HOME AFFAIRS – INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE – 21 November 2011
Dr Julian Lewis: For the sake of clarity, before some reporter's pen runs away with him, will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that there was no suggestion in his remarks that UK intelligence services were responsible for the Stuxnet virus?
[Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Even our worst enemies have not suggested that, as far as I am aware. I of course entirely confirm that. ...]
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Dr Lewis: On operations, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that practice in the past has been – and is likely to be in the future – for the examination of particular operations to be retrospective and that there are very good reasons for that?
[Sir Malcolm Rifkind: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. In making our recommendations to the Government – the matter is important to them as well – we acknowledge that we do not seek the level of responsibility that exists in the United States, where certain senior members of Congress have to be consulted in advance of an operation regarding what the intelligence agencies will be doing. They do not have the power to stop an operation, but they are informed about it, as they were, for example – so we understand – of that involving Osama bin Laden.
The ISC can see no public interest in such an approach. Having power without responsibility is bad enough, but to have responsibility without power is even worse. Our responsibility is to provide retrospective oversight, and the Government appear in principle to have accepted that, as long as we are dealing – as we agree we should be – with matters of significant national interest. That is right and proper. Many discussions will be needed about how that will be handled in practice, but the principle is of profound importance.]
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Dr Lewis: Before the right hon. Gentleman [Paul Goggins] moves on, he might wish to draw the House's attention to paragraph 33 of the report, which states:
“The Security Service has told the Committee that the numbers of individuals involved with the current republican terrorist groups is around half the number that were active in the Provisional IRA”.
That is a very considerable number, is it not?
[Paul Goggins: It is, although it is also fair to say that there are degrees of involvement. Although there may be some latent support at a fairly local level for certain individuals, the number of active people who are determined on violence in pursuit of their aims is probably still fairly limited. None the less, they are increasingly dangerous in what they do, and they need to be dealt with. That is why, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, the 34% increase in investment in the past couple of years in the Security Service's work on Northern Ireland terrorism is welcome. ...]
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Dr Lewis: I am listening to my hon. Friend's [Richard Ottaway's] speech with great attention and I think that another word of praise could be said for the services themselves in that context. In the past, when they have found that they have inadvertently overlooked some piece of information, in providing that information to the ISC, they have not hesitated to own up to that fact even if it opened them up to criticism. It is incumbent on us to encourage them to do that and not to be deterred from doing it because it is a slight blot on their record when they do not get things right first time.
[Richard Ottaway: I completely agree, and I have always been hugely impressed by the vast quantity of information. When there was just one needle in the haystack, they might not have found it the first time around but they did find it the second time around and quite rightly, as my hon. Friend says, produced it for the Committee. ...]
[NOTE: For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]