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Dr David Wilson's column: Meeting Public Friend No1.

This week I visited David Shayler in Paris, as he was about to spend his 900th day in political exile. Shayler, you may remember, is the former MI5 officer, who in August 1997, believing that he was acting in the public interest, wrote a series of articles criticising MI5.

He revealed, for example, how current Ministers had been investigated by MI5 as suspected "fifth columnists" (including Jack Straw, Harriet Harman, and Peter Mandelson); and a second article detailed intransigent management, rampant drunkenness, and declining morale within MI5.

He submitted two further articles - one demonstrating how in 1994 MI5 failed to react to an impending terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy, and more sensationally how MI6 officers had plotted a botched assassination attempt on Colonel Gadhafi, and ended up killing innocent bystanders.

The Government's reaction to these revelations was to censor Shayler's disclosures and an injunction against him continues to prevent him from speaking about problems within the Intelligence service.

He has been pursued under the repressive Official Secrets Act, which prevents his freedom of expression; been thrown into prison in an attempt to extradite him; his partner - Annie Machon - has similarly been arrested; and there seems to be a never-ending campaign of smear and innuendo against him, all part of his "punishment" for embarrassing the Intelligence establishment.

I was visiting David to ask his views about the new Terrorism Bill which is being steered through Parliament, and which will broaden the definition of terrorism from "the use of violence for political ends" (i e the overthrow of the state) to activities which are motivated for religious or ideological reasons - which have nothing to do with the state being overthrown - and for the first time will include damage to property.

There is understandable unease that such a broad definition will suck in those among us who want to protest against GM crops, or so-called "eco warriors", such as Greenpeace, who might want to prevent oil rigs, or toxic waste being dumped in the oceans. Interestingly David implied that the motivation behind this Bill was "empire protection".

In short, that with the ending of the Cold War, and near peace in Northern Ireland, the security services needed something to justify their existence, and eco-warriors, or those prepared to take direct action would do just as well as those who used the bomb and the bullet. As Shayler put it, "it's jobs for the boys"!

As fascinating as this insight was I had never visited someone in exile before, and so I was just as interested in how he and Annie lived. I couldn't help but notice the vast amount of Middlesbrough FC memorabilia that seemed to be everywhere - from calendars to fanzines. Of course there was a word processor, and an Internet link too, which informs those who log on about David's campaign.

The campaign is called "Public Friend No 1", and it fights for David to be allowed to return to Britain without him being arrested or imprisoned, although he seemed quite sanguine about this, and indeed we discussed what sentence he might get, and which prison he might be sent to.

This is clearly a very important personal aim of the campaign, and I lend my support to it. But perhaps of greater concern to everyone is the final campaign objective which is "Transparency".

By this David means that we should all support initiatives which give people greater and more timely access to state information, and reform the current rules governing the release of security information ensuring that those investigated by MI5 can have access to their files after they have reasonably and objectively ceased to be a security risk.

I imagine that this will become even more of an issue if the Terrorism Bill becomes law, and we end up spying on the likes of Swampy and other "eco warriors".

I wish David and Annie well in their exile, and if like me you are convinced of his case, then their web site is http://www.publicfriendno1.com

Dr David Wilson is director of the Criminal Justice, Policy and Practice department at the University of Central England.
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Author:Wilson, David
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 12, 2000
Words:688
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