German spy agency penetrated by ISIS

My recent inter­view about the Ger­man domest­ic spy agency, the BfV — the Office for the Pro­tec­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, iron­ic­ally — being allegedly infilt­rated by ISIS.

ISIS Agent in Ger­man Spy Agency from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Keynote at Internetdagarna, Stockholm, November 2014

Here is my key­note speech at the recent Inter­net­dagarna (Inter­net Days) con­fer­ence in Stock­holm, Sweden, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblower, spy, sur­veil­lance, pri­vacy and TTIP:

internetdagarna

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:

de_govt_touts_typewriters

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.

European Media Art Festival (EMAF), Osnabrueck

The 27th European Media Art Fest­iv­al began this even­ing in Osnab­rueck, Ger­many. In the wake of all the glob­al intel­li­gence whis­tleblow­ing that has gone on over the last few years, the theme for the artists of 2014 is “We, the Enemy”.

Do vis­it if you can — a lot of inter­est­ing and polit­ic­al art install­a­tions are on dis­play, as well as films, music, and talks.  I shall be doing a talk on speak­ing on Fri­day after­noon.

I had the pleas­ure of mak­ing a short speech at the open­ing cere­mony this even­ing, and did an inter­view for nation­al Ger­man TV chan­nel ARD last night to pub­li­cise the fest­iv­al.

ueberwachungskunst

Uber­wachungs kunst from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

CCC talk — the Four Wars

Here is my recent talk at the CCC in Ham­burg, dis­cuss­ing the war on ter­ror, the war on drugs, the war in the inter­net and the war on whis­tleblowers:

30C3 — The Four Wars; Ter­ror, whis­tleblowers, drugs, inter­net from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Voice of Russia radio interview about spies, oversight, whistleblowers, and Snowden.

Here is an inter­view I did for Voice of Rus­sia radio in Lon­don last week about spies and their rela­tion­ship with our demo­crat­ic pro­cesses, over­sight, Edward Snowden and much more:

Voice of Rus­sia radio inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

BBC “World Have Your Say” debate

A recent inter­view on BBC World Ser­vice radio, on “World Have Your Say”.  An inter­est­ing debate with some oth­er former intel­li­gence types:

BBC World Ser­vice “World Have Your Say” inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Interview on London Real TV

Here’s my recent inter­view on Lon­don Real TV, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblow­ing, tech, intel­li­gence, and the war on drugs.  Thanks Bri­an and Colin for a fun hour!

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.

The Empire Strikes Back

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

Andrew Park­er, the Dir­ect­or Gen­er­al of the UK’s domest­ic secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5) yes­ter­day made both his first pub­lic speech and a super­fi­cially robust defence of the work of the intel­li­gence agen­cies. Read­ing from the out­side, it sounds all pat­ri­ot­ic and noble.

Darth_VaderAnd who is to say that Park­er does not believe this after 30 years on the inside and the MI5 group­think men­tal­ity being what it is? Let’s give him the bene­fit of the doubt. How­ever, I have two prob­lems with his speech, on both a micro and a macro scale.

Let’s start with the micro — ie the dev­il in the detail — what is said and, cru­cially, what is left unsaid. First up: over­sight, which the spook apo­lo­gists have dwelt on at great length over the last few months.

I wrote about this last week, but here’s some of that dev­il­ish detail. Park­er cor­rectly explains what the mech­an­isms are for over­sight with­in MI5: the Home Office war­rants for oth­er­wise illeg­al activ­it­ies such as bug­ging; the over­sight com­mis­sion­ers; the Com­plaints Tribunal; the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment. This all sounds pretty reas­on­able for a demo­cracy, right?

Of course, what he neg­lects to men­tion is how these sys­tems can be gamed by the spies.

The applic­a­tion for war­rants is a tick-box exer­cise where basic leg­al require­ments can be by-passed, the author­ising min­is­ter only ever sees a sum­mary of a sum­mary.… ad infin­itum.… for sig­na­ture, and nev­er declines a request in case some­thing lit­er­ally blows up fur­ther down the line.

Sure, there are inde­pend­ent com­mis­sion­ers who over­see MI5 and its sur­veil­lance work every year and write a report. But as I have writ­ten before, they are giv­en the roy­al treat­ment dur­ing their annu­al vis­it to Thames House, and officers with con­cerns about the abuse of the war­rantry sys­tem are barred from meet­ing them. Plus, even these ano­dyne reports can high­light an alarm­ing num­ber of “admin­is­trat­ive errors” made by the spies, no doubt entirely without malice.

The com­plaints tribunal — the body to which we can make a com­plaint if we feel we have been unne­ces­sar­ily spied on, has always found in favour of the spies.

And finally, the pièce de résist­ance, so to speak: the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment. How many times do I have to write this? Top cops and Parker’s spy pre­de­cessors have admit­ted to lying suc­cess­fully to the ISC for many years. This is not mean­ing­ful over­sight, nor is the fact that the evid­ence of earli­er major intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers was ignored by the ISC, except for the part where they might be under invest­ig­a­tion by MI5 them­selves.…

Of course, the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has entered the lists this sum­mer to say that the ISC has just acquired new powers and can now go into the spies’ lairs, demand to see papers, and over­see oper­a­tion­al activ­it­ies. This is indeed good, if belated, news, but from a man who has already cleared GCHQ’s endem­ic data-min­ing as law­ful, one has to won­der how thor­ough he will be.

While the com­mit­tee remains chosen by the PM, answer­able only to the PM, who can also vet the find­ings, this com­mit­tee is irre­deem­ably undemo­crat­ic. It will remain full of cred­u­lous yes-men only too happy to sup­port the status quo.

Secondly, what are the threats that Park­er talks about? He has worked for MI5 for 30 years and will there­fore remem­ber not only the Cold War era, where Soviet spies were hunted down, but also the very real and per­vas­ive threat of IRA bombs reg­u­larly explod­ing on UK streets. At the same time hun­dreds of thou­sands of polit­ic­ally act­ive UK cit­izens were aggress­ively invest­ig­ated. A (cold) war and the threat of ter­ror­ism allowed the spies a drag-net of sur­veil­lance even then.

V_for_Vendetta_masksHow much worse now, in this hyper-con­nec­ted, data-min­ing era? One chilling phrase that leapt out at me from Parker’s speech was the need to invest­ig­ate “ter­ror­ists and oth­ers threat­en­ing nation­al secur­ity”. Nation­al secur­ity has nev­er been leg­ally defined for the pur­poses of UK law, and we see the goal posts move again and again. In the 1980s, when Park­er joined MI5, it was the “reds under the bed”, the so-called sub­vers­ives. Now it can be the Occupy group encamped in the City of Lon­don or envir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists wav­ing plac­ards.

So now for my macro con­cerns, which are about wider con­cepts. Park­er used his first pub­lic speech to defend not only the work of his own organ­isa­tion, but also to attack the whis­tleblow­ing efforts of Edward Snowden and the cov­er­age in The Guard­i­an news­pa­per. He attempts to seam­lessly elide the work and the over­sight mod­els of MI5 and GCHQ.  And who is fall­ing for this?  Well, much of the UK media appar­ently.

This mud­dies the waters. The con­cerns about Snowden’s dis­clos­ures are glob­al — the TEMPORA pro­ject affects not only the cit­izens of the UK but people across Europe and bey­ond. For Rif­kind or the For­eign Sec­ret­ary to com­pla­cently say that GCHQ is over­seen by them and everything is hun­key-dorey is just not good enough, even for the hap­less cit­izens of the UK. How much more so for those unrep­res­en­ted people across the world?

The IOCA (1985) and later and much-abused RIPA (2000) laws were writ­ten before the UK gov­ern­ment could have con­ceived of the sheer scale of the inter­net. They are way out of date — 20th cen­tury rolling omni­bus war­rants hoover­ing up every scrap of data and being stored for unknown times in case you might com­mit a (thought?) crime in the future. This is noth­ing like mean­ing­ful over­sight.

Unlike the UK, even the USA is cur­rently hav­ing con­gres­sion­al hear­ings and media debates about the lim­its of the elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance pro­gramme. Con­sid­er­ing America’s mus­cu­lar response after 9/11, with illeg­al inva­sions, drone strikes, CIA kill lists and extraordin­ary kid­nap­pings (to this day), that casts the UK spy com­pla­cency in a par­tic­u­larly unflat­ter­ing light.

Plus if 58,000 GCHQ doc­u­ments have really been copied by a young NSA con­tract­or, why are Park­er and Rif­kind not ask­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions of the Amer­ic­an admin­is­tra­tion, rather than con­tinu­ing to jus­ti­fy the anti­quated Brit­ish over­sight sys­tem?

Finally, Park­er is show­ing his age as well as his pro­fes­sion when he talks about the inter­webs and all the implic­a­tions.  As I said dur­ing my state­ment to the LIBE com­mit­tee in the European Par­lia­ment:

  • 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.

LIBE whistleblower hearing at the European Parliament

This week I was invited to give a state­ment to the LIBE Com­mit­tee at the European Par­lia­ment about whis­tleblow­ing and the NSA mass sur­veil­lance scan­dal.

I was in good com­pany: ex-NSA Tom Drake, ex-Depart­ment of Justice Jes­selyn Radack, and ex-NSA Kirk Wiebe. As well as describ­ing the prob­lems we had faced as intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers, we also sug­ges­ted some pos­sible solu­tions.

We were well received, even to the extent of an ova­tion from the nor­mally reti­cent MEPs.  We also all did vari­ous inter­views for TV dur­ing the day, but this is the only one I have tracked down so far.

Here is the video:

EU Par­lia­ment LIBE Inquiry on Elec­tron­ic Mass Sur­veil­lance of EU Cit­izens 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

Bio­graphy:

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:

Recom­mend­a­tions:

  • 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.

International Day of Privacy, Berlin Demo

The Inter­na­tion­al Day of Pri­vacy was cel­eb­rated glob­ally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden bring­ing extra energy and res­on­ance to the sub­ject.

I was invited take part in a demon­stra­tion in Ber­lin, cul­min­at­ing with a talk at the hugely sym­bol­ic Branden­burg Gate. Here’s the talk:

OHM 2013 — The Joy of Geeks

ohm2013_logoHome and recovered from the rigours of the amaz­ing geek­fest, OHM 2013.

This was a 5-day fest­iv­al in the Neth­er­lands where 3000 geeks, act­iv­ists and whis­tleblowers gathered to have fun and also try to put the world to rights.  And this crowd, out of all act­iv­ist groups, has a fight­ing chance. The geeks are tooled-up, tech-savvy, and increas­ingly politi­cised after all the recent assaults on the inter­net and wider freedoms.

These include all the anti-pir­acy meas­ures (inter­est­ingly, Rus­sia has just joined the lost war that is the anti-pir­acy legis­la­tion, and the Rus­si­an pir­ates are going to form a Pir­ate Church, as this will give them spe­cial pro­tec­tions and rights under the law). It also includes all the invi­di­ous inter­na­tion­al agree­ments that the US and its Euro-vas­sals are try­ing to force down the throats of reluct­ant pop­u­la­tions: ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, TAFTA.… you name it, there’s a whole new anti-free­dom alpha­bet soup out there in addi­tion to the spook acronyms.

Not to men­tion all the illeg­al US take-downs of legit­im­ate busi­ness web­sites, such as Megaup­load, and the pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance powers of the NSA and its glob­al intel­li­gence bud­dies, long sus­pec­ted by many and now proven by the dis­clos­ures of the cour­ageous Edward Snowden.

So it was lovely to see at OHM an increas­ing politi­cisa­tion. This was partly because of all the above recent hor­rors, but also because the OHM organ­isers had pulled togeth­er a strong polit­ic­al and whis­tleblow­ing speak­er track. The attack against digit­al civil liber­ties is inex­tric­ably linked to and reflect­ive of the full-front­al attack on our his­tor­ic real-world freedoms:  endem­ic sur­veil­lance, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, CIA kill lists, illeg­al wars, drone strikes, secret courts, and many oth­er encroach­ing hor­rors that I have writ­ten about ad nauseam. And this is just what we know about.

sinking_shipIn my view our West­ern demo­cra­cies have been at least fatally holed, if they have not yet foundered. Which, of course, means that our viol­ent, inter­ven­tion­ist attempts to bring “demo­cracy” to the devel­op­ing world are derided as hypo­crit­ic­al at best, and viol­ently res­isted at worst.

The new front-line of this struggle is “cyber” war­fare — be it the illeg­al aggress­ive attacks of such US/Israeli vir­uses against Iran such as Stuxnet (that is now roam­ing free in the wild and mutat­ing), or the slower wars of attri­tion against “pir­ates”, hack­ers, Wikileaks, and the grow­ing war on whis­tleblowers such as Brad­ley Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

Well, geeks are the new res­ist­ance and they have a fight­ing chance in my view. And this is why I think that they are our best hope.

SAMSUNGThis was my exper­i­ence of OHM. Three thou­sand of the best and the bright­est from around the world gathered togeth­er not just to have fun play­ing with bleed­ing-edge tech, hack­ing and build­ing toys, and cre­at­ing slightly sur­real, if beloved, hov­er-pets (see right), but also who turned out in their thou­sands to listen to and absorb the exper­i­ences of a num­ber of inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers. In the wake of the Edward Snowden case, this is a hot top­ic in these circles and there was a huge impetus to help.

We whis­tleblowers had a fab­ulous time too. One is a “nat­ur­al-born geek” — Tom Drake, formerly of the NSA, who was threatened with 35 years in pris­on because he dared to dis­close prob­lems with his organ­isa­tion. His law­yer, gov­ern­ment law­yer-turned-whis­tleblower Jes­selyn Radack, also spoke of her exper­i­ences. Coleen Row­ley, the FBI whis­tleblower who exposed the intel­li­gence fail­ure in the US in the run-up to 9/11 and was voted Time Per­son of the Year in 2002 also gave a fant­ast­ic talk called “Secrecy Kills”, and former CIA ana­lyst and pres­id­en­tial “briefer”, Ray McGov­ern, gave the open­ing key­note speech, focus­ing on the need to speak out and pre­serve our rights. I fin­ished the quin­tet of whis­tleblowers and provided the Euro-per­spect­ive.

And of course the pat­ron saint of whis­tleblowers also did one of the key talks — but he had to be beamed in. Juli­an Assange, who was free to attend HAR, the last such event in the Neth­er­lands four years ago, was unavoid­ably detained in his embassy refuge in the UK.

OHM_Great_Spook_Panel_2013

Photo by Rein­oud van Leeuwen (http://​rein​oud​.van​.leeuwen​.net/)

The whis­tleblowers all came togeth­er for one of the big ses­sions of OHM — the “Great Spook Pan­el”, mod­er­ated by the indom­it­able Nick Farr. The pan­el was basic­ally a call to arms for the next gen­er­a­tion. This addressed the need to stand up to pro­tect our rights against all the egre­gious erosions that have occurred since 9/11.  The response was hugely enthu­si­ast­ic. I hope this goes glob­al, and the wider com­munity fol­lows up.

It cer­tainly did in one way. Ray McGov­ern announced the estab­lish­ment of the Edward Snowden Defence Fund at the end of the pan­el dis­cus­sion, and the dona­tions poured in for the rest of the event.

So a very suc­cess­ful fest­iv­al. How do I make that assess­ment? Well, on top of all the fun, vari­ety of talks and net­work­ing, the Dutch intel­li­gence ser­vice, the AIVD (an unfor­tu­nate-sound­ing name to most Eng­lish speak­ers), reques­ted a plat­form at the event after the Great Spook Pan­el was announced in the pro­gramme.

Such an act­ive and open response shows a degree of push-back against a per­ceived “threat”. No doubt the organ­isa­tion wanted to inject the estab­lish­ment anti-venom before the truth-tell­ers had their say. Any­way, on the grounds that most whis­tleblowers are gen­er­ally denied a main­stream media plat­form and/or are smeared, the AIVD was pro­hib­ited the stage.

Of course, the AIVD would have been very wel­come to buy a tick­et like nor­mal humans or pay the cor­por­ate rate to attend to show sup­port for the com­munity — its officers might have learned some­thing.…