The significance of parliament’s vote to intervene militarily in Iraq

Some more from me on the significance of Parliament’s vote in favour of involvement in Western military action against ISIL in Iraq.

See also: citation in the New York Times.

PS: I was on TV again, too:

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Salmond and Farage: Ostriches against the world

I realised recently that Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage have a great deal in common.

They are both far better politicians than the current crop of ‘major’ party leaders. Though that’s hardly difficult. Ed Miliband has the charisma of a poorly-thought-out scarecrow. Nick Clegg is leader of the Liberal Democrats. And David Cameron, with his big Tory face and Bullingdon Club accent, is hardly well-placed to represent a comparatively impoverished and resentful electorate. Farage and Salmond, by forging political careers in ‘minor’ parties, have largely escaped the sanitising process that is advancement shaped by who you know and selection driven by the forces of (small ‘c’) conservatism that dominate their ‘major’ counterparts. They are interesting. They seem like normal people, even though both are career politicians and Farage is just as rich and well-connected as Cameron.

There is more to it than that, though. For both Salmond and Farage correctly identify irrational fears and prejudices that ‘major’ party leaders elect to ignore, and seek to heighten them. Farage gains more support for his anti-immigrant views the further he moves from centres of immigrant populations. Salmond’s anti-Tory message resonates in a part of the United Kingdom granted disproportionate power to keep the Tories out. Both agree that ‘their’ people are losing out, economically and politically, because of decisions made by ‘foreigners’ elsewhere. Both see the cause of all their nation’s problems in the failures of decision-makers overseas.

For Salmond, Scotland’s only problem is rule by an alien Westminster elite, dominated by ‘English’ people such as Alastair Darling and Gordon Brown. For Farage, Britain’s every ill can be attributed to Brussels-based ‘Eurocrats'; without nationality and without a human face. Both leaders represent a counsel of despair in the face of globalisation and its inevitable dislocations. Both propose an ostrich response. Stick your heads in the ground, they tell their voters. Pull back from international associations. Take care of yourselves. Then everything will be all right.

There are two big problems with this approach.

The first is that everything will not be alright. Scotland has a lot going for it as an independent country. But to succeed it will have first to endure the inevitable economic shock of breaking away from the UK. There will be job losses. There will be capital flight south of the border. There will be serious questions to answer about SNP spending plans since, without clarity over the status of an independent Scottish currency the country will not be able to borrow, and the SNP’s budget only pays for itself if North Sea oil is worth considerably more than it actually is.

In the long run, if Scotland can make itself more efficient (read: slash spending, cut wages and corporation taxes, and reduce public sector employment) it has good prospects. Once the initial shock subsides, the remaining oil will provide investment capital, and Scotland should still benefit from access to EU and (albeit on a more restricted basis than at present) to UK markets. It has considerable human capital and disproportionately strong universities (though again this could be under threat, since English students will presumably no longer be able to get UK student loans to cover tuition fees North of the border, nor will the top research institutions benefit from UK-wide funding opportunities). It will have much in common with Ireland, but the benefit of Irish hindsight to help it avoid Irish-style over-extension (something the movement of most Scottish banks to London will further assist).

Ireland, though, is worse off economically than Scotland currently is within the UK. And an independent Scotland would still be subject to the same international pressures driving many of its present concerns. It may not have to fight any more wars, but it will still face the threat of domestic jihadism. It may not be bound by ‘English’ capitalism, but it will find the international sort looks pretty much the same. It may no longer see North Sea oil revenues flowing South, but it will no longer benefit from the extra £1,400 of public sector spending per head it currently receives from the rest of the UK. For the first five years or so the two cancel each other out, assuming the SNP does not actually try to build up a Norwegian-style oil revenue fund. After that, Scotland will face the same questions over the affordability of universal welfare in the face of a progressively ageing population currently occupying not only the rest of the UK but the rest of the developed world. The same problems will still be there. There will be new ones as well.

Many similar points can be made about Farage’s plan to leave the EU. There is no conceivable scenario under which a British exit would leave the British people better off economically. It is possible that some UKIP donors will benefit, as will the cannier of Mr Farage’s fellow stockbrokers. Most of us will have to deal with the large-scale destruction of Britain’s export services, the influx of around one million Britons currently working elsewhere in the EU, and the perversity of still being bound by EU regulations having surrendered the right to influence their creation. States seeking to trade with the EU, as we presumably would do unless Mr Farage proposes a return to subsistence farming for the majority, have to follow most of the same rules EU members do. Again, pulling out would leave Britain exposed to the international forces Mr Farage does not like, such as the global movement of people, without the cushioning umbrella of a larger, more powerful association to ease the blows. Mr Farage’s best hope is that the damage done by leaving the EU is so great that immigration declines simply because no-one wants to come here any more.

The second problem is that both Salmond and Farage underplay the power their respective target audiences have to influence the decision-making processes they claim are made by a foreign elite. Scotland is a significant player in the United Kingdom. It has disproportionate influence over the composition of the parliament at Westminster – 9% of the MPs to represent 8.3% of the population. London, by comparison, has 11.2% of MPs and 13.1% of the population. It has considerable devolved powers dealing with education, health and social care, sport, housing, law and order, and tourism – with more promised in the event of a ‘no’ vote. The London Assembly is far less powerful. Scotland’s strong sense of national identity gives it a prominent and distinct voice – no-one seriously believes that this identity is under threat from association with the rest of the UK. And the contrast Mr Salmond proposes, between the Scottish and the ‘English’ makes little sense. For one thing, the 2011 census showed just 80% of the population of England and Wales identified as ‘White British’, including people who saw themselves as English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish. Only around 60% saw themselves as primarily English. While the English are the largest single group in the UK, they are far from hegemonic, and they have far less collective power than the Scottish by virtue of their wider distribution and the absence of either an English parliament or a series of comparable regional assemblies.

Britain’s position in the EU is similarly stronger than Mr Farage admits. Lord Hill’s appointment as Financial Services commissioner reflects this. Even Jean-Claude Juncker, a European Commission insider dedicated the European federal project and dismissive of British Euro-scepticism, is willing to offer a substantial olive branch to David Cameron to reflect the fact that, with Germany and France, Britain is one of Europe’s three great powers. That is even after Cameron tried clumsily to block his selection, and then took the insulting step of nominating a commissioner nobody had heard of (most EU states send serving or former senior ministers, even prime ministers. By contrast, seriously, who actually is Lord Hill?).

If Britain took the EU more seriously it would have substantial influence. It would be better placed to shape it along its own preferred, less-integrated lines. Tony Blair realised this, but understood less about the practicalities and was undone by Gordon Brown and hostility over Iraq. Both Scotland in Britain and Britain in the EU enjoy considerable benefits from being part of a bigger ‘club’. In the face of globalisation, economic and political uncertainty, and the rise of new security threats, it makes sense for states to band together with like-minded others. All the trends in recent years have headed that way; witness the expansion of the EU into Eastern Europe that Farage so disparages. The benefits of scale should not be surrendered lightly. Nor should the opportunities for influence that the Scots enjoy in Westminster and the Brits enjoy in Brussels.

Both the SNP and UKIP promise to protect ‘their’ people by hiding them away from the evils of the world. They cannot possibly deliver; the world does not work like that. All they are left with, then, is an offer of diminished influence. For Scotland to lose its say in the governance of the UK. For Britain to surrender, for the first time, its right to influence in Europe.

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A quick and dirty look at what Scottish independence would mean for parliament

Today’s news that Scottish voters might yet vote yes to independence got me thinking about the political implications for the rest of the union. Alex Salmond’s main argument in favour of independence has been that Scotland doesn’t vote Conservative (broadly true) yet thanks to the Conservatives’ dominance in England, it still gets stuck with David Cameron as Prime Minister. Labour won 41 of the 59 Scottish seats at the 2010 election.

What would the impact be if those 59 seats simply disappeared ahead of the 2015 election? It’s a hypothetical question; whatever Salmond says, the negotiations over independence would take several years, so it’s likely Scottish MPs will still be elected next year. It’s an interesting question all the same.

2010 Parliament

Party Total seats Scottish seats Residual
Conservative 306 1 305
Labour 258 41 217
Lib Dem 57 11 46
Others 23 0 23
SNP 6 6 0

Table 1: distribution of seats, 2010 General Election

As table 1 shows, removing Scottish seats from the parliament elected in 2010 would have primarily benefitted the Conservatives. In fact, without the Scottish seats, David Cameron would have won a small overall majority of 19.

2015 Election

Whether or not they are experiencing buyer’s remorse, British voters have repeatedly told pollsters since 2010 that they would elect a Labour government given the opportunity. The most recent Yougov poll has Labour narrowly ahead, by 35% to 33%. I put these figures through the UK Polling Report swingometer and came out with a projected Labour win in 2015, with a small majority of 12. As with the 2010 result, however, this projection relies heavily on Labour success north of the border. Take Scotland out of the equation and you wind up with a hung parliament.

Party Projected 2015 seats Scottish seats Residual
Conservative 276 3 273
Labour 331 49 282
Lib Dem 16 3 13
Others 24 0 24
SNP 4 4 0

Table 2: projected distribution of seats, 2015 General Election

Table 2 breaks this down. The projected collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote largely benefits Labour, helping to fuel its overall majority. However, remove its 49 projected Scottish MPs from the equation and Labour is left holding just 48% of seats, 14 short of the 296 needed for an overall majority in the reduced 591-seat House of Commons. The Conservatives are close behind on 273. The most obvious outcome in such a situation would be a Lib-Lab coalition, underlining the point that the Liberal Democrats might yet remain in government after 2015 even though they expect to lose many of their seats. Even in coalition, however, the government would still lack an overall majority. It would have to rely on winning the support of at least some of the smaller parties. Based on current voting intentions, in other words, the removal of the Scottish constituencies from the equation would leave the rest of the UK with a hung parliament, and one even harder to control than the 2010 variant.


Projected 2015Residual

Figure 3: side by side comparison, projected 2015 election outcome and residual seat distribution after removal of Scottish MPs.

Figure 3 illustrates these outcomes. Under the present projection, we see Labour exceeding the level required for a majority. Under the revised ‘residual’ projection that excludes Scottish constituencies, Labour has fallen below the level required for a majority.

What all this means is difficult so say for sure. Certainly Scotland would escape the undoubted irritations of Tory government if it broke away from the rest of the UK. At the same time, it is not necessarily the case that Scottish independent would doom the rest of the UK to perpetual Conservative rule, as some observers have suggested. Instead it seems more likely that the removal of the Scottish seats would inadvertently level what is currently an uneven playing field between Labour and the Conservatives. At the moment the concentration of Labour votes in urban areas leaves the Conservatives needing a larger vote share to achieve a majority. Removing the Scottish seats seems to cancel out this advantage, leaving Labour slightly ahead of the Conservatives in line with their projected vote share lead of 2%, but giving neither an overall majority.

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Five questions to answer before intervening in Iraq

Some further thoughts from me on the prospect of Britain taking military action in Iraq over at the LSE British Politics and Policy blog.

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Why Britain should prepare for military action in Iraq

My initial thoughts on why Britain should prepare for military action in Iraq, posted over at the LSE British Politics and Policy blog.

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It’s all getting a bit meta


I had an unusual experience yesterday, especially for an academic interested in how newspapers use sources to support stories about foreign policy. I was called by a journalist and asked to comment on a story about foreign policy. If you take a look at page 4 of today’s Independent, there I am. I’m a news source.

The journalist, political correspondent James Cusick, emailed me yesterday afternoon looking to talk about US views on the release of original documents underpinning the Chilcot Report, and particularly the “200 Cabinet-level discussions, 25 notes from Mr Blair to President Bush and more than 130 records of conversations between either Mr Blair or Mr Brown and President Bush” that Sir John Chilcot mentioned in his letter to the Prime Minister of 4 November. He had a source (or sources) within the Cabinet Office that said US State Department officials were privately asking that the latter two categories of document be kept classified. Chilcot has always said that he would work within the bounds set out by the Cabinet Office, and the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood remains the ultimate arbiter of what can and cannot be released. A decent wedge of material is already in the public domain, but Sir Jeremy has previously insisted that these particular documents be kept private, in part to avoid damaging the convention that governments keep private communications between leaders private.

Sir John isn’t actually challenging this point, despite what some media coverage has suggested. It’s also important to remember that he has actually seen this material. The unresolved question is how he uses it in his report. The US is very tetchy about secret documents, and tends to take the view that once something is classified it should stay that way. That is why it responded angrily to Wikileaks despite the fact that, in the end, there was little particularly sensitive material released.

The Cabinet Office knows the US position. It’s a position the UK broadly shares, and one most states would recognise and follow. But the government has committed to transparency, hoping Chilcot will finally draw a line under Iraq. So Sir Jeremy and his colleagues face a judgement call. How much material can they release before the Americans get upset, and how upset can the Americans get before there are negative consequences for the special relationship? It’s incredibly difficult to predict, and it’s obviously taking them a long time to strike a balance they feel they can defend.

Having returned to my office after teaching I called James Cusick and talked to him for about 20 minutes. It was an interesting experience. We have different roles in relation to this sort of issue. His role is to be as questioning and critical as possible. You won’t find anything out as a journalist if you don’t push the envelope. Academics can afford to be more circumspect. So we naturally have different interpretations of what is going on here. I think the story here is the time delay – which Chilcot is obviously finding frustrating – rather than the level of US involvement or otherwise.

I also don’t think there is anything particularly to be gained by having the documents themselves in the public arena. Chilcot has more than enough evidence to conclude that Blair decided in early 2002 to support the US in confronting Iraq, knowing that would probably mean military action. He has more than enough evidence to conclude that Blair was at least economical with the truth when it came to explaining his position to the public, to parliament, and to the Cabinet. He has more than enough evidence to conclude that the decision-making process was riddled with hubris and groupthink (see the Butler Report on how groupthink affected the interpretation of intelligence). So I’m quite relaxed. I expect the remaining issues will eventually be agreed, the report will emerge, and it will criticise the Blair government, though it will stop short of calling for Blair to be shipped off to The Hague.

Cusick can’t be that circumspect. He needs a headline – for the front page as it turned out – and he needs an angle, to keep readers once they’ve been drawn in. So he has to frame the delay in terms of US interference. What he wanted from me was an independent opinion on whether there was anything surprising about the US taking an anti-disclosure position. He was hoping I would agree with him that the answer is no – and he said he’d looked at my thesis before getting in touch, which is interesting in itself since I arguably take a fairly mild line on Blair-era ‘spin’. As it turned out, I did agree, so was willing to be quoted as I am in the article. He didn’t include my more qualified views about the significance of the documentation not being released, because it didn’t fit his line. That’s how the process works.

Speaking to the media is part of my job. Academics are supposed to generate new knowledge, and then share it – through publications and through teaching, of course, but also through engaging with public debate. That’s why I have an LSE experts profile, though unhelpfully it usually leads to queries about domestic politics in Libya, Syria, or Iraq, about which I know relatively little (for a foreign policy analyst). Journalists don’t have much time to research their stories. They need authoritative sources. Academics are authoritative because they are perceived as both independent and expert. They’re also boring, for the same reason, which is why I’m cited at the end of the article. Did I really add anything in objective terms? I’m not sure. The article was essentially written by the time I spoke to its author. I didn’t change his views on anything. But hopefully I lent some credibility to what I think is a valid point – the US thinks in terms of categories of document, rather than contents. If the State Department has asked for this  material to be kept confidential, it’s because it’s the sort of material that is usually kept confidential, not because it says anything dramatic.

Update 17:06

Following on from my appearance in the Independent, I got a call from Al-Jazeera asking if I’d come in and  speak to them in the studio about the same issue, as part of their News Hour programme. I think I answered about four questions in a 60-second slot, and it all seemed to go well. So today has been a day of firsts for me!

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Spy chiefs testify in public

Live blog as the heads of Britain’s three spy agencies are giving evidence to MPs in public for the first time, at the Intelligence and Security Committee. C is wearing a green tie so we know which one he is. Andrew Parker is wearing blue as well.

Key messages: the chiefs maintain their work is necessary, legal, proportionate, and ethical. The Butler Report is described as a “bible” for the intelligence agencies.

Malcolm Rifkind opens by asking C and Andrew Parker where what they do is still necessary. Both, perhaps unsurprisingly, say yes.

Hazel Blears asks about the global nature of contemporary threats. C says the three agencies have to work together more closely, and share systems.

Lord Lothian asks why the intelligence committee failed to predict the end of the Cold War, 9/11, and the Arab Spring. C says there was no secret in a safe in Cairo that predicted the Arab Spring. Everyone saw the tensions, but you can’t predict the exact trigger.

George Howarth asks about technological change, and whether it’s helped the agencies or the enemy. Andrew Lobban points out that the global technology industry is worth £3trn per year so it is a challenge just to track. Issues about scale, speed, and skills. Need to be global, agile, and flexible, and so to work with partners. Technology helps terrorists with communication, platform, planning. Have been able to use some aspects against terrorists, best kept secret.

Everyone is speaking very quickly. Malcolm Rifkind is also speaking very loudly. Nice of him.

Julian Lewis asks what can be done to prevent future breaches along the lines of Edward Snowden. Andrew Parker says there are tight restrictions on IT access, but that a full range of security measures have to be used. Extremely stringent access, vetting, and management measures should help.

Rifkind asks if the agencies have raised the issue of who has access to documents with US partners. All three say yes.

Hazel Blears asks about working with governments with dodgy human rights records. C says it’s easy to work with western democracies, but that isn’t where the threats are coming from. Often we need to co-operate with the local agencies in other states, and often those states are not western states. C also says MI6 takes the law very seriously – e.g. There is no way of working with Syria at the moment – and seeks assurances that british information will be used legally and that any detentions following from British information will be conducted according to british standards. Issues can be and are escalated to ministers if necessary.

Blears asks about allegations of complicity in torture. C says he disputes specific allegations but recognises that MI6 took some time to scale up its activities after 9/11. After over a decade of learning there are very clear (public) guidelines on what is and what is not permissible.

Menzies Campbell asks about how decisions on the ground are audited. C says it’s a dynamic process. People in the field are in touch with head office and can get guidance if they need it, and HQ can wake the foreign secretary up if they need to.

Blears asks C if he can guarantee that MI6 is not complicit in torture. He doesn’t reply directly, emphasising standards, procedures, and learning over the last 12 years. Then he says “yes”.

C seems to be taking the lead. He’s probably more experienced at speaking publicly than Andrew Parker, who is new, or Ian Lobban! who rarely speaks in public.

Mark Field asks about whether the British government would take actions that led to the torture of an individual in order to prevent terrorism. Andrew Parker says no. C says MI6 was glad to see changes in the law to allow evidence in cases relating to alleged torture to be held in secret so the agency can now defend itself against what he sees as unfair allegations.

Andrew Parker takes the opportunity to pay tribute to British troops, noting that Britain has not been subject to terrorist threats during the time British troops have been in Afghanistan. He does note the spread of Al-Qaeda’s ideology into new areas. C says the new range of countries involved has raised issues, and that the overall threat is rising – more British citizens killed by terrorism in 2013 than in previous 7 years.

Menzies Campbell asks about the risk of “terrorist tourism”. Andrew Parker says this is a key part of the threat faced, and is growing at the moment because of Syria. Campbell asks what factors go in to assessing the nature of a threat. Parker says JTAC is based in MI5 but works with all three agencies to assess threat levels around the world. Campbell asks if the heads question JTAC or just take it’s conclusions as given. Parker says they co-operate in agreeing how to respond with specific issues.

George Howarth asks if the deaths of British citizens in terrorist attacks constitute a failure of intelligence. How many plots have been disrupted and how much of the services’ work relies on luck. Andrew Parker defends his agency with reference to the ISC’s own report on the London bombings. He says 34 plots have been disrupted since then. One or two each year were major mass casualty attacks. The majority were disrupted by the agencies. One or two just failed. The majority were home grown. Several thousand individuals in the UK support or engage with violent extremism. Parker isn’t sure about the term “home grown” as plotters usually have some sort of link to extremists in South-East Asia, the Middle East, or East Africa.

Blears asks how important the Prevent programme is, and whether is is sufficiently emphasised. Parker says the agencies focus on people who have already been radicalised.

Parker says it remains the case that the threat has not worsened, but it has changed. The level of counter-terrorism activity have been constant in recent years. No serious threats arose during the Olympics for example. 330 prosecutions have been brought since 9/11. The threat in Northern Ireland persists but is declining.

Parker has been careful to link his answers to his predecessor’s comments and statements by the Home Secretary.

Big questions – the cyber threat and the agencies’ engagement with the internet. Lord Butler asks how the agencies assess the overall cyber threat. Lobban refers to states, corporate spies, criminals, hacktivists, and terrorists as the key threats. Capable non-state actors have made the picture look different. Less well-armed states have used cyber methods to compensate for their lack of conventional strength. Industrial espionage has been impacted most severely. GCHQ works closely with industry, BIS, and academia to build skills and resilience.

Rifkind asks whether mass data collection is the real threat. Lobban says GCHQ does not listen in on the majority – it would be illegal and impractical. They do need to investigate the sort of communication media that most people use. They do target what they look for, and they are aware that the data involved is private. They have to meet very specific legal thresholds before they are allowed to listen to specific communications. Lobban also thinks his workforce would refuse to snoop on innocent people.

Rifkind asks why this point wasn’t made sooner. Lobban says the government’s first duty is protection, and sometimes that needs to be secret, though secret need not mean without oversight. Rifkind pushes him on the point about the public. Lobban holds the line on keeping methods secret while referring to safeguards within the “ring of secrecy” including the ISC itself.

Blears asks for a guarantee that GCHQ does not act outside of British law. Lobban gives it. Blears says the public supports the existence of the powers, but would like more transparency about how they are used. Lobban says your communications will only be listened to if you pose a threat to the UK. Parker says the agencies have become more open, but it’s for parliament to decide ultimately. Rifkind asks if the agencies push secrecy too far. Parker says no, the point is to avoid letting the enemy know what the agencies are up to. Operational advantage can sometimes be quite fragile. Keeping the country safe is hard enough without making methods public. C says it would be bizarre not to make the most use of technology given the enemy does it.

Blears asks if the agencies are between a rock and a hard place. Blamed for failures and criticised for knowing too much. Parker says MI5 exists to protect Britain as a free society. British people, including MI5 officers, don’t want to live in a surveillance society. Governments have offered powers in the past that the agencies have turned down.

Rifkind asks for examples of the damage done by the Snowden leak. Parker says he can give specifics in private. In public he can say MI5 needs GCHQ intercepts to disrupt terrorist plots, and losing the advantage of secrecy makes that harder. Lobban says SigInt relies on targets not knowing how capable Western agencies are. GCHQ have intercepted discussions between terrorists about how to avoid the methods revealed by Snowden. He sounds quite angry about it, predicting damage for years to come. Describes intelligence as a “fragile mosaic” that can be seriously damaged at any time. Rifkind asks if withholding specifics from leaks helps. C says the journalists involved are not well placed to make such judgements. Snowden’s leaks have damaged current operations and adversaries are “rubbing their hands with glee”.

George Howarth says people don’t understand why the agencies can’t just have access to those who pose a threat. Lobban says everything is intercepted, but nothing is looked at without a specific rationale.

Campbell asks if the existing legal framework is up to dealing with the revolution in communications technology, and whether the agencies would participate in public debate over the implications. Lobban says there are legal safeguards on privacy which are followed rigorously, and that the laws are technology neutral. Necessity and proportionality as key watchwords. “Within our DNA”. If parliament changes the rules, “so be it”. Lobban also highlights the role of the intelligence commissioners, appointed by the Prime Minister. Rifkind notes the latter don’t operate publicly. C says the agencies are public servants. Parliament sets the law, and the agencies work within it. Parker says article 8 of the human rights act underpins the acts that define the agencies, which is the element dealing with privacy.

Lord Butler asks how the legislation can still be fit for purpose given the last piece was passed in 2000. Parker says work is lawful, is overseen in multiple ways – parliamentary, executive, and judicial. Parker is on his fourth formal appearance at the ISC, has received three visits from the commissioners, and sees the Home Secretary 2-3 times per week, all in his first six months in the job.

Butler asks about offensive cyber capabilities. Lobban says GCHQ would contribute expertise but, like SIS, is primarily responsible for intelligence gathering – the military is responsible for offensive capabilities.

C says the strategy is to break links between Al Qaeda overseas and jihadists or possible sympathisers in the UK. Syria is a particular concern because of the lack of a local partner. Andrew Parker says a number of people in “the low hundreds” have fought in Syria and returned to the UK. Most will not be a threat, but some will. Blears asks if having fought in Syria grants kudos to potential radicalisers. Parker says this is one area in which the prevent and pursue strands of contest overlap.

Butler asks about the intelligence community’s contribution to the apparent thaw over Iran’s nuclear programme. C says the picture is incomplete but intelligence has helped both with understanding the programme’s development and with making sanctions stick. MI6 has a lot of expertise on Iran which it makes available to government. Rifkind asks how much confidence there can be in commitments given by Iran. C says the IAEA is a useful monitoring body and Britain can rely on it, at least to monitor publicly declared programmes. It won’t be easy. C describes the Butler report as a “bible” for MI6, in terms of procedures, assessment, and personnel management.

Malcolm Rifkind asks about the threat from North Korea, Julian Lewis about the threat from espionage. C says Britain is not the lead on North Korea but does contribute what it can. Andrew Parker says 10% of MI5’s work is counter-espionage, which is a lively business that goes beyond Russia, primarily in military and technology areas. Rifkind asks about relations with Russia after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. C says there has been a gap between the states for some time, which has thawed slightly due to discussions around the Sochi Olympics.

Lewis asks if it’s true that we spy on everyone and everyone spies on us. C says terrorism, cyber threats, and nuclear proliferation are the key targets. Britain doesn’t spy on everyone. Targets are highest priority challenges faced by UK, as authorised by ministers. So the short answer is “no”.

C ends the session by praising the work of the officers of the three services, who “don’t work for high salaries, because they don’t get high salaries”.

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