Committee That Grilled Guardian Editor Over Snowden Documents Won't Get To Question Intelligence Boss

from the of-course-not dept

We recently wrote about the ridiculous performance put on by the UK Parliament in quizzing the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, concerning the legality of reporting on the Snowden leaks. Now, it appears that the same committee sought to hold a hearing with the head of the British MI5 intelligence agency, Andrew Parker, in order to see if he could back up the claims that the Guardian’s reporting had put UK citizens in danger. However, that’s not happening. UK officials won’t let Parker testify in front of the same committee. Why? Because.

The home secretary, Theresa May, told the home affairs committee chairman, Keith Vaz, that she had rejected the request for the spy chief to give evidence because his appearance would “duplicate” the existing oversight provided by the prime ministerially appointed intelligence and security committee.

And, indeed, it is true that the intelligence and security committee held a hearing on the topic not so long ago — but, like the Congressional counterparts, it was almost entirely softballs allowing them to spew rhetoric, rather than answer serious questions concerning the intelligence community.

Even worse, it appears that the UK leadership is working extra hard to keep trying to pass a hot potato to make sure no one has to testify on this particular issue:

A similar request for Kim Darroch, the national security adviser, to give evidence to the committee’s inquiry into counter-terrorism was also rejected in a letter from David Cameron. He said “it was not a good idea” because Darroch’s role focused on providing private advice to him and the national security council and his appearance would “set a difficult precedent”.

The prime minister said it should be left to the home secretary to give evidence to the MPs on their concerns about counter-terrorism and the Guardian’s disclosures of mass digital surveillance by GCHQ and the US national security agency.

The decision prompted a furious reaction from Vaz, who said: “The prime minister has suggested that the home secretary should come before us to answer our questions and Theresa May is suggesting that it is a matter for the intelligence and security committee. We cannot play pass the parcel on the issue of accountability on these important issues.

While the US process has been something of a joke, at least Congress has been able to get James Clapper, Keith Alexander and others out to testify a bunch of times on these issues. Some in the UK, however, would apparently like to sweep the whole issue under the rug.

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Comments on “Committee That Grilled Guardian Editor Over Snowden Documents Won't Get To Question Intelligence Boss”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m sincerely astonished with how they are blatantly getting in the way of justice while confirming the “High court, low court” idea that has been floating around without an ounce of worry with the public implications. The Governments generally don’t give a shit to people, justice or due process. It’s some sort of unofficial dictatorship road. When did it come to this? Or everything, every democratic fact, event was just a damn farce?

Anonymous Coward says:

the UK government is trying to set a precedent here alright. they are trying to scare the shit out of the press by convicting the Guardian editor over ‘reporting the news’! i am waiting to see what happens, because i believe this is being done in the UK because it couldn’t be gotten away with in the USA. Cameron is so far up Obama’s arse, he will do anything to impress. what i am waiting to see, if this goes the way the UK government is trying to force it is the recriminations by both the UK press and that of the other EU countries. i wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that!

That One Guy (profile) says:

It's a matter of time-saving, really

The government officials that are trying to play ‘not it’ and refuse to have anyone actually answer questions as to their actions are just being courteous you see. After all, they know that the questioning would be a total waste of time, due to the fact that whoever was being questioned would just lie about everything, so they figure it would save everyone some time and energy to just skip that part.

Duke (profile) says:

I’m all for calling out the UK Government when they do nasty things, but I’m not convinced this is as controversial as it sounds.

For starters, it is a turf war between the Labour-controlled Home Affairs Committee and the Government-controlled Intelligence and Security Committee. Having watched the HAC’s “grilling” of Rusbridger, I’m far from convinced that it (on the whole) cared about the underlying issues of privacy and security – it seemed more interested in finding ways to embarrass the Government while broadly supporting the actions of GCHQ. The message seemed to be that the ISC’s oversight was terrible and so the ISC needed to be reformed (in particular, giving Labour control over it).

For the issue here, both decisions make sense; the ISC is the committee that has “jurisdiction” over the intelligence services, with special powers to monitor MI5. If the Home Affairs Committee has issues with what MI5 is doing, they should be taking that up with the Home Office, or with the ISC.

With Kim Darroch, again I’m not sure it would be appropriate to bring him before the Home Affairs Committee; he acts as advisor to the National Security Council; getting him to testify would be like getting someone’s lawyer to testify rather than the person themselves, which is why it makes more sense for the Home Secretary (or someone else from the NSC) to give evidence.

The prime minister has suggested that the home secretary should come before us to answer our questions and Theresa May is suggesting that it is a matter for the intelligence and security committee. We cannot play pass the parcel on the issue of accountability on these important issues.

And that is misleading politics; the Prime Minister did say the Home Secretary should be the one giving evidence instead of the National Security Advisor, but she said that the ISC should be the one looking into what MI5 are doing; different answers to different questions.

Given that it was Labour who created most of these surveillance powers, I have little faith that they are going to do anything about them…

Lurker Keith says:

perhaps we have things backwards?

Perhaps the reason they don’t want anyone to testify is that it could come out that they’re acting worse than the NSA? Or even were the instigators of the NSA overstepping their bounds (i.e. we have the follow the leader thing backwards)?

Also, couldn’t the Queen come out & say that it would be in the public interest to fix this mess, rather than keep passing things off? Yes, I know she’s a mere figurehead, but if she came out against the GCHQ, it would still put extra pressure on them.

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