Dearlove Doublethink

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News, RT Op-Edge, and The Real News Net­work.

In a sen­sa­tion­al art­icle in a UK news­pa­per last week­end, the former head of the UK’s for­eign intel­li­gence gath­er­ing agency, MI6, appears to have broken the code of omer­tà around the fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence case used as the pre­text for the Iraq war in 2003.

DearloveSir Richard Dear­love, former head of MI6 and cur­rent Mas­ter of Pem­broke Col­lege, Cam­bridge, con­tac­ted the UK’s Mail on Sunday news­pa­per to state that he had writ­ten his ver­sion of the (ab)use of intel­li­gence in the run-up to the US/UK inva­sion of Iraq.  With the long-awaited and much-delayed offi­cial Chil­cot Enquiry into the case for war about to be pub­lished, Dear­love is obvi­ously aware that he might be blamed for the “sex­ing up” of the intel­li­gence, and that Teflon Tony Blair might once again shuffle off all respons­ib­il­ity.

You’ll no doubt have some vague recol­lec­tion that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment pro­duced a couple of reports “mak­ing a case for war”, as Major Gen­er­al Michael Laurie said in his evid­ence to the enquiry in 2011: “We knew at the time that the pur­pose of the [Septem­ber] dossier was pre­cisely to make a case for war, rather than set­ting out the avail­able intel­li­gence, and that to make the best out of sparse and incon­clus­ive intel­li­gence the word­ing was developed with care.”

The first such report, the Septem­ber Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed “sex up” the case for war as the deceased Iraqi weapons inspect­or Dr Dav­id Kelly exposed. It also included the fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence about Sad­dam Hus­sein try­ing to acquire urani­um from Niger. It was this lat­ter claim that Colin Pow­ell used to such great effect at the UN Secur­ity Coun­cil.

Rupert_Murdoch

Also, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy” Dossier, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thes­is culled from the Inter­net, but con­tain­ing nug­gets of raw MI6 intel­li­gence — was presen­ted by spy and politi­cian alike as omin­ous pre­mon­it­ory intel­li­gence.

Most mem­or­ably in the UK, it led to the bogus “Brits 45 minutes from Doom” front-page head­line in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun news­pa­per, no less, on the eve of the cru­cial war vote in Par­lia­ment.

Inter­est­ingly from a Brit­ish leg­al pos­i­tion, it appears that Tony Blair and his spin doc­tor Alastair Camp­bell released this report without the pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion of the head of MI6, which means that they would appear to be in breach of the UK’s dra­coni­an secrecy law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989).

Thus was made the dodgy case for war.  All lies — mil­lions of deaths and many more maimed, wounded, and dis­placed, yet no one held to account.

Sub­sequently, there was also the notori­ous leaked Down­ing Street Memo, where Sir Richard Dear­love was minuted as say­ing that the intel­li­gence and facts were being fit­ted around the [pre­de­ter­mined war] policy.

On July 23, 2002 at a meet­ing at 10 Down­ing Street, Dear­love briefed Tony Blair and oth­er seni­or offi­cials on his talks with his Amer­ic­an coun­ter­part, CIA Dir­ect­or George Ten­et, in Wash­ing­ton three days before.

In the draft minutes of that brief­ing, which were leaked to the Lon­don Times and pub­lished on May 1, 2005, Dear­love explains that George Bush had decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “jus­ti­fied by the con­junc­tion of ter­ror­ism and weapons of mass destruc­tion.”  While then-For­eign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dear­love explains mat­ter-of-factly, “the intel­li­gence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”

Tony_BlairThere is no sign in the minutes that any­one hic­cuped — much less demurred — at ”mak­ing a case for war” and fur­ther­ing Blair’s determ­in­a­tion to join Bush in launch­ing the kind of “war of aggres­sion” out­lawed by the post-world war Nurem­berg Tribunal and the UN treaty.

The acqui­es­cence of the chief spies helped their polit­ic­al mas­ters main­line into the body polit­ic unas­sessed, raw intel­li­gence and forged doc­u­ments, with dis­astrous con­sequences for the people of Iraq and the world.

Yet Dear­love long remained unre­pent­ant. Even as recently as 2011, post-retire­ment and bloated with hon­ours, he con­tin­ued to deny culp­ab­il­ity. When ques­tioned about the Down­ing Street Memo dur­ing an address to the pres­ti­gi­ous Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Uni­on Soci­ety by the fear­less and fear­somely bright stu­dent, Silkie Carlo, Dear­love tried grandi­loquently to brush her aside.

But were the remarks in the Memo really “taken out of con­text” as Dear­love tried to assert? No – the text of the Memo was clear and expli­cit.

So Dear­love could poten­tially have saved mil­lions of lives across the Middle East if he had gone pub­lic then, rather than now as he is threat­en­ing, with his con­sidered pro­fes­sion­al opin­ion about the intel­li­gence facts being fit­ted around a pre­con­ceived war policy.

Would it not be lovely if these retired ser­vants of the crown, replete with respect, status and hon­ours, could actu­ally take a stand while they are in a pos­i­tion to influ­ence world events?

Doing so now, purely to pre­serve his repu­ta­tion rather than to pre­serve lives, is even more “eth­ic­ally flex­ible” than you would nor­mally expect of an aver­age MI6 intel­li­gence officer. Per­haps that is why he floated to the top of the organ­isa­tion.

Dear­love is right to be wor­ried about how both Chil­cot and his­tory will judge him.  These intel­li­gence fail­ures and lies have been picked over and spec­u­lated about for years. They are an open secret.

But hold­ing the gun of dis­clos­ure to the UK government’s head smacks of des­per­a­tion.  He is quoted as say­ing that he has no plans to breach the Offi­cial Secrets Act by pub­lish­ing his mem­oirs. But by pub­lish­ing an account of the run-up to the Iraq war, he would be still guilty of a breach of the OSA. It has been estab­lished under UK law that any unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure crosses the “clear bright line” of the law. And Dear­love seems well aware of this – his ori­gin­al plan was for his account to be made avail­able after his death.

Rectum_DefendeI can see why he would plan that – firstly he would not risk pro­sec­u­tion under the dra­coni­an terms of the OSA, but his account would, in his view, set the record straight and pro­tect his repu­ta­tion for pos­ter­ity.  A posthum­ous win-win.

The offi­cial motto of the UK spies is “Regnum Defende” — defence of the realm. Serving intel­li­gence officers mord­antly alter this to “Rectum Defende” — politely trans­lated as watch your back.

Dear­love seems to be liv­ing up to the motto.  He must be one very frightened old man to be con­tem­plat­ing such pre­ma­ture pub­lic­a­tion.

With cred­it and thanks to former CIA ana­lyst, cur­rent truth-tell­er and gen­er­al pain in the “regnum” to the intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment, Ray McGov­ern, and also Sander Venema for his eleg­antly clas­sic­al rework­ing of the final image.

Interview about Iran on The Real News Network

Fol­low­ing on from the art­icle former CIA ana­lyst, Ray McGov­ern, and I co-authored last month about the pos­sible “fix­ing” of intel­li­gence around Iran, here is a sub­sequent inter­view we did for The Real News Net­work:

The Olympics — Welcome to the Machine

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 27 July 2012

OK, I was really so not plan­ning on ever writ­ing any­thing, what­so­ever, at any point while I con­tin­ue to breathe, about the Lon­don Olympics.  First of all I have abso­lutely zero interest in the cir­cus that is mod­ern com­pet­it­ive sport (pan­em et cir­censes), and secondly what more could I pos­sibly add to the scan­dals around the secur­ity?  All the inform­a­tion is out there if people choose to join the dots.

But syn­chron­icity plays its part.  Firstly, this morn­ing I read this excel­lent art­icle by former UK ambas­sad­or-turned-whis­tleblower, Craig Mur­ray, about how the UK is now under mar­tial law in the run-up to the Olympics.  Shortly after­wards I did an inter­view with the women’s glossy magazine, Grazia, about the secur­ity set-up around the games. I know, I know, some­times the heav­ens align in a once-in-a-cen­tury con­fig­ur­a­tion.…..

So on the back of this for­tu­it­ous align­ment and while my angry-o-meter is still spiked at the “dan­ger­ous” level, I wanted to set some thoughts down.

Craig is cor­rect — because of the Olympic Games, Lon­don has gone into full mar­tial law lock-down.  Nev­er before in peace-time has the cap­it­al city of the formerly Great Bri­tain seen such a mil­it­ary “defens­ive” pres­ence: mis­sile launch­ers on loc­al tower blocks primed to blow stray­ing com­mer­cial air­liners out of the skies over Lon­don, regard­less of “col­lat­er­al dam­age”; anti-air­craft bunkers dug in on Green­wich com­mon; and nav­al des­troy­ers moored on the Thames.

Plus, absent the prom­ised G4S pub­licly-fun­ded work-exper­i­ence slaves — sorry, secur­ity staff —  the mil­it­ary has been draf­ted in.  Sol­diers just home from patrolling the streets in Afgh­anistan in daily fear of their lives have had all leave can­celled.  Instead of the much-needed R & R, they shall be patrolling the Olympic crowds.  Does any­one else see a poten­tial prob­lem here?

And all this fol­lows a dec­ade of erosion of basic freedoms and civil liber­ties — all stripped away in the name of pro­tect­ing the UK from the ever-grow­ing but neb­u­lous ter­ror­ist threat.

But I would take it a step fur­ther than Craig Mur­ray — this is not just mar­tial law, this is fas­cist mar­tial law.

(And being con­scious of any poten­tial copy­right thought-crimes, I hereby give all due cred­it to a very fam­ous UK TV advert cam­paign which appears to use the same cadence.)

Why do I say this is one step bey­ond?

The Itali­an World War II dic­tat­or, Benito Mus­solini, is fam­ously cred­ited with defin­ing fas­cism thus: “the mer­ger of the cor­por­ate and the state”.

And this is pre­cisely what we are see­ing on the streets of Lon­don.  Not only are Lon­don­ers sub­jec­ted to an over­whelm­ing mil­it­ary and police pres­ence, the cor­por­ate com­mis­sars are also stalk­ing the streets.

When Seb Coe and Tony Blair tri­umphantly announced that Lon­don had won the Olympics on 6th July 2005, one of their man­tras was how Lon­don and the UK would bene­fit from the pres­ence of the games.  They painted a rosy pic­ture of loc­al busi­nesses boom­ing on the back of the influx of tour­ists.

But the cold real­ity of today’s Olympics is grey­er.  Com­muters are being advised to work from home rather than use the over­loaded trans­port net­works; the civil ser­vice is effect­ively shut­ting down; and Zil lanes for the “great and the good” of the Olympics uni­verse are chok­ing already con­ges­ted Lon­don streets.

Even worse, busi­nesses across the UK, but par­tic­u­larly the loc­al ones in the eco­nom­ic­ally deprived environs of the Olympic Park in East Lon­don, are cat­egor­ic­ally NOT allowed to bene­fit from the games.  Under the terms of the con­tracts drawn up by the cor­por­ate mega-spon­sors, Lon­don small busi­nesses are not allowed to cap­it­al­ize in any con­ceiv­able, pos­sible, min­is­cule way on the pres­ence of the games in their own city.

And these terms and con­di­tions are enshrined in the Olympics Act 2006; any infrac­tion of the rules car­ries a crim­in­al pen­alty.  For more than a week, cor­por­ate police enfor­cers have been patrolling Lon­don look­ing for infrac­tions of the Olympic trade­mark.  And this goes way bey­ond “Olympics R US” or some such.  As Nick Cohen wrote in an excel­lent recent art­icle in The Spec­tat­or magazine:

In the Lon­don Olympic Games and Para­lympic Games Act of 2006, the gov­ern­ment gran­ted the organ­isers remark­able con­ces­sions. Most glar­ingly, its Act is bespoke legis­la­tion that breaks the prin­ciple of equal­ity before the law. Bri­tain has not offered all busi­nesses and organ­isa­tions more powers to pun­ish rivals who seek to trade on their repu­ta­tion. It has giv­en priv­ileges to the ­Olympics alone. The gov­ern­ment has told the courts they may wish to take par­tic­u­lar account of any­one using two or more words from what it calls ‘List A’ — ‘Games’; ‘Two Thou­sand and Twelve’; ‘2012’; ‘twenty twelve’. The judges must also come down hard on a busi­ness or char­ity that takes a word from List A and con­joins it with one or more words from ‘List B’ — ‘Gold’; ‘Sil­ver’; ‘Bronze’; ‘Lon­don’; ‘medals’; ‘spon­sors’; ‘sum­mer’. Com­mon nouns are now private prop­erty.”

I heard recently that a well-estab­lished loc­al café in Strat­ford, East Lon­don, that has for years been known as the Olympic Café, has been ordered to paint over its sign for the dur­a­tion of the games. If I owned the café, I would be temp­ted to sue the Olympic Com­mit­tee for breach of trade­mark.

It seems to me that this real-world trade­mark pro­tec­tion­ism is an exten­sion of the ongo­ing copy­right wars in cyber­space — a blatant attempt to use state level power and legis­la­tion to pro­tect the interests of the wealthy inter­na­tion­al mega-corps few.  We saw early attempts at this dur­ing the South Afric­an Foot­ball World Cup in 2010, and the Van­couver Winter Olympics the same year.

But the Lon­don Olympics take it to the next level: there is a long list of what you are not allowed to take into the sta­dia.  Spec­tat­ors will be sub­jec­ted to air­port-style secur­ity theatre.  This will ensure that no liquids of more than 100ml can be car­ried, although empty bottles will be allowed if people want to fill them up with tap water on site.  This, of course, means that more spec­tat­ors will be buy­ing their spon­sor-approved liquids in situ and at no-doubt over-inflated prices, to the bene­fit of one of the key Olympic spon­sors.

The Lon­don games seem to be the first time that the glob­al cor­por­ate com­munity is demon­strat­ing its full spec­trum dom­in­ance — where the leg­al, police, and mil­it­ary resources of the state are put at the dis­pos­al of the giant, bloated, money-suck­ing leech that is the Inter­na­tion­al Olympic Com­mit­tee.

Every city that has hos­ted the Olympics over the last four dec­ades has been fin­an­cially bled white; many are still pay­ing back the ini­tial invest­ment in the infra­struc­ture, even if it is now decay­ing and use­less. Greece, any­body?

But do the IOC or its region­al pimps care?  Hell, no. Like all good para­sites, once the ori­gin­al host has been drained dry, the Games move on to a new food source every four years.

What really, deeply puzzles me is why the hell are the people of Lon­don not out there protest­ing against this cor­por­at­ist putsch?  Per­haps they fear being shot?

How can it be a crime to take a full bottle of water into a sta­di­um when you want to watch a sport? How can it be a crime to tweet a pic­ture?  How can it be crim­in­al to cel­eb­rate the occa­sion in your loc­al pub with Olympic flags draped around your bar, drink­ing a beer and eat­ing a bur­ger mar­keted cheesily as “fit for cham­pi­ons” or some such?

The ori­gin­al ideals behind the recon­sti­t­u­tion of the mod­ern Olympics in 1896 were a highly roman­ti­cised and dis­tor­ted vis­ion of the val­ues of the ancient games.  But even that naïve ideal has been lost in the crapu­lous cor­por­at­ism that is the mod­ern event.

We have even gone way bey­ond the Roman view of bread and cir­cuses pla­cat­ing the masses.  Now we are into the hard­core real­politik of inter­na­tion­al cor­por­a­tions and nation­al gov­ern­ments using the games as a per­fect pre­text to tight­en the “secur­ity” screws even more.

And so the UK is proud to present full-blown Cor­por­ate Fas­cism Ver­sion 2.0.

Vae vic­tis.

21st Century Pacificism (The Old Stuff)

The_ScreamI have always been ideo­lo­gic­ally opposed to war and all the hor­rors that flow in its wake: agon­ising fear and death, fam­ine, dis­place­ment, maim­ing, tor­ture, rape, intern­ment and the break­down of all the hard-won val­ues of civ­il­ised human law and beha­viour.

Look­ing back, I think that was partly why I was attrac­ted to work in dip­lomacy and how I ended up being enticed into intel­li­gence. These worlds, although by no means per­fect, could con­ceiv­ably be seen as the last-ditch defences before a coun­try goes bel­low­ing into all-out war.

I marched against the Iraq war, toured the UK to speak at Stop the War meet­ings, worked with Make Wars His­tory, and have cease­lessly spoken out and writ­ten about these and related issues.

Alastair_Campbell_1Today in the UK we have reached a con­sensus that Blair’s gov­ern­ment lied to the coun­try into the Iraq war on the false premise of weapons of mass destruc­tion, and sub­sequently enabled the Bush admin­is­tra­tion to do the same in the USA, hyp­ing up the threat of a nuc­le­ar Iraq using false intel­li­gence provided by MI6.

Mil­lions of people marched then, and mil­lions of people con­tin­ue to protest against the ongo­ing engorge­ment of the military/intelligence com­plex, but noth­ing ever seems to change.  It’s demo­crat­ic­ally dis­em­power­ing and an ener­vat­ing exper­i­ence.  What can we do about it?

I have a couple of sug­ges­tions (The New Stuff), but first let’s look at some of the most egre­gious cur­rent fake real­it­ies.

David_CameronLast year we had the spec­tacle of the cur­rent No 10 incum­bent, Dave Camer­on, stat­ing that the Liby­an inter­ven­tion would be noth­ing like Iraq — it would be “neces­sary, leg­al and right”. But there was no sub­sequent joined-up think­ing, and Blair and his cronies have still not been held to account for the Iraq gen­o­cide, des­pite prima facie breaches of inter­na­tion­al war law and of the Offi­cial Secrets Act.…

Abdelhakim-BelhajBut help might be at hand for those inter­ested in justice, cour­tesy of Abdel Hakim Bel­haj, former Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group lead­er, MI6 kid­nap­ping and tor­ture vic­tim, and cur­rent mil­it­ary com­mand­er in Tripoli.

After NATO’s human­it­ari­an bomb­ing of Libya last year and the fall of Gaddafi’s régime, some ser­i­ously embar­rass­ing paper­work was found in the aban­doned office of Liby­an For­eign Min­is­ter and former spy head honcho, Musa Kusa (who fled to the UK and sub­sequently on to Qatar).

These let­ters, sent in 2004 by former MI6 Head of Ter­ror­ism and cur­rent BP con­sult­ant, Sir Mark Allen, gloat­ingly offer up the hap­less Bel­haj to the Liby­ans for tor­ture.  It almost seems like MI6 wanted a gold star from their new best­est friends.

Bel­haj, under­stand­ably, is still slightly peeved about this and is now suing MI6. As a res­ult, a frantic dam­age-lim­it­a­tion exer­cise is going on, with MI6 try­ing to buy his silence with a mil­lion quid, and scat­ter­ing unat­trib­uted quotes across the Brit­ish media: “it wasn’t us, gov, it was the, er, gov­ern­ment.…”.

Which drops either (or both) Tony Blair and Jack Straw eye­brow-deep in the stink­ing cesspit. One or oth­er of them should have signed off on Belhaj’s kid­nap­ping, know­ing he would be tor­tured in Tripoli. Or per­haps they actu­ally are inno­cent of this.…. but if they didn’t sign off on the Bel­haj extraordin­ary kid­nap­ping, then MI6 was run­ning rampant, work­ing out­side the law on their watch.

Either way, there are ser­i­ous ques­tions to be answered.

Jack_StrawBoth these upstand­ing politi­cians are, of course, suf­fer­ing from polit­ic­al amne­sia about this case. In fact, Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time of the kid­nap­ping, has said that he can­not have been expec­ted to know everything the spies got up to — even though that was pre­cisely his job, as he was respons­ible for them under the terms of the Intel­li­gence Secur­ity Act 1994, and should cer­tainly have had to clear an oper­a­tion so polit­ic­ally sens­it­ive.

In the wake of Afgh­anistan, Iraq and Libya, what wor­ries me now is that exactly the same reas­ons, with politi­cians mouth­ing exactly the same plat­it­ud­in­ous “truths”, are being pushed to jus­ti­fy an increas­ingly inev­it­able strike against Iran.

Depress­ing as this all is, I would sug­gest that protest­ing each new, indi­vidu­al war is not the neces­sar­ily the most effect­ive response.  Just as the world’s mar­kets have been glob­al­ised, so mani­festly to the bene­fit of all we 99%-ers, have many oth­er issues.

Unlike Dave Camer­on, we need to apply some joined-up think­ing.  Glob­al protest groups need to counter more than indi­vidu­al wars in Iraq, Afgh­anistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Sudan (North and South), Syr­ia, Iran.….. sorry, I’m get­ting writer’s cramp just enu­mer­at­ing all the cur­rent wars.

Give me a while to over­come my mor­al spasm, and I shall return with a few sug­ges­tions about pos­sible ways for­ward — 21st Cen­tury Paci­fism; the New Stuff.

Iran_and_US_bases

Make Wars History UK Tour, 2009

In Janu­ary and Feb­ru­ary 2009 Chris Cover­dale toured the UK speak­ing at Make Wars His­tory meet­ings.  I had the pleas­ure of intro­du­cing him at a num­ber of events.  The first date of the tour was in Liv­er­pool:

The UK Spies: Ineffective, Unethical and Unaccountable

The text of my art­icle for e-Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions, March 2008:

The UK Intel­li­gence Com­munity: Inef­fect­ive, Uneth­ic­al and Unac­count­able

The USA and the UK are enmeshed in an appar­ently unend­ing war of attri­tion – sorry peace­keep­ing — in Iraq.  Why? Well, we may remem­ber that the UK was assured by former Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair, in sin­cere terms, that Sad­dam Hus­sein pos­sessed weapons of mass destruc­tion which could be deployed again Brit­ish interests with­in 45 minutes.  Indeed the press was awash with “45 minutes from Armaged­don” head­lines on 18th March 2003, the day of the cru­cial war debate in the Brit­ish par­lia­ment. The implic­a­tion was that Bri­tain was dir­ectly at threat from the evil Iraqis.

The US var­ied the diet.  George Bush, in his State of the Uni­on address before the war, assured his nation that Iraq had been attempt­ing to buy mater­i­al to make nuc­le­ar weapons from Niger.  The Amer­ic­an media and pub­lic fell for this claim, hook, line and sinker.

What do these two erro­neous claims have in com­mon?  Well, both were “sexed up” for pub­lic con­sump­tion.

We all know now that there nev­er were any WMDs to be found in Iraq.  After 10 years of pun­it­ive sanc­tions, the coun­try simply didn’t have the cap­ab­il­ity, even if it had the will, to devel­op them.  The Niger claim is even more tenu­ous.  This was based on an intel­li­gence report eman­at­ing from the Brit­ish Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice (com­monly know as SIS or MI6), which was based on for­ger­ies.

We have had head­line after scream­ing head­line stat­ing that yet anoth­er ter­ror­ist cell has been roun­ded up in Bri­tain. The Ricin plot? The behead­ing of a Brit­ish Muslim ser­vice­man? The liquid bombs on air­planes?  Yet, if one reads the news­pa­pers care­fully, one finds that charges are dropped quietly after a few months.

So, why is this hap­pen­ing?  I can haz­ard a few guesses.  In the 1990s I worked for 6 years as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5, invest­ig­at­ing polit­ic­al “sub­vers­ives”, Irish ter­ror­ists, and Middle East­ern ter­ror­ism.  In late 1996 I, with my then part­ner and col­league Dav­id Shayler, left the ser­vice in dis­gust at the incom­pet­ent and cor­rupt cul­ture to blow the whistle on the UK intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment.  This was not a case of sour grapes – we were both com­pet­ent officers who reg­u­larly received per­form­ance related bonuses.

How­ever, we had grown increas­ingly con­cerned about breaches of the law; ineptitude (which led to bombs going off that could and should have been pre­ven­ted); files on politi­cians; the jail­ing of inno­cent people; illeg­al phone taps; and the illeg­al spon­sor­ing of ter­ror­ism abroad, fun­ded by UK tax-pay­ers.

The key reas­on that we left and went pub­lic is prob­ably one of the most hein­ous crimes – SIS fun­ded an Islam­ic extrem­ist group in Libya to try to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi in 1996.  The attack failed, but killed inno­cent people.  The attack was also illeg­al under Brit­ish law.  The 1994 intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, which put SIS on a leg­al foot­ing for the first time in its 80 year his­tory, stated that its officers were immune from pro­sec­u­tion in the UK for illeg­al acts com­mit­ted abroad, if they had the pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion of its polit­ic­al mas­ter – ie the For­eign Sec­ret­ary.  In this case they did not.

So, the assas­sin­a­tion attempt was not only immor­al, uneth­ic­al and highly reck­less in a volat­ile area of the world, but also illeg­al under Brit­ish law.

In August 1997 we went pub­lic in a nation­al Brit­ish news­pa­per about our con­cerns.  We hoped that the newly-elec­ted Labour gov­ern­ment would take our evid­ence and begin an invest­ig­a­tion of the intel­li­gence agen­cies.  After all, many Labour MPs had been on the receiv­ing end of spook invest­ig­a­tions in their rad­ic­al youth.  Many had also opposed the dra­coni­an UK law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act (OSA 1989), which deprived an intel­li­gence whis­tleblower of a pub­lic interest defence.

How­ever, it was not to be.  I have no proof, but I can spec­u­late that the Labour gov­ern­ment did the spies’ bid­ding for fear of what might be on their MI5 files. They issued an injunc­tion against Dav­id and the nation­al press.  They failed to extra­dite him from France in 1998 but, when he returned vol­un­tar­ily to face trail in the UK in 2000, they lynched him in the media.  They also ensured that, through a series of pre-tri­al leg­al hear­ings, he was not allowed to say any­thing in his own defence and was not able to freely ques­tion his accusers.  Indeed the judge ordered the jury to con­vict.

The whole sorry saga of the Shayler affair shows in detail how the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment will always shoot the mes­sen­ger to pro­tect its own interests.  If the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment had taken Shayler’s evid­ence, invest­ig­ated his dis­clos­ures, and reformed the ser­vices so that they were sub­ject to effect­ive over­sight and had to obey the law, they may well be work­ing more effi­ciently to pro­tect us from threats to our national’s secur­ity.  After all, the focus of their work is now counter-ter­ror­ism, and they use the same resources and tech­niques as the police.  Why should they not be sub­ject to the same checks and bal­ances?

Instead, MI5 and SIS con­tin­ue to oper­ate out­side mean­ing­ful demo­crat­ic con­trol.  Their cul­tures are self-per­petu­at­ing olig­arch­ies, where mis­takes are glossed over and repeated, and where ques­tions and inde­pend­ent thought are dis­cour­aged.  We deserve bet­ter.

 

AltVoices Article, June 2007

My art­icle in Alt​Voices​.org, June 2007:

THE OFFICIAL SILENCING ACT

Last month the UK’s dra­coni­an secrecy laws were again used to crim­in­al­ise two hon­our­able whis­tleblowers. The UK’s supine main­stream media failed both to ques­tion the valid­ity of these con­vic­tions and to hold the gov­ern­ment to account.

by Annie Machon

On May 9 Dav­id Keogh, a 50-year-old com­mu­nic­a­tions officer in the Cab­in­et Office, and Leo O’Connor, 44, a research­er for an anti-war Labour MP, were con­victed of breach­ing the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989).

Keogh’s crime was to have leaked an “extremely sens­it­ive” memo to O’Connor, detail­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about Iraq between Tony Blair and George W. Bush in April 2004.

Keogh passed the doc­u­ment to O’Connor to give to his MP in the hope it would reach the pub­lic domain, expose Bush as a “mad­man”, and lead to ques­tions in Par­lia­ment. The memo was deemed to be so secret that much of the tri­al was held in cam­era.

Keogh was found guilty of two breaches of the OSA, O’Connor of one, and they received sen­tences of six months and three months respect­ively.

This bald sum­mary of the case was all that appeared in the main­stream UK media. No doubt many people will have taken this case at face value. After all, the UK should be able to pro­tect its nation­al secur­ity and impose tough leg­al sanc­tions for treach­ery, shouldn’t it?

Except that this was not treach­ery. Keogh and O’Connor were not passing the UK’s secrets to an enemy power. They acted from con­science to expose pos­sible wrong­do­ing at the highest level.

The media should have use this tri­al to address the ongo­ing debate in the UK about the con­tinu­al use and abuse of the OSA. Unfor­tu­nately for the Brit­ish people, the media toed the offi­cial line and kept quiet.

The UK’s secrecy laws are a very Brit­ish muddle. The first OSA was enacted in 1911 to pro­sec­ute trait­ors. This law remained in place until the 1980s, when the Thatch­er gov­ern­ment was rocked by the alleg­a­tions of civil ser­vant Clive Pont­ing about a cov­er-up over the attack on the Argen­tine ship the Gen­er­al Bel­grano dur­ing the Falk­lands War.

Dur­ing his tri­al, Pont­ing relied on the pub­lic interest defence avail­able under the 1911 Act. He was acquit­ted, and the Con­ser­vat­ive gov­ern­ment imme­di­ately drew up a new law, the 1989 OSA. This new law was designed primar­ily to intim­id­ate and silence whis­tleblowers. Treach­ery is still pro­sec­uted under the 1911 Act.

The 1989 Act, opposed at the time by Tony Blair and most of the cur­rent Labour gov­ern­ment, ensures that any­one who is or has been a mem­ber of the intel­li­gence com­munity faces two years in pris­on if they dis­close inform­a­tion relat­ing to their work without per­mis­sion, regard­less of wheth­er they are blow­ing the whistle on crim­in­al activ­ity.

Since com­ing to power in 1997, Blair’s gov­ern­ment has repeatedly used this Act to sup­press legit­im­ate dis­sent, silence polit­ic­al oppos­i­tion and pro­tect crim­in­als with­in the intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment.

In 1997, MI6 whis­tleblower Richard Tom­lin­son had no option but to plead guilty dur­ing his tri­al, and was sen­tenced to six months in pris­on.

Around the same time MI5 whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler dis­closed the illeg­al 1995 MI6 plot to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya, as well as a string of oth­er crimes com­mit­ted by MI5.

Dur­ing his tri­al Shayler argued that, under Art­icle 10 of the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights, legis­la­tion such as the OSA is only pro­por­tion­ate in sup­press­ing a whistleblower’s right to speak out in order to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity”.

How­ever, his judges effect­ively ruled that this right should also be cur­tailed for “nation­al interest” con­sid­er­a­tions. This neb­u­lous concept, undefined for the pur­poses of the OSA, is routinely wheeled out to spare the blushes of politi­cians and incom­pet­ent spy agen­cies.

In 2002 Shayler did win from the courts the defence of “neces­sity”. How­ever, the Law Lords spe­cific­ally denied him this defence without hear­ing his evid­ence. Shayler was con­victed in Novem­ber 2002 of three breaches of the OSA and sen­tenced to six months in pris­on.

In 2003 the late Dr Dav­id Kelly would also have faced an OSA tri­al for his alleged com­ments about the gov­ern­ment “sex­ing up” the notori­ous dodgy dossier before the war in Iraq.

The 1989 OSA does not just apply to those in and around the intel­li­gence com­munity. Oth­er civil ser­vants, as well as journ­al­ists who pub­lish their dis­clos­ures, face the same pris­on sen­tence if the pro­sec­u­tion can prove “dam­age to nation­al secur­ity”. Keogh and O’Connor were con­victed under these pro­vi­sions, although the pro­sec­u­tion reportedly relied only on the “nation­al interest” argu­ment.

The UK gov­ern­ment is increas­ingly con­cerned about secur­ity leaks dur­ing the unend­ing “war on ter­ror”, and is now talk­ing about doub­ling to four years the sen­tence for whis­tleblow­ing.

By fail­ing to chal­lenge this or to cam­paign for the res­tor­a­tion of the pub­lic interest defence, journ­al­ists are com­pli­cit in crim­in­al­ising hon­our­able people. The media’s craven atti­tude allows the gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence agen­cies to con­tin­ue lit­er­ally to get away with murder.

Interview with Francis Wheen, 1999

An interview with Francis Wheen of The Guardian, August 1999:

The spy left out in the cold

Fran­cis Wheen on the hound­ing by the author­it­ies of MI5 whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler:

Annie Machon, a former MI5 officer liv­ing in France, came to Lon­don last week. On a pre­vi­ous vis­it, in 1997, she was nabbed at Gatwick air­port by a goon squad from Spe­cial Branch. This time her only ordeal was a couple of hours with me in a Soho café. It was pro­gress of a sort, I sup­pose; but little else has changed​.It is exactly two years since Annie’s part­ner, Dav­id Shayler, hit the head­lines with his com­plaints of mal­prac­tice and incom­pet­ence at MI5. Since then the gov­ern­ment has con­sist­ently refused to heed or
invest­ig­ate his alleg­a­tions, pre­fer­ring to load up its rusty blun­der­buss and shoot the mes­sen­ger.

In his ori­gin­al inter­view with the Mail on Sunday, Shayler exploded the offi­cial myth that MI5 mon­it­ors only those “sub­vers­ives” who wish to “over­throw demo­cracy by viol­ent means”, reveal­ing that, in fact, it kept files on such harm­less pussy­cats as Jack Straw, Peter Man­del­son, Har­riet Har­man and the reg­gae band UB40. The gov­ern­ment was out­raged — not by the evid­ence of spooky skul­dug­gery but by Shayler’s whis­tleblow­ing.

Tony Blair’s spokes­man warned the news­pa­per that “the heav­ies would move in” unless future art­icles were sub­mit­ted to Down­ing Street for vet­ting. When the edit­or refused to obey, the treas­ury soli­cit­or obtained an injunc­tion ban­ning the media from report­ing any fur­ther remarks by Shayler about mis­con­duct or mis­man­age­ment in the secur­ity ser­vice.

Shortly after­wards, at MI5’s request, Spe­cial Branch officers raided the Lon­don flat Shayler had shared with Machon. The search war­rant per­mit­ted them to look for
“evid­ence of an offence under the offi­cial secrets act” — which they inter­preted, rather eccent­ric­ally, as a licence to smash the fur­niture, hurl table lamps to the floor and remove sev­er­al pairs of Machon’s knick­ers.

Then came the absurd pan­to­mime at Gatwick air­port. Machon was obvi­ously not going to put up a struggle: her law­yer had told the police when and where she was due, and she was armed with noth­ing more leth­al than an overnight bag. Nev­er­the­less, Spe­cial Branch
thought it neces­sary to send no few­er than six brutes to hustle her away. This crude intim­id­a­tion con­tin­ued dur­ing six hours of ques­tion­ing at Char­ing Cross police sta­tion, when her inter­rog­at­ors read out love let­ters she had exchanged with Shayler — bil­lets doux that had no con­ceiv­able rel­ev­ance to the Offi­cial Secrets Act.

If Shayler had com­mit­ted a ser­i­ous offence, as Straw main­tained, why were no charges brought against the edit­ors and journ­al­ists who pub­lished his dis­clos­ures? The ques­tion answers itself: bul­lies pick on the power­less, and min­is­ters were reluct­ant to ant­ag­on­ise the mighty Asso­ci­ated News­pa­pers. Instead, the author­it­ies took out their frus­tra­tion by har­ass­ing inno­cent bystand­ers. Shayler’s broth­er, Philip, was detained, as were two of his friends.

Like Machon, they were even­tu­ally released without charge — although not before the police had help­fully informed Philip’s employ­ers that he was wanted in con­nec­tion with “fin­an­cial irreg­u­lar­it­ies”.

From his French exile, Shayler con­tin­ued to press for an inquiry. In Octo­ber 1997, the
gov­ern­ment set up a cab­in­et office review of the intel­li­gence agen­cies to be chaired by John Alpass, a former deputy dir­ect­or of the secur­ity ser­vice. As Shayler points out, Alpass was scarcely a dis­in­ter­ested party, as “any adverse cri­ti­cism of MI5 would have reflec­ted badly on his time there”. Nev­er­the­less, Shayler sub­mit­ted a 6,000-word memo on “man­age­ment prob­lems in MI5”.

The com­mit­tee refused to read it. He was giv­en a sim­il­ar brush-off by the par­lia­ment­ary intel­li­gence and secur­ity com­mit­tee, sup­posedly respons­ible for hold­ing the spooks to
account.

Last sum­mer, in the hope of excit­ing some offi­cial interest, Shayler told the Mail on Sunday that MI6 had secretly paid a Liby­an emigré £100,000 to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Muam­mar Gadafy. Although  the point of Shayler’s rev­el­a­tion was that min­is­ters had neither known nor approved of the plot, Robin Cook felt able to issue an instant deni­al. “I’m per­fectly clear that these alleg­a­tions have no basis in fact. It is pure fantasy.”

Why, then, did the gov­ern­ment refuse to let the MoS pub­lish the art­icle, arguing that it would endanger nation­al secur­ity? And why did Straw imme­di­ately ask France to arrest
and extra­dite Shayler? If the story was fantasy, he hadn’t broken the offi­cial secrets act. If it was true, and Brit­ish intel­li­gence had indeed con­spired to murder a for­eign head of state, then it would not be Shayler who had some explain­ing to do.

Unable to cope with this glar­ing con­tra­dic­tion, his enemies took refuge in invect­ive. “In a
bet­ter world,” the Daily Tele­graph har­rumphed, “Dav­id Shayler and his like… would be horse-whipped.”

After his release from a French jail last Novem­ber, the Sunday Tele­graph came up with an even more extreme solu­tion, point­ing out that if he were a reneg­ade French spy his former employ­ers would prob­ably have killed him. “One won­ders how Shayler would react to being shot at by MI5 agents,” the news­pa­per mused. “But these days,” it added  regret­fully, “MI5 is scru­pu­lous in its obser­va­tion of the let­ter of the law.”

Scru­pu­lous as ever, MI5 tried assas­sin­at­ing his repu­ta­tion instead, let­ting it be known
that he was always regarded in the ser­vice as “a Wal­ter Mitty, a loose can­non” and “a rebel who likes to sail close to the wind”. (The last phrase, incid­ent­ally, came from a school report writ­ten before Shayler had even taken his A-levels.)

Many tame MPs and hacks have repeated these insults without paus­ing to think through their logic. If Shayler is as mani­festly dotty as they claim and yet man­aged to join the fast track at MI5 and win a per­form­ance bonus in his final year, doesn’t this con­firm that the secur­ity ser­vice is indeed run by dan­ger­ous clod­hop­pers, as Shayler claims?

Logic, how­ever, is sel­dom allowed to intrude into this case — except for the deranged logic of Catch 22. Shayler wrote a spy nov­el, The Organ­isa­tion, assum­ing that this at least would be allowed. No such luck.

The treas­ury soli­cit­or con­tac­ted the major Lon­don pub­lish­ers warn­ing that Shayler must not write any­thing, “wheth­er presen­ted as fact or fic­tion, which may be con­strued as relat­ing to the secur­ity ser­vice or its mem­ber­ship or activ­it­ies or to secur­ity or intel­li­gence activ­it­ies gen­er­ally .” (My ital­ics.) In oth­er words, Shayler can’t pub­lish true stor­ies, even if the gov­ern­ment says they are fic­tion; but he can’t pub­lish fic­tion for fear that it might have a ker­nel of truth. And yet oth­er ex-spies — John Le Carre, Ted All­beury — have writ­ten ump­teen nov­els about Brit­ish intel­li­gence without hav­ing injunc­tions hurled at them.

It is barely believ­able in this day and age that a UK cit­izen should have to live in exile for telling the truth — or, if you believe the gov­ern­ment, for mak­ing up stor­ies about the intel­li­gence ser­vices,” Shayler says. “It is doubly dif­fi­cult to accept when we see that this has happened at the behest of a Labour gov­ern­ment.”

Per­son­ally, I don’t find it at all dif­fi­cult: Labour politi­cians have always been suck­ers for cloak-and-dag­ger non­sense. Lest we for­get, it was the last Labour gov­ern­ment that expelled the Amer­ic­an journ­al­ists Philip Agee and Mark Hosen­ball at the behest of MI5, without troub­ling to give any reas­ons, and then tried to jail a col­league of mine from the New States­man for the hein­ous offence of col­lect­ing min­istry of defence press releases. “New” Labour has revived the tra­di­tion by pro­sec­ut­ing a respec­ted defence orres­pond­ent, Tony Ger­aghty, and tor­ment­ing the hap­less Shayler.

Only last month the treas­ury soli­cit­or sent a stern let­ter to Shayler’s law­yers. “Your cli­ent has been writ­ing to vari­ous mem­bers of the gov­ern­ment, enclos­ing a pamph­let which he has writ­ten entitled Secrets and Lies,” he noted. “The dis­clos­ure of this inform­a­tion con­sti­tutes yet a fur­ther breach by your cli­ent of the injunc­tion against him… I am not instruc­ted to deal in detail with the points made by your cli­ent, save to say that his  alleg­a­tions of impro­pri­ety on the part of the secur­ity ser­vice are rejec­ted.”

How can min­is­ters know that the alleg­a­tions are false without both­er­ing to check? Easy: MI5’s dir­ect­or, Steph­en Lander, has assured Straw that everything is tick­ety-boo.

At the height of the Spycatch­er pan­ic, the Brit­ish cab­in­et sec­ret­ary admit­ted that White­hall often found it neces­sary to be “eco­nom­ic­al with the truth”, and there are very few people naïve enough to assume that the pro­fes­sion­al dis­sim­u­lat­ors who run MI5 and MI6 can always be believed. For­tu­nately for Lander, this select band of cred­u­lous oafs includes every seni­or mem­ber of the Labour cab­in­et.

If Dav­id Shayler were a mem­ber of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA, Tony Blair would be happy to nego­ti­ate deals and  indem­nit­ies with him. Since he is merely a pub­lic-spir­ited whis­tleblower who has nev­er murdered any­one, he is con­demned to har­ass­ment, vili­fic­a­tion and indef­in­ite exile.