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Who gave away access for US surveillance of all British citizens?

The revelations from Edward Snowden’s documents get ever more breathtaking. It had always previously been thought that under the so-called Five-Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangements (established under the UKUSA Signals Intelligence Agreement in 1946) between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the citizens of each of these countries were off-limits from surveillance by any of the other countries.

Now Snowden has brought to light that in 2007 there was a major change of policy which allowed the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect, analyse and retain the mobile phone and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses of any British citizens. That immediately raises 5 crucial questions. Who took the decision to allow this?

Why was this momentous decision which affects the security and privacy of every person in the UK kept secret? What should be done now? What does it tell us about the state of oversight of the intelligence services in the UK? And why has this huge scandal, so far at least, not attracted the furore that it has in the US?

On the first point, it is inconceivable that the heads of the UK intelligence services would have made a decision of this magnitude without referring it upwards to ministers. Significantly, Snowden has also revealed a separate memorandum in 2005 about a proposed NSA procedure for spying on UK citizens and those of the other 3 Five-Eyes even where the government of that country has denied permission. The foreign secretary in 2005 was Straw and in 2007 Beckett, but it seems likely that the decision to proceed with this secret mass surveillance of British citizens was taken by Blair himself.

Second, it is obvious that the decision was kept secret because it was recognised there would be great, and probably insurmountable, political resistance. So why was this overridden and a blanket of total secrecy thrown over it which could have kept mass surveillance hidden indefinitely had there not been a whistleblower called Edward Snowden? Because Blair (or whoever) was keen to accommodate the Americans in every way and at any price, just as he kept secret (and is still doing so) the deal he struck with Bush to join with the Americans in invading Iraq, without any consultation of the Cabinet, Parliament, or the British people?

Third, it is imperative that a top-level external and independent inquiry, chaired by a judge, be established to get at the full truth about what has been happening in the intelligence and security services behind closed doors over the last 20 years. The internal review of procedures by the parliamentary poodle, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) made up largely of establishment stooges, is a risible fob-off. Only when we know the full truth will we be able to formulate effective scrutiny powers.

Fourth, this whole saga – so far as it is known, and what still remains to be revealed? – shows the security services out of control. There is no adequate ministerial or political scrutiny whatever. The security network only tells ministers what it chooses to. Who took the decision to allow GCHQ to adopt the Tempora programme as a comprehensive dragnet of all internet data flowing in and out of the UK via the transatlantic sub-sea cables, without telling Parliament or the British people?

Fifth, the comparative lack of protest in the UK at all these revelations is surprising. Traditionally there is more suspicion of government in the US, but that may change if it is discovered that the 2007 policy change unilaterally favoured the US and there were no reciprocal rights for British intelligence as regards US citizens. Is this yet another depressing example of kow-towing in the not-very-special but certainly unequal and demeaning relationship with the US?


  1. terry sullivan says:

    BLIAR gave it away

  2. Rod says:

    According to Snowden access was given away on New Labour’s watch.

    The more one finds out about New Labour, the lower its reputation sinks.

    Yet the Iraq disaster told us all we needed to know about Blair/Brown perfidy.

    Why did so many Labour MPs remain on board? Why didn’t they follow the example of thousands of Labour Party members and resign?

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