INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY SERVICES (WESTMINSTER HALL) – 31 October 2013
Dr Julian Lewis: I genuinely congratulate my near-namesake, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Julian Huppert), not only on securing this debate but on the way in which he presented his case and the exceptionally generous way in which he handled interventions. I hope that it will not damage his credibility on the left too much if I point out how very strongly I agreed with at least one of the points that he made in response to my intervention on him.
There are three questions that I want to address. First, the one on which the hon. Gentleman responded: why is it so easy for junior personnel to engage in mass leaking? Secondly, is it easier than before – as he suggested – to track or spy on people? Thirdly, who should rightly be regarded as a whistleblower? That is the point that I was touching on when I intervened on him.
On the first question, he is absolutely right. If these secrets are so sensitive, there is something terribly wrong with the system that allows an Army private or a junior technician access to them.
Dr Huppert indicated assent.
Dr Lewis: I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman endorsing what I am saying. Any system that allows tens of thousands of Top Secret documents to be downloaded by such junior personnel in such quantity must be at risk.
In an absolutely outstanding contribution to the debate, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) – I do congratulate him on his measured and exceptionally well-informed contribution – referred to the whole business of Enigma and the ultra secret of World War Two. Colleagues might remember that in 1974 the book, The Ultra Secret, perhaps regrettably – though historians are grateful – revealed the secret that, as a result of the development of the Enigma machine, we were decrypting codes during the war that people thought were unbreakable.
The book was published. Its author was F.W. Winterbotham. If I remember correctly, his role was to be in charge of the signals liaison units, which comprised members of the special services who were involved in the distribution of the Enigma decrypts and who were spread around all parts of the military infrastructure that received that intelligence. In other words, they were crucially aware of the need to keep Top Secret material secure. As such, they had special security arrangements to prevent anything like the Snowden case and the Bradley Manning case from happening. Today, there is a huge gap in the security arrangements for the handling of such material.
On whether it is easier than before to track and spy on people, as the hon. Member for Cambridge has suggested, in one sense, he is absolutely right. We have electronic devices that offer more ways in. In another sense, though, he is not quite right. The problem is that in the past, when we wanted to track or spy on someone, all we had to do was to get a court order to enable the interception of mail or telephone calls. Now, with so many new systems of communication, it is actually much harder to track and spy on people who ought to be tracked and spied upon, according to the process of law, because there are so many other ways to communicate.
Dr Huppert: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for some of his earlier comments. There is an interesting issue. Communications data are increasingly available to the police, but records of the locations where people had phones are now kept for a year. We can join the dots to find out exactly where somebody went. That information is available to the police and is used in many investigations. That would never have been available before. He is right that there are some safeguards; but 20 or 30 years ago, there would have been no way to say: "Three months ago, where was Dr Julian Lewis at any particular moment?"
Dr Lewis: I entirely accept that point, which was partly covered by the hon. Member for Cheltenham when he briefly referred to the need to hoover up haystacks to be able to search for the needles in them afterwards. The question is whether we then have access to the irrelevant parts of the haystack, or legally supervised targeted access to those needles in the haystack, which can be detected as a result of modern technology. This is all about the mass collection, mass storage and interrogation of mass data so collected and stored.
I now come back to the third question: who should rightly be regarded as a whistleblower? I would like to reach a point of agreement again with the hon. Member for Cambridge. In his defence of the Guardian newspaper, he said that it is precisely because the Guardian is not simply publishing everything that has fallen into its hands that it is acting responsibly. We can argue the finer points of that; he certainly has an arguable case. Where there can be no argument, however, is in the case of a person who steals the mass database and transmits it to other unauthorised individuals or organisations, or indeed newspapers, when he cannot possibly have read or in any way assessed whether the contents of that database had been properly collected or whether an abuse of the intelligence services’ powers had in fact taken place. That person is not acting responsibly, so the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), whom I always admire, should be a little more careful before ascribing the term "brave whistleblower" to someone like Snowden.
Snowden is no more a whistleblower than someone like Julian Assange or anyone else who gets a mass of information and feels that it is right to publish it and put it into the public domain for no other reason than it is classified as Secret or Top Secret. Basically, their rationale can only be that they do not think anything should ever be classified Secret or Top Secret. Once they admit that there is a purpose in classifying some information, and that some information ought to be kept secret, then we get into the area of who decides what should be kept secret and what should be the result of whistleblowing activities.
When I see somebody who blows the whistle on an identifiable abuse, I say: "Well done" – provided, of course, that they have used and exhausted all the right channels and were left with no alternative. But when I see someone who abuses their access to a massive database and then publishes it widely, I say that that is not whistleblowing. That is irresponsibity to the point of treachery.