Former MI6 Chief was aware of ‘some’ US renditions, reveals questioning outside UK requires political cover. Blair denies any involvement in renditions.

Sir Richard Dearlove,, MI6 chief from 1999 to 2004, said in an interview with Philippe Sands at The Guardian’s Hay festival that any cases involving British nationals or residents being taken to foreign countries for questioning under the American extraordinary rendition programme would have needed ministerial approval, saying that “the intelligence and security community act in sensitive situations with political cover.”
His insistence that MI6 would have sought ministerial approval if it needed to act “in difficult circumstances” — such as being involved in questioning terrorist suspects held abroad — came as Tony Blair was quoted as saying that he knew nothing of Britain’s involvement in extraordinary rendition.

“First of all, really wait for the facts. I didn’t know about those things, incidentally. But my strong advice is: wait for the facts.”

Blair also refused to condemn the controversial practice, saying

“Look, we could go into a whole debate about renditions, and so on. I think you’ll find that the Obama government is going to continue [with them] in certain circumstances anyway. It’s only ever journalists who ask me questions about issues like that. It’s not an issue [with people] out there.”

Asked whether growing evidence pointing to British collusion in torture meant that there had been ministerial sign-off from Tony Blair’s government he replied:

“That’s a speculative question, [but] there should have been.”

As Philippe Sands comments:

We got insights, some with potentially significant consequences. C confirmed, for example, the British intelligence services’ need for political cover. If they were involved in the questioning of detainees held overseas by the US in the global war on terror, then it would only have been with the approval of the British government. There was no denial that in 2002 such approval may even have gone as high as the prime minister, Tony Blair.

When Sands asked Sir Richard if he was aware of rendition being used he replied:

“On rendition we absolutely took a different view [than the US],” he said. “We were aware that rendition was going on but not the details. We were aware of some cases.” He also revealed that Britain and the US had met in June 2001, before the September 11 attacks, to discuss fears of a major terror attack. “It was a routine meeting that turned into something that wasn’t routine,” he said.

None involved British nationals but he said that the Americans did not pass a list of names to MI6.

Sir Richard said that the British position was that torture could never be condoned.

“I personally do not know of any violations,” he said. “We don’t use torture and we are actively opposed to it. In instances where we know that, let’s say, a foreign government is not handling a case in line with our legal procedures then we would express our disagreement and our disapproval.”

The former head of MI6 seemed to join earlier concerns voiced by a former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, when he talked about the big brother surveillance society and the ‘loss of liberties’ in Britain.

Sir Richard said the number of stop-and-searches were ‘mind-boggling’ and added:

‘That may well be an abuse of the law.’

He also spoke out against CCTV-cameras, saying that the number used across the country was concerning because there is little legislation to govern their use. And he said he found other areas of state intrusion ‘striking and disturbing’.

‘I’m a great believer in proportionality and as a citizen I worry about the loss of my liberties.

‘But you know we have constructed a society which has great technical competence and some of that competence isn’t particularly regulated.’

Dearlove said that he felt he US’s response to 9/11 had been disproportionate.

“I’m a great believer in proportionality,” he said. “And while what happened on 9/11 was a dreadful and serious event, in no way did it threaten the integrity of western civilisation. It was not a nuclear attack on New York, let’s be clear on this.”

Philippe sands ends with some wise words:

It’s a shame that C chooses not to have a more public face. More than one question from the audience expressed the view that it would be better if we heard directly from the heads of our intelligence services, rather than through the filter of their political masters.

2 Responses

  1. […] who ask me questions about issues like that. It’s not an issue [with people] out there.” – Tony Blair on rendition, torture and whatever other nonsensical trivialities journalists bug him […]

  2. […] to torture Posted on 18 June, 2009 by Mathias Vermeulen The Guardian obtained a letter from Tony Blair to the UK’s intelligence and security committee, dated 24 May 2004, which reveals that the […]

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