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Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond launches attack on GCHQ critics during visit to Cheltenham

By jrmaidment  |  Posted: July 31, 2014

  • Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Cheltenham Conservative parliamentary candidate talk to the Echo's Jack Maidment

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Philip Hammond launched an attack on critics of GCHQ and the British intelligence community on a visit to Cheltenham today.

The Foreign Secretary described the listening post as a “critical asset” which helps keep people safe at home and abroad.

But with the operations of GCHQ under more scrutiny than ever amid the continuing revelations of the American whistle blower Edward Snowden Mr Hammond believes some people have lost sight of how important its work is.

He told the Echo: “There are people across the political spectrum who have given the intelligence community a hard time who see this only through one lens; the civil liberties, data protection lens, and refuse to look at the benefits that this work brings us.

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“It is easy to sit in a comfortable sitting room reading your copy of The Guardian and getting hot under the collar about data surveillance but if your kids were at risk, if your husband was serving in the military in Afghanistan, if you were on the front line of defending our liberal western society against those who wish it ill you would take a more balanced view.”

The Echo asked Mr Hammond if he believes the accusation GCHQ has skirted the law to gather intelligence is accurate.

“I don’t think that is right at all,” he said.

“It is fair to say that as technology develops sometimes a degree of interpretation is needed to understand how the law applies in new technologies.

“One of the challenges we face in fast technology developing areas is laws that were written even a few years ago sometimes don’t appear to cover absolutely every eventuality and we are going to, early in the next Parliament, address again the legal framework around our intelligence gathering.”

Mr Hammond said he can understand why some people have been shocked by some of the Snowden leaks.

“The Snowden revelations of course have come as a surprise to some people - to understand the kind of surveillance operations that go on across the world,” he said.

“But nobody who is law abiding, nobody who is not a terrorist or a criminal or a foreign state that is trying to do us harm has anything to fear from what goes on here. “

Mr Hammond, who was made Foreign Secretary in a Government reshuffle earlier this month, described GCHQ as an “excellent, very professional organisation”.

He said the listening post helps keep troops abroad on operations, as well as people at home, safe from attack as well as performing a wider role.

He said: “It plays a huge role in bringing criminals to book including dangerous organised criminals, child abusers – all of this would be impossible without the kind of intelligence capability that we have.

“But it also plays a vital role in another sense: it is a national asset and it has capabilities that are unique in the world and it gives us the ability to play a role in the wider international effort and to get something in exchange for that.”

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  • uk_socrates  |  August 01 2014, 2:21PM

    Conservative MP-hopeful Alex Chalk gets in on everything!. . GCHQ possibly does keep us "safe" but as were never told exactly what they do, we forced to trust politicians... At the end of the day its almost impossible to prevent a suicide bombing or lone wolf attack on UK soil. Also we are always told about "western intelligence is the best in the world" ....Not one person was fired for the WMD's scandal in Iraq. All the west has achieved is that its made most of the middle east even less stable. Our fetish for supporting "Israel" is also looking dated and odd. This is a country that continues to drop bombs onto the heads of children on a daily basis....and the international community says nothing.

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  • Spud0  |  August 01 2014, 11:48AM

    Spying on everybody by secret services is not right in a decent democracy, today we learnt from an ex-army intelligence officer how MI5 covered up child abuse in Northern Ireland so they could exert influence on people. These spying powers GCHQ can be used in a politically biased way. Playing this terrorism card again and again will damage our democracy.