The Sam Adams Associates — the Weirdest Club in the World

Since 2002 a unique award cere­mony has taken place annu­ally in either the USA or Europe: the Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence. This year it occurred in Wash­ing­ton DC on 22 Septem­ber and was giv­en to vet­er­an journ­al­ist and Pulitzer Prize win­ning journ­al­ist, Sey­mour Her­sh.

Why unique? Well the group com­pris­ing the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates is made up of former West­ern intel­li­gence, mil­it­ary and dip­lo­mat­ic pro­fes­sion­als, many of whom have spoken out about abuses and crimes com­mit­ted by their employ­ers. For their pains, most have lost their jobs and some have also lost their liberty.

Laur­eates include US army whis­tleblower Chelsea Man­ning, NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden, FBI whis­tleblower Coleen Row­ley (Time per­son of the year in 2002 and the first SAA laur­eate), pub­lish­er Juli­an Assange, UK Ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray, and co-ordin­at­or of the US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate on Iran in 2007, Dr Tom Fin­gar.

The com­mon theme that binds this dis­par­ate group togeth­er into a rather weird, won­der­ful and very inform­al glob­al club is that they have all attemp­ted to shine a light on the dark corners of gov­ern­ment, to speak truth to power and expose wrong­do­ing and “fake news” for the great­er good of human­ity. It is appalling that they have to pay such a high per­son­al price for doing this, which is why the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates provides recog­ni­tion and presents as its annu­al award — a candle stick, the “corner bright­en­er”.

The Sam Adams Award has, over most recent years, gone to bona fide whis­tleblowers such as Tom Drake, Bill Bin­ney, Jess Rad­dack and Chelsea Man­ning, while pub­lish­ers, such as Juli­an Assange of Wikileaks fame, have also received recog­ni­tion. But Sey­mour Her­sh is the first main­stream journ­al­ist to receive the accol­ade.

Her­sh has a long and illus­tri­ous career, begin­ning with his expos­ure of the My Lai mas­sacre in the Viet­nam war in 1969 . But it was an art­icle he wrote about the April 2017 chem­ic­al attack in Syr­ia that won him the award this year.

To remind people, on 4th April this year a chem­ic­al weapon was reportedly used against the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of Idlib Province in Syr­ia and civil­ians were reportedly killed. Ahead of any pos­sible invest­ig­a­tion, the inter­na­tion­al media uni­lat­er­ally declared that the Assad régime had attacked its own people; Pres­id­ent Trump imme­di­ately ordered a retali­at­ory strike on the Syr­i­an Air Force base from where the alleged attack­ers launched their fight­er jets, and was lauded by the mil­it­atry-indus­tri­al com­plex for firm and decis­ive action.

Except – this was all based on a lie, as Her­sh estab­lished. How­ever, des­pite his journ­al­ist­ic repu­ta­tion, he was unable to pub­lish this story in the Amer­ic­an main­stream media, and instead had it pub­lished in Germany’s Die Welt.


The event in Wash­ing­ton this year was a game of two halves – the first was the din­ner where Sey­mour Her­sh was presen­ted with his award, lauded by both former intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als and fel­low invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists for his work. It was a recog­ni­tion of the value of true journ­al­ism – speak­ing truth to power and attempt­ing to hold that power to account.

The second half of the even­ing, which Mr Her­sh was unable to attend because of pri­or com­mit­ments, was the more gen­er­al annu­al SAA cel­eb­ra­tion of all things truth telling and whis­tleblow­ing. I had the hon­our of MCing the event, which included a speech from Edward Snowden, Daniel Ells­berg, SAA founder Ray McGov­ern and many more.

Between us all we have dec­ades of ser­vice and exper­i­ence across dif­fer­ent con­tin­ents. Des­pite this geo­graph­ic­al spread, com­mon themes con­tin­ue to emerge as they always do at Sam Adams events: offi­cial obfus­ca­tion, spy spin, media con­trol, illeg­al war and more.

What to do? We shall con­tin­ue to speak out in our work around the world – I just hope that the aware­ness spreads about the fake news that is daily peddled in the main­stream media and that more people begin to look behind the head­lines and search for the truth of what is going on.

Whis­tleblowers, as well as their ena­blers in the pub­lish­ing and media world, remain the reg­u­lat­ors of last resort for truth and for justice.

Here is a link to the open­ing seg­ment — oth­er parts can be found on You­tube via World Bey­ond War 2017:

#NoWar2017 Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates with Ed Snowden, Daniel Ells­berg, Annie Machon and Eliza­beth Mur­ray from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

A Couple of Interviews

Here are a couple of the inter­views I have done this month, the first mark­ing the release of US army whis­tleblower, Chelsea Man­ning and the second, iron­ic­ally, dis­cuss­ing leaks from the US intel­li­gence com­munity, the most recent of which adversely impacted the invest­ig­a­tion into the recent appalling Manchester bomb­ing in the UK:

The Impact of Chelsea Man­ning from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

US Intel­li­gence Leak­ing from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Crosstalk debate on Russiagate

A recent debate about “Rus­siagate” on RT’s Crosstalk show, with CIA whis­tleblower, John Kiriakou, and former US dip­lo­mat, James Jat­ras, along with host Peter Lav­elle.

Debunk­ing some of the wilder intel­li­gence claims.….

Crosstalk on “Rus­siagate” from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Perils of Censorship in the Digital Age

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge.

The ripple effects of the Don­ald Trump elec­tion vic­tory in Amer­ica con­tin­ue to wash over many dif­fer­ent shorelines of pub­lic opin­ion, like so many mini-tsuna­mis hit­ting the Pacific rim over the last few last weeks.  The seis­mic changes have indeed been glob­al, and not least in Europe.

First up, the Euro­crats have been get­ting in a bit of a flap about the future of NATO, as I recently wrote.  In the past I have also writ­ten about the per­ceived “insider threat” - in oth­er words, whis­tleblowers — that has been wor­ry­ing gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies across the West­ern world.

Cur­rently the Twit­ter­sphere is light­ing up around the issue of “fake news”, with West­ern main­stream media (news pur­vey­ors of the utmost unsul­lied prob­ity, nat­ur­ally) blam­ing Trump’s unex­pec­ted vic­tory vari­ously on the US alt-media shock jocks, fake news trolls and bots, and sov­er­eign-state media out­lets such as the Rus­si­an RT and Sput­nik.

In the wake of US Demo­crat claims that Rus­sia was inter­fer­ing in the elec­tion pro­cess (not a prac­tice that the USA has ever engaged in in any oth­er coun­try around the world what­so­ever), we now have the US Green Party pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate appar­ently spon­tan­eously call­ing for recounts in three key swing-states in the USA.

The Ger­man gov­ern­ment has already expressed con­cern that such “fake” news might adversely influ­ence the almost inev­it­able re-elec­tion for a fourth term as Chan­cel­lor, Angela Merkel.  Des­pite hav­ing been pro­claimed the closest part­ner of the USA by Pres­id­ent Obama on his recent speed-dat­ing vis­it to Europe, and per­haps wary of the rising nation­al­ist anger (I hes­it­ate to write nation­al social­ist anger, but cer­tainly its ugly face is there too in the Ger­man crowd) Merkal is get­ting in an elect­or­al first strike.

At a slightly more wor­ry­ing level, the European Par­lia­ment on 23 Novem­ber voted for a res­ol­u­tion to counter “pro­pa­ganda” from Rus­sia — and incred­ibly equated that country’s media with ter­ror­ist groups such as ISIS — the very organ­isa­tion that Rus­sia is cur­rently try­ing to help crush in Syr­ia and which the West and NATO are at least offi­cially opposed to.

Equat­ing the con­tent of licensed and net­worked media out­lets — how­ever much they may chal­lenge West­ern ortho­dox­ies — to the hor­rors of ISIS snuff videos seems to me to be wil­fully blind if not down­right and dan­ger­ously delu­sion­al. Or per­haps we should just call it pro­pa­ganda too?

Whatever happened to the rights of free­dom of expres­sion enshrined in the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights? Or the concept that a plur­al­ity of opin­ion encour­ages a healthy demo­cracy?

In Amer­ica too, we have had reports this week that Google and Face­book are cen­sor­ing alleged “fake” news.  This is the start of a very slip­pery slope. Soon any­one who dis­sents from the ortho­doxy will be deemed fake and dis­ap­pear into the cor­por­ate memory black hole.  Google in 2014 sug­ges­ted a pre­curs­or to this, the Know­ledge Vault, a search sys­tem that would pro­mote approved web­sites and dis­ap­pear those deemed inac­cur­ate at least by Google algorithms. But who con­trols those?

Once again our cor­por­ate over­lords seem to be march­ing remark­ably in time — almost a lock step — with the mood of the polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment.

So how did this all kick off? With remark­ably pres­ci­ent tim­ing, in Octo­ber the arch-neo­con­ser­vat­ive UK-based think tank, the Henry Jack­son Soci­ety, pub­lished a report entitled “Putin’s Use­ful Idi­ots: Britain’s Right, Left and Rus­sia”. Well, at least it got its apo­strophes right, but much of the rest is just so much hate-filled bile against those who call out the failed Wash­ing­ton Con­sensus.

The Henry Jack­son Soci­ety is an odi­ous organ­isa­tion that was foun­ded in Cam­bridge elev­en years ago. One of its ini­tial sig­nat­or­ies was Sir Richard Dear­love, former head of the UK’s for­eign intel­li­gence agency MI6, and of some per­son­al notori­ety for ped­dling the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruc­tion that took the UK into the dis­astrous and illeg­al Iraq war in 2003, as well as feed­ing in the fake intel­li­gence about Iraq try­ing to acquire urani­um from Niger that US Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell used as a jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the same war at the United Nations.

Des­pite all this, he remains hap­pily retired, bloated with hon­ours, while at the same time threat­en­ing the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment with his full mem­oirs to posthum­ously pre­serve his repu­ta­tion and avoid pro­sec­u­tion for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act, as I have writ­ten before.

The Henry Jack­son Soci­ety has also fol­ded into itself an organ­isa­tion called the Centre for Social Cohe­sion — appar­ently estab­lished to build bet­ter integ­ra­tion for the Muslim com­munity in the UK, but which for the last dec­ade has done noth­ing but stir up Islamo­pho­bia. As oth­ers have writ­ten, the phrase “mod­ern McCarthy­ites” might not be stretch­ing this concept too far. And now it seems to be turn­ing its ire against Rus­sia.

Its emphas­is has been unre­lent­ingly anti-Islam for many years, so it was inter­est­ing that this estab­lish­ment-embed­ded Soci­ety had a fully-formed report about the renewed Red Men­ace sub­vert­ing our West­ern media just ready and wait­ing to be pub­lished ahead of the US elec­tions.

So where does this all leave us?

It may well be that Face­book will begin to dis­ap­pear so-called fake news — which could have reper­cus­sions for all the act­iv­ist groups that, against all advice and com­mon sense, con­tin­ue to offer up their plans/organise events on that medi­um.

We may see the same cen­sor­ship on Google, as well as dis­sid­ent web­sites dis­ap­pear­ing down the pro­posed memory-hole of the Know­ledge Vault. Sure, such pages may be recor­ded on sites like the Way­Back Machine et al, but who really searches through that reflex­ively? Most us us don’t even get through the first page of Google hits any­way. In our digit­al age, this will make the 20th cen­tury prac­tice of your ana­logue dic­tat­or — the air­brush­ing of polit­ic­al oppon­ents out of his­tory — look pos­it­ively quaint.

But, just as the Guten­berg Press was a rad­ic­al innov­a­tion in the 15th cen­tury that led to a rap­id spread of writ­ten ideas and the res­ult­ing cen­sor­ship, repres­sion and a thriv­ing under­ground media, so the the cur­rent crack­down will lead to the same push-back.

Then we have to con­sider the poten­tial cen­sor­ship of state-owned news out­lets such as RT, the Chinese CCTV, and the Ira­ni­an Press TV. Where will that leave oth­er state-owned organ­isa­tions such as the BBC, RAI and oth­er inter­na­tion­al Euro-broad­casters? Oh, of course, they are part of the West­ern media club, so it’s all hun­key-dorey and busi­ness as usu­al.

But this can be a two-sided fight — only two months ago RT’s UK bankers, the state-owned Nat West Bank, announced that they were going to shut down the channel’s UK accounts, with no reas­on or redress. I gath­er that a sim­il­ar threat was then issued against the BBC in Rus­sia, and the case was quietly dropped.

Over the last 20 years I have been inter­viewed by hun­dreds of major media out­lets across Europe, many of them state-owned.  How­ever, it is only when I appear on RT​.com that I am accused of sup­port­ing a state-pro­pa­ganda out­let, of being a use­ful idi­ot — and this has become increas­ingly marked over the last couple of years.

All these meas­ures smack of an ill-informed and out-of-touch pan­ic reac­tion by a hitherto com­pla­cent estab­lish­ment. Before they attempt to air­brush his­tory, we need to remem­ber that his­tory teaches some use­ful les­sons about such elit­ist crack­downs: they nev­er end well for any­one.

What price whistleblowers?

First pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News.

For­give my “infam­ously flu­ent French”, but the phrase “pour encour­ager les autres” seems to have lost its fam­ously iron­ic qual­ity. Rather than mak­ing an example of people who dis­sent in order to pre­vent future dis­sid­ence, now it seems that the USA is glob­ally pay­ing bloody big bucks to people in order to encour­age them to expose the crimes of their employ­ers – well, at least if they are work­ing for banks and oth­er fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions.

I have been aware for a few years that the USA insti­tuted a law in 2010 called the Dodd-Frank Act that is designed to encour­age people employed in the inter­na­tion­al fin­ance com­munity to report mal­feas­ance to the Secur­it­ies and Exchange Com­mis­sion (SEC), in return for a sub­stan­tial per­cent­age of any mon­ies recouped.

This law seems to have pro­duced a boom­ing busi­ness for such high-minded “whis­tleblowers” – if that could be the accur­ate term for such actions? They are cel­eb­rated and can receive multi-mil­lion dol­lar pay days, the most recent (unnamed) source receiv­ing $20 mil­lion.

Nor is this US ini­ti­at­ive just poten­tially bene­fit­ing US cit­izens – it you look at the small print at the bot­tom of this page, dis­clos­ures are being sent in from all over the world.

Which is all to the pub­lic good no doubt, espe­cially in the wake of the 2008 glob­al fin­an­cial crash and the ensu­ing fall-out that hit us all.  We need more clar­ity about arcane casino bank­ing prac­tices that have bank­rup­ted whole coun­tries, and we need justice.

But does rather send out a num­ber of con­tra­dict­ory mes­sages to those in oth­er areas of work who might also have con­cerns about the leg­al­ity of their organ­isa­tions, and which may have equal or even graver impacts on the lives of their fel­low human beings.

If you work in fin­ance and you see irreg­u­lar­it­ies it is appar­ently your leg­al duty to report them through appro­pri­ate chan­nels – and then count the $$$ as they flow in as reward – wheth­er you are a USA cit­izen or based else­where around the world. Such is the power of glob­al­isa­tion, or at least the USA’s self-appoin­ted role as the glob­al hege­mon.

How­ever, if you hap­pen to work in the US gov­ern­ment, intel­li­gence agen­cies or mil­it­ary, under the terms of the Amer­ic­an Con­sti­tu­tion it would also appear to be your sol­emn duty under oath to report illeg­al­it­ies, go through the offi­cially des­ig­nated chan­nels, and hope reform is the res­ult.

But, from all recent examples, it would appear that you get damn few thanks for such pat­ri­ot­ic actions.

Take the case of Thomas Drake, a former seni­or NSA exec­ut­ive, who in 2007 went pub­lic about waste and wan­ton expendit­ure with­in the agency, as I wrote way back in 2011. Tom went through all the pre­scribed routes for such dis­clos­ures, up to and includ­ing a Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Des­pite all this, Tom was abruptly snatched by the FBI in a viol­ent dawn raid and threatened with 35 years in pris­on.  He (under the ter­ri­fy­ing Amer­ic­an plea bar­gain sys­tem) accep­ted a mis­dimean­our con­vic­tion to escape the hor­rors of fed­er­al charges, the res­ult­ing loss of all his civic rights and a poten­tial 35 years in pris­on.  He still, of course, lost his job, his impec­cable pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion, and his whole way of life.

He was part of a NSA group which also included Bill Bin­ney, the former Tech­nic­al Dir­ect­or of the NSA, and his fel­low whis­tleblowers Kirk Wiebe, Ed Lou­mis and Diane Roark.

These brave people developed an elec­tron­ic mass-sur­veil­lance pro­gramme called Thin Thread that could win­now out those people who were genu­inely of secur­ity interest and worth tar­get­ing, a pro­gramme which would have cost the US $1.4 mil­lion, been con­sist­ent with the terms of the Amer­ic­an con­sti­tu­tion and, accord­ing to Bin­ney, could poten­tially have stopped 9/11 and all the attend­ant hor­rors..

Instead, it appears that backs were scratched and favours called in with the incom­ing neo-con gov­ern­ment of George W Bush in 2000, and anoth­er pro­gramme called Trail Bla­izer was developed, to the tune of $1.2 bil­lion – and which spied on every­one across Amer­ica (as well as the rest of the world) and thereby broke, at the very least, the terms of the Amer­ic­an con­sti­tu­tion.

Yet Bill Bin­ney was still sub­jec­ted to a FBI SWAT team raid – he was dragged out of the shower early one morn­ing at gun-point. All this is well doc­u­mented in an excel­lent film “A Good Amer­ic­an” and I recom­mend watch­ing it.

Rather a con­trast to the treat­ment of fin­an­cial whis­tleblowers – no retali­ation and big bucks. Under that law, Bill would have received a pay­out of mil­lions for pro­tect­ing the rights of his fel­low cit­izens as well as sav­ing the Amer­ic­an pub­lic purse to the tune of over a bil­lion dol­lars. But, of course, that is not exactly in the long-term busi­ness interests of our now-glob­al sur­veil­lance pan­op­ticon.

Pres­id­ent Dwight Eis­en­hower, in his vale­dict­ory speech in 1961, warned of the sub­vers­ive interests of the “mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al” com­plex.  That seems so quaint now.  What we are facing is a ster­oid-pumped, glob­al­ised mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance industry that will do any­thing to pro­tect its interests.  And that includes crush­ing prin­cipled whis­tleblowers “pour encour­ager les autres“.

Yet that mani­festly has not happened, as I need to move on to the even-more-egre­gious cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

The former, as you may remem­ber, was a former Amer­ic­an army private cur­rently serving 35 years in a US mil­it­ary pris­on for expos­ing the war crimes of the USA. She is the most obvi­ous vic­tim of out­go­ing-Pres­id­ent Obama’s war on whis­tleblowers, and surely deserving of his sup­posed out­go­ing clem­ency.

The lat­ter, cur­rently stran­ded in Rus­sia en route from Hong Kong to polit­ic­al asylum in Ecuador is, in my view and as I have said before, the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower in mod­ern his­tory. But he gets few thanks – indeed incom­ing US Trump admin­is­tra­tion appointees have in the past called for the death pen­alty.

So all this is such a “won­der­fully out­stand­ing encour­age­ment” to those in pub­lic ser­vice in the USA to expose cor­rup­tion – not. Work for the banks and anonym­ously snitch – $$$kerch­ing! Work for the gov­ern­ment and blow the whistle – 30+ years in pris­on or worse. Hmmm.

If Pres­id­ent-Elect Don­ald Trump is ser­i­ous about “drain­ing the swamp” then per­haps he could put some ser­i­ous and mean­ing­ful pub­lic ser­vice whis­tleblower pro­tec­tion meas­ures in place, rather than pro­sec­ut­ing such pat­ri­ots?

After all, such meas­ures would be a win-win situ­ation, as I have said many times before – a prop­er and truly account­able chan­nel for poten­tial whis­tleblowers to go to, in the expect­a­tion that their con­cerns will be prop­erly heard, invest­ig­ated and crim­in­al actions pro­sec­uted if neces­sary.

That way the intel­li­gence agen­cies can become truly account­able, sharpen their game, avoid a scan­dal and bet­ter pro­tect the pub­lic; and the whis­tleblower does not need ruin their life, los­ing their job, poten­tially their free­dom and worse.

After all, where are the most hein­ous crimes wit­nessed?  Sure, bank crimes impact the eco­nomy and the lives of work­ing people; but out-of-con­trol intel­li­gence agen­cies that kid­nap, tor­ture and assas­sin­ate count­less people around the world, all in secret, actu­ally end lives.

All that said, oth­er West­ern lib­er­al demo­cra­cies are surely less dra­coni­an than the USA, no?

Well, unfor­tu­nately not.  Take the UK, a coun­try still in thrall to the glam­or­ous myth of James Bond, and where there have been mul­tiple intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers from the agen­cies over the last few dec­ades – yet all of them have auto­mat­ic­ally faced pris­on.  In fact, the UK sup­pres­sion of intel­li­gence, gov­ern­ment, dip­lo­mat­ic, and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers seems to have acted as an exem­plar to oth­er coun­tries in how you stifle eth­ic­al dis­sent from with­in.

Sure, the pris­on sen­tences for such whis­tleblow­ing are not as dra­coni­an under the UK Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) as the ana­chron­ist­ic US Espi­on­age Act (1917). How­ever, the clear bright line against *any* dis­clos­ure is just as stifling.

In the UK, a coun­try where the intel­li­gence agen­cies have for the last 17 years been illeg­ally pros­ti­tut­ing them­selves to advance the interests of a for­eign coun­try (the USA), this is simply unac­cept­able. Espe­cially as the UK has just made law the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (2016), against all expert advice, which leg­al­ises all this pre­vi­ously-illeg­al activ­ity and indeed expan­ded the hack­ing powers of the state.

More wor­ry­ingly, the ultra-lib­er­al Nor­way, which blazed a calm and human­ist trail in its response to the mur­der­ous white-suprem­acist ter­ror­ist attacks of Anders Breivik only 5 years ago, has now pro­posed a dra­coni­an sur­veil­lance law.

And Ger­many – a coun­try hor­ri­fied by the Snowden rev­el­a­tions in 2013, with its memor­ies of the Gestapo and the Stasi – has also just expan­ded the sur­veil­lance remit of its spooks.

In the face of all this, it appears there has nev­er been a great­er need of intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers across the West­ern world. Yet it appears that, once again, there is one law for the bankers et al – they are cashed up, lauded and rewar­ded for report­ing leg­al­it­ies.

For the rest of the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, it’s pro­sec­u­tion and per­se­cu­tion as usu­al, des­pite the fact that they may indeed be serving the most pro­found of pub­lic interests – free­dom, pri­vacy and the abil­ity to thereby have a func­tion­ing demo­cracy.

As always – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. So back to my flu­ent French, ref­er­enced at the start: we are, it seems, all still mired in the merde.



Webstock, New Zealand, 2016

Now, I speak all over the world at con­fer­ences and uni­ver­sit­ies about a whole vari­ety of inter­con­nec­ted issues, but I do want to high­light this con­fer­ence from earli­er this year and give a shout out for next year’s. Plus I’ve finally got my hands on the video of my talk.

Web­stock cel­eb­rated its tenth anniversary in New Zea­l­and last Feb­ru­ary, and I was for­tu­nate enough to be asked to speak there.  The hosts prom­ised a unique exper­i­ence, and the event lived up to its repu­ta­tion.

Webstock_2016They wanted a fairly clas­sic talk from me — the whis­tleblow­ing years, the les­sons learnt and cur­rent polit­ic­al implic­a­tions, but also what we can to do fight back, so I called my talk “The Pan­op­ticon: Res­ist­ance is Not Futile”, with a nod to my sci-fi fan­dom.

So why does this par­tic­u­lar event glow like a jew­el in my memory? After expun­ging from my mind, with a shud­der of hor­ror, the 39 hour travel time each way, it was the whole exper­i­ence. New Zea­l­and com­bines the friend­li­ness of the Amer­ic­ans — without the polit­ic­al mad­ness and the guns, and the egal­it­ari­an­ism of the Nor­we­gi­ans — with almost equi­val­ent scenery. Add to that the warmth of the audi­ence, the eclecticism of the speak­ers, and the pre­ci­sion plan­ning and aes­thet­ics of the con­fer­ence organ­isers and you have a win­ning com­bin­a­tion.

Our hosts organ­ised ver­tigo-indu­cing events for the speak­ers on the top of mile-high cliffs, as well as a sur­pris­ingly fun vis­it to a tra­di­tion­al Brit­ish bowl­ing green. Plus I had the excite­ment of exper­i­en­cing my very first earth­quake — 5.9 on the Richter scale appar­ently. I shall make no cheap jokes about the earth mov­ing, espe­cially in light of the latest quakes to hit NZ this week, but the hotel did indeed sway around me and it wasn’t the loc­al wine, excel­lent as it is.

I men­tioned eclecticism — the qual­ity of the speak­ers was fero­ciously high, and I would like to give a shout out to Debbie Mill­man and her “joy of fail­ure” talk, Harry Roberts, a ser­i­ous geek who crowd-sourced his talk and ended up talk­ing ser­i­ously about cock­tails, moths, Chum­bawamba and more, advert­ising guru Cindy Gal­lop who is inspir­ing women around the world and pro­mot­ing Make Love Not Porn, and Casey Ger­ald, with his evan­gel­ic­ally-inspired but won­der­fully human­ist­ic talk to end the event.

All the talks can be found here.

It was a fab­ulous week.  All I can say is thank you to Tash, Mike, and the oth­er organ­isers.

If you ever have the chance to attend or speak at the event in the future, I ser­i­ously recom­mend it.

And here’s the video of my talk:

Whistleblower Protections — RT Interview

Former US Attor­ney Gen­er­al, Eric Hold­er, has softened his stance on the Edward Snowden case and has tacitly admit­ted there should at least be a pub­lic interest leg­al defence for intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers.

Well, that’s my take — have a watch of my RT inter­view yes­ter­day or read here:

Dis­cuss­ing whis­tleblower pro­tec­tions from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Ibsen and Whistleblowers

The Chichester Fest­iv­al Theatre in the UK has been sta­ging Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People, explor­ing the com­plex­it­ies of whis­tleblow­ing.

The CFT asked me to write an art­icle for the fest­iv­al pro­gramme about the value and role, the dangers and oppor­tun­it­ies, for twenty-first cen­tury whis­tleblowers. Here it is:

The Reg­u­lat­ors of Last Resort

Let us play a little game of word asso­ci­ation. I write “Edward Snowden” — and what is the first thought to leap into your mind? Hero? Trait­or? Who?

Or might it be whis­tleblower?

The con­tro­ver­sial issue of whis­tleblow­ing, which is at the heart of Ibsen’s play, has been firmly thrust into the pub­lic con­scious­ness over the last few years with the ongo­ing saga of Wikileaks and with high pro­file cases such as that of Chelsea Man­ning and, of course, Snowden him­self.

Often whis­tleblowers can get a bad rap in the media, deemed to be trait­ors, grasses or snitches. Or they are set on such an hero­ic ped­es­tal that their example can actu­ally be dis­cour­aging, mak­ing you con­sider wheth­er you would ever take such a risk, often with the depress­ing con­clu­sion that it would be impossible for a whole range of prac­tic­al reas­ons – pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion, job secur­ity, fam­ily safety, even liberty.

How­ever, you have to ask your­self why, when faced with these risks and reper­cus­sions, indi­vidu­als (in the man­ner of the fic­tion­al Dr Stock­mann) do indeed speak out; why they do still con­sider the risks worth tak­ing? Par­tic­u­larly those emer­ging from the world of intel­li­gence, the mil­it­ary or the dip­lo­mat­ic corps who face the most griev­ous pen­al­ties.

The UK spy com­munity is the most leg­ally pro­tec­ted and least account­able of any West­ern demo­cracy, but the USA is catch­ing up fast. So, as a res­ult of such entrenched gov­ern­ment­al secrecy across these areas, whis­tleblow­ing is real­ist­ic­ally the only avail­able aven­ue to alert your fel­low cit­izens to abuses car­ried out secretly in their name.

I have a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the pro­cess. In the 1990s I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, gen­er­ally known as MI5, before resign­ing to help my former part­ner and col­league Dav­id Shayler blow the whistle on a cata­logue of incom­pet­ence and crime. As a res­ult we had to go on the run around Europe, lived in hid­ing and exile in France for 3 years, and saw our friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists arres­ted around us. I was also arres­ted, although nev­er charged, and Dav­id went to pris­on twice for expos­ing the crimes of the spies. It was a heavy price to pay.

How­ever, it could all have been so dif­fer­ent if the UK gov­ern­ment had agreed to take his evid­ence of spy crimes, under­take to invest­ig­ate them thor­oughly, and apply the neces­sary reforms. This would have saved us a lot of heartache, and could poten­tially have improved the work of the spies. But the government’s instinct­ive response is always to pro­tect the spies and pro­sec­ute the whis­tleblower, while the mis­takes and crimes go unin­vestig­ated and unre­solved. Or even, it often appears, to reward the mal­efact­ors with pro­mo­tions and gongs.

The dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) imposes a blanket ban on any dis­clos­ure what­so­ever. As a res­ult, we the cit­izens have to take it on trust that our spies work with integ­rity. There is no mean­ing­ful over­sight and no real account­ab­il­ity.

Many good people do indeed sign up to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, as they want a job that can make a dif­fer­ence and poten­tially save lives. How­ever, once on the inside they are told to keep quiet about any eth­ic­al con­cerns: “don’t rock the boat, and just fol­low orders”.

In such an envir­on­ment there is no vent­il­a­tion, no account­ab­il­ity and no staff fed­er­a­tion, and this inev­it­ably leads to a gen­er­al con­sensus – a bul­ly­ing “group think” men­tal­ity. This in turn can lead to mis­takes being covered up rather than les­sons learned, and then poten­tially down a dan­ger­ous mor­al slide.

As a res­ult, over the last 15 years we have seen scan­dal heaped upon intel­li­gence scan­dal, as the spies allowed their fake and politi­cised inform­a­tion to be used make a false case for an illeg­al war in Iraq; we have seen them des­cend into a spir­al of extraordin­ary rendi­tion (ie kid­nap­ping) and tor­ture, for which they are now being sued if not pro­sec­uted; and we have seen that they facil­it­ate dodgy deals in the deserts with dic­tat­ors.

Since the Shayler case in the late 1990s, oth­er UK whis­tleblowers have hit the head­lines: GCHQ’s Kath­er­ine Gun, who exposed illeg­al spy­ing on our so-called allies in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003. She man­aged to avoid pro­sec­u­tion because of a pos­sible leg­al defence of neces­sity that res­ul­ted from Shayler’s case. Or Ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray, who exposed the tor­ture of polit­ic­al dis­sid­ents in Uzbek­istan – and when I say tor­ture, I mean the boil­ing alive of polit­ic­al oppon­ents of the régime, with the pho­to­graphs to prove it. Mur­ray was not pro­sec­uted, but he lost his career and was tra­duced with taw­dry slurs about his per­son­al life across the Brit­ish media.

The USA is little bet­ter. Since 2001 many intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers there have faced a grim fate. Ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s tor­ture pro­gramme, lan­guished for three years in pris­on while the tor­tur­ers remain free; Bill Bin­ney, Ed Loomis, and Kirk Wiebe of the NSA were houn­ded and nar­rowly escaped pro­sec­u­tion for expos­ing NSA mal­feas­ance; a col­league, Tom Drake faced a 35-year pris­on sen­tence, des­pite hav­ing gone through all the approved, offi­cial chan­nels; and in 2013 a kangaroo court was held to try Chelsea Man­ning for her expos­ure of US war crimes. Inev­it­ably, it is the whis­tleblower Man­ning who is now serving a 35 year stretch in pris­on, not the war crim­in­als.

Pres­id­ent Obama has used and abused the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers dur­ing his years in the White House more times than all his pre­de­cessors put togeth­er, while at the same time allow­ing a bone fide spy ring – the Rus­si­an illeg­als includ­ing Anna Chap­man — to return home in 2010. This para­noid hunt for the “insider threat” — the whis­tleblower — has been going on since at least 2008, as we know from doc­u­ments leaked, iron­ic­ally, to Wikileaks in 2010.

Against this back­ground, fully aware of the hideous risks he was tak­ing and the pro­spect of the rest of his life behind bars, in 2013 a young man stepped for­ward – Edward Snowden.

He was clear then about his motiv­a­tion and he remains clear now in the few inter­views he has done since: what he had seen on the inside of the NSA caused him huge con­cern. The Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, along with its part­ner agen­cies across the world, was con­struct­ing a glob­al sur­veil­lance net­work that not only threatens the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, but also erodes the pri­vacy of all the world’s cit­izens.

Even against such a back­ground of oth­er brave whis­tleblowers, Snowden stands out for me for three key reas­ons: his per­son­al and con­scious cour­age at such a time, the sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures, and the con­tinu­ing, glob­al impact of what he exposed.

Unfor­tu­nately, while whis­tleblowers under­stand the leg­al risks they are tak­ing when they emerge from the intel­li­gence world or the dip­lo­mat­ic corps, they are often media vir­gins and are etern­ally sur­prised by the way the treat­ment meted out to them.

Until the turn of the mil­len­ni­um, intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers had no choice but to entrust them­selves to the estab­lished media. Some like “Deep Throat”, the source of the Water­gate scan­dal in 1970s Amer­ica, were dis­trust­ful and remained in the shad­ows. Oth­ers, such as Daniel Ells­berg who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, or Clive Pont­ing who in 1982 released inform­a­tion about the sink­ing of the Gen­er­al Bel­grano dur­ing the Falk­lands War, were for­tu­nate to work with cam­paign­ing journ­al­ists who fought both for their sources and the prin­ciple of press free­dom. Even when Shayler went pub­lic in the late 1990s, he had no option but to work with the estab­lished media.

From per­son­al exper­i­ence, I can attest to the fact that this is not always a pain­less exper­i­ence. With a few hon­or­able excep­tions, most of the journ­al­ists will just asset-strip their whis­tleblowers for inform­a­tion. They make their careers, while the whis­tleblower breaks theirs.

Plus, There are many ways our soi-dis­ant free press can be manip­u­lated and con­trolled by the spies. The soft power involves induct­ing journ­al­ists to be agents of influ­ence with­in their organ­isa­tion, or cosy chats between edit­ors and spies, or pro­pri­et­ors and top spies – that is how stor­ies can be spun or dis­ap­peared.

The hard power is extens­ive too — the applic­a­tion of laws such as libel, counter-ter­ror­ism laws, injunc­tions, and also the use of the OSA against journ­al­ists them­selves. Or even blatant intim­id­a­tion, as happened after The Guard­i­an news­pa­per pub­lished the early Snowden dis­clos­ures – the police went in and phys­ic­ally smashed up the hard drives con­tain­ing his inform­a­tion.

All this casts that well known chilling effect on the free­dom of the press and the free-flow of inform­a­tion from the gov­ern­ment to the gov­erned, which is so vital for an informed and par­ti­cip­at­ory cit­izenry.

Which brings me back to Wikileaks. Estab­lished in 2007, this provides a secure and high-tech con­duit for whis­tleblowers that gives them more con­trol and securely stores the doc­u­ments to prove their alleg­a­tions. This is also why the US gov­ern­ment saw it as such a threat and has pur­sued it in such a dra­coni­an and pun­it­ive way over the years since the first big rev­el­a­tions in 2010. Iron­ic­ally, this is also partly why much of the tra­di­tion­al media turned on Wikileaks – it threatened the old media busi­ness mod­el.

But from a whistleblower’s per­spect­ive, Wikileaks and its suc­cessors offer a brave new world. The tech­no­lo­gic­al genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

There is, of course, anoth­er pos­sible path. The intel­li­gence agen­cies could estab­lish mean­ing­ful chan­nels for vent­il­a­tion of staff con­cerns, where the evid­ence is prop­erly invest­ig­ated and reforms made as neces­sary. Hav­ing such a sound pro­ced­ure in place to address con­cerns strikes me as a win-win scen­ario for staff effi­ciency and mor­ale, the organisation’s oper­a­tion­al cap­ab­il­ity and repu­ta­tion, and poten­tially the wider pub­lic safety too.

How­ever, unless and until secret­ive gov­ern­ment­al organ­isa­tions insti­tute such legit­im­ate and effect­ive aven­ues for poten­tial whis­tleblowers to go down, embar­rass­ing dis­clos­ures will con­tin­ue. Nobody sets out to be a whis­tleblower but, absent effect­ive reforms, they will remain our reg­u­lat­ors of last resort.

The NSA and Guantanamo Bay

Yes­ter­day The Inter­cept released more doc­u­ments from the Edward Snowden trove.  These high­lighted the hitherto sus­pec­ted by unproven involve­ment of the NSA in Guantanamo Bay, extraordin­ary rendi­tion, tor­ture and inter­rog­a­tion.

Here is my inter­view on RT about the sub­ject:

Snowden dis­clos­ures about NSA and Guantanamo from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Karma Police

As I type this I am listen­ing to one of my all-time favour­ite albums, Radiohead’s sem­in­al “OK, Com­puter”, that was released in spring 1997. The first time I heard it I was spell­bound by its edgi­ness, com­plex­ity, exper­i­ment­al­ism and polit­ic­al over­tones. My part­ner at the time, Dav­id Shayler, took longer to get it. Self-admit­tedly tone deaf, he nev­er under­stood what he laugh­ingly called the “music con­spir­acy” where people just “got” a new album and played it to death.

ST_Spies_on_the_RunHis opin­ion changed drastic­ally over the sum­mer of ’97 after we had blown the whistle on a series of crimes com­mit­ted by the UK’s spy agen­cies. As a res­ult of our actions — the first reports appeared in the Brit­ish media on 24 July 1997 — we had fled the coun­try and gone on the run around Europe for a month. At the end of this sur­real back­pack­ing hol­i­day I returned to the UK to face arrest, pack up our ran­sacked home, and try to com­fort our trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies who had known noth­ing of our whis­tleblow­ing plans.

OK, Com­puter” was the soundtrack to that month spent on the run across the Neth­er­lands, Bel­gi­um, France and Spain. Tak­ing ran­dom trains, mov­ing from hotel to hotel, and using false names, our lives were dis­lo­cated and unreal. So in each hotel room we tried to recre­ate a sense of home­li­ness — some candles, a bottle of wine, natch, and some music. In the two small bags, into which I had packed the essen­tials for our unknown future life, I had man­aged to squeeze in my port­able CD play­er (remem­ber those?), tiny speak­ers and a few cher­ished CDs. Such are the pri­or­it­ies of youth.

The joy of Radi­o­head broke upon Dav­id dur­ing that month — par­tic­u­larly the track “Exit Music (for a Film)”, which encap­su­lated our feel­ings as we fled the UK togeth­er. Once we were holed up in a prim­it­ive French farm­house for the year after our month on the run, this was the album that we listened to last thing at night, hold­ing onto each oth­er tightly to ward off the cold and fear. Rev­el­ling in the music, we also drew strength from the dis­sid­ent tone of the lyr­ics.

So it was with some mirth­ful incredu­lity that I yes­ter­day read on The Inter­cept that GCHQ named one of its most ini­quit­ous pro­grammes after one of the clas­sic songs from the album — “Karma Police”.

In case you missed this, the basic premise of GCHQ was to devel­op a sys­tem that could snoop on all our web searches and thereby build up a pro­file of each of our lives online — our interests, our pec­ca­dilloes, our polit­ics, our beliefs. The pro­gramme was developed between 2007 and 2008 and was deemed func­tion­al in 2009. Who knows what inform­a­tion GCHQ has sucked up about you, me, every­one, since then?

As I have said many times over the years since Snowden and who knows how many oth­ers began to expose the out-of-con­trol spy agen­cies, this is dis­pro­por­tion­ate in soi-dis­sent demo­cra­cies. It is cer­tainly not law­ful by any stretch of the ima­gin­a­tion. UK gov­ern­ment­al war­rants — which are sup­posed to reg­u­late and if neces­sary cir­cum­scribe the activ­it­ies of the spy snoop­ers — have repeatedly been egre­giously abused.

They are sup­posed to make a case for tar­geted sur­veil­lance of people sus­pec­ted of being a threat to the UK’s nation­al secur­ity or eco­nom­ic well-being. The war­rants, blindly signed by the Home or For­eign Sec­ret­ary, are not designed to author­ise the indus­tri­al inter­cep­tion of everyone’s com­mu­nic­a­tions. This is a crime, plain and simple, and someone should be held to account.

Talk­ing of crimes, after a month on the run with Dav­id, I returned (as I had always planned to do) to the UK. I knew that I would be arres­ted, purely on the grounds that I had been an MI5 officer and was Dav­id Shayler’s girl­friend and had sup­por­ted his whis­tleblow­ing activ­it­ies. In fact my law­yer, John Wadham who was the head of the UK’s civil liber­ties uni­on, Liberty, had nego­ti­ated with the police for my return to the UK and hand myself into the police for ques­tion­ing. He flew out to Bar­celona to accom­pany me back to the UK almost exactly eight­een years ago today.

Annie_arrestDes­pite the pre-agree­ments, I was arres­ted at the immig­ra­tion desk at Gatwick air­port by six burly Spe­cial Branch police officers and then driv­en by them up to the counter-ter­ror­ism inter­view room in Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don, where I was inter­rog­ated for the max­im­um six hours before being released with no charge.

The music play­ing on the radio dur­ing this drive from the air­port to my cell? Radiohead’s “Karma Police”.

One can but hope that karma will come into play. But per­haps the end­ing of “Exit Music…”  is cur­rently more per­tin­ent — we hope that you choke, that you choke.….

After all, the spies do seem to be chok­ing on an over­load of hoovered-up intel­li­gence — pretty much every “ISIS-inspired” attack in the west over the last couple of years has reportedly been car­ried out by people who have long been on the radar of the spies.  Too much inform­a­tion can indeed be bad for our secur­ity, our pri­vacy and our safety.

German Netzpolitik journalists investigated for treason

Press free­dom is under threat in Ger­many — two journ­al­ists and their alleged source are under invest­ig­a­tion for poten­tial treas­on for dis­clos­ing and report­ing what appears to be an illeg­al and secret plan to spy on Ger­man cit­izens. Here’s the inter­view I did for RT​.com about this yes­ter­day:

Ger­man Net­zpolitik journ­al­ists face treas­on charges from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Sky News Interview about Whistleblowers

This is an inter­view I did on Sky News in the after­math of the Tri­dent whis­tleblower case.

I won­der what has become of Wil­li­am McNeilly, now the media spot­light has moved on?

Sky_News_Whistleblower_Interview from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Anything to Say? unveiled in Berlin

Last week artist Dav­ide Dormino unveiled his sculp­ture cel­eb­rat­ing whis­tleblowers in Alex­an­der­platz, Ber­lin.

Called “Any­thing to Say?”, the sculp­ture depicts Chelsea Man­ning, Edward Snowden and Juli­an Assange stand­ing on three chairs, with an empty fourth chair beside them, upon which we are all encour­aged to stand up on and speak our truth.

Dav­ide invited me to do just that for the unveil­ing cere­mony, along with Ger­man MP for the Green Party and whis­tleblower sup­port­er, Hans Chris­ti­an Stroebele and Wikileaks’ Sarah Har­ris­on. Here’s a report:

Anything_to_Say?_sculpture_unveiled_in_Berlin from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Whistleblower panel discussion at Logan Symposium

Here is a pan­el dis­cus­sion I did about whis­tleblow­ing at the Logan Sym­posi­um in Lon­don last Novem­ber. With me on the pan­el are Eileen Chubb, a UK health care whis­tleblower who runs Com­pas­sion in Care and is cam­paign­ing for Edna’s Law, and Bea Edwards of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject.  With thanks to @newsPeekers for film­ing this.

news­Peek­sLIVE whis­tleblower inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.