Attack on Wikileaks threatens press freedom everywhere

My inter­view on RT​.com about yet anoth­er attack against Juli­an Assange, edit­or in chief of Wikileaks, that threatens press free­dom every­where:

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?

Assange under increased threat

Spec­u­la­tion has been rife over the last couple of weeks that Juli­an Assange may be handed over to the Brit­ish by a new and pusil­lan­im­ous Ecuadori­an gov­ern­ment, thereby breach­ing its pledge to grant Assange polit­ic­al asylum and the pro­tec­tion due to a cit­izen of Ecuador. Here’s my take:

Ecuador Pres­id­ent threat­en­ing the polit­ic­al asylum of Assange from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Assange threatened by entire American Establishment

Here is the full inter­view I gave to RT on this top­ic.

And here is the slice of it they used in a news fea­ture they did with Assange:

Assange feels threatened by both Repub­lic­ans & Demo­crats fol­low­ing Clin­ton email leaks–Annie Machon from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

UN Ruling on Assange Case

Here is an inter­view I did for RT today as the news broke that the UN Work­ing Group on Arbit­rary Deten­tion would announce tomor­row the find­ings of its report into the Juli­an Assange case.

The BBC appar­ently repor­ted today that the rul­ing would be in Assange’s favour.

RT Inter­view re Assange UN Rul­ing from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Anything to Say? unveiled in Berlin

Last week artist Dav­ide Dormino unveiled his sculp­ture cel­eb­rat­ing whis­tleblowers in Alex­an­der­platz, Ber­lin.

Called “Any­thing to Say?”, the sculp­ture depicts Chelsea Man­ning, Edward Snowden and Juli­an Assange stand­ing on three chairs, with an empty fourth chair beside them, upon which we are all encour­aged to stand up on and speak our truth.

Dav­ide invited me to do just that for the unveil­ing cere­mony, along with Ger­man MP for the Green Party and whis­tleblower sup­port­er, Hans Chris­ti­an Stroebele and Wikileaks’ Sarah Har­ris­on. Here’s a report:

Anything_to_Say?_sculpture_unveiled_in_Berlin from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

BBC Sunday Morning Live — whistleblower debate

Here is a video of a debate I was involved with about whis­tleblowers on the most recent edi­tion of BBC debate show, Sunday Morn­ing Live. The ques­tion under dis­cus­sion: are whis­tleblowers her­oes or vil­lains?

BBC Sunday Morn­ing Live from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
A shame that some of the stu­dio guests used this oppor­tun­ity to launch ad hom­inem attacks rather than focus on the key ques­tion, but I’m glad I could con­trib­ute.

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

SAAII Award at the Oxford Union Society

On 23 Janu­ary the Oxford Uni­on Soci­ety will be host­ing the Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence.

The SAAII is one of the few inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tions for those with­in the intel­li­gence com­munity who fol­low their con­science, often at great pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al cost.

Thomas_FingarThis year’s win­ner is Dr Tom Fin­gar, who headed up the 2007 US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate on Iran. He col­lated the offi­cial assess­ments of all 16 of America’s intel­li­gence agen­cies, which unan­im­ously assessed that Iran had ceased try­ing to build a nuc­le­ar weapon in 2003. This evid­ence-based ana­lys­is made it impossible for the Bush admin­is­tra­tion to push through its plans to launch a war against Iran in 2008. This excel­lent art­icle by ex-CIA ana­lyst Ray McGov­ern explains Dr Fingar’s achieve­ments far bet­ter than I could.

Former SAAII win­ners include FBI Coleen Row­ley, GCHQ Kath­er­ine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and Wikileaks supremo Juli­an Assange.

Over the last few weeks I have had the pleas­ure of work­ing with the Uni­on officers and fel­low SAAII­ers, espe­cially renowned peace act­iv­ists Ray McGov­ern and Eliza­beth Mur­ray (formerly of the US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Coun­cil), to organ­ise this event.  Many of us will be speak­ing that even­ing, and Juli­an Assange will be doing a live video link.

All this in recog­ni­tion of Dr Fingar’s con­tri­bu­tion to pro­fes­sion­al, eth­ic­al intel­li­gence work. Even in this “gloves-off”, post-9/11 world, it is heart­en­ing to hear that is pos­sible.

I hope that many people can sup­port and report on this event.

The Assange Witch Hunt

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 17 August 2012

A storm of dip­lo­mat­ic sound and fury has broken over Ecuador’s decision to grant polit­ic­al asylum to Wikileaks founder, Juli­an Assange. The UK gov­ern­ment has threatened to breach all dip­lo­mat­ic pro­tocol and inter­na­tion­al law and go into the embassy to arrest Assange.

The UK jus­ti­fies this by cit­ing the 1987 Dip­lo­mat­ic and Con­su­lar Premises Act, a law appar­ently put in place fol­low­ing the 1984 shoot­ing of WPC Yvonne Fletch­er from the Liby­an Embassy in Lon­don.  The murder res­ul­ted in an 11-day siege, and the embassy staff even­tu­ally being expelled from the coun­try.  Nobody has yet been brought to justice for this murder.

It is hard to equate the grav­ity of the crime that brought about the 1987 legis­la­tion — the murder of a police­wo­man — with Assange’s situ­ation.  Des­pite the scream­ing head­lines, let us not for­get that he is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing in Sweden. Nev­er­the­less, the UK is pre­pared to over­turn all dip­lo­mat­ic pro­tocol and cre­ate a dan­ger­ous inter­na­tion­al pre­ced­ent to “get their man”, des­pite there being a clear lack of jus­ti­fic­a­tion under the terms of the ’87 Act.

Many people in the west­ern media remain puzzled about Assange’s fear of being held cap­tive in the Swedish leg­al sys­tem. But can we really trust Swedish justice when it has been flag­rantly politi­cised and manip­u­lated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well doc­u­mented. Indeed, the Swedish justice sys­tem has the highest rate per cap­ita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flout­ing Art­icle 6 — the right to a fair tri­al.

If Assange were extra­dited merely for ques­tion­ing by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the leg­al terms of a “tem­por­ary sur­render”. And in the US, a secret Grand Jury has been con­vened in Vir­ginia to find a law — any law — with which to pro­sec­ute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can’t find an exist­ing law, they will prob­ably write a new one just for him.

So why all the sound and fury? What is this really all about?

Wikileaks is a ground-break­ing new form of high-tech, award-win­ning journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  And cru­cially, in this war-torn, weary and fin­an­cially broken world, it offers a secure con­duit to whis­tleblowers who want to expose insti­tu­tion­al crime and cor­rup­tion for the pub­lic good.

Whis­tleblowers want to get their inform­a­tion out there, they want to make a dif­fer­ence, they want a fair hear­ing, and they don’t want to pay too high a per­sonal price for doing so. Is that too much to ask?

By going pub­lic about ser­i­ous con­cerns they have about their work­place, they are jeop­ard­ising their whole way of life: not just their pro­fes­sional repu­ta­tion and career, but all that goes with it, such as the abil­ity to pay the mort­gage, their social circle, their fam­ily life, their rela­tion­ship…  Plus, the whis­tleblower can poten­tially risk pris­on or worse.

So, with these risks in mind, they are cer­tainly look­ing for an aven­ue to blow the whistle that will offer a degree of pro­tec­tion and allow them to retain a degree of con­trol over their own lives.  In the old days, this meant try­ing to identi­fy an hon­our­able, cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist and a media organ­isa­tion that had the clout to pro­tect its source.  While not impossible, that could cer­tainly be dif­fi­cult, and becomes increas­ingly so in this era of endem­ic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance.

Today the oth­er option is a secure, high-tech pub­lish­ing con­duit such as Wikileaks. This provides anonym­ity and a cer­tain degree of con­trol to the mod­ern whis­tleblower, plus it allows their inform­a­tion to reach a wide audi­ence without either being filtered by the media or blocked by gov­ern­ment or cor­por­ate injunc­tions.

As someone who has a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the reper­cus­sions of blow­ing the whistle on a secret gov­ern­ment agency, I have long seen the value of the Wikileaks mod­el — and I also under­stand quite why gov­ern­ments feel so threatened by it. After all, no gov­ern­ment or mega-cor­por­a­tion wants free­dom of inform­a­tion and trans­par­ency forced upon it, nor an informed cit­izenry ques­tion­ing its actions.

Our gov­ern­ments like to spout the phrase “if you have done noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide” as they roll out yet anoth­er intrus­ive sur­veil­lance meas­ure.

Wikileaks has turned that right back at them — hence this mod­ern-day witch-hunt.

The Extradition Farce — why the delay in reform?

Out­rage con­tin­ues to swell about the per­emp­tory extra­di­tion of Brit­ish cit­izens to face tri­al on tenu­ous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tire­less cam­paign­ing of dis­traught fam­ily mem­bers, a grow­ing anger in the UK press, and indig­nant ques­tions and debates in Par­lia­ment — even our somn­am­bu­lant MPs have roused them­selves to state that Some­thing Must be Done — the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a grow­ing con­sensus, why the delay?  I have a the­ory, but first let’s review some of the most troub­ling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to wide­spread pub­lic atten­tion  is the dec­ade-long extra­di­tion battle of Gary McKin­non.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effect­ively served a 10-year sen­tence, uncer­tain of his future and unable to work in his chosen pro­fes­sion.  Thanks to the indefatig­able cam­paign­ing of his moth­er, Janis Sharp, his case has received wide­spread sup­port from the media and politi­cians alike.

Des­pite this the Home Sec­ret­ary, Theresa May (who has recently been work­ing so hard in Jordan to pro­tect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abom­in­ably over mak­ing a decision about wheth­er Gary should be extra­dited to the US to face a pos­sible 70-year pris­on sen­tence — even though the UK invest­ig­a­tion into his alleged crime was aban­doned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of stu­dent Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no Brit­ish laws.  He is facing a 10 year max­im­um secur­ity sen­tence if extra­dited.  Once again, his moth­er, Julia, is tire­lessly fight­ing and cam­paign­ing for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tap­pin, a retired busi­ness­man and golf club pres­id­ent, has been shipped off to a Texas high secur­ity pen­it­en­tiary fol­low­ing what sounds like a US entrap­ment oper­a­tion (a tech­nique not leg­ally admiss­able in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sen­tence if con­victed.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDes­pite hav­ing turned him­self in, this eld­erly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is con­sidered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fight­ing.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remem­ber liv­ing through a sim­il­ar, if mer­ci­fully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK gov­ern­ment tried and failed to extra­dite Dav­id Shayler from France to the UK to stand tri­al for a breach of the OSA. I remem­ber with crys­tal clar­ity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he dis­ap­peared into a for­eign leg­al sys­tem without trace, the anguish about his life in an ali­en pris­on.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remem­ber the fright­en­ing moment when I real­ised I had to step up and fight for him — the leg­al case, deal­ing with MPs and the end­less media work, includ­ing the ter­ror of live TV inter­views.  And all this when you are wor­ried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learn­ing curve?

In the wake of the recent extra­di­tion cases, there have been ques­tions in Par­lia­ment, motions, debates, reviews (Down­load Review), and there is an ongo­ing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and pre­vent McKin­non, O’Dywer and many oth­ers being sac­ri­ficed on the Amer­ic­an leg­al altar — the concept of “judi­cial rendi­tion”, as I have men­tioned before.

Well, I have a the­ory, one derived from per­son­al exper­i­ence.  The Brit­ish media — most not­ably the Daily Mail — inveigh against the uni­lat­er­al extra­di­tion of UK cit­izens to the USA’s bru­tal pris­on régime.  There is also some con­cern about extra­di­tion to oth­er European jur­is­dic­tions — usu­ally on the fringes to the south and east of the con­tin­ent, regions where the Brit­ish seem to have a vis­cer­al fear of cor­rupt offi­cials and kangaroo courts.

But what many com­ment­at­ors seem to miss is the cru­cial leg­al con­nec­tion — the extra­di­tion arrange­ments that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many oth­er leg­al banana repub­lics com­par­able leg­al sys­tems to face out­rageous sen­tences are, in fact, embed­ded with­in the Extra­di­tion Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest War­rant, the the act that was rushed through Par­lia­ment in the midst of the post-9/11 ter­ror­ism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is cur­rently being used and abused to extra­dite Juli­an Assange to Sweden merely for police ques­tion­ing (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “tem­por­ar­ily sur­rendered” to the delights of the US judi­cial pro­cess. Hmm, could this pos­sibly be the reas­on for the delay in reform­ing the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant leg­al wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its cit­izens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 Dav­id Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestini­an stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand tri­al. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing tri­al.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their leg­al opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestini­an case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should nev­er, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing moth­er, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extra­di­tion?

WikiLeaks Discussion Panel with Julian Assange, HAR NL 2009

Last year I had the hon­our to meet Juli­an Assange, the founder of the bril­liant whis­tleblower web­site, WikiLeaks, that has been caus­ing such a stir recently with the release of the decryp­ted US mil­it­ary film,  “Col­lat­er­al Murder”, and recently with the Afghan War Logs

I have noth­ing but respect for WikiLeaks — it shines a torch into the dark corners of cor­rupt gov­ern­ment and big busi­ness, and is the way for­ward in hold­ing these organ­isa­tions, which largely believe them­selves to be above the law, at least some­what to account. 

Juli­an was kind enough to invite me to take part in a pan­el dis­cus­sion with him at the Hack­ing at Ran­dom fest­iv­al in the Neth­er­lands last year.  The dis­cus­sion focused on whis­tleblow­ing and gov­ern­ment account­ab­il­ity.  Here’s the video: