Heather Brooke: My battle to expose government corruption

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast Once upon a time, the world was a big, dysfunctional family. It was run by the great and powerful parents, and the people were helpless and hopeless naughty children. If any of the more rowdier children questioned the authority of the parents, they were scolded. If they went exploring into the parents’ rooms, or even into the secret filing cabinets, they were punished, and told that for their own good they must never go in there again. Then one day, a man came to town with boxes and boxes of secret documents stolen from the parents’ rooms. “Look what they’ve been hiding from you,” he said. The children looked and were amazed. There were maps and minutes from meetings where the parents were slagging each other off. They behaved just like the children. And they made mistakes, too, just like the children. The only difference was, their mistakes were in the secret filing cabinets. Well, there was a girl in the town, and she didn’t think they should be in the secret filing cabinets, or if they were, there ought to be a law to allow the children access. And so she set about to make it so. Well, I’m the girl in that story, and the secret documents that I was interested in were located in this building, the British Parliament, and the data that I wanted to get my hands on were the expense receipts of members of Parliament. I thought this was a basic question to ask in a democracy. (Applause) It wasn’t like I was asking for the code to a nuclear bunker, or anything like that, but the amount of resistance I got from this Freedom of Information request, you would have thought I’d asked something like this. So I fought for about five years doing this, and it was one of many hundreds of requests that I made, not — I didn’t — Hey, look, I didn’t set out, honestly, to revolutionize the British Parliament. That was not my intention. I was just making these requests as part of research for my first book. But it ended up in this very long, protracted legal battle and there I was after five years fighting against Parliament in front of three of Britain’s most eminent High Court judges waiting for their ruling about whether or not Parliament had to release this data. And I’ve got to tell you, I wasn’t that hopeful, because I’d seen the establishment. I thought, it always sticks together. I am out of luck. Well, guess what? I won. Hooray. (Applause) Well, that’s not exactly the story, because the problem was that Parliament delayed and delayed releasing that data, and then they tried to retrospectively change the law so that it would no longer apply to them. The transparency law they’d passed earlier that applied to everybody else, they tried to keep it so it didn’t apply to them. What they hadn’t counted on was digitization, because that meant that all those paper receipts had been scanned in electronically, and it was very easy for somebody to just copy that entire database, put it on a disk, and then just saunter outside of Parliament, which they did, and then they shopped that disk to the highest bidder, which was the Daily Telegraph, and then, you all remember, there was weeks and weeks of revelations, everything from porn movies and bath plugs and new kitchens and mortgages that had never been paid off. The end result was six ministers resigned, the first speaker of the house in 300 years was forced to resign, a new government was elected on a mandate of transparency, 120 MPs stepped down at that election, and so far, four MPs and two lords have done jail time for fraud. So, thank you. (Applause) Well, I tell you that story because it wasn’t unique to Britain. It was an example of a culture clash that’s happening all over the world between bewigged and bestockinged officials who think that they can rule over us without very much prying from the public, and then suddenly confronted with a public who is no longer content with that arrangement, and not only not content with it, now, more often, armed with official data itself. So we are moving to this democratization of information, and I’ve been in this field for quite a while. Slightly embarrassing admission: Even when I was a kid, I used to have these little spy books, and I would, like, see what everybody was doing in my neighborhood and log it down. I think that was a pretty good indication about my future career as an investigative journalist, and what I’ve seen from being in this access to information field for so long is that it used to be quite a niche interest, and it’s gone mainstream. Everybody, increasingly, around the world, wants to know about what people in power are doing. They want a say in decisions that are made in their name and with their money. It’s this democratization of information that I think is an information enlightenment, and it has many of the same principles of the first Enlightenment. It’s about searching for the truth, not because somebody says it’s true, “because I say so.” No, it’s about trying to find the truth based on what you can see and what can be tested. That, in the first Enlightenment, led to questions about the right of kings, the divine right of kings to rule over people, or that women should be subordinate to men, or that the Church was the official word of God. Obviously the Church weren’t very happy about this, and they tried to suppress it, but what they hadn’t counted on was technology, and then they had the printing press, which suddenly enabled these ideas to spread cheaply, far and fast, and people would come together in coffee houses, discuss the ideas, plot revolution. In our day, we have digitization. That strips all the physical mass out of information, so now it’s almost zero cost to copy and share information. Our printing press is the Internet. Our coffee houses are social networks. We’re moving to what I would think of as a fully connected system, and we have global decisions to make in this system, decisions about climate, about finance systems, about resources. And think about it — if we want to make an important decision about buying a house, we don’t just go off. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I want to see a lot of houses before I put that much money into it. And if we’re thinking about a finance system, we need a lot of information to take in. It’s just not possible for one person to take in the amount, the volume of information, and analyze it to make good decisions. So that’s why we’re seeing increasingly this demand for access to information. That’s why we’re starting to see more disclosure laws come out, so for example, on the environment, there’s the Aarhus Convention, which is a European directive that gives people a very strong right to know, so if your water company is dumping water into your river, sewage water into your river, you have a right to know about it. In the finance industry, you now have more of a right to know about what’s going on, so we have different anti-bribery laws, money regulations, increased corporate disclosure, so you can now track assets across borders. And it’s getting harder to hide assets, tax avoidance, pay inequality. So that’s great. We’re starting to find out more and more about these systems. And they’re all moving to this central system, this fully connected system, all of them except one. Can you guess which one? It’s the system which underpins all these other systems. It’s the system by which we organize and exercise power, and there I’m talking about politics, because in politics, we’re back to this system, this top-down hierarchy. And how is it possible that the volume of information can be processed that needs to in this system? Well, it just can’t. That’s it. And I think this is largely what’s behind the crisis of legitimacy in our different governments right now. So I’ve told you a bit about what I did to try and drag Parliament, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, and I’m just going to give you a couple of examples of what a few other people I know are doing. So this is a guy called Seb Bacon. He’s a computer programmer, and he built a site called Alaveteli, and what it is, it’s a Freedom of Information platform. It’s open-source, with documentation, and it allows you to make a Freedom of Information request, to ask your public body a question, so it takes all the hassle out of it, and I can tell you that there is a lot of hassle making these requests, so it takes all of that hassle out, and you just type in your question, for example, how many police officers have a criminal record? It zooms it off to the appropriate person, it tells you when the time limit is coming to an end, it keeps track of all the correspondence, it posts it up there, and it becomes an archive of public knowledge. So that’s open-source and it can be used in any country where there is some kind of Freedom of Information law. So there’s a list there of the different countries that have it, and then there’s a few more coming on board. So if any of you out there like the sound of that and have a law like that in your country, I know that Seb would love to hear from you about collaborating and getting that into your country. This is Birgitta Jónsdóttir. She’s an Icelandic MP. And quite an unusual MP. In Iceland, she was one of the protesters who was outside of Parliament when the country’s economy collapsed, and then she was elected on a reform mandate, and she’s now spearheading this project. It’s the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, and they’ve just got funding to make it an international modern media project, and this is taking all of the best laws around the world about freedom of expression, protection of whistleblowers, protection from libel, source protection, and trying to make Iceland a publishing haven. It’s a place where your data can be free, so when we think about, increasingly, how governments want to access user data, what they’re trying to do in Iceland is make this safe haven where it can happen. In my own field of investigative journalism, we’re also having to start thinking globally, so this is a site called Investigative Dashboard. And if you’re trying to track a dictator’s assets, for example, Hosni Mubarak, you know, he’s just funneling out cash from his country when he knows he’s in trouble, and what you want to do to investigate that is, you need to have access to all of the world’s, as many as you can, companies’ house registrations databases. So this is a website that tries to agglomerate all of those databases into one place so you can start searching for, you know, his relatives, his friends, the head of his security services. You can try and find out how he’s moving out assets from that country. But again, when it comes to the decisions which are impacting us the most, perhaps, the most important decisions that are being made about war and so forth, again we can’t just make a Freedom of Information request. It’s really difficult. So we’re still having to rely on illegitimate ways of getting information, through leaks. So when the Guardian did this investigation about the Afghan War, you know, they can’t walk into the Department of Defense and ask for all the information. You know, they’re just not going to get it. So this came from leaks of tens of thousands of dispatches that were written by American soldiers about the Afghan War, and leaked, and then they’re able to do this investigation. Another rather large investigation is around world diplomacy. Again, this is all based around leaks, 251,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, and I was involved in this investigation because I got this leak through a leak from a disgruntled WikiLeaker and ended up going to work at the Guardian. So I can tell you firsthand what it was like to have access to this leak. It was amazing. I mean, it was amazing. It reminded me of that scene in “The Wizard of Oz.” Do you know the one I mean? Where the little dog Toto runs across to where the wizard [is], and he pulls back, the dog’s pulling back the curtain, and — “Don’t look behind the screen. Don’t look at the man behind the screen.” It was just like that, because what you started to see is that all of these grand statesmen, these very pompous politicians, they were just like us. They all bitched about each other. I mean, quite gossipy, those cables. Okay, but I thought it was a very important point for all of us to grasp, these are human beings just like us. They don’t have special powers. They’re not magic. They are not our parents. Beyond that, what I found most fascinating was the level of endemic corruption that I saw across all different countries, and particularly centered around the heart of power, around public officials who were embezzling the public’s money for their own personal enrichment, and allowed to do that because of official secrecy. So I’ve mentioned WikiLeaks, because surely what could be more open than publishing all the material? Because that is what Julian Assange did. He wasn’t content with the way the newspapers published it to be safe and legal. He threw it all out there. That did end up with vulnerable people in Afghanistan being exposed. It also meant that the Belarussian dictator was given a handy list of all the pro-democracy campaigners in that country who had spoken to the U.S. government. Is that radical openness? I say it’s not, because for me, what it means, it doesn’t mean abdicating power, responsibility, accountability, it’s actually being a partner with power. It’s about sharing responsibility, sharing accountability. Also, the fact that he threatened to sue me because I got a leak of his leaks, I thought that showed a remarkable sort of inconsistency in ideology, to be honest, as well. (Laughs) The other thing is that power is incredibly seductive, and you must have two real qualities, I think, when you come to the table, when you’re dealing with power, talking about power, because of its seductive capacity. You’ve got to have skepticism and humility. Skepticism, because you must always be challenging. I want to see why do you — you just say so? That’s not good enough. I want to see the evidence behind why that’s so. And humility because we are all human. We all make mistakes. And if you don’t have skepticism and humility, then it’s a really short journey to go from reformer to autocrat, and I think you only have to read “Animal Farm” to get that message about how power corrupts people. So what is the solution? It is, I believe, to embody within the rule of law rights to information. At the moment our rights are incredibly weak. In a lot of countries, we have Official Secrets Acts, including in Britain here. We have an Official Secrets Act with no public interest test. So that means it’s a crime, people are punished, quite severely in a lot of cases, for publishing or giving away official information. Now wouldn’t it be amazing, and really, this is what I want all of you to think about, if we had an Official Disclosure Act where officials were punished if they were found to have suppressed or hidden information that was in the public interest? So that — yes. Yes! My power pose. (Applause) (Laughs) I would like us to work towards that. So it’s not all bad news. I mean, there definitely is progress on the line, but I think what we find is that the closer that we get right into the heart of power, the more opaque, closed it becomes. So it was only just the other week that I heard London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner talking about why the police need access to all of our communications, spying on us without any judicial oversight, and he said it was a matter of life and death. He actually said that, it was a matter of life and death. There was no evidence. He presented no evidence of that. It was just, “Because I say so. You have to trust me. Take it on faith.” Well, I’m sorry, people, but we are back to the pre-Enlightenment Church, and we need to fight against that. So he was talking about the law in Britain which is the Communications Data Bill, an absolutely outrageous piece of legislation. In America, you have the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. You’ve got drones now being considered for domestic surveillance. You have the National Security Agency building the world’s giantest spy center. It’s just this colossal — it’s five times bigger than the U.S. Capitol, in which they’re going to intercept and analyze communications, traffic and personal data to try and figure out who’s the troublemaker in society. Well, to go back to our original story, the parents have panicked. They’ve locked all the doors. They’ve kitted out the house with CCTV cameras. They’re watching all of us. They’ve dug a basement, and they’ve built a spy center to try and run algorithms and figure out which ones of us are troublesome, and if any of us complain about that, we’re arrested for terrorism. Well, is that a fairy tale or a living nightmare? Some fairy tales have happy endings. Some don’t. I think we’ve all read the Grimms’ fairy tales, which are, indeed, very grim. But the world isn’t a fairy tale, and it could be more brutal than we want to acknowledge. Equally, it could be better than we’ve been led to believe, but either way, we have to start seeing it exactly as it is, with all of its problems, because it’s only by seeing it with all of its problems that we’ll be able to fix them and live in a world in which we can all be happily ever after. (Laughs) Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Heather Brooke: My battle to expose government corruption

  • Poor reason for not voting, it's just a cop out on your part. Each of the candidates is very different especially from one another. Simply stating that because they have a common trait; according to your assumptions, doesn't make them the same. People who don't vote are just lazy, intellectually or otherwise.

  • is democracy a ends in itself? do we really want our politicians to be constantly scrutinised about everything? instinctively that sounds like a good idea but i think it would give rise to sensationalist tabloid-esue superficiality. People already vote on completely arbitrary basis, imagine if they were constantly reading about politicians lunch spending habits or such things.

  • I hate the intro already! cant believe it was the same person that exposed the expenses scandal. Stop talking like you are a nursery school teacher!

  • There is a flipside-The problem with freedom of information is the destruction of privacy. There are times when the elected representatives must operate with secrecy. Because evil operates in secrecy and to fight evil you must sometimes enter the realm of secrecy as well. I am worried about these things as well as corruption by those we elect to lead.

  • You didn't think they were just like us? You didn't know they were just people?

    Those diplomatic files weren't being kept from Joe Blow. They being kept from Iran, who didn't need to know that the Saudis were calling on NATO to invade. They were being kept on from N Korea, who didn't need to know South Korea was hoping they would give up their Wizard of OZ dream of ruling South Korea and turing it into another workers paradise.

  • How is Assange and this person sharing accountable when people in afghanistan are killed because the opposition know they exist, or when Putin goes after pro-democracy groups that were talking with america.

    Do they get to feel bad that they may have caused their death and imprisonment because of their sloppy handling of classified document?

  • Not once does this chick say that not being more thorough in screening docs that may place prodemocracy groups in danger was a bad idea, only that it was a necesary evil.

    That makes her just as bad as the Government that abandon Nationals that aided and abetted to die when their little war goes south.

  • Privacy and disclosure; I think we can attain neutral and we can reduce tax to staff and get all the work done, over time, with a recognized communication system ALLOWS 1 & ALL to talk and focus our inner vision for our local thus world wide community/environment/wildlife and people can attain their dreams this way, in one place; because the recognized communication system which I have not made yet, will allow people to skill+ and find their deeper interest, and we can grow/enjoy 1 another

  • Hey, you can expose government corruption till the cows come home, but how do you stop it when nothing seemingly can?

  • Do you have objective evidence of such a historical pattern?

    I'm not asking to be antagonistic, that's kind of an argument I want to make myself but a difficult one (these days) to make sound convincing without something beyond anecdote, or self-stated attribution of subjectively perceived patterns. 😛

  • Is this something that happened on Youtube?
    That's kind of what I was saying though. It's like "might makes right"/"because we make the laws and we said so", we have to outsmart them or we'll lose. People who become too dependent on using coercive force to subjugate tend to abandon their wit…AKA bullies. lol. (When they don't though, you probably end up with something like Nazi Germany… :P)

  • Why do the most audience look like 40's or 50's? I, I wonder that they were thinking about the life after retirement instead of working on transparency?

  • Government wont be able to hide much longer. We about to take their money, remove them from power, and eliminate poverty from this earth.

  • Yeah.. let us know how that works out.. You're next video will be.. "My 10 years of torture in Guantanamo" I would assume that exposing the corruption of some of the richest and most powerful people in the would could be hazardous to ones health.

  • I don't have hero's in my life…but this brilliant woman fits what one would be in my book..!! I remember when this all broke out in the news….that these 600 MP's would slink back to parliament and make sure they would not get caught again by passing bills that would enable them to hide their dirty dealing and money grabs (yes, every one of them have their "own" charity that cannot be investigated)

    What this woman done was fantastic..!!

  • Yea it's so bad in America it's not like the mafia run Mexico or dictators like Castro or al-Assad or Husain or Milosevic or lets all move to Somalia were its run by criminals or Uganda or darfur or other parts of Africa which is literally run by warlords and the genocide o the genocide I hear war torn Middle East is lovely especially Afghanistan I hear Russia and the US and Britain did a great job decorating

  • Or drive tanks through our houses and have snipers pick off innocent people or we can spend some years at a North Korean work camp I hear those are fun and china o china not really that great shuts down everything at a whim

  • I'd like to speak to her. My latest book exposes yet more lies under John Major. Seems none can be trusted

  • I think the biggest problem with exposing the truth is actually the people themselves. The majority of western civilizations will do all they can to prevent the truth being exposed because it's too unbearable for them to accept. Most of the resistance isn't from the Governments – it doesn't even get past the first barrier, which is always the people.

  • I agree. People need government whether they realize it or not. It just needs a system that keeps corruption in check. Unfortunately, that will probably never be. But this doesn't mean we turn to anarchy. Society would just completely collapse.

  • What's going to bring down this country is not your lack of freedoms. The public will always be against something just because it's pain full… and that would overlook the fact that it might be better for the country overall. We had to have Pearl Harbor so we could get the people motivated for war with the Axis. Forget the Japaneese for a second. The public would have never agreed to it if that had not happened. Then the Soviets would have taken almost all of Europe. Possibly Asia too

  • Sometimes the average citizen doesn't have the knowledge or intelligence to understand what's good for the country in the long run… even if it's pain full at first.

  • Ahummm….. One does not simply rate that as 'Amature'.

    And by the way, it makes me happy that we share the same experience in the 'research' field xD

  • @jert opp Therefore, we must elect supernatural supreme beings into power so that they can look after the world and champion our causes. Thank the Lord they don't drop deuces like the rest of us. 😉

  • I liked ur video. I too am a victim of government corruption. I also beleive our leaders should be held accountable for their actions. I have been victimized so long it's hard to believe anyone will help. I need ur help. To here more see You Tube corruption in arkansas government. U can also contact me by e-mailing styless elen @yahoo.com.

  • Government is and always has been corrupt. Yet everyone cries out for more regulation, more taxes, and more government. People are too idiotic to realize that large governments lead to slavery. The best government is a limited one. One that cannot tax nor regulate peoples lives. It must only have miniscule powers and only those powers. If anything more it will just grow overtime and become corrupt once again. The sooner people realize this the sooner we will all be free. Until then we will all be slaves and have our wealth stolen from us.

  • It's not always about just asking questions, it's about asking the right questions.
    Asking questions about money will be or will lead to the right questions as it's always all about the money.

  • And people still think the USA is the greatest place on earth.
    And things have only gotten worse since 10-18-2012

  • Relates to what Edward Snowden did by exposing the NSA. The governments corruption is beginning to be exposed worldwide. Its great that people are finally starting to realize. We need more whistleblowers!

  • More legislation, usually in the economic realm, claimed to defend and protect the people actually do the totally opposite. They increase the barriers of entry into small business ant to the average person and therefore his income is limited to a JOB. "Just Over Broke" status.

  • Exposing corrupt use of Ministerial expense accounts is commendable.  But Heather Brooke taking credit for data submitted to Wikileaks – that was shared (under contract) with "The Times" (she was only a go-between) is very deceitful.  Reveals Brooke's lack of impartiality – jumping on the populist denigrate Assange and Wikileaks propaganda train?  In the footsteps of Rebekah Brooks…  poor standards @TED 

  • Wow! This heroine is doing great things and an inspiration. Perhaps some of the programs she talked about can help with the re-investigation of 9/11, since so many of today's problems (wars, tyranny, etc) use 9/11 as an excuse.

    9/11 was an inside job and the US government (factions within it) and corporate America are guilty of perpetrating the murders as pretext for a never-ending war.

    http://AE911Truth.org — where scientists, engineers and architects put their reputations on the line to expose American corruption.

  • Britian must be broken up it's time for Scotland and Wales to become independent, this is the only way that the centralised power will loose their iron grip.

  • Yes, everyone.  Do not go to work for One Whole Month…Stay at home.  we can all afford this!  And see what happens!

  • Hilarious that she uses the analogy of the government treating us like children, while talking to the audience like they're children…

  • What a croc! That's right, at her mighty and intimidating demand, all the authorities just hand it over shaking in their boots hoping she and us will go easy on them. She's nothing but a publicity stunt by the very people she claims to expose, so we'll feel like something's being done and go back to sleep believing corruption is all in the past now. If you believe this pile of dung I have some great deals for you in honest voting machine technology you can sell to governments at a huge mark up. Just ask your representatives for any secrets they may be hiding! They'll kneel down and spill their guts and probably even stop taxing you to pay for their extra benefits and pensions.

  • Officials should be held to account, I had a case taken by a councilor I called corrupt he filed a aledged defamation case against me and on the day of the Court the Councilors legal people asked the Judge to strike out the cases, one thing that I found most concerning is letters I had sent to a Minister and the replies all were missing when I put in a FOI request to the Government.

  • All that happened, is they decided the poor MP.s obvously were not paid enough ,,,so they got a pay rise ..   ha ha  sick laugh

  • GCHQ is a glorified Stasi operation designed to protect the rich and the establishment. They spy on whomever they want with impunity. They cost the taxpayer £2.5billion annually and produce nothing. They should be disbanded. They are, by their own admission, criminals.

  • Here's a petition to investigate government employees https://www.change.org/p/donald-trump-criminally-investigate-these-government-employees?recruiter=846027549&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

  • Do not forget, over there, in the Greek Justice and the Greek Government, to finally lay off from the public hospitals the 4,000 NHS doctors who were caught taking regular bribes from Novartis in their deposit accounts via bank transfers from abroad.
    The money they received was illegal, without a legal document or tax invoice.
    The other doctors who took cash in hand can not be controlled, unfortunately.
    They were systematically placing patients at deadly risk, prescribing larger quantities of expensive formulations than required to maintain increased sales volumes for the company, so they must be imprisoned as a result of danger exposure to hospitalized patients!
    The powerful domestic lobby induced the Prosecutor of Corruption to resign for not investigating the case in order to cover their criminal offenses.
    This multinational company recorded sales of 80 billion euros.

  • these aren't the idiots were looking for let's Elect more stupid people & try again haa fail again WHY DO WE?
    i've always said if they look good they perform ok – so why did trump get in and the so many other politicians ?
    cause a lot people don't have the idiot face recognition that warns them there about to encounter problems 🙂

  • We are not children and the goverment is not our parents. Those secret files are not files. They are a documented paper trail of the goverment robbing us citizens blind of our taxes and murdering innocents. I dont understand people do not see why all these games are being paid and all these complex motivates. It all comes down to stealing tax money. The day before 9/11. On 9/10 $6,300,000,000,000 went missing from the Pentagon. By 9/12 $17,000,000,000,000 was missing and only 10 min clip of the director saying it is missing and we have no trail to follow. Never of seen again. No questioning no interrogations. People didn't even pay attention and people still dont know about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *