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UK's Intelligence Watchdog 'Group' Only Has One Full-Time Member, Oversight Efforts Compared To British Sitcom

from the by-comparison,-our-piss-poor-oversight-looks-positively-robust dept

We have firmly established that the NSA’s oversight is a joke. The House Intelligence Committee routinely hid documents from their fellow Congress members. The Senate side is headed by one of the most shameless champions of the surveillance state. (Well, right up until her office was subjected to it…) The administration finally began distancing itself from the NSA’s activities months after the first leak, responding to the concerns of Americans with a brief list of weak reforms.

Unfortunately, it appears that we in the US are completely spoiled, at least in terms of oversight. If nothing else, we’re willing to throw a lot of bodies at the problem. Over in the UK, the so-called “intelligence watchdog group” doesn’t put in enough manhours to be considered a “watchdog” and certainly doesn’t have enough personnel to be considered a “group.”

Britain’s intelligence services had a system of oversight no better than that seen in the TV comedy Yes, Prime Minister, an MP said on Tuesday during a meeting of a Commons committee.

Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat, said the sitcom depicting ineffectual government was an appropriate comparison after it emerged that the intelligence services commissioner appearing before MPs worked only part-time, and operated with only one other staff member.

Two members, one part-time, to oversee the activities of British intelligence services. With that level of involvement, it’s hardly a surprise that 6% of the 1,700 warrants issued last year received any sort of scrutiny. With this dearth of personnel, it’s hardly a surprise (albeit still unexcusable) that the initial response to the leaks from Mark Waller, the part-time intelligence commissioner charged with overseeing MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, was incredulity: “Crikey. I wanted to know if I had been spoofed for 18 months.”

Being a decent guy, but one who felt he had been seriously misled during his 18 months of part-time oversight, Waller immediately tried to get it all sorted out. The recounting of his vigorous efforts to get to the bottom of the intelligence community’s misleading portrayal of its activities is what led to the MP’s Britcom comparison.

Waller, who looked ill at ease during much of the questioning, said he had gone to see GCHQ to see if there was anything to the allegations. He saw the deputy chief of the GCHQ and was satisfied the allegations were without foundation.

Vaz said: “And how did you satisfy yourself? It seems from your comment that you had a discussion with them.”

Waller replied: “Certainly.”

Vaz said: “You heard what they had to say.”

Waller replied: “Certainly.”

Vaz probed further: “And you accepted what they had to say?”

Waller: “Certainly.”

“Is that it?” asked Vaz.

“Certainly,” replied Waller.

Vaz added: “Just a discussion?”

Waller: “Certainly.”

Vaz, in conclusion, said: “And that’s the way you were satisfied that there was no circumventing UK law. You went down, you went to see them, you sat round the table, you had a chat?

Julian Huppert, the MP who made the comparison to Yes, Minister summed up Waller’s investigative “interrogation” more concisely.

“Can I come back to this comparison between Britain and the US? I presume you are both familiar with Yes, Prime Minister. There is a line there where it says, ‘Good Lord, no. Any hint of suspicion, you hold a full inquiry, have a chap straight out for lunch, ask him straight out if there is anything in it and if he says no, you have got to trust a chap’s word’.”

So, the “watchdog,” after feeling he had been lied to for 18 months, decided to confront the agency. The agency responded with “We haven’t been lying” and that was apparently good enough for the commissioner. After all, if you can’t trust the spies, who can you trust? Waller had done his due diligence, examining roughly 100 of the 1,700 warrants issued and had found nothing indicating anything was out of order.

In Britain, the question, “Who watches the watchers?” has been answered. The answer is, apparently, hardly anyone. Waller, the part-time commissioner charged with overseeing three intelligence agencies, looked “ill at ease” during questioning and initially refused to attend the hearing. But despite his clear reluctance to provide details of the watchdog “group’s” clearly inadquate oversight and his embarrassing-to-everyone-involved recounting of his “chat” with GCHQ officials, Waller still insisted he had enough personnel to perform the job capably. This sounds strangely like someone whose real desire isn’t to perform rigorous oversight, but rather collect a paycheck untroubled by controversy.

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Comments on “UK's Intelligence Watchdog 'Group' Only Has One Full-Time Member, Oversight Efforts Compared To British Sitcom”

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14 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

how about the following, any member of an intelligence agency that is suspected to lie to oversight, regardless how minor is to be suspended immediately until the whole thing has been cleared up.

if it comes out he didn’t lie, he gets reinstated

If it comes out he did lie, imprisonment not under 10 years, up to life, losing all pension funds and barred from any political, security or PR related jobs in the future.

If it can’t be cleared up immediately firing from his position, losing all pension funds and barred from any political, security or PR related jobs in the future.

These people clearly can’t be trusted and something has to be done about it. The only way to do so is to make each and everyone of them fully personally responsible for everything that happens (or not happens) under their control.

Oh, and fire each and everyone currently employed without pensions and any recourse and build it up from scratch with these rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Intelligence in govnerment actually means....

Keeping track of a few of truths, a lot of half truths, and uncountable loads of straight up flat out misdirected, we already know how stupid the sheeple are, unmitigated, brazen, and shameless LIES.

People have been mislead so long no one actually knows that the truth is anymore.

For government, truth is like a needle in a haystack of red tape and lies!

zip says:

UK vs. US

I much prefer the British system of (non)oversight. At least it’s inexpensive.

The U.S. government agencies that act as ‘watchdogs’ of various kinds produce the same level of ‘nothingness’ with many more people occupying more expensive real estate. It’s as if having a big budget somehow “proves” that they’re actually accomplishing what they were established to do. And if not, then an even bigger budget would fix things.

Anonymous Coward says:

The whole problem with oversight comes down to those agencies being pulled into control by the agencies they are to oversee.

I mean how far back do you go to prove this happens over and over again? By hook or by crook, that seems to be the immediate target when there begins to be a problem with oversight. The problem seems to be that politicians are not honest people as a whole. They do things that either leave them with an exposed handle to hold power over them or as Senator Feinstein recently made mention of, they invent things to accuse those politicians of wrong doing to get them out of office.

They are either dishonest or won’t hold office long. I wonder why there is no effective oversight?

Alex Marthews (user link) says:

Julian Huppert

I’m honored to count Julian Huppert as a friend, since our days running the Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats together in the mid-1990s. I am proud to observe that he has become one of Britain’s leading voices on civil liberties, and particularly on government surveillance. And there is not, and can never be, any better way of understanding British politics than by watching and understanding Yes [Prime] Minister. It is worth a BA in Political Science all by itself.

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