Clegg: Guardian’s leaked Snowden secrets of “immense interest to people who want to do us harm”

Clegg HeadMI5 chief Andrew Parker spoke out yesterday against the leaking of intelligence secrets by Edward Snowden to The Guardian, claiming it seriously endangered national security and had given terrorist groups like al-Qa’ida “the gift they need to evade us and strike at will”. Nick Clegg was asked if he agreed on his LBC radio phone-in show, Call Clegg. Here’s what he said:

Nick Ferrari: Deputy Prime Minister, do you agree with the Prime Minister, who says that Andrew Parker, the Security Chief’s warning to the Guardian’s publication of those files handed the advantage to Britain’s enemies, it was a Guide Book to Terrorism, the Edward Snowdon story.

Nick Clegg: Look, I certainly agree that if what you end up doing is just basically publishing very technical information, that actually most Guardian readers, or most of us wouldn’t frankly understand, but the only people who will understand are the sort of technicians if you like amongst the terrorists, then what’s the public interest in that.

However, I think of course there is a totally legitimate debate to be had about, and my experience speaking to people in the intelligence agencies is they recognise this, is about the use of these new incredibly powerful technologies. We have legislation, and regulations, which were designed for an age which is quite different now, and both terrorists and States and security agencies, now conduct this battle, if you like, online in a way that was unimaginable just even a few years ago. And, what that means for privacy and proportionality, I think that’s a totally legitimate area for debate.

How you hold the secret parts of any State to account is an incredibly important issue, because secrecy is necessary, of course it is, you absolutely must defend the principle of secrecy from the intelligence agencies without which they can’t keep us safe.

But, you can only really make secrecy legitimate in the eyes of the public if there is proper form of accountability. Now, we’ve improved it, this Government have actually taken big steps, and I’ve been delighted that we’ve done this to strengthen for instance the rights of the Intelligence Security Committee, which is the committee which holds the agencies to account in Parliament.

But, you know, I saw a previous head of MI5 say recently to expect the public just to accept that some slightly opaque arrangement in Westminster is the way to hold everybody to account, in which the public doesn’t really have much of an insight, I think it’s right for us to ask if there’s anything more we can do to make sure that the public feel that accountability is working in this area properly.

NF: But, did the Guardian go too far with the level of detail it published?

NC: Oh, I’ve got no doubt that there were some parts of what was published which will have passed most readers of the Guardian completely by, because they were very technical, but would have been immense interest to people who want to do us harm, and to that…

NF: They shouldn’t have put it out there as Andrew Parker says?

NC: As I said, I think it’s a totally legitimate debate about the power of these technologies, about how you get the balance right, how do you make sure these technologies are used in a proportionate and accountable way. But, I don’t think just giving technical secrets, if I can put it that way, to people who want to do us harm serves any purpose.

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13 Comments

  • So he doesn’t know, but may have been assured…

  • A bit of fence-sitting there really. As DPM he isnt really in a position where he can defend the publishing of state secrets, but I would expect others in the party (e.g. Simon Hughes, etc) to go on the attack.

  • I know these transcripts make everyone seem confused. But in fairness to Mr Ferrari, he spoke clearly and his questions were clear. The only person who comes over as though he is confused (that’s being generous) is the LD Dear Leader

  • They were of great interest to those of us who didn’t know how much the government was spying on us. I don’t quite see the point of saying you would go to prison rather then carry an ID card yet sit in a Government that allows Prism (and criticise the expose).

    Which intrudes the most on our liberties the card that never happened or the spying that apparently is??

  • Very much as bit of fence-sitting as MBoy says but even so it’s disappointing (to put it mildly) that he appears to accept the nonsense that this has been any help to terrorists. Just how stupid does he think they are? What the powers that be are really cross about is that the Snowden files have exposed widespread law-breaking by the security services, warrantless searches and so on.

    Kirsty Wark put much the same allegations and more to Glenn Greenwald on Newsnight recently. The result is epic – he totally blows her away showing her up repeatedly for just sucking up the establishment spin without bothering to fact check it. The video is longish at 14 minutes but well worth the time as an example of the sort of liberalism I would like to see from Clegg et al.

  • Tony Greaves 10th Oct '13 - 11:07pm

    I wonder if Nick has read the Guardian articles. If I can understand them they are not all that technical. They have done usd all a big favour, pity the Liberal leader of all people cannot say so.

    Tony

  • Christine Headley 10th Oct '13 - 11:23pm

    And didn’t the New York Times publish it as well?

  • Simon Bamonte 11th Oct '13 - 2:14am

    So we have already sleepwalked into a STASI-state, and Mr. Clegg thinks, like Obama (America’s very own Tony Blair), we should have a “debate”. Sorry, Nick, but we should have had this “debate” years ago. Nobody asked me if I agreed to my online activities (however boring) being logged by the State, but there we go. The Lib Dems of the past, the Lib Dems I spent over 25 years with, would have condemned this mass spying of innocent people outright, rather than suggesting a mild and PR-based “debate”. Our security services now have surveillance powers and have achieved a level of “total awareness” that would’ve made the KGB green with envy. Our Western societies used to tell us the difference between us and Soviet oppression was the fact that we did not spy on our own population on a massive scale. And now we’re told we need to spy on our own population on a massive scale to “keep us safe”. I’m sure the Soviets thought mass surveillance kept them safe from the “capitalist menace” just as our very own CGHQ tell us they’re keeping us safe from the “terrorist threat”. Yet we didn’t need STASI-style tactics applied to the entire population during the height of the Troubles. I am no conspiracy theorist, but it doesn’t take a genius to smell a whiff of fear from the government as to the effects that 30 years of neo-liberalism has had on a large part of the population.

    The Lib Dems used to lead the fight against an all-knowing Big Brother state. Sure, you say you stopped ID cards, but I’d rather carry an ID card than have the government monitoring all of my communications just because they can. Sorry, Nick. Saying we need to have a debate while these measures are already in place is nothing more than PR, face-saving weakness pretending you give a stuff about public opinion, let alone the opinion of your own party.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Oct '13 - 10:10am

    Exactly what has the Guardian published that would aid Al Qaeda? It is possible that the material released by Snowdon may contain such content, but the Guardian has done its public service job, releasing what is in the interests of the British public. What has been published should help to make the world a safer place.

    Do not forget that, If the leader had had his way, the UK and the US would have already bombed Syria and the world would be dealing with the consequences – the above is yet another example of the British Establishment getting things wrong and actually endangering the safety of citizens here. And Clegg illustrates again on this issue that he is a fully paid up member of that Establishment.

    I recommend the answers given by Vince Cable this morning at approximately 8.25 on the Today programme. At the time of writing there is no clip available but we should be able to find it later today via http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24488468 .

    It is a tragedy that VC did not stay on as leader following his sojourn as acting leader – so close and yet so far. The Great Mistake.

  • daft ha'p'orth 11th Oct '13 - 10:53am

    “if what you end up doing is just basically publishing very technical information, that actually most Guardian readers, or most of us wouldn’t frankly understand, but the only people who will understand are the sort of technicians if you like amongst the terrorists, then what’s the public interest in that. ”

    Firstly, a proportion of the UK, even a few Guardian readers I suppose, are computer-literate enough to understand some quite complicated concepts, such as developments in signal intelligence. It isn’t a terrorist-specific competence; indeed computer networking and knowledge management are subthemes within the highly-prized STEM.

    Secondly, the quote misrepresents the term ‘public interest’ . The public interest test is not particularly well-defined in UK law, but precedent does not support the idea that ‘public interest’ is ‘something that the general public finds fun or engaging’, or ‘something for which the general public has an appetite or which sparks idle curiosity’. For public interest to be used as a legal defence, publication should be ‘in the best interest of the public’ not merely ‘of interest to the public’. That a piece of news requires explanatory text to become accessible to the public does not make a public interest defence impossible. For example, publication of ‘last week the water authority accidentally dropped howevermuch little-known chemical compound into the water supply of Sometown; we know that means nothing to you but here is a professor from Someothertown University who can explain exactly why the compound will make your pet dog’s hair fall out’ is in the interest of Sometown residents despite the fact that few Sometown residents are chemical engineers.

    Now if the Guardian published information that actually was of no use to anybody but terrorists that’d be different, e.g. ‘We note that the NSA et al only know how to crack the following encryptions [insert list here], so if you’re a terrorist please use the 448-bit Blowfish cypher and stegonographically encode and transmit your encrypted message in a funny cat GIF, because the NSA have given up on their funny cat GIF analysis project due to lack of funding’. For all I know the Guardian have done this, because I lost interest in the Grauniad’s breathless reporting and endless linkbaiting salami-slicing of incredibly small pieces of news after about the first three hours, so for all I know they published a terrorist how-to manual after I stopped paying attention. If they did, of course, feel free to point out that this is not in the public interest.

  • Good man Vince:

    “Guardian was ‘entirely correct’ to publish NSA stories, says Vince Cable”

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/oct/11/guardian-correct-publish-nsa-vince-cable

  • “NC: Oh, I’ve got no doubt that there were some parts of what was published which will have passed most readers of the Guardian completely by, because they were very technical, but would have been immense interest to people who want to do us harm…”

    I’m afraid that’s not fence-sitting. It’s a clear accusation against the Guardian. Quite why a Lib Dem leader should wish to make such an accusation – in fact, against a newspaper that supported the Lib Dems at the last election – is not clear.

    It would be a bit sad if the Guardian were able to prove – as Vince’s comments indicate – that the Guardian knew very well what they were doing, and had published nothing at all that was “very technical” and could conceivably have given real help to “people who want to do us harm”

  • A Social Liberal 11th Oct '13 - 3:04pm

    I find it hilarious that the head of MI5, NC et al are stating that publishing certain facts have helped the terrorists evade future intelligence gathering but do not substantiate which published facts do this. If those terrorists have the intelligence to work out how the MI5 got their information from perusing the Guardian then detailing which published facts are aiding the enemy will not abet those terrorists.

    In short, put up or shut up.

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