The Facade of Representative Parliamentary Democratic Accountability

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Andrew Parker: Director General MI5 (L), John Sawers: Chief MI6 (C) and Iain Lobban: Director GCHQ face the ISC (Courtesy: The Guardian)

By Ann-Marie de Veer
Friday 4 January 2014

In a 90 minute facade of representative Parliamentary democratic accountability, reminiscent of an episode of the UK’s award winning political satire TV show "Yes Prime Minister", skilled interlocutors from both sides of the intelligence committee, members of the committee and senior representatives of the Intelligence Services, engaged in a dual of non-content content verbiage, mindful that neither side should lower their lance and despatch the other.

As the transcript, albeit an uncorrected version, of the open session of the UK Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) on Thursday 7 November 2013 records: the only issues to be addressed were already in the public domain.

The Chairman, Malcolm Rifkind, began by opening the meeting with a lengthy preamble and then posited his first question to John Sawers: "Who poses the biggest threat to our national security now?". Sawers answered with the de-facto boilerplate responses as parroted by the main-stream-media (MSM) and politicians alike as terrorism, cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation. Rifkind then went on to ask a supplementary question, this time to Andrew Parker:

CHAIRMAN: ... At the end of the Cold War a lot of people thought: we can now reduce the size and cost of our Intelligence Agencies. In fact it has gone the other way. They are very far greater, larger and more expensive than they have ever been. Do you as head of one of our Intelligence Agencies, a very secret Agency, but as also a citizen, do you ever get nervous that our Intelligence Agencies are too strong and powerful?
ANDREW PARKER: ...The scale of it is, of course, set by Ministers, against the backdrop of the whole of public spending. That £2 billion is equivalent to roughly 6 per cent of the nation's defence budget, and so at that scale, we would contend and believe, and Ministers clearly have been persuaded, that that is a proportionate investment against the threats that the country faces. (emphasis added)
CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
ANDREW PARKER: As far as dealing with the powers question, of course, the suggestion that somehow, what we do is somehow compromising freedom and democracy, of course we believe the opposite to be the case and it is for this Committee to oversee. The work we do is addressing directly threats to this country, to our way of life, to this country and to people who live here; and the work we do is proportionately judged against the necessity of protecting against those threats. (emphasis added)

Parker's response was quite telling and set the tone for the remainder of the verbal jousts in what appeared to be a scripted and rehearsed discourse of non-content content between the committee and the security chiefs. There were no probing questions about the GCHQ's publicly acknowledged abuse of power, nor its systemic overreach of RIPA.

And so there you have it. There are not any unsatisfactory issues to be addressed in the Security Services, and if ever there should be, it would not be their fault. They are merely doing what they are doing because the ISC has authorised them to do it. Similarly, no unsatisfactory issues will ever be found in the ISC's supervision of the Security Services because what they do and how they do it, will not, and never will be, questioned by anyone.

Franz Kafka could not have written it.