Good Technology Collective

Recently I was invited to be on the glob­al coun­cil of a new tech policy inti­ti­at­ive called the Good Tech­no­logy Col­lect­ive, based in Ber­lin.

~ Foun­ded by a group of tech­no­logy enthu­si­asts led by 1aim co-founders Torben Friehe and Yann Lere­taille, the GTC will serve as a cru­cial European for­um for pilot­ing tech­no­lo­gic­al advances in the 21st cen­tury. Through its Expert Coun­cil, it will bring togeth­er lead­ing founders, engin­eers, sci­ent­ists, journ­al­ists, and act­iv­ists, who will research, gen­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion around, and offer coun­sel as to the soci­et­al impact of AI, vir­tu­al real­ity, Inter­net of Things, and data sur­veil­lance.

We believe that there are eth­ic­al ques­tions con­cern­ing how fron­ti­er tech­no­lo­gies will affect our daily lives,” Lere­taille said. “As a soci­ety, Europe deserves broad and access­ible dis­cus­sions of these issues, hos­ted by those who appre­ci­ate, under­stand, and worry about them the most.” ~

The Good Tech­no­logy Col­lect­ive (GTC), a new European think-tank address­ing eth­ic­al issues in tech­no­logy, will offi­cially open its doors in Ber­lin on Decem­ber 15th. The grand open­ing will kick off at 7:30PM (CET) at Soho House Ber­lin and I shall be one of the guest speak­ers.

Invit­a­tions are lim­ited for the grand open­ing. Those inter­ested in attend­ing should con­tact: rsvp@goodtechnologycollective.com; or, fill in the invit­a­tion form at: https://​goo​.gl/​X​p​n​djk.

And here is an intro­duct­ory inter­view I did for GTC recently:

Why We Must Fight for Pri­vacy

We live in a soci­ety where shad­owy fig­ures influ­ence what makes the news, who goes to jail, and even who lives or dies.

We live in a sys­tem where cor­por­a­tions and the state work togeth­er to take con­trol of our inform­a­tion, our com­mu­nic­a­tions, and poten­tially even our future digit­al souls.

So we do not merely have the right, but rather the oblig­a­tion, to fight for our pri­vacy.

It is a simple human right that is essen­tial for a func­tion­ing demo­cracy.

But we are a long way away from hav­ing that right guar­an­teed, and we have been for a long time.

My Time as a Spy

I spent six years work­ing with MI5, the Brit­ish domest­ic counter-intel­li­gence and secur­ity agency, in the 1990s. It was a time of rel­at­ive peace after the Cold War and before the hor­rors of Septem­ber 11, 2001, when the gloves came off in the War on Ter­ror.

And even then, I was hor­ri­fied by what I saw.

There was a con­stant stream of illeg­al wireta­ps and files kept on hun­dreds of thou­sands of our cit­izens, act­iv­ists, journ­al­ists, and politi­cians.

Inno­cent people were sent to pris­on due to sup­pressed evid­ence in the 1994 bomb­ing of the Israeli Embassy in Lon­don. IRA bomb­ings that could have been pre­ven­ted were allowed to take place, and the MI6 fun­ded a plot to murder Liby­an lead­er Col­on­el Gad­dafi using Al Qaeda affil­i­ates. He sur­vived, oth­ers did not.

This is just part of the cor­rup­tion I saw intel­li­gence and secur­ity agen­cies engage in.

The pub­lic and many politi­cians believe these agen­cies are account­able to them, but that is simply not how things work in real­ity. More often than not, we only know what they want us to hear.

State Manip­u­lates News and Polit­ics

I wit­nessed gov­ern­ment agen­cies manip­u­late the news through guile and charm, at times even writ­ing it them­selves. Fake news is not new. The state has long shaped media cov­er­age using vari­ous meth­ods.

This was the case in the ana­logue era, and things have become worse in the era of the Web.

In the end, I felt there was no choice but to blow the whistle, know­ing that it would end my career. My part­ner and I resigned, and we went into hid­ing.

We spent years on the run for breach­ing the UK Offi­cial Secrets Act. We would have been imprisoned if caught.

We fled Bri­tain in 1997, spend­ing three years in a French farm­house and a loc­a­tion in Par­is. My part­ner went to pris­on, twice, and we learned indelible les­sons about state power along the way.

Learn­ing the Value of Pri­vacy

We also learned the value of pri­vacy.

As high-value tar­gets, we knew our com­mu­nic­a­tions and rel­at­ives were mon­itored.

So when I called or emailed my moth­er, I had to self-cen­sor. I had to assume that her house was bugged, as yours could be.

Our friends were pres­sured into cooper­at­ing with the police. It was one way we were stripped of our pri­vacy, cor­rod­ing our spir­it.

You lose trust in every­one around you, and you do not say any­thing that could give you away.

Sur­veil­lance Has Moved with the Times

That was then. Today, sur­veil­lance is part of our daily lives, on the Inter­net and in the street.

Edward Snowden recently revealed the scale of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance. And it is mind-bog­gling.

The Snowden Effect, as it is known, has made 28 per­cent of the people in the United King­dom rethink their online habits. If we do not feel we have pri­vacy, then in a way it does not mat­ter if someone is watch­ing us. We will self-cen­sor any­way. Just in case.

This has a tan­gible impact on soci­ety. It is the road to a world like Orwell’s 1984.

Legit­im­ate act­iv­ists know they can be watched. This means that protest­ors may think twice before get­ting involved with press­ing issues. Sur­veil­lance is a sure-fire means of stifling demo­cracy.

We Are All Being Watched

Snowden revealed that Inter­net com­pan­ies opened their doors to the U.S. Nation­al Secur­ity Agency and the Brit­ish Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions Headquar­ters (GCHQ). He also dis­closed that Brit­ish intel­li­gence was hand­ing over inform­a­tion on Europeans to Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence agen­cies.

Both gov­ern­ment agen­cies can access our video com­mu­nic­a­tions. Appar­ently their per­son­nel were forced to sit through so many expli­cit “romantic” video calls that they later had to receive coun­sel­ing.

It might sound amus­ing. But it shows that the state is reg­u­larly invad­ing our pri­vacy.

And that is just gov­ern­ment agen­cies. The cor­por­ate world is sur­veilling us, too. Com­pan­ies have been gran­ted excep­tion­al powers to see who is shar­ing inform­a­tion and files across the Inter­net.

When the FBI Is a Cor­por­ate Tool

In New Zea­l­and, Kim Dot­com developed MegaUp­load. It did have legit­im­ate users, but the fact that some dis­trib­uted pir­ated intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty led to an FBI raid on his home.

Likely under the influ­ence of the FBI, the New Zea­l­and author­it­ies per­mit­ted sur­veil­lance to bol­ster the U.S. extra­di­tion case against him. In Octo­ber 2012, Prime Min­is­ter John Key pub­licly apo­lo­gized to Dot­com, say­ing that the mis­takes made by New Zealand’s Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Secur­ity Bur­eau before and dur­ing the raid were “appalling.

This was all a massive infringe­ment on New Zealand’s sov­er­eignty. One must won­der how the cor­por­ate world can wield so much influ­ence that the FBI is able to a raid the home of an entre­pren­eur on for­eign land.

This is not how gov­ern­ment agen­cies are meant to work. It is a pin­cer move­ment between the cor­por­a­tions and the state.

This Is the Defin­i­tion of Fas­cism

Itali­an dic­tat­or Benito Mus­solini defined fas­cism as the mer­ging of the state and the cor­por­ate world. And it is becom­ing increas­ingly clear that we are head­ing in this dir­ec­tion.

We are all con­stantly con­nec­ted through our smart­phones and com­puters. Incid­ent­ally, any hard­ware, even USB cables, pro­duced after 1998 prob­ably comes with a back­door entry point for the gov­ern­ment.

We also freely provide inform­a­tion on Face­book that would have taken secur­ity and intel­li­gence agen­cies weeks to assemble before the era of digit­al com­mu­nic­a­tions.

We need to know who is watch­ing that inform­a­tion, who can take it, and who can use it against us.

Research con­duc­ted today may one day lead to our entire con­scious­ness being uploaded into a com­puter. Humans could become soft­ware-based. But who might be able to manip­u­late that inform­a­tion and how?

It is vital for us to start think­ing about ques­tions such as these.

Secret Legis­la­tion Can Change Our World

In Europe, we are see­ing the Transat­lantic Trade Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) forced upon us. It is a ghastly piece of legis­la­tion through which cor­por­ate lob­by­ists can neg­at­ively affect 500 mil­lion people.

Its investor-state dis­pute set­tle­ment clause grants mul­tina­tion­al cor­por­a­tions the leg­al status of a nation-state. If they feel gov­ern­ment policies threaten their profits, they can sue gov­ern­ments in arbit­ra­tion tribunals. The treaty paper­work is kept in a guarded room that not even politi­cians work­ing on the legis­la­tion can access freely.

Sim­il­ar pro­jects were attemp­ted before, but they were over­turned by the weight of pub­lic opin­ion. The pub­lic spoke out and pro­tested to ensure that the legis­la­tion nev­er came to pass.

We must pro­tect our right to demo­cracy and the rule of law, free from cor­por­ate inter­ven­tion.

A Per­fect Storm for Pri­vacy?

A per­fect storm against pri­vacy is brew­ing. A debate con­tin­ues over how much con­trol the state should exer­cise over the Inter­net amid the threat of ter­ror­ism, which has become part of mod­ern life.

Add to this the increas­ing ten­sion between the United States and Rus­sia and cli­mate change, and things could get quite messy, quite fast.

We need pri­vacy so we can protest when we need to. We need to be able to read and write about these top­ics, and dis­cuss them. We can­not rely on the main­stream media alone.

We need pri­vacy to be prop­er cit­izens. This includes the right to lobby our politi­cians and express our con­cerns.

We also have to be aware that politi­cians do not know what the intel­li­gence and secur­ity ser­vices are doing. We need to take our pri­vacy into our own hands.

As a start, we must all begin using encryp­tion, open-source soft­ware and oth­er tools to make sure we have pri­vacy. If we do not, we will lose our demo­cracy.

It took our ancest­ors hun­dreds of years of blood, sweat, tears and death to win the right to pri­vacy.

We must defend that leg­acy.

The (Il)legality of UK Drone Strikes

It was repor­ted in The Guard­i­an news­pa­per today that the UK par­lia­ment­ary joint com­mit­tee on human rights was ques­tion­ing the leg­al frame­work under­pin­ning the use of Brit­ish drone strikes against ter­ror­ist sus­pects.

Here is an inter­view I did for RT today about the ques­tion­able leg­al­ity of the UK drone strike pro­gramme:

The (Il)legalitiy of UK drone strikes? 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.

RT interview on Manning sentencing

Here is my most recent RT inter­view, live as Chelsea Man­ning was sen­tenced to 35 years in a US pris­on for blow­ing the whistle and expos­ing war crimes:

RT Inter­view about Man­ning sen­ten­cing from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

My RNN interview — Snowden disclosures cause outrage across EU

Here is a recent inter­view I did for the Real News Net­work about the glob­al and European fall-out from the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures:

And here’s a ver­sion with the text.

Journalists need to tool up

Pub­lished in the Huff­ing­ton Post UK:

Over the last week more sound, fury and indig­na­tion has cas­caded forth from the US media, spill­ing into the European news, about the Amer­ic­an gov­ern­ment and the Asso­ci­ated Press spy­ing scan­dal.

Last week it emerged that the US Depart­ment of Justice mon­itored the tele­phones of, gasp, journ­al­ists work­ing at AP. Appar­ently this was done to try to invest­ig­ate who might have been the source for a story about a foiled ter­ror­ist plot in Yemen. How­ever, the drag­net seems to have widened to cov­er almost 100 journ­al­ists and poten­tially threatened gov­ern­ment­al leak­ers and whis­tleblowers who, in these days of sys­tem­at­ic secur­ity crack­downs in the US, are fast becom­ing Pub­lic Enemy No 1.

Now it appears that the US DoJ has been read­ing the emails of a seni­or Fox News report­er. And this has got the US hacks into a fright­ful tizz. What about the First Amend­ment?

Well, what about the fact that the Pat­ri­ot Act shred­ded most of the US Con­sti­tu­tion a dec­ade ago?

Also, who is actu­ally facing the secur­ity crack­down here? The US journ­al­ists are bleat­ing that their sources are dry­ing up in the face of a sys­tem­at­ic witch hunt by the US admin­is­tra­tion. That must be hard for the journ­al­ists — hard at least to get the stor­ies and by-lines that ensure their con­tin­ued employ­ment and the abil­ity to pay the mort­gage. This adds up to the phrase du jour: a “chilling effect” on free speech.

Er, yes, but how much harder for the poten­tial whis­tleblowers? They are the people facing not only a loss of pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion and career if caught, but also all that goes with it. Plus, now, they are increas­ingly facing dra­coni­an pris­on sen­tences under the recently rean­im­ated and cur­rently much-deployed US 1917 Espi­on­age Act for expos­ing issues in the pub­lic interest. Ex-NSA Thomas Drake faced dec­ades in pris­on for expos­ing cor­rup­tion and waste, while ex-CIA John Kiriakou is cur­rently lan­guish­ing in pris­on for expos­ing the use of tor­ture.

The US gov­ern­ment has learned well from the example of the UK’s Offi­cial Secrets Acts — laws that nev­er actu­ally seem to be wiel­ded against real estab­lish­ment trait­ors, who always seem to be allowed to slip away, but which have been used fre­quently and effect­ively to stifle dis­sent, cov­er up spy crimes, and to spare the blushes of the Estab­lish­ment.

So, two points:

Firstly, the old media could and should have learned from the new mod­el that is Wikileaks and its ilk. Rather than asset strip­ping the organ­isa­tion for inform­a­tion, while abandon­ing the alleged source, Brad­ley Man­ning, and the founder, Juli­an Assange, to their fates, Wikileaks’s erstwhile allies could and mor­ally should cam­paign for them. The issues of the free flow of inform­a­tion, demo­cracy and justice are big­ger than petty argu­ments about per­son­al­ity traits.

Plus, the old media appear to have a death wish: to quote the words of the former New York Times edit­or and Wikileaks col­lab­or­at­or Bill Keller, Wikileaks is not a pub­lish­er — it is a source, pure and simple. But surely, if Wikileaks is “only” a source, it must be pro­tec­ted at all costs — that is the media’s prime dir­ect­ive. Journ­al­ists have his­tor­ic­ally gone to pris­on rather than give away their sources.

How­ever, if Wikileaks is indeed deemed to be a pub­lish­er and can be per­se­cuted this way, then all the old media are equally vul­ner­able. And indeed that is what we are wit­ness­ing now with these spy­ing scan­dals.

Secondly, these so-called invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists are sur­prised that their phones were tapped?  Really?

If they are doing prop­er, worth­while journ­al­ism, of course their comms will be tapped in a post-Pat­ri­ot Act, sur­veil­lance-state world. Why on earth are they not tak­ing their own and their sources’ secur­ity ser­i­ously? Is it ama­teur night?

In this day and age, any ser­i­ous journ­al­ist (and there are still a few hon­our­able examples) will be tak­ing steps to pro­tect the secur­ity of their sources. They will be tooled up, tech-savvy, and they will have atten­ded Crypto-parties to learn secur­ity skills. They will also be pain­fully aware that a whis­tleblower is a per­son poten­tially facing pris­on, rather than just the source of a career-mak­ing story.

If main­stream journ­al­ists are ser­i­ous about expos­ing cor­rup­tion, hold­ing power to account, and fight­ing for justice they need to get ser­i­ous about source pro­tec­tion too and get teched-up. Help is widely avail­able to those who are inter­ested. Indeed, this sum­mer the Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism is host­ing talks in Lon­don on this sub­ject, and many oth­er inter­na­tion­al journ­al­ism con­fer­ences have done the same over the last few years.

Sadly, the level of interest and aware­ness remains rel­at­ively low — many journ­al­ists retain a naïve trust in the gen­er­al leg­al­ity of their government’s actions: the author­it­ies may bend the rules a little for “ter­ror­ists”, but of course they will abide by the rules when it comes to the media.….

.…or not. Water­gate now looks rather quaint in com­par­is­on.

As for me: well, I have had some help and have indeed been teched-up. My laptop runs the free Ubuntu Linux (the 64 bit ver­sion for grown-ups) from an encryp­ted sol­id state hard drive. I have long and dif­fer­ent pass­words for every online ser­vice I use. My mail and web serv­er are in Switzer­land and I encrypt as much of my email as pos­sible. It’s at least a start.

And here’s what I have to say about why journ­al­ists should think about these issues and how they can pro­tect both them­selves and their sources: Open­ing key­note “The Big Dig Con­fer­ence” from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

British politicians Droning on

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 2 Octo­ber 2012

Only in the mad world of mod­ern Brit­ish polit­ics could it be pos­sible to con­nect MPs, drones and roy­al breasts. Is this sound­ing a little too bizarre? Let me explain.…

Way back in 2008 Con­ser­vat­ive MP Dami­en Green, who was at the time the Shad­ow Min­is­ter for Immig­ra­tion, was arres­ted on sus­pi­cion of eli­cit­ing leaks from a Home Office civil ser­vant that appeared to con­firm the then Labour gov­ern­ment was cov­er­ing up UK immig­ra­tion fig­ures.

When I say arres­ted, this was not the stand­ard, civ­il­ised and pre-arranged appoint­ment at the loc­al nick, which the police tra­di­tion­ally allow their polit­ic­al “mas­ters” or, for that mat­ter, their bud­dies at News Inter­na­tion­al.

Oh no, this was a full-on, Cold War-style arrest, car­ried out by the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Counter-Ter­ror­ism com­mand (known in the old days as Spe­cial Branch). Intriguingly, civil ser­vants appeared to have mis­lead­ingly hyped up the need for a heavy-handed police response by stat­ing that they were “in no doubt that there has been con­sid­er­able dam­age to nation­al secur­ity already as a res­ult of some of these leaks”.

And indeed, the res­ult­ing arrests bore all the hall-marks of a nation­al secur­ity case: secret police, dawn raids, and counter-ter­ror­ism style searches of the fam­ily home, the con­stitu­ency office, and — shock — an inva­sion of Green’s office in par­lia­ment.

Yet Green was not arres­ted under the terms of the Offi­cial Secrets Act. Instead, both he and his hap­less whis­tleblower, Chris­toph­er Gal­ley, were only seized on sus­pi­cion of breach­ing some arcane Vic­tori­an law (“aid­ing and abet­ting mis­con­duct in pub­lic office”).  I sup­pose arrest­ing a sit­ting MP for a breach of the OSA would have been just too polit­ic­ally tricky.

Leav­ing aside the under­stand­able upset caused to Green’s wife and chil­dren by the raid on their home, plus the fact that the police viol­ated not only their per­son­al effects such as bed sheets and love let­ters but also con­fid­en­tial leg­al papers about child abuse cases that Mrs Green was work­ing on, what really caused out­rage in the media and polit­ic­al classes was the fact that Plod had dared to invade the hal­lowed ground of par­lia­ment.

There was an out­cry from politi­cians about the “encroach­ing police state”. The case was duly dropped, the seni­or officer, Assist­ant Com­mis­sion­er Bob Quick, had to resign (but only after com­mit­ting yet anoth­er polit­ic­al gaffe), and oth­er stor­ies, such as the MP expenses scan­dal, grabbed the atten­tion of the main­stream media.

Roll on four years, and Dami­en Green has now ascen­ded to the giddy heights of Home Office Min­is­ter of State for Police and Crim­in­al Justice. Well, meet­ing his new staff must have been an inter­est­ing exper­i­ence for him.

But what is this man now doing in his emin­ent role, to stop the slide into the encroach­ing police state that is the UK? Of all people, one would expect him to be sens­it­ive to such issues.

Sadly, he appears to have already gone nat­ive on the job. It was repor­ted yes­ter­day that he is pro­pos­ing the use of police drones to spy on the UK pop­u­la­tion, but in an “appro­pri­ate and pro­por­tion­ate” man­ner of course.

The concept of small aer­i­al drones being used by UK police has been mooted for a few years now — indeed some police forces and secur­ity agen­cies have already bought them. But where­as the ini­tial, stand­ard jus­ti­fic­a­tion was that it would help in the “war on ter­ror” (as it has so ably done in the Middle East, where inno­cent fam­il­ies are routinely slaughtered in the name of assas­sin­at­ing mil­it­ants), mis­sion-creep has already set in.  Dami­en Green stated at the launch of the new Nation­al Police Air Ser­vice (NPAS) that drones could be use­ful mon­it­or­ing protests and traffic viol­a­tions. It has even been repor­ted that the Home Office plans to use non-leth­al weapons to do so.

Of course there are prob­lems around the use of drones in UK air­space.  Our skies are already very crowded and they could present a haz­ard to air­craft, although the BBC has repor­ted that drones could be air­borne in the next few years.  This appears to be the only argu­ment hold­ing the use of drones in check — for­get about civil liber­ties and pri­vacy issues.

This is par­tic­u­larly per­tin­ent as we look at the evol­u­tion of drone tech­no­logy.  Cur­rently the UK police are dis­cuss­ing toy-sized drones, but it has already been repor­ted that drones the size of birds or even insects, with autonom­ous intel­li­gence or swarm cap­ab­il­it­ies are being developed. And don’t even get me star­ted on the sub­ject of poten­tial mil­it­ar­isa­tion.…

There is a whole debate to be had about what can be viewed and what can­not — where does the pub­lic sphere end and the private begin? A couple of years ago I sug­ges­ted some­what facetiously that our best hope of defeat­ing the intro­duc­tion of sur­veil­lance drones in the UK might be indig­nant celebs suing the paparazzi for using the tech­no­lo­gies.  But per­haps the ante has already been upped in the recent fall-out from the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge and her roy­ally papped breasts.

If drone tech­no­logy becomes wide­spread, then nobody will have any pri­vacy any­where. But who knows, before we get to that stage per­haps HM Queen will come out swinging on the side of pri­vacy for her grand­daugh­ter-in-law, if not for the rest of her “sub­jects”. If that were to hap­pen then no doubt Dami­en Green will aban­don his new-found enthu­si­asm for these air­borne sur­veil­lance pests; if not to stop the “encroach­ing police state” of which he must have such col­our­ful recol­lec­tions, then at least to safe­guard any poten­tial knight­hood in his rosy min­is­teri­al future.

A Tale of Two Cases

Abu_QatadaThe first case, the one hit­ting the head­lines this week, is that of Jord­ani­an-born alleged ter­ror­ist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged pass­port almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absen­tia of ter­ror­ist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in sev­en oth­er coun­tries for ter­ror­ist-related offences.  He has been labeled Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been vari­ously interned, placed under con­trol order, and held in max­im­um secur­ity pris­ons.  

The UK courts ruled that he should be depor­ted to stand tri­al in his nat­ive coun­try, but these rul­ings were recently over­turned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had con­cerns that Jord­ani­an dip­lo­mat­ic assur­ances that he would not be tor­tured could not be relied on, and that evid­ence against him in any retri­al there might have been obtained using tor­ture. 

MATT_CartoonAs a res­ult, Mr Justice Mit­ting of the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeals Com­mis­sion (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T-PIM (the new con­trol order).  This decision has pre­dict­ably roused the froth­ing wrath of the Home Office and the read­er­ship of the Daily Mail.  Politi­cians of all fla­vours have rushed out their sound bites con­demning the ECtHR decision.  

But can they not see that it is the com­pla­cency and the very dis­dain for law that the Brit­ish polit­ic­al and intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture has dis­played for the last dec­ade that has cre­ated this mess in the first place?  If, instead of kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, assas­sin­a­tion, and indeed intern­ment without tri­al with­in the UK, the rule of law had been fol­lowed, the coun­try would not cur­rently find itself in this leg­al quag­mire.  

There used to be a notion that you used due pro­cess to invest­ig­ate a ter­ror­ist sus­pect as you would any oth­er sus­pec­ted crim­in­al: gath­er the evid­ence, present the case to the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice, hold a tri­al in front of a jury, and work towards a con­vic­tion. 

How quaintly old-fash­ioned that all seems today.  Instead, since 9/11 and the incep­tion of the hys­ter­ic­ally bru­tal “war on ter­ror” led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into pris­on for years on the secret word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, where even the sus­pects’ law­yers are not allowed to see the inform­a­tion against their cli­ents.  The Brit­ish leg­al sys­tem has become truly Kafkaesque.

Which leads me to the second case.  This was a quote in yesterday’s Guard­i­an about the Abu Qatada rul­ing:

The Con­ser­vat­ive back­bench­er Domin­ic Raab echoed Blunkett’s anger: “This res­ult is a dir­ect res­ult of the per­verse rul­ing by the Stras­bourg court. It makes a mock­ery of human rights law that a ter­ror­ist sus­pect deemed ‘dan­ger­ous’ by our courts can’t be returned home, not for fear that he might be tor­tured, but because European judges don’t trust the Jord­ani­an justice sys­tem.”

Julian_assangeIn the case of Juli­an Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice sys­tem? While the Swedish judi­cial sys­tem may have an ostens­ibly more fra­grant repu­ta­tion than that of Jordan, 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, to bas­tard­ise the above quote, who now really trusts the Amer­ic­an justice sys­tem?

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.

For­get about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-break­ing new form of high-tech journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retali­ation for the embar­rass­ment he has caused by expos­ing US double deal­ing and war crimes over the last dec­ade, and no doubt as a dread­ful example to deter oth­ers.  

Bradley_Manning_2The alleged Wikileaks source, US sol­dier Private Brad­ley Man­ning, has been kept in inhu­mane and degrad­ing con­di­tions for well over a year and will now be court-mar­tialed.  The gen­er­al assump­tion is that this pro­cess was designed to break him, so that he would implic­ate Assange and pos­sibly oth­er Wikileaks asso­ci­ates.  

In my view, that means that any US tri­al of Assange could essen­tially be rely­ing on evid­ence obtained under tor­ture.  And if Assange is extra­dited and and judi­cially rendered to the US, he too will face tor­tur­ous con­di­tions.

So, to sum­mar­ise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight coun­tries for ter­ror­ist offences, has already been con­victed twice in his home coun­try, but who can­not be extra­dited.

And on the oth­er hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or con­victed of any­thing, but is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing on minor and appar­ently trumped up charges in anoth­er coun­try, yet who has also been imprisoned in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment and held under house arrest.  And it looks like the Brit­ish author­it­ies are happy to col­lude in his extra­di­tion.

Both these men poten­tially face a mis­tri­al and both may poten­tially exper­i­ence what is now euphemist­ic­ally known as “degrad­ing and inhu­mane treat­ment”.

But because one faces being sent back to his home coun­try — now seen for the pur­poses of his case as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture — he shall prob­ably not be extra­dited.  How­ever, the oth­er faces being sent to an ali­en coun­try well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judi­cial sys­tem oops, sorry, as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture.

A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesThe UK has become a leg­al laugh­ing stock around the world and our judi­cial frame­work has been bent com­pletely out of shape by the require­ments of the “war on ter­ror” and the rap­idly devel­op­ing cor­por­ate fas­cism of our gov­ern­ment.  

The UK is cur­rently cel­eb­rat­ing the bicen­ten­ary of the birth of Charles Dick­ens.  Per­haps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he dis­cussed in one of his best-known nov­els, “A Tale of Two Cit­ies”.  Do we want our coun­try to slide fur­ther down the path of state ter­ror­ism — a phrase adop­ted from the ori­gin­al Grande Ter­reur of the French Revolu­tion? 

We need to seize back our basic rights, the due pro­cess of law, and justice.

The Canadian Tour

OK, so I’m a crap blog­ger — but I have to say that my access to the inter­net was severely lim­ited dur­ing my travels across Canada!  And then I had to go back to the UK, then NL.…

Vancouver_posterCanada was great — the first nation­al speak­ing tour organ­ised by the country’s  9/11 groups.  And before you roll your eyes, these are cit­izens’ groups that are call­ing for a new enquiry — in response to a moun­tain of evid­ence from hun­dreds of cred­ible experts around the world, who ques­tion the offi­cial account peddled by the 9/11 Com­mis­sion. 

Bear­ing in mind how the issue of 9/11 has been used and abused by our dear gov­ern­ments to jus­ti­fy the end­less “war on ter­ror”, the use of tor­ture, the wars in the Middle East and the erosion of our freedoms at home, I think any con­cerned and respons­ible cit­izen should, at the very least, keep an open mind about this issue and do their own research.  Espe­cially as the 9/11 Com­mis­sion was, in the words of its two chairs, Keane and Hamilton, “set up to fail”!

But back to the tour.  Huge thanks go to Patrick, the nation­al organ­iser of the tour, who had the vis­ion and com­mit­ment to pull the whole thing togeth­er, as well as sort out all the logist­ics and arrange a con­stant flow of media inter­views for me, of which more below.  And of course to the organ­isers of the events: Eliza­beth, Ruk­shana, Mark, JF, Michael, Adam, Adnan, Graeme, and all the oth­er act­iv­ists — too many to name indi­vidu­ally.

I had to fly to Van­couver via Chica­go O’Hare, which spooked me to begin with.  I’ve been through that air­port before and it has, in the past, lived up to its well-deserved repu­ta­tion for power-crazed immig­ra­tion officers.  How­ever, I got a real sweetie — we ended up hav­ing an inter­est­ing chat about the nature of demo­cracy, before he cracked a smile and waved me through.  

In com­par­is­on, Van­couver air­port is a Zen exper­i­ence — all nat­ive art install­a­tions and water­falls.  As I emerged blink­ing into the late after­noon sun­shine (it was about 3am by my body clock), I was greeted by the Van­couver posse and whisked away in the Truth Bus to food, wine and anoth­er radio inter­view

Georgina_photo3I did a series of radio and news­pa­per inter­views the next morn­ing (thanks, Rukshana’s mum for the use of the phone!), before being whisked off on a tour of Van­couver by Ruk­shana and Geor­gina.  The city blew me away with its beauty — moun­tains up close, parks, sea and arty quar­ters.  If it wasn’t so
damned close to the US bor­der, I would be ser­i­ously temp­ted to move
there. 

At the end of the after­noon, I had a fab time being inter­viewed on Van­couver 1410 CFUN driv­e­time radio, before one more tele­phone inter­view and a well-earned glass of cham­pagne at Geor­gina and Darren’s.

After this day of recov­ery, I was then invited onto the Bill Good Show the next morn­ing.  Bill is the grand old man of BC media, and he was a excel­lent inter­view­er.  I had half an hour with him, and the show went out to over a quarter of a mil­lion people.

Vancouver_photo2The meet­ing that night was a great suc­cess — I could feel the energy and interest of the audi­ence as I spoke for 1 1/2 hours, and then had over an hour more of ques­tions.  I think it’s wrong for the media to say people are no longer inter­ested in polit­ics — they’re just not that inter­ested in the estab­lished polit­ic­al hier­arch­ies and sys­tems.

If I had thought Van­couver lovely, the scenery was even more beau­ti­ful as I took the ferry down the bay to Vic­tor­ia, past small wooded islands.  Of course, that was the moment my cam­era decided to pack up…

I had a lovely couple of days in Vic­tor­ia, pampered by Eliza­beth and Bri­an, shown the beau­ties of the island and meet­ing a num­ber of act­iv­ists.  I also had the pleas­ure of meet­ing Row­land Mor­gan, (co-author with Ian Hen­shall) of the excel­lent best­seller, “9/11 Revealed”

I’d done a num­ber of inter­views before arriv­ing on the island.  The Vic­tor­ia event was very well atten­ded and I had a stand­ing ova­tion at the end.

Then it was back to Van­couver for anoth­er hour-long inter­view on Co-op Radio and a pot luck sup­per with the act­iv­ists, before fly­ing off to Ott­awa for the east­ern leg of the tour.  I arrived at mid­night to be greeted by the lovely Mar­jor­ie and Cam, who hos­ted me for a couple of nights.  My sleep was all too brief, as I had to get up at 4.30 to make a 6am radio inter­view.

The Ott­awa event was smal­ler (I would say it was an extremely rainy night!), but per­fectly formed.  Des­pite this, the group seemed very enthused about put­ting on future events.

The next day brought a Grey­hound bus ride up to Mon­tréal.  Such moments in life are when you wish you’d put Simon and Gar­funkel on your I-pod.  My 18 hours in Mon­tréal were hec­tic — and we only just made it to the meet­ing on time, what with an excel­lent din­ner and ter­rible traffic.  The meet­ing was really vibrant.  After­wards, when every­one else was head­ing out to party, I had to slink back to my bed for a brief 4 hours sleep, before get­ting a train at 6.30 to Toronto.

Adnan_on_TVI hit the ground run­ning, with a lunch­time inter­view, then a peace demo in the city centre.  Clin­ton and Bush Jr were in town, giv­ing a talk to 5000 of the faith­ful who were flush enough to cough up between $200 and $5000 to hear their bien pensees.  Inde­pend­ent media did a couple of good inter­views with me.  Shame­fully, the Stop the War Toronto group only man­aged to rustle up about 1,000 pro­test­ers out­side the con­fer­ence centre, and then refused to give a plat­form to Split­ting the Sky, a Cana­dian peace act­iv­ist who had attemp­ted to arrest Bush for war crimes when he vis­ited Cal­gary in April, and who had him­self been arres­ted for his pains.  How­ever, some oth­er peace act­iv­ists had some good cov­er­age!

The next day, hav­ing caught up on some sleep at last, I had an excel­lent time at the Toronto uni­ver­sity radio sta­tion, where we had a lively hour-long inter­view, before head­ing off to my event at the uni­ver­sity. 

Next stop, Water­loo Uni­ver­sity, where I did a round of inter­views accom­pan­ied by the journ­al­ist and cam­paign­er, Bar­rie Zwick­er. The format that night changed to an inter­view on stage con­duc­ted by him, which worked really well.  

Spyinggame003The final stop of the tour was Hamilton where, after anoth­er all-too-brief night, I had three morn­ing inter­views — 2 on radio, and one recor­ded for the TV even­ing news.  A lovely Lebanese lunch with a group of pro­fess­ors from the uni­ver­sity fol­lowed, and then a much needed chance to sleep it off, before head­ing out to the final gig, organ­ised by Pro­fess­or Graeme Mac­Queen and hos­ted by Mohawk Col­lege.  Well, they always say the last one is the best — and I had an amaz­ing even­ing.  Over an hour of talk, fol­low­ing by 1 1/2 hours of ques­tions from an inter­ested and informed audi­ence. 

So a great time in an amaz­ing coun­try.  Thanks once again to all who made this tour such a suc­cess, and good luck with your future plans!

ETH0 Hacker Camp, January 2009

In Janu­ary 2009 I was invited to talk at ETH0, a small but select hack­er camp held in the wilds of the Neth­er­lands.  The crowd was young, hip, informed — and very inter­ested in the use and abuse of intel­li­gence and par­tic­u­larly the erosion of our most basic civil liber­ties.   Events like this give me hope.

Some of the organ­isers are also involved in plan­ning a major techno-polit­ic­al hack­er fest­iv­al, Hack­ing at Ran­dom, in NL this sum­mer.   An event not to be missed!

Spies and the Law

For con­text, here’s a little bit of back­ground inform­a­tion about the UK’s spy agen­cies, and the leg­al con­straints with­in which they are sup­posed to oper­ate.

There are three primary agen­cies: MI5 (the UK Secur­ity Ser­vice), MI6 (Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice — SIS) and GCHQ (the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­nic­a­tions HQ). Bey­ond this inner circle, there is the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch (MPSB), the spe­cial branches of every oth­er police force in the UK, mil­it­ary intel­li­gence, and Cus­toms, amongst oth­ers.

MI5 and MI6 were set up in 1909 dur­ing the build up to the First World War, when their remit was to uncov­er Ger­man spies. For the next 80 years they didn’t offi­cially exist and oper­ated out­side the law.

In 1989 MI5 was put on a leg­al foot­ing for the first time when par­lia­ment passed the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act. This stated that it had to work with­in leg­al para­met­ers, and if it wanted to do some­thing that would oth­er­wise be illeg­al, such as break­ing into and bug­ging someone’s house, it had to get the writ­ten per­mis­sion of its polit­ic­al mas­ter, the Home Sec­ret­ary. Without that, MI5 would be break­ing the law just as you or I would be.

MI6 and GCHQ were not put on a leg­al foot­ing until the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, and are answer­able to the For­eign Sec­ret­ary. The same Act also set up the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment as a sop to demo­crat­ic over­sight. The ISC is respons­ible for over­see­ing the policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion of the three agen­cies. It has abso­lutely no remit to look at their oper­a­tion­al run­ning, nor can it invest­ig­ate alleged crimes com­mit­ted by them. Even if it could, the ISC has no power to call for wit­nesses or demand doc­u­ments from the spooks. Moreover, the com­mit­tee is appoin­ted by the Prime Min­is­ter, answer­able only to him, and he can vet its find­ings. Much of the ISC’s annu­al reports are blanked out.

When I was recruited by MI5 in the early 1990s, the organ­isa­tion was at great pains to explain that it worked with­in the law, was account­able, and its work was mainly invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ism. Once I began work­ing there, this quickly proved to be untrue. MI5 is incom­pet­ent, it breaks the law, con­nives at the impris­on­ment of inno­cent people, illeg­ally bugs people, lies to gov­ern­ment (on whom it holds per­son­al files) and turns a blind eye to false flag ter­ror­ism. This is why I resigned and helped to blow the whistle.

With all this hys­teria about the threat from Al Qaeda, and the ava­lanche of new powers and resources being thrown at the spooks, as well the erosion of our liber­ties, we need to keep a cool head. Why don’t our politi­cians take a step back and ask what pre­cisely are the scale and nature of the threats facing this coun­try, and how can we best police them? As Sir Ian Blair recently showed, we can­not take the secur­ity forces’ words about this at face value.

There’s a lot of his­tor­ic bag­gage attached to MI5 and 6, par­tic­u­larly after their dirty tricks against the left in the 1980s. As they are now primar­ily doing a poli­cing job against ter­ror­ism, why not just clear the decks and start again? Set up a ded­ic­ated counter-ter­ror­ism agency, which is prop­erly account­able to par­lia­ment, as the police already are and the spies are not.

As it stands the UK has the most secret­ive intel­li­gence agen­cies in the west­ern world. They are exempt from the Free­dom of Inform­a­tion Act, and pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. The 1989 OSA makes it a crim­in­al offence for any­one to blow the whistle on crimes com­mit­ted by the spies, and it is no longer pos­sible for a whis­tleblower to argue that they acted in the pub­lic interest.

No oth­er west­ern demo­cracy has spies who are quite so unac­count­able, nor so pro­tec­ted from scru­tiny by the law. The closest ana­lo­gies are prob­ably the intel­li­gence agen­cies of coun­tries such as Libya or Iran. Par­tic­u­larly as we now know that MI5 and MI6 officers are con­niv­ing in extraordin­ary rendi­tion and the use of tor­ture.

Are they leg­al? Yes, now, in the­ory. Do they abide by the law? Only when it suits them. Are they eth­ic­al? Abso­lutely not.

UK Police Chief Misleads MPs

An inter­est­ing art­icle appeared in The Sunday Times today, stat­ing that Britain’s top police­man, the Com­mis­sion­er of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Sir Ian Blair, had “unwit­tingly” misled the par­lia­ment­ary Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee about the need to increase the peri­od of deten­tion without charge for ter­ror­ist sus­pects in the UK from 28 to 42 days. Blair claimed that 12 major ter­ror­ist oper­a­tions had been foiled in Bri­tain since 2005. In fact, the art­icle reports that only 6 plots have been stopped. Blair has had to issue a grov­el­ling apo­logy via the Press Asso­ci­ation for this, umm, gaffe.

But the art­icle neg­lects to tell us how and why this new inform­a­tion came to light. So allow me to spec­u­late.

The Met, along with its shad­owy cohorts in MI5, is entrus­ted with pro­tect­ing Bri­tain from ter­ror­ist threats. Since 9/11 and the all-per­vas­ive war on ter­ror, Britain’s secur­ity forces have been gran­ted sweep­ing new powers, resources and a huge increase in staff­ing levels to do this job. To ensure this is jus­ti­fied, they are con­tinu­ally telling us of the huge threat we face from ter­ror­ism and how suc­cess­ful they are in pro­tect­ing us. It is in their interests to talk this up.

Mean­while, over on the south bank of the river, MI6 con­tin­ues to suf­fer from the loss of prestige brought about by its mis­takes and lack of good intel­li­gence in the run-up to the Iraq inva­sion. There is no love lost between these three agen­cies, as they com­pete for power and resources. So, to use a good civil ser­vice phrase, I can­not rule out the pos­sib­il­ity that someone in MI6 leaked this inform­a­tion to have a pop at the Met and MI5.

How­ever, there is a more ser­i­ous aspect to this incid­ent. But for this inform­a­tion emer­ging, MPs and pub­lic alike would have had no way of know­ing that the per­ceived threat from ter­ror­ism had been grossly inflated in order for the police to gain yet more powers. We would have had to take Sir Ian’s word.

Well, we’ve been here before many, many times, most notori­ously when the intel­li­gence agen­cies would have us believe that Sad­dam had WMD that could attack Brit­ish interests with 45 minutes. This, of course, led to the Iraq war and the deaths of hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent men, women and chil­dren.

So how can we ensure we are told the truth by the spies? Well, great­er account­ab­il­ity and effect­ive par­lia­ment­ary over­sight would be a step in the right dir­ec­tion. But we don’t just need the cor­rect mech­an­isms in place in par­lia­ment. We also need MPs with the know­ledge, intel­li­gence and integ­rity to ask the dif­fi­cult ques­tions when faced with bogus asser­tions.