Torture & the Security Services

February 11, 2010

There’s little I can add to the revelations around MI5’s complicity in torture, other than a curious incident that occurred when I went for a job interview at an anonymous MI6 office in South London.

The interviewer, a bearded chap, asked me this question: “Say we’ve caught a team of suspected Islamic terrorists attempting to enter the UK from Pakistan. We know from other evidence that at least one other team made it to Britain. Our contact in the Pakistani security service, the ISI, contacts us and asks us to leave the prisoners in their ‘care’ for the night, and by the morning they’ll be able to supply us with the location and targets of the other team. What do you do?”

I considered my response for a little while, and decided to go for the Boy’s Own angle:

“I would deny his request. Britain’s policy is to not accept information on torture under any circumstances, both because of our ethics, and because information obtained under torture is unreliable.”

Bearded chap smiled, and said, “That’s right. MI6 would never agree to torture as a means of procuring information, under any circumstances.”

Later on I was told I didn’t get the job because I didn’t appear confident enough, which I accepted as being fairly reasonable given that I’d been nervous during the interview. Nervous spies are dead spies. However, given today’s revelations, I can’t help but wonder whether it was because of the answer I gave to the torture question.

The other possibility, of course, is that it’s entirely true that MI6’s policy is to not accept information obtained under torture. It’s interesting that it was an MI5 agent who engaged in handing a British citizen over to torturers in a foreign country – one would’ve assumed MI6 should have taken responsibility for a foreign operation. When Jean Charles de Menezes was shot, a friend of mind who worked in the MI5 office at the time was appalled that the rest of their office stood up and applauded on hearing the news. They no longer work for MI5.

It’s important to remember that the level of paranoia the Government and their accomplices in the media have been pushing onto the rest of us as an excuse for curbing our civil liberties is ultimately derived from the warnings of the intelligence services. Consider, for a moment, what happens if those same intelligence services are so convinced by their own assessments that they themselves become paranoid.

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One Response to “Torture & the Security Services”

  1. Mark said

    You could have covered yourself by saying that you would have politely rejected the Pakistani intermediary’s offer for a number of reasons. First, if the ISI is such a crackerjack outfit, why is the country the source of such a large number of, oh, never mind. Second, ISI is known to be laced through with Taliban and probably Al Qaeda agents, and the intermediary may have wanted to get their hands on the guy to find out whether what he knew could compromise any higher-ups, and/or to kill him before he could spill the beans. Of course, this is the MI6’s trusted intermediary. Kim Philby was MI6’s trusted intermediary with US intelligence. It turned out he wasn’t working for either one, amazing how that works. And finally, you could point out that torture is a much overrated way of obtaining information and usually causes more problems through the torture and killing of innocents, serving as a recruitment tool for scores of siblings, cousins and neighbors to do whatever possible to leave these particular torturers and their employers singing the blues. See first point, above. I don’t doubt for a minute that MI6 tortures people, not just Barack Obama’s grandfather, and that the CIA tortures a lot more — check out School of the Americas Watch for their operations in Latin America. But even those ethically challenged elements might be able to understand that their operations are counterproductive. Look at the number of Latin American countries that today have top people in the government (including in the cases of Chile and Nicaragua, the president) who have personally been tortured and/or whose closest friends and family have been. Little wonder that the US authorities are having a hard time with Latin American governments and populations.

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