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?”
“Is that it?” asked Vaz.
“Certainly,” replied Waller.
Vaz added: “Just a discussion?”
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.