A funny thing happened this summer. As most of the people who read this blog are aware, I spoke on a whistleblowing panel at the Oxford Union in February of 2018 and became the only person in the history of the self proclaimed last bastion of free speech to be censored by them. You can read all about it here, here and here. On July 7, I received an unexpected invitation to speak at the Oxford Union. Again. That’s pretty funny in itself but there’s more.
This is a transcript and audio of what I said at the Whistleblowing panel that was censored by the Oxford Union. I was informed by Oxford Union bursar Lindsay Warne that the Standing Committee and then-president Laali Vadlamani had censored the panel in response to a demand from David Shedd and this was confirmed by current Oxford Union president Gui Cavalcanti. All journalists who have inquired about the video have been treated with the utmost disrespect as Warne told me they “owe nothing to journalists”. This is false. The speaker’s contract with the Oxford Union contains the following passage.
“The Union offers a unique combination of tradition and prestige, with our student members constituting an engaged and enthusiastic audience; our events can be tailored to fit almost any format – a speech followed by questions, a prepared Q&A or simply an informal conversation – and last year attracted coverage from the BBC, CNN, New Delhi TV, Russia Today (RT), and most major British national newspapers and international publications including the New York Times and the Economist. Furthermore, all our events can be professionally filmed for our YouTube channel, which has received over 40 million views since it was relaunched last year.”
The sole benefit being offered to speakers at the Oxford Union (other than the censored Youtube channel) is the labour of journalists. Oxford Union certainly do owe respect and cooperation to journalists, and they owe it to speakers as well. Speakers should know that they will be censored at the ”world’s most prestigious debating society” if they say anything challenging to power, despite this being an obvious breach of the contract they are being offered. Anyone who actually believed the Oxford Union was, as their slogan claims, “the last bastion of free speech”, should see how very easy it is to be censored if you punch up instead of down.
This is a full transcript of my part, for the record and for any journalists who were interested. Open copyright CC BY 4.0, share and use in any way you wish.
My name is Heather Marsh. I am an author and I write a great deal about mass collaboration and horizontal governance and I’ve worked for many years as an activist and journalist to amplify voices in urgent need of attention, primarily whistleblowers. I am also a software developer and I’m working on a project called Getgee which is a universal database commons that will help us share, audit and amplify open collaborative information, so that we can participate intelligently in our own governance.
My focus has always been human rights and horizontal governance. Of the human rights atrocities I have worked to expose, a very large number are associated with David Shedd and the organizations and allies he represents. As just one example, I fought for over a decade to achieve justice for my fellow Canadian, Omar Khadr who was abducted at 15 years old, subjected to the most horrific torture at the CIA black site Bagram, then trafficked and tortured for another decade at Guantanamo before enduring a show trial of invented court, invented evidence, invented experts and retroactively applied, invented crimes. The hell this Canadian child went through for 12 years was conducted by the organizations represented by David Shedd. It is deeply uncomfortable for me to be here today, on the same panel as someone whose work has established and worked to normalize ever-increasing drone murders, black site disappearances and torture and I hope it is uncomfortable for all of you as well, and for him. Beware of your contribution to the growing banality of evil lest you yourself become a cog in the machinery of terror.
I am here today because I want to talk about how our structures of power are evolving. There is probably only one thing I have in common with David Shedd and that is that we both want a world without whistleblowers. He wants to crush whistleblowers and I want a world where the caregivers of our communities and land hold institutional power, where everyone’s voice is heard and those who terrorize us all with impunity lose the power to do so.
The opening was some generic question about whistleblowers.
If there is one thing I would like people to take home today it is the definition of whistleblower. There seems to have been an effort lately to equate whistleblowers solely with an elite, western, usually male leaking documents. A few days ago I read an article about a program for whistleblowers in the US intelligence agencies. It was a human resources program for employee grievances. The people they were calling whistleblowers were torturers at Bagram who didn’t like having a female boss or assassins who felt overlooked for promotion. And then, there was a cover full of whistleblowers on TIME magazine this year, but they were called Silence Breakers! What is a Silence Breaker if not a whistle blower? You know, there are no female philosophers because a female philosopher is called a feminist. Apparently we have the same sort of thing happening here, there are no whistleblowers outside of this elite demographic because they are called activists or silence breakers or something.
I have worked with many whistleblowers over many years. I worked with Rohingyaactivistsfrom2012 on to help convince the world that they were in fact experiencing a genocide. I have worked with victims of trafficking networks and resource corporations and institutions like prisons and care facilities. Whistleblowers are people like the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who fought the silence of the dictatorship in defence of the disappeared, and all the movements like them that have followed in their steps, like Central America’s Caravan of Missing Migrants, Nigeria’s Bring Back Our Girls movement, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement in Canada, the Missing Students activists in Mexico and the people standing up against ICE pogroms in the United States right now. They include labour activists like Kim Jinsuk, a woman who in 2011 stayed up a crane for 309 days to protest the lack of labor rights in South Korea, and Hua Haifeng, who was arrested in China recently for exposing abuses against workers in the factories manufacturing Ivanka Trump’s brand. They include Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, who was murdered for her reporting on Mexican cartels in 2014 and Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in Malta last October for her work exposing organized crime, They include the environment caregivers now being killed at a recorded rate of four a week and increasing. They include Helena Maleno who has been credited with saving the lives of at least 10,000 refugees in the Strait of Gibralter and is now facing imprisonment in Morocco and your own MP Jo Cox who was murdered because of her work in caring for refugees.
Obviously we could do this for days. Whistleblowers come from absolutely every demographic but there is one group that is very over represented and that it is the caregivers of our communities and land standing against the impunity enjoyed by powerful criminals. The media coverage depicting whistleblowers as a fairly elite demographic of western male hackers leaking documents is a little disproportionate.
But those in power do understand where the threat to their impunity is coming from. China arrested five women in 2015 just for distributing pamphlets against sexual harassment. Canada openly identifies First Nations communities and environmentalists as target groups to be monitored for terrorist activity and it is obvious in the terrorist definitions of every country. The definition of terrorism in the five eyes is attempting to influence your community or government, which is also the definition of democracy. Participating in your own governance, alerting your neighbours to what is happening, is defined as terrorism. So this redefinition of whistleblowers as scary non-state actors and hostile intelligence services, this will be used against the women and men who are the community and land caregivers of every nation because these are the number one threat to the corporate mafia that wants immunity from prosecution for their crimes. As soon as laws against whistleblowers are passed they will be used against people accusing MPs of rape or people letting the public know that Trudeau has just turned more lakes into toxic waste dumps for mines or people boycotting Israel or the NRA. It is this groundswell of community and land caregivers, the rising up of 7 and a half billion people participating in their own governance, that are the real threat to corrupt power.
So we need to define whistleblowers properly or we are not going to come up with solutions that will actually meet their needs. A human resources program in the CIA will not help all these people. Even in the case of John Kirakiou, obviously he never should have been imprisoned for pointing out that there was torture at Guantanamo, but everyone in Guantanamo would have and did try to tell us the same thing. It is the people in Guantanamo and every other prison who we should never have allowed to be silenced in the first place and those are the voices we need to make sure we hear.
What do you think the media is missing in their coverage of whistleblowers?
I remembered what I don’t like about the media coverage of whistleblowers. I feel like it is covered in such a personality centred, celebrity focused way that it is like listening to people discussing Harry Styles’ hair. There are important issues to be discussed in the structure of power that allows only some people’s voices to be heard. How can we hear directly from voices which are being silenced? This is something I have been working on for years because it turns out, you can murder millions of people without leaving a paper trail or inspiring an insider whistleblower. How do we make sure we hear all voices? If mining corporations in the Yasuni say indigenous people are just killing each other and it has nothing to do with them, who outside can prove that one way or another? With the Rohingya genocide, ironically the best documentation we could get was from Google maps, which showed villages which had been there earlier and now they were gone. I’ve thought a lot about different solutions for years, like uploading testimony in actionable affidavit format from places like Myanmar or UN peacekeeping camps or anywhere people are silenced and at risk. Like the current Oxfam story. That was absolutely no surprise to anyone who works in human rights, and it is certainly not just Oxfam either. You will find this everywhere you have this same structure of power and secrecy at the top and fear and silencing at the bottom. We’ve seen it in NGO’s, militaries, UN peacekeepers over and over … This is why I am working on a universal database, to try to democratize this access to a megaphone and bring us information from everyone.
It is not new laws we need, we already have so many international laws protecting our human rights, our rights to freedom of expression, our right to knowledge, our rights to not be tortured and murdered, our right to a fair trial, and these are all being ignored. We don’t need to create another witness protection program with the mafia in charge of it. It is our governance that needs to be revamped. We are still governed by a form of democracy created before women or children or indigenous people or labourers were considered persons or part of the demos and before any international networks existed below the level of trade empires.
It’s been almost four hundred years since that awful Cambridge man argued in Patriarcha that an all powerful patriarchal system was the only legitimate form of governance and Robert Filmer was most decisively refuted by Oxford’s own John Locke, who ought to be familiar to anyone from the United States as well, since he was fairly influential in creating the ideology they are supposed to be run by. I did think that western democracies were done with this debate. If you want to live under an all powerful patriarchal form of governance, you move to an absolute monarchy or a dictatorship, not a democracy. Patriarchy and democracy are incompatible. We settled this nearly four hundred years ago. And it is customary for those who uphold this absolute form of secretive tyrannical rule to call people like me anarchists, but if all anarchy means is there are no absolute rulers or centralized authority, then shouldn’t that be a basic tenet of a democracy?
If you do want democracy, it’s not just media that needs to be free. It’s not even just speech. It is knowledge. An uninformed vote is a coerced vote. People without reliable information they can trust will follow ideologies and demagogues blindly and we are seeing more and more of that lately as our access to information and our trust in information is eroded. And when government is conducted in secrecy, the atrocities that have repeated throughout history will happen again, as they always do in the dark. We really don’t need to keep proving this. So we don’t need reactionaries trying to shore up some ancient flailing patriarchy with increasing tyranny and secrecy. We don’t need revolutionaries knocking off figureheads and installing their own messiahs onto the same structure. We need to build a democracy that is right for today, that includes everyone and resists tyranny, and that means democratic access to knowledge and participatory governance.
[At some point another panelist said they liked Obama and I said Obama had paved the road Trump was driving on and pointed out Obama’s intention was not to close Guantanamo but to bring it onto US soil – where ICE detention centres continue to proliferate.]
What do you think motivates whistleblowers to take these risks and why don’t they go through proper channels? I know what you are probably going to say …
Well yes, because the majority of the whistleblowers I deal with don’t have proper channels and they aren’t given any choice over the situation they are in. That is the whole point, they don’t have institutional power and we need institutional power for community and land caregivers and an end to the secrecy and impunity at the top. Because we are told that we need these structures of absolute power and secrecy for our safety, but intelligence agencies are not competent to protect you from ISIS or anyone else. The heads of most of the top intelligence agencies in the US were compromised recently by a 15 year old British boy called Crackas with attitude and he wasn’t hacking, he just guessed his way in. An Australian student just noticed the US military was revealing all their military locations in Syria through the Fitbit app. Australian MP’s just sold a load of Top Secret documents in an old filing cabinet. There are homemade drones taking out military planes that cost more than your health care. They are not competent to keep you safe, but even if they were competent, our safety is not their priority.
I remember in one of the mass shootings in the US, this one involved really tiny kids, and there were two things that really stood out for me about this case. One, the mother was completely blamed for her son’s actions even though she was his first victim. President Obama and the media both left her name off the victim lists as if she was a perpetrator or a non-human. The other thing that struck me was that she was entirely blamed – but she had no community support she could have relied on. This was a single woman, living with an obviously violent and very disturbed adult son, and she had absolutely nowhere to turn for help. How is she supposed to be responsible for something she has no power to stop? And we’ve just seen the same thing happen again in Florida, the students and teachers and community were blamed for not doing enough but they did everything in their power and they were ignored because the politicians are not listening to them. Look at the #ArmMeWith hashtag on social media this week, teachers are asking for books, time, resources, mental health care, a decent adult to child ratio – they are saying they don’t need guns, they need the resources to build community. And the US government is offering guns because that is profit for the only nation they care about, which is the weapons manufacturers and the NRA.
Some people have been really worried in past years about terrorists entering into Europe with refugees and yes, of course, they have. Not nearly as many as some people would like you to believe, because we all have our own homegrown terrorists now, but yes, some have come through camps, and the people in refugee camps will tell you who those people are. Or online communities will tell you. In Canada, we had a man a couple years ago who used to torture kittens to death and upload the videos online. He was reported by most people who saw the videos and they were ignored. Then he went on a gore site – you would think if we have some patriarchal power trying to keep us all safe they must be monitoring gore sites, right? – and he advertised an upcoming murder. He was reported, and the reports were ignored. Then he horrifically murdered someone and uploaded that video. He was reported by so many people. One retired police officer in the US reported him to the RCMP, the FBI and his local sheriff. Everyone ignored all the reports. He took the body out of his own apartment, past the CCTV cameras on his building and street, and put it in a dumpster. Then he took his biometric, smart, Canadian passport, under his own name, which was now all over the international news and on an Interpol warrant, and he boarded an international flight from Canada to France and then to Germany, where he sat in a cyber cafe reading articles about himself until finally a man in the cafe went out and got a police officer to come in and arrest him. Is this blinding incompetence or is our safety maybe not really a great concern for intelligence agencies?
The answer of course is both. They are not competent to keep you safe, but also they aren’t listening. The mothers, the caregivers, the schools, the people online, the people in refugee camps, these people are all ignored. They are listening to corporations like Areva or Shell. Boko Haram took root initially in an area completely overwhelmed by the corruption of Goodluck Jonathan’s government and the devastation brought by Shell and other oil companies. Areas like Mali and Niger were equally devastated by France’s Areva corporation, among others,. The people living on that land were being murdered and left with no means of survival by criminal corporations and complicit government. Again, the lack of power and the extreme abuse of community and land caregivers creates vulnerability to the growth of terrorism. And it is no secret to the intelligence communities that this is the trigger. The minute you hear protests start against Areva, you also start hearing France and the United States talking about growing extremist threat because they know very well that extremism follows backing people into a corner with no way to turn. So again, the solution is to empower the caregivers, listen to them, and end impunity for criminal corporations. If you know corporate policies are going to cause the growth of ideological extremism, maybe change corporate policies before that happens. Protection available only to the highest bidders is not security. Security is strong involved and supportive communities networked with other communities.
Response to David Shedd responding to above by saying “our men and women in uniform” are heroes, invincible, have so much data, etc., etc.
I think if we are going to talk about national security on this panel, we need some context. David Shedd belonged to the most powerful, well-funded, weaponized, international, organized crime syndicate the world has ever seen. Not even counting the other organizations he is affiliated with or those he calls his allies – just looking at the CIA by itself – they are in the business of assassinations, they manage black sites for torture, they work with with local mafias, cartels and militias all over the world, they run operations trafficking weapons, drugs and people all over the world, they have ongoing programs of human experimentation … these are just a few of the things the CIA itself has done, not counting their network of allies. They are part of a vast criminal network that is now planning even greater expansion, more torture, far more disappearances, far more murder. So when these men talk about whistleblowers threatening national security, we need to ask three obvious questions: what is security to them, who is their nation and who are the whistleblowers?
So given that we are dealing with criminals and members of criminal organizations, what they mean by security is immunity from criminal prosecution. And we have seen that. They do not keep us safe, we have plenty of evidence of that, but they certainly do keep themselves safe. The US military bombed an MSF hospital. Can we investigate? No we cannot, they have bulldozed the evidence. They “tortured some folks” and they plan on torturing a lot more, but that’s classified. Jeffrey Epstein is a man in the United States known to have raped and trafficked dozens or hundreds or who knows how many children. The US Attorney General at the time, Alberto Gonzales, said he would have instructed the US Justice Department to “pursue justice without making a political mess”. Epstein’s little black book contains people like Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew. There is only one way to interpret that directive and that is impunity for anyone above a certain social strata or anyone with blackmail on them. The Pentagon, since 2010, has refused to investigate, at that time it was over 1700 cases, of child abuse media they have found on Pentagon computers. The people in the US are finally starting to talk about all the taxpayer funded NDA’s that protect people in congress against reports of rape and sexual assault. California alone has reportedly paid more than $25 million in the last three years to buy criminal impunity for their politicians. In the UK, you have your own child rape inquiry where UK police have spoken many times of investigations which have a strata they can’t go above – where those above that strata are referred to as the Untouchables, protected by the Official Secrets Act and many other layers of secrecy. Your former Oxford Union president and UK Prime Minister, Ted Heath, how many people came forward and said they were his victims as children, but there was never an investigation during his lifetime.
So security for them means immunity from criminal prosecution, not just for their actions against so-called enemies but against anyone. The current CIA head talks about a bureaucracy that slows down the CIA – that bureaucracy is our human rights and that is how they see our lives – as bureaucracy. If they kill too many of us at once they have to fill out a form. And that slows them down. Pompeo wants ‘agile’ assassins. He wants killers who ‘fail fast and break things’, as if they were writing stupid apps instead of murdering children. He wants ‘disruptive’ terrorism. And their security is the freedom to do this with impunity and in secrecy.
And who is this nation they want security for? The US were supposedly enemies with Syria and allies with Canada when they were abducting Canadians to be tortured in Assad’s prisons. Their allegiances change at the drop of a hat and they all have each other’s secrets anyway. That is the whole point of their industry. The entire supranational intelligence community has access to each other’s secrets – they need security from the rest of us finding out. And their nation is anyone with enough money to pay them, corporations or states. You had Erik Prince speaking here a while back, the crown prince of mercenary contractors. He made his fortune at the top ranks of US military and intelligence and then contracted all that information to supposedly US enemy China. I believe David Shedd is also now in international private practice. Their nations are whoever can pay. We didn’t really need the US Patriot Act to tell us our intelligence agencies may be allies but the people in our states are certainly not their allies.
This is not national security. It is certainly not security for my nation. My nation consists of the caregivers of communities and the environment all over the world. They aren’t spying on corporations and telling communities what corporations are up to, they are spying on communities and selling that information to corporations. The victims of Jeffrey Epstein, all the victims whose abusers are protected by official secrets and taxpayer funded NDA’s, none of these victims are part of their nation. Their nation is the international intelligence community and the politicians and corporations who can afford to pay them. This is not national security. It is a mafia protection racket available to the highest bidder.
Response by David Shedd.
HM: Why are you not doing anything about ICE internment camps in the United States if you care so much for latin americans?
DS: What camps???
HM: Maybe you should read the news.
[Some more back and forth about ICE where I discussed their access to intelligence data and potential to become an intelligence agency and Shedd denied everything and rolled his eyes at the audience. After the panel, the other panelists left and the audience stayed and asked a lot of questions about ICE. I explained that they were comparable to the Gestapo and some of their activities at that point (February).]
DS: Our brave men and women ….
DS: Torture??!? What torture???
HM: Have you not read the Torture Report? Obama declassified part of it, didn’t you know?
DS: Stop. Our brave men and women devoting their lives …
HM: Torturing people.
DS: I asked you to stop.
HM: I asked you for twelve years to stop torturing my friend and you didn’t stop.
Note: There was a meet and greet before the panel. David Shedd outlined work he was now doing in South America to “ensure compliance” with banking regulations. I asked: “Is that meant to ensure the United States has a monopoly in money laundering?” and he said he didn’t know. Shedd also said he works with a charity to stop trafficking of women and children in South America, overlooking the obvious first step of getting the CIA and its contractors to stop trafficking women in children in South America, and he deplored that Russia was beating the US to the destruction of the Arctic.