Secret intelligence work is essential to protecting people’s freedoms, but it must be done within the law, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in the United States on Tuesday.
In barely-disguised comments about the furore surrounding fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, Hague stressed the importance of intelligence sharing between Britain and the United States.
“We should have nothing but pride in the unique and indispensable intelligence-sharing relationship between Britain and the United States,” he said in a speech in California.
“In recent weeks this has been a subject of some discussion. Let us be clear about it. In both our countries, intelligence work takes place within a strong legal framework.
“We operate under the rule of law and are accountable for it. In some countries, secret intelligence is used to control their people – in ours, it only exists to protect their freedoms.”
Hague was speaking at the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley, northwest of Los Angeles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said Snowden was still in a Moscow airport transit zone, rejecting calls for his extradition to the United States.
The announcement ended two days of guessing at the location of Snowden, who leaked revelations of massive US surveillance programmes to the media and is now wanted on espionage charges by US authorities.
Hague was very tight-lipped when asked, in questions after his wide-ranging speech, for his thoughts on Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) snooping not only on Americans but US allies too.
“I’m the minister responsible for these things in the United Kingdom ... I have to be careful what I say about these things,” he said.
“It’s very important in anything you say never to give any clue or comfort ... to the terrorists or organised criminals or foreign intelligence agencies that want to harm our countries.”
But in his speech he said: “Terrorists plan to harm us in secret, criminal networks plan to steal from us in secret. Foreign intelligence agencies plot to spy on us in secret and new weapons systems are devised in secret.
“So we cannot protect the people of our countries without devising some of the response to those threats in secret, because we share such strong habits of working together,” he added.