Talk at the Icelandic Centre for Investigative Journalism

Wikileaks spokes­man, Kris­tinn Hrafns­son, invited me to speak at the Iceland­ic Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism while I was in Ice­land in Feb­ru­ary.

While focus­ing on the inter­sec­tion and con­trol between intel­li­gence and the media, my talk also explores many of my oth­er cur­rent areas of interest.

Ice­land Journ­al­ists talk 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Lies, damned lies, and newspaper reporting…

Also on the Huff­ing­ton Post UK, RT, The Real News Net­work, nsn­bc, and Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House:

Where to start with this tangled skein of media spin, mis­rep­res­ent­a­tion and out­right hypo­crisy?

Last week the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence presen­ted this year’s award to Dr Tom Fin­gar at a cere­mony jointly hos­ted by the pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Uni­on Soci­ety.

Thomas_FingarDr Fin­gar, cur­rently a vis­it­ing lec­turer at Oxford, had in 2007 co-ordin­ated the pro­duc­tion of the US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate — the com­bined ana­lys­is of all 16 of Amer­ica’s intel­li­gence agen­cies — which assessed that the Ira­ni­an nuc­le­ar weapon­isa­tion pro­gramme had ceased in 2003.  This con­sidered and author­it­at­ive Estim­ate dir­ectly thwarted the 2008 US drive towards war against Iran, and has been reaf­firmed every year since then.

By the very fact of doing his job of provid­ing dis­pas­sion­ate and object­ive assess­ments and res­ist­ing any pres­sure to politi­cise the intel­li­gence (à la Down­ing Street Memo), Dr Fin­gar’s work is out­stand­ing and he is the win­ner of Sam Adams Award, 2012.  This may say some­thing about the par­lous state of our intel­li­gence agen­cies gen­er­ally, but don’t get me star­ted on that…

Any­way, as I said, the award cere­mony was co-hos­ted by the Oxford Uni­on Soci­ety last week, and many Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates atten­ded, often trav­el­ling long dis­tances to do so.  Former win­ners were asked to speak at the cere­mony, such as FBI Coleen Row­ley, GCHQ Kath­er­ine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and former UK Ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray.  Oth­er asso­ci­ates, includ­ing CIA Ray McGov­ern, dip­lo­mats Ann Wright and Brady Kiesling and myself also said a few words.  As former insiders and whis­tleblowers, we recog­nised the vitally import­ant work that Dr Fin­gar had done and all spoke about the import­ance of integ­rity in intel­li­gence.

One oth­er pre­vi­ous win­ner of the Sam Adams Award was also invited to speak — Juli­an Assange of Wikileaks.  He spoke elo­quently about the need for integ­rity and was gra­cious in prais­ing the work of Dr Fin­gar.

All the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al media were invited to attend what was an his­tor­ic gath­er­ing of inter­na­tion­al whis­lteblowers and cov­er an award giv­en to someone who, by doing their job with integ­rity, pre­ven­ted yet fur­ther ruin­ous war and blood­shed in the Middle East.

Few atten­ded, still few­er repor­ted on the event, and the prom­ised live stream­ing on You­tube was blocked by shad­owy powers at the very last minute — an irony con­sid­er­ing the Oxford Uni­on is renowned as a free speech soci­ety.

But worse was to come.  The next day The Guard­i­an news­pa­per, which his­tor­ic­ally fell out with Wikileaks, pub­lished a myop­ic hit-piece about the event. No men­tion of all the whis­tleblowers who atten­ded and what they said, no men­tion of the award to Dr Fin­gar, no men­tion of the fact that his work saved the Ira­ni­an people from need­less war.

Oh no, the entire piece focused on the taw­dry alleg­a­tions eman­at­ing from Sweden about Juli­an Assange’s extra­di­tion case.  Dis­count­ing the 450 stu­dents who applauded all the speeches, dis­count­ing all the ser­i­ous points raised by Juli­an Assange dur­ing his present­a­tion, and dis­count­ing the speeches of all the oth­er inter­na­tion­ally renowned whis­tleblowers present that even­ing, The Guard­i­an’s report­er, Amelia Hill, focused on the small demo out­side the event and the only three attendees she could appar­ently find to cri­ti­cise the fact that a plat­form, any plat­form, had been giv­en to Assange from his polit­ic­al asylum at the Ecuadori­an Embassy.

Amelia_HillSo this is where we arrive at the deep, really deep, hypo­crisy of the even­ing.  Amelia Hill is, I’m assum­ing,  the same Guard­i­an journ­al­ist who was threatened in 2011 with pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  She had allegedly been receiv­ing leaks from the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police about the on-going invest­ig­a­tion into the News of the World phone-hack­ing scan­dal.

At the time Fleet Street was up in arms — how dare the police threaten one of their own with pro­sec­u­tion under the OSA for expos­ing insti­tu­tion­al cor­rup­tion? Shades of the Shayler case were used in her defence. As I wrote at the time, it’s a shame the UK media could not have been more con­sist­ently robust in con­demning the chilling effects of the OSA on the free-flow of inform­a­tion and pro­tect all the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, and not just come out fight­ing when it is one of their own being threatened.  Such is the way of the world.…

But really, Ms Hill — if you are indeed the same report­er who was threatened with pro­sec­u­tion in 2011 under the OSA — exam­ine your con­science.

How can you write a hit-piece focus­ing purely on Assange — a man who has designed a pub­lish­ing sys­tem to pro­tect poten­tial whis­tleblowers from pre­cisely such dra­coni­an secrecy laws as you were hyper­bol­ic­ally threatened with? And how could you, at the same time, air­brush out of his­tory the testi­mony of so many whis­tleblowers gathered togeth­er, many of whom have indeed been arres­ted and have faced pro­sec­u­tion under the terms of the OSA or US secrecy legis­la­tion?

Have you no shame?  You know how fright­en­ing it is to be faced with such a pro­sec­u­tion.

Your hypo­crisy is breath-tak­ing.

The offence was com­poun­ded when the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates all wrote a let­ter to The Guard­i­an to set the record straight. The ori­gin­al let­ter is repro­duced below, and this is what was pub­lished.  Of course, The Guard­i­an has a per­fect right under its Terms and Con­di­tions to edit the let­ter, but I would like every­one to see how this can be used and abused.

And the old media won­ders why they are in decline?

Let­ter to The Guard­i­an, 29 Janu­ary 2013:

Dear Sir

With regard to the 24 Janu­ary art­icle in The Guard­i­an entitled “Juli­an Assange Finds No Allies and Tough Quer­ies in Oxford Uni­ver­sity Talk,” we ques­tion wheth­er the news­pa­per­’s report­er was actu­ally present at the event, since the account con­tains so many false and mis­lead­ing state­ments.

If The Guard­i­an could “find no allies” of Mr. Assange, it did not look very hard! They could be found among the appre­ci­at­ive audi­ence of the packed Oxford Uni­on Debate Hall, and — in case you missed us — in the group seated right at the front of the Hall: the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence.

Many in our group — which, you might be inter­ested to know co-sponsored the event with Oxford Uni­on — had traveled con­sid­er­able dis­tances at our own expense to con­fer the 10th annu­al Sam Adams award to Dr. Thomas Fin­gar for his work on over­see­ing the 2007 Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate that revealed the lack of an Ira­ni­an nuc­le­ar weapon­iz­a­tion pro­gram.

Many of us spoke in turn about the need for integ­rity in intel­li­gence, describ­ing the ter­rible eth­ic­al dilemma that con­fronts gov­ern­ment employ­ees who wit­ness illeg­al activ­ity includ­ing ser­i­ous threats to pub­lic safety and fraud, waste and abuse.

But none of this made it into what was sup­posed to pass for a news art­icle; neither did any aspect of the accept­ance speech delivered by Dr. Fin­gar. Also, why did The Guard­i­an fail to provide even one sali­ent quote from Mr Assange’s sub­stan­tial twenty-minute address?

By cen­sor­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates and the speeches by Dr. Fin­gar and Mr. Assange, and by focus­ing exclus­ively on taw­dry and unproven alleg­a­tions against Mr. Assange, rather than on the import­ance of expos­ing war crimes and main­tain­ing integ­rity in intel­li­gence pro­cesses, The Guard­i­an has suc­ceeded in dimin­ish­ing none but itself.

Sin­cerely,

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence:

Ann Wright (retired Army Col­on­el and For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), Ray McGov­ern (retired CIA ana­lyst), Eliza­beth Mur­ray (retired CIA ana­lyst), Coleen Row­ley (retired FBI agent), Annie Machon (former MI5 intel­li­gence officer), Thomas Drake (former NSA offi­cial), Craig Mur­ray (former Brit­ish Ambas­sad­or), Dav­id MacMi­chael (retired CIA ana­lyst), Brady Kiesling (former For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), and Todd Pierce (retired U.S. Army Major, Judge Advoc­ate, Guantanamo Defense Coun­sel).

What whistleblowers want

Whis­tleblowers want the sun and the moon — or at least they 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? The decision to expose crimin­al­ity and bad prac­tice for the pub­lic good has ser­i­ous, life-chan­ging implic­a­tions.

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 the secure, high-tech pub­lish­ing con­duit, as trail-blazed by Wikileaks. While this does not provide the poten­tial bene­fits of work­ing with a cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist, it does provide 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 liked the Wikileaks mod­el since I first stumbled across it in 2009.

As with most truly revolu­tion­ary ideas, once pos­ited it is blind­ingly obvi­ous.

Nev­er before has this been tech­nic­ally pos­sible — the idea that a whis­tleblower­’s inform­a­tion could be made freely avail­able to the cit­izens of the world, in order to inform their demo­crat­ic choices, with no block­age, not cen­sor­ship, no fil­ter­ing or “inter­pret­a­tion” by the cor­por­ate media.

This is par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant in an age when the glob­al media has been con­sol­id­ated in the hands of a few mul­tina­tion­als, and when these mul­tina­tion­als have a cer­tain, shall we say “cosy”, rela­tion­ship with many of top our politi­cians and power elites.

The con­trol of the main­stream media by the spooks and gov­ern­ments has been the focus of many of my recent talks.  These cor­rupt inter-rela­tion­ships have also been recently laid bare with the News Inter­na­tion­al phone-hack­ing scan­dals.

The days of gar­ner­ing news from one favoured paper or TV bul­let­in are long gone. Few people now trust just one media out­let — they skip across a vari­ety of news sources, try­ing to eval­u­ate the truth for them­selves. But even that can be prob­lem­at­ic when some­thing big occurs, such as the “jus­ti­fic­a­tion” for the inva­sion of Iraq or Libya, and the cur­rent beat of war drums against Iran, when the cor­por­ate media mys­ter­i­ously achieves a con­sensus.

Hence the demo­crat­ic dis­con­nect, hence the dis­trust, and hence (in part) the plum­met­ing profits of the old media.

Wikileaks is based on a simple concept —  it allows the people to read the source mater­i­al for them­selves and make up their own minds based on real inform­a­tion.  This led to expos­ure of all kinds of glob­al nas­ties way before the massive 2010 US data-dump.

Des­pite this approach, the impact was ini­tially sub­dued until Wikileaks col­lab­or­ated with the old media.  This, as we all know, did indeed pro­duce the cov­er­age and aware­ness of those issues deemed import­ant as it was filtered through the MSM. This has also inev­it­ably lead to ten­sions between the new mod­el hackt­iv­ists and the old-school journ­al­ists.

No gov­ern­ment, least of all the USA, likes to have demands for justice and trans­par­ency forced upon it, and the push back since 2010 has been massive across the world in terms of an appar­ently illeg­al fin­an­cial block­ade, opaque leg­al cases and a media back­lash. Cer­tain of Wikileak­s’s erstwhile media part­ners have col­lab­or­ated in this, turn­ing on one of their richest sources of inform­a­tion in his­tory.

How­ever, Wikileaks is more than a media source.  It is a whole new mod­el — a high-tech pub­lish­er that offers a safe con­duit for whis­tleblowers to cache and pub­li­cise their inform­a­tion without imme­di­ately hav­ing to over­turn (and in some cases risk) their lives.

For this work, Wikileaks has over the years won a num­ber of inter­na­tion­ally pres­ti­gi­ous journ­al­ism awards.

Inev­it­ably, crit­ics in the main­stream media seem to want to have their cake and eat it too: one early part­ner, the New York Times, has writ­ten that it does­n’t recog­nise Wikileaks as a journ­al­ist organ­isa­tion or a pub­lish­er — it is a source, pure and simple.

Either way, by say­ing this the media are surely shoot­ing them­selves in the cor­por­ate feet with both bar­rels. If Wikileaks is indeed “just” a source (the NYT seems to be blithely for­get­ting that good journ­al­ism is entirely depend­ent on its sources), then the media are break­ing their prime dir­ect­ive: pro­tect a source at all costs.

How­ever, if Wikileaks is a journ­al­ism or pub­lish­ing organ­isa­tion and as such is being tar­geted by the US gov­ern­ment, then all oth­er media are surely equally at risk in the future?

By not stand­ing up for Wikileaks in either capa­city, it appears that the old media have a death wish.

Over the years whis­tleblowers around the world have demon­strated their trust in Wikileaks, as it was set up by someone emer­ging from the ori­gin­al bona fide hack­er com­munity.   And rightly so — let’s not for­get that no source has been exposed through the fail­ure of the organ­isa­tion’s tech­no­logy.

Many media organ­isa­tions rushed to emu­late its suc­cess by try­ing to set up their own “secure” whis­tleblow­ing repos­it­or­ies.  What the media execs failed to under­stand was the hack­er eth­os, the open source men­tal­ity: they went to their tech­ie depart­ment or com­mer­cial IT ser­vice pro­viders and said “we want one”, but failed to under­stand both the eth­os and the secur­ity con­cerns around closed, pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware sys­tems, often chan­nelled through the post-Pat­ri­ot Act, post-CISPA USA.

Oth­er, appar­ently well-mean­ing organ­isa­tions, also tried to emu­late the Wikileaks mod­el, but most have died a quiet death over the last year.  Per­haps, again, for want of real trust in their ori­gin or tech secur­ity?

Why on earth would any secur­ity-con­scious whis­tleblower, emer­ging out of a gov­ern­ment, mil­it­ary or intel­li­gence organ­isa­tion, trust such a set-up?  If someone comes out of such an envir­on­ment they will know all-too-well the scale of the push-back, the pos­sible entrap­ments, and the state-level resources that will be used to track them down. They either need an über-secure whis­tleblow­ing plat­form, or they need journ­al­ists and law­yers with fire in their belly to fight the fight, no mat­ter what.

So now to Open­Leaks — appar­ently the brainchild of Wikileaks defect­or Daniel Dom­sheit-Berg. He and the shad­owy “Archi­tect” fam­ously fell out with Juli­an Assange in late 2010, just when the polit­ic­al heat was ramp­ing up on the organ­isa­tion.  They left, reportedly tak­ing some of the cru­cial cod­ing and a tranche of files with them, and Dom­sheit-Berg decided to set up a rival organ­isa­tion called Open­Leaks.  As a res­ult of his actions, Dom­sheit-Berg was uniquely cast out of the inter­na­tion­al hack­er group, the CCC in Ber­lin.

He now seems to have been wel­comed back into the fold and Open­Leaks appears, finally, to be ready to receive whis­tleblower inform­a­tion.

How­ever, there is a cru­cial dif­fer­ence between the two organ­isa­tions.  Where Wikileaks wants to lay the inform­a­tion out there for pub­lic eval­u­ation, Open­Leaks will merely act as a repos­it­ory for cer­tain approved main­stream media organ­isa­tions to access. We are back to the ori­gin­al block­age of the cor­por­ate media decid­ing what inform­a­tion we, the people, should be allowed to ingest.

I would not wish to com­ment on Dom­sheit-Ber­g’s motiv­a­tion, but to me this seems to be an even worse option for a whis­tleblower than dir­ectly con­tact­ing a cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist with a proven track record of cov­er­ing hard-core stor­ies and fight­ing for the cause.

With Open­Leaks, the whis­tleblower loses not only the auto­mat­ic wide­spread dis­sem­in­a­tion of their inform­a­tion, but also any semb­lance of con­trol over which journ­al­ists will be work­ing on their story.  Their inform­a­tion will be parked on the web­site and any­one from pre-selec­ted media organ­isa­tions will be able to access, use and poten­tially abuse it.

One could say that Open­Leaks oper­ates as a secure sta­ging plat­form where a whis­tleblower can safely store sens­it­ive doc­u­ments and inform­a­tion.… but the founder allegedly removed and des­troyed sens­it­ive files from Wikileaks when he jumped ship in 2010.  Could any whis­tleblower really trust that Open­Leaks would not sim­il­arly “dis­ap­pear” shit-hot inform­a­tion in the future?

Plus, there is the added worry for any rightly-para­noid whis­tleblower that the founder of Open­Leaks so eas­ily aban­doned Wikileaks when under pres­sure.  Who’s to say that this would not hap­pen again, if the full might of the Pentagon were brought to bear on Open­Leaks?

Open­Leaks offers neither the per­son­al sup­port of work­ing with a trus­ted journ­al­ist and a media organ­isa­tion with the clout to fight back, nor does it provide full dis­clos­ure to the wider pub­lic to side-step poten­tial media self-cen­sor­ship and gov­ern­ment law suits, as the ori­gin­al Wikileaks mod­el does.

As such Open­Leaks seems, at least to this par­tic­u­lar whis­tleblower, to be an evol­u­tion­ary blip — a ret­ro­grade step — in the quest for justice and account­ab­il­ity.

La Conférence régionale du journalisme d’enquête, Geneva

Swiss_Press_Club_PhotoThe end of April saw me bask­ing in the hot and sunny weath­er of Geneva, where I had been invited to give a talk (Down­load Geneva) at the Swiss Press Club.

We had a lovely time in Geneva, and many thanks to Jean-Phil­ippe Ceppi and the rest of the team for such a warm, inter­ested and inter­est­ing wel­come.

The Scandinavian Tour 2012

I had an immensely stim­u­lat­ing time dur­ing my recent mini-tour of Scand­inavi­an invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ences, meet­ing informed, inter­est­ing, and inter­ested people.

The focus of my talks was the nex­us between the intel­li­gence world and the media — les­sons I had learned, researched and deduced dur­ing the whis­tleblow­ing years and bey­ond.  I have heard so many hair-rais­ing media stor­ies over the years.…

And, hav­ing listened to the exper­i­ences of journ­al­ists from a wide vari­ety of oth­er coun­tries, it seems I am on the right track.

Grav_talkFirst stop was the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden, where I gave a talk and had the pleas­ure of meet­ing invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists who con­firmed what I was say­ing, even if some of them did­n’t think I had quite gone far enough!  We also had fun at the “min­gel” even­ing.

Next stop, next day, was the SKUP con­fer­ence in Nor­way where I did a talk, and also a debate about the media and whis­tleblowers.  Note to self: nev­er, ever agree to do a morn­ing debate after the legendary SKUP party the night before.

Finally, last week­end, I vis­ited the Tutki 2012 journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Fin­land (Down­load Helsinki_Talk).  The response was over­whelm­ingly pos­it­ive, and once again I had con­firm­a­tion of what I was say­ing from the journ­al­ists them­selves.

So what can we do about this situ­ation?  I shall keep spread­ing the word, and the journ­al­ists them­selves just need to keep say­ing a resound­ing “no” to the induce­ments, at least if they want to work on mean­ing­ful invest­ig­a­tions.  And what real journ­al­ist does­n’t, au fond?

Next stop Geneva, which is why I’m limber­ing up with the French.

And now to Finland.…

Tutki2012_logoMy grand tour around Scand­inavia con­tin­ues next week­end, when I shall be giv­ing the open­ing key­note at the Tutki!2012 invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Hel­sinki.  Look­ing for­ward to the con­fer­ence!

Talks in Sweden and Norway

Off on my travels again at the end of the week, with two key­notes at Scand­inavi­an journ­al­ism con­fer­ences.

Grav_logo I shall first be speak­ing at the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden on Fri­day 23 March.

SKUP_2012Top­ics under dis­cus­sion will include everything from secur­ity and intel­li­gence to the war on ter­ror, civil liber­ties to eth­ics and media freedoms, gov­ern­ment account­ab­il­ity to whis­tleblow­ing and Wikileaks.

On Sat­urday I travel on to Nor­way to speak at the SKUP con­fer­ence to give a talk and also on Sunday morn­ing to par­ti­cip­ate in a pan­el dis­cus­sion about all things whis­tleblow­ing and Wikileaks. I gath­er that such dis­cus­sions can get quite, um, lively.

I’m look­ing for­ward to an inter­est­ing and stim­u­lat­ing week­end.

A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our free­dom of speech is loom­ing and, for once, I am not inveigh­ing against the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pun­gent repu­ta­tion as the libel cap­it­al of the world. And now it appears that this won­der­ful prac­tice is going “off­shore”.

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take excep­tion to a book writ­ten and pub­lished about them in the USA.   US law, some­what sur­pris­ingly con­sid­er­ing its cur­rent par­lous state, provided no route to sue.   How­ever, some bright leg­al spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offend­ing book had been sold in the UK — even if only a hand­ful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon​.co​.uk — and Mr Justice Eady helped the pro­cess along mag­ni­fi­cently.  

And so was born the concept of “libel tour­ism”.  Satir­ic­al cur­rent affairs magazine Private Eye has long been cam­paign­ing against this, oth­er UK news out­lets gradu­ally fol­lowed suit, and the UK gov­ern­ment is finally tak­ing steps to rein in these egre­gious, if luc­rat­ive, leg­al prac­tices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that’s pre­cisely when your off­shore crown depend­en­cies, oth­er­wise known as Brit­ish tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubi­ous fin­an­cial prac­tices of these islands, the most geo­graph­ic­ally con­veni­ent being the Chan­nel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the atti­tude to self-reg­u­la­tion makes the prac­tices of the Square Mile look pos­it­ively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guern­sey is look­ing to become a hub of anoth­er luc­rat­ive off­shore prac­tice: libel tour­ism.  

Guern­sey has its own par­lia­ment — the States —  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK main­land, a firm of off­shore tax law­yers has iden­ti­fied a won­der­ful busi­ness oppor­tun­ity. 

Jason Romer is the man­aging part­ner and intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty spe­cial­ist at the large “wealth man­age­ment” leg­al firm Col­las Cri­ll.  Accord­ing to his firm­’s web­site, he also, coin­cid­ent­ally, sits on the island’s Com­mer­cial IP Steer­ing Group and the Draft­ing Sub-Com­mit­tee, and is thus con­veni­ently on hand to steer the new legis­la­tion through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coin­cid­ent­ally, he appears to be an enthu­si­ast­ic advoc­ate of Eady’s infam­ous “super-injunc­tion” régime which has had such a chillingly expens­ive effect on the Brit­ish media in the last dec­ade.

So, if this law is passed, any­one, any­where around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their “image rights” in Guern­sey.  These rights can even last indef­in­itely after the ori­gin­al own­er­’s death.

This means that any­one, any­where, who feels that their “image” has been inap­pro­pri­ately reproduced/copied/pirated — the cor­rect leg­al ter­min­o­logy is hazy —  can then sue through the Guern­sey courts for redress.  This could poten­tially be a power­ful new glob­al tool for the sup­pres­sion of free speech.  As pub­lic out­cry swells inter­na­tion­ally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemo­crat­ic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap pre­cisely in the wrong dir­ec­tion.  

Guern­sey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recog­ni­tion over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infest­a­tion of off­shore bankers and trust fund law­yers, it has been tar­mac-ed over by greed and social divi­sion. Before then it was proud of its egal­it­ari­an­ism, Nor­man-French her­it­age, beau­ti­fully ana­chron­ist­ic pace of life, and an eco­nomy based on toma­toes and tour­ism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its eco­nomy based on rot­ten fin­an­cial apples and off­shore libel tour­ism.

I just wanted to get that out of my sys­tem now — while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for dam­aging its “image rights”.… 

The Big Dig Journalism Conference, Copenhagen

I recently did the open­ing key­note at the Big Dig invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Copen­ha­gen.  Thanks to the organ­isers for a won­der­ful week­end!

Mediafabric talk, Prague, October 2011

Last Octo­ber I had the pleas­ure of speak­ing at the excel­lent Medi­afab­ric con­fer­ence in Prague.  The focus of my talk was the future of intel­li­gence, whis­tleblow­ing and journ­al­ism.

The event was organ­ised by Source­fab­ric, an inter­na­tion­al organ­isa­tion that provides open source tools and solu­tions for journ­al­ists, so it was an eclect­ic and stim­u­lat­ing crowd of journ­al­ists, geeks, hack­tav­ists and design­ers.   So well done and thank you to the organ­isers.

Here’s the video:

Speaking at Mediafabric Conference, Prague, 21 October

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Off tomor­row to speak at the Medi­afab­ric con­fer­ence in Prague. 

Should be a good one — all about the media, journ­al­ists, tech­no­lo­gists, design­ers, hack­ers,  and all points in between!

The con­fer­ence has been organ­ised by Source­fab­ric, and there will be live stream­ing here.

Journalists need to wise up to secrecy laws

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I had a fant­ast­ic time at the Glob­al Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism Con­fer­ence in Kiev last week­end.  A huge  well done to the organ­isers for a great four days, and I loved hav­ing the chance to meet so many inter­est­ing and inter­ested people from across the world!

I was invited to give the open­ing key­note speech (video to fol­low), where I dis­cussed some of my exper­i­ences from the MI5 whis­tleblow­ing years, but then went on to apply the harsh les­sons learned to the cur­rent situ­ation vis a vis the issue of spy influ­ence on the media today and the thorny issue of whis­tleblow­ing and the pro­tec­tion of sources.

Part of my talk focused on the con­trol of the media by the spies in Bri­tain.  As I have writ­ten before, this is very much a “car­rot and stick” scen­ario: the soft aspect, of course, being cosy chats with selec­ted journ­al­ists, well-timed career-enhan­cing scoops, as well as an increas­ingly unhealthy journ­al­ist­ic depend­ence on brief­ings com­ing out of the intel­li­gence world and gov­ern­ment.

The stick aspect includes the bat­tery of harsh laws that can be called upon to sup­press free report­ing in the UK, which some­times leads to self-cen­sor­ship by the media.  These laws include:

Beginning_of_trialHow do I know all this?  Well, as you can see from many of the links in the above list, I’ve lived through much of this and have fol­lowed with great interest sim­il­ar and related cases over the years.  More inform­a­tion about these issues can be found in this excel­lent report pro­duced by Art­icle 19 and Liberty over a dec­ade ago.  The situ­ation has not improved.

While in Kiev I atten­ded an excel­lent ses­sion where two Rus­si­an journ­al­ists dis­cussed the rami­fic­a­tions of report­ing on the mod­ern incarn­a­tion of the Rus­si­an intel­li­gence agency, the FSB.

I was some­what startled to hear that even in Rus­sia journ­al­ists have more leg­al pro­tec­tion than those in the UK — ie they face no crim­in­al leg­al sanc­tion if they report whis­tleblower mater­i­al from the Rus­si­an spy agen­cies.  In the UK journ­al­ists poten­tially face 2 years in pris­on for doing so, under the invi­di­ous Sec­tion 5 of the 1989 OSA.

Way to go, Brit­ish demo­cracy.

Global Investigative Journalism Conference, Kiev

Off to do a key­note at the Glob­al Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism Con­fer­ence in Kiev.   Should be inter­est­ing — watch this space.

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