‘Self-censored UK media’ frightened to show true outrage with global spying
Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer for MI5, the UK Security Service, who resigned in the late 1990s to blow the whistle on the spies’ incompetence and crimes with her ex-partner, David Shayler. Drawing on her varied experiences, she is now a public speaker, writer, media pundit, international tour and event organiser, political campaigner, and PR consultant. She is also now the Director of LEAP, Europe. She has a rare perspective both on the inner workings of governments, intelligence agencies and the media, as well as the wider implications for the need for increased openness and accountability in both public and private sectors.
The latest Snowden revelation uncovered that the UK’s intelligence agency GCHQ was doing whatever it could to prevent the media from igniting a “damaging public debate” and the subsequent possibility of a legal threat over its own surveillance practices and cooperation with the NSA.
Annie Machon told RT that UK’s system of "self-censorship" when reporting on sensitive defense topics is somewhat unique in most Western democratic countries.
RT:GCHQ has privately admitted that it's been pushing the bounds of legality. Is there any realistic chance of legal action against the agency?
Annie Machon: Well, we hope so in the UK. I have to say that the debate around the Edward Snowden’s disclosures which have global impact, have been sort of muffled a little bit in the UK, because we have this self-censorship for the media called the D-notice committee, which has been issued against the media. So they are frightened to report on what is going on.
RT:So let me get this straight: It’s not being reported as fully as it should be, you think, in the UK, this huge story?
AM: Well, the Guardian is certainly fighting forwards on this issue, there is no doubt about that. But the rest of the media tends to [report] on the side of the government and on the side of MI5’s Andrew Parker who recently went public in a very rare speech and said that by putting this information out we are “protecting our terrorist enemies,” we are helping them, we are giving them information that they can use.
So, this is a media self-censorship law in the UK, which I think is probably unique in most Western democratic countries, and they are abiding by that, and it has stifled the debate.
RT:The heads of British intelligence are due to give evidence to members of parliament on November 7. How much of a breakthrough is that, in your opinion?
AM: It certainly is a step in the right direction. In the UK there is something that we call an Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament, which is supposed to oversee the work of the intelligence agencies in the UK. It was put in place almost 20 years ago, but they had very limited powers: they could only look at policy in finance and administration.
This year that has changed, this year they are allowed to look at the operational techniques and also potential crimes of the spies. They can call for people to come and give evidence under oath. So that is a step forward.
However, the person who was a chair of the ISC, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has already said publicly in defense of the revelations from Edward Snowden that all the intelligence agencies within the UK are abiding by the laws. And these laws are over 20 years old and they are irrelevant to this Internet connected age.
RT:The UK Prime Minister signed the EU statement against NSA spying. But that does look somewhat hypocritical, doesn't it, considering GCHQ's similar role?
AM: Well, you have to do that. Angela Merkel has to say that she is outraged about the fact that her personal phones have been intercepted by the NSA. When the initial disclosures came out from Snowden saying that we all are being data-mined and surveilled, our politicians were ‘slightly less’ indignant, should we say.
I think Cameron has to do this, he has to show that he is concerned about the issues of surveillance, but we have to also acknowledge that GCHQ and the German BND, the intelligence agency, have been reportedly very close allies and have been doing the dirty work for the NSA. So let’s not lose sight of that.
RT:Obama said he knew nothing about any spying on Angela Merkel’s phone, but could he not have known? He is the guy on top of all this at the end of the day. Or, may be, could he genuinely not have known?
AM: I think this is very likely he would not have known. I know that certain key senior intelligence officials in the US have lied to Congress about the scale of surveillance in the US. I know in UK, from the inside, that people working for intelligence agencies with concerns about the scale of surveillance have been blocked from talking to the oversight mechanisms.
So I don’t think it is inconceivable that Obama didn’t know. But it was also interesting that the specific report came out in Spiegel today said that he was reassuring Angela Merkel that their conversations, when he spoke to her on the mobile phone, were not being surveilled. It does not mean that everybody else in Germany in specific conversations would not be surveilled.