Head Of UK Parliamentary Committee Overseeing Intelligence Agencies Resigns After Being Caught In Sting

from the a-question-of-trust dept

The UK government’s response to Snowden’s leaks has been twofold: that everything is legal, and that everything is subject to rigorous scrutiny. We now know that the first of these is not true, and the second is hardly credible either, given that the UK’s main intelligence watchdog has only one full-time member. There’s one other main oversight body, the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC), which is tasked with examining:

the policy, administration and expenditure of the Security Service, Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The ISC was criticized as part of a larger condemnation of intelligence oversight by another UK Parliament committee. The head of the ISC, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, was reported by the Guardian as dismissing those criticisms as “old hat,” as if that somehow made them acceptable. Rifkind has now been caught up in a rather more serious row, which involves reporters from the UK’s Channel 4 and The Telegraph newspaper posing as representatives of a Chinese company:

PMR, a communications agency based in Hong Kong was set up, backed by a fictitious Chinese businessman. PMR has plenty of money to spend and wants to hire influential British politicians to join its advisory board and get a foothold in the UK and Europe.

Here’s what Channel 4 and the Telegraph allege happened in their meeting with Rifkind:

Sir Malcolm also claimed he could write to a minister on behalf of our company without saying exactly who he was representing

Sir Malcolm added that he could see any foreign ambassador in London if he wanted, so could provide ‘access’ that is ‘useful’

Rifkind said that he was “self-employed” — in fact, he is a Member of Parliament, and receives a salary of ?67,000 per year — and that his normal fee was “somewhere in the region of ?5,000 to ?8,000” for half a day’s work. There’s no suggestion that Rifkind made any reference during the sting to his role as head of the ISC, but that’s not really the point. He was offering a Chinese company access to influential people purely because he would get paid to do so, and that is surely not the kind of person you would want to grant the high-level security clearance Rifkind enjoys.

Then there is the question of what happens when Rifkind leaves Parliament: as Techdirt noted back in 2012, politicians can earn huge amounts of money by going to work as lobbyists, drawing on their contacts to ease the path for legislation or contracts or whatever. According to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, merely letting politicians know that a job as lobbyist was waiting for them if they wanted it can be enough to shift their loyalties. That would be hugely troubling if it concerned someone occupying such a sensitive position as Rifkind.

After initially being suspended from the Conservative party, pending a disciplinary review, Rifkind has now resigned as chairman of the ISC, and announced that he will not be a candidate for re-election in the UK’s general election later this year. He probably decided to fall on his sword in an attempt to spare the UK government further embarrassment, but his move will do little to bolster the dwindling credibility of the ISC, or the repeated claim that there are no problems with oversight of UK intelligence services.

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Comments on “Head Of UK Parliamentary Committee Overseeing Intelligence Agencies Resigns After Being Caught In Sting”

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Jake says:

Re: Re:

Having him resign his seat right now would be very disruptive for no particular gain; we’re only a bit over three months from a General Election, so I’m sure the electoral commission has more than enough to do right now without organising a by-election as well, but I’m pretty sure it’s against UK law to leave his seat in Parliament vacant that long.

Presumably he’s being allowed to stay on as a chair-warmer in the Select Committee for much the same reason; they need a minimum of n members for quorum or something but they want to leave the question of who will replace him in abeyance until the election’s over with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Thanks for the clarification on the difficulties of replacing him. I can barely keep track of the basics of governmental procedure in the US, so my daily quick-read of Guardian highlights really isn’t sufficient for any sort of understanding of UK law.

Last I read, though, Rifkind isn’t willing to take any blame whatsoever. He won’t even admit that his actions are questionable in appearance, let alone substance. He’s making his resignation from the Chair seem altruistic, almost demanding that people thank him for such a noble gesture. I know that that’s oversimplifying, but falling on one’s sword, in my book, requires a bit more humility.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not changing my mind

Another example why every country should have a citizen lobby or company or whatever. Politicians only seem to listen to money and because they seem to forget that each citizen pays some % for their salary we need another incentive. Not paying taxes doesn’t work because “survival of the fittest” aka the one with guns who is allowed to use them wins.
Create a citizens lobby so corruption works in your favor. Once upon a time I thought only 3rd world countries worked like this… stupid me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dont worry folks, im sure this is the very first time its ever happened in our entire history, certainly not widespread, and will obviously be the last time it ever happens

Your beloved

On a more serious note, this is what i think they do on a regular basis, this is what i think they think their job is, and i dare say im not alone, so try to imagine what its like, when we see a government we feel is infested by folks like this guy, continually push for more authority for a government filled with folks like this guy……….wheres the reprucussions these actions? Wheres the speeches decrying this behaviour? Wheres the push to clean your house?
Instead, nothing substantial happens, usually, nothing happens, and then they go on too well paid jobs no doubt helped by their current position……..which then tells everyone sub conciously, corruption is ok

Whats ok about that

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sadly, this kind of behavior – assassination lists – tends to be the forte of the very same nasty folks we are now discussing; the minions of corruption and crime who currently hold office in the halls of power.

Good folks tend to avoid murder.

Bad folks tend to adore murder.

More likely there are lists already drawn up, of those who the folks in power deem to be a possible or probable threat – such as those who talk about making lists of assholes to eliminate. 🙂

GEMont (profile) says:

"You dirty rat!"

If Rifkind was the exception, the system is compromised, but if, as I suspect, Rifkind is the rule, the system is not just corrupt, but has been established primarily for the profitability of selling “connections in high places” type dealings such as seen in this case.

If the Mob had taken over the governments of the Five Eyes Nations, would things appear any differently than they do now?

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