Given the pre-announced constraints, what Questions can the Intelligence and Security Committee actually sensibly ask the heads of GCHQ, Security Service MI5 and Secret Intelligence Service SIS/MI6, during tomorrow's "historic" first televised Open Evidence session ?
The Committee will question the Agency Heads on the work of the Agencies, their current priorities and the threats to the UK. Among other things it will cover the terrorist threat, regional instability and weapons proliferation, cyber security and espionage. However, since this is a public session, it will not cover details of intelligence capabilities or techniques, ongoing operations or sub judice matters. The Committee questions the Agencies about these details in their closed sessions.
Sir Iain Lobban, Director, GCHQ;
Mr Andrew Parker, Director General, Security Service; and
Sir John Sawers, Chief, Secret Intelligence Service.
will have rehearsed and / or have received tax payer funded "media coaching", like other senior civil servants have done when appearing before televised Parliamentary Committee sessions. Sir John Sawers, a former diplomat, is likely to require the least "coaching".
Here is are some Spy Blog suggested Questions for the ISC to ask:
Some Witness protection but currently no Whistleblower protection
Given the new powers of the ISC under the Justice & Security Act 2013 Schedule 1 (7) Protection for Witnesses
Protection for witnesses
7(1) Evidence given by a person who is a witness before the ISC may not be used in any civil or disciplinary proceedings, unless the evidence was given in bad faith.
(2) Evidence given by a person who is a witness before the ISC may not be used against the person in any criminal proceedings, unless the evidence was given in bad faith.
However, many potential whistleblowers will be scared of even contacting the ISC to merely discuss possible future witness testimony, regarding issues or details about which the senior managers of the Intelligence Agencies may not themselves be aware of. This will happen before any ISC witness immunity can be invoked, since this can only apply to actual evidence, rather than to investigative tip offs etc. for the ISC to probe further.
N.B. even if the Intelligence & Security Committee became a proper Joint Select Committee of Parliament, the legal privileges under the Bill of Rights would still only be Witness rather than Whistleblower protection.
Questions for the Open Session
Will each of the heads of the Intelligence Agencies publicly assure the Committee, the public and potential whistleblowers within their agencies and within their private sector subcontractors, that:
- They will not seek to use any of their Interception, Communications Data, Confidential Human Intelligence Sources or other Surveillance powers to try to identify potential or actual whistleblowers, who try to contact the Intelligence and Security Committee with tip offs, stories, testimony or hard evidence, regarding issues which the senior management of the agencies might not actually be aware of e.g. regarding knowledge or suspicion of the use of torture etc.
- They will not try to get the Police to conduct such "ISC whistleblower hunts" on their behalf and will forbid Foreign Intelligence Agency partners from doing so either.
- Contacting or actually giving evidence to the ISC will not affect an individual's Security Vetting / Clearance.
- Contacting or actually giving evidence to the ISC will not affect existing or future commercial contracts let by the intelligence agencies
Promises about Whistleblower Protection are not enough on their own
Even if the ISC does extract such Whistleblower Protection promises from the current heads of the Intelligence Agencies, these need to be codfied into law, backed up by criminal sanctions, to bind their successors.
In addition, the ISC still needs to use suffcient technological and human counter espionage measures, because Hostile Foreign Intelligence Services (whether "enemies" or "allies") and criminals will also be targeting the Members of the Committee and their staff and families, to try to glean the identities of the Committee's confidential contacts and sources.
Will this Open Evidence session actually reassure the sceptics (like Spy Blog) of the effectiveness of the scrutiny provided by the Intelligence and Security Committee ?
Or will it be little more than a recital of how everything that the Intelligence Agencies do is lawful and that they should be trusted regardless ?
Send your own Questions (or tip offs) to the ISC
You can send the Intelligence and Security Committee an email with your own Questions or even tentative first approaches with a view to giving evidence in private via:
which will be encrypted in transit on the x.gsi.gov.uk network, but which will be vulnerable to GCHQ and NSA and other snoopers whilst on the public internet.
Postal address is:
Intelligence and Security Committee
35 Great Smith Street
You are also welcome to send your Questions anonymously to Spy Blog, which will then be passed on to them as securely and as anonymously as possible: