Hello! This is John Robles, I’m speaking with Mr. Michael John Smith. He is the last person convicted of spying for the Soviet Union in the UK. He is also an intelligence specialist and a regular contributor to the Voice of Russia.
Smith: The US decided that they were going to listen in and snoop on what those countries were doing, and what possibilities there were to swing those countries into that camp of attacking Iraq.
Now that was illegal, and at that time, it may not have been obvious, but I think that was an early indication of what the US was up to. The US was snooping on its allies and on other countries, and maybe it wasn’t to the extent that what Snowden has now exposed, but back in those days that was the same thing. They were snooping on these countries. They were using their intelligence of what these countries were planning to swing them in favor of a pro-war stance, which would have led; well it did lead to a loss of civilian life.
Katharine Gun at the time, she stood up, and she said “no, I don’t agree with this”, and she exposed it and she publicised it. I think people have forgotten this - at that time she was like a Snowden of that age. She stood up and said: “this is wrong, that the US shouldn’t be snooping on other United Nations offices in New York”.
And the effect was that she faced trial under the Official Secrets Act in the UK and could have gone to prison for some time. But there was such an outcry about it,because people thought “well no she’s done a good thing”, that they actually dropped the case; she was never prosecuted. So, that shows that at that time - because obviously there was so much else going on over the Iraq War - that it was in her favor to expose it and to be a whistle blower in thatenvironment, and it was difficult for the Government to really do anything about it.
Now it’s different, because Snowden, he’s caused enormous embarrassment, and although he is a whistle blower and a hero, he stands now to spend many years in prison and it’s very strange that Katharine Gun, really she got away with it.
Robles: Where do you think whistle blowers fit into things, and why are they going after whistle blowers like Snowden and Manning the way they are? It seems like no matter what the world says or the US public says, Obama and the US Government they’re just obsessed with Snowden.
Smith: When whistle blowers are saying what is in the public interest, and the public agree with that, then it’s very hard to prosecute because a whistle blower will then, he’s got to face a trial by jury possibly, and the jury might support him. There was a very important case back in the 80’s, a man named Clive Ponting. I don’t know if you remember that case when they sunk that battleship in the Falklands War, and Clive Ponting said that it was sailing away from the Falklands at the time, and that was very embarrassing. He exposed that, and again he was breaking his agreement under the Official Secrets Act – he shouldn’t say that, he shouldn’t tell the public that. Again this is classified information that is being given to the public, but it’s in the public interest. He also faced a trial but the jury found him innocent because he was again seen as being a hero.
Robles: Come on Mike! I mean, like Snowden, he broke his oath and Manning broke their oaths, they are traitors to the Government. They are traitors to the country; they must die!
Smith: That’s the way the Government, and especially the US Government, would like to see it, but what these people are exposing is really lies, wrongdoing, even war crimes.
Robles: Yes, but according to the Government, these are the Government’s war crimes, these are their lies, these are their crimes. They must be protected.
Smith: Well, it’s obviously the embarrassment, the embarrassment of being found out to be a war criminal. It’s hugely embarrassing to people like George Bush or Barak Obama – they don’t want to be seen and labelled war criminals. And the information that people like Bradley Manning have put in the public domain show that it’s Government policy to create war crimes in countries like Iraq, and that’sjust completely unacceptable.
Robles: So you think they’re so confident ... I mean normally, aren’t war criminals supposed to be executed? And you’re trying out they’re embarrassed?
Smith: You would expect a war criminal to be executed but it seems in modern times, if a Government like the US does a war crime, it’s sort of brushed under the carpet, and it’s the person who exposes it, the whistle blower, who spends time in prison for it.
Smith: I also I think if you look at war crimes. I mean, one of the biggest war crimes of all time was what Adolf Hitler did in theSecond World War: the genocide of the Jews, putting people in concentration camps like Auschwitz. People didn’t know about that at the time, it was brushed under the carpet, again it was hushed up. Those people who did know didn’t really talk about it too much. It was only after the war that we discovered the full horror of how many people had died and what suffering there was.
But then we’ve got this modern Auschwitz in Guantanamo Bay. People aren’t being exterminated; it’s not the same thing at all, but …
Robles: That we know about.
Smith: … these people are going to prison endlessly. They don’t know if they’ll ever get out of prison. They’re stuck there in Guantanamo Bay, they’re being force fed, they are being put through water-boarding and all sorts of psychological torture, and the US is making this a public thing, it’s actually bragging about it, “look what we are doing to these people - these horrible so-called terrorists - we are doing these things to these people and this will be a lesson to anybody who comes up against us, we’ll lock you away indefinitely and we’ll force you to go through this treatment that we’ll give you.” And I think in many ways that’s worse than Auschwitz.
Robles: In what ways?
Smith:Well, because it’s a psychological fear that anybody who is arrested and possibly extradited to the US or to Guantanamo Bay – this extraordinary rendition that they put people through – they could suddenly disappear off their street in somewhere like Pakistan, end up in Guantanamo Bay and maybe spend the rest of their life being tortured and force fed. I mean, it's not a very pleasant thing at all is it to look forward to, and so that in a way it’s a sort of a fear factor. The US can say “we can do this to you, we have the power to control anybody, really anybody in the world, we can take you and put you in this place.”
Robles: They go around like they have the right to break every international rule and law and standard and convention at left and right. Sure these are war crimes, they admit them, right? They torture, you say maybe they’re a little embarrassed?
Smith:People like Snowden have hugely embarrassed the US.
Robles: He should be causing people to be thrown into prison...
Robles: … not to be embarrassed. I mean, where’s the rule of law in the world?
Smith:That’s what should be happening John.
Robles: I mean, George Bush and Richard Cheney and their torture memos, and Obama and his extra-judicial executions. I mean, these people should be put away to protect humanity.
Smith: But they get away with it because the Government system is the way it is. Now this is where intelligence and spying is so important to the US, because it gives it the information that it knows where to find the people who are opposed to the US Government, it can find them, it has agents all over the world, and it is a huge spy network that the US has. And it uses the Internet as one of those means to get hold of information that it can use in its favor.
Robles: What do you think about the collection of information about average people? What’s the purpose of all that?
Smith: On the surface it appears to mean almost nothing, doesn’t it? Because why would you want to know about the guy who lives down the street? I mean, does it really bother anybody? But at some point in a year or maybe two years, some bit of information about that guy might become very important. You might need to put pressure on that man, maybe because you know something about his sexual orientation or he’s got some friends who have got suspicious tendencies towards terrorism maybe.
You can use anything you know about somebody, you can use potentially to blackmail them or to control them in some way to do what you want, and that’s a very powerful weapon. If you can control all of the people through your knowledge of their weaknesses, their indiscretions, you can control the world, I think. Intelligence is key to this.
Robles: Now in your opinion what can we do to protect ourselves from false prosecution, from misrepresented information that might be gathered? What can people do to protect themselves?
Smith: Well, I think we can only protect ourselves by electing the Governments which will do what the people want, and electing a Government that will ban the keeping of personal information about people is the only way forward I think, because the US Government at the moment have free rein, they can do what they like. And while the people allow them to get away with that, and it seems they have, if you listen to what’s been said about the recent exposures about Prism and the fact all these US people are having their data read, you would expect in any normal society there would be a complete outcry, and people demanding that their Government change the law.
But you don’t see that, it seems almost like people have got accustomed, that this is normal, this is a normal thing for a Government to do to spy on its population.
Robles: Well apparently Americans think that. I mean everybody’s “Oh, it’s going to keep us safe. You know, these terrorists are going to get us. We know they’re going to get us because we are free, and we’re Americans, so we have to be watched and everything we do has to be surveilled, because we’re free”. Right?
Smith: Well, it’s a very distorted view of life if you start going down that road where the Government can virtually do anything and get away with it. We’re in a 1984 situation then, where you’ve got Big Brother looking at you in every room you go into, through some camera.
Already we have that in the UK. There’s camera on every street corner. You can’t go down the street without being watched and followed. The Government can see where you are, everything you’re doing. Do we want to go down that road? I don’t know. And while the US is getting away with this mass trawling through our Internet communications, all that’s doing is empowering it to do yet more.
You were listening to an interview with Michael John Smith, an intelligence specialist and the last person convicted of spying for the Soviet Union in the world. You can find the rest of this interview on our website at English.ruvr.ru