The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has called on the UK Government to keep a close eye on any changes in US policy, in light of President Trump’s statements in support of torture.
In its Annual Report for 2016–2017, released on December 20th, the Committee called on the Government to take swift action if there were signs that US policy might run counter to British laws and values. It warned that “any significant change in US policies relating to detainee treatment would pose very serious questions for the UK–USA intelligence relationship.”
The ISC said that US agencies were “well aware of the implications for cooperation with the UK and other allies”, and that UK agencies were monitoring the situation closely. The report quoted responses from the intelligence agencies on this subject, gathered in oral evidence to the Committee in the weeks following Donald Trump’s election in November 2016.
GCHQ: “I think it’s early days and obviously if some of the more extreme talk in the campaign was translated into policy or legislation, then that would be difficult… But we have no reason to think that will happen. I think the most important thing for us is that we know what’s going on, and that our staff continue to talk to each other, our lawyers continue to talk to each other and that we are aware of any fundamental changes in the legal position, but there’s no reason to expect any…”
SIS: “If something happened which caused us fundamentally to revisit our presumption of legality [of the US agencies’ actions], which we have got now, hard won after many years after all the problems we have discussed [on detainee treatment and rendition], then that would be really difficult. But emphatically I am not assuming that is going to happen. We are many steps away from that and I think there are lots of good reasons why it would not. [redacted].”
MI5: “Whether this signals a likelihood to return to forms of abuse of detainees, I think we spent enough time in this room talking about that for you to know I would be very highly alert to any sort of changes like that. I have communicated internally already about this in MI5, that, you know, whatever happens, MI5 will operate within the law and by our values. So if any of that changes on the US side, there will be a consequence in the relationship but, you know, we will not collude in any sort of change in that sort of behaviour. Of course we won’t. But let’s not assume that is going to happen in the US.”
The Prime Minister responded to the ISC's report in a written statement to the House of Commons. She said that “the level of detail contained in the report, obtained through the Committee’s regular access to written material and evidence sessions with the Heads of Agencies and Secretaries of State is testament to the quality of UK Parliamentary intelligence oversight.” She noted that the report included 26 conclusions and recommendations, “many of which the Government supports and is already implementing”.