Foreign Secretary William Hague might have misled Parliament when he said Britain’s spy agency GCHQ operated within a “strong framework of democratic accountability and oversight” as leaked documents appear to suggest that the agency’s operations are actually shrouded in a “veil of secrecy”.
The Guardian claimed that it had “seen” documents according to which GCHQ’s own officials believe that the agency is getting away with “light” oversight. In remarks seized by critics to question the impartiality of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which scrutinises the work of security services, he boasted that it had always been sympathetic to their need for secrecy. Moreover, complaints against intelligence agencies were conducted under “the veil of secrecy” and the inquiry tribunal had “so far always found in our favour”, he said, painting a picture of the oversight regime quite at odd with Mr. Hague’s claim that Britain had “the strongest systems of checks and balances for secret intelligence anywhere in the world”.
Mr. Hague claimed GCHQ “complied fully” with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the Human Rights Act and the Intelligence Services Act - the three main legislations that underpin the activities GCHQ, MI5 and MI6. But, the documents suggest, he neatly sidestepped the loopholes that allow security services to get away with it.