Who is scrutinising the activities of the United Kingdom's Intelligence Agencies ?
Not, it appears, Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee according to this Press Release issued on Tuesday 24th February 2015:
INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE OF PARLIAMENT
At a meeting of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament earlier today, the Rt.
Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP informed the Committee that he had decided to step down from the role of Chairman with effect from the end of the meeting, and Would be making a public statement to that effect.
The Committee accepted the Chairman's decision.
Regardless of whether it right for Members of Parliament to supplement their £67,000 a year plus expenses incomes, as Sir Malcolm Rifkind claimed the Intelligence and Security Committee and especially its public face, the Chairman, needs to be seen to be impartial and independent, both from the Government and from private sector lobbying influence.
N.B. it is still a bit unclear whether the passing of the Justice and Security Act 2013, making the ISC a statutory "Committee of Parliament", entitles the Chairman of the ISC to claim an extra £14,876 a year which Chairmen of Select Committees are paid.
He also needs to be competent and to be aware that he personally is a target of hostile and perhaps even of "friendly" government and private sector intelligence agencies.
The fact that Sir Malcolm fell for a journalistic sting involving an apparently Chinese communications company, really did bring his Operational Security judgement into question. He met representatives of an apparently Chinese company, within what should have been his secure office environment, without having done any background security checks first and without having them scanned to see if they were carrying surveillance electronics (which they were).
It is irrelevant that he thought that he was not discussing anything secret with these potential Chinese employers, he should have known that all intelligence agency recruitment plays start off with something innocuous. He and / or his office staff would have been more vulnerable to targeted email or phone malware attacks, coming from a "trusted" source i.e. his potential or actual Chinese employer. Even arranging for future meetings could betray the timing and perhaps the location of supposedly secret meetings with intelligence agency staff.
At the meeting, the Committee completed its major Inquiry into Privacy and Security, and its Report will now be sent to the Prime Minister.
Given that that concludes the substantive work of the Committee in this Parliament, and that the Committee has no further formal meetings scheduled before the prorogation of Parliament, the Committee decided that there was therefore no need for it to elect a new Chairman for the remaining few weeks.
All further matters which arise during the life of this Parliament will be dealt with by the
Committee as a whole.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. The ISC was established in 1994 under the Intelligence Services Act, and was reformed under the Justice and Security Act 2013. This legislation made the ISC a statutory committee of Parliament and strengthened its powers.
The Committee now has greater access to information, including primary material held within the Agencies. Its remit has also been expanded to include oversight of intelligence and security operations, and oversight of all intelligence and security activities of Government.
2. The ISC is a cross-party committee of nine parliamentarians from the Commons and the Lords. The Committee's membership is as follows:
The Rt. Hon. Lord Butler KG GCB CVO
The Rt. Hon. Hazel Blears MP
The Rt. Hon. George Howarth MP
The Most Hon.the Marquess of Lothian QC PC
The Rt. Hon.Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP
The Rt. Hon. Sir Menzies Campbell CH CBE QC, MP
Dr Julian Lewis MP
Mr Mark Field MP
Ms Fiona Mactaggart MP
Why is Sir Malcolm Rifkind still a Member of the Intelligence and Security Committee ?
The security risks and the impression of "cash for access" sleaze from the lobbying for a "Chinese" company sting, should have been enough for an "ordinary" Member to "step down".
Why has the ISC not bothered to elect even a temporary Chairman ?
Were they hoping not to have to answer questions from the media or the public, by pretending that convention that only the Chairman speaks for the ISC in public still applies ?
The reason for the convention i.e. possible public confusion, is clearly not working. There have been press quotations from both Sir Malcolm Rifkind (why doesn't he maintain a dignified silence until he is exonerated for everything except stupidity or vanity, by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and by the Conservative party inquiry ?) and from Sir Menzies Campbell on the "Jihadi John" radicalisation and MI5 story.
3. The completion of the Committee's Inquiry into Privacy and Security marks the end of a major piece of work which began in July 2013.
The ISC has since taken evidence from a wide range of witnesses, from Ministers to academics and campaign groups, including in public sessions held in October 2014.
In line with its procedures, the completed report is now being sent to the Prime Minister and a version will be published before the end of March.
It is extraordinary that Malcolm Rifkind was so stupid or greedy to appear to be peddling influence / lobbying contacts for cash from a Chinese communications company (thankfully a journalistic fake.)
It is intolerable that there now appears that there will be no scrutiny whatsoever of the intelligence agencies by this Committee, for at least the next 2 months, until after the General Election.
Have ISIS, AL Quaeda and Putin all decided to go on holiday ? Of course not and hopefully neither have our intelligence agencies, so neither should the ISC.
There is a massive amount of scrutiny work which they simply have not done in the past, some of which they could certainly be working on before the General Election in May.
One feature of the ISC Reports under the Chairmanship of Malcolm Rifkind, compared with those under his predecessors, has been a lot less public reporting on the various dodgy building and information infrastructure projects upon which large sums of public money have been spent and in some cases, wasted.
At the very least the ISC could spend the next few weeks getting status reports on all the ongoing and planned building and IT and recruitment and training projects.
If they had been reviewing the monthly project management reports, which the intelligence agencies surely must compile internally, then perhaps they would actually have known about hugely controversial and dangerous schemes like GCHQ's TEMPORA, which took them by surprise when it was revealed as a result of the media revelations of Edward Snowden.
For the ISC not to have bothered to schedule any meetings on these ongoing oversight issues for the next 2 months, is a dereliction of their public duty.