Defending Human Rights in a Digital Age

This is an (abbre­vi­ated) ver­sion of my con­tri­bu­tion to a pan­el dis­cus­sion about human rights in a digit­al age, hos­ted last Decem­ber by Pro­fess­or Mari­anne Frank­lin and Gold­smiths Uni­ver­sity in Lon­don:

Gold­smiths Uni­ver­sity Pri­vacy Dis­cus­sion, Decem­ber 2015 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Terrorism, crime, or mental illness?

This morn­ing I was invited on to RT to do an inter­view about the break­ing story of a mass shoot­ing that occurred last night at a nightclub in Flor­ida in the USA.  You will, no doubt, have seen the head­lines by now — the biggest mass shoot­ing in mod­ern Amer­ic­an his­tory.

At the time, as the news was break­ing, I was some­what puzzled about what I could con­trib­ute — surely this was just anoth­er ghastly mas­sacre by the usu­al gun-tot­ing crazy that Amer­ica seems to spawn so reg­u­larly? After all, it seems that the Second Amend­ment is the last right stand­ing from the US con­sti­tu­tion, after all the oth­ers have been evis­cer­ated as a res­ult of the “war on ter­ror” and the social fric­tion caused by the fin­an­cial melt-down of the US eco­nomy?

How­ever, with a little thought on a mel­low European Sunday, I could see a num­ber of threads com­ing togeth­er, which I explored dur­ing the inter­view.  I would like to devel­op some of them fur­ther in this art­icle.

At the time I was inter­viewed, few hard facts had been con­firmed about the shoot­ing — merely a con­ser­vat­ive estim­ate of the num­ber of dead and wounded, and the fact the gun­man had been killed. Everything else was pure spec­u­la­tion. That did not stop much of the West­ern media from jump­ing to con­clu­sions — that this must be an ISIS-inspired attack and there­fore Muslim ter­ror­ism, by our cur­rent West­ern defin­i­tion.

I have a prob­lem with this cur­rent usage. When work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer with MI5 in the 1990s — at the height of the reli­gious civil war being waged between the Prot­est­ants and the Cath­ol­ics in North­ern Ire­land, our work­ing defin­i­tion was that “ter­ror­ism” was the use of viol­ence to achieve polit­ic­al aims. So “ter­ror­ism” has nev­er been a purely Muslim-ori­gin­ated concept, no mat­ter how the USA has chosen to define it since 9/11.

The reas­on I am mak­ing this rather obvi­ous point is that the USA, par­tic­u­larly, has always engendered some rather unsa­voury domest­ic “ter­ror­ist” groups, motiv­ated by Chris­ti­an or cult fan­at­icism — think the Branch Dav­idi­ans, or the Chris­ti­an fun­da­ment­al­ists mur­der­ing doc­tors and blow­ing up abor­tion clin­ics, or white suprem­acists ter­ror­ising black com­munit­ies or blow­ing up FBI offices such as the Oklahoma bomb­ing of 1995, which was ini­tially blamed on Middle East­ern ter­ror­ism. If that is not the use of viol­ence to achieve polit­ic­al aims, then our intel­li­gence agen­cies need to change the defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism.

As the shoot­ings in the Pulse nightclub in Flor­ida spe­cific­ally tar­geted a LGBT crowd, it is just as feas­ible that the gun­man could have fun­da­ment­al­ist Chris­ti­an beliefs that urged him to tar­get this com­munity as some ISIS-inspired jihadi.  After all, we have seen sim­il­ar attacks in the UK, with the Lon­don nail bomber tar­get­ing gay nightclubs in 1999.

Yet the former is, to this day, widely seen as a mass killing, a “ram­page shoot­er” or a mad­man, and treated as a crim­in­al, where­as a Muslim com­mit­ting the same acts for sim­il­arly big­oted reas­ons is auto­mat­ic­ally deemed to be a ter­ror­ist. And we all know that “ter­ror­ism” is a unique form of “evil­tude” that imme­di­ately exposes the sus­pect  to great­er leg­al pen­al­ties at the very least and assas­sin­a­tion at the worst end of the scale, US cit­izen or not.

Ter­ror­ism is a crime — pure and simple — and it should be treated as a crime.  Muslim sus­pects of such crimes should not be kid­napped, tor­tured, held in isol­a­tion for years, or sub­ject to mil­it­ary tribunals with no real right to defence, any more than Chris­ti­an, athe­ist or any oth­er sus­pects should be.  Nor should spe­cific­ally “Muslim” ter­ror­ism be the excuse used to strip away all our basic and hard-won civic freedoms and human rights in our own coun­tries, yet that is what has been hap­pen­ing in the unend­ing “war on ter­ror”.

The UK went through this debate in the 1980s and 1990s — at the height of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA and Loy­al­ist para­mil­it­ary bomb­ing cam­paigns across the UK — which was anoth­er reli­gious-based ter­ror­ist war, as I men­tioned before.  It also — at least from the PIRA side, received the bulk of its fund­ing from the Amer­ic­an Irish dia­spora. In fact, des­pite the peace pro­cess in North­ern Ire­land signed with the Good Fri­day Agree­ment in 1998, this fund­ing from Amer­ica only finally dried up in the after­math of 9/11.

And what of the third point in the title — the men­tal health issue? I men­tion this because there was a recent case in Lon­don of a knife-wield­ing man fren­ziedly attack­ing com­muters in an under­ground rail­way sta­tion last year. The report­ing at the time declared that he had been shout­ing “this is for Syr­ia” — as he attacked his fel­low trav­el­lers. At the time every­one assumed he was anoth­er rad­ic­al­ised jihadi car­ry­ing out a lone wolf attack.  Indeed, even people at the scene seemed con­vinced. One wit­ness cried out “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv”, a heart­felt sen­ti­ment that went vir­al over social media.

This story was head­line news in the UK at the time. The tri­al recently reached its con­clu­sion, and it now appears that the per­pet­rat­or had ser­i­ous men­tal health issues.  These may have latched onto jihadi ter­min­o­logy, but the motiv­a­tion was not ter­ror­ist­ic.

The guy prob­ably needed an earli­er inter­ven­tion by health pro­fes­sion­als, but he slipped through the cracks. That does not make him a ter­ror­ist though — no mat­ter what he said in his frenzy — and yet this con­clu­sion cer­tainly did not get the front page head­lines the ini­tial attack received.

Let us also look at the so-called “lone wolf” attacks that have happened across West­ern coun­tries over the last few years — in Canada, Lon­don, Aus­tralia, the USA, Den­mark — as well as the Par­is and Brus­sels attacks.  Many of the prot­ag­on­ists were already on the radar of the West­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies, but because they are drown­ing in a tsunami of inform­a­tion garnered for the mass sur­veil­lance of us all, these cru­cial nug­gets of real intel­li­gence were swamped.

Even worse, it appears that many of the people sub­sequently fingered as the per­pet­rat­ors had already been approached by the intel­li­gence agen­cies, as appears to be the case in Flor­ida too.

So, how does this all come togeth­er? There is not doubt that genu­ine psy­cho­paths or sad­ists are attrac­ted to ter­ror­ist as well as crim­in­al gangs to give free rein to their tend­en­cies — ISIS is an abso­lutely hor­ri­fy­ing example of this.  But the ideo­logy of such groups can also attract from a dis­tance the men­tally fra­gile, who can become use­ful idi­ots or delu­sion­al fol­low­ers, or vul­ner­able indi­vidu­als who can even be manip­u­lated by law enforce­ment. Add into the mix fun­da­ment­al­ist reli­gion, cult, or racial suprem­acy beliefs and it all gets too messy, too fast.

And yet.… all these groups use ter­ror to achieve their goals, but only a few are deemed to be ter­ror­ists rather than crim­in­als — and we all know now that any­one labelled a ter­ror­ist faces far high­er pen­al­ties than these oth­er cat­egor­ies of crime.

Intel­li­gence agen­cies are there to pro­tect our nation­al secur­ity — ie our nation’s integ­rity and its very exist­ence.  As I have said for many years now, such threats include immin­ent inva­sion, as Bri­tain faced dur­ing the Second World War, or glob­al anni­hil­a­tion as we all faced dur­ing the Cold War.

The ran­dom attacks of ter­ror­ist — or crim­in­al groups or men­tally ill people — cause trauma to the coun­try and the com­munit­ies in which they occur, but they do not threaten our country’s very sur­viv­al.

We need to cla­ri­fy our think­ing urgently, both around the defin­i­tions applied to such crimes and to the pro­por­tion­al­ity of the response we make. This will allow us to pre­serve and strengthen the concept of the rule of law and the notion of demo­cracy under which we all hope to live.

The Dark Web — interview on TRT World

Here’s a recent inter­view I did for “The News­makers” pro­gramme on TRT World, dis­cuss­ing the Dark Web and pri­vacy:

The News­makers, TRT World, Tur­key from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

German Netzpolitik journalists investigated for treason

Press free­dom is under threat in Ger­many — two journ­al­ists and their alleged source are under invest­ig­a­tion for poten­tial treas­on for dis­clos­ing and report­ing what appears to be an illeg­al and secret plan to spy on Ger­man cit­izens. Here’s the inter­view I did for RT​.com about this yes­ter­day:

Ger­man Net­zpolitik journ­al­ists face treas­on charges from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Trident Whistleblower

My inter­view on RT yes­ter­day about the young whis­tleblower, Sub­mar­iner Wil­li­am McNeilly, who exposed ser­i­ous secur­ity con­cerns about the UK’s nuc­le­ar deterrent sys­tem, Tri­dent:

Annie Machon Tri­dent Whis­tleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Today it was repor­ted that McNeilly turned him­self in to the police at Edin­burgh air­port and is cur­rently in mil­it­ary cus­tody.

Whistleblower panel discussion at Logan Symposium

Here is a pan­el dis­cus­sion I did about whis­tleblow­ing at the Logan Sym­posi­um in Lon­don last Novem­ber. With me on the pan­el are Eileen Chubb, a UK health care whis­tleblower who runs Com­pas­sion in Care and is cam­paign­ing for Edna’s Law, and Bea Edwards of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject.  With thanks to @newsPeekers for film­ing this.

news­Peek­sLIVE whis­tleblower inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

US/UK intelligence agencies threaten Germany

Accord­ing to journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald, Ger­man Vice Chan­cel­lor Sig­mar Gab­ri­el has stated that the US and UK spy agen­cies threatened to cut Ger­many out of the intel­li­gence-shar­ing loop if it gave safe haven to NSA whis­tle­bower, Edward Snowden.

Here is my view of the situ­ation on RT today:

RT Inter­view about US/UK intel­li­gence threats to Ger­many from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Jihadi John and MI5

So this week the mur­der­ous behead­er of the Islam­ic State, “Jihadi John”, has been unmasked.  His real iden­tity is appar­ently Mohammed Emwazi, born in Kuwait and now a Brit­ish cit­izen who was raised and edu­cated in west Lon­don

Much sound, fury and heated debate has been expen­ded over the last couple of days about how he became rad­ic­al­ised, who was to blame, with MI5 once more cast in the role of vil­lain. In such media sound-bite dis­cus­sions it is all too easy to fall into facile and polar­ised argu­ments. Let us try to break this down and reach a more nuanced  under­stand­ing.

First up is the now-notori­ous press con­fer­ence hos­ted by the cam­paign­ing group, Cage, in which the Research Dir­ect­or, Asim Qure­shi , claimed that MI5 har­ass­ment of Emwazi was the reas­on for his rad­ic­al­isa­tion. Emwazi had com­plained to Cage and appar­ently the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police that over the last six years MI5 had approached him and was pres­sur­ising him to work as an agent for them. Accord­ing to Cage, this har­ass­ment lead to Emwazi’s rad­ic­al­isa­tion.

Yet recruit­ment of such agents is a core MI5 func­tion, some­thing it used to do with sub­tlety and some suc­cess, by identi­fy­ing people with­in groups who poten­tially could be vul­ner­able to induce­ments or pres­sure to report back on tar­get organ­isa­tions.  In fact, Brit­ish intel­li­gence used to be much more focused on gath­er­ing “HUMINT”.  The very best intel­li­gence comes from an (ideally) will­ing but at least co-oper­at­ive human agent: they are mobile, they can gain the trust of and con­verse with tar­gets who may be wary of using elec­tron­ic com­mu­nic­a­tions, and they can be tasked to gath­er spe­cif­ic intel­li­gence rather than wait­ing for the lucky hit on inter­cept.

MI5 used to be good at this — spend­ing time to really invest­ig­ate and identi­fy the right recruit­ment tar­gets, with a con­sidered approach towards mak­ing the pitch.

How­ever, it appears since 9/11 and the start of the bru­tal “war on ter­ror” that two prob­lems have evolved, both of which ori­gin­ated in Amer­ica. Firstly, Brit­ish intel­li­gence seems to have fol­lowed their US coun­ter­parts down a mor­al hel­ter-skel­ter, becom­ing re-involved in counter-pro­duct­ive and bru­tal activ­it­ies such as kid­nap­ping, intern­ment and tor­ture. As MI5 had learned at least by the 1990s, such activ­it­ies inev­it­ably res­ult in blow-back, and can act as a recruit­ing drum to the ter­ror­ist cause of the day.

(Tan­gen­tially, the Home Office also instig­ated the Pre­vent pro­gramme — in concept to counter rad­ic­al Islam in vul­ner­able social com­munit­ies, but in prac­tice used and abused by the author­it­ies to intim­id­ate and coerce young Muslims in the UK.)

Secondly, Brit­ish intel­li­gence seems over the last dec­ade to have blindly fol­lowed the US spies down the path of pan­op­tic­an, drag-net elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance.  All this has been long sus­pec­ted by a few, but con­firmed to the many by the dis­clos­ures of Edward Snowden over the last couple of years. Indeed it seems that GCHQ is not merely com­pli­cit but an act­ive facil­it­at­or and ena­bler of the NSA’s wilder ideas.  And what we now know is hor­rif­ic enough, yet it cur­rently remains just the tip of the ice­berg.

This deluge of inform­a­tion cre­ates gar­gan­tu­an hay­stacks with­in which some genu­ine intel­li­gence needles might reside — to use the ter­min­o­logy of the spy agency cheer­lead­ers. How­ever, it con­cur­rently swamps the intel­li­gence agen­cies in use­less inform­a­tion, while also cer­tainly throw­ing up a per­cent­age of false-pos­it­ives.  Bear­ing in mind the sheer scale of the leg­ally dubi­ous snoop­ing, even a 0.001% of false pos­it­ives could poten­tially pro­duce thou­sands of erro­neous leads.

Curi­ous people now have a world of inform­a­tion at their fin­ger­tips. They may click on an intriguing link and find them­selves on a rad­ic­al web­site; even if they click out quickly, the pan­op­ticon will have logged their “interest”. Or they could donate money to an appar­ently legit­im­ate char­ity; “like” the wrong thing on Face­book; fol­low the wrong per­son on Twit­ter; have their email hacked, or whatever.…

The Big Broth­er Borg algorithms will crunch through all of this inform­a­tion pre­dict­ably and pre­dict­ively, with sub­tleties lost and mis­takes made. Mind you, that happened in a more lim­ited fash­ion too at the height of the Cold War sub­ver­sion para­noia in Bri­tain in the 1970s and 1980s, when school­boys writ­ing to the Com­mun­ist Party HQ for inform­a­tion for school pro­jects could end up with a MI5 file, and divor­cing couples could denounce each oth­er.  But at least, then, whole pop­u­la­tions were not under sur­veil­lance.

I think this may go some way towards explain­ing so many recent cases where “lone wolf” attack­ers around the world have been known to their nation­al intel­li­gence agen­cies and yet been left to roam free, either dis­coun­ted as too low level a threat in the flood of inform­a­tion or oth­er­wise sub­jec­ted to bungled recruit­ment approaches.

In the ana­logue era much time, research and thought would go into identi­fy­ing per­sons of interest, and more cru­cially how to approach a tar­get either for dis­rup­tion or recruit­ment.  I should think that the spy super-com­puters are now throw­ing up so many pos­sible leads that approaches are made in a more hur­ried, ill-informed and less con­sidered way.

And this can res­ult in cases such as Michael Ade­bolayo whom MI5 approached and allegedly har­assed years before he went on to murder Drum­mer Lee Rigby in Wool­wich in 2013. The same may well have happened with Mohammed Emwazi. Once someone has been tar­geted, they are going to feel para­noid and under sur­veil­lance, wheth­er rightly or wrongly, and this might res­ult in grow­ing resent­ment and push them into ever more extreme views.

How­ever, I would sug­gest that MI5 remains merely the tool, fol­low­ing the dir­ect­ives of the UK gov­ern­ment in response to the ever-expand­ing, ever-neb­u­lous war on ter­ror, just as MI6 fol­lowed the dir­ect­ives of the Blair gov­ern­ment in 2003 when it allowed its intel­li­gence to be politi­cised as a pre­text for an illeg­al war in Iraq. MI5 might be an occa­sion­al cata­lyst, but not the under­ly­ing cause of rad­ic­al­isa­tion.

Unfor­tu­nately, by immers­ing itself in the now-over­whelm­ing intel­li­gence detail, it appears to be miss­ing the big­ger pic­ture — just why are young Brit­ish people tak­ing an interest in the events of the Middle East, why are so many angry, why are so many drawn to rad­ic­al views and some drawn to extreme actions.

Surely the simplest way to under­stand their griev­ances is to listen to what the extrem­ist groups actu­ally say? Osama Bin Laden was clear in his views — he wanted US mil­it­ary bases out of Saudi Ara­bia and US med­dling across the Middle East gen­er­ally to stop; he also wanted a res­ol­u­tion to the Palestini­an con­flict.

Jihadi John states in his ghastly snuff videos that he is met­ing out hor­ror to high­light the hor­rors daily inflic­ted across the Middle East by the US mil­it­ary — the bomb­ings, drone strikes, viol­ent death and mutil­a­tion.

To hear this and under­stand is not to be a sym­path­iser, but is vital if west­ern gov­ern­ments want to devel­op a more intel­li­gent, con­sidered and poten­tially more suc­cess­ful policies in response. Once you under­stand, you can nego­ti­ate, and that is the only sane way for­ward. Viol­ence used to counter viol­ence always escal­ates the situ­ation and every­one suf­fers.

The USA still needs to learn this les­son. The UK had learned it, res­ult­ing in the end of the war in North­ern Ire­land, but it now seems to have been for­got­ten. It is not rock­et sci­ence — even the former head of MI5, Lady Man­ning­ham-Buller, has said nego­ti­ation is the only suc­cess­ful long-term policy when deal­ing with ter­ror­ism.

Along with the UK, many oth­er European coun­tries have suc­cess­fully nego­ti­ated their way out of long-run­ning domest­ic ter­ror­ist cam­paigns. The tragedy for European coun­tries that have recently or will soon suf­fer the new mod­el of “lone wolf” atro­cit­ies, is that our gov­ern­ments are still in thrall to the failed US for­eign policy of “the war on ter­ror”, repeated daily in gory tech­ni­col­our across North Africa, the Middle East, cent­ral Asia, and now Ukraine.

Glob­al jihad is the inev­it­able response to USA glob­al expan­sion­ism, hege­mony and aggres­sion. As long as our gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies in Europe kow­tow to Amer­ic­an stra­tegic interests rather than pro­tect those of their own cit­izens, all our coun­tries will remain at risk.

German politician wants return to typewriters to evade US surveillance

A com­ment piece from last week on RT about Ger­man politi­cians want­ing to go back to paper-based com­mu­nic­a­tions to evade the US spy pan­op­ticon:


And here is the full text of the inter­view I gave on RT Op Edge:

Both type­writer and strong encryp­tion is going to slow down com­mu­nic­a­tion, but uphold­ing a basic demo­crat­ic right of pri­vacy seems to be more import­ant, former MI5 agent Annie Machon told RT.

Amid the Amer­ic­an-Ger­man espi­on­age scan­dal, Ger­man politi­cians are con­sid­er­ing going back to old-fash­ioned manu­al type­writers for con­fid­en­tial doc­u­ments in order to pro­tect nation­al secrets from Amer­ic­an NSA sur­veil­lance.

RT: Why would Ger­many think of using type­writers as a secur­ity meas­ure?

Annie Machon: What I find inter­est­ing is that we have a situ­ation where even our demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives have to think deeply and ser­i­ously about how to pro­tect the pri­vacy of their com­mu­nic­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly when the invest­ig­a­tion of the very sub­ject of inva­sion of the pri­vacy of the cit­izens, which is what the Bundestag at the moment is doing in Ger­many, try­ing to hold hear­ings to work out what exactly the NSA has been doing, which might be con­tra­ven­ing the con­sti­tu­tion of Ger­many. It is very dif­fi­cult now but it is still pos­sible to pro­tect your elec­tron­ic com­mu­nic­a­tions, but I think this announce­ment, this sort of state­ment by the Bundestag rep­res­ent­at­ive about going back to type­writers is inter­est­ing. It just makes a very strong point that we all need to be aware of the fact that we can be spied on at any time.

RT: Do you think every­one would fol­low Germany’s example?

AM: I think more and more people are con­cerned about their pri­vacy because of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures. He has done the world a huge ser­vice with great per­son­al cost, expos­ing the pred­a­tions of the US Intel­li­gence agen­cies and the NSA par­tic­u­larly, as well as a num­ber of European agen­cies. In the past all coun­tries spied on each oth­er because they wanted to gain advant­age over oth­er coun­tries, not neces­sar­ily their enemies, just an advant­age eco­nom­ic­ally or polit­ic­ally. How­ever, what we are see­ing at the moment is the res­ult of what was the per­fect storm for the USA in the 1990s, it was a per­fect oppor­tun­ity for them, because at that point the Cold War had ended, they were the sole remain­ing super­power on the plan­et, and pre­cisely at that moment we had the evol­u­tion of the inter­net, a huge tech explo­sion of com­mu­nic­a­tions. They saw the oppor­tun­ity and they went for it. Of course they did because that meant that they could embed whatever they wanted into the infra­struc­ture that the whole world now uses for com­mu­nic­a­tion. Of course they were not going to turn this oppor­tun­ity down, and they haven’t. That is what Edward Snowden dis­closed.

So we have the situ­ation now when everything can con­ceiv­ably be hoovered up by the NSA and its vas­sal states in Europe, everything can con­ceiv­ably be stored for ever and be used against cit­izens in the future if the laws change. And everything can con­ceiv­ably be known amongst the private delib­er­a­tions of our parliament’s demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives. It’s worse than Orwellian.

It would be naïve to think that the US would not take up this oppor­tun­ity, but of course they did, and these are the res­ults we are liv­ing in. It would be lovely to think that we could go back to the era of hav­ing pri­vacy in our lives that our gov­ern­ments would have power to ensure we had it, but in this glob­al­ized world it is very dif­fi­cult to ensure that. One of the things that is little known out of all Snowden’s dis­clos­ures is the fact that it is not just what we send over the inter­net, it is also hard­ware, the com­puters, the tech­no­logy we actu­ally use that can already be com­prom­ised by the NSA. This is one of the things that came out just after Christ­mas last year. So we are liv­ing in a very com­plex world but there are very simple steps we can take, both the gov­ern­ments and the cit­izens, to pro­tect our demo­crat­ic and our basic right to pri­vacy.

RT:Wouldn’t using type­writers slow things down in terms of com­mu­nic­a­tion? Why not use oth­er, more mod­ern ways of pro­tect­ing com­mu­nic­a­tion?

AM: Either going back to using pen paper or type­writer or using very strong encryp­tion is going to slow down one’s com­mu­nic­a­tion, there is no doubt about it. The point is though, what is more import­ant, is it access to the latest celebrity gos­sip on the inter­net or is it actu­ally uphold­ing a basic demo­crat­ic right of pri­vacy. Because if we don’t have pri­vacy, then we lose our free­dom to com­mu­nic­ate eas­ily and in private, we lose our free­dom to ingest inform­a­tion via video, audio or from read­ing, we can­not plan, we can­not con­duct private per­son­al rela­tion­ships over the inter­net. So what is the price of a little bit of incon­veni­ence when it comes to pro­tect­ing our basic rights? I think that how­ever light-heartedly the Ger­man politi­cian men­tioned using type­writers, when it comes to prop­er secur­ity issues with­in gov­ern­ment, he is prob­ably abso­lutely right. Last year there was a report as well, say­ing that some of the Rus­si­an secur­ity oper­at­ors were now using type­writers too. We will all have to think about that, and it’s just a jolt­ing wake up call to make us all think about that by stat­ing that the Ger­man gov­ern­ment is now going back to type­writers for cer­tain things.

RT: What kind of solu­tion do you see? Should people rely on their gov­ern­ments for pro­tec­tion of their pri­vacy?

AM: There is a danger that people and the gov­ern­ment will become very para­noid about try­ing to pro­tect against the pred­a­tions of the NSA and its vas­sals in Europe. How­ever, I’m not sure as we as cit­izens can rely on gov­ern­ments to pro­tect our pri­vacy because all gov­ern­ments would want to know what is going on on the inter­net for legit­im­ate reas­ons as well, to try to track down the ille­git­im­ate crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists. But it can be easy for them to hoover up all the per­son­al inform­a­tion and we, as cit­izens, need that have that guar­an­tee of pri­vacy. So one of the things we can do as cit­izens is to take respons­ib­il­ity in our own hands. We can indeed source all tech­no­lo­gies, source com­puters pre-2008 that have not built-in hard­ware back­doors. We can use decent PGP encryp­tion, we can use Tor to hide what we are look­ing at in the inter­net, we can use oth­er encryp­tion meth­od­o­lo­gies to pro­tect our pri­vacy, and we need to. I think it’s a very inter­est­ing cross­roads in our his­tory, both as civil­iz­a­tions, as demo­cracy and as indi­vidu­als, but also how we view the tech­no­logy, how we use it, how we can bet­ter use it to pro­tect our life, so that is going it be an ongo­ing debate. I’m very pleased to see this in Ger­many par­tic­u­larly. The politi­cians seem to be wak­ing up around these issues and want­ing debate these issues because the USA has got away with it for long enough across the West.

RT interview about new EU data protection measures

Here is a quick inter­view I did about the EU’s new data pro­tec­tion meas­ures, laws that will have to be imple­men­ted in the wake of Edward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures about endem­ic NSA sur­veil­lance:

This is an excel­lent example of how whis­tleblowers con­tin­ue to make a pos­it­ive con­tri­bu­tion to soci­ety.

London Real TV Interview — coming soon

Here is a taster of my recent inter­view on Lon­don Real TV. It was diverse, lively and fun, and should be broad­cast in full tomor­row:

Annie Machon — Whis­tleblower — Lon­don Real TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

European Parliament LIBE Inquiry on Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens

Below is some back­ground mater­i­al from my sub­mis­sion to the European Parliament’s LIBE Com­mit­tee on the implic­a­tions of the NSA scan­dal.

Here is a video link to the hear­ing.

LIBE Com­mit­tee Inquiry on Elec­tron­ic Mass Sur­veil­lance of EU Cit­izens, European Par­lia­ment, 30th Septem­ber 2013


Annie Machon was an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s MI5 in the 1990s, before leav­ing to help blow the whistle on the crimes and incom­pet­ence of the Brit­ish spy agen­cies.  As a res­ult she and her former part­ner had to go on the run around Europe, live in exile in France, face arrest and impris­on­ment, and watch as friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists were arres­ted.

She is now a writer, media com­ment­at­or, polit­ic­al cam­paign­er, and inter­na­tion­al pub­lic speak­er on a vari­ety of related issues: the war on ter­ror­ism, the war on drugs, the war on whis­tleblowers, and the war on the inter­net.  In 2012 she star­ted as a Dir­ect­or of LEAP in Europe (www​.leap​.cc).

Annie has an MA (Hons) Clas­sics from Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity.

Back­ground mater­i­al:


  • Mean­ing­ful par­lia­ment­ary over­sight of intel­li­gence agen­cies, with full powers of invest­ig­a­tion, at both nation­al and European levels.
  • These same demo­crat­ic bod­ies to provide a legit­im­ate chan­nel for intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers to give their evid­ence of mal­feas­ance, with the clear and real­ist­ic expect­a­tion that a full inquiry will be con­duc­ted, reforms applied and crimes pun­ished.
  • Insti­tute a dis­cus­sion about the leg­al defin­i­tion of nation­al secur­ity, what the real threats are to the integ­rity of nation states and the EU, and estab­lish agen­cies to work with­in the law to defend just that. This will halt inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence mis­sion creep.
  • EU-wide imple­ment­a­tion of the recom­mend­a­tions in the Ech­el­on Report (2001):
  1. to devel­op and build key infra­struc­ture across Europe that is immune from US gov­ern­ment­al and cor­por­at­ist sur­veil­lance; and
  2. Ger­many and the United King­dom are called upon to make the author­isa­tion of fur­ther com­mu­nic­a­tions inter­cep­tion oper­a­tions by US intel­li­gence ser­vices on their ter­rit­ory con­di­tion­al on their com­pli­ance with the ECHR (European Con­ven­tion on Human Rights).”
  • The duty of the European par­lia­ment is to the cit­izens of the EU.  As such it should act­ively pur­sue tech­no­logy policies to pro­tect the pri­vacy and basic rights of the cit­izens from the sur­veil­lance of the NSA and its vas­sals; and if it can­not, it should warn its cit­izens abut this act­ively and edu­cate them to take their own steps to pro­tect their pri­vacy (such as no longer using cer­tain Inter­net ser­vices or learn­ing to use pri­vacy enhan­cing tech­no­lo­gies). Con­cerns such as the trust Europeans have in ‘e-com­merce’ or ‘e-gov­ern­ment’ as men­tioned by the European Com­mis­sion should be sec­ond­ary to this con­cern at all times.
  • Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidu­al cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments. The Free Soft­ware Found­a­tion has been mak­ing these recom­mend­a­tions for over two dec­ades.
  • The cent­ral soci­et­al func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the nation state. There­fore there is no ‘bal­ance between pri­vacy and secur­ity’ and this false dicho­tomy should not be part of any policy debate.

A Tangled Web

Also pub­lished on the Huff­ing­ton Post UK.

A couple of days ago I was invited onto RT Arab­ic TV to do an inter­view about the ongo­ing cluster­fuck that is Syr­ia, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on the issue of West­ern jihadis allegedly flood­ing into the coun­try.

The premise, pushed across much of the West­ern media, is that these newly trained jihadis will then return home chock-full of insur­gency know-how, ready to unleash ter­ror on their unwit­ting host coun­tries.

And, yes, there is an ele­ment of truth in this:  the les­sons of the US-backed mujahideen in 1980s Afgh­anistan and onwards across the Middle East since then is test­a­ment to that. Not that this les­son seems to have been absorbed by West­ern gov­ern­ments, who con­tin­ue reck­lessly to back “rebel” forces across North Africa and the Middle East.

Or has it, at least on a cer­tain level? If you do a little dig­ging into where these stor­ies are eman­at­ing from, anoth­er pic­ture emerges.

Farr 1.jpgThe basis for these scare stor­ies is a heav­ily-spun recent report, pro­duced by the Office for Secur­ity and Counter-Ter­ror­ism (OSCT).  What is this, you might ask? Well, it appears to be a sine­cure with­in the UK’s Home Office.  The head of the organ­isa­tion is a hawk­ish securo­crat called Charles Farr, a former seni­or MI6 officer from the cold war era.

In 2007 Mr Farr (OBE) moved to his new home at the Home Office, where he is con­veni­ently in a rela­tion­ship with Fiona Cun­ning­ham, spe­cial advisor to his new boss the Home Sec­ret­ary Theresa May. Oh, and then he applied to be the civil ser­vant in charge of the Home Office, but was recently turned down for that job a couple of months ago.

So how is Farr now spend­ing his time?  Well, he has just released a report, and it appears that he is behind some of the most egre­gious recent assaults on basic Brit­ish freedoms.

Where to begin? His depart­ment was behind the Pre­vent cam­paign — sup­posedly a social ini­ti­at­ive to reach out to dis­af­fected youth in Bri­tain and help “pre­vent” their rad­ic­al­isa­tion. Unfor­tu­nately, Pre­vent has been pub­licly lam­basted for intim­id­at­ing young Muslim men and try­ing to brow­beat them into report­ing on their com­munit­ies.

On top of that, Charles Farr has, it has been repor­ted, been one of the key lob­by­ists push­ing for the total­it­ari­an “Snoop­ers’ Charter” — a pro­posed law that would allow the intel­li­gence and law enforce­ment agen­cies to hoover up all our data com­mu­nic­a­tions.

And finally, Mr Farr is one of the key sup­port­ers of the utterly undemo­crat­ic new Justice and Secur­ity Bill that enshrines the concept of “secret courts”, all done in the name of pro­tect­ing “nation­al secur­ity”, natch.  Or in oth­er words, cov­er­ing up the embar­rass­ment of the intel­li­gence agen­cies when they are caught red-handed in illeg­al activ­it­ies such as kid­nap­ping and tor­ture.

So, is it purely coin­cid­ent­al that this is the same upstand­ing Brit­ish pub­lic ser­vant report­ing that Syr­ia will be a new breed­ing-ground for rad­ic­al­ised Muslim youth attack­ing the UK? Or might there be a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that the threat could be yet anoth­er excuse to be used to ramp up the case for all these undemo­crat­ic and deeply unpop­u­lar new laws?

Let’s not to for­get that the UK has a his­tory of back­ing such insur­gency groups when it suits them, and then turn­ing on them for polit­ic­al expedi­ency — shades of Abdel Hakim Bel­haj in Libya, any­one? It strikes me that the situ­ation in Syr­ia is evolving along sim­il­ar lines.

So let’s retain a healthy scep­ti­cism about the wheels and cogs of ves­ted interests and media manip­u­la­tion whirr­ing behind securo­crats such as Charles Farr. The pre­dic­tions of his Office for Secur­ity and Counter-Ter­ror­ism could have dam­aging con­sequences for our liber­ties in the UK; they could also have poten­tially fatal con­sequences for many thou­sands of people in Syr­ia and the wider Middle East.