Sunshine Week transcript! Previous winners speak at Sam Adams Awards
Ray McGovern introduces the previous winners of the esteemed Sam Adams Award for celebrated Whistleblowers.
The Oxford Union in January hosted the Sam Adams Awards for Integrity in Intelligence, where this year American Tom Fingar won the award for overseeing the 2007 NIE Estimate on Iran. 2010 winner Julian Assange spoke by video link, see transcript here.
Previous winners also spoke, including former British ambassador and 2005 winner Craig Murray. When Oxford Union finally posted a YouTube of their speeches last week, Murray embedded it in a blog post, Of This I Am Proud.
I am proud of the company I was in of fellow Sam Adams winners; but also because in the circumstances I think this was the best speech I have ever made. If you listen from 15 minutes, the enthusiastic and sustained interruption of applause I received from the Oxford Union for my attack on those demonstrating against Julian Assange is remarkable.
After my point on the Assange demonstration, you could have heard a pin drop for the rest of my talk and I was unsure how the audience were reacting. Unfortunately the video cuts off the peroration, so you will have to take my word for it that the applause was very big and after resuming my seat I had to half stand and acknowledge again. But I had concluded by introducing Julian Assange, so that may have been for him not me – I would be just as pleased.
It surely was a speech to be proud of, as were those of all the other speakers. And for me it was an unexpected delight to find former American ambassador John Brady Kiesling tucked in there, almost invisible, misidentified in the YouTube info as Ray McGovern and unidentified onscreen. Chills and tears. Ten years ago, in the midst of the miserable drumming for war, as I was in the kitchen washing dishes, I heard this on the radio: Interview: John Brady Kiesling Explains Why He Is Resigning From The State Department. The full letter in all its decent splendor is here.
Previous Winners | Sam Adams Awards | Oxford Union
January 23, 2013
Length: 23 min
Clicking on the centered images below should take you to that spot in the YouTube.
Transcript of speeches by previous winners Annie Machon, Thomas Drake, Ann Wright, John Brady Kiesling and Craig Murray
RAY McGOVERN: This next segment is going to be a little choppy, but we want to get a lot of views in and each person will have about 2½ minutes, so if you fall asleep you’re going to miss some really important things. First up is Annie Machon and Tom Drake. Annie of course is from MI6 and Tom Drake is from NSA, whose equivalent GCHQ was the place where Katharine Gun worked. Annie.
ANNIE MACHON: I worked for MI5 in the 1990s as an intelligence officer, and along with my former partner, a man who became quite a notorious whistleblower, David Shayler, we ended up blowing the whistle on a whole catalog of crimes and incompetence carried out by the UK spy community which included illegal phone taps, files on government ministers, innocent people being put in prison, bombs that could and should have been prevented, and it culminated in an illegal assassination attempt against Colonel Gaddafi of Libya paid for by MI6 in 1996. Now we couldn’t live with this, so we decided to blow the whistle, though there were very few avenues to go down to expose wrongdoing by the spies and that resulted in us going literally on the run around Europe for a month. We had to live in hiding in a French farmhouse for a year, and we then spent another two years in exile living in Paris. I and many of our friends and journalists were arrested and convicted around us and David himself went to prison not once but twice, first of all when the British government failed to extradite him from France and secondly when he returned voluntarily to stand trial under the Official Secrets Act in the UK in 2002.
And what I learned over that period was that the British spy community is the least accountable and most legally protected in any Western notional democracy. There is no meaningful oversight. There is something called the Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament, but the only powers they have are to look at finance policy and administration of the spies. They can’t investigate crimes or incompetence, and they’re also the most legally protected, because we have the most draconian official secrecy act, Official Secrets Act, which means that if you work for the agencies and you want to report crime up to and including murder, you are the criminal, not the people who commit the crime inside the agencies. So it’s quite a steep learning curve.
And it’s very difficult in this country to try and make a difference. You can go to the extreme and blow the whistle, but you can pay a terrible price. It’s very difficult to do that. And also the media can be very easily controlled and spun.
And that’s why also I take my hat off and salute the efforts of organizations like WikiLeaks that provide a high tech and protective conduit to potential intelligence whistleblowers. It is necessary in this world, and it's never been more necessary in this world where you have a situation where our intelligence agencies are allegedly involved in torture, are certainly involved in kidnapping, extraordinary rendition, and certainly with things like the CIA kill lists. We have never had a greater need of whistleblowers and integrity in intelligence. And of course the most beautiful example of that is if you can do it from within the agencies, where you can exercise integrity from the inside and make a world-changing difference. So I would like to salute Dr. Tom Fingar for what he did with the National Intelligence Estimate, for just doing his job correctly. So thank you.
THOMAS DRAKE: I looked up “intelligence” in the Oxford English Dictionary. I preferred the archaic form, “intelligential,” of sound judgment and rationality, as in, quote, “The pure intelligential substances require, as doth your rational,” from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Yet intelligence without integrity is like an umbrella full of holes, an emperor without clothes, or a tail wagging the dog. When intelligence is employed as an instrument of national power for the purpose of enemizing everything and everyone as an existential threat to national security, then intelligence simply becomes a narrow filter for enabling the ends of policy and justifying the means that lead to pretextual conclusions and decisions having enormous intended and unintended strategic consequences both at home and abroad.
Since 9/11 we are increasingly seeing intelligence establishments value secrecy as primacy over openness, and the mirage of knowing over the transparency of shared information. There are secrets worth keeping and threats worth pursuing, but most secrets are worth knowing in the public interest, without compromising sources and methods. Hiding too much intelligence behind the veil of secrecy often shields intelligence analysts and decision-makers from debate and criticism and enables errors of fact and judgment that too often go unchallenged in order to maintain the status quo world view.
Secret intelligence also functions as a source of power for those who have access, giving the illusion of special knowledge and kept like coins of the realm, often hoarded rather than freely shared, leading to policy failures and misunderstandings of the world as the information is taken out of context and manipulated for institutional control and self-interest instead of the public interest, and often played out and projected onto the world stage as self-perpetuating militarism, jingoism, and faux national emergencies justifying extrajudicial enabling-act executive-fiat law.
Intelligence is also NOT an immunity shield to conveniently hide government criminal wrongdoing, incompetence, corruption, illegality and conduct that the powers that be wish to keep hidden from legitimate public interest, like the illegal U.S. secret warrantless surveillance program that willfully violated the Constitution, or the egregiously unlawful U.S. state-sponsored rendition, detention and interrogation torture program, or the many billions wasted in boondoggle national security programs, or the falsified and discredited intelligence used to justify the preemptive invasion of Iraq, all reflecting the very conduct of secret government that is clearly in the public interest to expose and disclose through the integrity of truth tellers and whistleblowers within official channels and in the free press.
As I experienced, speaking truth to power about government wrongdoing and secret illegal surveillance after 9/11 was turned into treason, including critical material intelligence discovered and shared with Congressional investigators that could have prevented 9/11, as well as the incalculable loss of intelligence because the very best of American ingenuity and innovation was never given a chance, and exercising my rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution becoming a criminal act in the eyes of the government and becoming marked as an enemy of state, facing many decades in prison.
And yet truth is often a discomforting reality in an environment of deceit, cover-up and lies, but it is still the truth, however inconvenient, and it is the truth that sets intelligence free. And so here we are to honor the integrity of intelligence as exemplified by Thomas Fingar and the courage he showed in standing firm with the objective facts, without skewing them to fit the desired intelligence preferred or the convenience of political pressures or the unilateral prerogatives of power for its own ends.
Now we'll hear from foreign service officers Ann Wright and Brady Kiesling.
ANN WRIGHT: As a diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, I helped reopen the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December of 2001 and then went on to my last assignment which was in Mongolia as a deputy ambassador to Mongolia. And in March 2003 I became the third U.S. government official to resign in opposition to the war in Iraq. There were only three of us in the U.S. government that resigned over the Iraq war, but there were hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of people in our government that knew those weapons of mass destruction, that symbol, was not right. That was not a right thing for the United States to be doing, invading and occupying an oil-rich Arab Muslim country that had not attacked the United States and over which the international community had 10 years of quarantine, of sanctions and no-fly zones. So I resigned. After all those years in the government.
But my little part of this is, what do you do after you resign? What do you do then? With all of your experience that you’ve had? Well, I get out and, kind of like the protesters that we had out there, well I protest a lot of things that the U.S. government continues to do. I’m protesting right now assassin drones. Assassin drones! The United States of America is assassinating people in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia. The president of the United States has a kill list that every Tuesday he makes a decision on who’s going to live and die, particularly in Pakistan, by name assassinations. And just as I thought that Iraq war was wrong, I think that’s wrong for the president of the United States to be doing it right now. So I’m out there protesting a lot of policies of the United States, of the continuation of detainees in Guantanamo, what I consider to be, even though our Congress says it’s legal for the United States government to listen to my cell phone calls and look into my e-mails, I think it’s wrong. I think those drones are wrong.
There’s a lot of stuff that I think we as citizens, and now that I am a citizen and not a government employee, I’m out there with I hope you all as you challenge your government when you think it’s doing wrong. I applaud so much Tom Fingar for the courage to stay within the system, to keep trying to get the system to right itself, but there is a reason that dissent is there and that we sometimes have to go outside the system to effect change in our own countries. Thank you.
JOHN BRADY KIESLING: I’d like to thank the Union for inviting us. I am expecting confidently that most of the people in this room are members of the Union because they see a role for themselves in shaping the future of their country, and what I would like to say is that the privilege of serving your country is an amazing one. I spent 20 years as an American diplomat. My last job was as political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Athens. I spent 20 years being a disciplined, careful, meticulous, reasonably, diplomat, not saying what I thought, listening to foreigners, finding out what they thought, reporting it to my government as best I could. In the fall of 2002, when it became clear the Iraq war was going to happen, and it was also clear to me from everything I knew about human nature after 20 years that that war would be a disaster, that the justification for it was not adequate to legitimize the war in the eyes of our allies, that we would not have the skills or the legitimacy to democratize that country, I decided to resign. A lot of that resignation, I regret to say, was handled very poorly, because I made the decision in a burst of anger, essentially in the spur of the moment.
And what I would like you to do is think, invest 20 years serving your country, be the best expert your country has to offer in whatever your field it might be, be the person who can tell the politicians, “This is the national interest of our country at this moment, in this sphere,” and then when the politician says, “The national interest is less important than my personal political comfort,” that is when you have a role that your 20 years has earned you. And the job of dissent in practical terms is to raise the domestic political cost of betraying the national interest in pursuit of selfish domestic political interest, and the way you do that most effectively is by remembering that you are not alone, that your expertise has won you friends in the system, has won you respect in the system, you can reach out to others, you can gather information that is useful to make your case, that you build your case in the knowledge that you are kissing your career goodbye, but when you leave you do it with dignity, with integrity, with as much respect for your own country’s laws as your country’s government allows you to have, and then when you do it, even though you will probably not be able to avert something like the Iraq war, at least you will know that you’ve made the best decision you’ve ever made in your life and you are still proud of that. Thank you very much.
CRAIG MURRAY (misidentified onscreen): Delightful to be back here again. Over the course of the last 30 or 35 years or so I’ve spoken in this chamber maybe about 20 times. This is the first time I’ve ever done it when it’s not been a debate, and it’s the first time I’ve ever done it sober.
If anybody wants to see me talking when I’m drunk, I am speaking in the debate tomorrow night, [laughter] so please do come back and see if you can tell the difference.
It’s also genuinely a privilege to be here because of the tremendous list of amazing people who have spoken here in the past. I’m looking at the bust of William Gladstone there, of whom I’ll say something in a moment. Last night we had John Bolton speaking here. Tonight I came here through a demonstration against Julian Assange. Last night you had speaking here a war criminal who had a major part in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and there wasn’t a single demonstrator outside against him. Some of you have got your values seriously messed up.
[applause, whistles, cheers]
I resigned from the British Foreign Office in which I was an ambassador because I came across the torture of people to get so-called intelligence and I came across extraordinary rendition. When I resigned, or was sacked, I don’t care which you say, [laughter] I was proud that I had done the right thing. I had lost my career, I’d lost everything I’d worked for my whole life, but I could sleep at night. I knew that the intelligence got from torture was untrue, because you don’t get the truth from torture. Forget these stupid films about Bin Laden, forget Twenty-Four, forget Hollywood. The vast majority of people tortured for intelligence are completely innocent. And the people doing the torture are the thugs of Mubarak or the thugs of Karimov or the thugs of whichever dictator is employing them, and they are not disinterested seekers of the truth. They are people wanting to create the narrative their master wants to hear, and unfortunately we had a period where in pursuit of war, the Western intelligence agencies were knowingly accepting intelligence from torture in order to compound false narratives that pursued war. That is what we were up against.
Why we need WikiLeaks and organizations like WikiLeaks, why we need whistleblowers, is you can no longer automatically trust government. I knew people personally, I worked with people, I knew people very, very well who were involved in the preparation of the dossier, the Dirty Dossier, on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. I actually happened to have had as a previous job being in charge of the FCO section monitoring Iraqi attempts at weapons procurement. I can tell you for certain that the majority of people involved in the preparation of that dossier knew it was not true and produced it under political pressure, and I can tell you I know of people who were in tears, I know of people who were near suicidal, I know the pressures they put on people, I know what they do to people. When I came out and blew the whistle on extraordinary rendition and torture, I was accused of sexual allegations. I was accused of blackmailing visa applicants into sex. Which is rape, in another word. I was not guilty. I was not guilty. It took me years to clear my name, and it was the most appalling thing that can happen to you. And anybody who believes governments do not go that kind of thing to whistleblowers is naïve.
Let me tell you something more. The other reason we need organizations like WikiLeaks is that the space of debate has narrowed because the mainstream media no longer allows a wide area of debate. I said I would come back to Gladstone, whose bust is there. While he was Leader of the Opposition in the 1880 general election, the third Afghan war was in progress and Gladstone in his Midlothian Campaign made a speech in which he said, “Our troops have driven the wives and children of the Afghans into the snows of winter. If they resist, would you not do the same?” It is no longer politically conceivable that any Leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom would say of people fighting against British troops, “If they resist, would you not do the same?” Can you imagine if any mainstream British politician said that those fighting British troops in Afghanistan might have some right on their side as we have invaded their country, can you imagine the way they would be drowned out by our ultranationalist and militarist media which we have nowadays? There is no longer space in our society for the kind of free debate that Gladstone used to enjoy. And that servile nationalist role played by the media is a reason why we need to fight back using alternative media.
One thing people always recall about WikiLeaks is the helicopter footage of the Reuters journalists being killed by an American military unit. One aspect people forget is that the families of those journalists had been told for years by the Pentagon that the Pentagon had no information on what had happened. That lying to grieving parents in order to protect criminal behavior is an example, just one example, of the kind of cruelty of government behavior that makes whistleblowing necessary. WikiLeaks exposed reporting on the corruption, very good American diplomatic reporting, on the corruption in Tunisia which helped spark the Arab revolution. WikiLeaks revealed to the people of Yemen that their president had deliberately agreed with the Americans to put out that American bombing and drone raids were in fact terrorist suicide bombs. I could go on and on with so much information that WikiLeaks has given that has enriched the world, made the world a better place. If we could always trust government, we would not need WikiLeaks. But we can’t, and we do.