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Parliamentary Select Comittees: Proper Public Enquiry or PR Exercise?

Posted: 11/11/2013 14:28

Seeing the spy chiefs' questions in front of a Parliamentary Select Committee threw up one clear question for me: was this really a proper public inquiry into the outrageous bugging of heads of states around the globe, or was it a cynical PR exercise?

Andrew Parker, head of MI5, was being grilled alongside GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban and MI6 chief Sir John Sawers in an unprecedented public hearing.

One would expect them to be extremely reluctant witnesses in view of the fact these men work in the shadows. But all three seemed rather eager to be in the limelight and have their statements broadcast across the globe.

Maybe I have been watching too many episodes of Spooks, but would they really be so open with their views if they really did feel our security had been compromised. You can't tell me, a word in the Prime Minister's Ear and the whole thing would not have been cancelled.

From a PR point of view they came across very well but if I had been advising them I would have made it clear their three clear messages must be:

• We are the good guys and our agents are now at risk thanks to the Snowden leaks
• Play to the public fears over Al Qaeda
• Show confidence to demonstrate you have nothing to hide


They did all three but that said the committee - hand picked by the Prime Minister - can have access to this information any time as it was hardly classified.

It seemed to be the whole process was an attempt by Government to get their servants to win the propaganda war against those who support the Guardian view that freedom of information interests are more important than any other consideration.

In America, the most cynical nation on earth, it is common place for their security chiefs to face questions in Congress.

It has been a long time coming here, but did we really learn anything?
There was of course a side show. I am certain the watching public were intrigued to see the real James Bond figures... but frankly they looked more like civil servants, or head of HR for a FTSE 250 COMPANY.

We were told that Syria is a breeding ground for 'terrorist tourism', and that the development of cyber warfare has hugely helped industrial espionage (is this really the stuff of spies!), and that monitoring the communications of innocent people was justified 'to draw out the needles' in the terrorism haystack.

The latter point was really important because this has been the global issues: 'I don't accept that secret means sinister,' the head of GCHQ Sir Iain Lobban insisted. His PR advisor was clearly on the Moneypenny with that one.

MI6 chief Sir John Sawers's claimed that Al-Qaeda has been 'lapping it up' since the Edward Snowden leaks. In truth it is the public who lap up these select committees; they are the best form of political theatre out there.

Frankly I think they should have given evidence from behind a screen with their faces pixilated - then I for one would have believed they really were concerned, compromised and out there in the dark shadows, hunting the modern-day Goldfingers down.

 

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