Deja Vu

I had a strong sense of déjà vu today, when I read about the woes of Mrs Green, the bar­ris­ter wife of Tory MP Damien Green who was arres­ted last Novem­ber for allegedly encour­aging gov­ern­ment inform­a­tion leaks.

Mr Green was arres­ted under an obscure and antique piece of legis­la­tion for “con­spir­ing to com­mit mis­con­duct in a pub­lic office and aid­ing and abet­ting, coun­selling or pro­cur­ing mis­con­duct in a pub­lic office”.  This, des­pite the fact that civil ser­vice man­dar­ins had per­suaded the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Spe­cial Branch (MPSB) to invest­ig­ate him because he posed a “ser­i­ous threat to national secur­ity”.  The case has now been dropped and reports have now shown that these civil ser­vants sig­ni­fic­antly over­stated the case to spur the police into action.

In such a case the obvi­ous step would have been for the Met to have invoked the dra­conian 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act.  Cer­tainly their heavy-handed response seemed to indic­ate that this was how they were view­ing the grav­ity of the case, even if they were des­per­ately try­ing to avoid the attend­ant scan­dal such a step would have pro­voked.    Spe­cial Branch officers in the Counter-Terrorism squad are not nor­mally sent to rip apart people’s houses for minor offences.

Which takes me back to the inter­view with the out­raged Mrs Green.  A bar­ris­ter spe­cial­ising in highly con­fid­en­tial child abuse cases, she inno­cently let the secret police enter her home, only to watch in dis­be­lief as they ripped it apart in what sounds to me like a counter-terrorism style search.  They, of course, found noth­ing rel­ev­ant to their invest­ig­a­tion, but scoured the com­puters, removed the bed­sheets, took away love let­ters between the Greens, and even rifled through the children’s books.

I sup­pose I was more for­tu­nate than the hap­less Mrs Green.  When the secret police ripped apart my home in the same way back in 1997, I was in Europe with my ex-partner and col­league, MI5 whis­tleblower David Shayler.  After we had exposed the fact that MI5 was shame­lessly break­ing the law, the MPSB had obtained a war­rant that allowed them to search our home for mater­ial relat­ing to our employ­ment in MI5.  As I was away, they jack­hammered the front door in, and then spent two days rip­ping through the flat in Pimlico.  It had been my home for 4 years.

Nat­ur­ally, the police found noth­ing rel­ev­ant.  That did not deter them from search­ing the place for two days, and tak­ing away bags of pos­ses­sions, includ­ing some of my under­wear, the bed­sheets, pho­to­graphs, and our love let­ters.  They also smashed up chairs and lamps, ripped the bath apart, pulled up the car­pets, and scattered my remain­ing under­wear across the bed­room floor. It looked like they had been play­ing with it.

I saw all this when I returned home a month later, and I felt viol­ated.  I know this is a com­mon reac­tion when one’s home is burgled; but in this case my home had been despoiled by the police, not by crim­in­als.  No doubt, some would say that we, and the Greens, deserved this treat­ment.  After all, we had the temer­ity to expose mal­prac­tice, lies, and crime within gov­ern­ment circles.  We, of course, would argue that we had acted for the pub­lic good.

Whatever.  I still think that a counter-terrorism style search of a whistleblower’s house is over the top and delib­er­ately intimidatory.

The police may have ran­sacked my home, but I was never charged with any offence.  Nor did I ever did get my under­wear or love let­ters back.….

Quick to Miss a Trick

Bob_QuickFormer Assist­ant Com­mis­sioner of Spe­cial Oper­a­tions at the Met­ro­pol­itan Police, Bob Quick, has hit the head­lines a couple of times in the last few months — for all the wrong reasons. 

Last Novem­ber he author­ised the arrest of Tory MP Damien Green for allegedly encour­aging leaks of sens­it­ive gov­ern­ment inform­a­tion.  This had the knock-on bene­fit of wak­ing MPs up to the fact that we are now liv­ing in a de facto police state.  Well, I sup­pose that must have been a wel­come dis­trac­tion for them.  It must be so dull merely to spend your time devis­ing new and ingeni­ous ways of fid­dling your par­lia­ment­ary expenses. 

This week, Quick was pho­to­graphed enter­ing Down­ing Street with highly clas­si­fied doc­u­ments under his arm about a sens­it­ive UK ter­ror­ist invest­ig­a­tion, which were clearly vis­ible to wait­ing pho­to­graph­ers.  The clearly vis­ible “Secret” brief­ing doc­u­ment detailed an MI5-led oper­a­tion, code­named Path­way, and bounced the counter-terrorism agen­cies into mak­ing pre­ma­ture arrests of the sus­pects, many of them young Pakistanis in the UK on stu­dent visas.

Out­rage fol­lowed this massive secur­ity lapse.  What on earth was the man doing, openly car­ry­ing secret doc­u­ments?  Pro­tect­ive rules dic­tate that such papers are not allowed out­side HQ unless signed out and in a secur­ity briefcase.  The vol­un­tary press cen­sor­ship com­mit­tee, the Defence, Press and Broad­cast­ing Advis­ory Com­mit­tee, has slapped a ‘D’ Notice all over the story.  Quick has, of course, resigned.  Reportedly, he may even (gasp) face dis­cip­lin­ary pro­ceed­ings within the Met.

Is it just me, or people miss­ing a trick here?  This man has dis­closed a highly clas­si­fied intel­li­gence doc­u­ment without per­mis­sion.  In addi­tion, this doc­u­ment con­tained inform­a­tion about an ongo­ing oper­a­tion AND the names of senior intel­li­gence officers — accord­ing to MI5 lore two of the most dam­aging types of inform­a­tion that could pos­sibly be dis­closed.  So, why is Quick not facing pro­sec­u­tion under the dra­conian 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act?  He clearly falls under Sec­tion 1(1) of the Act as a noti­fied per­son if he is hand­ling Secret documents:

1(1) A per­son who is or has been—

(a) a mem­ber of the secur­ity and intel­li­gence ser­vices; or

(b) a per­son noti­fied that he is sub­ject to the pro­vi­sions of this subsection,

is guilty of an offence if without law­ful author­ity he dis­closes any inform­a­tion, doc­u­ment or other art­icle relat­ing to secur­ity or intel­li­gence which is or has been in his pos­ses­sion by vir­tue of his pos­i­tion as a mem­ber of any of those ser­vices or in the course of his work while the noti­fic­a­tion is or was in force.

Under these pro­vi­sions, there is no real defence under law.  Legal pre­ced­ent in recent OSA tri­als has clearly estab­lished that the reason for an unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure of secrets is irrel­ev­ant.  (The the­or­et­ical and untested sub­sequent defence of “neces­sity” has no bear­ing on this par­tic­u­lar case.)  Whether the breach occurs due to prin­cipled whis­tleblow­ing or a mis­take doesn’t mat­ter: the clear bright line against dis­clos­ure has been crossed and pro­sec­u­tion inex­or­ably follows.

Except if you have suf­fi­ciently seni­or­ity, it appears.….