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The defend-the-security-services-right-or-wrong mob get bollocking in Commons debate

On every count the platitudinous apologists for mass surveillance took a kicking in yesterday’s Commons debate. Julian Smith, the previously unknown Tory MP who tried to get the Guardian prosecuted for treasonous behaviour in publishing details from the Snowden files, was reminded that the secretary of the D Notice committee, which advises the press against making revelations which could threaten national security, had made clear that the Guardian material did not involve a threat to anyone’s life.

Smith was also reminded that he himself had published on his website pictures of staff from RAF Menwith Hill, which is a breach of national security, whilst the Guardian which reproduced one of these pictures had pixelated their faces – so hypocrites should not throw stones. Furthermore, if the Guardian revelations had really breached national security, why has nobody at the Guardian been charged or arrested since their offices were searched last July? It did raise questions however as to whether the threat to national security was real or simply being used as a cover to block disclosures that were plainly embarrassing. The killer question for the securocrat hardliners was when the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) found out about GCHQ’s deployment of the Tempora programme with its capability for mass surveillance?

It emerged that it was only after the Guardian began its revelations in June. But the chair of the ISC, Tory MP Malcolm Rifkind, a pompous stooge of the establishment, let the cat out of the bag when he said he couldn’t divulge the answer because it was ‘classified’! But what punctured Rifkind’s balloon most dramatically was the realisation that had it not been for the Guardian’s (carefully selective) revelations from the Snowden files, we would still have not an inkling that the security services had the capability to access every phone, email, text or other internet traffic of every private citizen in the country.

The ISC, supposedly providing oversight of GCHQ and MI5, hadn’t a clue. Rifkind then delivered a defensive speech of surpassing blandness. He even seemed to be suggesting at one point that there was no need for reform of the ISC because he/they had already done that. When he finally agreed that some review was necessary, he rejected my demand for a fully independent committee of inquiry, and insisted that the ISC should review itself, preferably not by initiating a new inquiry but rather by slightly tweaking their own existing work programme. And when I reminded him that the real reason that Theresa May had been so anxious to push through the Communications Data Bill was to legitimise retrospectively the new technological capabilities that GCHQ had already been deploying for years, most notably the Tempora programme, he simply looked away.

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