MI6 whistleblower's partner accuses intelligence agencies of a dangerous moral slide.
Annie Machon, former partner of David Shaylar, reflects on impact on Snowden revelations at Playful conference.
Libyans step on a carpet featuring Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi - Photograph John Moore/Getty Images.
The former partner of an MI6 whistleblower has described the “dangerous moral slide” of the UK’s intelligence services, comparing a 1996 assassination plot against then Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to his treatment during the 2011 uprising.
Annie Machon, former partner of the whistleblower David Shayler, said that British agents had worked alongside rebels in Libya in 1996 in a failed plot to try to kill the dictator, who took power in a 1969 coup. Shayler was imprisoned twice for exposing the plot.
Yet in 2011, Machon said, Gaddafi’s downfall in which he was captured and killed by members of an uprising was closely reported and filmed. “The reporting of MI6 help [for the 1996 plot], of Gaddafi being pulled out of a drainpipe and buggered with a bayonet - nobody cared,” she said. “It says something that what was a dirty secret in 1996 was openly reported in 2011 - it’s a dangerous moral slide that we, as civilised nations, have taken in that time.”
Speaking at the Playful conference in London on Friday, Machon paid tribute to Edward Snowden, who revealed details of surveillance by the US’s National Security Agency (NSA), for revealing the extent of modern surveillance and the invasion of privacy. Of the UK’s spy agency, she said: “GCHQ has prostituted itself the the NSA to the tune of million of dollars with no accountability or oversight - they tell the NSA ‘we can do stuff you can’t do’. We live in an endemic surveillance state now. Politicians say ‘we know the intelligence agencies are working within the law and protecting, not eroding, our freedoms’. But politicians don’t have a bastard clue what spies can get away with and Britain is the least accountable of all the western intelligence agencies.”
Machon signed the Official Secrets Act when she joined MI5 in 1990 after an intensive 10-month recruitment process. She had wanted to work as a diplomat but was sent a mysterious letter which suggested other career possibilities. “I had no idea what I’d be doing the first day I walked through the door of MI5. All I knew was my paygrade and salary, but I had signed up to a secret world.”
Machon described working as a general officer, arranging phone and physical surveillance of subjects. “When I first started reading transcripts of phone conversations it felt highly intrusive - information about their private lives and who they were having an affair with that even their families didn’t know. It becomes god-like … a massive sense of dislocation from the real world."
Shayler was sentenced to six months in prison in 2002 for releasing 28 classified documents to a national newspaper, which led to stories that MI5 held files on government ministers, failed to act on knowledge of IRA bomb plots, and carried out illegal phone surveillance. Shayler fled the UK with Machon three days before the first story was published and went into hiding in Europe for nearly a year, with Machon returning just once to the UK to “comfort our traumatised families”, none of whom had known about their work until they saw the story on the front pages.
Machon also described an incident where a Libyan spy had attempted to pay them off in return for sharing British intelligence on Libya, which she said the couple declined. “We were not in the game of treachery.”
She spoke of the personal cost of living a secret life when working in intelligence, and the dislocation of living a life fractured between a hidden and public life. “I cannot shake off the paranoia that I am being watched or followed,” she explained.
“When we were under investigation our phone calls and emails were under surveillance but also our friends, who were under pressure to report back. That invasive lack of privacy can be very damaging to the human soul, and thanks to Snowden we know we are all living under that sense of a lack of privacy and surveillance.”
Machon made a plea for whistleblowers to be supported by the press and public by focusing not on the “diversionary tactic” of their personal lives but on what they are trying to expose. “Snowden will not be the last but might be the bravest whistleblower in intelligence agency history.”
What most people do not realise, it is a huge risk to speak out and there are people who have lost their life too. It is not unusual to have implied death threats, there are likely actual threats too. The scare tactics are not subtle - being warned 'not to rock the boat;
There are people who work within government agencies and know what is going on. All around our world there are concerned individuals. That ethical person might be an administrator or directly hired in what they think is a job protecting the people in their best interests. We live in a murky world with sinister goings on behind the scenes.
Please share the above article. In encouraging everyone to seek credible information, we can learn the facts. There is a lot of speculation on the internet. If you seek you will discover the people who know the truth, now are finding the courage to speak out too. I cannot urge you enough but to seek out to listen to those who know what they are talking about.
Peace be with you