Spies and the Media — my recent talk at the Centre for Investigative Journalism

Here’s the film of my talk at the recent sum­mer school at the Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism in Lon­don a month ago:

 

Many thanks to Gavin and the rest of the CIJ team for such a stim­u­lat­ing and thought-provoking weekend!

Lawyers challenge integrity of UK spy torture inquiry

Gareth_Peirce_1It was widely repor­ted today that a num­ber of well-respected Brit­ish law­yers and civil liber­ties organ­isa­tions are ques­tion­ing the integ­rity of the much-trumpeted inquiry into UK spy com­pli­city in torture.

And about time too.  One hopes this is all part of a wider strategy, not merely a defens­ive reac­tion to the usual power play on the part of the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment.  After all, it has been appar­ent from the start that the whole inquiry would be ques­tion­able when it was announced that Sir Peter Gib­son would be chair­ing the inquiry.

Gib­son has cer­tain form.  He was until recently the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner — the very per­son who for the last five years has been invited into MI5, MI6 and GCHQ for cosy annual chats with care­fully selec­ted intel­li­gence officers (ie those who won’t rock the boat), to report back to the gov­ern­ment that demo­cratic over­sight was work­ing won­der­fully, and it was all A-OK in the spy organisations.

After these years of happy frat­ern­ising, when his name was put for­ward to invest­ig­ate poten­tial crim­inal com­pli­city in tor­ture on the part of the spies, he did the pub­licly decent thing and resigned as Com­mis­sioner to take up the post of chair of the Tor­ture Inquiry.

Well, we know the estab­lish­ment always like a safe pair of hands.…  and this safety has also been pretty much guar­an­teed by law for the last six years. 

Ever since the Inquir­ies Act 2005 was pushed through as law, with rel­at­ively little press aware­ness or par­lia­ment­ary oppos­i­tion, gov­ern­ment depart­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies have pretty much been able to call the shots when it comes to the scope of sup­posedly inde­pend­ent inquiries.

Malcolm_RifkindInter­est­ingly, Tory grandee Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, the former For­eign Sec­ret­ary who now chairs the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, has also weighed in to the debate.  On BBC Radio 4’s Today pro­gramme he stated:

I can­not recol­lect an inquiry that’s been pro­posed to be so open as we’re hav­ing in this par­tic­u­lar case. When was the last time the head of MI5 and the head of MI6 – the prime min­is­ter has made quite clear – can be summoned to this inquiry and be required to give evid­ence?

This from the senior politi­cian who has always denied that he was offi­cially briefed about the illegal assas­sin­a­tion plot against Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya in 1996; this from the man who is now call­ing for the arm­ing of the very same extrem­ists to topple Gad­dafi in the ongo­ing shambles that is the Libyan War; and this from the man who is also loudly call­ing for an exten­sion of the ISC’s legal powers so that it can demand access to wit­nesses and doc­u­ments from the spy organisations. 

No doubt my head will stop spin­ning in a day or two.…