The “Insider Threat”

As the old media propaganda battle inevitably heats up around the Edward Snowden case, I stumbled across this little American news gem recently. The premise being that potential whistleblowers are now deemed to be the new “insider threat”.

Well, the US spooks and their friends have already had a pretty good run through the “reds under the bed” of McCarthyism, political subversives, illegals, Muslims and “domestic extremists”, whatever the hell that really means legally.  Now they’ve hit on another threatening category to justify yet further surveillance crackdowns. What’s in a name…..

Firstly, this is old news resurrected in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures to scare people anew. Way back in 2008 the US government wrote a report about “insider threats” and the perceived danger of the high-tech publisher Wikileaks and, in early 2010 the report was leaked to the very same organisation.

Wikileaks1In 2008 the US government strategy was to expose a Wikileaks source so that others would be deterred from using the conduit in future. Well that didn’t happen – Wikileaks technologically outpaced the lumbering, brutish might of the US and sycophantic Western intelligence agencies.  The unfortunate Bradley Manning was exposed by an FBI snitch, Adrian Lamo, rather than from any technical failure of the Wikileaks submission system.

What did occur was a muscular display of global corporatism, with nation after nation capitulating to take down the Wikileaks site, but mirror sites survived that pointed to Switzerland (which has a strong tradition of direct democracy, self defence and free speech and which remains steadfastly independent from international diplomatic circle jerks the UN, NATO, and such like.

On top of that, all major financial channels stopped donations to Wikileaks – an act now been deemed to be manifestly illegal in some countries.

Now, in the wake of the Manning and Snowden disclosures, the US mainstream media appears, inevitably, to be trying to conflate the cases of known traitors with, you’ve guessed it, bona fide whistleblowers.

Cases such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, who betrayed their countries by selling secrets to an enemy power – the Soviet Union – in an era of existential threat. They were traitors to be prosecuted under the US Espionage Act (1917) – that is what it was designed for.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the current whistleblower cases and is just so much basic neuro-linguistic programming. *Yawn*. Do people really fall for that these days?

This is a tired old tactic much used and abused in the officially secret UK, and the USA has learned well from its former colonial master – so much for 1776 and the constitution.

However, in the CBS interview mentioned above it was subtly done – at least for a US broadcast – with the commentator sounding reasonable but with the imagery telling a very different story.

In my view this conflation exposes a dark hypocrisy at the heart of the modern military-security complex. In the old days the “goodies” and “baddies” were simplistically demarcated in the minds of the public: free West good; totalitarian East bad. This followed the mainstream propaganda of the day, and those who worked for the opposition – and the Soviet Union gave the US/UK intelligence axis a good run for its money – were prosecuted as traitors.  Unless, of course, they emerged from the ruling class, when they were allowed to slip away and evade justice.

And of course many of us remember the scandal of the Russian spy ring that was exposed in 2010 – many individuals who had illegally been infiltrated into the US for decades. Yet, when they were caught and exposed, what happened?  A deal was struck between the US and Russia and they were just sent home.

No such liberality is shown to true modern-day whistleblowers. Quite the opposite, with the UK and the US willing to breach all established diplomatic protocols to hunt down their quarry. This despite the fact that the whistleblowers are liberating information about the illegality of our own governments to empower all of us to act as informed citizens, and despite the fact that they are exposing global-level crimes.

Bradley_Manning_2Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have risked their lives to expose the fact that we are living under a global police state and that our military and intelligence agencies are running amok across the planet, with CIA kill lists, renditions, torture, wars, drone strikes and dirty tricks.

Yet the West is not officially at war, nor is it facing an existential threat as it did during the Second World War or the so-called Cold War.  Despite this, the US has used the Espionage Act (1917) more times in the last 5 years than over the preceding century. Is it suddenly infested with spies?

Well, no.  But it is suddenly full of a new digital generation, which has grown up with the assumption that the internet is free, and which wants to guarantee that it will remain free without Big Brother watching over their shoulders.  Talented individuals who end up working for the spy agencies will inevitably be perturbed by programmes such as PRISM and TEMPORA. Lawyers, activists and geeks have been warning about this for the last two decades.

By 1911 the UK had already put in place not only the proto-MI5, but also then added the first Official Secrets Act (OSA) to prosecute real traitors ahead of the First World War. The UK updated the OSA in 1989 specifically to suppress whistleblowing. The US has learned these legal suppression lessons well, not least by shredding its constitution with the Patriot Act.

However, it has neglected to update its law against whistleblowers, falling back instead onto the hoary old 1917 Espionage Act – as I said before, more times in the past five years than over the last century.

This is indeed a war on whistleblowers and truth-tellers, nothing more, nothing less.

What are they so afraid of? Idealists who believe in the old democratic constitutions? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other such fuddy-duddy concepts?

Or could the real enemy be the beneficiaries of the whistleblowers? When the US government says that Manning or Snowden have aided the enemy, do they, could they, mean we the people?

The answer to that would logically be a resounding “yes”. Which leads to another question: what about the nation states – China, Russia, Iran – that we have been told repeatedly over the last few years are hacking and spying on us?

The phrase “pot and kettle” springs to mind. There are no goodies and baddies any more. Indeed, all that remains is outright and shocking hypocrisy.

Snowden has laid bare the fact that the US and its vassals are the most flagrant protagonists in this cyberwar, even as our governments tell us that we must give up basic human rights such as privacy, to protect us from the global threat of terrorism (while at the same time arming and funding our so-called terrorist enemies).

Yet whistleblowers who bravely step up and tell us our governments are committing war crimes, that we are being spied on, that we live under Orwellian surveillance, are now the people being prosecuted for espionage, not the “real” spies and certainly not the war criminals.

In the CBS interview, former US General Michael Hayden, ex-head of the CIA and NSA asked: “what kind of moral judgement does it take for someone to think that their view trumps that of two presidents, the Congress and Senate, the court system and 35,000 co-workers at the NSA?”

Er, perhaps someone who does not want to collude in the most stark examples of global war crimes and illegal surveillance? And perhaps someone who believes that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was set up for a reason after the horrors of the Second World War?

When the rule of law breaks down, who is the real criminal?

What we are witnessing is a generational clash, not a clash of ideologies. The oldsters still be believe in the Cold War narrative (or even “cowboys and Indians”?) of goodies, baddies and existential threats. The digital generations have grown up in the wake of 9/11 and all the associated governmental over-reaction – war crimes go unreported and untried, real civil liberties are an historic artefact, and the global population lives under Big Brother surveillance. Why on earth is anyone, really, surprised when young people of honour and idealism try to take a stand and make a difference?

We should be more worried about our future if the whistleblowers were to stop coming forward.

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First published on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more circumspect title: “British police secretly operated outside democratic control for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the global impact of the ongoing Edward Snowden saga, a smaller but still important whistleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Francis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an undercover cop in the Metropolitan Police Force’s secret Special Demonstrations Squad (SDS) section. In this role, Francis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could discredit the family of murdered black teenager, Stephen Lawrence and thereby derail their campaign for a full and effective police investigation into his death.  The Lawrence family correctly believed that the original investigation had been fumbled because of  institutional police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were posing as activists to infiltrate protest groups will come as no shock after the cascade of revelations about secret policemen in 2011, starting with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental activist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fellow” activists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scandal. This has resulted in an enquiry into the shadowy activities of these most secret officers, accusations that the Crown Prosecution Service suppressed key evidence in criminal trials, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (predominantly male) police officers seduced.

But the disclosures of Peter Francis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the bandwagon, organising demonstrations and provoking confrontations with the far-right British National Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s bookshop in south London in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could potentially just about argue that the undercover officers were trying to gather advance intelligence to prevent public disorder and rioting, although the sheer scale of the operation was utterly disproportionate.

However, what is completely beyond the Pale is this apparent attempt to smear the traumatised family of a murder victim in order to derail their campaign for justice.

The role of undercover cops spying on their fellow citizens who are politically active is distasteful in a democracy. And the fact that, until the original scandal broke in 2011, the reconstituted SDS continued to target peace and environmental protest groups who offered no threat whatsoever to national security is disgraceful – it smacks of the Stasi in East Germany.

To make matters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became apparent that the SDS Version 2.0 was operating outside the formal hierarchy of the police, with what little democratic oversight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fiefdom of a private limited company – the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  Within a notional democracy, this is just gobsmacking.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th century the Metropolitan Police Special Branch investigated terrorism while MI5, established in 1909, was a counter-intelligence unit focusing on espionage and political “subversion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rimington, then head of MI5, effected a Whitehall coup and stole primacy for investigating Irish terrorism from the Met. As a result MI5 magically discovered that subversion was not such a threat after all – this revelation only three years after the Berlin Wall came down – and transferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-terrorism sections. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly building its counter-terrorism empire, despite this being more obviously evidential police work.

Special Branch was relegated to a supporting role, dabbling in organised crime and animal rights activists, but not terribly excited about either. Its prestige had been seriously dented. It also had a group of experienced undercover cops – known then to MI5 as the Special Duties Section – with time on their hands.

It should therefore come as little surprise that ACPO came up with the brilliant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domestic extremists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primarily on potentially violent animal rights activists, but mission creep rapidly set in and the unit’s role expanded into peaceful protest groups. When this unaccountable unit was revealed it rightly caused an outcry, especially as the term “domestic extremist” is not recognised under UK law, and cannot legally be used as justification to aggressively invade an individual’s privacy because of their legitimate political beliefs and activism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I mentioned, they have been aggressively hoovering up the prestigious counter-terrorism work. But, despite what the Americans have hysterically asserted since 9/11, terrorism is not some unique form of “eviltude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shocking one, but still a crime that should be investigated, with evidence gathered, due process applied and the suspects on trial in front of a jury.

A mature democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern suspects or render them to secret prisons and torture them for years. And yet this is precisely what our spooks have been doing – particularly when colluding with their US counterparts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years operated outside any realistic democratic oversight and control. Until this year, the remit of the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament has only covered the policy, administration and finance of the spies. Since the committee’s inception in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to meaningfully address more serious questions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by senior spies and police officers.

The spooks are effectively above the law, while at the same time protected by the draconian Official Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed discussion about the realistic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the protective phrase “national security”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safeguarding the nation’s integrity. A group of well-meaning environmental protesters should not even be on the radar. And, no matter how awful, the occasional terrorist attack is not an existential threat to the fabric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi invasion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sustained bombing of government, infrastructure and military targets by the Provisional IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we understand the real threats can we as a nation discuss the necessary steps to take to protect ourselves effectively; what measures should be taken, what liberties occasionally and legally compromised, and what democratic accountability exists to ensure that the security forces do not exceed their remit and work within the law.

It is only by going through this process that can we ensure such scandals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s confessions but the sheer scale of the endemic electronic surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-overdue national debate becomes ever more necessary.

UK Anonymous Radio Interview

Here’s the link to my interview tonight on UK Anonymous Radio – I had a great time and found it a fun, wide-ranging, and stimulating hour.  I hope you do too.  So, thank you Anonymous.

And also thank you to Kim Dotcom setting up the new file-sharing site, Mega, which replaces his illegally-taken-down global site, MegaUpload.  I have somewhere safe, I think, to store my interviews!

What a shambolic disgrace that MegaUpload raid was, and what a classic example of the global corporatist agenda that I discuss in the interview.

I do love geeks.

“Subversion” old and new

Abu_Qatada_CartoonAn interesting article in yesterday’s Telegraph by political commentator Peter Oborne about Abu Qatada.  This case has caused much sound and fury amongst the British political and media classes over the last couple of days.  Oborne’s article strips out the bombast and takes us back to basic principles – as did this other recent article in the Independent a day or two ago by Christina Patterson.

However, what really grabbed my attention in Oborne’s article was his reference to David Maxwell Fyfe, the British politician and lawyer who was tasked by Sir Winston Churchill to lay the foundations of the European system of human rights after the atrocities of World War Two – a period when the need for basic rights was seared into people’s minds.

Maxwell_FyfeWhile Maxwell Fyfe laid some good foundations for European law, his name also has resonance to all who worked for the UK domestic Security Service, MI5, during or in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War.  It was Maxwell Fyfe’s directive, issued in 1952, that was instrumental in allowing MI5 to spy on British political activists subversives.  This directive remained in place until 1989, when MI5 was placed on a legal footing for the first time in its then 80 year history, with the Security Service Act 1989. Here is a segment about the Maxwell Fyfe directive from my old book, “Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers“:

Background to subversion

At this time MI5 was still using the same criteria for recording individual subversives and their sympathisers as was set out by Home Secretary David Maxwell-Fyfe in 1952.  He called on the services to identify any individual engaged in undermining Parliamentary democracy, national security and/or the economic well-being of the UK by violent, industrial or political means.  In fact, many would argue that groups who used only political means to get their point across were merely exercising their democratic rights.  In fact, MI5 used photos of demonstrations, copies of election lists and even lists of subscribers to radical left-wing book clubs as indicators of subversive sympathy and membership.  Of course, the world was a very different place when I joined the section, almost 40 years after Maxwell-Fyfe’s declaration, not least because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc allies.  

TrotskyFrom Maxwell-Fyfe’s statement to Parliament, which was never made law, MI5 and subsequent governments used to argue that all members of certain parties –such as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) or later the bewildering array of Trotskyists, with names like the International Marxist Group (IMG), Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) Major and Minor, Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), anarchists and the extreme right — were threats to the security of the state or our democratic system.  This in itself is a contentious proposition.  None of these Trotskyist groups was cultivating Eastern bloc finance or building bombs in smoky back rooms, but were instead using legitimate democratic methods to make their case, such as standing in elections, organising demonstrations and educating ‘the workers’.  They certainly had no allegiance to a foreign power, the primary raison d’etre for the investigation of subversion, because, unlike the Communist Party, they abhorred the Eastern bloc.

Greenham-commonSince MI5 was effectively investigating individuals for holding opinions the government did not like — a very un-British position — it was always at pains to point out that it took its responsibilities with regard to human rights very seriously, although not seriously enough to ensure that these activities were regulated by a legal framework.  All the service’s phone taps prior to the passing of the Interception of Communications Act (IOCA) in 1985 were unlawful because there was no legislation governing the interception of communications.”

The directive was not a legally binding document, but it was the basis for the work of F Branch, MI5’s massive section tasked with hunting “subversives” during those decades.  It allowed intelligence officers great latitude in interpreting what was deemed subversive activity and who were “legitimate’ targets.  And yet there were many, many instances of the abuse of this system by paranoid, senior intelligence officers over the years.  More information can be found in this chapter on subversion from the book.

So my point is, yes, Britain ostensibly led the way in developing a system to protect human rights in the aftermath of the Second World War.  But the very architect of that system then produced the directive that gave British spies carte blanche to investigate political dissidents within their own country, which they abused for decades.

Mark_KennedyAnd now we have commentators rightly saying that we should uphold basic human rights’ values in cases such as Abu Qatada.  But what about all the UK activists who were illegally investigated by MI5 from 1952 to the 1990s? And, more pertinently today, what about all the activists and protesters who have been aggressively spied upon by the unaccountable, undercover police of the NPOIU since the 1990s, under the illegal category of “domestic extremists“?

I was heartened to see 87 year old artist and peace activist John Catt is suing the NPOIU for intrusive surveillance over the last 6 years.  Perhaps he should quote Maxwell Fyfe on human rights during his case?

May 2005 – The Times

MI5 kept schoolboy on its files

The partner of David Shayler reveals how a letter to the Communist Party brought its youthful author to the attention of the security services

August 2005

A BOY who wrote a letter to the British Communist Party for a school project ended up with his own MI5 file, a former Security Service officer claimed yesterday.

The boy had asked for information for his school topic, but his letter was secretly opened by MI5 in the 1970s when the Communist Party was still regarded as a hotbed of subversion, according to Annie Machon, who worked for the domestic intelligence service from 1991 to 1996.

Ms Machon is the partner of David Shayler, the former MI5 officer jailed under the Official Secrets Act for disclosing information acquired in the service.

In a book which has been passed for publication by her former employers, Ms Machon says that the schoolboy’s letter was copied, as was all correspondence to the British Communist Party at that time, “and used to create a PF (personal file), where he was
identified as a ‘?communist sympathiser’ ”.

On another occasion, a man who was divorcing his wife wrote to MI5 claiming that she was involved in Communism, and she was the subject of a personal file, Ms Machon claims in her book, Spies, Lies & Whistleblowers.

She saw the two files, among “more than a million” when working at MI5, and claimed that they had been in the Security Service archives for 20 years. “Why was this information still available to desk officers some 20 years after these individuals had first come to attention, in less than suspicious circumstances?” she writes.

Mr Shayler also made allegations about the contents of personal Security Service files
in 1997, after he left the agency. He said that there were files on Jack Straw, Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain, Mo Mowlam, John Lennon and the Sex Pistols, among others. Mr Shayler was charged under the Official Secrets Act for disclosing other secret information acquired when he was a serving intelligence officer, and was sentenced at the Old Bailey
to six months in prison in 2002.

Ms Machon, 36, who worked in three departments of MI5 — counter-subversion, Irish terrorism and international terrorism — joins a relatively short list of former Security Service officers who have managed to write books without ending up in jail.

The last former MI5 officer to get clearance was Dame Stella Rimington, who was
Director-General of the service from 1992 to 1996.

Peter Wright, who made allegations of bugging and burglary by the Security Service in Spycatcher, published in 1987, got away with it by moving to Tasmania.

Ms Machon repeats allegations made by Mr Shayler that MI6 helped to fund an assassination attempt against Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, in 1996. It was dismissed by Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary, as “pure fantasy”.