The winner of the 2021 Sam Adams Award will be announced at the World Ethical Data Forum, which runs from Wednesday through Friday.
Whistleblower Annie Machon has won this year’s Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence award, which is being presented to her on Wednesday on the first day of the three-day World Ethical Data Forum. The late Prof. Stephen Cohen of Princeton and New York University will also be honored for his service as a leading Russia specialist.
[To watch the awards ceremony and the rest of the World Ethical Data Forum, which has a host of well-known speakers (including Sam Adams associates) on data security, artificial intelligence and independent journalism in the cyber era, go to this website. Consortium News readers can register for the March 17-19 event with this 50 percent discount code: WEDFTeamAnnie50]
Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 recruited Machon as soon as she completed her studies at Cambridge University and she worked at MI-5 for six years during the early 1990s. When Machon learned the agency was secretly surveilling left-wing politicians and government officials with oversight responsibility for MI5 itself, she found herself not “ethically flexible” enough to ignore such abuses.
Meanwhile, her partner and MI5 colleague, David Shayler, learned that more “ethically flexible” agents in MI6 (Britain’s CIA) were planning to assassinate Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (a fate he was to meet many years later).
Machon and Shayler ended up blowing the whistle on these and other abuses. They resigned in 1996 and went on the run the following year aiming to create, in Machon’s words, “a bit of a scandal”, hoping to draw attention to the substance of the abuses and prompt an inquiry. She describes Shayler’s fearlessness and integrity as “astonishing.”
After three years on the run — hiding mostly in France — they returned to the UK, where Machon was arrested (but never charged). The powers-that-be, however, chose to make an example of Shayler (not unlike what they are now doing to WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange). They threw the book at him.
His whistleblowing case dragged on for seven years, during which he did a brief stint in Belmarsh, the infamous high-security prison where Assange still rots (having been denied bail, yet again). A strong mitigation plea by Machon helped reduce Shayler’s remaining prison time. All in all, though, what he was forced to endure took a hard toll on him. More broadly, the issues that surfaced around whistleblowing then, remain largely the same two decades later.
Russia scholar Stephen Cohen.
In her Sam Adams award acceptance speech, Machon is expected to allude to this background, since it goes a long way toward explaining why Annie herself has been such an intrepid supporter of whistleblowers — like Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. Machon is also a go-to mentor and networker for young people interested in (true) stories of officials for whom the word “ethical” proved to be more than just a nice sounding adjective.
The first part of the Sam Adams awards ceremony will be devoted to honoring Professor Cohen with a posthumous award for scholarship, courage, and integrity. His widow, Katrina vanden Heuvel, will read the citation and add her own remarks.
Machon, one of the leaders of the World Ethical Data Foundation, is the 19th Sam Adams laureate. Her award calls to mind the courageous example of the first two winners: FBI special agent and counselor Coleen Rowley (2002); and GCHQ Mandarin translator Katharine Gun (2003). [See Katharine played by Keira Knightly in the 2019 film Official Secrets.”] Other winners were Assange (2010) and Manning (2014).
(See: Sam Adams Associates website samadamsaward.ch for full listing and citations.)
In 2015 I was wrongfully convicted of, and imprisoned for, violating the U.S. Espionage Act. Now, while there is no question that I stand in solidarity with WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in a British court as he fights extradition, little did I know that my presence is also there as fodder to support extradition. If I am going to be used in such a way, there should at least be a modicum of truth to my inclusion. I found nothing reasonable about being persecuted and sentenced to prison under the Espionage Act.
On the first day of the recent extradition proceedings in London, James Lewis QC, representing the U.S. government, attempted to counter arguments about the potential prison sentence Assange faces if convicted of violating the Espionage Act by stating that individuals such as myself serve as “benchmarks” for what Assange is facing. To Lewis and the U.S. government, my 42-month sentence or the range of 40-60 months is “reasonable.” Such use of my experience fighting the Espionage Act in order to quell concerns about Assange’s potential sentence is misleading without providing context.
As a U.S. citizen, I was ostensibly armed with certain rights going into a Virginia courtroom to fight for my freedom. I was woefully mistaken. The court in Virginia where Assange would be tried is the same court that prevented me from suing the Central Intelligence Agency for employment discrimination, on grounds that it would pose a threat to the national security of the United States. To that court and to the U.S. government, an African American fighting for his supposedly guaranteed civil rights is a threat to national security. Going to trial in 2015 as one of an ever-growing number being charged with violating the Espionage Act, I was, therefore, facing a court and judicial system that had a history of disregarding me as a living breathing citizen with any rights. The result of that one-sided CIA show-trial was my “reasonable” 42-month prison sentence. If supposed inalienable rights were not guaranteed to me as a U.S. citizen, Assange is only guaranteed to be prosecuted.
In maximum terms, Assange is facing 175 years in prison. For the charges against me, I was also facing over 100 years maximum sentence. The fact that I was sentenced to 42 months should not be any benchmark of reasonableness when the Espionage Act and the court in Virginia where the U.S. wants Assange extradited to are involved.
In a final moment of clarity after a long delay before sentencing, Judge Leonie Brinkema commented that the sentencing guidelines were “way off” and chose 42 months as my sentence. That “reasonableness” was most likely not out of any benevolence on her part. It might have been that Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to the court requesting fairness, or maybe she was moved by the fact that I was convicted by a government-leaning jury on absolutely no evidence. The prosecutor was visibly livid as he obviously was hoping for a much, much longer sentence. His continual questioning, if not pleading of the judge to explain the sentence was finally silenced when the judge stated, “That’s it.” I fear that Assange will face a less reasonable court and sentence.
And Lewis failed to mention how conditions in U.S. prisons will be a part of that benchmark. The U.S. prison system is one of deplorable living conditions, disregard for human life, and perpetual punishment. And given Assange’s health, he will be lucky to receive adequate care. While I was in a U.S. prison, it took the intervention of a U.S. Senator for me to receive the health care that quite possibly saved my life. Should not this reality be part of Lewis’ benchmark?
Given the long history of the U.S. government’s pursuit of Assange and the obvious political nature of his potential prosecution, I fear there will be nothing reasonable with regard to any sentence to be imposed. My prosecution should serve not as a benchmark for being sentenced under the Espionage Act, but rather a warning about how the perverse use of the Espionage Act started by the Obama administration and continued by the Trump administration to quell and silence dissent is a threat to free speech, not only in my country, and as the extradition proceedings demonstrate, in the entire world.
Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent, is the author of “Unwanted Spy: The Persecution of an American Whistleblower.” He was in prison for two and a half years after a 2015 trial convicted him of violating the Espionage Act, making him another victim of the U.S. government’s crackdown on alleged leakers and whistleblowers. Sterling is currently the coordinator of The Project for Accountability, sponsored by the RootsAction Education Fund. This article was syndicated by ExposeFacts.org.
The above video is of our 2019 Sam Adams award presentation on January 15, 2020 to former CIA agent and hero whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling. The evening began with a song dedicated to Jeffrey and the integrity he (and his wife Holly) displayed throughout Jeffrey’s truth telling ordeal. (While viewers must “bear with us” as the singing was unrehearsed so a bit offkey), the (partial) lyrics below by songwriter Ann Reed DO “tell the story.”
What can I learn from you In your lifetime, in what you’ve been through How’d you keep your head up and hold your pride In an insane world how’d you keep on tryin’ One life can tell the tale That if you make the effort, you can not fail By your life you tell me it can be done By your life’s the courage to carry on
(chorus:) Heroes Appear like a friend To clear a path or light the flame As time goes by you find you depend On your heroes to show you the way
What can I learn from you That I must do the thing I think I can not do That you do what’s right by your heart and soul It’s the imperfections that make us whole One life can tell the tale And if you make the effort you can not fail By your life you tell me it can be done By your life’s the courage to carry on…
The presentation to Sterling was preceded by a showing of the poignant docudrama “Official Secrets,” the true story of the second (2003) Sam Adams award recipient Katherine Gun. SAAII members Ray McGovern, Tom Drake, Jesselyn Radack, John Kiriakou, Larry Wilkerson, Ann Wright, and Coleen Rowley spoke at the event while Todd Pierce and Elizabeth Murray made the actual presentation. Among the other members in attendance were William Binney, Clement “Lu” Laniewsky, Robert Wing, Karen Kwiatkowsky and Gareth Porter. Stellar defense attorneys Edward MacMahon and Barry Pollack were also on hand to publicly congratulate Jeffrey as well as a standing-room-only full of admirers of the integrity Jeffrey displayed in telling the truth during these troubled times when, as CIA analyst Sam Adams learned the hard way during Vietnam, truth tends to be the first casualty during a time of war.
Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence is a movement of former CIA colleagues of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, together with others who hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power. SAAII confers an award each year to a member of the intelligence community or related professions who exemplifies Sam Adam’s courage, persistence, and devotion to truth – no matter the consequences. Read more about the history here.
The annual Sam Adams Award has been given in previous years to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI; Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan; Sam Provance, former US Army Sgt; Maj. Frank Grevil of Danish Army Intelligence; Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell at State; Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks: Thomas Drake, of NSA; Jesselyn Radack, formerly of Dept. of Justice and now National Security Director of Government Accountability Project; Thomas Fingar, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence and Director, National Intelligence Council, and Edward Snowden, former contractor for the National Security Agency; Chelsea Manning, US Army Private who exposed (via WikiLeaks) key information on Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as State Department activities; and to retired National Security Agency official William Binney, who challenged decisions to ignore the Fourth Amendment in the government’s massive — and wasteful — collection of electronic data.