MI5 officer has evidence of torture?

Well, this story is inter­est­ing me extremely, and for the obvi­ous as well as the per­haps more arcanely leg­al reas­ons.

Appar­ently a former seni­or MI5 officer is ask­ing per­mis­sion to give evid­ence to the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment about the Secur­ity Service’s col­lu­sion in the US tor­ture pro­gramme that was the pyro­clast­ic flow from the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

I have long spec­u­lated about how people with whom I used to work, social­ise with, have din­ner with in the 1990s might have evolved from ideal­ist­ic young officers into people who could con­done or even par­ti­cip­ate in the tor­ture of oth­er human beings once the war on ter­ror was unleashed in the last dec­ade.

Dur­ing the 1990s MI5 abso­lutely did not con­done the use of tor­ture — not only for eth­ic­al reas­ons, but also because an older gen­er­a­tion was still knock­ing around and they had seen in the civil war in North­ern Ire­land quite how counter-pro­duct­ive such prac­tices were.  Intern­ment, secret courts, stress pos­i­tions, sleep depriva­tion — all these policies acted as a recruit­ing ser­geant for the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA.

My gen­er­a­tion — the first tasked with invest­ig­at­ing the IRA in the UK and Al Qaeda glob­ally — under­stood this.  We were there to run intel­li­gence oper­a­tions, help gath­er evid­ence, and if pos­sible put sus­pec­ted mal­efact­ors on tri­al. Even then, when eth­ic­al bound­ar­ies were breached, many raised con­cerns and many resigned.  A few of us even went pub­lic about our con­cerns.

But that is so much his­tory.  As I said above, I have always wondered how those I knew could have stayed silent once the intel­li­gence gloves came off after 9/11 and MI5 was effect­ively shang­haied into fol­low­ing the bru­tish Amer­ic­an over-reac­tion.

Now it appears that there were indeed doubters with­in, there was indeed a divided opin­ion. And now it appears that someone with seni­or­ity is try­ing to use what few chan­nels exist for whis­tleblowers in the UK to rec­ti­fy this.

In fact, my con­tem­por­ar­ies who stayed on the inside would now be the seni­or officers, so I really won­der who this is — I hope an old friend!

No doubt they will have voiced their con­cerns over the years and no doubt they will have been told just to fol­low orders.

I have said pub­licly over many years that there should be a mean­ing­ful chan­nel for those with eth­ic­al con­cerns to present evid­ence and have them prop­erly invest­ig­ated. In fact, I have even said that the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment should be that chan­nel if — and it’s a big if — they can have real invest­ig­at­ory powers and can be trus­ted not just to brush evid­ence under the car­pet and pro­tect the spies’ repu­ta­tion.

So this takes me to the arcane leg­al­it­ies I alluded to at the start. Dur­ing the Dav­id Shayler whis­tleblow­ing tri­als (1997−2003) all the leg­al argu­ment was around the fact that he could have taken his con­cerns to any crown ser­vant — up to the ISC or his MP and down to and includ­ing the bobby on the beat — and he would not have breached the Offi­cial Secrets Act. That was the argu­ment upon which he was con­victed.

Yet at the same time the pro­sec­u­tion also suc­cess­fully argued dur­ing his tri­al in 2002 in the Old Bailey that there was a “clear bright line” against dis­clos­ure to any­one out­side MI5 — (Sec­tion 1(1) OSA (1989) — without that organisation’s pri­or writ­ten con­sent.

The new case rather proves the lat­ter pos­i­tion — that someone with eth­ic­al con­cerns has to “ask per­mis­sion” to give evid­ence to the “over­sight body”.

Only in the UK.

Now, surely in this uncer­tain and allegedly ter­ror­ist-stricken world, we have nev­er had great­er need for a mean­ing­ful over­sight body and mean­ing­ful reform to our intel­li­gence agen­cies if they go off-beam. Only by learn­ing via safe extern­al vent­il­a­tion, learn­ing from mis­takes, reform­ing and avoid­ing group-think, can they oper­ate in a way that is pro­por­tion­ate in a demo­cracy and best pro­tects us all.

World’s Greatest Spy Movies — C4 Trailer

UK nation­al TV sta­tion, Chan­nel Four, recently aired a pro­gramme called “The World’s Greatest Spy Movies”, ask­ing former spooks to com­ment about the real­ity (or not) of icon­ic spy films over the dec­ades. It was a fun inter­view to do, and here’s the trail­er:

TRAILER The World’s Greatest Spy Movies Chan­nel 4 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.