LONDON - Heads of the UK's intelligence agencies, the GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 have been questioned before MPs and cameras by a parliamentary committee on Thursday.
LONDON – Heads of the UK’s intelligence agencies, the GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 have been questioned before MPs and cameras by a parliamentary committee on Thursday.
Heads of the UK’s spying agencies, Sir Iain Lobban, the Director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Andrew Parker, the MI5 Director General, and Sir John Sawers, Chief of MI6, were quizzed before British MPs by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former British Foreign Secretary on Thursday afternoon.
Touching onto the issue of technology and its changes making impacts on the intelligence agencies’ works, they were asked if it changed their roles, made their jobs harder or easier. Answering the committee, Sir Iain Lobban, head of the GCHQ said even though Internet was a fantastic place for business, life and study, it had made their job harder.
“I think, the Internet has helped the terrorists. I think our job has got harder and is getting harder. Internet gives them ways to communicate covertly, the opportunity to radicalise and spread propoganda” he expressed and added, “We have had successes in terms of turning that against them but those are best kept secrets”.
– Britain thwarts 34 terrorist plots in the country since the July 7 London bombings
Moving onto the home grown threat topic and “terrorism attempts” and “intelligence failure” within the UK, Director General of the MI5, Andrew Parker said, “You won’t be surprised that I reject the term intelligence failure in this area.”
He called the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York as an incident that “began the modern chapter of terrorism” and said, “There have been 34 plots towards terrorism that have been disrupted in this country, of all sizes and at all stages since July 7, 2005 London bombings.”
He stated that one of two of those were major plots aimed at mass casualties attempted each year. “Of 34, most of them, the vast majority, have been disrupted by active detention and intervention by the agencies and the police” Parker added.
He noted that as they were aware, there are several thousand individuals in the UK who were described as supporting violent exremism or engagement in some way and added, “the vast majority of the plots come from people who live here. The plots have almost all come from those people.”
– “Industrial espionage on an industrial scale stealing intellectual property”
British MPs touching onto the cyber threat and focusing onto the crimes, said, “Industrial espionage on an industrial scale is stealing intellectual property. The response to that has to be across government and even beyond government.”
Chariman of the committee Sir Malcolm Rifkind asked GCHQ director “why would the British public is not entitled to know you were sifting large amounts of communications data?” Sir Lobban answered by saying, “I believe that certain methods should remain secret. I do not think secret means sinister.”
Furthermore, Sir Rifkind said that often the intelligence agencies seemed nervous about “insisting that something cannot be said in public because of the damage it may do” and asked three spying chiefs if they had taken that argument too far, Chief of MI5 chief Andrew Parker highlighted, “The reason that things are secret is not because we are embarrassed about them or wish to keep them from the public, it is because we need to keep them from the people we are investigating or carrying out operations against, the terrorists and the spies.”
The hearing chaired by the Former Foreign Secretary Rifkind followed by the leaked documents by fugitive former US National Security Agency (NSA) system analyst Edward Snowden which has appeared in both British and abroad press. Underscoring the issue, Sir John Sawers of MI6 said, “The leaks from Edward Snowden have been very damaging. They have put our operations at risk. It is clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands in glee. Al-Qaeda is lapping it up.”
Documents leaked by Snowden to the British newspaper the Guardian revealed that UK’s intelligence agencies listened to the phone calls of various countries with its ally, the US. The claims by the documents made tensions running high between the UK and Germany. Moreover, the UK government stated that there would be no comments on intelligence matters.
The questioning took an hour and a half. The GCHQ make sure the safety and security of the country’s cyber connections and infrastructure, meanwhile MI5 protects national security against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage and MI6 collects UK’s foreign intelligence.