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MI5 Chief’s Condemnation of Snowden’s Leaks Is an Unabashed Attack on Journalism

MI5 chief Andrew Parker (Official British Government Photo)

The director of MI5 delivered a speech in the United Kingdom, which emphasized the threat of terrorism to the UK and also focused upon the “damage” the publication of material from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had caused the intelligence agency’s ability to protect the country.

The Guardian was never named in the speech at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, but the words MI5 chief Andrew Parker spoke were intended for journalists, editors and staff with the media organization that has continued to publish documents on surveillance programs, which the NSA or the UK’s spying agency, GCHQ, are involved.

In a piece of classic state-identified journalism, The Telegraph in the UK began their story on Parker’s speech with this sentence, “Andrew Parker, the director general of the Security Service, said the exposing of intelligence techniques, by the Guardian newspaper, had given fanatics the ability to evade the spy agencies.” [It said Snowden used his position to steal documents and Russia was “sheltering” Snowden when, in fact, he has been granted temporary asylum.]

Parker, as he was finishing his speech, declared:

What we know about the terrorists, and the detail of the capabilities we use against them together represent our margin of advantage. That margin gives us the prospect of being able to detect their plots and stop them. But that margin is under attack. Reporting from GCHQ is vital to the safety of this country and its citizens. GCHQ intelligence has played a vital role in stopping many of the terrorist plots that MI5 and the police have tackled in the past decade. We are facing an international threat and GCHQ provides many of the intelligence leads upon which we rely. It makes a vital contribution to most of our high priority investigations. It causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques. Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists. It is the gift they need to evade us and strike at will. Unfashionable as it might seem, that is why we must keep secrets secret, and why not doing so causes such harm. [emphasis added]

In so many words, Parker essentially said The Guardian had helped and was helping terrorists escape GCHQ surveillance. He planted the idea in the mind of all individuals listening that terrorists could attack at any moment because of The Guardian. After all, he implied that The Guardian had eroded the “margin of advantage” intelligence agencies have over terrorists to detect plots and stop them.

Not a word was based in reason because the true breadth and scope of GCHQ’s capabilities remains unknown. A blueprint for what the agency can do will never be published in the free press in Britain or any other country.

Each story published aims to promote debate on the powers being granted to security services or agencies. However, that is exactly what Parker and the MI5 apparently do not want citizens in the UK to be able to have.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."