On Thursday 7th November I invested ninety minutes of my life watching the Intelligence and Security Committee grill (if that’s the word) the Heads of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 for the first time in public. Now I had no great hopes for this televised interrogation (any Committee that includes Hazel Blears has no right to use the word ‘Intelligence’ in its title) and it lived down to my low expectations. The three being interrogated (Andrew Parker of MI5; John Sawers of MI6 and Iain Lobban of GCHQ) were obviously well-rehearsed and had been provided with a selection of sound-bites to recite. Worse, the questions posed by the Committee were anodyne in the extreme.
|The Independent 7th November, 2013|
For example: there was no question as to why the existence of the Tempora system (which taps into the transatlantic fibre-optic cables) had been kept from the Committee; there was no question as to why GCHQ had to monitor e-communications in Germany; and there was no question regarding the extent of the monitoring of e-communications here in the UK. And there was most certainly no questioning of if (oh yeah) GCHQ co-operates with the NSA to circumvent UK law.So pretty much a waste of time but there were some points of interest.
1. The body language of Iain Loggan (Head of GCHQ) was that of a man under EXTREME pressure. Not a poker player methinks: he was just one mass of twitches and tics.
2. Lobban used the analogy that GCHQ’s task was akin to finding a needle in a haystack. What he failed to mention was that to build the haystack ALL the hay (or e-communications in normal speak) has to be gathered. His claim that GDHQ does not spend its time listening to calls made by the majority of the British population is simultaneous accurate but evasive.
|The Guardian 7th November 2013|
3. Andrew Parker’s admission that most of the terrorist threats MI5 have dealt with since 7/7 in 2005 had been domestically organised should have generated more interest from the Committee. Surely the corollary of this is that GCHQ’s would be directing more of their resources towards surveilling the UK and its citizens. None of the Committee seemed able to join up these dots.
4. I can only hope the questioning during the Close-Door sessions is more determined than what was seen today otherwise we’re in big trouble.