What the papers say

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MPs seek to censor the media

Exclusive by Kim Sengupta
The Independent, Monday, 10 November 2008

Britain's security agencies and police would be given unprecedented and legally binding powers to ban the media from reporting matters of national security, under proposals being discussed in Whitehall.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, the parliamentary watchdog of the intelligence and security agencies which has a cross-party membership from both Houses, wants to press ministers to introduce legislation that would prevent news outlets from reporting stories deemed by the Government to be against the interests of national security.

The committee also wants to censor reporting of police operations that are deemed to have implications for national security. The ISC is to recommend in its next report, out at the end of the year, that a commission be set up to look into its plans, according to senior Whitehall sources.

The ISC holds huge clout within Whitehall. It receives secret briefings from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and is highly influential in forming government policy. Kim Howells, a respected former Foreign Office minister, was recently appointed its chairman. Under the existing voluntary code of conduct, known as the DA-Notice system, the Government can request that the media does not report a story. However, the committee's members are particularly worried about leaks, which, they believe, could derail investigations and the reporting of which needs to be banned by legislation.

Civil liberties groups say these restrictions would be "very dangerous" and "damaging for public accountability". They also point out that censoring journalists when the leaks come from officials is unjustified.

But the committee, in its last annual report, has already signalled its intention to press for changes. It states: "The current system for handling national security information through DA-Notices and the [intelligence and security] Agencies' relationship with the media more generally, is not working as effectively as it might and this is putting lives at risk." According to senior Whitehall sources the ISC is likely to advocate tighter controls on the DA-Notice system - formerly known as D-Notice - which operates in co-operation and consultation between the Government and the media.

The committee has focused on one particular case to highlight its concern: an Islamist plot to kidnap and murder a British serviceman in 2007, during which reporters were tipped off about the imminent arrest of suspects in Birmingham, a security operation known as "Gamble". The staff in the office of the then home secretary, John Reid, and the local police were among those accused of being responsible - charges they denied. An investigation by Scotland Yard failed to find the source of the leak.

The then director general of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, was among those who complained to the ISC. "We were very angry, but it is not clear who we should be angry with, that most of the story of the arrests in Op Gamble were in the media very, very fast ... So the case was potentially jeopardised by the exposure of what the story was. My officers and the police were jeopardised by them being on operations when the story broke. The strategy of the police for interrogating those arrested was blown out of the water, and my staff felt pretty depressed ... that this has happened."

The ISC report said the DA-Notice system "provides advice and guidance to the media about defence and counter-terrorism information, whilst the system is voluntary, has no legal authority, and the final responsibility for deciding whether or not to publish rests solely with the editor or publisher concerned. The system has been effective in the past. However, the Cabinet Secretary told us ... this is no longer the case: 'I think we have problems now.'"

The human rights lawyer Louise Christian said: "This would be a very dangerous development. We need media scrutiny for public accountability. We can see this from the example, for instance, of the PhD student in Nottingham who was banged up for six days without charge because he downloaded something from the internet for his thesis. The only reason this came to light was because of the media attention to the case."

A spokesman for the human rights group Liberty said: "There is a difficult balance between protecting integrity and keeping the public properly informed. Any extension of the DA-Notice scheme requires a more open parliamentary debate."

DA-Notice: a gagging by consent
The D-Notice system was set up in 1912 when the War Office (the Ministry of Defence in its previous incarnation) began issuing censorship orders to newspapers on stories involving national security.

In 1993 it became known as a DA-Notice with four senior civil servants, with an eminent military figure as secretary, and 13 members nominated by the media to form the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee.

Contrary to popular conception DA-Notices are a request and not legally enforceable. Civil servants fear making the agreement legally binding would lead to hostility from the media. There would be apprehension among journalists about new restrictions, as the committee has in recent times been robust in resisting pressure from the Government to send DA-Notices if it thinks the motives are political. At present most DA-Notices are issued regarding military missions, anti-terrorist operations at home and espionage.

Response to 9/11 was 'huge overreaction' - ex-MI5 chief

Richard Norton-Taylor, Saturday 18 October 2008

A former head of MI5 today describes the response to the September 11 2001 attacks on the US as a "huge overreaction" and says the invasion of Iraq influenced young men in Britain who turned to terrorism.

In an interview with the Guardian, Stella Rimington calls al-Qaida's attack on the US "another terrorist incident" but not qualitatively different from any others.

"That's not how it struck me. I suppose I'd lived with terrorist events for a good part of my working life and this was as far as I was concerned another one," she says.

In common with Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, who retired as MI5's director general last year, Rimington, who left 12 years ago, has already made it clear she abhorred "war on terror" rhetoric and the government's abandoned plans to hold terrorism suspects for 42 days without charge.

Today, she goes further by criticising politicians including Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, for trying to outbid each other in their opposition to terrorism and making national security a partisan issue.

It all began, she suggests, with September 11. "National security has become much more of a political issue than it ever was in my day," she says. "Parties are tending to use it as a way of trying to get at the other side. You know, 'We're more tough on terrorism than you are.' I think that's a bad move, quite frankly."

Rimington mentions Guantánamo Bay, the practice of extraordinary rendition, and the invasion of Iraq - three issues which the majority in Britain's security and intelligence establishment opposed privately at the time.

She challenges claims, notably made by Tony Blair, that the war in Iraq was not related to the radicalisation of Muslim youth in Britain.

Asked what impact the war had on the terrorist threat, she replies: "Well, I think all one can do is look at what those people who've been arrested or have left suicide videos say about their motivation. And most of them, as far as I'm aware, say that the war in Iraq played a significant part in persuading them that this is the right course of action to take."

She adds: "So I think you can't write the war in Iraq out of history. If what we're looking at is groups of disaffected young men born in this country who turn to terrorism, then I think to ignore the effect of the war in Iraq is misleading."

UK needs new agreement with Iraq over troops, says minister

Bill Rammell, new minister for Middle East, says continued presence of British troops in Iraq is critically important
Hélène Mulholland and agencies, Tuesday 14 October 2008

Securing a new agreement with the Iraqi government within the next few weeks to allow the continued presence of British troops in the country is of "critical" importance, a Foreign Office minister said today.

Bill Rammell, the new minister for the Middle East, said that the British government was working towards a new, "civilian-led" relationship with Iraq in 2009 as the Iraqi forces increasingly take charge of the security situation.

But without a Status of Forces Agreement, the UK would have to seek the rollover of its United Nations mandate to maintain a military presence in Iraq, which Rammell said would send out an "unfortunate" message and undermine progress towards normality in the country.

The UN mandate runs out at the end of the year, and there are concerns that a bid to renew it may face opposition in the security council from Russia or others opposed to the US-led war.

Negotiations between the US and the Iraqi government over a State of Forces Agreement for American troops have been stuck for months on the question of legal jurisdiction and immunity for possible crimes.

Rammell, who is making his first visit to Baghdad, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme said the government was seeking to secure a Status of Forces Agreement for British troops when the UN mandate runs out at the end of this year.

"The Americans are currently in detailed discussions. As that concludes, as I hope it will very shortly, we will then secure our own arrangements," he said.

"I think that will be very important because it will be a further demonstration that actually the troops are no longer here at the behest of the UN. It is an explicit agreement that's been negotiated and agreed with the Iraqi government and a further indication that the Iraqis are transforming their situation and becoming a more mature democracy and government ...

"What is critical is that in the next few days and weeks we resolve the issue, because were we to reach the end of the year and had to roll over the UN mandate, I think that would send out an unfortunate message that would undermine the genuine progress that is being made in taking Iraq forward and the Iraqis increasingly taking on their own responsibility in terms of governance."

The foreign minister said that he expected there to be no difference to the US approach to obtaining a Status of Forces Agreement for their own troops whether Barack Obama or John McCain won the November 4 presidential election.

And he restated Gordon Brown's July prediction that next year would see a "fundamental change of mission" for British troops in Iraq.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, was yesterday quoted as saying that Britain's military presence in Basra was "not necessary for maintaining security and control", though he added that there might be a need for their experience in training.

Rammell said Maliki's comments acknowledged the shift that had taken place over the last year whereby British troops had moved from a combat role to one based much more on training and mentoring.

British troops had trained 20,000 Iraqi troops, which had helped the Iraqis to secure their own situation.

Rammell said: "As a result of that kind of initiative, the security situation in Basra has transformed in recent months.

"Our forces are concluding their task, so at that point we do expect in 2009 a fundamental change in mission as we make the transformation to a long-term civilian-led future relationship with Iraq ...

"I think we will be able to do that really fundamental shift from a combat role to training and mentoring because we are - despite some continuing difficulties - seeing a huge and positive change in Iraq."

He said violence was at the lowest levels since early 2004, Iraqi forces were in charge of 11 out of 18 provinces, an election law recently passed would hopefully in a short time lead to provincial elections, and there was much stronger engagement from Arab neighbours of Iraq.

British troops 'should go home'

British troops should leave Iraq because they are no longer needed to maintain security, Iraq's prime minister has said.

Nouri al-Maliki told the Times there might still be a need for their experience in training Iraqi forces. He said a "page had been turned" in the country's relationship with the UK. But he criticised Britain's decision to move forces from a base at a palace in Basra to an airport on the edge of the city last year. He said: "They stayed away from the confrontation, which gave the gangs and militia the chance to control the city.

"The situation deteriorated so badly that corrupted youths were carrying swords and cutting the throats of women and children. The citizens of Basra called out for our help . . . and we moved to regain the city." On the presence of British troops in southern Iraq, Mr al-Maliki said: "We thank them for the role they have played, but I think that their stay is not necessary for maintaining security and control."

He said he looked forward to a friendly relationship with the UK government. "The Iraqi arena is open for British companies and British friendship, for economic exchange and positive co-operation in science and education," he said.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has signalled he expects troop numbers in Iraq to be cut next year. It is thought the 4,100 British troops will be reduced as they take on a more diplomatic role. Mr al-Maliki said he was concerned discussions over the continued presence of UK troops beyond the end of year have not yet begun.

The UN Security Council mandate authorising the presence of UK forces in Iraq is due to expire on 31 December. A status of forces agreement is needed to allow their continued presence and discussions over its renewal have not yet started, Mr al-Maliki said.

The US government is in negotiations with Iraq over the status of its troops after the end of the year. He suggested the financial crisis had distracted the British from the talks. Without an agreement, or an extended UN mandate, UK troops would "lose their legal cover and have to leave Iraq", he said. "To avoid reaching the critical deadline, I wish for the negotiations between the two sides to start quickly to determine what elements of the force remain and their specialities," he added.

An MoD spokesman said the government was in discussion with coalition partners and the government of Iraq over the status of forces agreement. "This is with a view to ensuring that any future UK military assistance to Iraq remains on a sound legal footing," he said. "We intend to have agreements with the Government of Iraq in place before then, in order to ensure that any future military assistance to Iraq remains on a sound legal footing."

Tories promise Iraq war inquiry

David Cameron would set up inquiry into war as one of his first acts as PM, William Hague tells conference
Andrew Sparrow, senior political correspondent. Wednesday 01 October 2008.

David Cameron would set up an inquiry into the Iraq war as one of his first acts as prime minister, William Hague told the conference today.

The shadow foreign secretary said that privy counsellors would investigate "the origins and conduct of the war so that all can learn from its mistakes and apply the lessons as soon as possible".

Hague explained: "We supported the decision to remove Saddam Hussein, but we all know that an occupation of Iraq that was better conceived and implemented could have spared so many the agony and bloodshed of the last five years."

The government has indicated that it is in principle in favour of an inquiry, but that it should not start while British troops are still engaged in action in Iraq.

The Tories think it should start now. Hague said: "I make it clear today that if [ministers] do not establish such an inquiry, one of the first acts of a Conservative government will be to do so."

Hague also said that prisoner abuse scandals during the Iraq conflict had "done as much damage to the western world as any battlefield defeat".

He went on: "The society we live in, which seeks dignity for all, freedom from arbitrary power and the promotion of political freedom and human rights, must always be our inspiration, and we betray that inspiration if even for a day we turn into our enemy."

In a session devoted to foreign affairs, Hague renewed his demands for a referendum on the EU's Lisbon treaty, even thought it has now been ratified by the British government.

He said that, if the treaty had not been ratified by all other EU member states when the Conservatives were elected, they would hold a referendum and urge the British public to say no.

But he would not specify what the Tories would do about the treaty if it had been fully ratified and implemented throughout the EU by the time of the general election.

"If in the end this treaty is ratified by all 27 nations of the EU then clearly it would lack democratic legitimacy here in Britain, political integration would have gone too far, and we would set out at that point the consequences of that and how we would intend to proceed," Hague said.

In the past Hague has said that in those circumstances he would "not let matters rest". Many Tories would like a Cameron government to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU, in effect forcing the EU to rewrite the Lisbon treaty, but Hague is reluctant to be explicit because the chances of getting other member states to agree to Tory demands would be slim.

Earlier Andrew Mitchell, the shadow international development secretary, said that the Conservatives would end Britain's aid programme to China - currently worth £38m a year - and instead spend the money on poorer countries.

Pointing out that China spent £20bn on the Olympics, Mitchell went on: "Not a great surprise, perhaps, for a country that is powering out of poverty, had a trade surplus of £175bn last year and put a man in space last week.

"But many British taxpayers would be astonished to learn that we are still giving aid to China.

"Of course we will work closely with China as a partner, but not patronise a country which over the last few years has lifted hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty."

Mitchell also said the Tories remained committing to raising spending on aid to the UN target of 0.7% of national income.

Pakistan: US drone strike kills six people

A missile strike by an unmanned US drone inside Pakistani territory has killed at least six people, the country's intelligence officials says
Aislinn Simpson. Telegraph, Wednesday 01 October 2008

The missiles struck the home of a local Taliban commander before midnight on Tuesday near Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan - a known haven for the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters near to the Afghan border - according to field agents.

It is believed that up to nine people have been injured in the attack, which will ratchet up tensions between the Pakistani and US governments.

It is the latest in a series of US raids that have been condemned by the Pakistani government, which is an uneasy ally in Washington's seven-year "war on terror".

The raids follow American frustration at Pakistan's failure to kill or capture militant leaders whom they accuse of sending fighters and arms into Afghanistan, where foreign troop casualties are escalating.

They include a raid by commandos on Sept 3 in which several Pakistanis were killed.
Pakistani leaders insist only their forces are allowed to carry out operations inside Pakistan, and its troops recently fired warning shots at US helicopters flying over the ill-marked frontier.

The strike came amid reports that the man thought to have been responsible for the assassination of former leader Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's top Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, had fallen ill and died.

Eisa Khan, a doctor for the Taliban, denied the reports, saying: "I spoke to him today at 9 a.m. on the telephone, and he told me that he is surprised over rumors about his death."
Mr Khan said Mr Mehsud had an unspecified kidney problem, but gave no more details.