Parliamentary Evidence on the UK Investigatory Powers Bill

My writ­ten evid­ence to the Scru­tiny Com­mit­tee in the UK Houses of Par­lia­ment that is cur­rently examin­ing the much-dis­puted Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Bill (IP):

1. My name is Annie Machon and I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK’s domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, com­monly referred to as MI5, from early 1991 until late 1996. I resigned to help my part­ner at the time, fel­low intel­li­gence officer Dav­id Shayler, expose a num­ber of instances of crime and incom­pet­ence we had wit­nessed dur­ing our time in the ser­vice.

2. I note that the draft IP Bill repeatedly emphas­ises the import­ance of demo­crat­ic and judi­cial over­sight of the vari­ous cat­egor­ies of intrus­ive intel­li­gence gath­er­ing by estab­lish­ing an Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Com­mis­sion­er as well as sup­port­ing Judi­cial Com­mis­sion­ers. How­ever, I am con­cerned about the real and mean­ing­ful applic­a­tion of this over­sight.

3. While in the Ser­vice in the 1990s we were gov­erned by the terms of the Inter­cep­tion of Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act 1985 (IOCA), the pre­curs­or to RIPA, which provided for a sim­il­ar sys­tem of applic­a­tions for a war­rant and min­is­teri­al over­sight.

4. I would like to sub­mit evid­ence that the sys­tem did not work and could be manip­u­lated from the inside.

5. I am aware of at least two instances of this dur­ing my time in the ser­vice, which were cleared for pub­lic­a­tion by MI5 in my 2005 book about the Shayler case, “Spies Lies, and Whis­tleblowers”, so my dis­cuss­ing them now is not in breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act. I would be happy to provide fur­ther evid­ence, either writ­ten or in per­son, about these abuses.

6. My con­cern about this draft Bill is that while the over­sight pro­vi­sions seem to be strengthened, with approv­al neces­sary from both the Sec­ret­ary of State and a Judi­cial Com­mis­sion­er, the interi­or pro­cess of applic­a­tion for war­rants will still remain opaque and open to manip­u­la­tion with­in the intel­li­gence agen­cies.

7. The applic­a­tion pro­cess for a war­rant gov­ern­ing inter­cep­tion or inter­fer­ence involved a case being made in writ­ing by the intel­li­gence officer in charge of an invest­ig­a­tion. This then went through four lay­ers of man­age­ment, with all the usu­al redac­tions and fin­ess­ing, before a final sum­mary was draf­ted by H Branch, signed by the DDG, and then dis­patched to the Sec­ret­ary of State. So the min­is­ter was only ever presen­ted with was a sum­mary of a sum­mary of a sum­mary of a sum­mary of the ori­gin­al intel­li­gence case.

8. Addi­tion­ally, the ori­gin­al intel­li­gence case could be erro­neous and mis­lead­ing. The pro­cess of writ­ing the war­rant applic­a­tion was merely a tick box exer­cise, and officers would routinely note that such intel­li­gence could only be obtained by such intrus­ive meth­ods, rather than explor­ing all open source options first. The reval­id­a­tion pro­cess could be even more cava­lier.

9. When prob­lems with this sys­tem were voiced, officers were told to not rock the boat and just fol­low orders. Dur­ing the annu­al vis­it by the Intel­li­gence Inter­cept Com­mis­sion­er, those with con­cerns were banned from meet­ing him.

10. Thus I have con­cerns about the real­ist­ic power of the over­sight pro­vi­sions writ­ten into this Bill and would urge an addi­tion­al pro­vi­sion. This would estab­lish an effect­ive chan­nel whereby officers with con­cerns can give evid­ence dir­ectly and in con­fid­ence to the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Com­mis­sion­er in the expect­a­tion that a prop­er invest­ig­a­tion will be con­duc­ted and with no reper­cus­sions to their careers inside the agen­cies. Here is a link to a short video I did for Oxford Uni­ver­sity three years ago out­lining these pro­pos­als:

11. This, in my view, would be a win-win scen­ario for all con­cerned. The agen­cies would have a chance to improve their work prac­tices, learn from mis­takes, and bet­ter pro­tect nation­al secur­ity, as well as avoid­ing the scan­dal and embar­rass­ment of any future whis­tleblow­ing scan­dals; the officers with eth­ic­al con­cerns would not be placed in the invi­di­ous pos­i­tion of either becom­ing com­pli­cit in poten­tially illeg­al acts by “just fol­low­ing orders” or risk­ing the loss of their careers and liberty by going pub­lic about their con­cerns.

12. I would also like to raise the pro­por­tion­al­ity issue. It strikes me that bulk inter­cept must surely be dis­pro­por­tion­ate with­in a func­tion­ing and free demo­cracy, and indeed can actu­ally harm nation­al secur­ity. Why? Because the use­ful, indeed cru­cial, intel­li­gence on tar­gets and their asso­ci­ates is lost in the tsunami of avail­able inform­a­tion. Indeed this seems to have been the con­clu­sion of every inquiry about the recent spate of “lone wolf” and ISIS-inspired attacks across the West – the tar­gets were all vaguely known to the author­it­ies but resources were spread too thinly.

13. In fact all that bulk col­lec­tion seems to provide is con­firm­a­tion after the fact of a suspect’s involve­ment in a spe­cif­ic incid­ent, which is surely spe­cific­ally police evid­en­tial work. Yet the jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the invas­ive inter­cept and inter­fer­ence meas­ures laid out in the Bill itself is to gath­er vital inform­a­tion ahead of an attack in order to pre­vent it – the very defin­i­tion of intel­li­gence. How is this pos­sible if the sheer scale of bulk col­lec­tion drowns out the vital nug­gets of intel­li­gence?

14. Finally, I would like to raise the point that the phrase “nation­al secur­ity” has nev­er been defined for leg­al pur­poses in the UK. Surely this should be the very first step neces­sary before for­mu­lat­ing the pro­posed IP Bill? Until we have such a leg­al defin­i­tion, how can we for­mu­late new and intrus­ive laws in the name of pro­tect­ing an undefined and neb­u­lous concept, and how can we judge that the new law will thereby be pro­por­tion­ate with­in a demo­cracy?

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