British government under pressure on PRISM

posted at 2:01 pm on June 10, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The Obama administration isn’t the only Western government facing questions about the use of NSA’s PRISM program to snoop on Internet content to expose potential terrorists.  David Cameron’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, canceled a trip to Washington in order to address questions erupting in Parliament over British intelligence connections to PRISM and the potential to bypass UK proscriptions on surveillance:

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, will face MPs’ questions today over fears that thousands of Britons could have been spied on by GCHQ through a covert link with the American security agencies.

Mr Hague, who has cancelled a trip to Washington to make a Commons statement, has insisted the law-abiding British public had “nothing to fear” from the work of the Cheltenham-based listing post.

He will come under pressure from MPs of all parties to spell out details of the co-operation between GCHQ and the previously-unknown Prism programme operated by the National Security Agency.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, said today that any request by GCHQ for access to British citizens’ emails or internet browsing habits would need proper legal authority, usually including the personal approval of a minister.

He told BBC Radio 4: “The law is actually quite clear: if the British intelligence agencies are seeking to know the content of emails by people living in the UK, then they actually have to get lawful authority. Normally that means ministerial authority.

“That applies equally whether they are going to do the intercept themselves or whether they are going to ask somebody else to do it on their behalf.”

Cameron himself insists that nothing illegal took place:

Cameron said: “Let us be clear. We cannot give a running commentary on the intelligence services. There are things that William Hague will be able to say and questions he will be able to answer. I am satisfied that the intelligence services, who do a fantastically important job to keep us safe, operate within the law and within a legal framework and they also operate within a proper framework of scrutiny by the intelligence and security committee.

“We do live in a dangerous world and live in a world of terror and terrorism. I do think it is right we have well-funded and well-organised intelligence services to keep us safe.”

Downing Street also said that GCHQ operated within the law. The prime minister’s spokesman said: “One of the things the foreign secretary said yesterday is: ‘If information arrives in the UK, it is governed by our laws.’

The prime minister believes, and very much agrees with the point that William Hague was making yesterday, which is that there is very strong ministerial oversight [of Britain's intelligence agencies]. The prime minister thinks there is a very strong legal framework, there is very strong ministerial oversight, the foreign secretary noted the assessment by the commissioners, who are also part of the oversight process, with reference to the highest standards of integrity and legal compliance by GCHQ.”

Cameron reminded Britons that the war on terror requires ongoing vigilance, as the recent barbaric attack on a British soldier demonstrated.  He’s not the only one in the UK sounding that alarm, either.  David Petraeus will speak tonight in a veiled push-back against Barack Obama’s contention that the war on terror is over:

On a day when Britain’s chattering classes are obsessing about the latest revelations that Britain and America may share sensitive intelligence information (should we really be so alarmed about this?) General David Petraeus, one of America’s most renowned warriors and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, will later today provide a far more sobering assessment of why we cannot afford to be complacent about the threat Islamist terrorism poses to our security.

Given the damage done to transatlantic intelligence-sharing by former Gitmo detainees, whose allegations of British involvement in torture resulted in sensitive American intelligence being splashed all over the front pages of the Left-wing press, I very much doubt Uncle Sam is giving us much intelligence material that is of interest in the first place.

But even if there is a link up between Britain’s GCHQ listening post in Cheltenham and its sister service, the NSA, we should be grateful for all the help we can get, if General Petraeus’s assessment is to be believed.

During a brief stopover in London today to receive a prestigious award for his distinguished service during the wars of the past decade, General Petraeus is giving a speech tonight in which he will issue this stark warning: “The Counter Insurgency Era is not over … because the Insurgency Era is not over”.

Well, it certainly doesn’t appear to be over on this side of the pond either, if we take lessons from Obama’s drone activities and the NSA.  But this does raise an interesting question about intelligence sharing and partnerships.  If the NSA developed the intelligence on British suspects and handed it over to the UK, would that really violate British law — or does British law only prohibit the Brits from developing that themselves?  That kind of sharing allows for all sorts of plausible-deniability opportunities that governments could use to get around restrictions.

Conversely, does the US have any laws prohibiting the government from using intel developed by our partners in the UK or elsewhere that would otherwise violate law in the US based on how it was collected?  Obviously the evidence might not be usable in court, but that kind of data might be used as probable cause to seek warrants here, depending on just how objectionable the source might be.  A sophisticated use of such sharing might produce what Alfred Hitchcock called “criss-cross” in Strangers on a Train (and hilariously parodied in the comedy Throw Momma From the Train).

That seems to be the worry from some Members of Parliament in the UK after discovering a possible link between British intelligence and PRISM. Perhaps the debate we’re about to have in the US might include that possibility, too.

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

They are the same crooks as Obama.

Schadenfreude on June 10, 2013 at 2:01 PM

What is it that RWM calls Cameron? “Muffin”?

steebo77 on June 10, 2013 at 2:03 PM

Sophie, work this over, if inclined.

Schadenfreude on June 10, 2013 at 2:03 PM

Cameron reminded Britons that the war on terror requires ongoing vigilance, as the recent barbaric attack on a British soldier demonstrated.

And then, when you find an actual terrorist, you IGNORE HIM because you don’t want to look “racist.”

Add Lee Rigby to the body count.

PattyJ on June 10, 2013 at 2:07 PM

By Jove!

Bishop on June 10, 2013 at 2:11 PM

PattyJ on June 10, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Same with the Boston Bombers!!

Deano1952 on June 10, 2013 at 2:14 PM

If the NSA developed the intelligence on British suspects and handed it over to the UK, would that really violate British law — or does British law only prohibit the Brits from developing that themselves? That kind of sharing allows for all sorts of plausible-deniability opportunities that governments could use to get around restrictions.

My guess is that in the end, they’ll find that Islamist groups operating in the UK were not defined as “terrorist groups” for PRISM purposes. But that UKIP was, and is.

Which more than anything else demonstrates the overall low “quality” of modern leaders in the West. Say what you like about FDR, but when he lay awake at night in 1942, I’m pretty sure he was thinking about what Hitler and Tojo were up to, not worrying about Tom Dewey.

clear ether

eon

eon on June 10, 2013 at 2:18 PM

Big Brothers are watching you.

James Bond, you have an urgent call from Moneypenny.

Steve Z on June 10, 2013 at 2:19 PM

The whole world is being spied on, enabled by the Great Lightbringer Obama, and all his tiny doggies.

Heh, laughing at the entire world provides incredible schadenfreude. I told you this, myriad of times. The chickens are all coming home to roost.

Obama redeemed “Bushhitler” and “Bushchimpey” and went on steroids himself.

It’s hilarious to watch.

Schadenfreude on June 10, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Big Brothers are watching you.

James Bond, you have an urgent call from Moneypenny.

Steve Z on June 10, 2013 at 2:19 PM

Obama is looking (out) for all Americans and citizens of the world.

He is Big Bro!

Schadenfreude on June 10, 2013 at 2:20 PM

And here i thought the Kenyan wasn’t fond ofthe Brits.

abobo on June 10, 2013 at 2:21 PM

Military told not to read Obama-scandal news

“……we might need them before this is all over…..” -bho

BobMbx on June 10, 2013 at 2:23 PM

A sophisticated use of such sharing might produce what Alfred Hitchcock called “criss-cross” in Strangers on a Train….

Yeah, but in that one, the high initiative murderer was crazy, and his unadvised “partner” in crime had no intention of matching a murder for a murder. In this scenario, I can’t tell if they’re both crazy or not.

apostic on June 10, 2013 at 2:23 PM

Cameron reminded Britons that the war on terror requires ongoing vigilance,

Obama and Cameron need to zero in on the members of the religion of peace, for crying out loud. In the U.S., reallocate the resources directed at tea party groups and focus on these members and the illegal immigrants. Geez, Dems and the GOP are about to legalize 11 million illiterate underclass with no intention of learning English and of assimilating without doing anything to stem the tide.

Just wait for the discontent when these poor can’t milk as many benefits as they’d like from the affluent.

Dem and GOP elites can insulate themselves from the chaos. Most of us can’t. I look forward to the deluge of “Get Whitey” reality shows.

BuckeyeSam on June 10, 2013 at 2:25 PM

As long as al Qaeda is on the run, “what difference does it make”, right Mr. Obama?

Rovin on June 10, 2013 at 2:26 PM

Say what you like about FDR, but when he lay awake at night in 1942, I’m pretty sure he was thinking about what Hitler and Tojo were up to, not worrying about Tom Dewey.

clear ether

eon

eon on June 10, 2013 at 2:18 PM

Well said, and sadly very true. How many fundraisers has 0 attended so far this year?

iurockhead on June 10, 2013 at 2:26 PM

Big Government: To all the little people…trust us!

d1carter on June 10, 2013 at 2:26 PM

And here I thought the Kenyan wasn’t fond of the Brits.

abobo on June 10, 2013 at 2:21 PM

The One loves transnational progressives like Himself, no matter where they hale from. David Cameron, being a “Keep the UK in the EU no matter what” type, is His kind of “enlightened leader”.

Nigel Farage, not so much. And I’m pretty sure He takes a dim view of Sir Sean Connery’s support for Scot independence, too.

clear ether

eon

eon on June 10, 2013 at 2:27 PM

Cameron himself insists that nothing illegal took place:

I’m really getting tired of these tyrants, after getting caught, assuring us that they are not doing anything wrong. That we should trust them.

Sorry we’ve got a trust deficit right now.

Happy Nomad on June 10, 2013 at 2:29 PM

Diplomacy Ya’ll…

workingclass artist on June 10, 2013 at 2:31 PM

As long as al Qaeda is on the run, “what difference does it make”, right Mr. Obama?

Rovin on June 10, 2013 at 2:26 PM

Except that if Al Qaeda is on the run and the war on terrorism over, what is the justification for essentially recording the metadata on every single phone call made in the United States? Didn’t stop the Boston Marathon bombing. Didn’t help locating the terrorist even though he was using his cell phone while that manhunt was going on.

It would seem there is no justification for continuing with PRISM if our security concerns have been lessened with this administration.

Happy Nomad on June 10, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Blimey.

Del Dolemonte on June 10, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Brits and the rest of Europe have been voting away their rights far longer than we have, and now they expect the few they have left to be respected? How silly.

RadClown on June 10, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Anybody got any idea how many people have access to the vast data that the NSA is/has accumulated..?

d1carter on June 10, 2013 at 2:37 PM

I’m really getting tired of these tyrants, after getting caught, assuring us that they are not doing anything wrong. That we should trust them.

Sorry we’ve got a trust deficit right now.

Happy Nomad on June 10, 2013 at 2:29 PM

Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity.[1] Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

The term “gaslighting” comes from the play Gas Light and its film adaptations. The term is now also used in clinical and research literature.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

“You didn’t build that.”

“That didn’t happen.”

“It was legal, under the authority given to us by Congress. And we didn’t actually do it, anyway.”

As for “bizarre incidents”, define what would constitute “bizarre” with this bunch. Compared to their behavior to this point.

clear ether

eon

eon on June 10, 2013 at 2:37 PM

THIS is a most excellent article and puts things in the proper context:

http://davidsimon.com/we-are-shocked-shocked/

crosspatch on June 10, 2013 at 2:38 PM

Conversely, does the US have any laws prohibiting the government from using intel developed by our partners in the UK or elsewhere that would otherwise violate law in the US based on how it was collected? Obviously the evidence might not be usable in court, but that kind of data might be used as probable cause to seek warrants here, depending on just how objectionable the source might be. A sophisticated use of such sharing might produce what Alfred Hitchcock called “criss-cross” in Strangers on a Train (and hilariously parodied in the comedy Throw Momma From the Train).

US & Britain: “We can’t spy on our own citizens, so we’ll spy on each others and give each other the intel.”

That just makes me feel so much better. /sarc

rbj on June 10, 2013 at 2:39 PM

Exactly, Deano.

They let terrorists go if they publicly act out in the UK and the US so they avoid being called racists. And they trust the secret magical power of the computer to do their dirty work for them.

How many more will have to die?

PattyJ on June 10, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Remember the IRS leadership still maintains there was no “targeting”…

d1carter on June 10, 2013 at 2:41 PM

It would be smarter for the UK, and all Western nations, to simply stop all Muslim immigration and deport all Muslims back to their countries of origin or their parents’ country of origin.

We don’t need more immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants.

Charlemagne on June 10, 2013 at 2:41 PM

I am certainly glad that all of our rogue government employees are low level…just think how bad these scandals would be if the rogue employees were very high level.

d1carter on June 10, 2013 at 2:43 PM

General David Petraeus, one of America’s most renowned warriors and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, will later today provide a far more sobering assessment of why we cannot afford to be complacent about the threat Islamist terrorism poses to our security.

If our elected “leaders” were actually interested in protecting us from Islamic terrorism and other crimes, their first priority would be to ENFORCE OUR CURRENT LAWS AGAINST ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION.

Having a functioning Visa Entry/Exit system would be a lot more effective and less expensive, than creating a system to monitor all U.S. Citizens.

wren on June 10, 2013 at 2:46 PM

US & Britain: “We can’t spy on our own citizens, so we’ll spy on each others and give each other the intel.”

That just makes me feel so much better. /sarc

rbj on June 10, 2013 at 2:39 PM

Keep in mind, it was the Brits who first tumbled to Klaus Fuchs being a Soviet spy, and informed us of that fact. Which led the FBI directly to David Greenglass, Harry Gold, and finally Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Fuchs was sending atomic secrets to Moscow the whole time he worked for the Manhattan Project during the war. It was only in 1950, when he was nailed doing so while working for the British “Tube Alloys” project, that the U.S. authorities learned what he’d been up to for over a decade.

Predictably, the FBI tried to claim they’d broken the Rosenberg ring by snagging Col. Rudolf Abel. Who was, BTW, given up by a defector, Reino Hayhanen. Trouble is, they got the Rosenbergs in 1953, and only got Hayhanen’s info in ’54. It turns out that the Rosenberg ring and Abel’s had been in contact the whole time, and the Bureau never noticed Abel & Co. until they were ratted out by the defector.

Moral; It’s good to have friends, but you need to do your own due diligence, too.

Like maybe looking for people who actually are avowed enemies, rather than just randomly “sampling” everybody in the Greater United States telephone directory.

clear ether

eon

eon on June 10, 2013 at 2:54 PM

Crosspatch on June 10, 2013 at 2:38

Excellent read.

jimver on June 10, 2013 at 2:57 PM

Having a functioning Visa Entry/Exit system would be a lot more effective and less expensive, than creating a system to monitor all U.S. Citizens.

wren on June 10, 2013 at 2:46 PM

“But not multicultural, not able to ensure our Eternal Power, and not nearly as much fun.”

/Progressives being honest for a change

clear ether

eon

eon on June 10, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Anything Petraeus says we must assume is being done under duress. I suspect that the poor sob is still being blackmailed.

slickwillie2001 on June 10, 2013 at 3:21 PM

But this does raise an interesting question about intelligence sharing and partnerships.  If the NSA developed the intelligence on British suspects and handed it over to the UK, would that really violate British law — or does British law only prohibit the Brits from developing that themselves?  That kind of sharing allows for all sorts of plausible-deniability opportunities that governments could use to get around restrictions.

Like I said the other day, this arrangement is about 15 years old, long before WOT :

Remember echelon? Started under Clinton. To get it past the privacy watchdogs, he promised that it would only eavesdrop using keywords etc to trigger recording on international calls coming into the US. They would also share the info with Britain and other select countries. No privacy concerns for Americans right?The UK also used the technology to do the exact same thing and only record incoming calls. And they would share Intel with the US and other select countries. No privacy concerns for the British right?Nice Intel arrangement to spy all calls based on key spoken words from anywhere without any pesky warrant. In fact once you receive Intel from another country that you can’t get without warrant is now the basis of getting a warrant for direct surveillance. And this was back in the day when a 4GB harddrive was state of art; as was isdn for high speed interwebs, if you weren’t stuck on 56kb telephone modems
AH_C on June 8, 2013 at 3:39 PM

AH_C on June 10, 2013 at 3:30 PM

What is it that RWM calls Cameron? “Muffin”?

steebo77 on June 10, 2013 at 2:03 PM

I think you mean “Muppet”. A common British insult.

Mobes on June 10, 2013 at 3:52 PM

I was wondering how long it would take before other countries started asking questions about how much of their phone & internet communications were being scooped up in US intel operations.

For example, records for all cell phone (and other?) calls made by UN officials around NYC?

taznar on June 10, 2013 at 4:04 PM

AH_C on June 8, 2013 at 3:39 PM

AH_C on June 10, 2013 at 3:30 PM

Yes, Echelon had/has massive reach, has been discussed extensively, and as you noted was developed long before we had the connectivity and monitoring capacities that are commonplace today.

The only thing I am truly surprised about with this NSA incident is how many people seem to be surprised by it. As I have noted elsewhere, the tools for data-mining programmes involving phone numbers, licence plates, credit cards, booking records and such like, have been being developed for years, which implies that there are massive data sets to apply them to. It has never seemed likely or plausible to me that the intelligence agencies of the UK and USA were not able to gather this data, or that they would refrain once the technology was in place.

Anyway, its good that these surveillance programmes are now being discussed more widely.

YiZhangZhe on June 12, 2013 at 4:56 PM