Malcolm Rifkind, the lawmaker running the parliamentary committee that oversees British spies, said Edward Snowden’s leaks about the extent of surveillance by British and American agencies was an “attack on the U.S.”
The Intelligence and Security Committee is charged with providing oversight to the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, Britain’s secret agencies. The committee is conducting an inquiry into the revelations by Snowden, a former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, about the extent of surveillance.
In an advance text of a lecture to be delivered today at Oxford University, Rifkind said he can’t “anticipate what our conclusions will be.” He then defended Britain’s agencies, saying their “capabilities have been designed to pursue their lawful, narrowly defined objectives.”
“The insidious use of language such as ‘mass surveillance’ and ‘Orwellian’ by many of Mr. Snowden’s supporters to describe the actions of Western agencies blurs, unforgivably, the distinction between a system that uses the state to protect the people, and one that uses the state to protect itself against the people,” Rifkind said. “It is ironic that Mr. Snowden, in the name of privacy and the rule of law, chose China and Russia from which to launch his attack on the U.S.”
Rifkind denied the suggestion of “some kind of uniquely British complacency” about spying, saying that the U.K. is more relaxed about surveillance because Britons associated spying with the World War II operation to break the German Enigma code, “which shortened the war and ensured the preservation of our liberty.”
Snowden fled to Hong Kong and then to Russia after leaking classified documents on the NSA spying programs. He faces espionage charges in the U.S.