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