They Can’t Keep Secrets'>The Brits Move Forward with Secret Court Plan–Because, We Claim, They Can’t Keep Secrets

There’s one more tangential detail to the UndieBomb plot that deserves mention.

The involvement of a Saudi-handled infiltrator in the plot was revealed by May 8. The Brits knew then that it was not just the Saudis and CIA whose operation had been exposed, but MI6 and MI5, who had been involved in recruiting the guy.

The spy who helped Western intelligence agencies thwart a plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner was a British national of Middle Eastern origin, sources tell NBC News.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, also say that British intelligence was “heavily involved” in recruiting the spy, who has not yet been identified publicly, and penetrating the plot by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to detonate a new, more sophisticated underwear bomb aboard a U.S. jetliner.

Mind you, we didn’t learn that until May 11. But the British government? They already knew it.

Which means they knew it before the Queen gave new emphasis to the plan to expand the use of secret courts in counterterrorism matters.

My government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.

Remember, British Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is ostensibly doing this primarily because the fact that the British told us Binyam Mohamed’s treatment might amount to torture was revealed in his suit against the British government.

Plans to expand secret hearings into civil courts have been accelerated by the government. Rather than moving to the preparatory white paper stage, a justice and security bill will be put through parliament this session.

The government has come under severe pressure from MI5 and MI6 to impose a system of secret hearings in courts ever since disclosures that the security and intelligence agencies had been involved in the brutal treatment, and knew of the torture, of UK residents and citizens detained by the CIA.
[snip]
Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, has said the powers are needed to reassure other countries, particularly the United States, that they can continue to share intelligence without fear of it being exposed in British courts. Evidence emerged during a high court hearing brought by lawyers for Binyam Mohamed, the UK resident held in Guantánamo Bay.

That is, the British are ostensibly doing this because we’re pissed at them because they didn’t keep one of our secrets about torture.

After the British role in this plot was revealed, a bunch of British spooks have complained about how cross they are that we–or someone–revealed their secrets.

Nigel Inkster, a former assistant chief of MI6, said in a Twitter message: “The revelations about the British agent in AQ [al Qaeda] remind us that Beltway leaking is a major security threat,” referring to the area of Washington DC.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, said that leaks about operations could be “extremely harmful.”

“It can prevent the effective involvement of intelligence officers or agencies in operations that are designed to save lives either in this country or other countries,” he added.

“Whether a leak arises in the US, the UK or elsewhere it is equally serious.”

Hmmm. Based on the assumption that we just exposed one of their agents, maybe the Brits should rethink whether perverting their justice system will do anything to help keep American–or British–secrets.

And barring that, maybe Cameron’s Administration ought to admit they’re not doing this at our behest–we can’t keep our own damn secrets. They’re just doing it because they can.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

3 replies
  1. tjallen says:

    I wonder what country can emerge as the beacon of Liberty, now that Britain and the US are military dictatorships?

  2. Petrocelli says:

    @tjallen: Canada … just as soon as we’re done overthrowing the NeoCons in power !

    Don’t give up on France or the Occupy movement in Europe, they’ve got their second wind …

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It is tradition and a misnomer to call it the “Queen’s” speech. She delivers it, but it is entirely written by 10 Downing Street, barring the odd item she can insist upon and which Downing Street relents to include. The speech is a pro forma, public list of the prime minister’s priorities, his agenda, his budget (inclusions and exclusions, winners and losers) that the Queen’s Speech articulates.

    The Brits were always better at hiding the outing of their secrets than in keeping them in the first place. The Cambridge Spy Ring (Burgess, McLean, Philby and Blunt) cases are simply the most notorious.

    The stakes for the public now seem higher than they were during the Cold War. Then, the threat was external and overblown, a reaction to serious threats and a cover for our own excesses and constipated sense of what constitutes permitted political and economic behavior. That is, anything to the right of current thinking inside the Beltway was OK; anything to the left was an existential threat.

    Now, too, the threat is real and overblown. The external threat is dangerous, in part, because we make it so by giving those who oppose us greater reason to fear us by encircling (Iran) and killing them (Yemenis). We did that in the ’50’s and 60’s, too. Arguably, however, the greater danger now comes from the metastasis called the surveillance state, which our leaders tell us is the only means to combat “real threats”. Undiscussed is who constitutes a “real threat”, as is the consequence known to politicians and writers for a millenium. That is, any power a leader or state acquires will inevitably be used, and enemies (real or imaginary) will be generated in order to justify such use.

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