Duncan Campbell & Geoffrey Robertson QC in Chatham House debate with former GCHQ boss.


Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell and human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC will face off against surveillance state advocate and former GCHQ boss David Omand in Chatham House debate on Wednesday.

The debate, called “Surveillance in an Information Society: Who Watches the Watchers?”, comes at a time of high exposure for Britain’s GCHQ and the United States National Security Agency following the leaking of a tranche of highly sensitive documents to the Guardian and Washington Post by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.  The leaks demonstrate the ubiquitous surveillance operations run by the “Five Eyes” intelligence services.

Revelations so far include GCHQ’s tapping of diplomats and world leaders during the G20 summit in 2009, and the complicity of major communications providers like Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others in secret mass surveillance programmes such as PRISM.

The panelists for the debate are the titans of their respective fields.

Geoffrey Robertson QC

Geoffrey Robertson QC

Duncan Campbell

Duncan Campbell

Duncan Campbell has spent the past 40 years as an investigative journalist exposing secret electronic snooping programmes.  He was the first UK journalist to reveal the existence of GCHQ in a 1976 Time Out story called The Eavesdroppers.  It would lead to his arrest in the ABC Trial in 1978, where he faced charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act.  He was defended in that case by Geoffrey Robertson QC, who is one of the world’s most prominent human rights lawyers.  The pair shared a panel at the recent Centre of Investigative Journalism Summer School with US journalist Sy Hersch, where they discussed the leaks.


David Omand

David Omand was formerly the boss of GCHQ, the UK government’s electronic spying division.  In a recent Guardian op-ed piece, Omand played down civil rights and personal privacy concerns associated with the kind of blanket surveillance revealed in the leaks, saying that there is a “misunderstanding” about modern intelligence gathering and that “we should not fuss too much about these specific revelations.”

The Tomorrow’s panel will do away with Chatham House Rule, allowing the event to be fully reported outside the venue.

For more details and to attend the event, click here

Intercepting diplomatic messages is a lot older than GCHQ

The Doughnut – GCHQ’s Cheltenham base.

The Guardian has today revealed that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) spied on UK allies during the 2009 G20 conference in London.

The interception of diplomatic communications is older than GCHQ and just as outwith international law.  It has been this way for decades,  despite the Vienna Conventions.  In NSA stations of old, the conventions were pinned to the wall as a joke sheet, sources told Duncan Campbell back in the 1970s.

Campbell revealed the practice of spying on allied diplomats in the first ever article on GCHQ in 1976, called The Eavesdroppers.  This triggered a Foreign Officer Legal Department investigation that concluded that what GCHQ did, even then, was a “dubious practice.”  The ’76 Time Out  piece was the trigger that led the arrest of Campbell, former sigint officer John Berry and the late journalist, Crispin Aubrey and the two year legal case known as the ‘ABC trial

The internal Foreign Office reaction to the Eavesdroppers came out when historian Richard Aldrich cited found papers in his book, ‘GCHQ: the Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency’, (Harper Press, £30) indicating that the trial provoked the Foreign Office legal adviser to:

“look into whether the interception of communications between diplomatic missions in London and their home capitals was legal. He concluded that, ‘It now seems clear that it is at least a dubious practice.'”

A copy of Aldrich’s chapter is online, with permission, here. The quote is on page 360.

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