On 12th July the APPG on Extraordinary Rendition held a discussion on Intelligence and Security Committee Reform. The event, Watching the Watchers, brought together an expert panel who were asked questions by Joshua Rozenberg, the leading legal journalist. The panel comprised of Lord Ricketts GCMG GCVO (National Security Adviser 2010 - 2012, Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee 2000 - 2001), Rt Hon. Dominic Grieve QC (Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee 2015 - 2019), Caroline Wilson Palow of Privacy International, Ben Jaffey QC, and the APPG's founder and co-chair, the Rt Hon. Lord Tyrie. The event was held at Blackstone Chambers new conference facility.
The panel started with a discussion on the limitations of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). It was noted that the ISC had itself concluded that their rendition report was "not fully credible" due to the inaccessibility of key witnesses. There was a discussion on the conventions which prevent Select Committees (though the ISC itself is not a Select Committee) from viewing junior civil service staff, and whether these should apply to a private and unique committee such as the ISC. Joshua Rozenberg asked whether the ISC should oversee special forces operations. This was especially prescient, given that a BBC Panorama programme containing allegations of torture and killing by UK special forces in Afghanistan had been released that day. Panellists noted that the special forces were an "accountability blackhole" but there was some doubt as to whether the ISC was best placed in terms of resources to address this.
The panel moved on to compare the UK's scrutiny mechanisms with that of the United States where the 2016 Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture had thoroughly investigated the extraordinary rendition and torture programme. It was noted that the US had far more to investigate in terms of its own wrongdoing.
The importance of a cooperative relationship between the intelligence agencies, the committee, and the Prime Minister was raised, and there was a suggestion that reforms could further damage this relationship. An audience member pointed out that the intelligence agenices should not be able to evade democratic scrutiny by refusing to cooperate.
Pannellists were asked to put forward their key reforms for the ISC. There was a broad agreement on the need to see key witnesses and key papers, and on reforms to impose a political cost on an uncooperative Prime Minister. There was less consensus in other areas - notably on whether the Prime Minister should be able to veto Committee appointments.
Lord Tyrie announced the creation of a working group to draw up a specific slate of ISC reforms, and narrow down the Parliamentary mechanism for achieving them. He invited pannellists and interested members of the audience to contribute.
The APPG is deeply grateful for the support of Blackstone for hosting this important discussion, and to the panel themselves for their time and contributions.