Prime Minister David Cameron is satisfied with the way the work of the intelligence services is overseen, despite concerns being raised by senior Liberal Democrats in the wake of disclosures about the collection of communications data by the Government’s secret eavesdropping station GCHQ.
Nick Clegg is seeking a rethink of the way politicians oversee the agencies and Business Secretary Vince Cable said he had concerns about the level of scrutiny.
But the Prime Minister’s spokesman said there was no official Government review and Mr Cameron believed the current system works well.
Mr Cable called for “proper political oversight” of the intelligence services and said The Guardian newspaper had performed “a very considerable public service” in publishing secret material leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, which revealed the extent of mass surveillance programmes operated by the US National Security Agency and Cheltenham-based GCHQ.
The comments came as a senior Whitehall security expert said that the Snowden leaks amounted to the “most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever”.
Sir David Omand, the former head of GCHQ who was once homeland security adviser to Number 10, said the leak of tens of thousands of files by the former US intelligence operative eclipsed the Cambridge spy ring, which saw five university students recruited as Soviet spies.
Earlier this week, MI5 head Andrew Parker warned that the Snowden leaks were a “gift” to terrorists, by exposing the ‘’reach and limits’’ of the GCHQ listening post. His comments sparked criticism in some quarters of The Guardian’s decision to give Snowden publicity.
But Mr Cable defended the newspaper, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The conclusion that Nick Clegg came to and set out this morning is that we do need to have proper political oversight of the intelligence service and arguably we haven’t done until now. What they did as journalists was entirely correct and right. Mr Snowden is a different kettle of fish.”