Topic: Confessions of a MI5 whistleblower by Annie Machon

Confessions of a MI5 whistleblower Annie Machon - Part 1

I didn’t want to be a spy. In 1990, I was 21, and I wanted to have a job that would make a difference. So I sat the Foreign Office exams. But then I received a mysterious letter from the Ministry of Defence saying that “there were other jobs I might find more interesting” and there’s a phone number. I actually ended up ringing up this number because my father – he’s an investigative journalist – wanted to see if it was indeed MI5. “Oh go on, just see...”

They said that they wanted a ‘new generation’ intelligence officer who would be working against terrorist targets, that they no longer did the old “let’s investigate political activists” stuff because the Cold War was over, etc... But then I started there and my first post was in the political activism section, doing precisely what they said they no longer wanted to do. I could not understand how they saw these groups as a threat. It was a shock, and I seriously considered resigning towards the end of my time there.

That’s when my relationship with David Shayler started. He had been recruited as part of the same generation as me, and he was also shocked at the scale of it. But then the two of us were moved to the Irish section, where it felt like we could do some good because at that point the IRA was putting bombs down at will. But even then we saw so many things going wrong. And then we went to the Middle Eastern section and saw even worse things, which is why we resigned after only six years.

Shut up and follow orders

Throughout the recruitment process you are grilled about these ethical issues. Things like internment without trial, torture, shoot to kill... I was quite outspoken about it then and they said, “Well you know, we agree with you, we don’t do this sort of thing.” So when we found out that they did, many of us were unhappy. But when we spoke out, we were told, “Shut up, don’t rock the boat, just follow orders.”

There was an intergenerational problem. The management at that time had been under the Cold War era, gathering intelligence slowly and looking at “reds under the bed”, and suddenly they were managing groups who had been brought in to investigate terrorist targets, where you have to gather evidence that you can put people on trial for. It’s a very different skill set and the targets move much more quickly. So there was a cultural clash, and I think that’s where all this disaffectation came from.

David was the head of the Libya section between 1994-96 and he was briefed on the case that made us quit, which was the Gaddafi assassination plot. We decided that we had to do something, but it took more than just one day. There were a lot of heart-wringing episodes where we thought, “Why us?” because we knew we’d have to leave the UK, we knew we’d have to face prosecution and we knew we’d be unemployable afterwards… but it just felt like the right thing to do, I suppose.

We took the decision to go public in early 1996, and he resigned in autumn. He had already taken steps to approach the media – he decided on the Mail on Sunday because the owner of the Mail group at the time, Viscount Rothermere, was known to be very anti-intelligence agency. I wasn’t terribly involved in those early stages because David wanted to protect me. He acted as a buffer between me and them.

Life in exile

It took 10 months for the story to break. My understanding is that only three days beforehand they suddenly said, “This is what’s going to happen this weekend, what do you want to do? Get out of the country or what?” He said “yes”. They offered him a certain amount of money to live in exile for up to six months. Of course the establishment in the UK made great play of this and said, “Oh yes, he sold documents.” We actually offered to give it back if we could return to the UK without arrest and give evidence in parliament. MI5 refused.

We flew out on the morning of August 23, 1997, 12 hours ahead of the newspapers hitting the streets in the UK. There had already been certain indications that MI5 were beginning to get suspicious, so we were pretty strung out with tension. We felt like we couldn’t talk in our flats, we couldn’t even warn our families that we were going to do it. So the first they heard of it was on the front page of the newspaper with David’s picture on it. That was quite dramatic!

First we went to Amsterdam, then Utrecht. We moved around all over the Netherlands for the first week and fled all the way down the southwest of France to Bayonne. We wanted to get as far away from where they knew we were. Then we just moved around from town to town in the south of France and Spain, staying in cheap hotels, fake names, cash payments, the whole thing.

After a month, I went back to the UK for a week to pack up our flat. I was picked up at Gatwick airport and taken off to a counter-terrorism suite in London and grilled for a day. But they never charged me with anything – I was just David’s girlfriend at that point, I hadn’t done anything, so how could they? When I made it to our flat, I saw it had been smashed up in a raid; they had ripped it apart for no reason.

While I was in the UK, David found this little place to hide in the centre of France in Lachaux, which is in the middle of nowhere! We were sort of stuck there with no car, no TV, no nothing. It was surreal, actually, because on one hand we were supposed to be on the run but on the other hand we were living in this strange rural idyll. It was two kilometres outside the local village. We had a little van that came round once a week with food and things and the bread van every day, it was that primitive. So, from the centre of London to that was quite a culture shock!

Back then there was no Facebook, there was no Google, there was nothing. Whereas of course now if someone did this and you were on the run, it would make it more difficult … but then there would be much more media exposure of what you were saying and what you were doing, so it’s horses for courses I suppose.

David’s arrest

At that time, the most serious allegations had not yet been reported by the UK media because they were too scared of the Gaddafi plot, they wanted to try and investigate it themselves. So the early disclosures were only files on government ministers and activists, which were bad enough. The British government took out an injunction against the whole of the UK media, and David Shayler personally, to ban any new revelations in the summer of 1997.

Finally – after a year! – the BBC exposed the Gaddafi plot, in summer 1998. They had to submit the story for approval under the terms of the injunction. This happened on a Friday afternoon within two hours. We were in Paris at that point, working with the journalists on the story, so we were in a hotel. David went out, and he got arrested coming back in. The first I heard of it was the knock on the door from the DST saying, “We’ve got Mr. Shayler downstairs and you can’t see him.” I asked, “Are you arresting him?” and they said no, and I didn’t see him for two months. They said he was a traitor. But when the French got the paperwork from the British government, they realised he was actually a whistleblower, so then they eased up and let me see him in prison.

After four months, Dave was actually released by the French and we had another two years in Paris, got the stories out, more campaigning, etc. But then he decided to go back in 2000 to go on trial. It took two years and he was only ever charged with a very early disclosure, not the Gaddafi plot. Of course he was inevitably found guilty, there was no defence under UK law. Even the judge said what he had done lay in the public interest and he hadn’t done it for financial reasons. But if you work for the intelligence agency and you blow the whistle, you are guilty, that’s it. There’s a clear bright line.

He was sentenced to six months – but you can serve a third of your sentence if you are then electronically tagged, so he got it down to two months. It’s not that bad when you think he was facing six years with three charges. But, you know, to have your liberty taken away for exposing the crimes of others is difficult. The process was a very, very high price to pay even then. Now what whistleblowers are facing is 35 years in prison, at least in America. So the courage it takes for people to do that is huge.

The war on whistleblowers

The worst part of the whole thing was the media rape of reputations – that’s what it felt like. Where each media organisation has its agenda, doesn’t actually listen to the evidence of the whistleblower but wants to use it for whatever purposes and how it can be controlled and spun. The fact that David went to prison and took “his beating like a man” as the judge said was actually minor compared the reputation damage done to him forevermore.

People who blow the whistle have no experience, they’re virgins when it comes to the media. So what I try to do is explain to potential whistleblowers the issues they might need to think about before they go ahead. I think that seeing what Snowden did has shown that people do learn from earlier cases and do try to do it more safely and more effectively because the key thing is to get the message out. It’s not about narcissism or personal glory.

I have seen so many whistleblowers from different backgrounds... the whole idea is to crush them, destroy them. I think particularly coming out of intelligence you’re automatically criminalised. It’s even harder. There’s that polarisation of being a hero and being a traitor, which is very difficult to live with over the years, and it took its toll on David. The last time I saw him was in the summer of last year, and he seemed happy in his new life. He seemed at peace. But I don’t know what he’s up to. Considering the intensity of the years we had together it’s sad that we’ve lost touch. I just hope he stays safe and stays happy.

http://www.exberliner.com/features/peop … tleblower/

Confessions of a MI5 whistleblower by Annie Machon - Part 2

Why did you decide to live in Berlin?

I think Germany is very attractive to many whistleblowers. Mainly because there’s that historic knowledge of how easy it is to slide into a totalitarian regime and a determination to protect against doing that again. Whereas the UK, and particularly the US, has this sort of mythology that they are the good guys. They don’t need to worry about this because everything they’re going to do is going to be good, isn't it? And it’s not anymore. Over the last two decades that’s become very, very clear, and I think Snowden has just confirmed all our fears.

The irony is that as we now know, the NSA is still very present in Germany...

I think what Snowden has shown is that the BND is running out of control. Either they are breaching the constitution of the Germans with the knowledge and the approval of their physical masters, which is worrying because that means the whole constitution is shattered, or they are doing it rogue, which is even more worrying because who wants a state where you have the intelligence agency running amok behind the scenes, where the politicians who are supposed to be their physical masters don’t even know what’s going on!

So either way there are some serious questions to be answered here. But there is at least some outrage in Germany, and there is a political debate going on in the media, so that gives me hope. Whereas in the UK for example, since the Snowden disclosures and many other disclosures over the last two decades, what we saw was the media being very complacent and doing the government’s and the spies’ bidding.

How so?

Obviously, it’s well known that The Guardian had smashed its own disks by the order of the government. But what’s less known is that a “DA-Notice” was published, which is a media self-censorship mechanism in the UK where you get a bunch of senior spies and a bunch of senior media types who look at a story and if they think it might “damage national security”, then they spike that story. That’s precisely what happened with the Snowden disclosure. The other major newspapers aren't covering it, the other major media outlets aren’t covering it. So there is no general media debate, there is no general political debate because that would shut down pretty quickly too.

And do you think it’s especially worse in the UK?

Yes. It’s very well known that the media is controlled on a number of levels by soft power and hard power. The soft power being that they’re all friends together and they get their stories from the spies, and as long as they keep producing the stories the spies want, they keep getting stories. The hard power is a whole range of different laws that can shut the media up. Journalists can be prosecuted under terrorism laws, they can be injuncted, they can be sued for libel, they can be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act just like whistleblowers. So the UK, over the last 100 years at least, has perfected this control mechanism.

We’ve also mythologised the spies very effectively with things like James Bond – we think the spies are the good guys and they are a bit glamorous and they are doing something dangerous to protect national security. That takes us away from a meaningful debate about “what is national security?”. What are the major threats these days, and what is the best way to protect our country? We’re not having that, whereas I think a lot of other countries are – Germany in particular.

Have whistleblowers become the new heroes?

It depends on the environment which you are coming out of. The UK has historically been very secretive, with the Official Secrets Act pushing back against whistleblowers. Whistleblowers there tend to come out quite regularly. Countries which have historically been more open, like the US, have not felt the need to do so in the same way. However over the last couple of decades, particularly after 9/11, they have become much more secretive and a lot of people are very unhappy about the direction they took. You know, the shredding of their constitution, the shredding of civil liberties, the illegal wars, the fake intelligence, all that sort of stuff makes for very fertile ground for whistleblowers to come out. And yeah, I think there is a degree of them being trendy or something. I mean, I was involved in blowing the whistle in 1997.

That wasn’t so trendy back then?

No it wasn’t! [Laughs] It was fairly known, you know there was no word for whistleblowing apart from in English. There were plenty in the UK in the 1980s, a man called Clive Ponting who exposed war crimes in the Falklands War. There was a man called Peter Wright who wrote Spycatcher, a very famous book. Cathy Master exposed mass spying on left-wing activists, she was an MI5 officer in the 1980s. So the UK produced a law called the Official Secrets Act 1989, specifically to criminalise whistleblowing. That’s what David was arrested under.

Is there a “war on whistleblowers” now?

What we’re seeing now is a ramping up of, indeed, a war on whistleblowers. And this comes from the US. For example, in 2008 when Wikileaks started, there was a report drawn up by the US government to work out how to deal with what they called the “insider threat”, i.e. whistleblowers, i.e patriotic individuals who’d signed up to be there to do something good, who saw something really bad and wanted to do something about it, who then decided to do something extra-good to protect lives… and the people in power of course are threatened by this because they hate having transparency imposed on them. They are threatening whistleblowers with 35 years of prison, if not life. Including, for example, Thomas Drake, the NSA predecessor of Edward Snowden. I mean he went through all the right channels, up to a congressional hearing, and still got raided by the FBI and threatened with 35 years in prison. Now if that’s not a war on whistleblowers, I don’t know what is!

Obama is now known as having used the Espionage Act to shut up whistleblowers more frequently than any predecessors.

Yes, he has tried to prosecute seven whistleblowers from the intelligence agency since he’s come to power.

Is it just because it’s Obama? Or is this because there are more whistleblowers?

I think there are more whistleblowers, because there are more egregious war crimes and intelligence crimes being committed against not only the US, but the world population. That’s why more and more people of conscience are going to speak up. Now what they always try to do is crush them, destroy them, imprison them for life, to deter the future whistleblowers and that’s manifestly not working because Edward Snowden came out at the time when the Chelsea Manning trial was starting in June last year and despite that threat he still stepped up to the plate and said “this is what I’m going to expose because I think this is serious”.

And now, he's in Russia. It was America's worst PR operation ever, right?

Yes, and the Americans have none to blame but themselves. I mean the government were the ones that rescinded Snowden’s passport when he was in transit trying to get to permanent asylum offered to him in Ecuador. And it’s only because they took away his passport that he got stuck in Russia. And yet now the Americans are saying, “He was always working for the Russians, he’s a traitor.” That’s a load of crap!

That’s part of the war as well, demonisation...

Always, and you end up with this very tense situation being between a traitor and a hero in two different parts of your society and if you have to live through that for years it’s a very difficult psychological tension to have to deal with.

The whole saga has turned him into a bit of a hero – he's the most famous whistleblower ever. Do you think it helps the cause?

I think there is a trajectory of anyone involved in this sort of work. A story breaks and all the media wants a piece of you and they get terribly excited about it, and that’s the moment when change can happen. That’s the moment when politicians can step up and say, “We are going to change the system. We’re going to have proper enquiries and make sure the spies work within the law.” If that doesn’t happen, the momentum goes, and we’ve seen this time and time again, you know? With all whistleblowing cases, including the publishing by Chelsea Manning stuff, the Edward Snowden stuff. It breaks my heart because one of the things Edward Snowden said in his very first interview, I think, was that the biggest fear he had was that what he did would change nothing. We all should stand up and, you know, force a change for the bravery he’s shown.

What do you think might happen to Snowden – a life-sentence in Russia?

Well, if sense ever prevails in the US, they will allow him back with a pardon and take his evidence and investigate and reign in these criminal intelligence agencies that are running amok, not just against US citizens but against the rest of us as well. Of course, that would imply common sense, and I’m not sure we’re going to see that anytime soon.

What do you think you can change right now?

It’s just spreading the message. People have this strange interest in spies and spying. I will use that platform to argue about these basic principles that we need to be aware of. We can still work within the established political system and lobby, for example, the European Parliament, to pass laws that protect the rights of EU citizens rather than the interests of global corporations or American national interests. But we can no longer assume that our government will protect our privacy, so we have to take those steps into our own hands, which is where we start using encryption and Tor, etc. And for those people that are not aware of how to do that, just go to a crypto party. They are being held worldwide now, where you can get geeks who can help. Keep pushing within the established system, but also don’t expect it to really protect you and take steps to protect yourself.

http://www.exberliner.com/features/peop … ie-machon/

Last edited by osris (8th Sep 2018 17:21)


Re: Confessions of a MI5 whistleblower by Annie Machon

what are you trying to say or discuss?

'Force feeding AJB humour and banter since 2009'
Vive le droit à la libre expression! Je suis Charlie!


Re: Confessions of a MI5 whistleblower by Annie Machon

minigeff wrote:

what are you trying to say or discuss?

Lord alone only knows  ajb007/rolleyes

Enough. This thread will degenerate into petty insults - just like your last one.
It’s pretty obvious no one here really cares about this nonesense...perhaps you’d be happier on a Political forum? I think we would be.

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