Britain to ‘modernize’ counterespionage laws following criticism from parliament

James BrokenshireSenior United Kingdom officials have said the country will seek to “modernize” its laws on counterespionage, after a long-awaited parliamentary report criticized the government for failing to stop Russian spy operations. Earlier this week saw the release of the report by the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. The report [.pdf] focuses on Russia. It concludes that British intelligence agencies remain incapable of combating espionage and psychological operations by Russian spy agencies, of which many aim to influence British politics on a mass scale.

On Wednesday Britain’s Minister of State for Security, James Brokenshire, pushed back against the report’s findings that the government had failed to manage the thread posed by Russian intelligence activities on British soil. Speaking during an extraordinary meeting of parliament to discuss the report, Brokenshire rejected claims that a succession of British conservative administrations went out of their way to avoid investigating Russian spy activities. He claimed that the activities of the Kremlin remained one of Britain’s “top national security priorities”. During the same meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told members of parliament that “no country in the Western world is more vigilant in countering Russia” than the United Kingdom.

Some government officials said the government now plans to implement a new Espionage Bill, which is currently in the drafting stage, and is expected to provide the authorities with more powers to combat foreign espionage. Additionally, Whitehall is considering initiating a large-scale review of the Official Secrets Act and redrafting it so as to include a foreign agent registration clause. The proposed clause would resemble the Foreign Agent Registration Act in the United States, which requires those working or lobbying on behalf of a foreign government —except accredited diplomats— to register with the authorities.

This would allow British authorities to arrest, deport or imprison those found working on behalf of foreign powers, even if they are never caught committing espionage or transmitting classified information to a foreign entity.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 July 2020 | Permalink

Analysis: Former GCHQ director co-authors paper on training analysts

Sir Omand

Sir Omand

It is not often that a former Director of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s primary signals intelligence agency, publicly expresses his or her views on intelligence analysis. Yet this is precisely what Sir David B. Omand, GCB –GCHQ Director from 1996 to 1997– has done, by co-authoring a paper for the latest issue of the CIA’s partly declassified journal, Studies in Intelligence. The paper, which Sir Omand co-wrote with King College’s Dr. Michael Goodman, is titled “What Analysts Need to Understand”. It details the ongoing “innovative” revisions currently being implemented in the training of British intelligence analysts, following the 2003 fiasco over Iraq’s purported “weapons of mass destruction”. The analysis, which, among other things, quotes Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (!), focuses on the difficulty of teaching methods to develop the analysts’ “strong professional instincts”. It further points to intelligence analyst trainees’ “exposure to a variety of critical views, including the unorthodox”. The article doesn’t explain whether such “unorthodox” and “critical views” include those of Katharine T. Gun, the former GCHQ employee who in 2003 voluntarily exposed GCHQ’s collaboration with its US counterpart, the National Security Agency, to illegally bug the United Nations offices of Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan. By diabolical coincidence, the UN representations of the above six countries had failed to be won over by American and British arguments in support of the invasion of Iraq. Gun was summarily fired by GCHQ and charged under the UK Official Secrets Act (charges were eventually dropped after she threatened to reveal even more information about the case). So much for exposure to “unorthodox views” over at GCHQ.

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