The last part of the 3 part BBC Radio 4 series MI6:A century in the shadows entitled New Enemies, has provided a few glimpses into the current world of UK Government "intelligence".
However, as is always the case, this programme raises more questions than were answered by the senior current and former heads of the Secret Intelligence Service, Joint Intelligence Committee, diplomats, and politicians etc.
The programme is available on BBC iPlayer, and will be repeated at 21:30 on BBC Radio 4 tonight.
Here are some transcripts of what seem to Spy Blog, to be the most interesting bits (the denial of torture or complicity in torture, has already made the headlines in some of the mainstream media).
GC = Gordon Corera - Security Correspondent for BBC News
JS = Sir John Scarlett - outgoing Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service MI6 - -
DH = Douglas Hurd - former diplomat and former Foreign Secretary in the last Conservative government
DM = David Miliband - current Labour Government Foreign Secretary
GC: In the world of the thriller, British spies lie, cheat and steal, for the Flag. So what are they really allowed to do ?
Section 7 of the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, allows an MI6 officer to undertake actions abroad, that would otherwise be considered illegal, so long as they are sanctioned by the Foreign Secretary.
But that is not the same thing as acting unethically, argues the current Chief, Sir John Scarlett.
JS: You need to have a very clear, [indistinct] (to be thinking ?) all the time, about what is right and what is wrong.
GC: Are there limits to what the Service can and can't do ? Can it burgle abroad, Blackmail, Poison, Kill people ? I mean what are the limits of behavior ? Or are there any, in the pursuit of the National Interest ?
JS: Well of course there are limits. I would prefer not to get into, all the specifics, about particular techniques
GC: Do you have a Licence To Kill ?
JS: [indistinct talking at the same time as GC] the Licence To Kill issue, no we do not. We do not have Licence To Kill
GC: [speaking at the same time as JC] Did you ever ? Did the Service ever ?
JS: Well, errm, ehhh, [pause], not to my knowledge,
GC: Are there still active ethical debates within the organisation now, about what you should do, and what you shouldn't do ? I mean, do you, do you teach the new recruits, to have a certain sense of ethics, this is acceptable, this isn't ?
JS: Yes of course we do. A new recruit is always going to ask the question - do we blackmail people, do we seek to compromise them, do we put pressure on them...
GC: What's the answer ?
JS: err, No , is the answer.
This passing comment by Gordon Corera touches on a topic which the BBC should have asked the participants questions about, but did not.
GC: The British and Americans have an agreement not to spy on each other.
That statement is not quite what it seems..
Since the late 1950s, the British and American (and the Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders) intelligence agencies have had an Intelligence Sharing Agreement, which allows them to spy on each other's citizens, especially electronically via NSA and GCHQ, even when they are forbidden from doing so by domestic laws., and to then pass the resulting intelligence to each other.
This statement also skirts over the reports of, say US intelligence agencies actually recruiting and running Confidential Human Intelligence Sources i.e. informants and double agents, within mainland British cities, within Muslim communities, something which is exempt from the narrowly defined oversight of the intelligence Services Commissioner and the intelligence and Security Committee, who only have access to the UK intelligence agencies.
See the report in the Sunday Telegraph
CIA warns Barack Obama that British terrorists are the biggest threat to the US
Barack Obama has been warned by the CIA that British Islamist extremists are the greatest threat to US homeland security.
By Tim Shipman in Washington
Published: 5:01PM GMT 07 Feb 2009
The British official said: "The Americans run their own assets in the Pakistani community; they get their own intelligence. There's close cooperation with MI5 but they don't tell us the names of all their sources.
"Around 40 per cent of CIA activity on homeland threats is now in the UK. This is quite unprecedented."
This statement also glosses over the employment of, and cooperation and intelligence sharing with, Private Military Contractor / Mercenary or Security / Risk Consultancy companies in the private sector, who are often staffed with former intelligence and military personnel.
Former diplomat and former Conservative government Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, was tellingly evasive when asked about spying on European politicians:
GC: But what about other countries ? Allies ? In the poker games of international diplomacy, it can be very useful to see the other player's hand. Douglas Hurd was Foreign Secretary in the 1990's.
DH: You have to make an assessment of the negotiation position of the other side, and quite often, an element in that assessment, which you actually get as part of your discussion before a negotiation, would be secret.
GC: Was it ever particularly useful ?
DH: It wasn't so much usually, a particular bit of information which was useful, it was more,.the climate, the atmosphere, in which your, opposite number was moving, what was on his mind, what was worrying him.
GC: Did it ever happen with your European, counterparts ?
DH: [indistinct - I'm ?] not going to go into any of that.
Current Foreign Secretary David Miliband's arrogant NuLabour apparatchik chumminess, which has already caused diplomatic ructions by insulting the Indian government etc., was quite cringe-worthy to listen to.
GC: The present Foreign Secretary is David Miliband.
DM: Everyone who becomes Foreign Secretary must have watched James Bond films, and read James Bond books, in their, childhood. But actually the reality is of incredibly hard working, incredibly serious, incredibly dedicated people, who are like you and me.
We sincerely hope that they are not anything like David Miliband, the untrustworthy and gaffe prone Labour politician and practitioner of Orwellian newspeak and doublethink and other media spin and lies.
Note also his rhetorical trick of repeating "incredibly" three times.
"I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true"
- The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll.
DM: and I would argue that they do work for, for the international system, that is vital to its stability and security?
They should be working for United Kingdom interests, before those of the "international system", which do not always coincide.
GC: Where do they make a difference for you ?
DM: I think SIS give insight, that is valuable in making policy choices. It's insight based on long history of engagement in difficult parts of the world. It's insight based on engagement with people, who have been helping us, and it's insight based on knowledge that we shouldn't have.
Another 3 repetitions, this time of "it's insight based on "
Note the favourite NuLabour newspeak word "engagement" which has a different meaning from that to be found in a dictionary. It seems to mean "a never ending, expensive, bureaucratic Process, which rarely produces any quantifiable benefits or results"
GC: Is it ethical to get hold of information, which other people don't want you to have ?
DM: I think that it is essential and ethical, as long as you live up to the highest ethical standards
Eh ? David Miliband seems to be saying that "It is ethical, if it is ethical" , and so if it is "essential", it is always ethical - which is nonsense.
Given the secrecy, how can we trust you, that these undefined, "highest ethical standards" are either correct, or are being adhered to ?