Tuesday, December 18, 2012

From Special Branch to Special Brew, Special Courts and Rendition

NO LONGER A TEAM, but testimony from MI5 whistleblowers Annie Machon and David Schayler, seen here in happier times, should not be discarded.  

MENTION of Consulting Association blacklister and snoop Ian Kerr, who has just died when he might have been called to give more evidence about his activities and the companies he served, has brought to mind the bigger picture of surveillance, of which Kerr's business formed a part. What were his relations, and those of the Economic League before him, with the Secret State which we pay to watch over us?

MPs have been discussing the Justice and Security Bill, which is supposed to provide for oversight of the intelligence and security services, but actually provides among other things for secret courts where the spooks would be able to present their case against you, while like Kafka's hero in "The Trial" you would be kept in the dark as to what you were accused of, and of the evidence given against you. 

From what I saw of today's debate some backbench Tory MPs showed more concern about the danger to civil liberties than leading Labourite and former Home (and later Foreign) Secretary Jack Straw, even though he was once on MI5's files himself from his supposedly left-wing student union days. We did get challenges to the authority of the secret state from the decent duo Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, and SDLP MP Mark Durkan from Foyle recalled how Tony Blair tried to buy off his opposition by offering committee places. 

With fewer than 20 members in the chamber it seemed as if issues like secret courts, extraordinary rendition and oversight of security and intelligence services are not that important to MPs, though among those batting for the Establishment were Straw and former Tory Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, appointed chair of the Security and Intelligence Committee by David Cameron in 2010, and due to hold this post for the duration of this parliament. 

Just as well these two were there in case anybody talked about them in their absence. Straw is at the centre of accusations over rendition to Libya which have led to a million pound payout to save MI6 agents appearing in court. Further back when British intelligence was plotting with al Qaida and Libyan dissidents to assassinate Gaddaffi, Malcolm Rifkind says he knew nothing about the conspiracy.

We are supposed to believe the security services and special powers they are seeking are only there to protect us from terrorists, but  as former MI5 officer Annie Machon observes, "We are already see­ing a slide towards expand­ing the defin­i­tion of “ter­ror­ist” to include “domestic extrem­ists”, act­iv­ists, single issue cam­paign­ers et al,..."

Back in the Cold War years the bogey was Soviet spying and subversion, and not all the tales were untrue, but as Machon says in her book "Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers", the criteria set out by Home Sec­ret­ary David Maxwell-Fyfe in 1952 could be widened. "He called on the ser­vices to identify any indi­vidual engaged in under­min­ing Par­lia­ment­ary demo­cracy, national secur­ity and/or the eco­nomic well-being of the UK by viol­ent, indus­trial or polit­ical means.  In fact, many would argue that groups who used only polit­ical means to get their point across were merely exer­cising their democratic rights".

"In fact, MI5 devoted such sig­ni­fic­ant resources to sub­vers­ive groups from the 1940s to 1993, when sub­ver­sion was finally down­graded, that F2 claimed to know more about the fin­ances of the Com­mun­ist Party of Great Bri­tain (CPGB) than the Party did itself!  In communism’s hey­day from the 1950s to the 1970s, around 60 desk officers – each with a num­ber of sup­port staff – spied on the CPGB alone, although F Branch had dwindled to around nine or ten desk officers and agent run­ners, plus around 20–30 sup­port and sec­ret­arial staff by the time I arrived in 1991. 

"In Feb­ru­ary 1991 I joined F2.  The sec­tion was tucked away in a little-known MI5 build­ing in Bolton Street, May­fair.  The office was a clas­sic, run-down civil ser­vice affair, with battered old wooden desks, lime green wall paint and thread­bare car­pets.  The sec­tion when I joined had no com­puter sys­tem; all its records were on paper, a fact which sur­prised me, as eas­ily access­ible inform­a­tion is essen­tial to an intel­li­gence ser­vice. "  (but also subject to the Data Protection Act -RP) 

"My ‘job title’ was F2B/5, and I was in charge of a small team invest­ig­at­ing the SWP.  David joined F Branch a year later as F2C/7, to study anarch­ists, com­mun­ists and extreme right-wingers.  David and I met in F2 but we didn’t start going out with each other until spring 1993.  Our eyes met across a crowded oper­a­tions room, he always likes to joke.

"Des­pite my assess­ments, senior man­age­ment in F2 ensured that the SWP assumed an increas­ingly prom­in­ent role in the work of the branch.  MI5 man­age­ment unre­mit­tingly applied pres­sure to me to beef up the case for the study of the SWP, par­tic­u­larly after its (legit­im­ate) sup­port for a num­ber of indus­trial dis­putes in the early nineties, which of course posed no threat to national secur­ity or Par­lia­ment­ary demo­cracy.  Des­pite the pres­sure, I still suc­ceeded in ter­min­at­ing the last remain­ing tele­phone tap tar­geted against an indi­vidual sub­vers­ive in the UK – Tony Cliff, the SWP’s founder – and drastic­ally redu­cing the num­ber of agents who for dec­ades had been run against the SWP at great cost to the tax­payer.  How­ever, senior man­agers still insisted that a tele­phone tap stay in place on the party’s HQ.

Even then, F2 policy dic­tated that any indi­vidual who atten­ded six or more meet­ings of the Social­ist Work­ers’ Party was record­able as a ‘mem­ber: Trot­sky­ist organ­isa­tion’, even where the ser­vice knew that many indi­vidu­als atten­ded these meet­ings to protest against spe­cific issues such as the NHS cuts or the poll tax, sub­jects of legit­im­ate dissent.


"F2, being tucked away in the little-known MI5 build­ing on Bolton Street off Pic­ca­dilly, was a relaxed sec­tion, with quite an esprit de corps.  Con­sequently, dur­ing our time there David and I either per­son­ally reviewed or were shown by our col­leagues the fol­low­ing PFs.  Few of those lis­ted actu­ally belong or belonged to sub­vers­ive organ­isa­tions.  Accord­ing to MI5, they have or had ‘sym­path­ies’ with these or other groups and are there­fore worthy of MI5 investigation:

"John Len­non, Jack Straw MP, Ted Heath MP, Tam Dalyell MP, Gareth Peirce (soli­citor), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mike Mans­field (bar­ris­ter), Geof­frey Robertson (bar­ris­ter), Patri­cia Hewitt MP, Har­riet Har­man MP,  Garry Bushell (journ­al­ist), Peter Man­del­son (European com­mis­sioner), Peter Hain MP, Clare Short MP, Mark Thomas (comedian), Mo Mow­lam (politi­cian), Arthur Scar­gill (NUM leader, who fam­ously had his own record­ing cat­egory: unaf­fili­ated sub­vers­ive), Neil Kin­nock (politi­cian), Bruce Kent (peace cam­paigner, )Joan Rud­dock MP, Owen Oyston (busi­ness­man), Cherie Booth aka Blair, Tony Blair MP, David Steel (politi­cian), Teddy Taylor MP, Ron­nie Scott (jazz musi­cian), Robin Cook MP, John Prescott MP, Mark Steel (comedian), Jack Cun­ning­ham MP, Mohammed Al Fayed (busi­ness­man), Mick McGa­hey (former union leader), Ken Gill (former union leader), Michael Foot (politi­cian), Jack Jones (former union leader), Ray Bux­ton (former union leader), Hugh Scan­lon (former union leader), Har­old Wilson (politi­cian), James Callaghan (politi­cian), Richard Norton-Taylor (Guard­ian journalist).

"David and I also came across a file called: ‘Sub­ver­sion in con­tem­por­ary music’, which con­sisted of press clip­pings about Crass, then a well-known, self-styled ‘anarch­ist’ band; the Sex Pis­tols; and, rather sur­pris­ingly, UB40. ...

"The ‘sub­ver­sion’ of cab­inet min­is­ters Har­riet Har­man and Patri­cia Hewitt was to have been lead­ing mem­bers of the National Coun­cil for Civil Liber­ties (NCCL — now Liberty), the very organ­isa­tion designed to pro­tect us from such unwar­ran­ted abuses of our liber­ties.  At one point, David came across a series of minutes on a file dat­ing from the early 1980s.  They were writ­ten by Charles Elwell, a pub­licly named and notori­ously para­noid former head of F2 who saw a red under every bed, and who had suc­cess­fully argued that mem­bers of the exec­ut­ive of the NCCL were record­able as ‘sus­pec­ted sym­path­iser: Com­mun­ist’, simply for being mem­bers of the exec­ut­ive.  He based this assump­tion on the fact that, as one or two lead­ing mem­bers of the NCCL had Com­mun­ist sym­path­ies, the organ­isa­tion was there­fore by defin­i­tion a Com­mun­ist front organisation. 

"This went bey­ond MI5’s own rules.  It jus­ti­fied its work against legit­im­ate non-subversive organ­isa­tions such as trade uni­ons, CND, the NCCL and the Green­ham Com­mon women by say­ing that it was not invest­ig­at­ing these organ­isa­tions or their mem­bers per se but was invest­ig­at­ing sub­vers­ive pen­et­ra­tion of these groups. 

"As a res­ult, MI5 gathered ten thick volumes on both the Green­ham women and the Cam­paign for Nuc­lear Dis­arm­a­ment.  Inev­it­ably, as a res­ult of this, F2 gathered per­sonal inform­a­tion on and details of legit­im­ate polit­ical act­iv­ists, which were passed to min­is­ters in offi­cial Secur­ity Ser­vice reports – then known as Box 500 reports — under the guise of reveal­ing sub­vers­ive pen­et­ra­tion of these organ­isa­tions.  The ser­vice also had a his­tory of gath­er­ing inform­a­tion on trade union activ­ity and indus­trial dis­putes on the same basis.  How­ever, it again went bey­ond a strict study of sub­vers­ive activ­ity, and passed inform­a­tion relat­ing to legit­im­ate indus­trial protest to min­is­ters and the police.

"The decision regard­ing the Exec­ut­ive of the NCCL meant that MI5 could invest­ig­ate an indi­vidual — that means tap their phones, fol­low their move­ments, break into their houses, place a bug in their homes — simply for being a mem­ber of the Exec­ut­ive of the NCCL, without hav­ing to estab­lish any other con­nec­tions to com­mun­ism.  This was clearly a breach of demo­cratic rights. 

"David’s main area of respons­ib­il­ity in F2 was for the anarch­ist group Class War and the rump of the Com­mun­ist Party, which had decided to plug on with Marxism-Leninism, after the rest of the CPGB had renounced it and become the Demo­cratic Left.  He was sur­prised that MI5 still devoted such extens­ive resources to these groups.  Dur­ing recruit­ment, he had been told that MI5 was no longer look­ing in any great depth at sub­vers­ives.  MI5 lore had it that the study of Class War was beefed up in the wake of the Poll Tax riot in Lon­don in 1990, after the group’s posters and ban­ners were seen on the news cov­er­age.  How­ever, accord­ing to Spe­cial Branch officers, the viol­ence in Tra­fal­gar Square had star­ted when front-line anti-riot police had lost con­trol and turned on the demonstrators.

"By early 1992, Class War was a dis­or­gan­ised col­lec­tion of around 200 anarch­ist indi­vidu­als.  As such, it posed no real threat to Par­lia­ment­ary demo­cracy or national secur­ity.  F2 had no phone inter­cept on Class War because it did not have an HQ.  How­ever, the author­it­ies did devote con­sid­er­able resources to the group. 

"Some years before David had joined F2, a Met­ro­pol­itan Police Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion (SDS) agent, code­named M2589, had pen­et­rated Class War.  Unlike the vast major­ity of agents recruited by MI5, he was not a mem­ber of an organ­isa­tion who had been ‘turned’ by the ser­vice.  He was a full-time police­man from Spe­cial Branch under deep cover.  For six days a week, he lived, ate and breathed the life of a class war­rior before return­ing to his nor­mal life with friends and fam­ily for a day. Whether Class War mer­ited this kind of resource intens­ive cov­er­age is open to debate.  I quote David:

'When I met M2589 in Feb­ru­ary 1992, at a safe house in Lon­don, it was quite obvi­ous that this pecu­liar arrange­ment had affected the agent psy­cho­lo­gic­ally.  After around four years of pre­tend­ing to be an anarch­ist, he had clearly become one.  To use the ser­vice jar­gon, he had gone nat­ive.  He drank about six cans of Spe­cial Brew dur­ing the debrief, and regaled us with stor­ies about beat­ing up uni­formed officers as part of his ‘cover’.  Partly as a res­ult, he was ‘ter­min­ated’ after the 1992 Gen­eral Elec­tion.  Without his organ­isa­tional skills, Class War fell apart.' 

"Did the agent make Class War more effect­ive while he was there?  In other words, did the state actu­ally provide resources, which con­trib­uted to the spread of anarchism?"


In her blog "Using Our Intelligence" back on September 28 Annie Machon warned:
"I would sug­gest that the concept of secret courts will prove fatally dan­ger­ous to our demo­cracy.  It may start with the concept of get­ting the Big Bad Ter­ror­ist, but in more polit­ic­ally unstable or strin­gent eco­nomic times this concept is wide open to mis­sion creep.
We are already see­ing a slide towards expand­ing the defin­i­tion of “ter­ror­ist” to include “domestic extrem­ists”, act­iv­ists, single issue cam­paign­ers et al, as I have writ­ten before. And just recently inform­a­tion was leaked about a new public-private EU ini­ti­at­ive, Clean IT, that pro­poses ever more invas­ive and dra­conian poli­cing powers to hunt down “ter­ror­ists” on the inter­net. This pro­posal fails to define ter­ror­ism, but does provide for endemic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance of the EU. Pure cor­por­at­ism.
Allow­ing secret courts to try people on the say-so of a shad­owy, unac­count­able and bur­geon­ing spy com­munity lands us straight back in the pages of his­tory: La Ter­reur of revolu­tion­ary France, the creepy sur­veil­lance of the Stasi, or the dis­ap­pear­ances and tor­ture of the Gestapo.
Have we learned nothing?"


Since they quit MI5 together, Annie Machon and David Schayler have parted company, though they were still campaigning together when I saw them at a public meeting in Willesden some years back, bringing in their train a bunch of 9/11 conspiracy theorists who looked incongruously like they had strayed from a Countryside Alliance protest.

Apparently she left him when he took not to Special Brew but more exotic mind-altering substances. Schayler is reportedly living in a squat with something called the Rainbow movement, wearing high heels and a frock, and telling people he is the messiah, as well as quoting the famous Protocols. That sounds like MI5 alright, though he also believes the world will end in 2012. We've still got a couple of weeks to go.

Annie blames the security services for having pushed David Schayler to a breakdown. On the other hand he could be putting on a good act to persuade them he is no longer a threat and keep them off his back. It would make sense when you think what has happened to some others who knew too much.

 Annie Machon herself has lectured for, among others, the 9/11 Truth campaigners. But whatever we think of David Schayler or Annie Machon now, what they have to say about their experiences and what they learned while working for the intelligence services deserves to be taken seriously. It seems to be being born out rather than refuted by new evidence.

On Straw, MI6 and Libya:




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