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.

Fascism 2012 – the ongoing merger of the corporate and the state

I’m gradually coming to after a knock-out blow last October – the unexpected death of my beloved and only brother, Rich.  Words cannot describe.

But looking forward to the delights that 2012 will no doubt offer: Julian Assange remains trapped in a legal spider’s web, but all credit to Wikileaks – it keeps on providing the goods.  

The recent publication of the SpyFiles should have been a massive wake-up call, as it it highlighted the increasing use and abuse of mercenary spy tech – all without any effective oversight, as I recently wrote in my article for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Needless to say, the issue of massive commercial surveillance capabilities usually remains confined to a niche media market, although the Daily Mail did rouse itself to report that shoppers were being tracked via mobile phones as they consumed their way around malls.  Well, I suppose it’s a start.

With the growth of mercenary spy companies in our minds, we should be even more concerned about the accelerated shredding of our civil liberties, particularly in the US and UK.  Despite earlier promises that he would veto any such legislation, President Obama signed into law the invidious NDAA on 31st December.  This means that the US military is now empowered to seize and indefinitely detain, with no recourse to traditional due process, not only potentially all non-Americans across the planet a la the Guantanamo/extraordinary rendition model, but can now also do this to US citizens within their own country.

Guantanamo_BayDespite the passionate internet debate, the issue has unsurprisingly been largely ignored by most of the mainstream corporate media.  But the predominantly US-based internet commentary displays a breathtaking hypocrisy: yes, the NDAA is a terrible law with awful implications for American citizens.  However, people around the world have been living with just this fear for a decade, with whole communities afraid of being snatched and disappeared into black CIA torture facilities.   Where was the US outrage then?  The Pastor Martin Niemoeller poem remains as relevant today as when it was written 70 years ago.

That said a couple of brave voices have spoken out: Naomi Wolf recently described how the US legislators could ironically find themselves on the receiving end of this law, if we go by all historic precedents.  Paul Craig Roberts was on frothing good form too, inveighing against the war crimes of the US military, the persecution of Wikileaks for exposing those very crimes, and the evolving totalitarianism of our countries.

SOPAIn a digital mirror of the NDAA, the entertainment industry and their pet lobbyists are successfully ramming through the invidious SOPA law.   As acclaimed digital rights activist and author, Cory Doctorow, described in his keynote at the recent CCC geekfest in Berlin, these ostensibly commercial laws are in effect a stalking horse for governments to seize control of the internet.  As he wrote in the Guardian “you can’t make a system that prevents spying by secret police and allows spying by media giants”.  

With this in the back of our minds, the Wikileaks SpyFiles revelations about the increasing globalisation and commercialisation of corporate spy technology are even more alarming.  The government spy agencies work with little effective oversight, but the mercenaries have a completely free legal rein.  Intriguingly, it appears that unlike our own governments Afghanistan is alive to this problem and is reportedly booting out foreign contractors. 

Yet the balance of power in certain western countries is sliding overwhelmingly towards police states –  or, indeed, fascism, if you take into consideration Benito Mussolini’s definition: “the merger of state and corporate power”.

Our line of defence is slender – organisations like Wikileaks, one or two politicians of conscience, a few remaining real investigative journalists and perhaps the odd whistleblower.  Beyond that, we must individually get to grips with the threat, get informed, teched up, and protect ourselves, as we can no longer rely on our governments to uphold our basic rights – you know, privacy, freedom of expression, habeas corpus, and all those other delightfully old-fashioned ideas.

If we do not act soon, we may no longer be able to act at all in the near future….  So I wish everyone an informed, productive and active 2012!



The Age of Transparency?

Black_sheep_text?Well, this is an interesting case in the US.  Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the American National Security Agency (NSA), the US electronic eavesdropping organisation, is being charged under the 1917 US Espionage Act for allegedly disclosing classified information to a journalist about, gasp, the mismanagement, financial waste and dubious legal practices of the spying organisation.  These days it might actually be more newsworthy if the opposite were to be disclosed….

However, under the terms of the Espionage Act, this designates him an enemy of the American people on a par with bona fide traitors of the past who sold secrets to hostile powers during the Cold War.

It strikes me that someone who reports malpractice, mistakes and under-performance on the part of his (secretive) employers might possibly be someone who still has the motivation to try to make a difference, to do their best to protect people and serve the genuine interests of the whole country.  Should such people be prosecuted or should they be protected with a legal channel to disclosure? 

Thomas Drake does not sound like a spy who should be prosecuted for espionage under the USA's antiquated act, he sounds on the available information like a whistleblower, pure and simple.  But that won't necessarily save him legally, and he is apparently facing decades in prison.  President Obama, who made such a song and dance about transparency and accountability during his election campaign, has an even more egregious track record than previous presidents for hunting down whistleblowers – the new "insider threat".

This, of course, chimes with the British experience.  So-called left-of-centre political candidates get elected on a platform of transparency, freedom of information, and an ethical foreign policy (think Blair as well as Obama), and promptly renege on all their campaign promises once they grab the top job. 

In fact, I would suggest that the more professedly "liberal" the  government, the more it feels empowered to shred civil liberties.  If a right-wing government were to attack basic democratic freedoms in such a way, the official opposition (Democrats/Labour Party/whatever) would be obliged to make a show of opposing the measures to keep their core voters sweet.  Once they're in power, of course, they can do what they want.

One stark example of this occured during the passing of the British Official Secrets Act (1989) which, as I've written before, was specifically designed to gag whistleblowers and penalise journalists.  The old OSA (1911) was already in place to deal with real traitors.

And who voted against the passing of this act in 1989?  Yes, you've guessed it, all those who then went on to become Labour government ministers after the 1997 Labour election landslide – Tony Blair, Jack Straw, the late Robin Cook and a scrum of other rather forgettable ministers and Attorney Generals…..  And yet it was this very New Labour government in the UK that most often used the OSA to halt the free-flow of information and the disclosures of informed whistleblowers.  Obama has indeed learnt well.

It's an oldie but still a goodie: as one of my lawyers once wryly told me, it doesn't matter whom you vote for, the government still gets in…..