The Observer carries an extraordinarily worrying claim by Sir Malcolm Rifkind the chair of the supposedly independent Intelligence and Security Committee, which is supposed to provide statutory oversight of the intelligence agencies, in debate with Henry Porter.
Malcolm Rifkind and Henry Porter
The Observer, Saturday 24 August 2013 20.49 BST
What you clearly don't understand is that the ISC has two duties, not one. The first is to criticise and condemn the intelligence agencies if they exceed their powers or act foolishly. The second, just as important, is to defend them and declare their innocence when unfairly attacked by journalists or politicians. They cannot defend themselves. We are determined to do so, but only when the facts justify it.
According the Intelligence Services Act 1994 which set up the Intelligence and Security Committee, its remit was:
10 The Intelligence and Security Committee.
1)There shall be a Committee, to be known as the Intelligence and Security Committee and in this section referred to as "the Committee ", to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of--
(a)the Security Service;
(b)the Intelligence Service; and
The recent Justice and Security Act 2013 slightly increases the powers of the ISC, but its purpose and duty remains the same
Main functions of the ISC
(1)The ISC may examine or otherwise oversee the expenditure, administration, policy and operations of--
(a)the Security Service,
(b)the Secret Intelligence Service, and
(c)the Government Communications Headquarters.
(2)The ISC may examine or otherwise oversee such other activities of Her Majesty's Government in relation to intelligence or security matters as are set out in a memorandum of understanding.
Therefore the duty of the Intelligence and Security Committee is the first role of scrutiny but not the second of public relations !
The ISC has no legal remit to
defend them and declare their innocence when unfairly attacked by journalists or politicians
It is nonsense to pretend that
they cannot defend themselves
There is no legal barrier to the heads of Mi5, MI6 and GCHQ from giving public interviews themselves or having official spokesmen and official press releases to counteract any unfounded rumours and speculation.
Each of these intelligence agencies is supposedly politically answerable to either the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary, both of whose departments employ a surfeit of public relations and media spin doctors, who could and should issue official, on the record, public statements on behalf of the intelligence agencies as required.
The practice of "anonymous Whitehall sources", selectively officially briefing journalists in secret, fools nobody except themselves.
The Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister should te the ones defending the intelligence agencies. They should resign if and when the intelligence agencies are caught out having exceeded their democratically ethically acceptable roles, whether or not the agencies have been acting under the legal cover of a carte blanche under the UK's sneakily worded laws, which make it almost impossible for them to act illegally.
The Intelligence and Security Committee must not be seen to be fulfilling the role of a public relations department for the intelligence agencies, as this looks like a conflict of interest and destroys public trust in the whole system of supposed Parliamentary scrutiny .
Unfortunately that is exactly what it seems to have become under the chairmanship of Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who, incredibly, is making Spy Blog look back to previous Labour chairs of the ISC with a hint of nostalgia.