My RNN interview — Snowden disclosures cause outrage across EU

Here is a recent inter­view I did for the Real News Net­work about the glob­al and European fall-out from the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures:

And here’s a ver­sion with the text.

Interview, Czech National Radio

Here is a link to an in-depth inter­view I did recently at the Czech nation­al radio sta­tion in Prague.

As a Dir­ect­or of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP), I was invited to Prague by the pro­gress­ive Czech Nation­al Drug Co-ordin­at­or, Jindrich Vobor­il, to speak at a drugs con­fer­ence in the Czech Par­lia­ment.

The Lindmo Show, Norway

Fol­low­ing on from my talk at the Nor­we­gi­an SKUP invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in March, I was invited onto the Anne Lindmo Show in Nor­way on 4 May.

Anne is one of the most fam­ous and respec­ted journ­al­ists in Nor­way, and her chat show is extremely pop­u­lar on prime time NRK TV on Fri­day nights.  We had a lively ses­sion dis­cuss­ing the world of spy­ing, what it was like to blow the whistle and go on the run, and the per­son­al price that has to be paid.

Here’s the link to the whole show, and here’s my seg­ment:

Lindmo inter­view on Nor­we­gi­an TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Talks in Sweden and Norway

Off on my travels again at the end of the week, with two key­notes at Scand­inavi­an journ­al­ism con­fer­ences.

Grav_logo I shall first be speak­ing at the Grav con­fer­ence in Sweden on Fri­day 23 March.

SKUP_2012Top­ics under dis­cus­sion will include everything from secur­ity and intel­li­gence to the war on ter­ror, civil liber­ties to eth­ics and media freedoms, gov­ern­ment account­ab­il­ity to whis­tleblow­ing and Wikileaks.

On Sat­urday I travel on to Nor­way to speak at the SKUP con­fer­ence to give a talk and also on Sunday morn­ing to par­ti­cip­ate in a pan­el dis­cus­sion about all things whis­tleblow­ing and Wikileaks. I gath­er that such dis­cus­sions can get quite, um, lively.

I’m look­ing for­ward to an inter­est­ing and stim­u­lat­ing week­end.

Mediafabric talk, Prague, October 2011

Last Octo­ber I had the pleas­ure of speak­ing at the excel­lent Medi­afab­ric con­fer­ence in Prague.  The focus of my talk was the future of intel­li­gence, whis­tleblow­ing and journ­al­ism.

The event was organ­ised by Source­fab­ric, an inter­na­tion­al organ­isa­tion that provides open source tools and solu­tions for journ­al­ists, so it was an eclect­ic and stim­u­lat­ing crowd of journ­al­ists, geeks, hack­tav­ists and design­ers.   So well done and thank you to the organ­isers.

Here’s the video:

Durham Union Society Talk, 16 February 2011

DUS_logo It’s a busy couple of months for talks, and I have the pleas­ure of speak­ing at the Durham Uni­on Soci­ety tomor­row night (16th Feb­ru­ary).

My talk will be focus­ing on the mod­ern role of intel­li­gence agen­cies, the war on ter­ror, what it’s like to be recruited to work as a spook, whis­tleblow­ing, Wikileaks, police states and civil liber­ties.  An eclect­ic mix.

The talk is open to all stu­dents, not just mem­bers of the Uni­on, so if you’re in the area and have the time, do come along!

The murder of Pat Finucane

Mov­ing swiftly past the pruri­ent, thigh-rub­bing glee that most of the old media seems to be exhib­it­ing over the alleged details of Juli­an Assange’s love life, let’s re-focus on the heart of the Wikileaks dis­clos­ures, and most import­antly the aims under­pin­ning them: trans­par­ency, justice, and an informed cit­izenry liv­ing with­in fully-func­tion­ing demo­cra­cies.  Such quaint notions.

In the media mael­strom of the Cableg­ate dis­clos­ures, and the res­ult­ing infant­ile and thug­gish threats of the Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al class, is easy to lose sight of the fact that many of the leaked doc­u­ments refer to scan­dals, cor­rup­tion and cov­er-ups in a range of coun­tries, not just the good old US of A.

Pat_FinucaneOne doc­u­ment that recently caught my atten­tion related to the notori­ous murder twenty-one years ago of civil rights act­iv­ist, Pat Finu­cane, in North­ern Ire­land.  Finu­cane was a well-known law­yer who was shot and killed in front of his wife and three small chil­dren.  There has long been spec­u­la­tion that he was tar­geted by Prot­est­ant ter­ror­ist groups, in col­lu­sion with the NI secret police, the army’s notori­ous and now-dis­ban­ded Forces Research Unit (FRU), and/or MI5.

Well, over a dec­ade ago former top plod, Lord (John) Stevens, began an inquiry that did indeed estab­lish such state col­lu­sion, des­pite hav­ing his inquiry offices burnt out in the pro­cess by person/s allegedly unknown half-way through the invest­ig­a­tion.  Stevens fought on, pro­du­cing a damning report in 2003 con­firm­ing the notion of state col­lu­sion with Irish Loy­al­ist ter­ror­ist activ­it­ies, but nev­er did cla­ri­fy exactly what had happened to poor Pat Finu­cane.

How­ever, Finucane’s trau­mat­ised fam­ily has nev­er stopped demand­ing justice.  The recent dis­clos­ure shines a light on some of the back-room deals around this scan­dal, and for that I’m sure many people thank Wikileaks.

The “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land — such a quint­es­sen­tially Brit­ish under­state­ment, in any oth­er coun­try it would have been called a civil war — were decept­ive, murky and vicious on both sides.  “Col­lu­sion” is an elast­ic word that stretches bey­ond the strict notion of the state.  It is well-known that the US organ­is­tion, NORAID, sup­por­ted by many Amer­ic­ans claim­ing Irish ances­try, was a major fun­drais­ing chan­nel for, um, Sinn Féin, the polit­ic­al wing of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA, from the 1970s onwards. 

Peter_kingSuch net­works provided even more sup­port than Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya with his arms ship­ments, and the cash well only dried up post-9/11.  As you can see in this recent art­icle in the The Tele­graph, even the incom­ing Chair­man of the House Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, New York Con­gress­man Peter King (who iron­ic­ally called for the des­ig­na­tion of Wkileaks as a “for­eign ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion”) appears to have been a life long sup­port­er of Sinn Féin.

With this in the back of our minds, it appears that Dub­lin and Wash­ing­ton kept push­ing for a full inquiry into Finucane’s murder — and in 2005 it looked like MI5 would finally co-oper­ate

How­ever, the dev­il was in the detail. Coin­cid­ent­ally, 2005 was the year that the UK gov­ern­ment rushed through a new law, the Inquir­ies Act, which scan­dal­ously allowed any depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion (in this case MI5) to dic­tate the terms and scope of the inquiry. 

Col­lu­sion by any state in the unlaw­ful arrest, tor­ture, and extraju­di­cial murder of people — wheth­er its own cit­izens or oth­ers — is state ter­ror­ism.  Let’s not mince our words here.  Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al provides a clear defin­i­tion of this concept.

As the The Guard­i­an  art­icle about Finu­cane so succintly puts it:

When a state sanc­tions the killing of cit­izens, in par­tic­u­lar cit­izens who are law­yers, it puts the rule of law and demo­cracy in jeop­ardy. And when a state enlists aux­il­i­ary assas­sins, it cedes its mono­poly over state secrets: it may feel omni­po­tent, but it is also vul­ner­able to dis­clos­ure.”

Mercenaries1Indeed.  North­ern Ire­land was like a Petri dish of human rights abuses: tor­ture, Dip­lock courts (aka mil­it­ary tribunals), kid­nap­pings, curfews, shoot-to-kill, inform­ers, and state col­lu­sion in assas­sin­a­tions.

The infec­tion has now spread.  These are pre­cisely the tac­tics cur­rently used by the US, the UK and their “aux­il­i­ary assas­sins” across great swathes of the Middle East.  Per­haps this explains why our nation states have been out­flanked and have ceded their mono­poly over secrets.

Will justice ever be done?  In the past I would have said, sadly, that would be highly unlikely.  How­ever,  cour­ageous organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks and its ilk are improv­ing the odds.

The Ghost of Daniel Ellsberg

Pentagon_papers This is an excel­lent art­icle from a European tech­no­logy strategist and futur­ist.  It suc­cinctly sums up all that is wrong with the old media’s cov­er­age of the Wikileaks story over the last year, where people obsess about the tech­no­logy, the web­site and the per­son­al life of Juli­an Assange.

As the art­icle says, we should be focus­ing on the core issues: illeg­al wars, war crimes, murder, tor­ture, cor­por­ate and polit­ic­al cor­rup­tion, and dip­lo­mat­ic dupli­city.

Let’s address the mes­sage, not attack the mes­sen­ger, and cer­tainly not the medi­um.

 

 

RTTV interview — in defence of Wikileaks

On 6 Decem­ber I appeared on RTTV’s CrossTalk dis­cus­sion pro­gramme along­side whis­tleblow­ing UK ex-dip­lo­mat Carne Ross, to talk about the implic­a­tions of Wikileaks:

 

 

ETH0 Hacker Camp, January 2009

In Janu­ary 2009 I was invited to talk at ETH0, a small but select hack­er camp held in the wilds of the Neth­er­lands.  The crowd was young, hip, informed — and very inter­ested in the use and abuse of intel­li­gence and par­tic­u­larly the erosion of our most basic civil liber­ties.   Events like this give me hope.

Some of the organ­isers are also involved in plan­ning a major techno-polit­ic­al hack­er fest­iv­al, Hack­ing at Ran­dom, in NL this sum­mer.   An event not to be missed!

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.

 

Emel Magazine, November 2007

Inter­view in Emel Magazine, Novem­ber 2007

Table Talk

Espi­on­age, intrigue and life-on-the-run are all part and par­cel of Annie Machon’s his­tory. Sad­ia Chow­dhury speaks to the former MI5 agent about the con­sequences of expos­ing what goes on behind the scenes at one of the world’s most renowned secret
ser­vices.

It was the Sat­urday night of the August bank-hol­i­day  week­end in 1997 when Annie Machon and her boy­friend packed their bags and took the first two seats they could find out of Bri­tain.  They had spent the last ten months of
their lives try­ing to settle into their new jobs know­ing that a day would come when they would blow the whistle on  their former employ­er
and turn their lives upside down.

Machon had turned her back on a six-year career as a spy to stand by the man she loved.  Her boy­friend was Dav­id Shayler, a high-fly­ing MI5 officer who exposed, what he said, was the Intel­li­gence Service’s plot to assas­sin­ate the Liby­an lead­er, Muam­mar Gad­dafi.

The two are no longer togeth­er but as we meet for cof­fee in a Lon­don hotel, Machon shows no regret at the way things took shape.  Dressed entirely in black, it’s her sun­shine blonde hair that lights up an oth­er­wise dull back­ground to the city’s scaf­fold-clad land­scape.

Her life as an MI5 officer was no James Bond film, but you can still see that Machon is the per­fect spy.  With an unsus­pect­ing face and a hand­shake that feels like you have known her all your life, the 39 year old cam­paign­er res­cinds the myth of the glam­or­ous, mar­tini-sip­ping spy world.  “No, it’s much, much more mundane”, she laments before telling me that much of the job can con­sti­tute mind numb­ing behind-the-desk work.

But unknown to Machon at the time, a career that star­ted off as a simple applic­a­tion to work for the For­eign Office, soon developed into a plot fit for a block­buster Hol­ly­wood movie.

My first reac­tion was ‘It’s MI5!’  I was really quite frightened”, she says, recall­ing a let­ter from the Min­istry of Defence which offered her altern­at­ive jobs with the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices.  “My fath­er was with me when I opened the lat­ter and he just said ‘let’s see what hap­pens’. ”

What ‘happened’ was ten months of intens­ive applic­a­tion pro­cesses for the Cam­bridge Clas­sics stu­dent to under­go at the estab­lish­ment. Recov­er­ing from a post-Cold War repu­ta­tion marred with embar­rass­ing rev­el­a­tions and intel­li­gence fail­ures, Machon says her recruit­ers insisted they were aim­ing to work with­in the leg­al frame­work for the
first time.

It was 1990, only one year after the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act placed the Ser­vice on a stat­utory
basis: a fact that helped Machon believe what she was being told. “They were say­ing ‘we obey the law, we work with­in the law; we don’t do all the polit­ic­al stuff like we used to’.  But unfor­tu­nately my first post­ing was in the polit­ic­al sec­tion so I learnt quite quickly that they had lied to me.”

Machon con­fesses a scep­tic­al atti­tude soon developed after she was instruc­ted to uncov­er “old com­mun­ists” sum­mar­ising files on any­body who stood for par­lia­ment in the 1992 elec­tions.  Shar­ing her strong con­cerns was one Dav­id Shayler, a former Sunday Times journ­al­ist who had worked with her in F2, the counter-sub­ver­sion sec­tion of MI5.

With­in a year, the two fell in love — a bond that was to see them stand togeth­er against what she describes as a cata­logue of errors and crimes com­mit­ted by MI5.  “There was a lot of con­cern about how MI5 wasn’t obey­ing the law and how it was get­ting its pri­or­it­ies wrong,” Machon says, hasten­ing to add that oth­er officers had approached man­age­ment with their con­cerns only to be told to shut up.  “Most organ­isa­tions are pyr­am­id shaped and MI5 has this bulge in the middle, full of man­agers who aren’t going any­where because they’re not very good at their jobs.  But they don’t get sacked and they were the ones block­ing a lot of the new ideas that were com­ing in.”

One con­sequence of this incom­pet­ence, Machon explains, left MI5 with blood on its hands. Machon and Shayler were moved to T Branch, where they worked on coun­ter­ing Irish ter­ror­ist threats.  Shayler was to claim later that MI5 could have pre­ven­ted the 1993 IRA bomb­ing of Bish­opsgate in the City of Lon­don, which left one dead and 44 injured.

You’re in the fir­ing line,” Machon tells me plainly, paus­ing a moment as the wait­ress brings cof­fee to our table.  She goes on to describe the events that lead her to leave MI5 before slowly push­ing down on the fil­ter.  It was still the early 1990s and Machon’s part­ner Shayler was now head of the Liby­an desk, respons­ible for ‘Middle East­ern ter­ror­ism’.

He was allegedly briefed by his MI6 coun­ter­part about a plot to assas­sin­ate the Liby­an lead­er.  It is thought the plan involved fund­ing and equip­ping a Liby­an oppos­i­tion group which Machon describes as an “Islam­ic extrem­ist net­work” to carry out the deed.  In March 1996, a bomb exploded in the coastal city of Sirte, miss­ing Gaddafi’s motor­cade but killing sev­er­al civil­ians.  Shayler claimed that MI6 had been involved in the failed assas­sin­a­tion attack without the author­isa­tion of the then for­eign sec­ret­ary — as
required under Eng­lish and inter­na­tion­al law.  The Intel­li­gence Ser­vices denied any involve­ment in this, or sev­er­al oth­er cases that Shayler accuses the Ser­vice of being com­pli­cit in.  One of those incid­ents took place in July 1994, when a car bomb exploded out­side the Israeli embassy in Lon­don injur­ing 20 people: an attack Shayler says had pri­or know­ledge of and could have pre­ven­ted.

Half-way through her cof­fee, Machon goes back to the events of 1996 when she and Shayler decided to leave.  “It was incre­ment­al because you got pos­ted every two years to a new sec­tion and you think ‘okay, that sec­tion was wrong but the new sec­tion has dif­fer­ent man­agers and is going to be bet­ter’.  But we moved three times and every time we saw the same mis­takes hap­pen.  Then the Gad­dafi plot pushed our decision to leave.”  Nor was it just Shayler and Machon who quit the Intel­li­gence Ser­vice that year.  Four­teen oth­er officers who had all been recruited around the same time left MI5 in the same year — up from an aver­age of two or three depar­tures a year.

It took about a year to get the whole thing work­ing.  After about ten months, we got this
phone call — Dav­id was called by The Mail on Sunday to meet the edit­or and we were giv­en three days notice that our lives were going to be turned upside down.”  Machon recalls how the Mail’s edit­or offered Shayler cash to leave the coun­try and avoid arrest.
“At that stage after a year of build-up, we just packed up and left.

The couple flew out to Hol­land, then on to France, spend­ing the next month on the run mov­ing from hotel to hotel almost every night.  Machon then decided to return to the UK, and doesn’t hes­it­ate as she relates the story — one she’s prob­ably told a thou­sand times but one that still brings a look of amuse­ment to her face.  “I flew back with my law­yer John
Wadham, head of Liberty, the human rights organ­isa­tion.  He had already told the police that I was com­ing back — on which flight, at what time, and that I was going to hand myself in.  So it was a bit of a shock to be met at immig­ra­tion by six Spe­cial Branch officers who pulled me off to a counter-ter­ror­ism suite in Char­ing Cross police sta­tion!”

Machon was released after a day of ques­tion­ing and a week later joined Shayler back in
France.  “We had ten months holed up in this freez­ing cold, really remote farm house.  And dur­ing that time we tried to nego­ti­ate with the gov­ern­ment say­ing ‘look, we have all this oth­er evid­ence to give you so you can build an enquiry’, but they just strung it out, kept us quiet, and did noth­ing.”

It was a par­tic­u­larly stress­ful time for both Shayler and Machon; as whis­tleblowers they had depended on sup­port from the press, but with Diana’s death just a week after their story broke, Machon says they lost the sup­port that had been build­ing amongst the media.  “We didn’t know what to do.  We had no chance of get­ting anoth­er job because once you blow the whistle, oth­er big organ­isa­tions don’t trust you.”  But does she regret what she did?  “No.  You can’t regret any­thing in life.  I am still proud of what Dav­id and I did.  Someone has got to take a stand some­times.”

The ques­tion is of course, wheth­er she will have trouble tak­ing that stand now: espe­cially as after a dec­ade since The Mail on Sunday art­icle was released and after hav­ing spent years on the run togeth­er, Machon and Shayler split up last year.  Dav­id Shayler now lives in Devon and fre­quents the media over a dif­fer­ent rev­el­a­tion:  his recent con­vic­tion that he is the Mes­si­ah.  In a recent tele­vi­sion appear­ance he said “As the Holy Spir­it is God incarn­ate as essence, I am God incarn­ated as spir­it and man.”  Machon takes a moment to con­tem­plate and in reac­tion to my ques­tion simply says, “The stress just got to him.”  Her answers now become short­er and short­er.  “We sep­ar­ated last year”, before adding, “I’m sure even­tu­ally we’ll regain our friend­ship.”

But doesn’t Machon think her former partner’s claims will ruin their cred­ib­il­ity?  “I think yes, it has des­troyed his cred­ib­il­ity and I think that’s tra­gic.  It’s a gift for the intel­li­gence agency — they can turn around and say ‘oh, well, he always was mad — he’s a fan­tas­ist’,
which is unfor­tu­nate because what we were talk­ing about was so import­ant in terms of where our demo­cracy is and who really runs this coun­try.”

A final sip of cof­fee con­cludes our meet­ing as Machon pre­pares to leave the grey city­scape back­drop for yet anoth­er appoint­ment.  Though scorn of recent rev­el­a­tions seeks to under­mine what the two ex-spies were fight­ing for, when it comes to strug­gling to unveil the truth, Annie Machon for one can­not be as eas­ily dis­missed.

August 2000 — Telegraph Interview

He’s got nothing to hide, says girlfriend

DAVID SHAYLER’S girl­friend says she has no regrets about giv­ing up her luc­rat­ive career in the City to spend three years “on the run” with a man widely denounced as a self-pub­li­cist.

Annie Machon, 32, her­self a former MI5 officer and a Cam­bridge clas­sics gradu­ate, gave up her job as a man­age­ment con­sult­ant to join Shayler in his self-imposed exile. She said yes­ter­day “You don’t sac­ri­fice that amount of time and give up your whole life for someone who just wants to have a bit of fun and do this for pub­li­city,” .

I went on the record, ini­tially, because of all the mis­in­form­a­tion that was com­ing out about him, back­room brief­ings, all sorts of lies, that he was unem­ployed, that he was denied pro­mo­tion, that he wasn’t up to the job, even that he was sacked from MI5.

I haven’t had much sleep,” she said after Shayler’s release on bail from Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don. “I have been quite appre­hens­ive for some weeks, since we decided we should try to come back. Obvi­ously neither of us knew what to expect. He’s got noth­ing to hide. He wants to put his case to push for more open­ness.

It’s good that people are pick­ing up on his cause and are begin­ning to talk about the issues he’s raised, rather than about his per­son­al­ity.” Money paid for a news­pa­per exclus­ive about his story sus­tained the two for most of their exile. They sub­sist now on his weekly column in Punch magazine.

But she feels neither can go back to their jobs as man­age­ment con­sult­ants, which they took after they left MI5. “I think things have changed so much and we’ve been through so much it would be very dif­fi­cult to go back three years to what we were then.”

The two have been togeth­er for sev­en and a half years since meet­ing in an MI5 lib­rary, but there is no talk of mar­riage. Instead, she seems con­tent with social nor­mal­ity instead of a life spent look­ing over her shoulder. Return­ing to Lon­don with a media cir­cus in train is a very dif­fer­ent exper­i­ence from when she skulked through the cap­it­al, expect­ing to be fol­lowed, bugged or arres­ted.

It’s been three years almost to the day,” she said, “and it has def­in­itely taken an emo­tion­al toll. In fact, the stress of the whole thing has been quite intense.”

Last night, she and Shayler were plan­ning a quiet fam­ily din­ner. “It will be the first time in three years that we have been able to dine out openly togeth­er in Bri­tain,” she said. “I hope there will be no more look­ing over our shoulders.”

Guardian Interview 2000 — No place to hide

The Sabine Dur­rant inter­view with me in The Guard­i­an, April 2000
No place to hide

How big a price can a woman pay for stand­ing by her man? The part­ner of exiled MI6 whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler lives and loves on the run — with Big Broth­er watch­ing her every move

Annie Machon and her boy­friend, Dav­id Shayler, the former MI5 officers now liv­ing in Par­is, have got used to feel­ing watched. Their phone plays up. Their emails go miss­ing. Even the walls of their flat seem to look down on them. If they want to dis­cuss “an issue”, they find a safe café to do it in. A dif­fer­ent one each time? “Of course,” says Machon with a slight curve to her lips. And in bed? “We have dis­cussed that, yes,” she says. “You just try and blank it out and get on with your life.”

She is poised and con­trolled. She remains cool even when recall­ing “sweaty cop­pers” read­ing out her love let­ters in the course of an  inter­rog­a­tion. Even when describ­ing the state of her under­wear (“inside out, with the crotches turned up as if they’d been sniff­ing them”) after their flat in Pimlico had been searched.

Machon, who is 31, has been at Shayler’s side since he fled to France in 1997 to escape pro­sec­u­tion for break­ing the Offi­cial Secrets Act when his claims of MI5 incom­pet­ence were first pub­lished in a Sunday news­pa­per. They packed for a fort­night. They’ve been gone two and a half years.

Shayler is a straight­for­ward love or hate fig­ure. He is either the whis­tleblower, fired by mor­al pur­pose to draw atten­tion to bungling with­in the intel­li­gence ser­vices, from rev­el­a­tions that they mon­itored “sub­vers­ives” includ­ing such threats to nation­al secur­ity as Har­riet Har­man and the reg­gae band UB40, to his more recent alleg­a­tions that MI6 was behind an illeg­al assas­sin­a­tion attempt on Muam­mar Gadafy, the Liby­an pres­id­ent. Or, as MI5 would have it (in an inter­est­ing mélange of con­tra­dic­tions), he is the trait­or, the self-pub­li­cist, the break­er of offi­cial secrets, the fan­tas­ist.

Machon has remained a much more enig­mat­ic fig­ure. At first she was just “Shayler’s girl­friend”. With her blonde hair and big blue eyes, she looked like a deb, a nurs­ery school teach­er, caught up in events bey­ond her con­trol. A former MI5 officer her­self, she made no dir­ect alleg­a­tions while sup­port­ing Shayler in his. But this may not have been cau­tion so much as sound man­age­ment.

Unlike Shayler (who spent four months in jail before extra­di­tion pro­ceed­ings failed; he is now being sued in the civil courts) she is at liberty to come and go in Bri­tain. “It’s import­ant that I remain free to travel, import­ant I remain out of reproach.”

Machon was in Lon­don to deliv­er to Scot­land Yard a dossier sup­port­ing Shayler’s Gadafy claims (an MI6 file recently pos­ted on the inter­net also appears to con­firm the alleg­a­tions). She holds press con­fer­ences. She meets with MPs. With law­yers. She wants account­ab­il­ity. She wants free­dom of expres­sion. She wants amnesty. She wants Shayler to be listened to. Taken ser­i­ously. To be allowed home. Then she wants to be left alone.

We meet at Vaux­hall under­ground sta­tion, close by the MI6 build­ing, although she doesn’t
want to hang around long. The closest café is too close. She walks very fast to the next. She doesn’t look over her shoulder once. She sees con­nec­tions where oth­ers might see blank walls. There are advert­ise­ments for laptops nearby. She refers to the recent stor­ies of the mugged MI5 officer, whose laptop was nicked and the drunk­en MI6 officer who mis­laid his. “What a coin­cid­ence,” she smiles sar­don­ic­ally. If she and Shayler win their case, she says she doesn’t think they’ll ever come back to Lon­don. “Dave would feel quite uncom­fort­able liv­ing here,” she says. “I would too. It’s just that sense of unease all the time.”

She is all in black, although her nails are gold. She is pale and slim, unlike Shayler whose plump­ness in pho­to­graphs can make him look like a yob. (“He put on weight at MI5, actu­ally. Social­ising after work — that drink­ing cul­ture he talked about — and also a sense
of unease. He eats when he’s feel­ing stressed. He’s joined a health club now. He swims nearly every day.”)

It’s not the only reas­on they seem an unlikely couple. A Middles­brough boy, with work­ing-class roots, Shayler is said to be chippy about pub­lic-school Oxbridge types.

Machon, who is the daugh­ter of a pilot turned news­pa­per­man, and from an old Guern­sey fam­ily, went to a private girls’ school and then to Cam­bridge, where she stud­ied clas­sics. “Yes, yes, I know. I think he did think I was a bit posh at first, but he squared it with the fact that I was a schol­ar­ship girl. Also we both moved around a lot when we were young. We had that in com­mon.”

Machon says that as soon as they met in an MI5 lib­rary they made each oth­er laugh and that their rela­tion­ship is “pas­sion­ate”. There are hints of that in her story. The night before she came back to Eng­land for the first time, sus­pect­ing she would be arres­ted, but not sure wheth­er they would con­fis­cate her pass­port, they lay in bed and held each oth­er and cried, “not know­ing when we would see each oth­er again”. Then, after 10 months in hid­ing at a farm­house in south-west France, when he was sud­denly taken into cus­tody, for days she walked around with “no one’s hand in mine”.

Inter­est­ingly, too, while Machon looks as though but­ter wouldn’t melt in her mouth,
she found out soon after join­ing MI5 (after sit­ting the for­eign office exams), that  psy­cho­lo­gic­al pro­fil­ing had marked her out as a mav­er­ick. “I was hav­ing a bit of a debate with my man­ager in the office and she said, ‘I’ve been warned about you’.” She smiles enig­mat­ic­ally. “I was quite flattered.”

She and Shayler had already left MI5 when Shayler decided to go pub­lic, both had nice well-paid jobs as man­age­ment con­sult­ants. They had a nice social life, nice Pimlico flat.
She didn’t want him to go to the papers. “It wasn’t so much doubt as fear. I knew they’d come after us and I knew what they could do against us. If you’ve worked for MI5 it doesn’t help your para­noia, put it that way.”

She slips a light­er out of her cigar­ette pack­et and lights up. “And I must say I was shown to be right. Not that I’d ever say I told you so to Dave.”

The papers ran the story on a bank hol­i­day week­end. Machon and Shayler got the last plane out of Heath­row on the Sat­urday night, to Ams­ter­dam. They braced them­selves. Then Diana, Prin­cess of Wales was killed. “In one sense it was a relief because the pres­sure was taken off us. In anoth­er it was ter­rible. An injunc­tion had been put on the paper and if she hadn’t died, Fleet Street would have been up in arms about gag­ging the free press, they would have been more bal­anced in their assess­ment of Dave, demand­ing
inquir­ies. As it was, there were a lot of back­room brief­ings against him, say­ing he was a loud­mouth, unbal­anced, and we were bur­ied there.”

She uses the word “bur­ied” a lot. It’s hard to tell wheth­er it is a good thing or a bad thing for someone who needs pub­li­city (“it’s our only pro­tec­tion”) and yet longs to hide. On the run, they “bur­ied them­selves” in the French coun­tryside, a dif­fer­ent hotel every night, pay­ing cash.

After that they were “bur­ied” again in a remote farm­house near Per­pig­nan, “freez­ing cold, miles from the shops”, liv­ing off their £40,000 news­pa­per earn­ings, where Shayler wrote his nov­el (it has since been banned) and she kept house. The Brit­ish gov­ern­ment pre­ten­ded to nego­ti­ate with them, she says. “They thought we’d run out of money and rot abroad. They wanted to bury us.”

It was only when Shayler was in pris­on, when the worst had happened, that she got
her con­fid­ence back. “I found I was tough­er than I thought. Dave had always been the more ebul­li­ent char­ac­ter. And sud­denly when he was arres­ted, even though I was des­per­ately lonely, it was, ‘Right, you’ve got to do it.’”

Actu­ally, there was worse to come: an approach by an armed Liby­an a week after Shayler’s release. He offered a six-fig­ure sum in exchange for names linked to the Gadafy plot and evid­ence on Lock­er­bie (Shayler had been an expert). He fol­lowed them
when they refused. A few nights later their buzzer rang for five minutes in the night: “We cowered in the corner with our kit­chen knives.” They repor­ted the incid­ent to MI5, and were told it was a mat­ter for the French, who told them it was a mat­ter for the Brits.

What does Machon hope for now? She says she can’t think what to do with her life. “I’m a dif­fer­ent per­son to the one I was two years ago.” Maybe an old house in Nor­mandy: Shayler could con­tin­ue writ­ing, nov­els, his column for Punch.

What about chil­dren? “I don’t want those. Neither of us does. We nev­er have. I’m not at all mater­nal. I’ve nev­er felt the desire. My broth­er is 11 years young­er and I don’t have a
romantic view of chil­dren. I know what they’re like.”

I was going to sug­gest that when she hits her mid-30s she might change her mind, but then I saw the look in her eye and changes of mind didn’t seem to come into it.