Ex-GCHQ boss: UK must publish policy on US drone strikes
November 27, 2014
The former director of intelligence agency GCHQ has called on the British Government to publish its policy on sharing intelligence with the US which is used to target covert drone strikes.
Sir David Omand, backed by Conservative MP David Davis and Labour MP Tom Watson, has written to the Foreign Secretary “to request that your Department consider disclosing the Guidance to Intelligence Officers and Service Personnel applicable to the passing of intelligence relating to individuals who are at risk of targeted lethal strikes outside traditional battlefields.”
The letter notes the Government’s “limited response” to parliamentary questions on the issue and stresses that “failure to confirm such safeguarding arrangements exist undermines the assurances of Government and could make it harder, if issues arise, to defend the UK’s actions.”
It stresses that there is precedent for disclosing such guidance and that doing so “could not impact adversely on individual operations” nor “damage strong bilateral relations.”
The letter follows similar calls from the Commons Defence Committee, and comes as Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee criticises the UK Government for setting a “dangerous precedent” on drones. In a report on The FCO’s human rights work in 2013, published today, the FAC calls on the UK to provide a written response to concerns expressed by a UN official over the lack of an international legal framework governing the use of drones.
In October, a policy commission chaired by Sir David and initiated by the University of Birmingham, cited the “sinister cultural and political salience” of US drone operations, noting that the “UK simply does not accept the specific US legal justification for using RPA [drones] for the targeted killing of AQ-related terrorist targets.” It said the government needed to ensure “safeguards” were in place to prevent “inadvertent collusion” in drone strikes that were “contrary to international law”.
Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, staff attorney at legal charity Reprieve and a member of the Birmingham Commission chaired by Sir David said: “The UK Government can no longer bury its head in the sand when it comes to the part it plays in US drone strikes. There is overwhelming evidence that British intelligence and infrastructure supports a US-led covert war which has killed hundreds of civilians with impunity. At the very least, the public deserves a straight answer from their Government on what its role is, and what – if any – safeguards are in place.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166
2. Sir David Omand’s letter can be found here: http://im.ft-static.com/content/images/38d6c1ca-7581-11e4-a1a9-00144feabdc0.pdf