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10 Jun, 2013 20:02

Hague under fire over GCHQ-PRISM intel sharing, slams leaks

Hague under fire over GCHQ-PRISM intel sharing, slams leaks

The accusations that the US spying program PRISM was shared with the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are “baseless,” Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs. He deplored classified data leaks, saying they create a “misleading picture.”

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The British Foreign Secretary had to answer uneasy security-related questions in the House of Commons, as he addressed MPs with a statement on Monday.

“It has been suggested that GCHQ uses our partnership with the United States to get around UK law, obtaining information that they cannot legally obtain in the United Kingdom. I wish to be absolutely clear that this accusation is baseless,” Hague stated.

All the data obtained by British agencies from the US “is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards,” and the law is upheld “at all times,” Hague stressed. To intercept any individual’s communications requires a warrant signed by the secretary of state, and is “no casual process,” he assured.

The methods used by the agencies are “secret, but lawful,” Hague added, saying that the relationship between GCHQ and the NSA are “unique” and “essential” to counter terrorist and espionage plots.

The recent intelligence leak released by the Guardian revealed the sophisticated US-run PRISM system, which grants the American spy agency NSA direct access to users’ messages, media and files stored on the servers of Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and five other tech giants. The leak also claims that GCHQ has had access to PRISM since at least June 2010.

An aerial image of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. (Photo from www.defenceimagery.mod.uk)

Hague said he “deplores” the leaking of any classified information. He said such leaks endanger national security and claimed they provide only a “partial and misleading picture.”

However, not all the MPs were satisfied with the secretary’s response. Hague was specifically asked if he had been aware of the PRISM program and how the NSA collects information. He was also asked, if any member of parliament was being wiretapped at the moment.

Hague refused to answer any of those questions.

He said he would not confirm or deny any aspect of the leaked information either.

The person behind the leak, former NSA consultant Edward Snowden, revealed himself as the source on Sunday. The 29-year-old said he fled to Hong Kong, seeking asylum there.

The whistleblower’s story immediately triggered public sympathy and support, and the petition called “Pardon Edward Snowden” on the White House’s We The People website has collected more than 23,000 digital signatures in less than 24 hours.