It was as bizarre as it was synthetic: the head men from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ appeared before the Intelligence and Security Committee yesterday, being given not only a soft ride from MPs probably uncertain as to what exactly they could and could not ask them, but also the luxury of a two minute delay to transmission, just in case someone actually let slip a morsel of information.
So what did Andrew “Nosey” Parker of MI5, John “Running” Sawers of MI6 (not a patch on Bernard Lee, I’m afraid), and their pal Iain Lobban of GCHQ have to say for themselves? How about “34 terror plots had been disrupted since the 7 July, 2005, attacks in London”? Sounds impressive. Give us an example, perhaps? Sharp intake of breath. Oooh no, they’d have to shoot you for that.
Sawers sold the pass in no style at all by vigorously asserting “our adversaries were rubbing their hands with glee, al Qaeda is lapping it up” in response to the material leaked by Edward Snowden and published, among others, by the deeply subversive Guardian. What he seems not to have realised is that he told the Committee that MI6 is still having no problem snooping on the successors of Sam Lardy Binman.
And if Sawers and his merry men really have had their surveillance of al-Qaeda disrupted, then they can’t tell who is rubbing their hands or lapping anything up. Sometimes these people reveal an awful lot inadvertently: goodness knows why anyone should be other than deeply concerned that they are not only in charge of the UK’s security, but also believe we should put our trust in them.
Iain Lobban entered the biscuit taking stakes, with “He also suggested the leaks could help paedophiles avoid detection”. We equip GCHQ to keep the country secure and it turns out to be focused on hunting child molesters? As Billy Connolly once said, there’s going to be some swearing. Lobban can f*** right off with that one. Where was he when Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall were on the prowl?
Lobban also failed to reassure with “We do not spend our time listening to the telephone calls or reading the emails of the majority. That would not be proportionate, that would not be legal, and we would not do it”. Fine. Did Malcolm Rifkind and his colleagues ask the other two if they could sign up to that one? Stuff all use getting GCHQ to answer if the other two are at it independently.
Meanwhile, back with “Nosey” Parker, we heard “The suggestion that what we do is somehow compromising freedom and democracy - of course we believe the opposite to be the case”. It’s not about sodding belief, “Nosey”, it’s about facts. And the fact of this particular matter is that rocking up at Portcullis House, making a shed load of assertions and allegations, and standing them up with “trust us”, is not good enough.
The spooks will have to do better if they want our trust. They probably won’t bother.