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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Heads of British Intelligence Services Defend Surveillance

The chiefs of the three main UK intelligence services appeared between Parliament’s intelligence and security committee to give public evidence about the scope of their activities for the first time, defending surveillance operations and saying that some things were “necessarily secret” and “should remain secret”. The Director General of MI5, Andrew Parker, the Chief of MI6, Sir John Sawers, and the Director of GCHQ, Sir Iain Lobban, said that the services defended “freedom and democracy” and addressed “direct threats to this country, to our way of life and to the people who live here”. Asked about the mass surveillance unveiled by the leaks made public by US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban said that “we do not spend our time listening to the telephone calls or reading the emails of the majority. That would not be proportionate, that would not be legal, and we would not do it”.

Home Secretary Admits Error Over Terrorism Fugitive

Home Secretary Theresa May has asked for the parliamentary record to be corrected in order to state that police did not in fact hold the passport of terrorism suspect Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed because he did not have one on him when he returned to the UK, “so there was no passport to seize”. May’s original comment to Parliament sought to allay fears that he would be able to leave the country after fleeing a West London mosque dressed in a burqa. It is now understood that Mohamed may have a second passport, enabling him to travel. Keith Vaz, a Labour MP, said that he was “amazed that Home Office officials should have briefed the home secretary so poorly on such an important issue. When there are only eight people on Tpims, they ought to know every detail about them. It is a worry that there may be other factual errors in the way this matter has been handled and I will seek reassurance about this”. Vaz was referring to Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims), which prevent suspects from travelling to specific places or going abroad.

World Powers ‘Accept Iranian Proposal’ for Nuclear Deal

The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araqchi, has said that the P5+1 group of world powers, composed of the US, the UK, China, Russia, France and Germany had “accepted the framework of Iran’s proposal” to resolve the impasse over its nuclear programme. “The aim of both sides is to sign the agreement”, he told Iranian journalists after talks in Geneva. Insiders say the deal would involve slowing down or stopping parts of the country’s nuclear activities in exchange for a lifting of part the economic sanctions currently in place. This could set the stage for a more comprehensive deal, which would set long-term limits for Iran. “For the first time, Iran appears to be committed to moving this negotiation process forward quickly. One of the key shifts in the Iranian strategy we’ve seen with this new team is a recognition that they need to move quickly to get economic relief for their people given the political platform on which they were elected. And for the first time, we aren’t seeing them use this negotiating process simply to buy time”, said a senior US official.

Political Accord Reached in Colombian Peace Talks

The government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist guerrila group, have reached a “fundamental agreement” on the group’s future in politics, according to a joint statement released in Havana on Wednesday. Chief Colombian government negotiation Humberto de la Calle said the agreement would provide the FARC with a legitimate political outlet. “Never again politics and weapons together”, he said. “We are doing well. In no other peace process have we advanced as much as we have here in Havana. We have taken an important step in the right direction to end the conflict and to achieve a real democracy in Colombia”, said FARC lead negotiator Ivan Márquez. In a televised address to the country following the joint communiqué, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that he was “much more convinced that peace is possible” after nearly half a century of civil conflict.

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