Spies need more oversight, not new powers

Pub­lished on www​.polit​ics​.co​.uk, and Huff­ing­ton Post UK.

Fol­low­ing the awful murder of Drum­mer Lee Rigby in Wool­wich last week, the polit­ic­al securo­crats who claim to rep­res­ent the interests of the Brit­ish intel­li­gence ser­vices have swung into action, demand­ing yet fur­ther sur­veil­lance powers for MI5 and MI6 “in order to pre­vent future Wool­wich-style attacks”.

As I’ve writ­ten before, it was heart­en­ing that the UK Prime Min­is­ter said in the after­math of the attack that there would be no knee-jerk secur­ity reac­tion. How­ever, that has not deterred cer­tain intel­li­gence sock-pup­pets from polit­ic­al oppor­tunism — they stridently call for the resur­rec­tion of the draft Com­mu­nic­a­tions Data Bill that was earli­er this year kicked into the long grass. If the hawks are suc­cess­ful, the new law would have implic­a­tions not only for our freedoms at home, but also for our policy and stand­ing abroad.

Recently the civil liber­ties camp acquired a sur­pris­ing ally in this debate, with MI5 unex­pec­tedly enter­ing the fray.  And rightly so. There is abso­lutely no need for this new legis­la­tion, the requis­ite powers are already in place. Seni­or secur­ity sources have argued that those cit­ing the Wool­wich attack to pro­mote the snoop­ers’ charter are using a “cheap argu­ment”.

As I said in this recent BBC radio inter­view, all the neces­sary laws are already in place for MI5 either to pass­ively mon­it­or or aggress­ively invest­ig­ate per­sons of interest under the ori­gin­al terms of IOCA (1985) and updated in the Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (RIPA 2000).

There now appears to be little doubt that the two Wool­wich sus­pects were well and truly on the MI5 radar. It has been repor­ted that they had been tar­gets for at least 8 years and that Michael Ade­bolajo had been approached to work as an agent by MI5 as recently as 6 months ago.

One of his friends, Abu Nusay­bah, recor­ded an inter­view for BBC’s News­night pro­gramme last week, only to be arres­ted by counter-ter­ror­ism police imme­di­ately after­wards. He stated that Ade­bolajo had been tor­tured and threatened with rape after his arrest in Kenya en route to Somalia, and that this treat­ment may have flipped him into more viol­ent action. Indeed, the tale gets ever mur­ki­er, with reports yes­ter­day stat­ing that Ade­bolajo was snatched by the SAS in Kenya on the orders of MI5.

Oth­er inform­a­tion has since been released by the organ­isa­tion Cage­Pris­on­ers indic­at­ing that Ade­bola­jo’s fam­ily and friends had also been har­rassed to pres­sur­ize him into report­ing to MI5.

All of which obvi­ates the early claims that Ade­bolajo was either a “lone wolf” or a low-pri­or­ity tar­get. It cer­tainly indic­ates to me that MI5 will have at the very least been mon­it­or­ing Ade­bola­jo’s com­mu­nic­a­tions data, espe­cially if they were try­ing to recruit him as a source. If that indeed turns out to have been the case, then without doubt MI5 will also have been inter­cept­ing the con­tent of his com­mu­nic­a­tions, to under­stand his think­ing and assess his access. Any­thing less would have been slip­shod — a derel­ic­tion of duty — and all this could and should have been done under the exist­ing terms of RIPA.

So what are the chances of some real over­sight or answers?

If we’re talk­ing about an inde­pend­ent inquiry, the chances are slim: the Inquir­ies Act (2005) passed little noticed into law, but it means that the gov­ern­ment and the depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion can pretty much determ­ine the scope and terms of the inquiry to which they are sub­ject.

How­ever, might we nail the flag of hope to the mast of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment (ISC) — the com­mit­tee tasked with over­see­ing the work of the UK intel­li­gence agen­cies? The new DG of MI5, Andrew Park­er, has already sub­mit­ted a writ­ten report about Wool­wich and will be giv­ing evid­ence to the ISC in per­son next week about wheth­er MI5 missed some vital intel­li­gence or dropped the ball.

Th ISC of Par­lia­ment was estab­lished as part of the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (1994) — the law that finally brought MI6 and GCHQ under the umbrella of notion­al demo­crat­ic over­sight. MI5 had already come into the leg­al fold with the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act (1989).

As I have writ­ten before, ini­tially the ISC was a demo­crat­ic fig-leaf — its mem­bers were appoin­ted by the PM not Par­lia­ment, it repor­ted dir­ectly to the PM, and its remit only covered the policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion of the UK’s intel­li­gence agen­cies.

Until this year the ISC could not invest­ig­ate oper­a­tion­al mat­ters, nor could it demand to see doc­u­ments or ques­tion top spooks under oath. Indeed, it has been well repor­ted that seni­or spies and police have long evaded mean­ing­ful scru­tiny by being “eco­nom­ic­al with the truth”.

Former MI5 DG Sir Steph­en Lander in 2001 said “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee early on”; a more recent DG, Sir Jonath­an Evans, had to admit in 2008 that MI5 had lied about its involve­ment in tor­ture; and Lord Blair, former Com­mis­sion­er of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police, had to apo­lo­gise in 2008 for mis­lead­ing the ISC about the num­ber of thwarted ter­ror­ist attacks on his watch.

How­ever the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has pur­sued a more mus­cu­lar over­sight role. And it seems he has at least won some battles. The one good ele­ment to have come out of the con­ten­tious Justice and Secur­ity Act (2013) appears to be that the ISC has more dir­ect account­ab­il­ity to Par­lia­ment, rather than just to the PM (the dev­il is expressed in the detail: the ISC is now “of” Par­lia­ment, rather than “in” Par­lia­ment…).

Some­what more per­tin­ently, the ISC can now invest­ig­ate oper­a­tion­al mat­ters, demand papers and wit­nesses, and it appears they now have a spe­cial invest­ig­at­or who can go and rum­mage around the MI5 Registry for inform­a­tion.

It remains to be seen how effect­ive the ISC will real­ist­ic­ally be in hold­ing the intel­li­gence agen­cies to account, even with these new powers. How­ever, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind has good reas­on to know how slip­pery the spies can be — after all, he was the For­eign Sec­ret­ary in 1995/6, the years when MI6 was fund­ing Al Qaeda asso­ci­ates to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya.  The attack went wrong, inno­cent people were killed and, cru­cially, it was illeg­al under UK law, as MI6 had not reques­ted the pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion for such a plot from the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, as required under Sec­tion 7(1) of the afore­men­tioned ISA (1994). Rif­kind has always claimed that he was not told about the plot by MI6.

So, in the interests of justice let us hope that the Rif­kind and the oth­er mem­bers of the ISC fully exer­cise their powers and that MI5’s new DG, Andrew Park­er is some­what more frank about the work of his agency than his pre­de­cessors have been. It is only through great­er hon­esty and account­ab­il­ity that our intel­li­gence agen­cies can learn from the mis­takes of the past and bet­ter pro­tect our coun­try in the future.

The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

Part Two of my recent inter­view on the excel­lent, inde­pend­ent and fear­less Real News Net­work:

The Gareth Williams Inquest

What a mess, what a cov­er-up.  The inquest into the sad, strange death of Gareth Wil­li­ams con­cluded yes­ter­day, with the cor­on­er rais­ing more ques­tions than she was able to answer.

It was also pat­ently obvi­ous that both MI6 and the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Counter-Ter­ror­ism Squad (SO15) hampered the invest­ig­a­tion, for the inev­it­able reas­ons of “nation­al secur­ity”.

When will MI6 real­ise that it is not above the law?

My heart goes out to Gareth­’s fam­ily.

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.…

Alastair Campbell — guilty of breaching the OSA?

Alastair_Campbell_1I have long sus­pec­ted that Alastair Camp­bell, Labour’s former Dir­ect­or of Com­mu­nic­a­tions, may poten­tially have broken the UK’s Offi­cial Secrets Act.  Now prima facie evid­ence is begin­ning to emerge that he did indeed breach the “clear bright line” against unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure of intel­li­gence. 

I know that the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police have their hands full invest­ig­at­ing the melt­down that is the News of the World hack­ing scan­dal — and also try­ing to replace all those seni­or officers who had to resign because of it — but they do have a duty to invest­ig­ate crime.  And not just any old crime, in this case, but one that has poten­tially threatened the very basis of our nation­al secur­ity.

Why do I say this? 

Sun_45_minutes_from_doomYou’ll no doubt have some vague recol­lec­tion that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment pro­duced a couple of reports “mak­ing a case for war”.  The first, the Septem­ber Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed sex up the case for war, as well as include fake intel­li­gence about Sad­dam Hus­sein try­ing to acquire urani­um from Niger.  Most mem­or­ably it led to the “Brits 45 minutes from Doom” front-page head­line in Rupert Mur­doch’s The Sun news­pa­per, no less, on the eve of the cru­cial war vote in Par­lia­ment.

There was also the notori­ous leaked Down­ing Street Memo, where the then-head of MI6, Sir Richard Dear­love ©, was minuted as say­ing that the intel­li­gence and facts were being fit­ted around the [pre­de­ter­mined war] policy.

How­ever, for the pur­poses of a pos­sible Regina v. Camp­bell day in court, it is the second report that requires our atten­tion.

It was pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary 2003, just before “shock and awe” was launched to lib­er­ate the grate­ful Iraqi people.   This report became known as the “Dodgy Dossier”, as it was largely lif­ted from a 12 year old PhD thes­is that the spin doc­tors had found on the inter­net.  How­ever, it also included nug­gets of brand-new and unas­sessed intel­li­gence from MI6.  Indeed, even the tooth­less Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment stated in para­graph 82 of its 2002–2003 Annu­al Report ( Down­load ISC_2003) that:

We believe that mater­i­al pro­duced by the [intel­li­gence] Agen­cies can be used in pub­lic­a­tions and attrib­uted appro­pri­ately, but it is imper­at­ive that the Agen­cies are con­sul­ted before any of their mater­i­al is pub­lished. This pro­cess was not fol­lowed when a second doc­u­ment was pro­duced in Feb­ru­ary 2003. Although the doc­u­ment did con­tain some intel­li­gence-derived mater­i­al it was not clearly attrib­uted or high­lighted amongst the oth­er mater­i­al, nor was it checked with the Agency provid­ing the intel­li­gence or cleared by the JIC pri­or to pub­lic­a­tion. We have been assured that sys­tems have now been put in place to ensure that this can­not hap­pen again, in that the JIC Chair­man endorses any mater­i­al on behalf of the intel­li­gence com­munity pri­or to pub­lic­a­tion.

ISC_Iraq_reportAt the time it was repor­ted that Blair and Camp­bell had spon­tan­eously dis­trib­uted this report to journ­al­ists trav­el­ling with them on a tour of the Far East.   The ISC con­firmed that the intel­li­gence had been passed to journ­al­ists without the per­mis­sion of MI6 in its Septem­ber 2003 spe­cial report — “Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion: Intel­li­gence and Assess­ments” (see pars 131 to 134):

The doc­u­ment was ori­gin­ally giv­en to a num­ber of journ­al­ists over the week­end of
1 and 2 Feb­ru­ary and then placed in the Lib­rary of the House on 3 Feb­ru­ary. The Prime
Min­is­ter described the doc­u­ment as fol­lows:

We issued fur­ther intel­li­gence over the week­end about the infra­struc­ture of
con­ceal­ment. It is obvi­ously dif­fi­cult when we pub­lish intel­li­gence reports, but I hope
that people have some sense of the integ­rity of our secur­ity ser­vices. They are not
pub­lish­ing this, or giv­ing us this inform­a­tion, and mak­ing it up. It is the intel­li­gence
that they are receiv­ing, and we are passing on to people. In the dossier that we
pub­lished last year, and again in the mater­i­al that we put out over the week­end, it is
very clear that a vast amount of con­ceal­ment and decep­tion is going on.”

Con­clu­sions:

The Com­mit­tee took evid­ence on this mat­ter from the Chief of the SIS on both
12 Feb­ru­ary and 17 July and sep­ar­ately from Alastair Camp­bell on 17 July. Both agreed
that mak­ing the doc­u­ment pub­lic without con­sult­ing the SIS or the JIC Chair­man was
a “cock-up”. Alastair Camp­bell con­firmed that, once he became aware that the
proven­ance of the doc­u­ment was being ques­tioned because of the inclu­sion of
Dr Al-Marashi’s work without attri­bu­tion, he tele­phoned both the Chief of the SIS and
the JIC Chair­man to apo­lo­gise.

We con­clude that the Prime Min­is­ter was cor­rect to describe the doc­u­ment as
con­tain­ing “fur­ther intel­li­gence… about the infra­struc­ture of con­ceal­ment.… It is the
intel­li­gence that they [the Agen­cies] are receiv­ing, and we are passing on to people.”

How­ever, as we pre­vi­ously con­cluded, it was a mis­take not to con­sult the
Agen­cies before their mater­i­al was put in the pub­lic domain. In evid­ence to us the
Prime Min­is­ter agreed. We have repor­ted the assur­ance that we have been giv­en
that in future the JIC Chair­man will check all intel­li­gence-derived mater­i­al on
behalf of the intel­li­gence com­munity pri­or to pub­lic­a­tion.”

Iraq_supergunCru­cially, Blair and Camp­bell had jumped the (old Iraqi super-) gun by issu­ing this inform­a­tion, but Camp­bell seems to have got away with it by describ­ing such a breach of the OSA as a “cock-up”.  Or per­haps just anoth­er pre­cip­it­ous “rush of blood to the head” on his part, as recently described in the long-sup­pressed testi­mony of SIS2 revealed around the Chil­cot Enquiry and repor­ted in The Guard­i­an:

Papers released by the Chil­cot inquiry into the war show that an MI6 officer, iden­ti­fied only as SIS2, had reg­u­lar con­tacts with Camp­bell: “We found Alastair Camp­bell, I think, an enthu­si­ast­ic indi­vidu­al, but also some­what of an unguided mis­sile.” He added: “We also, I think, suffered from his propensity to have rushes of blood to the head and pass vari­ous stor­ies and inform­a­tion to journ­al­ists without appro­pri­ate pri­or con­sulta­tion” (my emphas­is).

So why do I sug­gest that Camp­bell could be liable for pro­sec­u­tion?  It appears that he was a “noti­fied per­son” for the pur­poses of Sec­tion 1(1) of the OSA.  While not employed by the intel­li­gence agen­cies, noti­fied per­sons have reg­u­lar access to intel­li­gence mater­i­al and are sub­jec­ted to the highest clear­ance — developed vet­ting — in the same way as the full-time spooks.  As such, they are also bound by the law against dis­clos­ure of such mater­i­al without the pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion of the head of the agency whose intel­li­gence they want to dis­sem­in­ate.  There is no room for manœuvre, no dam­age assess­ment, and no pub­lic interest defence.  The law is clear. 

And a report in today’s Tele­graph about Andy Coulson and the phone-hack­ing scan­dal seems to show clearly that Camp­bell was just such a noti­fied per­son:

Unlike Alastair Camp­bell and oth­er pre­vi­ous hold­ers of the Down­ing Street com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or role, Mr Coulson was not cleared to see secret intel­li­gence reports and so was spared the most detailed scru­tiny of his back­ground and per­son­al life.….

The only people who will be sub­ject to developed vet­ting are those who are work­ing in secur­ity mat­ters reg­u­larly and would need to have that sort of inform­a­tion.

The only spe­cial advisers that would have developed vet­ting would be in the For­eign Office, Min­istry of Defence and maybe the Home Office. Andy Coulson’s role was dif­fer­ent to Alastair Camp­bell’s and Jonath­an Pow­ell.

Alastair Camp­bell could instruct civil ser­vants. This is why [Coulson] was­n’t neces­sar­ily cleared. Giv­en [the nature of] Andy Coulson’s role as more stra­tegic he would­n’t have neces­sar­ily have been sub­ject to developed vet­ting.”

So it would appear that Alastair Camp­bell is bang to rights for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act under Sec­tion 1(1).  He released new, unas­sessed and uncleared MI6 intel­li­gence with­in the dodgy dossier.  This is not just some tech­nic­al  infrac­tion of the law — although even if it were, he would still have a case to answer.

EMBNo, this report led inex­or­ably to our coun­try going to war against Iraq, shoulder to shoulder with the US, and the res­ult­ing deaths, maim­ings, pois­on­ings and dis­place­ment of mil­lions of inno­cent Iraqi people.  It has also dir­ectly increased the ter­ror­ist threat to the UK, as Tony Blair was offi­cially warned pre-Iraq war by the then-head of MI5, Eliza Man­ning­ham-Buller.  With the dodgy dossier, Camp­bell has dir­ectly harmed count­less lives and our nation­al secur­ity.

Of course, many of us might fan­tas­ise about war­mon­gers get­ting their just deserts in The Hag­ue.  But per­haps the OSA could prove to be Al Camp­bell’s Al Capone-style tax eva­sion moment.

Now, what about The Right Hon­our­able Tony Blair?

UK Intelligence and Security Committee to be reformed?

The Guard­i­an’s spook com­ment­at­or extraordin­aire, Richard Norton-Taylor, has repor­ted that the cur­rent chair of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee (ISC) in the UK Par­lia­ment, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, wants the com­mit­tee to finally grow a pair.  Well, those wer­en’t quite the words used in the Grauny, but they cer­tainly cap­ture the gist.

If Rif­kind’s stated inten­tions are real­ised, the new-look ISC might well provide real, mean­ing­ful and demo­crat­ic over­sight for the first time in the 100-year his­tory of  the three key UK spy agen­cies — MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, not to men­tion the defence intel­li­gence staff, the joint intel­li­gence com­mit­tee and the new Nation­al Secur­ity Coun­cil .

FigleafFor many long years I have been dis­cuss­ing the woe­ful lack of real demo­crat­ic over­sight for the UK spies.  The privately-con­vened ISC, the demo­crat­ic fig-leaf estab­lished under the aegis of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (ISA), is appoin­ted by and answer­able only to the Prime Min­is­ter, with a remit only to look at fin­ance, policy and admin­is­tra­tion, and without the power to demand doc­u­ments or to cross-exam­ine wit­nesses under oath.  Its annu­al reports are always heav­ily redac­ted and have become a joke amongst journ­al­ists.

When the remit of the ISC was being drawn up in the early 1990s, the spooks were apo­plect­ic that Par­lia­ment should have any form of over­sight what­so­ever.  From their per­spect­ive, it was bad enough at that point that the agen­cies were put on a leg­al foot­ing for the first time.  Spy think­ing then ran pretty much along the lines of “why on earth should they be answer­able to a bunch of here-today, gone-tomor­row politi­cians, who were leaky as hell and gos­siped to journ­al­ists all the time”?

So it says a great deal that the spooks breathed a huge, col­lect­ive sigh of relief when the ISC remit was finally enshrined in law in 1994.  They really had noth­ing to worry about.  I remem­ber, I was there at the time.

This has been borne out over the last 17 years.  Time and again the spies have got away with telling bare­faced lies to the ISC.  Or at the very least being “eco­nom­ic­al with the truth”, to use one of their favour­ite phrases.  Former DG of MI5, Sir Steph­en Lander, has pub­licly said that “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee [ISC] early on…”.  Not to men­tion the out­right lies told to the ISC over the years about issues like whis­tleblower testi­mony, tor­ture, and counter-ter­ror­ism meas­ures.

But these new devel­op­ments became yet more fas­cin­at­ing to me when I read that the cur­rent Chair of the ISC pro­pos­ing these reforms is no less than Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, crusty Tory grandee and former Con­ser­vat­ive For­eign Min­is­ter in the mid-1990s.

For Sir Mal­colm was the For­eign Sec­ret­ary notion­ally in charge of MI6 when the intel­li­gence officers, PT16 and PT16/B, hatched the ill-judged Gad­dafi Plot when MI6 fun­ded a rag-tag group of Islam­ic extrem­ist ter­ror­ists in Libya to assas­sin­ate the Col­on­el, the key dis­clos­ure made by Dav­id Shayler when he blew the whistle way back in the late 1990s.

Obvi­ously this assas­sin­a­tion attempt was highly reck­less in a very volat­ile part of the world; obvi­ously it was uneth­ic­al, and many inno­cent people were murdered in the attack; and obvi­ously it failed, lead­ing to the shaky rap­proche­ment with Gad­dafi over the last dec­ade.  Yet now we are see­ing the use of sim­il­ar tac­tics in the cur­rent Liby­an war (this time more openly) with MI6 officers being sent to help the rebels in Benghazi and our gov­ern­ment openly and shame­lessly call­ing for régime change.

Malcolm_RifkindBut most import­antly from a leg­al per­spect­ive, in 1996 the “Gad­dafi Plot” MI6 appar­ently did not apply for pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion from Rif­kind — which they were leg­ally obliged to do under the terms of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (the very act that also estab­lished the ISC).  This is the fabled, but real, “licence to kill” — Sec­tion 7 of the ISA — which provides immunity to MI6 officers for illeg­al acts com­mit­ted abroad, if they have the requis­ite min­is­teri­al per­mis­sion.

At the time, Rif­kind pub­licly stated that he had not been approached by MI6 to sanc­tion the plot when the BBC Pan­or­ama pro­gramme con­duc­ted a spe­cial invest­ig­a­tion, screened on 7 August 1997.  Rif­kind’s state­ment was also repor­ted widely in the press over the years, includ­ing this New States­man art­icle by Mark Thomas in 2002.

That said, Rif­kind him­self wrote earli­er this year in The Tele­graph that help should now be giv­en to the Benghazi “rebels” — many of whom appear to be mem­bers of the very same group that tried to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi with MI6’s help in 1996 — up to and includ­ing the pro­vi­sion of arms.  Rif­kind’s view of the leg­al­it­ies now appear to be some­what more flex­ible, whatever his stated pos­i­tion was back in the 90s. 

Of course, then he was notion­ally in charge of MI6 and would have to take the rap for any polit­ic­al fall-out.  Now he can relax into the role of “quis cus­todiet ipsos cus­todes?”.  Such a relief.

I shall be watch­ing devel­op­ments around Rif­kind’s pro­posed reforms with interest.

Guardian article: the role of the spies in the UK

Here’s the text of an art­icle I wrote for The Guard­i­an a while ago, where I sug­gest we need a fresh per­spect­ive and some clear think­ing on the role of the spies in the UK

Worth reit­er­at­ing, fol­low­ing the pre-empt­ive arrest of pro­test­ers:

Mark_KennedyThe cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men, start­ing with PC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”, has high­lighted the iden­tity crisis afflict­ing the Brit­ish secur­ity estab­lish­ment. Private under­cov­er police units are hav­ing their James Bond moment – cider shaken, not stirred – while MI5 has become ever more plod-like, yet without the accom­pa­ny­ing over­sight. How has this happened to our demo­cracy without any pub­lic debate?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously tar­nished. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

Acpo_logoIt should there­fore come as little sur­prise that Acpo, the private lim­ited com­pany com­pris­ing seni­or police officers across the coun­try, came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. Acpo set up the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU). This first focused primar­ily on anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able, Stasi-like unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an indi­vidu­al’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism. So, plod has become increas­ingly spooky. What of the spooks?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks are now allegedly doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 oper­ate out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. The remit of the intel­li­gence and secur­ity com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment only cov­ers the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the com­mit­tee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role. The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

Climate_camp_and_policeThe core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 70s-90s.

Once we under­stand the real threats, we as a nation can dis­cuss the steps to take to pro­tect ourselves; what meas­ures should be taken and what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.

UK spies continue to lie about torture

Jonathan_EvansWhat a dif­fer­ence a year makes in the may­fly minds of the old media. 

In Feb­ru­ary 2010 The Guard­i­an’s res­id­ent spook watch­er, Richard Norton-Taylor, repor­ted that the serving head of MI5, Jonath­an Evans, had been forced in 2008 to con­fess to the cred­u­lous and com­pli­ant Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment that the spies had lied, yet again, about their com­pli­city in tor­ture.

This con­fes­sion came shortly after the ISC had released its “author­it­at­ive” report about rendi­tion and tor­ture, assert­ing that there had been no such com­pli­city.  How did the ISC get this so utterly wrong?

It turns out that in 2006 Bar­on­ess Eliza Man­ning­ham-Buller, Evans’s pre­de­cessor in the MI5 hot-seat, had misled the ISC about MI5’s aware­ness of the use of tor­ture against ter­ror­ist sus­pects, par­tic­u­larly the hap­less Binyam Mohamed, whose case was wend­ing its way through the Brit­ish courts.  Bul­ly­ing-Man­ner (as she is known in the cor­ridors of power) appears to have been cov­er­ing up for her pre­de­cessor, Sir Steph­en Lander, who was quoted in The Tele­graph in March 2001 as say­ing “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee [ISC] early on”.….

MusharrafBut Evans had to come clean to the ISC because of the Mohamed court case, and Norton-Taylor wrote, by the Grauny’s stand­ards, his fairly hard-hit­ting art­icle last year. 

Yes­ter­day, how­ever, he seems to be back-track­ing frantic­ally.  Fol­low­ing an inter­view by the BBC with former Pakistani Pres­id­ent Per­vez Mush­ar­raf appear­ing to con­firm that MI5 did indeed turn a blind eye to the use of tor­ture, Richard Norton-Taylor and oth­er mem­bers of our esteemed Fourth Estate are once again quot­ing Bar­on­ess Man­ning­ham-Buller­’s dicred­ited li(n)es to the ISC as gos­pel truth, and for­get­ing both the serving head of MI5’s unavoid­able con­fes­sion and the evid­ence from the Mohamed court case itself.

The ISC was put in place fol­low­ing the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act as a demo­crat­ic fig-leaf: it is not a fully-func­tion­ing, inde­pend­ent over­sight com­mit­tee, as it is only able to report on mat­ters of spy policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion.  It has no powers to invest­ig­ate prop­erly alleg­a­tions of crime, tor­ture or oper­a­tion­al incom­pet­ence, is unable to demand doc­u­ments or inter­view wit­nesses under oath, and is appoin­ted by and answer­able only to the Prime Min­is­ter.  It has been lied to by the spies and seni­or police time and time again — the very people it notion­ally over­sees.  As I have writ­ten before, the ISC has since its incep­tion failed to address many key intel­li­gence mat­ters of the day, instead spend­ing its time nit­pick­ing over details.

In the face of this utter lack of intel­li­gence account­ab­il­ity and trans­par­ency, is it any won­der that sites like Wikileaks have caught the pub­lic’s ima­gin­a­tion?  Wikileaks is an obvi­ous and neces­sary reac­tion to the endem­ic secrecy, gov­ern­ment­al back-scratch­ing and cov­er-ups that are not only wrong in prin­ciple in a notion­al demo­cracy, but have also res­ul­ted dir­ectly in illeg­al wars, tor­ture and the erosion of our tra­di­tion­al freedoms.

Sir John Sawers, head of MI6, makes historic public appearance

For the first time in 100 years “C”, the head of the UK for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vice SIS (com­monly known as MI6) has gone pub­lic.

Former career dip­lo­mat Sir John Saw­ers (he of Speedo fame) yes­ter­day made a speech to the UK Soci­ety of Edit­ors in what appeared to be a pro­fes­sion­ally dip­lo­mat­ic rear-guard action in response to a num­ber of hot media top­ics at the moment.

Choos­ing both his audi­ence wisely and his words care­fully, he hit on three key areas:

Tor­ture: Leg­al cases are cur­rently going through UK courts on behalf of Brit­ish vic­tims of tor­ture, in which MI5 and MI6 intel­li­gence officers are alleged to have been com­pli­cit.  The Met­ro­pol­it­an Police are cur­rently invest­ig­at­ing a num­ber of cases.  Over the last week, a Brit­ish mil­it­ary train­ing manu­al on “enhanced” inter­rog­a­tion tech­niques has also been made pub­lic. How­ever, Saw­ers unblush­ingly states that MI6 abides by UK and inter­na­tion­al law and would nev­er get involved, even tan­gen­tially, in tor­ture cases.  In fact, he goes on to assert that the UK intel­li­gence agen­cies are train­ing the rest of the world in human rights in this regard.

 

 

Whis­tleblow­ing: In the week fol­low­ing the latest Wikileaks coup — the Iraq War Diar­ies, com­pris­ing nearly 400,000 doc­u­ments detail­ing the every­day hor­ror of life in occu­pied Iraq, includ­ing war crimes such as murder, rape and tor­ture com­mit­ted by both US and UK forces — Saw­ers states that secrecy is not a dirty word: the intel­li­gence agen­cies need to have the con­fid­ence that whis­tleblowers will not emerge to in order to guard agent and staff iden­tit­ies, as well as main­tain­ing the con­fid­ence of their inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence part­ners that their (dirty?) secrets will remain, um, secret.  One pre­sumes he is advoc­at­ing against the expos­ure of war crimes and justice for the vic­tims.

This, one also pre­sumes, is the jus­ti­fic­a­tion for US politi­cians who pro­pose cyber-attacks against Wikileaks and the declar­a­tion by some US polit­ic­al insiders that Juli­an Assange, spokes­man of the organ­isa­tion, should be treated as an unlaw­fully des­ig­nated “unlaw­ful com­batant”, sub­ject to the full rigour of extra-judi­cial US power, up to and includ­ing assas­sin­a­tion. 

Spuri­ous media claims of unveri­fied “dam­age” are the hoary old chest­nuts always dragged out in whis­tleblower cases.  After Wikileaks released its Afghan War Blog in July, gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence com­ment­at­ors made apo­ca­lyptic pre­dic­tions that the leak had put mil­it­ary and agent lives at risk.  US Defense Sec­ret­ary Robert Gates has since gone on the record to admit that this was simply not true. 

Dur­ing the Shayler whis­tleblow­ing case a dec­ade ago, the gov­ern­ment repeatedly tried to assert that agent lives had been put at risk, and yet the form­al judge­ment at the end of his tri­al stated that this was abso­lutely not the case.  And again, with the recent Wikileaks Iraq War Blog, gov­ern­ment sources are using the same old man­tra.  When will they real­ise that they can only cry wolf so many times and get away with it?  And when will the journ­al­ists regur­git­at­ing this spin wake up to the fact they are being played?

Account­ab­il­ity:  Saw­ers goes on to describe the mech­an­isms of account­ab­il­ity, such as they are.  He accur­ately states, as I have pre­vi­ously described ad nauseam, that under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, he is notion­ally respons­ible to his polit­ic­al “mas­ter”, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, who has to clear in advance any leg­ally dubi­ous for­eign oper­a­tions (up to and includ­ing murder – the fabled “licence to kill” is not fic­tion, as you can see here).

The 1994 ISA also estab­lished the Prime Min­ister­’s Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee (ISC) in Par­lia­ment, which many com­ment­at­ors seem to believe offers mean­ing­ful over­sight of the spies.  How­ever, as I have detailed before, this is a mere fig leaf to real account­ab­il­ity: the ISC can only invest­ig­ate issues of policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion of the spy agen­cies.  Dis­clos­ures relat­ing to crime, oper­a­tion­al incom­pet­ence or involve­ment in tor­ture fall out­side its remit.

But what hap­pens if intel­li­gence officers decide to oper­ate bey­ond this frame­work? How would min­is­ters or the ISC ever know?  Oth­er spy mas­ters have suc­cess­fully lied to their polit­ic­al mas­ters in the past, after all.

Sir John has the gall to say that, if an oper­a­tion is not cleared by the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, it does not pro­ceed.  But what about the Gadaf­fi Plot way back in 1996, when MI6 was spon­sor­ing a group of Islam­ic extrem­ist ter­ror­ists in Libya to try to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gadaf­fi without, it has been asser­ted, the pri­or writ­ten approv­al of the then-For­eign sec­ret­ary, Tory politi­cian Mal­com Rif­kind?  This was repor­ted extens­ively, includ­ing in this art­icle by Mark Thomas in the New States­man. What hap­pens if rogue MI6 officers blithely side-step this notion­al account­ab­il­ity — because they can, because they know they will get away with it — because they have in the past?

MoS_August_97_QPlot_CredibleIn the interests of justice, UK and inter­na­tion­al law, and account­ab­il­ity, per­haps a new Conservative/Coalition gov­ern­ment should now reas­sess its approach to intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers gen­er­ally, and re-exam­ine this spe­cif­ic dis­clos­ure about Libya, which has been backed up by inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence sources, both US and French, in order to achieve some sort of clos­ure for the inno­cent vic­tims in Libya of this MI6-fun­ded ter­ror­ist attack? And it is finally time to hold the per­pet­rat­ors to account — PT16, Richard Bart­lett, and PT16B, Dav­id Wat­son, who were the seni­or officers in MI6 respons­ible for the murder plot.

As civ­il­ised coun­tries, we need to rethink our approach to the issue of whis­tleblow­ing. Lies, spin,  pro­sec­u­tions and thug­gish threats of assas­sin­a­tion are beneath us as soci­et­ies that notion­ally adhere to the prin­ciples of demo­cracy.  If we can only real­ist­ic­ally hope that the actions of our gov­ern­ments, mil­it­ary forces, and intel­li­gence agen­cies are trans­par­ent and account­able via whis­tleblowers, then we need to ensure that these people are leg­ally pro­tec­ted and that their voices are heard clearly.

 

Fig Leaf to the Spies

The lack of any mean­ing­ful over­sight of the UK’s intel­li­gence com­munity was high­lighted again last week, when The Daily Mail repor­ted that a cru­cial fax was lost in the run-up to the 7/7 bomb­ings in Lon­don in 2005.

There has yet to be an offi­cial enquiry into the worst ter­ror­ist atro­city on the UK main­land, des­pite the call for one from trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies and sur­viv­ors and the legit­im­ate con­cerns of the Brit­ish pub­lic. To date, we have had to make do with an “offi­cial nar­rat­ive” writ­ten by a face­less bur­eau­crat and pub­lished in May 2006. As soon as it was pub­lished, the then Home Sec­ret­ary, John Reid, had to cor­rect egre­gious fac­tu­al errors when present­ing it to Par­lia­ment.

The Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee (ISC) also did a shoddy first job, when it cleared the secur­ity forces of all wrong-doing in its ini­tial report pub­lished at the same time. It claimed a lack of resources had hampered MI5’s counter-ter­ror­ism efforts.

How­ever, fol­low­ing a use­ful leak, it emerged that MI5 had not only been aware of at least two of the alleged bombers before the attack, it had been con­cerned enough to send a fax up to West York­shire Police Spe­cial Branch ask­ing them to invest­ig­ate Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehz­ad Tan­weer. This fax was nev­er acted upon.

So the ISC has been forced to pro­duce anoth­er report, this time appar­ently admit­ting that, yes, there had been intel­li­gence fail­ures, most not­ably the lost fax. West York­shire SB should have acted on it. But the intel­li­gence officer in MI5 respons­ible for this invest­ig­a­tion should have chased it up when no response was forth­com­ing.

This second ISC report, which has been sit­ting on the Prime Minister’s desk for weeks already, is said to be “dev­ast­at­ing”. How­ever, I’m will­ing to bet that if/when it sees the light of day, it will be any­thing but.

The ISC is at best an over­sight fig leaf. It was formed in 1994, when MI6 and GCHQ were put on a stat­utory foot­ing for the first time with the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act. At the time the press wel­comed this as a great step for­ward towards demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity for the intel­li­gence com­munity. Well, it could not have been worse than the pre­vi­ous set-up, when MI5, MI6 and GCHQ did not offi­cially exist. They were not required to obey the laws of the land, and no MP was allowed to ask a ques­tion in Par­lia­ment about their activ­it­ies. As 1980s whis­tleblower Peter Wright so suc­cinctly put it, the spies could bug and burgle their way around with impun­ity.

So the estab­lish­ment of the ISC was a (very) lim­ited step in the right dir­ec­tion. How­ever, it is not a Par­lia­ment­ary Com­mit­tee. Its mem­bers are selec­ted by the Prime Min­is­ter, and it is answer­able only to the PM, who can vet its find­ings. The remit of the ISC only cov­ers mat­ters of spy policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance. It is not empowered to invest­ig­ate alleg­a­tions of oper­a­tion­al incom­pet­ence nor crimes com­mit­ted by the spies. And its annu­al report has become a joke with­in the media, as there are usu­ally more redac­tions than coher­ent sen­tences.

The ISC’s first big test came in the 1990s fol­low­ing the Shayler and Tom­lin­son dis­clos­ures. These involved detailed alleg­a­tions of illeg­al invest­ig­a­tions, bungled oper­a­tions and assas­sin­a­tion attempts against for­eign heads of state. It is dif­fi­cult to con­ceive of more hein­ous crimes com­mit­ted by our shad­owy spies.

But how did the ISC react? If one reads the reports from the rel­ev­ant years, the only aspect that exer­cised the ISC was Shayler’s inform­a­tion that MI5 had on many MPs and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters. The ISC was reas­sured by MI5 that would no longer be able to use these files. That’s it.

For­get about files being illeg­ally held on hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent UK cit­izens; for­get about the illeg­al phone taps, the pre­vent­able deaths on UK streets from IRA bombs, inno­cent people being thrown in pris­on, and the assas­sin­a­tion attempt against Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya. The fear­less and etern­ally vigil­ant ISC MPs were primar­ily con­cerned about receiv­ing reas­sur­ance that their files would no longer be vet­ted by MI5 officers on the basis of mem­ber­ship to “sub­vers­ive” organ­isa­tions. What were they afraid of – that shame­ful evid­ence of early left-wing activ­ity from their fiery youth might emerge? Heav­en for­bid under New Labour.

Barely a day goes by when news­pa­per head­lines do not remind us of ter­rible threats to our nation­al secur­ity. Only in the last week, the UK media has repor­ted that the threat of espi­on­age from Rus­sia and China is at its highest since the days of the Cold War; that resur­gent Repub­lic­an ter­ror groups in North­ern Ire­land pose a graver danger to us even than Al Qaeda; that rad­ic­al­ised Brit­ish Muslim youth are return­ing from fight­ing with the Taliban to wage war on the streets of the UK. We have to take all this on trust, des­pite the intel­li­gence com­munity’s appalling track record of bend­ing the truth to gain more powers and resources. This is why mean­ing­ful over­sight is so vitally import­ant for the health of our demo­cracy. The ISC is a long way from provid­ing that.

UK Police Chief Misleads MPs

An inter­est­ing art­icle appeared in The Sunday Times today, stat­ing that Bri­tain’s top police­man, the Com­mis­sion­er of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Sir Ian Blair, had “unwit­tingly” misled the par­lia­ment­ary Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee about the need to increase the peri­od of deten­tion without charge for ter­ror­ist sus­pects in the UK from 28 to 42 days. Blair claimed that 12 major ter­ror­ist oper­a­tions had been foiled in Bri­tain since 2005. In fact, the art­icle reports that only 6 plots have been stopped. Blair has had to issue a grov­el­ling apo­logy via the Press Asso­ci­ation for this, umm, gaffe.

But the art­icle neg­lects to tell us how and why this new inform­a­tion came to light. So allow me to spec­u­late.

The Met, along with its shad­owy cohorts in MI5, is entrus­ted with pro­tect­ing Bri­tain from ter­ror­ist threats. Since 9/11 and the all-per­vas­ive war on ter­ror, Bri­tain’s secur­ity forces have been gran­ted sweep­ing new powers, resources and a huge increase in staff­ing levels to do this job. To ensure this is jus­ti­fied, they are con­tinu­ally telling us of the huge threat we face from ter­ror­ism and how suc­cess­ful they are in pro­tect­ing us. It is in their interests to talk this up.

Mean­while, over on the south bank of the river, MI6 con­tin­ues to suf­fer from the loss of prestige brought about by its mis­takes and lack of good intel­li­gence in the run-up to the Iraq inva­sion. There is no love lost between these three agen­cies, as they com­pete for power and resources. So, to use a good civil ser­vice phrase, I can­not rule out the pos­sib­il­ity that someone in MI6 leaked this inform­a­tion to have a pop at the Met and MI5.

How­ever, there is a more ser­i­ous aspect to this incid­ent. But for this inform­a­tion emer­ging, MPs and pub­lic alike would have had no way of know­ing that the per­ceived threat from ter­ror­ism had been grossly inflated in order for the police to gain yet more powers. We would have had to take Sir Ian’s word.

Well, we’ve been here before many, many times, most notori­ously when the intel­li­gence agen­cies would have us believe that Sad­dam had WMD that could attack Brit­ish interests with 45 minutes. This, of course, led to the Iraq war and the deaths of hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent men, women and chil­dren.

So how can we ensure we are told the truth by the spies? Well, great­er account­ab­il­ity and effect­ive par­lia­ment­ary over­sight would be a step in the right dir­ec­tion. But we don’t just need the cor­rect mech­an­isms in place in par­lia­ment. We also need MPs with the know­ledge, intel­li­gence and integ­rity to ask the dif­fi­cult ques­tions when faced with bogus asser­tions.