UK spy chiefs face parliament over extent of intelligence gathering
The heads of MI5, MI6 and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), appeared before a panel of MPs on the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) on Thursday.
Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, Sir John Sawers, the chief of MI6, and Sir Iain Lobban, the director of GCHQ were questioned in front of television cameras.
The committee marks the first time the heads of the three agencies have been questioned in public together.
The ISC has been tasked with carrying out an inquiry to decide whether surveillance laws are fit for purpose, especially amid the repeated scandals and revelations unveiled by the trove of documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
On Wednesday, the British ambassador to Germany, Simon McDonald was called in for an urgent meeting with the German foreign minister to explain reports that suggest there has been a “top-secret listening post” positioned on the roof of the British embassy in Berlin. This is just the latest in a series of murky revelations relating to surveillance and spying, many of which have happened between allies.
It is hoped the ISC will help to strengthen the oversight of the three agencies, to prevent any further abuses of power, without compromising national security.
However, questions are already being raised over the efficacy of the ISC after its first session concluded. Cori Crider, strategic director of legal pressure group Reprieve said: “Today’s hearing was billed as a grilling, but was nothing more than a damp squib. It gave a clear demonstration, if one were needed, of just how inadequate the ISC is as a watchdog on the intelligence services.”