Spies, Lies & Whistleblowers: MI5, MI6 and the Shayler Affair by Annie Machon
I desperately wanted to change MI5 so that it performed a useful job well and lawfully, but I did not then feel that I would have been able to do that either from outside the organisation or from a lower level job. In every potential situation, I therefore came up against a dead end. To complain would mark you out as a troublemaker. To leave took you outside any potential ability to alter things. — David Shayler
But I soon realised that people regarded you with suspicion if you asked too many questions, so I learned to keep quiet … I knew that open protest was not likely to to be successful. If one got a reputation as a revolutionary, one would be regarded as suspect and written off. — Dame Stella Rimington, former Director General MI5
I know all too well that I’m taking on the Establishment, but I am no traitor. All I am guilty off is exposing wrongdoing at the highest level. As a result of that my life has been changed irrevocably. This is not the prosecution of someone who has given away State secrets, but of someone who has embarrassed the Government. — David Shayler
You are working for an intelligence agency and you find it to be rotten to the core. What do you do: do you keep your head down and pretend not to notice what is going on all around you, do you raise your concerns with your superiors, or do you go public with what you know?
This was the dilemma facing David Shayler, an intelligence officer in MI5, the British internal intelligence agency. David Shayler took the riskiest option of the three and went public with what he knew, in doing so putting his life and freedom at risk.
MI5 and the government went on the offensive, doing their best to discredit David Shayler and the sordid tale he had to tell. Facing arrest and possible imprisonment, David Shayler fled to France.
In the meantime, Annie Machon, David’s girlfriend and herself an MI5 officer, appalled at the treatment of David, went public too to say that what he was telling was the truth.
And if that was not enough, Richard Tomlinson, an MI6 officer, spoke out at the abuses and lack of accountability at MI6.
David Shayler voluntarily returned from France to face trial. He was one of the first to try to make use of the Human Rights Act, which should guarantee the right to a fair hearing.
Unfortunately it was anything but. What David Shayler faced was a political show trial. He was even gagged and not allowed to speak in his own defence.
Writing several years after they first went public, Annie Machon documents in Spies, Lies & Whistleblowers: MI5, MI6 and the Shayler Affair what all the furore was about.
David and Annie witnessed at first hand:
how MI5 failed to foil at least four major IRA terrorist attacks
that MI5 compiled dossiers on British citizens for holding dissident political views
a blind eye turned to a known Libyan terrorist organising terror networks in the UK
illegal persecution of an innocent journalist
MI6 funding of an Al-Qaeda coup in Libya to topple and assassinate Colonel Gaddafi
In Spycatcher Peter Wright wrote of how MI5 ‘bugged and burgled its way across London’. Writing a generation later, Annie Machon shows that not a lot has changed: drunken officers who lose sensitive files, turf wars between the various agencies, turf wars between different sections within MI5, bureaucratic bungling, cavalier attitude to human rights, blatant lying to Ministers and an oversight committee, dirty tricks and smear campaigns against perceived enemies, enemies of the intelligence agencies that is, not enemies of the state, etc etc.
There were so many cock-ups in dealing with the Provisional IRA that it is a wonder they were ever defeated. This bodes ill for defeating Islamic terrorism. Irish terrorists were at least ‘decent’ terrorists. They shared the same values as us, they gave a warning when they planted a bomb, they were not intent on killing people, whereas, hate-filled Muslim terrorists are intent on slaughtering the maximum number of innocent civilians.
Prior to working on counter-terrorism, Annie and David were working on counter-subversion, monitoring and infiltrating fringe groups like SWP, Communist Party of Great Britain, and the anarchist group Class War. It is easy therefore to see why the pair were made less than welcome when they attended a fringe meeting at the Anarchist Bookfair 2005. But, they did not have to attend, and it in no way justifies the smear campaign that has been running against them. Annie describes some of the dirty tricks that were run, and the question has to be asked: are the smear campaigns that are being run by allegedly dissident groups, less the lunatic fringe and more dirty tricks by front organisations, or dissident groups that have been infiltrated and hijacked, as was Class War? [Anarchist Bookfair 2005]
Highlighting the abuses of human rights, that monitoring political dissent, is not what the intelligence services should be doing, was not guaranteed to enhance one’s career prospects.
David Shayler was prosecuted because he caused embarrassment, and to serve as an example to others who may be tempted to speak out. Is this what caused Dr David Kelly to take his own life (assuming he did and was not killed to silence him), an honourable man who spoke out against the lies on the illegal war with Iraq?
There is a confusion between ‘damage to national security’ and ‘harm to the national interest’. The former is easy to interpret, the latter is open to abuse, and too often is interpreted as embarrassment to those in power, and believe it or not not, there is a security classification of ‘causing embarrassment to HMG’.
We saw this in the Shayler Affair, and are seeing it again with the infamous memo where George W Bush allegedly wished to bomb the Qatar offices of Aljazeera. That part is believable, less believable is that Tony Blair acted to dissuade Bush.
We have here parallels with the Shayler Affair where a a Civil Servant and a Parliamentary Researcher are to be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act as their actions are deemed ‘prejudicial to the national interest’. But whose interest is that, as surely is it not in our interest, as a democratic society, to be told that the supposed leader of the free world, was contemplating bombing a TV channel in a friendly country, but was dissuaded by his comrade-in-arms in war crimes, the odious Blair?
The suppression of free speech ‘in the national interest’ is reminiscent of acts carried out ‘in the good of the people’ so favoured by totalitarian regimes, so no surprise it finds favour with Tony Blair.
The mainstream media as usual are a disgrace. They reported as ‘facts’ the anonymous unattributable briefings on the Shayler Affair, but rarely checked with the principle actors the truth of what they were being told.
We have learnt recently that the Muslim terrorists involved in the Tube bombings in London on 7 July 2005, were known to the intelligence services, had travelled to terrorist training camps in Pakistan, had met known or suspected terrorists in the UK, were mixing with extremist Muslim clerics, but failed to keep tabs on them due to lack of resources.
Would this tragedy have happened if the appropriate resources had been found? Would resources have been available if they were not being squandered on monitoring political dissidents? Questions that the relatives of the dead should be asking, and demanding answers.
Since Tony Blair came to power, we have had a succession of Terrorists Acts, each more Draconian than its predecessor. What is this legislation for? Is it for dealing with real terrorists, or is it for dealing with political dissent, for clamping down on the domestic population?
Would we not be more successful in dealing with terrorists if we had more competent security agencies, rather than passed legislation whose only function is to suppress political dissent?
Anti-terror legislation was used for dealing with protests at the G8 Summit in Scotland in Summer 2005. It was invoked again Autumn 2005 to deal with an elderly gentleman who was manhandled out of the Neo-Labour Party Conference by a bunch of thugs for daring to shout out ‘rubbish’ at the government’s policy on Iraq during a speech by Jack ‘boot’ Straw. An elderly gentleman who had fled Nazi persecution in Europe.
When we tie in the abuses that we see all the time, the steady erosion of our civil rights in the name of the bogus ‘war on terror’, with with the abuses that Annie Machon has laid bare within the intelligence services, then we have every reason to be worried.
The off-the-record briefings and smear campaign run against Dr David Kelly were near identical to that run against David Shayler.
In the US, if someone breaks cover and blows the whistle, the administration shrugs and moves on. There may even be an independent inquiry, to which the whistleblower is invited to give evidence, the whistleblower is not prosecuted. ***(that was once upon a time the US took the advice of the UK and changed the law) In the UK, the whistleblower will be smeared in off-the-record briefings, probably prosecuted to serve as an example to others. If they try to give evidence, as David Shayler did to Tony Blair’s Intelligence and Security Committee, they will be ignored, or as we saw with David Kelly after his death, an inquiry will be launched which is nothing more than a cover-up and a whitewash. Having refused to hear evidence from David Shayler, members of the PM’s ISC went on to brief against him.
Lord Hutton, who on behalf of Tony Blair carried out the cover-up and whitewash on Dr David Kelly, was also one of the Law Lord who sat in judgment on David Shayler.
The difference between the US and the UK is that free speech is protected. Although this has started to change post-911 with the Patriot Act. Those who have spoken out regarding the 911 cover-up have been ignored, gagged or threatened, so even in the US the climate is changing for the worse. [see 9-11 Revealed]
Tony Blair is not satisfied with merely shooting the messenger, he also wants to shoot those who carry and repeat the message. In the Shayler Affair threats were issued against anyone who either tried to help or reported on what David Shayler was saying.
A former editor of Punch now has a criminal record for writing on the Shayler Affair, a student at Kingston University lost her course place after being arrested and detained for offering to mobilise public support for David Shayler when he was on the run from the authorities in France.
We are now seeing history repeat itself with threats against the media if they cover the infamous memo containing allegations that George W Bush wished to bomb the offices of Aljazeera in Qatar, a friendly country.
Annie Machon’s description of MI5 is one of incompetence and bureaucratic bungling. MI5 management that lie to Ministers and an oversight committee to cover up their incompetence and bungling. Competent officers leaving, leaving behind the failures who have nowhere else to go. Having once worked in a similar environment, my experience was very similar.
With MI6 it is more sinister. The picture painted of MI6 is that of an agency out of control. When not busy trying to kill people, MI6 is planting stories in its in-house newspaper The Daily Torygraph.
MI6 financed an Al-Qaeda plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi. Although the coup and assassination attempt failed, innocent civilian bystanders were nevertheless killed. But let us assume their hair-brained scheme had succeeded. If it had, Al-Qaeda would now be running Libya. Would the world have been a safer place?
One reason David and Annie went public on the MI6/Al-Qaeda plot was that they were one of the few who knew of the plot and feared the fate that later befell Dr David Kelly to silence them.
Violence begets violence. We see that all over the Middle East. We see it in Israeli-occupied Palestine, we see it in the illegally-occupied Iraq.
After the failed assassination and coup attempt, a different approach was tried with Colonel Gaddafi. Softly, softly diplomacy. As a result Colonel Gaddafi has come in from the cold, has given up any WMD programmes (assuming he ever had any), he is cooperating in the war on terrorism, and Libya is slowly, slowly moving towards democracy.
Contrast the Libyan diplomatic approach with the illegal war and occupation of Iraq.
A well written and researched book and Annie Machon should be complimented for having had the courage to write it. A pleasant and realistic change from the breathy, jolly-hockey-sticks account we have of MI5 in Open Secret by Dame Stella Rimington, former Director General MI5, an account where it is jolly good fun to bug and burgle one’s way across London and steam open other people’s post.
I still thought the essence of the Cold War and spies and stuff was fun. You know, going around listening to other people’s telephones and opening their mail and stuff.
We expect the establishment not to forgive Annie and David, and that has been their experience. If they keep their heads down, they are left alone. If they speak out, then they receive undue attention.
What they fear is ending up like Dr David Kelly, the man who exposed the lies behind the illegal war with Iraq. A man who was found dead in a wood with his wrists slashed. And for that reason they are careful to protect some of their sources, as they do not wish to see them end the same way.
In this they are not alone. Gerald James was the boss of Astra, once a firework company and the company that provided the propellant for the Iraqi super-gun. When Gerald James spoke out, he found his life was under threat. [see Gerald James, In the Public Interest, Warner Books, 1996]
All this is understandable. What is less understandable and deeply regrettable, are the attacks on the integrity of these two coming from within the dissident community. The only possible explanation, apart from the usual lunatic fringe, is that those making the attacks are agents of the state doing their best to destroy the credibility of those who have dared speak out at their former employers.
Highly recommended for anyone who wants to see a little light shed into the deeper recesses of of our intelligence agencies and wants to better understand how our civil rights are being eroded.
Annie Machon has written a devastating critique of our intelligence agencies and the need for reform. Grounds if nothing else for a public inquiry into their operation.
We need an intelligence agency that is there to protect democracy, that is accountable, not one which is there to enslave us.