LONDON, May 21 (RIA Novosti), Mark Hirst – The UK media are complicit in blocking news about the extent of state surveillance of the British public, a former MI5 intelligence officer has told RIA Novosti.
“The UK has the most legally protected and least legally accountable intelligence community of any western country, and we have seen that Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has seen this as a positive selling-point to the NSA,” Annie Machon, a former British Intelligence Officer, told RIA Novosti.
Machon was speaking after evidence presented to the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Tuesday) by anti-surveillance campaigner Mick Napier to Members of the Scottish Parliament revealed the existence of a Defence Advisory Notice (DA Notice) that effectively censors the British media from reporting any further details of the PRISM global surveillance program.
The existence and scope of the PRISM program, that gathers emails, video messages, photos and chat messages of millions of internet users, was first disclosed by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Despite huge political and public controversy generated by the Snowden disclosures it later emerged the UKs intelligence listening station, GCHQ, had made a formal request to the NSA to extend “unsupervised access” to the PRISM program for its spies.
According to Machon the subsequent decision to issue a DA Notice covering stories on PRISM was designed to close down public and political scrutiny of the issues raised by unprecedented state surveillance of the entire population.
“The DA notice system is supposedly voluntary - and indeed shows that the UK media is complicit about self-censoring in the name of protecting "national security" - a nebulous and legally undefined concept under UK law,” Machon told RIA Novosti.
“I think it is wrong that the media act as a blockage in the free flow to the citizens of the UK of information very much in the public interest,” Machon added.
But Air Vice Marshall Andrew Vallance, Secretary of the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee, the body that oversees the DA Notice system, told RIA Novosti that this method of censoring news coverage of intelligence activity was an entirely “voluntary arrangement”.
“The DA Notices carry no force in law,” Vallance told RIA Novisti.
“It’s a purely voluntary arrangement between the British media and the British Government.
“The advisory notices that we issue are very general. They are designed to alert journalists and editors that there are sensitivities in this area,” Vallance added.
The DA Notice Advisory sent to all UK editors on 7th June 2013 did not specify PRISM, but advised the UK media “not to publish” specific covert operations and “methods of the security services… including the interception of communications and their targets.”
Despite the “voluntary” nature of the system Vallance told RIA Novosti that it was unusual for any UK editor to ignore a DA Notice.
“It happens rarely,” Vallance told RIA Novosti. “There have only been two or three occasions over the past 10 years where it has happened.
When a particular Editor feels the wider public interest is more important than the security concern.
“We try very hard to avoid stopping stories,” Vallance added. “All we are interested in is taking out pieces of information in them that would lead to greater damage to UK national security.”