US, UK spy agencies on alert after unprecedented court decision

Binyam Mohamed

Binyam Mohamed

British and American intelligence agencies have been placed on alert following an unprecedented ruling by a British court, which forces the British government to disclose CIA documents in its possession. The documents relate to the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian resident of Britain, who says he was severely tortured with the collaboration of the CIA and British domestic intelligence agency MI5, after he was renditioned to Morocco. Last February, two British judges overseeing Mr. Mohamed’s case revealed that the British government kept “powerful evidence” secret after being threatened by the US that it would “stop sharing intelligence about terrorism with the UK”. In July, it emerged that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally threatened the British government that Washington would stop collaborating with London on intelligence matters if evidence in Mr. Mohamed’s case was publicly released. Last October, MI5 and MI6, the two primary intelligence agencies in the British Isles, made an unprecedented request in British legal history aiming to keep all evidence presented in Mr. Mohamed’s lawsuit, in which he accused them of complicity to torture, secret. Yet not only did the court deny the secrecy request, but its three judges, which are among the country’s highest court officials, ordered that all relevant documents –including CIA records– in MI5 and MI6’s possession be made public, as they concern  issues of “fundamental importance”, of  “democratic accountability and […] the rule of law itself”. Reports in British newspapers describe the court’s decision as a “humiliating rebuff” for British foreign secretary David Miliband, who had argued that the public release of any information relating to Mr. Mohamed’s case would irreparably harm UK-US relations. Late on Wednesday, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the work of all US intelligence agencies, issued a statement (.pdf) saying it “deeply regretted” the British court decision, which “creates additional challenges” for US-UK intelligence cooperation. The White House said yesterday that the US government was “deeply disappointed with the court’s judgment today, because we shared this information in confidence and with certain expectations”. The White House statement also hinted that the court’s decision “would cloud future intelligence relations with Britain”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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