Post-WikiLeaks, Manning, Snowden world brighter for freedom fighters
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.
Now, in this era where we have been lied into illegal wars, where the banks privatize their profits yet make their risks public and get repeatedly bailed out, and when people are needlessly dying in our hospitals, more and more people realize the value that whistleblowers can bring to the public debate.
Indeed, the system is now so broken that the whistleblower is often the regulator of last resort.
Plus, of course, this is the era of WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. The concept of whistleblowing has gone global in response to the scale of the threats we are all now facing from the military-security complex worldwide.
So last week was rather invigorating and involved a number of events that gave due credit to the bravery and sacrifice of whistleblowers.
First up we had the international launch of the UK whistleblower support group, The Whistler. This is a British organization designed to provide a legal, psychological and social support network to those in the UK brave enough to come out and blow the whistle on incompetence and crime from any sector, public or private. Many hundreds have over the last few years, particularly from the financial and health sectors.
Sadly all experience the same treatment; vilification, suppression, and even the loss of their careers for daring to expose the incompetence, and even crimes, of others. Sadly, while there is a law in place that is supposed to provide some protection, all too often this has failed over the last 16 years. The Whistler provides a much-needed service.
A number of international whistleblowers were in the UK for the week for other events, and The Whistler was able to host them and hear their stories. Gavin MacFadyen of the Center for Investigative Journalism, and the indefatigable campaigner Eileen Chubb hosted the event, and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability project (The Whistler's US counterpart), and myself spoke. The Whistler will officially be launched in the UK on March 20, so watch this space.
The next night we found ourselves at the prestigious Oxford Union Society, which was kind enough to host the award ceremony for the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence for the second year running. You may remember that last year the award went to Dr. Tom Fingar, whose US National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 single-handedly halted US government’s rush to war against Iran.
The Sam Adams Associates is a group of intelligence, government and military whistleblowers and campaigners. Each year we vote to confer an award on a member of the intelligence community or related professions who exemplifies CIA analyst, Sam Adams' courage, persistence and telling truth to power, no matter what the consequences.
Since its inception in 2002, the award has been given to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI, Katherine Gun of GCHQ, Sibel Edmonds of the FBI, Craig Murray former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, former US army Sgt. Sam Provance, Major Frank Grevil of Danish intelligence, former US army Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, Thomas Drake of the NSA and Jesselyn Radack of the US Department of Justice, former US Deputy Director of National Intelligence Dr. Thomas Fingar, and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
This year the award went, unanimously and inevitably, to Chelsea Manning, and many Sam Adams associates traveled to the UK to attend and to honor her achievements. 2013 SAA laureate Edward Snowden sent through a congratulatory message. Sadly, and for obvious reasons, Chelsea could not receive the award in person, but her old school friend Aaron Kirkhouse read out a powerful and moving statement written by her for the occasion.
The following night the Union hosted a debate on ‘This house would call Edward Snowden a hero’. I had the pleasure of arguing for the proposition, along with US journalist Chris Hedges, NSA whistleblower Bill Binney, and former UK government minister Chris Huhne, and we won - 212 to 171 was the final tally, I believe.
The best part of the week though, apart from the set events, was having the time to be with other intelligence whistleblowers and fellow campaigners. While in London we also all had the opportunity to do a range of media interviews with programs such as Brian Rose's London Real TV and Afshin Rattansi's ‘Going Underground’on RT.
Sadly, but rather predictably, the old media chose not to take advantage of such a rich source of expertise in town. Despite repeated invitations, the MSM failed to attend any of the events or interview any of the whistleblowers. But perhaps that's better than the appallingly off-beam coverage the Guardian gave to Fingar's award ceremony last year.
But the old media are behind the times, which are definitely a-changing. In this post-WikiLeaks, post-Manning and post-Snowden world, the tone of the debate has changed for good. Whistleblowers are increasingly valued as brave individuals of conscience and there is much more awareness and interest in the issues of privacy, human rights and the meaning of democracy. Indeed, in the fundamental meaning of freedom.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.