Manning verdict will only make whistleblowers ‘more careful’

Annie Machon
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 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.
Manning verdict will only make whistleblowers ‘more careful’
Whistleblowers will become more determined, more tactical and more careful after Bradley Manning received a 35-year prison sentence, former MI5 agent Annie Machon tells RT.

It is also important to the future of whistleblowers in intelligence and the military that Snowden and Assange “survive their processes,” and evade attempts to be silenced and imprisoned.

RT:35 years as a former MI5 agent, do you think that Manning was justified to leak these documents, bearing in mind he was of course serving member of the military?

Annie Machon: I think we go back to Nuremberg principles here, which is: do you just follow orders, even if they are obviously just for war crimes, or do you stand by your conscience? And I think all the international laws that followed World War II show that you are breaking the law if you just follow orders and do illegal things. So I think the stand he took, the fact that he wanted to try and make a difference - he has said this explicitly both privately and publicly, he wanted to make a difference, he wanted to inform the world’s people about the war crimes being committed and he wanted to stop future illegal wars - it was a noble thing to do. I think he knew the risks, he did a brave thing.

RT:Will he make any difference though, will the US and other countries continue to pursue their foreign policy and military campaigns despite what has been revealed?

AM: I think he already has made a difference, not just in sparking a debate about some of these issues, but also in accelerating the US withdrawal from some of the countries in the Middle East militarily, which will of course have saved US military lives as well as the lives of the people in those countries. So I think he has already made a difference.

The fact that we are debating these sort of issues and we know that war crimes have been committed, particularly the revelation of the collateral murder video, which showed that innocent Iraqi’s and journalists were being shot up in some sort of sick snuff-type video and also that the Pentagon had lied about it for years, has exposed the fact that we cannot trust our governments, our military and our intelligence not to lie to us and not to commit war crimes.

So I think that’s very important. I have to say, though, that 35 years in prison for exposing war crimes of others, it’s an incredibly high and vindictive sentence to give to a young man who acted on his conscience. 

US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning arrives alongside military officials at a US military court facility to hear his sentence in his trial at Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

RT:But he should have been charged though, should he not? Whistleblowers like Bradley Manning aren’t behind the law. He did break the law didn’t he?

AM: He did and he knew what he was doing, but I think the response has been disproportionate, so for example in the UK if you blow the whistle on the military or the intelligence agencies, you betray your country to a foreign and hostile power, you face 14 years in prison and yet he’s facing 35 years in prison for exposing the crimes of others, which has yet to be investigated, by the way.

So this disproportionality that is troubling, I have to say, as well, though, I think there is a crying need - as our countries get more and more involved militarily and with drone strikes and with extraordinary rendition and with torture and with CIA kill lists - there is a crying need now for some sort of avenue to be provided for young men and young women of conscience to come forward and say, “We are troubled by this, we would like an investigation,” and not have to risk the rest of their lives being locked up in a maximum security prison by doing that, because they are actually providing a service to our democracies.

RT:But do you really believe that you mentioned the crimes of others, that those who have been exposed for doing very wrong things will be held to account, will there be any judicial process because after all these are authorities from government?

AM: Yes that is always the problem and there have been many, many whistleblowers coming out of both the US and the UK intelligence agencies over the last two decades and nothing much ever seems to change and that is a problem, I think, for our democracies. However, it seems that new whistleblowers are learning from the mistakes of others, for example with Edward Snowden. His view was the more draconian the pushback against whistleblowers, the smarter the whistleblower will get, the more tactical they will get, the more careful they will get about how they expose wrong doing in our governments, and that is precisely what Edward Snowden’s done.

So I think he obviously looked at the Bradley Manning case and the appalling torture and inhuman and degrading treatment that was meted out to him and he accordingly got to protect himself.

RT:But Snowden’s facing a very uncertain fate along with Assange, and of course we’ve seen what’s happened to Bradley Manning. You don’t think that this sort of thing is a message to whistleblowers? It will not put them off? Or will it actually encourage them? 

AM: Of course it is supposed to be a message to whistleblowers to stop them doing this in future, however I think it will make them more determined. I think there are young men and young women sitting behind desks in intelligence agencies and the military in our countries now thinking, “Well this is terrible. What am I going to do about it, and how do I survive the process?” And that is why it’s so important that Assange and Snowden survive their processes and I think in the case of the WikiLeaks secret grand jury, which has been convened in Virginia for the last two years, the basis for trying to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks and that Bradley Manning was aiding the enemy. Now Bradley Manning was acquitted of aiding the enemy, which means the publisher of his material cannot now be, surely, accused of aiding the enemy and being charged under the espionage act, and I think this is a very interesting time for the attempts to try and prosecute the WikiLeaks case in America as well.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.