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 omerta 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 cafe in Stratford, East London, that has for years been known as the Olympic Cafe, has been ordered to paint over its sign for the duration of the games. If I owned the cafe, 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 naive 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 regime, 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 AltVoices.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 cafe. 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 naive 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.