August 2007 Mail on Sunday Article

Dav­id Shayler­’s former part­ner reveals: How the bul­ly­ing State crushed him

Link to daily mail ori­gin­al — link to Daily Mail com­ments

Ten years ago this month former MI5 officer Dav­id Shayler made shock­ing rev­el­a­tions in this news­pa­per about how Bri­tain’s spies were unable to deal with the grow­ing threat of glob­al terrorism.

He dis­closed how MI5’s pecu­li­ar obses­sion with bur­eau­cracy and secrecy pre­ven­ted cru­cial inform­a­tion being used to stop bomb­ings. And he told how insuf­fi­cient agents and inept decision-mak­ing meant that ter­ror­ist groups were not prop­erly monitored.

None of his ori­gin­al dis­clos­ures was shown to be wrong. Indeed, in 2005 the bomb­ings in Lon­don proved the whis­tleblower cor­rect: MI5 was not equipped to counter ter­ror on our streets.

The Gov­ern­ment response to Dav­id’s dis­clos­ures was to place a gag­ging order on The Mail on Sunday and launch a six-year cam­paign to dis­cred­it and per­se­cute Shayler. Alastair Camp­bell threatened to ‘send in the heav­ies’ and the whis­tleblower was forced into exile abroad, jailed twice and sued for dam­ages; his friends and fam­ily were har­assed and some arrested.

He faced a bleak, uncer­tain future and for many years he was under intense stress and pres­sure, often isol­ated and always under sur­veil­lance. I had a ring­side seat for the ‘Get Shayler’ oper­a­tion because I was an MI5 officer at the same time (1991−96) and also his girl­friend and co-cam­paign­er until last year when I ended my rela­tion­ship with a broken man.

I wit­nessed first-hand the extraordin­ary psy­cho­lo­gic­al, phys­ic­al and emo­tion­al bur­den of being a whis­tleblower when the full power of the secret State is launched against you. A dec­ade on the res­ults of that per­ni­cious cam­paign became clear when I heard that Dav­id had pro­claimed him­self as “The Mes­si­ah” and “God” and could pre­dict the weath­er. I was saddened but not shocked. The story of Dav­id Shayler is not just one of a whis­tleblower but also an indict­ment of the lack of demo­cracy and account­ab­il­ity in Britain.

I first met Dav­id when we were both work­ing in F2, the counter-sub­ver­sion sec­tion of MI5, where we were repeatedly reas­sured that MI5 had to work with­in the law. We were young and keen to help pro­tect our coun­try. I noticed Dav­id imme­di­ately, as he was very bright, and always asked the dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Over a peri­od of a year we became friends, and then we fell in love.

In the run-up to the 1992 Gen­er­al Elec­tion we were involved in assess­ing any par­lia­ment­ary can­did­ate and poten­tial MP. This meant that they all had their names cross-ref­er­enced with MI5’s data­base. If any can­did­ates had a file, this was reviewed. We saw files on most of the top politi­cians of the past dec­ade, from Tony Blair down, some­thing that gave us concerns.

We then both moved to G Branch, the inter­na­tion­al counter-ter­ror­ist divi­sion, with Dav­id head­ing the Liby­an sec­tion. It was here that he wit­nessed a cata­logue of errors and crimes: the illeg­al phone-tap­ping of a prom­in­ent Guard­i­an journ­al­ist, the fail­ure of MI5 to pre­vent the bomb­ing of the Israeli embassy in Lon­don in July 1994, which res­ul­ted in the wrong­ful con­vic­tion of two inno­cent Palestini­ans, and the attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion of Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya.

Dav­id raised this with his bosses at the time but they showed no interest. So we resigned from MI5 after decid­ing to go pub­lic to force an inquiry into the Gad­dafi plot.

After The Mail on Sunday rev­el­a­tions we decamped to France while Dav­id tried to get the Gov­ern­ment to take his evid­ence and invest­ig­ate MI5’s crimes, some­thing, to this day, it has refused to do. Rather than address­ing the prob­lem, the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices tried to shoot the mes­sen­ger. They planted stor­ies claim­ing Dav­id was a fan­tas­ist, over­looked for pro­mo­tion, and was too juni­or to know what he was talk­ing about. These are clas­sic tac­tics used against whis­tleblowers and were wheeled out again when Dr Dav­id Kelly took his life.

We even­tu­ally returned home in 2000, by which time Dav­id felt isol­ated and angry. He began to dis­trust friends and thought that many of them might be report­ing on him. He was con­vinced he was con­stantly fol­lowed and began to take pho­to­graphs of people in the street. When the tri­al star­ted, and with Dav­id effect­ively gagged, the jury had no choice but to convict.

He received a six-month sen­tence but the judg­ment exon­er­ated him of pla­cing agents’ lives at risk, con­ced­ing that he had spoken out in what he thought to be the pub­lic interest. Dav­id had blown the whistle with the best of motives. He had exposed hein­ous State crimes up to and includ­ing murder, yet he was the one in pris­on with his repu­ta­tion in tat­ters. His release from jail saw a changed man. Dav­id was full of anger, frus­tra­tion and bit­ter­ness and became depressed and with­drawn. He was drawn to the spir­itu­al teach­ings of kab­ba­l­ah, and became obsessed with the sub­ject instead of focus­ing on what we should do to sur­vive. Last sum­mer, I went away for a week­end. When I returned, Dav­id had shaved off all his hair and his eye­brows as part of his spir­itu­al evol­u­tion. He knew that I had always loved his long, thick hair, so it felt like a per­son­al slap in the face. He was in trouble. He was quick to anger if any­one ques­tioned him. He became obsess­ive about little details, espoused wacky the­or­ies and shunned his fam­ily and old friends. His para­noia also escal­ated. His exper­i­ence of being houn­ded and vil­i­fied for a dec­ade had left a deep per­se­cu­tion com­plex. Even­tu­ally the strain was too much and I ended the relationship.

It was dif­fi­cult as we had shared so much over the 14 years we had been togeth­er, but it felt that we were no longer a team – Dav­id was focus­ing only on eso­ter­ic issues. Look­ing back, I am still proud of what we did. I believe that if you wit­ness the crimes that we did, you have to take action. But the price for tak­ing that stand against a bully State can be high. It is tra­gic to see an hon­our­able and brave man crushed in this way. The Brit­ish Estab­lish­ment is ruth­less in pro­tect­ing its own interests rather than those of our coun­try. Today Dav­id Shayler is liv­ing testi­mony to that.

BBC Report on Shayler’s conviction

The BBC report after Dav­id Shayler­’s con­vic­tion in Novem­ber 2002:

Former MI5 agent Dav­id Shayler is facing jail after being con­victed of reveal­ing secur­ity secrets.

Shayler, 36, was found guilty on three charges of break­ing the Offi­cial Secrets Act.

He revealed secret doc­u­ments to the Mail on Sunday news­pa­per in 1997, arguing he had a pub­lic duty to expose mal­prac­tice with­in the secur­ity services.

But the pro­sec­u­tion argued Shayler, who will be sen­tenced on Tues­day, had poten­tially placed the lives of secret agents at risk.  It said he betrayed a “life-long duty of con­fid­en­ti­al­ity” by reveal­ing clas­si­fied matters.

Shayler, who rep­res­en­ted him­self, also told the Old Bailey jury he feared for his life at the time, because of some­thing “far more ser­i­ous” than any­thing pub­lished in the paper.  Shayler was remanded on bail for sen­ten­cing and could face up to two years’ impris­on­ment on each of the three counts.

Shayler copied 28 files on sev­en top­ics before leav­ing MI5 in Octo­ber 1996.


Soon after, he accused MI5 of incom­pet­ence and leaked sens­it­ive inform­a­tion to the Mail on Sunday, includ­ing alleg­a­tions of fin­an­cial links between the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA and Libya.  He then fled to France with the £40,000 he earned from his rev­el­a­tions, but returned to Bri­tain after three years know­ing he faced arrest.

Out­side court Shayler­’s girl­friend Annie Machon — also a former MI5 officer — said: “Dav­id is a whistle-blower, pure and simple.   I’m shocked at the ver­dict. He deserves to be pro­tec­ted, not pro­sec­uted.  Dav­id revealed mal­prac­tice, crime and incom­pet­ence on behalf of the intel­li­gence ser­vice and he did it in the pub­lic interest.  He still believes it was right to do so. We believe judges in Europe will be more scep­tic­al about the Offi­cial Secrets Act in this country.”

John Wadham, dir­ect­or of civil rights group Liberty and also Shayler­’s soli­cit­or, said they would con­sider tak­ing the case to appeal and would con­tin­ue their applic­a­tion to the European Court of Human Rights.

Pre-tri­al ruling

Maurice Frankel from the Cam­paign for Free­dom of Inform­a­tion, said there needed to be fun­da­ment­al changes to the way in which such cases were dealt with.

A House of Lords hear­ing before the tri­al ruled that Shayler could not reveal details of the “ser­i­ous” mat­ter that allegedly put his life in danger.  It also refused him per­mis­sion to argue his case with a “pub­lic interest defence” under the European Charter of Human Rights.

But fol­low­ing the con­vic­tion, Lib­er­al Demo­crat home affairs spokes­man Simon Hughes said: “Whatever the rights and wrongs of Mr Shayler­’s actions, there should be a change in the law to ensure that a pub­lic interest defence can be undertaken.”

Dur­ing the tri­al, Nigel Sweeney QC, for the Crown, said dis­clos­ure of even one piece of clas­si­fied inform­a­tion could be the “final piece in the jig­saw” allow­ing hos­tile coun­tries or organ­isa­tions to identi­fy Brit­ish agents.

Mr Sweeney told the tri­al: “The nation’s agents may be unmasked.”

But Shayler told the court: “I was seek­ing to expose the truth.

No harm’

I’m not the first per­son in his­tory to stand up and tell the truth and be per­se­cuted, and I doubt I’ll be the last.

His argu­ment that no agents’ lives were put at risk was dis­missed as “irrel­ev­ant” by the judge.

The jury was told cur­rent legis­la­tion allowed altern­at­ive action for whistle-blow­ing, such as telling the police or a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter, instead of going to the media.

Jur­ors were allowed to see the weighty file of secret doc­u­ments — but the names of agents and oth­er ultra-sens­it­ive inform­a­tion was obscured.