This was the dilemma facing David Shayler, an intelligence officer in MI5, the British internal intelligence agency. David Shayler took the riskiest option of the three and went public with what he knew, in doing so putting his life and freedom at risk.
MI5 and the government went on the offensive, doing their best to discredit David Shayler and the sordid tale he had to tell. Facing arrest and possible imprisonment, David Shayler fled to France.
In the meantime, Annie Machon, David's girlfriend and herself an MI5 officer, appalled at the treatment of David, went public to say that what he was telling was the truth.
And if that was not enough, Richard Tomlinson, an MI6 officer, spoke out at the abuses and lack of accountability at MI6.
David Shayler voluntarily returned from France to face trial. He was one of the first to try to make use of the Human Rights Act, which should guarantee the right to a fair hearing.
Unfortunately it was anything but. What David Shayler faced was a political show trial. He was even gagged and not allowed to speak in his own defence.
Writing several years after they first went public, Annie Machon documents in Spies, Lies & Whistleblowers: MI5, MI6 and the Shayler Affair what all the furore was about.
David and Annie witnessed at first hand:
- how MI5 failed to foil at least four major IRA terrorist attacks
- that MI5 compiled dossiers on British citizens for holding dissident political views
- a blind eye turned to a known Libyan terrorist organising terror networks in the UK
- illegal persecution of an innocent journalist
- MI6 funding of an Al-Qaeda coup in Libya to topple and assassinate Colonel Gaddafi
In Spycatcher Peter Wright wrote of how MI5 'bugged and burgled its way across London'. Writing a generation later, Annie Machon shows that not a lot has changed: drunken officers who lose sensitive files, turf wars between the various agencies, turf wars between different sections within MI5, bureaucratic bungling, cavalier attitude to human rights, blatant lying to Ministers, dirty tricks and smear campaigns against perceived enemies, enemies of the intelligence agencies that is, not enemies of the state, etc etc.
Prior to working on counter-terrorism, Annie and David were working on counter-subversion, monitoring and infiltrating fringe groups like SWP, Communist Party of Great Britain, and the anarchist group Class War. It is easy therefore to see why the pair were made less than welcome when they attended a fringe meeting at the recent Anarchist Bookfair. But, they did not have to attend, and it in no way justifies the smear campaign that has been running against them. Annie describes some of the dirty tricks that were run, and the question has to be asked: are the smear campaigns that are being run by allegedly dissident groups, less the lunatic fringe and more dirty tricks by front organisations, or dissident groups that have been infiltrated and hijacked, as was Class War?
Raising the abuses of human rights, that monitoring political dissent, is not what the intelligence services should be doing, was not guaranteed to enhance one's career prospects.
David Shayler was prosecuted because he caused embarrassment, and to serve as an example to others who may be tempted to speak out. Is this what caused Dr David Kelly to take his own life (assuming he did and was not killed to silence him), an honourable man who spoke out against the lies on the illegal war with Iraq?
There is a confusion between 'damage to national security' and 'harm to the national interest'. The former is easy to interpret, the latter is open to abuse, and too often is interpreted as embarrassment to those in power, and believe it or not not, there is a security classification of 'causing embarrassment to HMG'.
We saw this in the Shayler Affair, and are seeing it again with the infamous memo where George W Bush allegedly wished to bomb the Qatar offices of Al Jazeera. That part is believable, less believable is that Tony Blair acted to dissuade Bush.
We have here parallels with the Shayler Affair where a a Civil Servant and a Parliamentary Researcher are to prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act as their actions are deemed 'prejudicial to the national interest'. But whose interest is that, as surely is it not in our interest, as a democratic society, to be told that the supposed leader of the free world, was contemplating bombing a TV channel in a friendly country, but was dissuaded by his comrade-in-arms in war crimes, the odious Blair?
The suppression of free speech 'in the national interest' is reminiscent of acts carried out 'in the good of the people' so favoured by totalitarian regimes, so no surprise it finds favour with Tony Blair.
We have learnt recently that the Muslim terrorists involved in the Tube bombings in London on 7 July 2005, were known to the intelligence services, had travelled to terrorist training camps in Pakistan, had met known or suspected terrorists in the UK, were mixing with extremist Muslim clerics, but failed to keep tabs on them due to lack of resources.
Would this tragedy have happened if the appropriate resources had been found? Would resources have been available if they were not being squandered on monitoring political dissidents? Questions that the relatives of the dead should be asking, and demanding answers.
Since Tony Blair came to power, we have had a succession of Terrorist Acts, each more Draconian than its predecessor. What is this legislation for? Is it for dealing with real terrorists, or is it for dealing with political dissent, for clamping down on the domestic population?
Anti-terror legislation was used for dealing with protests at the G8 Summit in Scotland in Summer 2005. It was invoked again Autumn 2005 to deal with an elderly gentleman who was manhandled out of the Neo-Labour Party Conference by a bunch of thugs for daring to shout out 'rubbish' at the government's policy on Iraq during a speech by Jack 'boot' Straw. An elderly gentleman who had fled Nazi persecution in Europe.
When we tie in the abuses that we see all the time, the steady erosion of our civil rights in the name of the bogus 'war on terror', with with the abuses that Annie Machon has laid bare within the intelligence services, then we have every reason to be worried.
A well written and researched book and Annie Machon should be complimented for having had the courage to write it.
We expect the establishment not to forgive Annie and David, and that has been their experience. If they keep their heads down, they are left alone. If they speak out, then they receive undue attention.
What they fear is ending up like Dr David Kelly, the man who exposed the lies behind the illegal war with Iraq. A man who was found dead in a wood with his wrists slashed.
In this they are not alone. Gerald James was the boss of Astra, once a firework company and the company that provided the propellant for the Iraqi super-gun. When Gerald James spoke out, he found his life was under threat. [see Gerald James, In the Public Interest, Warner Books, 1996]
All this is understandable. What is less understandable and deeply regrettable, are the attacks on the integrity of these two coming from within the dissident community. The only possible explanation, apart from the usual lunatic fringe, is that those making the attacks are agents of the state doing their best to destroy the credibility of those who dare speak out at their former employers.
Highly recommended for anyone who wants to see a little light shed into the deeper recesses of of our intelligence agencies and wants to better understand how our civil rights are being eroded.