John Stokes

Stopping US-UK intelligence cooperation is impossible

Stopping US-UK intelligence cooperation is impossible
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The idea that America threatened to withdraw intelligence cooperation if British courts released evidence of alleged torture as two High Court judges suggested earlier this week has been ridiculed by the spooks on both sides of the Atlantic.

The intelligence relationship is so close that it would be simply impossible for cooperation to stop and America would be damaged at least as much as the UK. For example, a whole floor of the National Security Agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland is staffed by spooks from GCHQ in Cheltenham. At Cheltenham itself, every intercept that goes through GCHQ’s computers is largely shared with the Americans. And both Britain and America have carved up the world between them so that intelligence gathering is not duplicated and all information gathered is shared. It was British spies in Saddam Hussein’s government that provided the best intelligence to the Americans before the current war with Iraq, and it was Britain, not America, who supplied the best human intelligence from Afghanistan prior to the invasion there.

The allegations of American pressure on Britain emerged earlier this week when two High Court judges criticised the Americans for trying to suppress evidence of torture against a British citizen, Binyam Mohamed who was held prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. It is usual for both Britain and America to request confidentiality for sensitive intelligence but this is never accompanied by threats to withdraw cooperation.

The judges say that they consulted the Foreign Office for advice about what evidence should be withheld. It is clear that the FCO must have advised that the American threat was serious. On what basis was such advice provided? Was this the usual craven Foreign Office unwilling to risk or do or say anything against America? Which official was responsible and how could he or she be so ignorant of the intelligence realities to believe the threat in the first place?