked off with a knife. The sheer horror,  the terror the poor man must have experienced, has haunted me ever since.

You can probably see where I am going with this. I have not watched, nor do I have any intention of ever watching, the ISIS video of the gruesome murder of US journalist James Foley, whether the Metropolitan Police deems it a crime to do so or not. I just feel horror, again, and a deep well of sorrow for what his family and friends must be going through now.

Yet this is nothing new – we have known for months that ISIS has been beheading and crucifying people as they rampage across Syria and Iraq. There has been a steady stream of delicately pixilated heads on spikes in the western media, and the outrage has been muted.

And indeed, such beheadings have long been carried out and filmed during the earlier insurgencies in Iraq – I remember a young film maker friend who had stumbled across just such a sick propaganda video way back in 2007 – he could not sleep, could not rid his mind of the images either.

It is barbarity pure and simple, but it is also effective within the boundaries of its aims.

So, what are these aims? I just want to make two points before the West gets swept up in a new wave of outrage to “bomb the bastards” for beheading an American – after all, many hundreds if not thousands of people across the Middle East have already suffered this fate, to lack of any meaningful Western outcry.

Firstly, ISIS has clear aims (indeed it published its five-year plan to great media derision a couple of months ago). It is effectively using hideous brutality and propaganda to spread terror ahead of its war front – this is a 21st century blitzkrieg, and it’s working. The sheer horror of what they do to any who attempt to resist is so great that apparently whole armies abandon their weapons, banks have been left to be raided to the tune of half a billion dollars, and entire villages flee.

This is the pure definition of terrorism, and we can see that it is working. ISIS is doing all this to build a new state. or caliphate, in the way that their warped fundamentalist interpretation of religion sets out for them.

Secondly, and here’s the contentious bit, how precisely is this different from the terror that the Israelis have been visiting upon the many innocents killed in Gaza?  The Dahiya Doctrine of disproportionate violence to stun and quash resistance was exposed by Wikileaks – the Israeli “shock and awe”.  And also, how is this different from what the US has been meting out to the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan over the last few years with their drone attacks?

All the above examples show strong military forces, ideologically motivated, unleashing violence and terror on a huge, disproportionate scale on innocent populations that have nowhere really to run.

The difference being? ISIS wields its own knives, does its own dirty work, and proudly films its grotesque brutality to cow its opponents. This is primitive terrorism intersecting with social media, a bastard spawn of the 21st century.  And it still seems to be effective, just as terror of the guillotine resonated throughout revolutionary France in the 18th century.

On the other hand, the US and Israel prefer to be a bit more coy about their terroristic strategies, hiding behind such phrases as “proportionate”, “self-defence”, “precision bombing” and “spreading democracy”. But who, seriously, falls for that these days?

Their armed forces are not directly getting their hands dirty with the blood of their victims: instead, spotty young conscripts safely hidden in bunkers on the far side of the world, mete out death from the skies via sick snuff video games  – officially called “precision” bombs and drone attacks that take out whole families. Heads can be blown off, bodies eviscerated, limbs mangled and maimed, and all from a safe distance.

We had the first proof of this strategy with the decrypted military film “Collateral Murder“, where helicopter pilots shot up some Reuters journalists and civilians in Iraq in 2007. That was bad enough – but the cover-up stank. For years the Pentagon denied all knowledge of this atrocious war crime, and it was only after Wikileaks released the information, provided by the brave whistleblower Chelsea Manning, that the families and the international community learned the truth. Yet it is Manning, not the war criminals, who is serving a 35 year sentence in a US prison.

Worse, by sheer scale at least, are the ongoing, wide-ranging unmanned drone attacks across the Middle East and Central Asia, as catalogued by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK. Many thousands of innocents have been murdered in these attacks, with the US justifying the strikes as killing “militants” – ie any male over the age of 14.  The US is murdering children, families, wedding parties and village councils with impunity.

And then the infamous provisions of the US NDAA 2012. This means that the US military can extra-judicially murder anyone, including US citizens, by drone strike anywhere in the world with no trial, no judicial process. And so it has come to pass.  American Anwar Al Awlaki was murdered in 2011 by a drone strike.

Not content with that, only weeks later the US military then blew his 16 year old son to pieces in another drone strike. Abdulrahman – a child – was also an American citizen. How, precisely, is this atrocity not morally equivalent to the murder of James Foley?

So what is the real, qualitative difference between the terror engendered by ISIS, or by the Dahiya Doctrine, or by the US drone strike programme? Is it just that ISIS does the dirty, hands on, and spreads its message shamelessly via social media, while the US does the dirty in secret and prosecutes and persecutes anyone who wants to expose its egregious war crimes?

I would suggest so, and the West needs to face up to its hypocrisy. A crime is a crime. Terrorism is terrorism.

Otherwise we are no better than the political drones in George Orwell’s “1984”, rewriting history in favour of the victors rather than the victims, acquiescing to eternal war, and happily mouthing Newspeak.

New Terrorism, anyone?

Chelsea Manning wins 2014 SAAII Award

January 16, 2014


Contact: Coleen Rowley (email: or Annie Machon (email:

Chelsea Manning Awarded Sam Adams Integrity Prize for 2014

Announcement by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII)

The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) have voted overwhelmingly to present the 2014 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.

A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, U.S. Army Pvt. Manning is the 25 year-old intelligence analyst who in 2010 provided to WikiLeaks the “Collateral Murder” video – gun barrel footage from a U.S. Apache helicopter, exposing the reckless murder of 12 unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, during the “surge” in Iraq. The Pentagon had repeatedly denied the existence of the “Collateral Murder” video and declined to release it despite a request under the Freedom of Information Act by Reuters, which had sought clarity on the circumstances of its journalists’ deaths.

Release of this video and other documents sparked a worldwide dialogue about the importance of government accountability for human rights abuses as well as the dangers of excessive secrecy and over-classification of documents.

On February 19, 2014 Pvt. Manning – currently incarcerated at Leavenworth Prison – will be recognized at a ceremony in absentia at Oxford University’s prestigious Oxford Union Society for casting much-needed daylight on the true toll and cause of civilian casualties in Iraq; human rights abuses by U.S. and “coalition” forces, mercenaries, and contractors; and the roles that spying and bribery play in international diplomacy.

The Oxford Union ceremony will include the presentation of the traditional SAAII Corner-Brightener Candlestick and will feature statements of support from former SAAII awardees and prominent whistleblowers. Members of the press are invited to attend.

On August 21, 2013 Pvt. Manning received an unusually harsh sentence of 35 years in prison for exposing the truth — a chilling message to those who would call attention to wrongdoing by U.S. and “coalition” forces.

Under the 1989 Official Secrets Act in the United Kingdom, Pvt. Manning, whose mother is British, would have faced just two years in prison for whistleblowing or 14 years if convicted under the old 1911 Official Secrets Act for espionage.

Former senior NSA executive and SAAII Awardee Emeritus Thomas Drake has written that Manning “exposed the dark side shadows of our national security regime and foreign policy follies .. [her] acts of civil disobedience … strike at the very core of the critical issues surrounding our national security, public and foreign policy, openness and transparency, as well as the unprecedented and relentless campaign by this Administration to snuff out and silence truth tellers and whistleblowers in a deliberate and premeditated assault on the 1st Amendment.”

Previous winners of the Sam Adams Award include Coleen Rowley (FBI); Katharine Gun (formerly of GCHQ, the National Security Agency’s equivalent in the UK); former UK Ambassador Craig Murray; Larry Wilkerson (Col., US Army, ret.; chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell); Julian Assange (WikiLeaks); Thomas Drake (NSA); Jesselyn Radack (former ethics attorney for the Department of Justice, now National Security & Human Right Director of the Government Accountability Project); Thomas Fingar (former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, who managed the key National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 that concluded Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier); and Edward Snowden (former NSA contractor and systems administrator, currently residing in Russia under temporary asylum).

The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence are very proud to add Pvt. Manning to this list of distinguished awardees.

The Real News Network Whistleblower Special

The Real News Network coverage of the recent Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, with contributions from many of the whistleblowers involved:

More at The Real News

Will MI6 “fix” intelligence on Iran?

By:    Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and Annie Machon, former MI5 intelligence officer

Recent remarks by the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, leave us wondering if the Secret Intelligence Service is preparing to “fix” intelligence on Iran, as his immediate predecessor, Sir John Scarlett, did on Iraq.

Scarlett’s pre-Iraq war role in creating “dodgy dossiers” hyping the threat of non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” is well known.  As for Sawers, the red warning light for politicization blinked brightly on July 4, as he told British senior civil servants that Iran is “two years away” from becoming a “nuclear weapons state.”  How did Sawers come up with “two years?”

Since late 2007, the benchmark for weighing Iran’s nuclear program has been the unanimous assessment by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and that, as of mid-2007, had not restarted it.  Those judgments have been revalidated every year since — despite strong pressure to bow to more ominous — but evidence-light — assessments by Israel and its neo-conservative supporters.

Intelligence Can Make a Difference

The 2007 the US National Intelligence Estimate helped to thwart plans to attack Iran in 2008, the last year of the Bush/Cheney administration.  This shines through in George Bush’s own memoir, Decision Points, in which he rues the NIE’s “eye-popping declaration: ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’”

Bush continues, “But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” (Decision Points, p. 419)

Hands tied on the military side, US covert operations flowered, with $400 million appropriated at that same time for a major escalation of the dark-side struggle against Iran, according to military, intelligence, and congressional sources cited by Seymour Hersh in 2008.  This clandestine but all-too-real war on Iran has included attacks with computer viruses, the murders of Iranian scientists, and what the Israelis call the “unnatural” demise of senior officials like Revolutionary Guards Major General Hassan Moghaddam father of Iran’s missile program.

Moghaddam was killed in a large explosion last November, with Time magazine citing a “western intelligence source” as saying the Israel’s Mossad was behind the blast.  More threatening still to Iran are the severe economic sanctions, which are tantamount to an act of war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel neo-conservatives in the U.S. and elsewhere have been pushing hard for an attack on Iran, seizing every pretext they can find.  Netanyahu was suspiciously fast off the blocks, for example, in claiming that Iran was behind the tragic terrorist bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on July 18, despite Bulgarian authorities and even the White House warning that it is too early to attribute responsibility.

Netanyahu’s instant indictment of Iran strongly suggests he is looking for excuses to up the ante.  With the Persian Gulf looking like an accident waiting to happen, stocked as it is with warships from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere — and with no fail-safe way of communicating with Iranian naval commanders — an escalation-generating accident or provocation is now more likely than ever.

July 23: Marking a Day of Infamy

Oddly, Sawers’s speech of July 4 came just as an important date approached — the tenth anniversary of a sad day for British intelligence on Iraq.  On July 23, 2002 at a meeting at 10 Downing Street, then-MI6 head, John Dearlove, briefed Tony Blair and other senior officials on his talks with his American counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet, in Washington three days before.

In the official minutes of that briefing (now known as the Downing Street Memo), which were leaked to the London Times and published on May 1, 2005, Dearlove explains that George Bush has decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”  While then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dearlove explains matter-of-factly, “The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”

There is no sign in the minutes that anyone hiccupped — much less demurred — at making a case for war and furthering Blair’s determination to join Bush in launching the kind of “war of aggression” outlawed by the post-world war Nuremberg Tribunal and the UN treaty.

Helped by the acquiescence of their chief spies, the Blair government mainlined into the body politic un-assessed, raw intelligence and forged documents, with disastrous consequences for the world.

UK citizens were spoon-fed fake intelligence in the September Dossier (2002) and then, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy Dossier”, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Internet — all presented by spy and politician alike as ominous premonitory intelligence.

So was made the case for war. All lies, resulting in hundreds of thousands dead and maimed and millions of Iraqis displaced – yet no one held to account.

Sir Richard Dearlove, who might have prevented this had he had the integrity to speak out, was allowed to retire with full honours and became the Master of a Cambridge college.  John Scarlett, who as chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee signed off the fraudulent dossiers, was rewarded with the top spy job at MI6 and a knighthood. George W. Bush gave George Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award.

What need have we for further proof? “So are they all, all honourable men” – reminiscent of those standing with Brutus in Shakespeare’s play, but with no Mark Anthony to expose them and stir the appropriate popular reaction.

Therein lies the problem: instead of being held accountable, these “honourable men” were, well, honoured. Their soft landings offer a noxious object lesson for ambitious bureaucrats who are ready to play fast and loose with the truth and trim their sails to the prevailing winds.

Ill-got honours offer neither deterrent nor disincentive to current and future intelligence chiefs tempted to follow suit and corrupt intelligence rather than challenge their political leaders with hard, un-“fixed” facts. Integrity? In this milieu integrity brings knowing smirks rather than honours. And it can get you kicked out of the club.

Fixing Intelligence on Iran

Are we in for another round of “fixing” — this time on Iran? We may know soon.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, citing the terrorist attack in Bulgaria, has already provided what amounts to a variation on Dearlove’s ten-year old theme regarding how war can be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”

According to the Jerusalem Post on July 17, Netanyahu said that all countries that understand that Iran is an exporter of world terror must join Israel in “stating that fact clearly,” in order to emphasize the importance of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Appearing yesterday on Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation, Netanyahu returned to that theme. Putting the blame for the terrorist attack in Bulgaria squarely on Iran (and Hezbollah), Netanyahu warned of the increased dangers that would accrue if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. “What would be the consequences if the most dangerous regime in the world got the world’s most dangerous weapons?”.

Will MI6 chief Sawers model his conduct on that of his predecessors who “justified” war on Iraq? Will he “fix” intelligence around U.K./U.S./Israeli policy on Iran? Parliamentary overseers should demand a briefing from Sawers forthwith, before erstwhile bulldog Britain is again dragged like a poodle into another unnecessary war.

Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer in the UK’s MI5 Security Service and Ray McGovern is a fomer U.S Army Intelligence Officer and CIA analyst.

21st Century Pacificism (The Old Stuff)

The_ScreamI have always been ideologically opposed to war and all the horrors that flow in its wake: agonising fear and death, famine, displacement, maiming, torture, rape, internment and the breakdown of all the hard-won values of civilised human law and behaviour.

Looking back, I think that was partly why I was attracted to work in diplomacy and how I ended up being enticed into intelligence. These worlds, although by no means perfect, could conceivably be seen as the last-ditch defences before a country goes bellowing into all-out war.

I marched against the Iraq war, toured the UK to speak at Stop the War meetings, worked with Make Wars History, and have ceaselessly spoken out and written about these and related issues.

Alastair_Campbell_1Today in the UK we have reached a consensus that Blair’s government lied to the country into the Iraq war on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction, and subsequently enabled the Bush administration to do the same in the USA, hyping up the threat of a nuclear Iraq using false intelligence provided by MI6.

Millions of people marched then, and millions of people continue to protest against the ongoing engorgement of the military/intelligence complex, but nothing ever seems to change.  It’s democratically disempowering and an enervating experience.  What can we do about it?

I have a couple of suggestions (The New Stuff), but first let’s look at some of the most egregious current fake realities.

David_CameronLast year we had the spectacle of the current No 10 incumbent, Dave Cameron, stating that the Libyan intervention would be nothing like Iraq – it would be “necessary, legal and right”. But there was no subsequent joined-up thinking, and Blair and his cronies have still not been held to account for the Iraq genocide, despite prima facie breaches of international war law and of the Official Secrets Act….

Abdelhakim-BelhajBut help might be at hand for those interested in justice, courtesy of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader, MI6 kidnapping and torture victim, and current military commander in Tripoli.

After NATO’s humanitarian bombing of Libya last year and the fall of Gaddafi’s regime, some seriously embarrassing paperwork was found in the abandoned office of Libyan Foreign Minister and former spy head honcho, Musa Kusa (who fled to the UK and subsequently on to Qatar).

These letters, sent in 2004 by former MI6 Head of Terrorism and current BP consultant, Sir Mark Allen, gloatingly offer up the hapless Belhaj to the Libyans for torture.  It almost seems like MI6 wanted a gold star from their new bestest friends.

Belhaj, understandably, is still slightly peeved about this and is now suing MI6. As a result, a frantic damage-limitation exercise is going on, with MI6 trying to buy his silence with a million quid, and scattering unattributed quotes across the British media: “it wasn’t us, gov, it was the, er, government….”.

Which drops either (or both) Tony Blair and Jack Straw eyebrow-deep in the stinking cesspit. One or other of them should have signed off on Belhaj’s kidnapping, knowing he would be tortured in Tripoli. Or perhaps they actually are innocent of this….. but if they didn’t sign off on the Belhaj extraordinary kidnapping, then MI6 was running rampant, working outside the law on their watch.

Either way, there are serious questions to be answered.

Jack_StrawBoth these upstanding politicians are, of course, suffering from political amnesia about this case. In fact, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary at the time of the kidnapping, has said that he cannot have been expected to know everything the spies got up to – even though that was precisely his job, as he was responsible for them under the terms of the Intelligence Security Act 1994, and should certainly have had to clear an operation so politically sensitive.

In the wake of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, what worries me now is that exactly the same reasons, with politicians mouthing exactly the same platitudinous “truths”, are being pushed to justify an increasingly inevitable strike against Iran.

Depressing as this all is, I would suggest that protesting each new, individual war is not the necessarily the most effective response.  Just as the world’s markets have been globalised, so manifestly to the benefit of all we 99%-ers, have many other issues.

Unlike Dave Cameron, we need to apply some joined-up thinking.  Global protest groups need to counter more than individual wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Sudan (North and South), Syria, Iran…… sorry, I’m getting writer’s cramp just enumerating all the current wars.

Give me a while to overcome my moral spasm, and I shall return with a few suggestions about possible ways forward – 21st Century Pacifism; the New Stuff.


Last chance to find out what happened to Dr David Kelly – help needed

Many will be aware of the controversy surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the world-renowned weapons inspector who was said to have blown the whistle about the “sexing-up” of the intelligence case that took our countries into the 2003 Iraq War.

Dr_Kelly_2jpgIgnoring all standard British legal requirements, there has never been an inquest into Dr Kelly’s sudden death in 2003.  Subsequent government enquiries have tried to assert over the years that he committed suicide. However, a group of senior British doctors has consistently challenged these findings and stated that his death was not proved to be suicide beyond all reasonable doubt.

Dominic_GrieveThe current senior legal advisor to the UK Coalition government, Attorney General Dominic Grieve, promised before last year’s election that he would consider a formal inquest into Dr Kelly’s death.  However, since coming to power Grieve has retreated from that.  In addition, all the evidence surrounding the death of Dr Kelly will, exceptionally, remain classified for 70 years.

The British doctors, led by Dr David Halpin, have one last chance to get to the truth.  This week, they are applying for a Judicial Review of Grieve’s decision.

The legal papers need to be filed by 8th September, and the costs of this case will be at least £50,000, much of which has already been contributed by the doctors and supporters.  They are asking for donations to cover the remainder.  Please help if you can, spread the word to all your contacts, and ask them to make a financial pledge at this site.

Alastair Campbell – guilty of breaching the OSA?

Alastair_Campbell_1I have long suspected that Alastair Campbell, Labour's former Director of Communications, may potentially have broken the UK's Official Secrets Act.  Now prima facie evidence is beginning to emerge that he did indeed breach the "clear bright line" against unauthorised disclosure of intelligence. 

I know that the Metropolitan Police have their hands full investigating the meltdown that is the News of the World hacking scandal – and also trying to replace all those senior officers who had to resign because of it – but they do have a duty to investigate crime.  And not just any old crime, in this case, but one that has potentially threatened the very basis of our national security.

Why do I say this? 

Sun_45_minutes_from_doomYou'll no doubt have some vague recollection that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the British government produced a couple of reports "making a case for war".  The first, the September Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed sex up the case for war, as well as include fake intelligence about Saddam Hussein trying to acquire uranium from Niger.  Most memorably it led to the "Brits 45 minutes from Doom" front-page headline in Rupert Murdoch's The Sun newspaper, no less, on the eve of the crucial war vote in Parliament.

There was also the notorious leaked Downing Street Memo, where the then-head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove (C), was minuted as saying that the intelligence and facts were being fitted around the [predetermined war] policy.

However, for the purposes of a possible Regina v. Campbell day in court, it is the second report that requires our attention.

It was published in February 2003, just before "shock and awe" was launched to liberate the grateful Iraqi people.   This report became known as the "Dodgy Dossier", as it was largely lifted from a 12 year old PhD thesis that the spin doctors had found on the internet.  However, it also included nuggets of brand-new and unassessed intelligence from MI6.  Indeed, even the toothless Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament stated in paragraph 82 of its 2002-2003 Annual Report ( Download ISC_2003) that:

"We believe that material produced by the [intelligence] Agencies can be used in publications and attributed appropriately, but it is imperative that the Agencies are consulted before any of their material is published. This process was not followed when a second document was produced in February 2003. Although the document did contain some intelligence-derived material it was not clearly attributed or highlighted amongst the other material, nor was it checked with the Agency providing the intelligence or cleared by the JIC prior to publication. We have been assured that systems have now been put in place to ensure that this cannot happen again, in that the JIC Chairman endorses any material on behalf of the intelligence community prior to publication."

ISC_Iraq_reportAt the time it was reported that Blair and Campbell had spontaneously distributed this report to journalists travelling with them on a tour of the Far East.   The ISC confirmed that the intelligence had been passed to journalists without the permission of MI6 in its September 2003 special report – "Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction: Intelligence and Assessments" (see pars 131 to 134):

"The document was originally given to a number of journalists over the weekend of
1 and 2 February and then placed in the Library of the House on 3 February. The Prime
Minister described the document as follows:

“We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of
concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports, but I hope
that people have some sense of the integrity of our security services. They are not
publishing this, or giving us this information, and making it up. It is the intelligence
that they are receiving, and we are passing on to people. In the dossier that we
published last year, and again in the material that we put out over the weekend, it is
very clear that a vast amount of concealment and deception is going on.”


"The Committee took evidence on this matter from the Chief of the SIS on both
12 February and 17 July and separately from Alastair Campbell on 17 July. Both agreed
that making the document public without consulting the SIS or the JIC Chairman was
a “cock-up”. Alastair Campbell confirmed that, once he became aware that the
provenance of the document was being questioned because of the inclusion of
Dr Al-Marashi’s work without attribution, he telephoned both the Chief of the SIS and
the JIC Chairman to apologise.

"We conclude that the Prime Minister was correct to describe the document as
containing “further intelligence… about the infrastructure of concealment…. It is the
intelligence that they [the Agencies] are receiving, and we are passing on to people.”

"However, as we previously concluded, it was a mistake not to consult the
Agencies before their material was put in the public domain. In evidence to us the
Prime Minister agreed. We have reported the assurance that we have been given
that in future the JIC Chairman will check all intelligence-derived material on
behalf of the intelligence community prior to publication."

Iraq_supergunCrucially, Blair and Campbell had jumped the (old Iraqi super-) gun by issuing this information, but Campbell seems to have got away with it by describing such a breach of the OSA as a "cock-up".  Or perhaps just another precipitous "rush of blood to the head" on his part, as recently described in the long-suppressed testimony of SIS2 revealed around the Chilcot Enquiry and reported in The Guardian:

"Papers released by the Chilcot inquiry into the war show that an MI6 officer, identified only as SIS2, had regular contacts with Campbell: "We found Alastair Campbell, I think, an enthusiastic individual, but also somewhat of an unguided missile." He added: "We also, I think, suffered from his propensity to have rushes of blood to the head and pass various stories and information to journalists without appropriate prior consultation" (my emphasis).

So why do I suggest that Campbell could be liable for prosecution?  It appears that he was a "notified person" for the purposes of Section 1(1) of the OSA.  While not employed by the intelligence agencies, notified persons have regular access to intelligence material and are subjected to the highest clearance – developed vetting – in the same way as the full-time spooks.  As such, they are also bound by the law against disclosure of such material without the prior written permission of the head of the agency whose intelligence they want to disseminate.  There is no room for manoeuvre, no damage assessment, and no public interest defence.  The law is clear. 

And a report in today's Telegraph about Andy Coulson and the phone-hacking scandal seems to show clearly that Campbell was just such a notified person:

"Unlike Alastair Campbell and other previous holders of the Downing Street communications director role, Mr Coulson was not cleared to see secret intelligence reports and so was spared the most detailed scrutiny of his background and personal life…..

"The only people who will be subject to developed vetting are those who are working in security matters regularly and would need to have that sort of information.

"The only special advisers that would have developed vetting would be in the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and maybe the Home Office. Andy Coulson's role was different to Alastair Campbell's and Jonathan Powell.

"Alastair Campbell could instruct civil servants. This is why [Coulson] wasn't necessarily cleared. Given [the nature of] Andy Coulson's role as more strategic he wouldn't have necessarily have been subject to developed vetting."

So it would appear that Alastair Campbell is bang to rights for a breach of the Official Secrets Act under Section 1(1).  He released new, unassessed and uncleared MI6 intelligence within the dodgy dossier.  This is not just some technical  infraction of the law – although even if it were, he would still have a case to answer.

EMBNo, this report led inexorably to our country going to war against Iraq, shoulder to shoulder with the US, and the resulting deaths, maimings, poisonings and displacement of millions of innocent Iraqi people.  It has also directly increased the terrorist threat to the UK, as Tony Blair was officially warned pre-Iraq war by the then-head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller.  With the dodgy dossier, Campbell has directly harmed countless lives and our national security.

Of course, many of us might fantasise about warmongers getting their just deserts in The Hague.  But perhaps the OSA could prove to be Al Campbell's Al Capone-style tax evasion moment.

Now, what about The Right Honourable Tony Blair?

Former head of MI6 says that fact and fiction get mixed up

Sir_john_Scarlett Former head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett – he of the dodgy September Dossier fame that led inexorably to the UK's invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the death, maiming, depleted-uranium poisoning and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people – has complacently stated during his recent talk at the Hay Literary Festival that:

"One of the problems of intelligence work is that fact and fiction get very easily mixed up.  A key lesson you have to learn very early on is you keep them separate.”

Well, no doubt many, many people might just wish he'd listened to his own advice way back in September 2002.

Scarlett is, of course, the senior UK spook who made the case for the Iraq war.  Here's the link:  Download Iraq_WMD_Dossier

No doubt you will remember the li(n)es: not only that Iraq's non-existent  "weapons of mass destruction" could be launched within 45 minutes, but also that fake intelligence documents had persuaded MI6 that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger , as Colin Powell asserted during his persuasive speech to the UN in 2003.

Scarlett publicly took the rap and, by protecting Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell, was rewarded with the top job at MI6 and the inevitable knighthood.  No doubt a suitable recognition for his entirely honourable behaviour.

But it gets worse – now he has apparently landed a lucrative job as an advisor on the situation in Iraq working for Norwegian oil mega-corporation, Statoil.

You couldn't make it up…

… or perhaps you could if you're a former top spy with an undeserved "K" and a lucrative oil contract who has difficulty separating fact from fiction……


Dirty Tricks in Iraq and UK Media

An interesting example of press manipulation appeared today in the UK media.  Britain is in the throes of a general election and many pundits are saying that the result is too close to call – the feeling being that the UK's third party, the Liberal Democrats, may hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.  The Daily Mail, one of the most rabidly right-wing of the national newspapers, chose today to print a story about the arrest and subsequent rescue of two UK soldiers in Iraq in 2005. 

Sas_in_IraqThe general thrust of the piece was that the Labour government was willing to sacrifice our soldiers by refusing to authorise their rescue, in order to avoid political embarrassment.  This story appears to be a fairly obvious attempt by The Daily Wail to encourage military personnel and their families to vote against the incumbent government, which was willing to sacrifice our boys' lives for political expediency.

However,I would suggest that there is another level to this story.  Many remember when the news first broke: how two SAS soldiers, working under cover and disguised as Arabs, failed to stop their car at a checkpoint and engaged in a shoot-out that killed one Iraqi and injured three more.  The SAS operatives were arrested and taken to a police station where the authorities discovered that their car contained weapons and explosives. The SAS launched a rescue, ploughing into the police station with tanks, and then tracking their targets to a local militia house nearby, fighting their way in and saving their comrades.  All heroic stuff.  However, the obvious follow-up questions are:

1) What the hell were these two soldiers doing in disguise, and with a car-load of weaponry?

2) Precisely why was the government so embarrassed about the potential political fall-out?

I think these two questions are inter-dependent.  Dirty tricks and collusion are a standard methodology for the SAS and the intelligence community – a well-documented tactic they used in the war in Northern Ireland over three decades.  So just what was the intended destination of the weaponry?  Would they have been used for an attack subsequently blamed on "insurgents" or "Al Qaeda"?

As for the potential political embarrassment, the Daily Mail's excuse – that the British government didn't want to undermine the perceived sovereignty of the Iraqis at that time – is just too feeble to stand up.  The issue of political embarrassment makes far more sense if seen in terms of UK government awareness of the use by the British military of dirty tricks, collusion or false flag terrorism in Iraq. 

Of course, this is a perfectly standard tactic used by many countries' military and intelligence infrastructures.  It would be naive to think it does not happen, but it is a retrograde, risky and counter-productive tactic. 

In the 21st century it is more naive to think that such activity is either effective or acceptable in a world where the spread of democracy and the application of international law and human rights are the way forward.

Iran threat ramped up

The Sunday Times reported last weekend that Sir John Scarlett, the current head of MI6, is to fly to Israel at the end of the month to meet his counter-part, Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad. Whitehall has tried to downplay the meeting as “routine”. However, the focus of the meeting appears to be to discuss Israel’s assessment of Iran’s nuclear capability.

In recent years the neo-cons in power in the US have made no secret of their desire to “finish the job” in the Middle East and attack Iran. For the last two years there has been much sabre-rattling on both sides. The polemics from the US usually coincided with Iran’s plans to trade increasing amounts of its oil in euros. The south west region of Iran has vast oil reserves, and if Iran switched trading currencies, this would have an extremely detrimental effect on the power of the petrodollar, and the American economy as a whole.

Lest we forget, Saddam Hussein had also begun to trade in euros what little oil he could prior to the Iraq war in 2003. Scarlett, a career MI6 officer, played a leading role in making the case for that war. At the time he was Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and came to public attention when he signed off the notorious September Dossier. It has since become apparent that Iraq did not have WMD, nor was it trying to acquire uranium from Niger, as MI6 had stated in the dossier. This claim was based on forged documents.

So the timing of the new Israeli intelligence is interesting, to say the least. Last week, Iran announced that it was going to trade ALL its oil in euros and the yen, and Israel appears to be furiously lobbying the US and UK about Iran’s increasing nuclear threat. Israeli intelligence sources are claiming that they have information “on a par with” that which led to the bombing of the Syrian nuclear power station.

Based on this, they are asking the US government to reassess the level of threat posed by Iran. In December 2007 the combined thinking of the whole of America’s intelligence infrastructure was published in the US National Intelligence Estimate. It clearly stated that Iran had stopped developing its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 because of international pressure.

But the apparent triumph of international diplomacy does not suit the agenda of the hawks in the US administration. What could be better than to have the spy agencies of its closest allies conveniently reveal new intelligence saying that Iran now poses an increasing nuclear threat?

The (Il)legal Road to War

Yet another article has appeared about the mess that is the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Max Hastings, writing in the Daily Mail yesterday, described how our soldiers in Afghanistan feel that the continued conflict is pointless if there is no clear political strategy to resolve the situation.

The British army is overstretched, apparently at the behest of the USA. According to the article, our military badly needs to redeploy both normal troops and the SAS from Iraq to Afghanistan, but the US is unwilling to allow this to happen for political reasons. The Americans also appear to be making shameless use of the SAS.

So, let’s remind ourselves of how we got into this mess. At an informal meeting with Bush in 2002, Blair unilaterally committed this country to support the American invasion of Iraq. Without the support of Blair, Bush could not have pretended that he had a meaningful international coalition to invade Iraq.

Having made this promise, Blair needed to deliver. Intelligence material, rather than being used to inform policy making, was manipulated to fit around pre-determined decisions. This was summarised clearly by the then head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, in the notorious leaked “Downing Street Memo“, in which he is quoted as saying that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

Following on from this came the September Dossier, which not only placed undue emphasis on the claim that WMD could be launched against British interests in 45 minutes, but also the fake intelligence that Saddam was trying to procure uranium from Niger. And finally, we had the Dodgy Dossier of February 2003, based largely on a 12 year old PhD thesis culled from the internet, but which also contained nuggets of raw intelligence from MI6. Interestingly, it has been established by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in parliament that Blair did not have prior written permission from MI6 to publish this intelligence, which leaves him wide open to prosecution under Section 1(1) of the 1989 Official Secrets Act.

These are the false assertions that inexorably took this country to war. But even if these claims had been true, aggressive war is illegal under both international and British law. A raft of legislation prohibits our country engaging in any military action except in self-defence:

Just Foreign Policy Iraqi Death EstimatorThe General Treaty for the Renunciation of War (Kellogg-Briand Pact)
The United Nations Charter
The Nuremburg Judgment
The Nuremburg Principles
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
The UK’s International Criminal Court Act 2001

The Iraq and Afghan wars are unwinnable and illegal. It is time for the people of the UK to inform themselves of the laws of war and demand that they be upheld. We are all equal under the law – even the former Prime Minister. Every day we delay results in the deaths of more of our servicemen and of yet more innocent people in the Middle East.


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.