David Cameron gave MI5 agents ‘licence to kill’ in secret letter

David Cameron gave MI5 agents ‘licence to kill’ in secret letter saying they should not be prosecuted for crimes, tribunal hears

  • David Cameron gave MI5 agents ‘licence to kill’ in a secret letter to retired judge
  • ‘Third direction’ policy allows spooks to murder and torture threats to security 
  • Gives spies legal immunity from criminal prosecution for acts carried out in field 
  • Timing of letter in 2012 was significant relating to murder of a Belfast solicitor

David Cameron gave MI5 agents ‘licence to kill’ in a secret letter saying spies should not be prosecuted for their actions in the field, a tribunal has heard.

The authorisation gave spooks James Bond-style clearance to murder and torture threats to national security free from any possible criminal repercussions.

The policy, known in the industry as the ‘third direction’ and in existence since the early 1990s, was so secret that when a retired judge was introduced to oversee the policy in 2012, he was instructed by the then PM not to comment on its legality.

David Cameron gave MI5 agents ‘licence to kill’ in a secret letter saying they should not be prosecuted for their actions in the field, a tribunal has heard. The authorisation gave agents James Bond-style clearance to murder and torture threats to national security free from criminal repercussions

The policy, in existence since the early 1990s, was so secret that when a retired judge was introduced to oversee the policy in 2012, he was instructed by the then prime minister not to comment on its legality

Ben Jaffey QC, who was representing an alliance of human rights group, told the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) that the policy likely enabled MI5 to conceal illegal activity carried out by agents.

He said: ‘It appears that the Security Service believes it could, if it thinks it would be in the public interest, authorise participation in murder, torture, sexual assault or other grave criminality in the UK.’

A letter from Mr Cameron to the retired judge, Sir Mark Waller dated November 27, 2012, said his’oversight would not provide endorsement of the legality of the policy’.

He instructed Sir Mark, who was at the time the Intelligence Services Commissioner, charged with overseeing the conduct of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, to have oversight of the policy.

The policy is known in the industry as the ‘third direction’ and a letter from Mr Cameron to the retired judge, Sir Mark Waller dated November 27, 2012, said his ‘oversight would not provide endorsement of the legality of the policy’

The then-prime minister told him not to rule on whether it was legal, and said he need not express any views as to whether any cases should be referred to prosecutors

But the then-prime minister told him not to rule on whether it was legal, and said he need not express any views as to whether any cases should be referred to prosecutors. 

Privacy campaigners claim the letter effectively handed MI5 agents a licence to break the law with immunity.

The timing of the letter is said to be highly significant as just two weeks later Mr Cameron admitted there was ‘state collusion’ in the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane.

Mr Finucane, who represented several high-profile Republicans, was shot dead in front of his family by loyalist gunmen. After his death it emerged that the loyalist paramilitary intelligence officer responsible for directing Ulster Defence Association attacks, Brian Nelson, was an agent controlled by the British Army’s ‘Force Research Unit’. No-one has been prosecuted for the murder.

The timing of the letter is said to be highly significant as just two weeks later Mr Cameron admitted there was ‘state collusion’ in the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Patrick Finucane

Mr Cameron wrote in the newly disclosed letter: ‘In the discharge of their function to protect national security, the security service has a long-standing policy for their agent handlers to agree to agents participating in crime, in circumstances where it is considered such involvement is necessary and proportionate in providing or maintaining access to intelligence that would allow the disruption of more serious crimes or threats to national security.’

Official MI5 guidance entitled ‘guidelines on the use of agents who participate in criminality’ was also made public yesterday for the first time. The policy states that an officer is ’empowered’ to ‘authorise the use of an agent participating in crime’.

Ben Jaffey QC, representing an alliance of human rights group, told the tribunal that Mr Cameron’s letter demonstrated that no police or prosecutor would ever hear about the cases involved.

Sir James Eadie QC, representing the intelligence agencies, the Home Office and the Foreign Office, told the tribunal that details of MI5’s conduct had to be kept secret and he asked that the hearing go into private to hear his reasons.

Reprieve director Maya Foa said: ‘We want to know if it’s government policy to let MI5 agents get away with serious crimes such as torture and murder.

‘While our intelligence agencies have an important role in keeping this country safe, it does not follow that agents can be permitted to break the law without limits.’   

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