Past EED rants


Live leaderboard

Poker leaderboard

Voice of EED

Friday 27 February 2004

Does the OSA mean a damn thing any more? [brit]

OSA. The Official Secrets Act.
When I signed this, on two separate occasions, I took it very seriously indeed; I knew that after signing it I would be privy to privileged information - none of which I have ever had the need or want to divulge to anyone outside of the environment in which it was signed.
The OSA is a critical part of the work undertaken by many people on a daily basis, and in the last week I've seen two people break it with virtual impunity and get away with it.
I understand that those involved in the situations now splashed over our papers and screens had concerns about the information they were handling from a personal, moral perspective.
That's fair enough, but if you don't want to see upsetting or contrary information then don't go and work for GCHQ, or don't get involved in politics; it's a no brainer.
I'm really quite angry that Claire Short seems to think she's above the law, and simply cries 'conscience!' when anyone questions her..


  1. I haven't had a chance to look into this issue fully - the big questions for me are 'Do people under the OSA have a duty to whistleblow if they are involved in illegal acts in peacetime?' and 'Was that spying illegal.'
    I'm not sure on either front, though I'm leaning towards the first answer being 'yes' - the OSA should not prevent the publicising of illegal acts by government employees.
    On the other hand, was the taping/spying of UN staff illegal?

  2. heh, easy as this, fuck secrets. its way more important to expose any illegal or dodgy stuff than to respect some stupid document designed to cover asses. and if you are a citizen in a nation you are involved in politics, and its your damn duty to fuck people over that stretches laws if you get the chance. and after all, the politicians and the military work for the people paying taxes, oh yes :)

  3. Well, that's fucking rubbish quite frankly. Many times our security forces need to act in manners which are illegal in the strictest terms.
    I'm not saying it should be a license to commit wrong and I think someone told to do something illegal may well have pause for thought. But whistleblowing just because you think it's illegal? That's fucked. And what's more fucked is that the State is failing to prosecute people under the OSA. Which means... just how secret can you keep anything?
    Of course there's probably a few in EED that fail to grasp why we need secrets at all but I think that's tied up with stuff we've explored in plenty of detail before.
    This Clair Short thing is fucking shit but I'm more riled by that GCHQ bird that started emailing state secrets about the place because she didn't agree with the war. She should be mannacled to the fucking wall in the tower as a lesson to one and all.
    But no, the fucking bleeding lefty liberals will save her and indeed have done so. Joy.

  4. fuck that, a government NEVER has to do anything illegal. it shouldnt do anything thats even close to dodgy ffs. we dont have elected people so that they can form laws and then break them in the shadows. so, if a person discovers something dodgy it should get exposed without punishment. of course, if it aint dodgy, then its time for serious punishment time.

  5. The point is, that individuals don't get to choose when they think something is illegal and when they should start squealing. Not when it's matters of national security. That's why you have this sort of protection.
    Had your country ever fought in a war, you'd know about this stuff...

  6. While I agree in broad terms with what Mat says here, I do think that there's a need to consider what kinds of things can be covered by the official secrets act.
    In the case of the lass at GCHQ, it seems that she wasn't prosecuted because they were afraid that a lot of extremely politically embarrassing stuff could come out at the trial. That gives me pause for thought, personally, because while I'm fully supportive of a strong OSA that protects genuinely sensitive information (military, defence, intelligence etc.), it strikes me that all the noises we're hearing suggest that the OSA has been used by the Labour government for covering up political dirty tricks related to the Iraq war.
    People like the GCHQ bird spewing out OSA documents are dangerous and devalue the act itself. However, even more dangerous is the possibility that the Government is using the act to hide its political dirty laundry. That's pretty terrifyingly undemocratic, if it's true, and represents a shocking abuse of the system by the government - and as such, runs the risk of making the act seem worthless and worse, sinister, in the eyes of the British public.

  7. That's why you have an OSA though. You don't want to have a public trial with official secrets being paraded about. When it comes to intelligence services, those working within them should be quiet whether or not they are happy. People get pissed off all the time, right or wrong. It's always a risk that a government uses these powers to bury things it doesn't want to get out but... at the end of the day, the OSA only covers those that signed it. Those that worked in the profession or who were privvy to official secrets and again, I think if you want to work in that and put yourself in that position - you will just have to accept the entire deal lock stock and barrel.
    The GCHQ bird for a start. If she thought it was her right to just send secrets around because she didn't believe in the war, she should never have been allowed in in the first place.
    Some sorts of professions require blind devotion to your duty and this is one of them. We have a free press and other investigative bodies who will try their best in the public interest and we have others which act in the shadows in the public interest.
    Where things go wrong is where society devalues the need of the latter, as Lotta demonstrates here. On occasion, doing the odd naughty thing saves lives. People have made that call for decades and will continue to do so. It's just a shame no one will ever know who they were or how good a job they are doing but... some of the recent stuff which filters out is a bit of a hint at that. I hope you've all been watching the BBC documentary on the Third World War: Al Quaeda on BBC2. It's really quite fascinating.

  8. Claire Short's accusation was hardly made out of some sense of civic duty - she did it to stir things up. The problem is that should she be prosecuted, it would be a tacit admission that her accusation had some basis in fact.
    Katharine Gun. Her defence was that she was acting to prevent an unlawful war. I've not read the full text of the Official Secrets Act (despite being a signatory to it), so I'm not sure as to whether such a belief justifies her whistleblowing. However, I would think that decided whether the war was unlawful was somewhat beyond her remit in any case.
    As has been said, if you're going to work somewhere that requires a six to twelve month vetting process and is the main centre for intelligence analysis for the UK, you have to expect that you're going to be exposed to stuff that is at times unpleasant. If you can't handle that, then don't apply. I do agree with Shinji, however, that the way this whole affair has been handled leads me to believe that the prosecution was cancelled for political reasons, which decreases the effectiveness of the Act. There is no doubt that she breached it, the question is whether her belief that the war was unlawful was sufficient cause to do so, which was for a court to decide. (The Attorney General himself stated that it could be proved that the act had been breached).
    What is most galling to me about this whole affair is that this woman was in clear breach of the Official Secrets Act and has suffered no punitive measures beyond her dismissal. It sets a disturbing precedent.
    With regards to the value of 'grey' operations by the intelligence services, they have their place. I am of the belief that the safety of the general public should be placed above their need to know all the details of how that safety is maintained. The freedom of the press and the oversight of intelligence services by the government is sufficient to avoid serious moral violations. There is however always the concern that the intellgence services may be used by the serving administration to 'hide dirty laundry', as Shinji says, however I'm hard pressed to think of a way in which this danger can be avoided without undue disclosure of intelligence operations.

  9. CPS actions brought against individuals accused of breaking the OSA should be conducted in closed court, easy.
    I watched the news this morning and saw Claire Short basically sticking 2 fingers up at everyone who works in intelligence. That woman is a self centered moron - the irony is of course that she's her own exercise in damage limitation; her reputation has reduced the impact of the point she was professing to make.

  10. CPS actions brought against individuals accused of breaking the OSA should be conducted in closed court, easy.
    How closed is 'closed'? You want to be very, VERY fucking careful about conducting any kind of court case out of the public eye - introducing that factor to any legal system invites massive amounts of abuse. cf. Guantanamo Bay...

  11. If you read between the lines regards the CPS' reason for dropping the OSA/GCHQ case recently, it's quite clear that the real thinking behind the decision to drop was that sensitive information from GCHQ and other sources would be made available and that would be bad.
    It's often (imo) not the actual info itself that presents the problem but rather information pertaining to how it was obtained; the spy biz isn't one that'll take kindly to their HUMint and SIGint techniques being revealed in the tabloids.
    But yeah, 'closed' court needs to be thought about v.carefully; I'm not sure we could ever go down the Guantanamo Bay route since we're not mindless Yankee Democrats who believe that Jesus Saves! over 'Thou Shalt Not Treat Your Fellow Man Like Scum 24/7 Whenever You Shalt Feel Like It'.