By Mick Krever, CNN
Brits have little reason to worry that their intelligence agencies are breaking the law, Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
“When criminals break the law they are hoping to have financial gain, make a lot of money. That’s what crime is all about,” Rikfind said, who is also a former UK defense secretary and foreign secretary.
“We’re talking about intelligence agencies. The heads of these agencies are very senior public servants. What personal benefit do they get from breaking the law? They would be committing a crime; they would end up being prosecuted if it was found out.”
“I can’t prove it never happens, but I find it inherently implausible in any rational basis.”
Rifkind and Amanpour spoke during a break in historic testimony before parliament.
For the first time ever, the three secretive heads of Britain’s intelligence services appeared before parliament – GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA that provides signal intelligence; MI6, the foreign intelligence service; and MI5, the domestic intelligence service.
As the U.S. comes under fire from abroad for intelligence gathering done by the NSA, the British intelligence chiefs answered questions about the UK’s own efforts.
The intelligence chief emphasized again and again that they believe their work has been compromised in the five months since Edward Snowden’s leaked NSA documents began to enter the public sphere.
The leaks “put our operations at risk,” said John Sawyers, the head of MI6. “Our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaeda is lapping it up.”
“Although some terrorists are very stupid, there are a lot who are very clever,” Rifkind told Amanpour. “And we know that those who are very clever and very dangerous constantly try to identify what are the capabilities of the intelligence agencies, and try to outstrip them.”
“It’s disturbing that there is hard evidence,” he said, “but I can’t say that I was entirely surprised.”
Newspapers editors, he said, should “ponder” over what they publish in future, knowing that, as UK intelligence now say, that information is being used by terrorists to change their behavior.
Rifkind said that he was satisfied with the answers his committee got on Thursday from the intelligence chief.
“What in practice is happening is that these modern computers can process vast numbers of emails, but they discard over 99.9 percent of them, which have no links to terrorism or serious crime,” Rifkind said.
That happens, he added, without “any human eye ever having read” anything.
“So when the occasional argument is used that ordinary, respectable, law-abiding citizens are having their emails read, as was said today and as I am aware from my own knowledge, that simply does not happen.”
A former head of GCHQ, David Omand, boasted on the BBC Thursday of the collaboration between the UK and America on intelligence.
“We have the brains, they have the money,” Omand said.
“I don’t think he meant that literally,” Rifkind joked.
“I have no doubt from my own meetings with people in the American intelligence community there’s one heck of a lot of brain there as well,” he said. “But there’s no doubt when it comes to money that the United States is in a league of its own – it’s not just a super power, it’s a super-duper power.”