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.
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)
‘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
"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.
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
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
"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).
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. ...
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.'
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:
Labels: Libya, Secrets, snoops and blacklists