The spies are called to account

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

As the Snowden-related dis­clos­ures con­tin­ue to flow, each new one refut­ing the last dis­sem­bling state­ments of the des­per­ate spies, dip­lo­mats around the world must be curs­ing the over­ween­ing ambi­tions of the NSA and it vassals.

Amer­ic­an ambas­sad­ors are being summoned from their for­ti­fied embassies to account for US mal­feas­ance in coun­try after coun­try: Brazil, Spain, France and, of course, Germany.

In this last coun­try there has been scan­dal after scan­dal: first the hoover­ing up of bil­lions of private com­mu­nic­a­tions; the rev­el­a­tion that the Ger­man intel­li­gence agency, the BND, had been an enthu­si­ast­ic part­ner of the NSA in devel­op­ing the XKey­Score pro­gramme and more; then, des­pite this, humi­li­at­ingly to learn that Ger­many is only con­sidered a 3rd Party intel­li­gence part­ner by the Yanks — put­ting them on a par with coun­tries like Iran, China and Russia.

The pièces de résist­ance, how­ever, are the two most recent dis­clos­ures: that Angela Merkal’s private phone had been tar­geted, and that there was a NSA spy base embed­ded in the US embassy in Ber­lin.  This, reportedly, has now ceased oper­a­tions as the US gov­ern­ment tries to appease an incan­des­cent Angela.

Now it is the turn of the Brits, whose ambas­sad­or, Simon McDon­ald, was also this week giv­en a car­pet­ing by the Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter — for doing pre­cisely what the Amer­ic­ans did and hid­ing a GCHQ spy out­post at the Brit­ish embassy in Ber­lin, flout­ing all kinds of treat­ies and dip­lo­mat­ic pro­to­cols in the pro­cess.  As the embassy was only built in the early 1990s after Ger­man reuni­fic­a­tion, they can­not even claim that this is merely a hangover from the bad old days of the Cold War.

Of course, the Ger­mans are par­tic­u­larly sens­it­ive to encroach­ing sur­veil­lance states, after exper­i­en­cing the hor­rors of the Gestapo and the Stasi. How much more con­cerned need they be, when faced with the sheer scale of the mod­ern tech­no­lo­gic­al capability?

Even before the Snowden story broke, Ger­man courts were uphold­ing the con­sti­tu­tion in the face of gov­ern­ment moves to expand the intel­li­gence cap­ab­il­ity to fight the “war on ter­ror”.  Indeed, even some mega-cor­por­a­tions took a stand. In 2009, on the anniversary of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, the head of T Mobile in Ger­man refused to store the com­mu­nic­a­tions data of ordin­ary Ger­mans, on the off-chance that one or two of them might sub­sequently turn ter­ror­ist — the good of the many out­weighted the threat from a few.

So the Brits are some­what out of favour with the rest of Europe, and espe­cially Ger­many. It was clear, with the rev­el­a­tions about GCHQ’s Tem­pora pro­gramme and the huge fund­ing acquired from the NSA, that GCHQ was no longer primar­ily con­cerned with pro­tect­ing Brit­ish nation­al secur­ity, but had become the European off­shoot of the NSA.  Indeed, intern­al doc­u­ments have shown a man­age­ment obses­sion with pleas­ing their Amer­ic­an pay­mas­ters.

This is the very heart of the so-called spe­cial rela­tion­ship — the com­bined cap­ab­il­it­ies of the NSA and GCHQ.  Even as the old Brit­ish Empire crumbled in the mid-20th cen­tury, the spooks could still build out­posts for eaves­drop­ping in hot­spots around the world: Cyprus, the Middle East, Hong Kong and, er, Ber­lin.  They were happy to offer up the product to their new Amer­ic­an over­lords, as this gave them a con­tinu­ing place at the inter­na­tion­al top table.

This the Brit­ish would find very dif­fi­cult to relin­quish. And this is why, in stark con­trast to all oth­er European coun­tries, the politi­cians have moved to defend the spies, why the mono­chrome phrase “we nev­er dis­cuss intel­li­gence mat­ters” is now wear­ily rolled out on a daily basis, and why intel­li­gence lack­eys across the nation­al media have defen­ded the status quo and respect the vol­un­tary DA Notice gag­ging order.  This is also why the Guard­i­an’s hard drives had to be sym­bol­ic­ally smashed up and why there have been calls to pro­sec­ute the news­pa­per under the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act.

It is not the Guard­i­an that has dam­aged Brit­ish nation­al secur­ity (a leg­ally neb­u­lous concept) by print­ing the truth about our spy agen­cies work­ing for the NSA and tramp­ling over our basic rights and freedoms. It is the spies them­selves that have caused the harm, by run­ning amok with leg­ally dubi­ous sur­veil­lance schemes, kid­nap­ping sus­pects around the world, and get­ting involved in torture.

So tomor­row is poten­tially an his­tor­ic date in the annals of Brit­ish intel­li­gence. For the very first time in their 100 year his­tory, the heads of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ will be called to account by the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment.  Not only that, the event will be live streamed so we plebs can hear what is being done secretly in our names.

Well, almost live streamed — appar­ently there will be a few seconds delay, in order to ensure no “dam­age to nation­al secur­ity” occurs. My mind is bog­gling some­what at the pos­sib­il­ity that three spooks who have made it to the top of their respect­ive organ­isa­tions would be so inept as to blurt out state secrets on live TV, but you nev­er know…

So, can we hope for a full and frank dis­cus­sion around the Snowden dis­clos­ures? Well, prob­ably not. I have writ­ten at length before about the cosy estab­lish­ment ineptitude of the Prime Min­ister­’s hand-picked stooges who pop­u­late the ISC. Plus the chair­man, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind (him­self a former For­eign Sec­ret­ary notion­ally in charge of MI6 and GHHQ), has not only pub­licly sup­por­ted the work of GCHQ, post-Snowden, but has also ruled out any dis­cus­sion of “tech­no­lo­gic­al cap­ab­il­it­ies” at the hearing.

I hope to be sur­prised.  After all, even the US — the home of the NSA and cause of all this pain — is hold­ing con­gres­sion­al hear­ings and hav­ing nation­al debates. But I fear the good old Brit­ish estab­lish­ment will yet again rally around and pro­tect its own.

White­wash all round!