Originally published at WIRED by John Borland on 12/29/13
HAMBURG – A new foundation to support whistleblowers is being launched by former British intelligence agent Annie Machon, whose resignation and revelations about U.K. spying activities in the 1990s sparked controversy echoing this year’s NSA news.
Speaking at the Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) here, Machon said the foundation would be called the Courage Fund to Protect Journalistic Sources.
“Crucially, we want to encourage other whistleblowers to come forward,” she said. “It is a very frightening and lonely process to go through. We need to show that they can not only survive the process, but even flourish.”
Machon’s experience in the 1990s in some senses prefigured what sources such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are going through today.
An intelligence officer with the British MI5 service for six years, she and her partner resigned in 1997 and made public a number of allegations about secret and potentially criminal activities.
Among these, they alleged that intelligence services had been keeping secret files on government ministers, had illegally tapped phones, had failed to stop Irish Republican Army bombs and subsequently lied about their actions, that people known to be innocent had been convicted of bombing crimes, and – most explosively – that MI6 had sought to have Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi assassinated.
She and her partner were forced on the run in Europe for the next year, and her partner ultimately went to prison twice for the revelations, in France and again after returning to England. Machon has served as a civil rights activist since, and is the European director of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) group.
In a speech excoriating governments around the world for undermining civil and privacy rights, she said she had learned what it was like to live without any privacy.
“It is incredibly corrosive to the human spirit to know that everything you say, everything you do, even if you just want to have a private conversation with your mother, is being listened to,” she said. “Now we all know we are being listened to and surveyed in this amazingly Panopticon-like manner.”
People like Snowden and Manning must be given support, she said, or civil liberties will continue to be eroded.
“So many journalists write so many stories, but what happens to the whistleblowers? They’re left swinging in the wind,” she said. “If they can’t survive the process of coming forward, then we will not have these people.”
A similar WikiLeaks-allied fund, called the Journalistic Source Protection Defense Fund, has been established by WikiLeaks to help support Edward Snowden’s legal battles.