The British public deserves to know and trust that the powerful, secretive intelligence agencies like GCHQ the Government Communications Head Quarters, MI5 the Security Service and SIS/MI6 the Secret Intelligence Service are operating properly and cost effectively, especially given:
- The rise in actual real terrorist bomb attacks and killings in Northern Ireland
- The recent Court cases revealing complicity in "extraordinary rendition" by the US intelligence agencies and the tacit complicity of UK intelligence in the use of torture.
- Chinese internet espionage stories
- Personnel vetting and IT security failures highlighted by the trial of alleged wannabe spy, the ex-MI6 employee Daniel Houghton
- Major IT project failures and cost overruns e.g. the SCOPE project, the lack of backup disaster recovery data centres for the intelligence agencies.
- Still no viable plan for the use of electronic intercept as evidence in Court.
- Frightening and expensive plans for mass surveillance and data trawling against millions of innocent people.
- The ongoing threat from self radicalised Muslims, racists, animal rights or environmental extremists etc.
With the dire state of public finances, there must be financial cuts in the budgets of some or all of these secret agencies. How are we the public meant to know if these financial cuts are justified or not ?
That is the role of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which is appointed by the Prime Minister.
However, like so much else, the last Labour Government left this in a shambles, with strong hints of political interference from Downing Street and / or the Cabinet Office, according to the outgoing (Labour) chairman of the Committee Kim Howells.
For no good reason that we can see, currently there is no Intelligence and Security Committee in operation at all.
When will Prime Minister David Cameron appoint a new Committee ?
Will it be given the extra investigative manpower and budgetary resources it needs to work independently of the Cabinet Office etc. ?
At the very least they need forensic accountancy and IT project management resources to be able to understand the technical complexity and impact of potential budget cuts on GCHQ, MI6, MI5 etc.
By the time the National Audit Office or perhaps the Commons Public Accounts Committee get a sniff of such secret projects, there could have been millions or billions of pounds of public money wasted.
Alternatively, if the wrong budgets or projects are cut, delayed or cancelled, then we could needlessly find ourselves in another bloody war or terrorist outrage, because of inappropriate penny pinching.
The remit of this new Intelligence and Security Committee should be expanded beyond the roles of just the three main intelligence agencies.
They should also cover units or agencies which use the same technology and techniques as the main intelligence agencies do. e.g. the various UK Special Forces units like the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), or the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) or the Police units like the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU) or the Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Command.
It should also look the role of sub-contracted intelligence agency functions either to so called "friendly" foreign intelligence agencies like the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who, it appears, may have been allowed to breach British sovereignty by recruiting and running intelligence assets within UK Muslim communities
They must also investigate the shadowy and unaccountable world of Private Military Contractor / Mercenary companies, operating with UK Military and Intelligence agencies overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan etc. but, it appears, also being used within the United Kingdom.
As with the publication of the RIPA Commissioners' Annual Reports, it is not acceptable to delay the appointment of this Committee until September or October, they should already have been hard at work now.
Spy Blog would be interested to see in the(pseudonymous) comments or via email (PGP encrypted if you like) , your nominations for who you would trust to sit on this cross party committee of MPs and Peers., bearing in mind that most of the experienced former members of the ISC have now retired.