Monday, 10 March 2014

Supine not Supreme: Parliament miles behind the spooks

Having received an inadequate response from my MP about my concerns raised by Edward Snowden’s revelations, I went to his surgery on Saturday. He too was troubled that legislation is way behind technological development. He was also seriously concerned at the behaviour of members of the Met. He agreed that the police need the support of the public to be effective and that they were currently in grave danger of losing that. The crucial word was trust. He seemed more prepared to trust the spooks. He listened to my concerns that it was not targeted, judicially warranted eavesdropping that bothered me, but the vast hoovering up of all kinds of personal data from millions of innocent citizens. He agreed that Parliament has to be aware that whatever checks and balances it puts in place must be robust. Benign regimes can be replaced by more ruthless ones very quickly. Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor in 1933 with barely a third of the vote. 
Reading Gary Younge’s article in today’s Guardian reinforces my concerns. It is about matters over the water but knowing how closely GCHQ, NSA and the other security agencies work together, it is instructive and worrying. This is an extract from a larger piece. 
“In recent months, it has emerged that the CIA has been spying on investigators from the Senate intelligence committee – the very committee charged with overseeing the CIA. The investigators, who were authorised to examine CIA documents relating to interrogation methods, found a withering internal review which concluded with the finding that torture techniques, like waterboarding, used in "black site" prisons had been ineffective. This was particularly troublesome because the CIA director had argued the opposite before the committee, contradicting the agency's own findings. When the CIA discovered that the investigators had the review, it started going through their computer logs to find out how they had got hold of it.
In short the CIA spirited people away and tortured them, concluded this was useless, suppressed those conclusions, lied about them to elected officials and then spied on the people who had a democratic mandate to discover the truth precisely because they discovered the truth. Those black sites in far away lands have sister cities within the democratic process. (my emphasis)
The defence for this duplicity is invariably national security. To be kept safe we must also be kept ignorant; to protect democracy it must be undermined. The unfettered phone surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency revealed the degree to which politicians collude in much of this – asking soft ball questions and apparently happier being fobbed off than taking on the democratic responsibilities.” Gary Younge Guardian 10/3/14
Are we sanguine that similar charges could not be laid at the door of how our security services operate? Ask Jack Straw about his part in rendering a Libyan opposition leader and his family back to Gaddaffi’s secret service for torture. Jack is currently trying to claim ‘immunity’ on the grounds of ‘national security.’
Several MPs have begun asking awkward questions and demanding a review of how the watchmen are watched. 
It is a start. A very small one. 

There is a hell of a way to go.

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