Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A "don't ask, don't tell" "watchdog"

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security's report on the surveillance of MPs is now online here [PDF] (thanks to BZP for the link). The outcome - that there should be no more spying on MPs - has been widely reported, as has the Inspector-General's criticism of the SIS's "vacuum cleaner approach to collecting". What hasn't been noted is the way the I-G deliberately turns a blind eye to the key question of spying on MPs. After talking about the surveillance of Keith Locke, he goes on to note:

It would be idle to suggest that there is not information held by the Service in respect of some people who may have become Members of Parliament. The file or collection may exist for various reasons - because the Member was once considered to be of security interest, or was subject to vetting. As a precaution against leakage it has been the custom to transfer any file relating to a person who has become a Member to a special part of the Service's records with limited physical access to files. I have not looked at any apart from what was released to Mr Locke, so I do not know how many such files there are, how old they are, or what stage of the Member's life they might relate to. Mr Locke has suggested that a number of questions about these files should be considered. I do not think it is necessary to go into them to deal with the terms of reference I have been given. If a member wants to know if there is a file relating to him or her, the same recourse Mr Locke had is available.
(Emphasis added)

Right. So there are other files, but he is unwilling to investigate further to determine whether the surveillance was innocent or justified, or even how widespread it was (or is). Talk about "don't ask, don't tell". And this guy is meant to be our check and balance on the SIS? This "watchdog" isn't just blind - they're in bed with the people they're supposed to be watching!

Given the problems already uncovered within the SIS, the public deserves stronger oversight mechanisms than this.