Whistleblowers Are Not Criminals but We Get Treated Worse Than Them; the Former MI5 Man Says It's Wrong to Vilify People like Katharine GunBy David Shayler THE EX-MI5 OFFICER JAILED AFTER EXPOSING INTELLIGENCE CRIMES

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 29, 2004 | Go to article overview

Whistleblowers Are Not Criminals but We Get Treated Worse Than Them; the Former MI5 Man Says It's Wrong to Vilify People like Katharine GunBy David Shayler THE EX-MI5 OFFICER JAILED AFTER EXPOSING INTELLIGENCE CRIMES


This week's stories about Katharine Gun and Clare Short have highlighted the need for whistleblowers, brave individuals who are prepared to risk their careers, liberty and sometimes even their lives, to expose the wrongdoings of our State.

Without them, we would never know whether we were legitimately taken to war.

Nor would we be able to judge if our intelligence services are operating within the law, or are illegally bugging allies' telephone calls or even, as I exposed, funding affiliates of Al-Qaeda to carry out terrorist attacks abroad.

No one lightly decides to blow the whistle. Intelligence officers are attracted to the job by a desire to make a difference. They want to protect their country from terrorism and crime and willingly take on difficult, frustrating and dangerous work to do so. The very qualities that make a good officer can also drive them to take action when they see blunders, lies and crimes committed by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

No organisation works perfectly, but in the world of intelligence, mistakes cost lives. Keen young officers will see this happen but may naively hope their superiors will learn from their errors. But inert senior management and moribund working practices ensure that nothing ever changes. Why should it, when blunders can be covered up, even to the politicians who think they hold the intelligence agencies to account?

Eager recruits gradually become disillusioned and many leave.

However, just occasionally, one will come across a crime so heinous they feel compelled to follow their conscience and speak out. This was evident in Katharine Gun's claim that America asked GCHQ to spy on our UN allies in the run-up to the Iraq war.

I was driven to speak out when I discovered that in 1996 MI6 had paid affiliates of Al-Qaeda about [pounds sterling]100,000 of taxpayers' money to assassinate Colonel Gadaffi of Libya. The attack went wrong and innocent Libyan civilians died. The operation had not been sanctioned by the Foreign Secretary, making it illegal.

Although whistleblowers may feel a moral imperative to expose a crime, it's still an incredibly frightening decision to take. The immediate consequence is the loss of a career and the life that goes with it.

You will then face arrest by Special Branch officers. You'll be interrogated for hours, locked up in a filthy cell, then released on bail.

The potential embarrassment for the Government will delay the decision whether to prosecute, so you wait months to learn your fate, living your life in limbo.

During this time, Government spin doctors will launch a vicious media campaign against you to erode your credibility and dismiss your allegations as ill-informed or, worse, pure fantasy. …

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Whistleblowers Are Not Criminals but We Get Treated Worse Than Them; the Former MI5 Man Says It's Wrong to Vilify People like Katharine GunBy David Shayler THE EX-MI5 OFFICER JAILED AFTER EXPOSING INTELLIGENCE CRIMES
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