The campaign by former Tory MP Louise Mensch, recently joined by serving MP Julian Smith, to have the deeply subversive Guardian hit with terrorism charges, the Official Secrets Act, or anything else they can think of, yesterday fell apart in the face of reality. For Smith, there was added humiliation as the paper exposed his own potential breach of that “National Security” he loves to talk of.
The accusation made by both Ms Mensch and Smith can be stated plainly: they have convinced themselves that the Guardian has not only made the material from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden available to other media outlets, but that they have also copied and distributed (or, as Ms Mensch likes to put it for dramatic effect, “trafficked”) information identifying members of the security services.
Smith went as far as to secure a debate in Westminster Hall, where he trotted out the accusation again, before making a complaint to the Metropolitan Police, and including it one more time for good measure. Statements by minister James Brokenshire to his debate, and Young Dave later in the week, reassured Smith. He clearly thought he was on a winning streak.
And then came the Guardian’s expose yesterday of Smith’s own potential security lapse: the MP had entertained a group of staff from RAF Menwith Hill at the Commons. This base, despite the name, is, as the Guardian has reminded readers, “the NSA’s chief eavesdropping hub in Europe”. Hence the headline “Did Conservative MP Julian Smith endanger national security?”
After all, these are people working for the security services, and Smith has identified them – hence the pixelated faces – rather as he has accused the Guardian of doing, although with no evidence to back up his accusation. Ms Mensch immediately leapt to Smith’s defence, but his excuse, “The people that came on that trip would have given me full permission to use any photograph” is less than convincing.
Not waving but drowning
So when Ms Mensch says “he had permission to post it”, she may be wrong. And where she most certainly is wrong is in accusing the Guardian of identifying security personnel: in the same article, the paper responds to Smith. “He wrongly claimed it had distributed information about British intelligence agents”. That means they didn’t. The accusation, as I’ve said previously, was wild and unfounded.
What, then, of Louise Mensch’s campaign? Will she now withdraw gracefully, with whatever remains of her credibility that can be salvaged? Not a bit of it: she’s just carrying on as before, re-heating an accusation that has just been shown to be dishonest, and probably malicious. In the meantime, Julian Smith ought to think himself lucky if the Met don’t charge him with wasting Police time.
These two clowns should now leave the stage, but won’t. No change there, then.