3 April 2004

Intelligence chiefs caught in crossfire

'These briefings are always done by request of the minister. They are told broadly what subject matters are broached but there are no hard and fast rules,' said one former public servant who has given briefings on national security to opposition leaders. 'There's usually a question and answer session. This can be free-wheeling. It's never reported back to the minister.'

It would be highly inappropriate if it were because it would give the minister access to information that could easily be used politically. For example, to get a sense of an opponent's future policy direction. Note-takers will have to be present at future intelligence briefings and the utility of those briefings will be severely diminished.

More damaged still is the reputation of the intelligence services. After the children overboard claims, the Mick Keelty affair and the Iraq WMD controversy, it's just another example of politicisation undermining public confidence in the institutions at the forefront of the war on terrorism.

I think this is a terrific idea. Note-takers should also be present whenever the Man of Steel or a member of the palace staff are briefed by the intelligence agencies. Or when children are thrown overboard. Or intelligence caveats are withheld from the public. Or when WMDs are reported by the intelligence agencies. Or when the intelligence agencies advise the government that the Iraq war is likely to exacerbate terrorism. Or when the palace staff draft statements for police commissioners and heads of intelligence agencies.

No-one could imagine our open and honest prime minister could possibly have the slightest objection.

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