UK Foreign Secretary Says Merely 'Speculating' About Intelligence Capabilities Is Damaging To The Country

from the silence-peons! dept

As much as we bemoan the attacks on freedom of the press in the US, I’m increasingly astounded at the disdain the British government appears to have for any sort of press that might hold them accountable. We’ve already talked about David Cameron trying to stop the Guardian from publishing any more Snowden leaks, and even suggesting that there should be criminal penalties. Last week, we noted that MI6 boss John Sawers appeared to be massively overstating the “harm” caused by the reporting.

And, now, it appears that the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has taken it up a notch, arguing that merely speculating about the kinds of capabilities the intelligence community has puts everyone at risk:

“By speculating about our capabilities, it makes it easier for people who want to evade interception but are seeking to damage our country, or kill people, it makes it easier for them to evade interception. That is something that is very, very serious, and very damaging.”

What a load of complete hogwash. First of all, merely speculating doesn’t reveal what’s actually going on. Second, terrorists already know pretty damn well about the ability of governments to spy, and as we saw with Osama bin Laden, they take extra precautions to avoid using tools that can be tracked. Third, and perhaps more importantly, the very fact that bin Laden was forced to avoid easily tracked communications actually made his activities that much more difficult to proceed, since he was unable to coordinate as effectively. You’d think that this sort of thing would be a good thing for governments in stopping terrorism.

I recognize that the right to a free press has never been as strongly put forth in the UK as it is in the US (even though it may be under attack here), but these blatant attacks on the freedom of the press to report on things very much in the public interest are quite disturbing.

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Comments on “UK Foreign Secretary Says Merely 'Speculating' About Intelligence Capabilities Is Damaging To The Country”

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39 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Intelligence my ass..

That point gets even deeper when you see the idiocy this could lead to.

Disregarding the obviously reporting issues, scientific research in math, security (both sides really) and several other fields touching on subjects where potential interception of personal, chainable or massable information is discussed could be seen as speculating about capabilities and thus helping people avoid surveillance.

Campaigning to make terrorists unable to get more information is a rather problematic notion in itself (There can be an argument like smarter = less likely to go to extremes.).
Demanding that civil society follows the same flawed logic is a very fundamental attack on free speech and therefore democracy as we know it.

Shutting down any discussion on national security vs fundamental rights on account of national security is quite problematic since it will make the politicians unable to get informed opinions from the public, which is undermining a lot of the relevance in oversight structures etc. since I am sure that secret services are not 100% unbiased on funding and the programs they may run.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Intelligence my ass..

  1. that would be making several assumptions: they are ‘smart’ people… perhaps, perhaps not: lackeys for Empire come in all sorts… main requirement is to drink the kool-aid…

    2. you MUST change your perspective: when you look at their actions through the lens of a normal person, seeking to maximize the greatest good for the greatest number, their actions make non sense…
    IF -however- you look at their actions as being in service to Empire, and all that entails; THEN their actions make perfect sense, in a sociopathic, fleece the sheeple kind of way…

    which naturally leads to: The System is totally subservient to the wants/needs/whims of the 1%, while we languish in a corrupted country which seeks to punish the 99% for not being the 1%…

    i mean, that’s just the way it is, richtig ? ? ?

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

This all sounds like security threw obscurity. Don’t tell anyone about our security so no one can find any holes in it. The problem is if no one is allowed to find the holes, then no one knows when the holes are found and abused.

I’m sorry, did I piss off the UK Foreign Secretary by speculating that the security has flaws?

Anonymous Coward says:

“I recognize that the right to a free press has never been as strongly put forth in the UK as it is in the US (even though it may be under attack here), but these blatant attacks on the freedom of the press to report on things very much in the public interest are quite disturbing.”

Every. Single. Fucking. Time.

Seriously, why do you always take a dig at the UK and others over this?

We get it, the USA is the land of the free, where whistle-blowers are labelled as traitors and forced into exile. No need to rub it in our faces.

You don’t see European blogs writing “The US, where the silly imperial system is still standard.” in every article, do you?

/end rant

Shawn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If there were blog stories where the use of the silly imperial system were pertinent to the post then I would like to see it mentioned. The article is about the Government in the UK and their relationship to the press. The majority of the readers of this blog are likely in the US. There are different relationships. It is a distinction worth noting. Even with the distinction being made in the article there will most likely be a ranting post quoting US laws anyway, but at least he is trying to remind the readers that we are not talking about US laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Evidently our AC doesn’t see the connection that most speculate is there. The NSA most likely spies for the GCHQ and the GCHQ spies for the NSA and they share data. This means that the NSA can get all the data on the US citizenry while the GCHQ does the same and neither have to say they spied on their own citizens.

Sounds to me like AC is selectively getting his/her news sources while ignoring other news services that do report on this very thing.

If you are not pissed off about what is going on then you are part of the problem, no matter what country you live in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You are setting up trenches here. Usvsthem. The true defenders versus the worthless… Having that as the main theme of a post or article is more likely to provoke a shouting match of increasing profanity rather than a discussion.

I think his frustration is more about the way these stories are angled and this time a slight jab set off a nerdrage. Brits are usually relatively thick-skinned but in the rest of Europe the tradition for these heavily slanted interpretations on speeches is almost non-existent. Especially when we talk foreign. Most people have english as second or third language, making them more susceptible to give people the benifit of doubt on unfortunate formulations (“They probably meant” etc.)

It may be advantageous to keep comments and articles more analytical and be more specific about the problem when taking jabs, something Mike, by the way, is usually better at than most journalists/bloggers!

RadialSkid (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You don’t see European blogs writing “The US, where the silly imperial system is still standard.” in every article, do you?

Yes. Yes you do. Brits in particular take pot-shots at the US over every little thing.

Furthermore, simply stating that freedom of the press is more codified in law in the US than the UK isn’t just empty jingoism or xenophobic bashing, it’s basically established as fact, and relevant to the article at hand.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Wrong both ways

If the public speculates the government has greater capabilities than they do, then the bad guys have to work that much harder to hide – they can accomplish less. OTOH, if the government is less capable than speculated, those who believe the speculation will get caught. Win, either way.

The only way it’s a problem is if the speculation is exactly correct – and then it’s hardly speculation, is it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wrong both ways

If the public speculates the government has greater capabilities than they do, then the bad guys have to work that much harder to hide

There is only one small problem with that.

We could speculate, for instance, that the government has taps on every Internet backbone, has compromised multiple high-profile SSL-protected websites, and has added backdoors to international encryption standards. Surely that is a much greater capability than the government really has, right?

Right?

Oops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wrong both ways

Now, for a serious reply.

Protecting against higher threats often also protects against lesser threats.

For instance, if you protect against intentional failures of a system (sabotage), you also end up protecting against accidental failures of the system, because an intentional attacker can always simulate an accident.

In the same way, if you make crypto even a NSA-level adversary cannot break, it will be very hard for a lesser opponent to break it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Look, a pretty cat! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I make the point again that just because a law has been passed does not make it legal nor does it make it right. Over time all sorts of laws have been passed that the public ignores because it is a bad law. Other laws are over turned because the results are so bad and awkward for the government that in order to restore faith in itself and to maintain consent to govern, it must do so.

I put no belief that because it is legal that it is right or that it will stand over time. Saying it is legal is merely another justification in an attempt to say it is ok and go back to your tvs and not worry.

Saying that talking about something deadens its effectiveness merely tells you their methods are neither fool proof nor totally effective. The terrorists have long known that communications have been infiltrated and are not to be trusted and they’ve known that for years. Notice that nobody ever refers to why it was so hard to track down Bin Lauden.

This is all smoke and mirrors in an attempt to make it all go away. So far everyone dealing with this leakage in government is not prepared for it. They are all doing damage control rather than prepared statements indicating that they already know what’s been lost. So far all the proof is against these spy agencies for security of data and for doing things they are well aware that the public doesn’t like nor care for.

DOlz (profile) says:

Guess he never watches TV

“By speculating about our capabilities, it makes it easier for people who want to evade interception but are seeking to damage our country, or kill people, it makes it easier for them to evade interception. That is something that is very, very serious, and very damaging.”

Guess he never saw any of the nine seasons of “Spooks” a British series about MI6. They we’re pretty acurate about the intellegnce agencies capabilities long before Snowden showed it wasn’t just make believe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Alright!

Now we need to just write a speculation generator and we can ruin them for good! Say it with me.

The combined efforts of GCHQ’s employees can’t figure their way out of a paper-bag on their head with both hands free.

The GCHQ has everyone get black-out drunk during the workday. Doing this caused their productivity to actually improve and prevented 312 terrorist attacks per minute.

The GCHQ’s employees are actually competent at detecting or preventing attacks.

No wait clearly I’ve gone too far and have just gotten silly here!

Anonymous Coward says:

He's CONFIRMED the coverup

Further down, he confirms Parliament & Ministers not told. Claiming it was needed for secrecy.

“He continued: “That is the political and legal framework in which these decisions about intelligence are made. Are they made in much larger groups? Well, no they’re not. That’s because so much of what we do has to be so secret.”

He just confirmed officially that Parliament and Ministers were not told. In particular while they were discussing the ‘Snoopers Charter’ law, which included the framework for the spooks to get metadata (not content), he never told them they were already intercepting content and metadata.

The question now is, did he personally sign off on the Belgacom warrant, i.e. is he criminally liable, and did he sign off on bulk collection of Brit data? Also illegal.

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