The BBC Radio 4 documentary series Secret Britain should be of interest to Spy Blog readers.
The first programme in the series was broadcast last Tuesday 16th August 2011, but it still available (for now) online via the BBC iPlayer
Presented by veteran investigative journalist Peter Hennessey, with sound bites from
retired heads of intelligence agencies, Whitehall mandarins, politicians and the occasional whistleblower.
The programme "celebrates" the 100th anniversary of the notorious Official Secrets Act 1911, which , amidst mainstream media inspired hysteria and collective Must Be Seen To Be Doing Something panic amongst the politicians, after a foreign security crisis.
The influence of this overbroad "catch all" Act and the way in which it was sneaked through Parliament in a rush, without proper debate or scrutiny set the tone for almost all subsequent "security" legislation to date.
The supposedly more narrowly targeted Official Secrets Act 1989 also commands little public confidence,has led to some dubious prosecutions yet it has not prevented "leaks" from the Whitehall and national security / counter-terrorism bureaucracy. It therefore needs urgent reform
The most interesting quotation in the broadcast was from Sir Stephen Lander, the retired Director General of MI5 the Security Service (who was also later in charge of the Serious Organised Crime Agency).
His comment on the Security Service Act 1989,
SSL: "I think, fundamentally, it was a wonderful thing to have done for the Service. It was the most important thing that happened in my time. MI5 getting legislation for the Service.
Apart from anything else, it made us so much more operationally aggressive, and more confident.
PH: Because you had "cover" ?
SSl: Yep, We were "proper".
And it was a beautiful piece of draughting, at something, you know, "there shall continue to be a Security Service" without having previously acknowledged that it had previously existed in law - hah hah - a beautiful piece of draughting.
Sir John Scarlett, the former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service MI6 was also complimentary about the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which put MI6 and GCHQ on a statutory legal footing.
However he is utterly wrong to claim that
The 1994 Act, allowed, a very large amount of information, to be made available for public discussion and in the public domain, about, the work, of the Service, the role it plays in Government, the way it's structured, quite a bit, in effect, about its resources, about it's preoccupations, its targets, and that process of releasing information into the public domain, began in 1994.
And now there is a vast amount of information available through, Parliamentary reports, Commission reports, and now, in recent years, through the websites,o the Services, and so on.
For all the ups and downs over the years, it's worked as least as well as we could have expected, and I would say, broadly better.
Regular Spy Blog readers will have noticed just how uninformative and secretive the censored Intelligence and Security Committee and various Commissioners' Reports have been over the years. The websites of the intelligence services are not very informative either - probably the best is that of MI5
Obviously tactical, operational security details of particular ongoing operations and investigations should remain secret. This radio programme illustrates with a couple of examples, the corrosive effect of self authorised "national security" secrecy, with criminal penalties with which to threaten whistleblowers, but without any counterbalancing criminal penalties for use against officials and politicians who abuse the privilege of such secrecy, simply to hide or cover up their political embarrassment or their managerial or technological incompetence or the whiff of corruption or treason,
The next programme in the series is:
This forthcoming programme looks as if it will talk about the increasingly irrelevant DA-Notice System of voluntary self censorship by the mainstream media.
The "Defence Advisory Notice System" - as it is now called - is supposed to be entirely voluntary. In reality, though, it's very rare for any of the mainstream media organisations to ignore the committee's requests. But how does this work in the age of Wikileaks and citizen journalism? This programme looks at the challenges to the system posed by social media websites. What happens if members of the public try to reveal government secrets on Twitter - in a similar way to this year's row about super-injunctions? And how do newspapers like The Guardian square their Wikileaks collaborations with their own editorial guidelines on national security issues?
Tue 23 Aug 2011 09:00 BBC Radio 4
Tue 23 Aug 2011 21:30 BBC Radio 4
and then online via iPlayer for a while.