On the first day of this month (June 2016), The Guardian revealed a rift caused in the mid-2000s between MI5 and MI6, Britain’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies, by MI6’s involvement in the rendition and torture of people suspected of Islamist terrorism. It was good journalism, but it still took ten years for the public to be told of this rift.
I have been an investigative journalist for over three decades. In that time, just about every case of illegality, immorality or incompetence demonstrated by an intelligence agency I can think of has been revealed by investigative journalists working with their inside sources.
The real story of the Cambridge Ring, Spycatcher, the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) fiasco, rendition, torture and‘Undercover Cops’ are just some examples. Despite intelligence lobby claims, the people who have done the most harm to intelligence agencies have been their own defectors, not journalists. Intelligence officers like George Blake, Michael Bettaney, Geoffrey Prime and, in the US, Jonathan Pollard, who spied for money and the opposition, giving away sensitive secrets, as well as Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames. This applies to most western democracies.
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These pieces of research indicate a pattern of behavioural change that dampens dissent and resistance to overbearing power, both of which are hallmarks of an active democratic citizenry.
The unexpected findings from the openDemocracy/St Andrews research that British political activists from a diverse range of campaigns, while recognising the import of Snowden’s revelations, have not found a coherent response, existentially, practically or technologically to the threat of mass surveillance are both fascinating and depressing.
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