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Intelligence

PRESS BRIEFING: 3.45PM THURSDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2004
CLARE SHORT/KATHARINE GUN

Asked if the Prime Minister was content to allow someone whom he regarded as 'reckless' and 'irresponsible' to continue as a Privy Counsellor, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister had expressed his view of Clare Short's behaviour this morning. His words spoke for themselves. The overriding point in this whole matter was not to put the operation of the security services at risk in any way. Asked if it was appropriate for a Privy Counsellor to put the operation of the security services in peril as she had done, the PMOS said that it was not appropriate behaviour for anyone to do such a thing. Asked to explain what Ms Short had done to put the security services at risk, the PMOS pointed out that the very act of levelling allegations meant that questions about the operation of the security services were inevitably brought into the public domain, thereby making it very difficult to address them.

Asked to explain the security implications in admitting whether or not the UK had been eavesdropping on Kofi Annan in the light of the fact that the Government had been perfectly happy to use intelligence to produce a dossier on Iraq, the PMOS pointed to the contrast between the dossier, which had been a response to a demand for public information and had been prepared in a very carefully controlled way so as not to reveal anything which might put the security services at risk, and remarks which, whether intentional or not, had served the purpose of undermining confidence in the securities services.

Asked if it was legal under international law to bug the offices of a friendly organisation, the PMOS pointed to the Prime Minister's words this morning on this matter when he had reiterated the point that our security services abided by both domestic and international law. Asked why he was refusing to go one step further and admit that it was illegal to eavesdrop on diplomats working at the UN in New York, the PMOS said that we never commented on the actions of the intelligence agencies. If we did, the door would never close, for the reasons the Prime Minister had set out this morning.

Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to Clare Short today, the PMOS said no. Asked if he had any plans to do so, the PMOS said no. Questioned as to whether Downing Street had been in contact with Kofi Annan today, the PMOS said that it wasn't our policy to provide a running commentary on any discussions with the UN.

Asked if the Official Secrets Act (OSA) was being reviewed in the light of collapse of the Katharine Gun case yesterday, the PMOS said that given the disappointing outcome of the case, it was only common sense to review the working of the OSA and the way it related to other laws to see whether any changes needed to be made. That process was already under way. Asked who was undertaking that work, the PMOS said that it was being done internally by the appropriate people in the normal way, as you would expect following yesterday's outcome. Asked why the Government was disappointed with the outcome of the case when we had been saying from the outset that the due process of law must take its course, as indeed had happened yesterday, the PMOS said that we would have preferred the case to have been duly prosecuted. However, we obviously respected the due process of law and accepted it.

Asked if all Cabinet Ministers were signatories to the OSA, the PMOS said that the OSA covered Civil Servants and Ministers as a matter of course, which both groups should be aware of. Asked if Ministers had to sign the OSA before taking office, the PMOS said that Ministers, like Civil Servants, were duty bound by it as a matter of course. Asked if Ministers remained bound by it once they left office, the PMOS said yes, as he understood it.

Asked if it would be normal for Cabinet Ministers to see raw transcripts of their conversations, the PMOS said that he had no intention of commenting on who had access to intelligence material. Asked if transcripts would be made for conversations between the Prime Minister and Kofi Annan for example, the PMOS said that these were processological questions on which had no intention of commenting.



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