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Intelligence and Security Committee and unpublished Annual Reports - the Checks and Balances on the Secret State are not working

Rachel from North London's blog article What's going on with the ISC?, reminds us that a knock on effect of the ongoing series of sleazy and incompetent Labour party political donations scandals which led to the resignation Peter Hain from the Cabinet, has resulted in the appointment of Rt. Hon. Paul Murphy MP as the replacement Welsh Secretary.

Paul Murphy was the Chairman of the supposedly independent Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a post he surely cannot continue to hold as a minor Government Minister.

Paul Murphy failed to satisfy the survivors of the 7th July 2005 bomb attacks in London, or the rest of the public, that the ISC reports into the intelligence agency failings, were either rigorous or impartial, as the transcript of his interview on Newsnight, reproduced by Rachel, clearly shows that he had already pre-judged the "whitewash" outcome of his second report into the matter, even before it was written.

Paul Murphy and the Intelligence and Security Committee also failed to take seriously, the Questions which we raised with them in private, about the botched MI5 website update email notification system affair, which was either the result of spin doctor led political interference, or utter management incompetence, riding roughshod over the available IT security expertise.

Surely this deserves a paragraph or two in the ISC Annual Report for 2007 ? We cannot tell, because the Report is still being kept secret (see below).

Presumably Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in consultation with the Opposition Party leaders, will try to appoint another Labour Privy Counsellor as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The current list of Privy Counsellors, who are Labour backbench MPs and are not already in the Government, or who have not already resigned in disgrace as Ministers, is very limited.

The very few Labour MPs for whom we have respect for their ability to hold the Executive and the Bureaucracy to account, are either retiring such as Bob Marshall-Andrews, or already serve on Parliamentary Select Committees e.g. David Winnick on the Home Affairs Committee, so the ISC's gain would reduce the scrutiny of the Government elsewhere.

Gordon Brown vaguely hand waved last summer, about making the ISC somehow more transparent to Parliament and the public, so here is his chance to prove that these vague promises are not just more propaganda and outright lies by expanding the powers and investigatory resources of the ISC, and appointing a Chairman from, perhaps, the House of Lords Cross Benches, who has shown independence of the Government and competence in dealing with bureaucrats and civil servants.

Our suggestion would be the former Army General and former HM Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham, if he could be persuaded to take on the task, however, we are not holding our breath in anticipation.

Mention of the ISC reminds us that their heavily censored and almost always bland Annual Report, has been submitted to Gordon Brown on 4th December 2007, who is still keeping it secret.

Remember also that the two missing RIPA Commissioner's Annual Reports are also being suppressed, well beyond the statutory time when they should have been presented in public to Parliament and the public, as laid down in law by the the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 ?

Where is the Annual report of the Rt. Hon. Sir Paul Kennedy, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, for 2006 ?

Where is the Annual report of the Rt. Hon. Sir Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, for 2006 ?

N.B. it is now 2008 , so we should really be awaiting the imminent publication of their 2007 Annual Reports.

The Privy Council review of the (non) use of Intercept Evicence led by Sir John Chilcot was also due to have reported by last November, or "miid January" 2008, deadlines which have also been missed. This should have been published before the publication of the new Counter -Terrorism Bill 2008, but that deadline has been deliberately missed, as well.

The various reports and reviews into the HMRC and now MoD data security and privacy scandals, are being used as an excuse not to answer any detailed questions about this area of the Government's secrecy, which is hiding failings and incompetence, or possibly treason.

Can anyone honestly claim that the system of Checks and Balances, under which the the Security Service MI5, the Secret Intelligence Service MI6, GCHQ, the Special Forces units, the Police Counter-terrorism units and other secretive Government departments in say the Treasury or the Ministry of Transport etc. are supposed to operate, is actually working properly ?

The delays to the publication of even the meagre, heavily self censored Annual Reports listed above, shows utter contempt by the Prime Minister and his Labour cronies for the British public and for Parliament.

The Opposition Parties are also failing in their duty, by not demanding the immediate publication of these Reports,. They should also be demanding a much more powerful and transparent and publicly responsive mechanism of oversight, than the current Intelligence and Security Committee.

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