British officials complained to U.S. diplomats about secret American spy flights using foreign U.K. airbases, fearing that the data collected during those missions could implicate their country in potential human rights violations, according to secret diplomatic memos released by WikiLeaks.
The British officials demanded from American diplomats that all such flights in the future be cleared by London, according to the cables sent by the U.S. Embassy in London in 2008, and which were released by WikiLeaks on Wednesday.
American officials dismissed the British concerns and demands as burdensome and obstructive to counter-terrorism efforts, the cables showed.
At the heart of the dispute were U.S. spy flights over Turkey, northern Iraq and Lebanon that used the British airbase in Cyprus. The planes collected intelligence that was passed on to third party governments including Lebanon.
American diplomats wrote that the British feared that the U.K. could unwittingly aid torture because of that.
British officials pressed U.S. diplomats to ensure that no detainee captured as a result of the intelligence gathered during those flights were tortured. The cables did not say what kind of intelligence the spy planes gathered, or whether anyone was tortured as a result.
The British officials also demanded that all future spy flights using British territories be cleared by London.
“It is important for us to be satisfied that HMG (her majesty’s government) is not indirectly aiding the commission of unlawful acts by those governments on the basis of the information gathered through the assistance we provide to the U.S.,” Will Jessett, then the British director of counter-terrorism at the Defence Ministry, wrote in a letter to the American Embassy.
But Richard LeBaron, a U.S. diplomat, wrote to his colleagues in Washington that the demands were “burdensome” and “unrealistic.”
“Embassy London ... recommend that DOD (Department of Defense) and State (Department) officials raise with U.K. counterparts the concern that excessive conditions such as described above will hinder, if not obstruct, our cooperative counter-terrorism efforts,” he wrote.
“While we share HMG’s concerns that human rights not be sacrificed for the sake of CT (counter-terrorism), we cannot take a risk-avoidance approach to CT in which the fear of potentially violating human rights allows terrorism to proliferate in Lebanon,” Mr. LeBaron was quoted as saying.