¿Qué tan secretas deben ser las actividades de los gobiernos?

Por Roberto Blum
Guatemala, 28 de octubre de 2010

En muchos países se ha legislado para permitir a los ciudadanos obtener información del gobierno y con ella vigilar la actividad de los funcionarios. Sin embargo existen argumentos fuertes a considerar sobre la necesidad de mantener el secreto y la confidencialidad en ciertas áreas del funcionamiento de los gobiernos.

Las nuevas tecnologías hacen posible transparentar prácticamente todo lo que ocurre en las sociedades, no solo los gobiernos se vuelven transparentes sino también la vida privada de los ciudadanos está cada vez más expuesta ante los ojos de todos. ¿Qué conviene hacer?

Actividades secretas

Para iniciar una conversación sobre este importante tema, reproducimos el siguiente artículo:

Defending Secrecy, British Spy Chief Goes Public

The New York Times

LONDON — At an appropriately hush-hush site, before a not-so-hush-hush audience of newspaper editors and television cameras, Sir John Sawers, the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, on Thursday delivered what he said was the first public address by a serving chief of the agency in its 101-year history.

Sir John Sawers

Sir John Sawers giving a live televised address in London on Thursday

His speech ranged from questions about Al Qaeda abroad to accountability at home, from nuclear proliferation in Iran to terrorism and on to the fraught issue of torture in the pursuit of secret information. He praised Britain’s secret agents as “true heroes” in some of the world’s most dangerous places.

But Sir John, whose organization is widely known as MI6, devoted much of his 30-minute address to the central role of secrecy in maintaining security — a reaffirmation of traditional tradecraft in an era of leaks and pressure for ever-greater disclosure.

“Secrecy is not a dirty word,” he said. “Secrecy is not there as a cover-up. Secrecy plays a crucial part in keeping Britain safe and secure.”

“If our operations and methods become public, they won’t work,” he said.

While he has not spoken publicly spoken before about the work of MI6, he made two public appearances to give evidence at an official inquiry into the Iraq war, both about earlier assignments as a foreign policy adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair and as the British representative in Baghdad.

His appearance Thursday reinforced a trend among Britain’s spy bosses to shed the traditional cloak of their trade. Sir John’s appearance followed a first public speech by Iain Lobban, the director of Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency, and several appearances by Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, which is responsible for domestic security in contrast to MI6’s focus on overseas operations. In 2006, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, Mr. Evans’s predecessor, made headlines when she gave a speech warning of the range of terrorist threats Britain faced.

“Why now, might you ask?” Sir John said of his decision to go public. The answer, he said, was that despite its prominence in the news, the debate about MI6 was not well informed, and “in today’s open society, no government institution is given the benefit of the doubt all the time.”

Sir John took over the agency after the retirement of his predecessor, Sir John Scarlett, in November 2009. Previously he had been a high-profile diplomat, serving as Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations and in other posts.

Even before his appointment, Sir John, 55, seemed to offer something of a break with tradition. His wife, Shelley, included him in her chronicles on Facebook, posting photographs of him having fun in a park, wearing a red fleece and a Santa Claus hat and playing Frisbee on a beach. The existence of the Facebook page was disclosed by the tabloid Mail on Sunday.

“This is someone who loves the limelight,” said Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent. The history of MI6 has not always been so public.

The organization traces its roots to a decision by defense planners in 1909 to create a Secret Service Bureau. The body evolved through two world wars and the cold war, feeding the plot lines and character lists of spy thrillers from James Bond to George Smiley. But for decades, the identity of its chief — known only as C, according to the agency’s Web site — was the biggest secret of all.

No other members of its staff are supposed to be identified in public and Sir John’s movements are not widely publicized. Britain’s Press Association news agency said that before he spoke, his host, the Society of Editors, had requested that the venue for his speech not be made public in advance.

In addressing the issue of torture, Sir John said Britain sought to avoid actions that could lead to torture, even though that might help terrorists maintain their ability to carry out attacks. The issue is hotly debated in Britain and has been the focus of much public questioning about whether the British secret services used information from spy agencies in other countries that was obtained under duress, or contributed indirectly to torture by supplying questions to be asked of captives in other countries.

Sir John called torture “illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances, and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it.”

He spoke at some length on what he cast as a conflict between moral considerations and perceived operational need, depicting spy agencies as caught between the need for information and the manner of its acquisition.

“These are not abstract questions just for philosophy courses or searching editorials, they are real, constant operational dilemmas,” he said. “Sometimes there is no clear way forward. The more finely balanced judgments have to be made by ministers themselves.”

“If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we’re required by U.K. and international law to avoid that action,” Sir John said. “And we do, even though that allows the terrorist activity to go ahead.”

“Some may question this, but we are clear that it’s the right thing to do. It makes us strive all the harder to find different ways, consistent with human rights, to get the outcome that we want.”

Sir John said one third of his agency’s resources were devoted to combating international terrorism and called MI6’s work “the secret front line of our national security.”

Referring to Al Qaeda, he said, “Our intelligence effort needs to go where the threat is.”

“It’s not enough to intercept terrorists here, at the very last minute. They need to be identified and stopped well before then, which means actions far beyond our own borders.”

“We get inside terrorist organizations to see where the next threats are coming from,” he said. “We work to disrupt terrorist plots aimed against the U.K. and against our friends and allies.”

“What we do is not seen. Few know about the terrorist attacks that we help stop.”

“Our agents are working today in some of the most dangerous and exposed places, bravely and to hugely valuable effect, and we owe a debt to countless more whose service is over,” he said. “Agents take serious risks and make sacrifices to help our country. In return we give them a solemn pledge: that we shall keep their role secret.”

Turning to nuclear proliferation, Sir John, formerly a British representative at international talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, alluded to disclosures in 2009 about a hitherto secret Iranian nuclear facility at Qum, describing them as an “intelligence success.”

“Stopping nuclear proliferation cannot be addressed purely by conventional diplomacy,” he said. “We need intelligence-led operations to make it more difficult for countries like Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”

John F. Burns reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris.
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