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MI5 chief says Edward Snowden revelations aided terrorism

  • Getty Images/Guardian

The new head of MI5 made Edward Snowden the target of his first public statements since taking over as the UK's spy chief. Director-general Andrew Parker seemed at pains to vilify the actions of Snowden and The Guardian (without explicitly naming them) in exposing the scale and techniques of state surveillance. He implied that the whistleblower's actions had increased the terror threat to the country.

"It causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques," Parker said, seemingly oblivious to the widespread public anger and shock that resulted from the newspaper's revelations about government surveillance. "Such information hands the advantage to the terrorists. It is the gift they need to evade us and strike at will. Unfashionable as it might seem, that is why we must keep secrets secret, and why not doing so causes such harm."

In effect, Parker was asking the public to let the intelligence services do whatever they feel is necessary for national security, and that it was unhelpful and dangerous to question their methods, which he described as the "margin of advantage" over terrorists. "That margin gives us the prospect of being able to detect their plots and stop them. But that margin is under attack," he said.

The speech highlighted the problems of a secret intelligence agency in a democracy. The security agency demands the kind of carte blanche powers that would alarm the average citizen, and it is the chief's job to maintain anxiety levels to justify their methods.

“Our task is getting harder," Parker asserted. "The threats are more diverse and diffuse. It remains the case that there are several thousand Islamist extremists here who see the British people as a legitimate target."

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