We all got a bit of a shock yesterday when the government announced that GCSB Director Ian Fletcher was stepping down for “family reasons”. Becuse we all know that “family reasons” is code for “we don’t want to tell you what the real reason is”, there’s naturally been speculation about the real reason for his departure. Yesterday, Labour led this by suggesting that Fletcher didn’t like something proposed for the upcoming review. Today this has been expanded into a supposed objection to a proposal to merge the GCSB and SIS.
The problem? Fletcher has never come across as particularly principled or committed to privacy and human rights (lets face it: if he was, he would never have taken the job). And as an outsider, he’s unlikely to be so committed to the future of the organisation he heads that he’d fall on his sword rather than be part of a merger. And while pride – not wanting to work for SIS Director Rebecca Kitteridge, who would presumably head a merged agency – is potentially a reason, six months before the review has even taken place is a little early to be resigning for that.
Which brings us back to the other possible reason: another GCSB stuffup. Which of course someone has to fall on their sword for, but which must be kept secret for “security reasons” (aka “if the victims knew, they’d sue us and complain to the police”).
As for the merits of a speculated merger between SIS and GCSB, it’s a nightmare. The two agencies have completely different purposes. The SIS’s focus has always been domestic, hunting for reds under the bed (and because there aren’t any, focusing on greens, browns, basically anyone who isn’t “properly” blue instead). The GCSB’s focus is international, to Spy On All The Things (which through their “alliance” with the NSA and the nature of the modern internet, means collecting all our internet and phone traffic). The two are kept separate to ensure they stay on task, and to ensure that there’s a strong bureaucratic barrier between the SIS and the GCSB’s backdoor access to all our communications. Merging the two would destroy that barrier, and no matter how many internal “Chinese walls” they say they have, would inevitably result in leakage. In short, you’d have a highly politicised domestic spy agency looking for “enemies” to spy on (because it doesn’t have any real ones) with access to all our communications. The Stasi, in other words. It would be a disaster for our privacy and for our democracy. And any government which does it needs to be promptly de-elected, because they are a danger to us all.