How else explain his recent comments in The Daily Torygraph? He said that he will be the voice of those who cannot defend themselves — ie those poor, anonymous intelligence officers in MI5. He even drags out the hoary old chestnut that a criminal investigation into prima facie evidence that the spooks have been involved in serious crime — the torture of another human being — would damage national security.
I’m surprised he managed to bite back Tony Blair’s infamous line, that an investigation into possible spy incompetence and crime would be a “ludicrous diversion”
Ever since Labour came to power in 1997, we have had a series of Home Secretaries straining to avoid doing their job vis a vis the spooks in Thames House: the job being that of political master of MI5, thereby providing a modicum of democratic oversight to an extremely powerful and secretive organisation, holding it to account and ensuring it obeys the law.
The role of Home Secretary is not to be the champion of unaccountable spies who are protected from investigation and oversight by a whole raft of secrecy legislation.
More and more evidence is emerging that MI5 assisted the USA’s extraordinary rendition plan, that it was complicit in torture, and that its officers have lied to cover their tracks. Under this avalanche of scandal, some MPs have finally woken up to the fact that the Home Secretary should be ensuring MI5 obeys the law. Some are even daringly suggesting that there should be proper Parliamentary oversight of the spies, rather than the fig leaf that is the Intelligence and Security Committee — hand-picked by and only answerable to the Prime Minister, and powerless to question intelligence officers under oath, demand papers, or look at anything more serious than policy, finance or administration.
The Metropolitan Police have even begun a criminal investigation into MI5’s complicity in torture. While I doubt any case that could, ahem, “damage national security” will ever come to court, a few junior officers may be asked to do the decent thing and quietly walk the plank.
But the real issue — the closed, self-perpetuating group-think culture, where officers should just follow orders and not rock the boat — will continue unchallenged, resulting inevitably in yet more scandals.
It is time we had a Home Secretary who is up to the job and who has the backbone to initiate some meaningful reform of MI5.