Examination of Witnesses

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 7th July 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Sir Alex Younger and Professor Sir David Omand gave evidence.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

Q We will now hear oral evidence from Sir Alex Younger, former chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, and Professor Sir David Omand from King’s College London. For this session, we have until 12.40 pm. I would be very grateful if the witnesses could please introduce themselves for the record.

Sir Alex Younger:

Hello, my name is Alex Younger and I was chief of SIS from 2014 to 2020.

Professor Sir David Omand:

I am David Omand. I am currently at the King’s College London war studies department as a professor. My previous career in the civil service involved being director of GCHQ, permanent secretary of the Home Office and UK security and intelligence co-ordinator.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

Q Thank you both for coming to give evidence today—we are very grateful—and for all you have done in the past to keep our country safe. My first question is to Sir Alex. Can you describe how the threat picture has changed across the UK in the time of your career?

Sir Alex Younger:

Yes. That is a huge question. To keep it brief, though, I think the predominant fact that developed during my career was the erosion of boundaries. When I started, the difference between peace and war, domestic and international, covert and overt, and virtual and real was reasonably clear, and we were organised along those boundaries. The threats that eventuated most powerfully were the ones that recognised that those boundaries had eroded and crossed them. What I would call grey threats eventuated and often presented us with real challenges, particularly when actors or states felt themselves at war with us and we did not feel ourselves at war with them, for good reason.

My career saw less emphasis on conventional threats and more on grey space. Most of my career was devoted to counter-terrorism, which was the dominant example, but subsequently we saw state actors working in sub-threshold space—operations short of conventional war—to harm us. That is broadly the situation we are in now, even if we have a very 20th-century example of conflict happening on our continent.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

Q How do you think Russian aggression since before Salisbury has factored into security priorities for our intelligence services?

Sir Alex Younger:

It has risen. During my career, we were broadly in a situation where we had to focus on state threats or terrorist threats. I think that all of us, societally, were hubristically convinced of the end of history and the fact that liberal democracy had triumphed. Perhaps another answer to your earlier question is that that was demonstrated to be false. In fact, we are in a geopolitically contested world, just as we always were. That led to the increasing dominance of the state threat over time as the world diverged ideologically. Of course, with Russia and the UK specifically, we had some really acute examples of that, in terms of services demonstrating complete contempt for us and our democracy by attempting to murder people on our soil. In a sense, that got us, particularly in the national security community, to the hard truth quicker than many.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

Q In terms of this Bill, much of the legislation we are looking to update is quite old. How much of a need do you think there is to upgrade our current legislation in the light of those threats?

Sir Alex Younger:

I think it is pressing, not least because, as I have said, many of the threats are ambiguous. This legislation, in seeking to dispel ambiguity—daylight is the best disinfectant—has my support. The reality is that the act of using deception on behalf of a foreign power to undermine our democracy, cause our citizens harm, sap our strategic advantage and undermine our economic advantage is essentially not criminalised at the moment, and that is odd. As you would expect, our adversaries have tonnes of legislation outlawing spying. That is what they do; it is part of how they engineer unity. There is a sense of an external and pernicious threat.

I am more struck by the fact that many of our allies, particularly in the Five Eyes, have seen fit, for many years in some cases, to have such measures in place. To that extent, I regard them as basically uncontentious and overdue. If I may be permitted a professional observation as someone who has worked in this area for 30 years, they will definitely make it harder for people who mean us harm to operate, in a way that they would not like and the public would like.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

Q Just one final question for this witness, if I may. We have just had evidence from Jonathan Hall QC, who reflected that he did not think there was an operational need for part 3 of the Bill. Do you agree that it is legitimate for the Government to disrupt terrorist financing?

Sir Alex Younger:

Yes.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Thank you both very much for your time. To echo the Minister’s sentiments, we are grateful for your service to the country as well. Sir Alex, the measures in the Bill, particularly in clause 3 and some of the others on assisting a foreign intelligence service, do not make any attempt to distinguish between countries that are our allies or that we have friendly relations with—you talked about the Five Eyes partners, for example—and those countries that would seek to undermine us or are hostile states. Do you think it should attempt to distinguish between the two?

Sir Alex Younger:

First of all, I think it is a good idea, fundamentally, to require people to say if they are acting on behalf of a foreign power. I am supportive of that because I know how difficult it makes it for people intent on conducting operations against us to operate, and makes it much easier to prove. I am therefore instinctively supportive of that, and of a register, and I think that we should get on with that. I have talked to the Government about that; they are understandably cautious, given all the unintended consequences attached to it, and the fact that our adversaries use those techniques in a way that lacks good faith and is malicious. However, fundamentally, I am supportive of it.

I have to be honest; I am more ambivalent about the idea of distinguishing between nations. My view of legislation generally, but particularly when it comes to technology, is that it is a mistake to write things to the current circumstances. It is much better to write things to the principles that you are seeking to employ. I am not a lawyer or a member of the Government, but my recommendation would be that we go for a principles-based approach in so far as we can.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Thank you very much. May I ask you both about clause 23, which grants an extension of powers to the security services? It appears from speaking to other colleagues, particularly Members on the Intelligence and Security Committee, that the current legislation—the role of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, the Fulford principles and the exemptions in the Serious Crime Act 2007—all works together quite well. Do you think that the extension in clause 23 is necessary and that it has the appropriate checks and balances that you would expect with such an extension of powers?

Sir Alex Younger:

You are referring to the amendment to the Serious Crime Act?

Sir Alex Younger:

I strongly believe that that is necessary. I am conscious of the concerns that you will have, and even the contentious nature of the assertion, so if you will forgive me, I briefly have to tell you why.

First, alongside our ability to uphold our values and not be terrorists, the other reason why we have been successful in stopping bombs going off has been international partnership. That is because no one state or intelligence service really ever has the full facts. They have to work together and combine their information to get the intelligence that is required, proactively, to disrupt terrorist events. That was true in the analogue world; it is really true in the digital world. It is the thing that works and keeps us safe.

That involves an unavoidable risk. That risk, through all the safeguards that you will be familiar with—but which I am happy to talk about—is managed down to the very lowest level possible. However, ultimately, we are dealing with sovereign actors—other states who we do not control—and ultimately, when we are exchanging large bulk datasets, notwithstanding all the scrutiny and risk management, there is a possibility that there will be data in that dataset whose significance we do not understand until it is compared with another dataset that we do not have. That is an unavoidable risk.

An issue that I think you have to consider is, who should be carrying that risk? My view is that there must be accountability, but where an SIS officer or any other UK intelligence community officer is acting in good faith, within their instructions, as authorised by Ministers, on behalf of you and the public, it should not be them carrying the risk. It is more appropriately carried by the Government more broadly. I feel that, as you can tell from my body language, very strongly, as a leader.

It was unavoidable that we sent our young men and women into harm’s way when it came to physical risk. For instance, I served in Afghanistan. Our people were asked to go out on to the streets day in, day out. It involved physical risk that we mitigated down to the lowest level we could possibly manage, but it was part of the deal.

These risks are avoidable. Through this legislation and other measures, we can make sure that these risks are attached to the appropriate person or people or entity. I am much less comfortable as a leader about the idea that we therefore ask individual men and women in the UK intelligence community to suck it up. I do not think that is right.

Professor Sir David Omand:

I very strongly agree with what Alex Younger has just said. I know from my own experience of GCHQ that information-sharing with our close allies and indeed more broadly is essential, and I think it is morally wrong to place that burden on the individual member of staff, who may be quite junior, who is simply following the policies and the instructions that they have had. In the end, the Government Ministers must account if something unexpectedly does go awry.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Would it not be fair to say that no cases have yet been brought against anybody acting in that way on behalf of the security services, and would that not be because the protections that are in place in law already give them the discretion to do some of the activities that we are talking about?

Professor Sir David Omand:

My counter-argument would be that this is actually a question of principle—how Government works, particularly in relation to people whom we as a nation are asking to take some significant risks on our behalf. This is an additional risk. You may say that it is theoretical; they may not feel it that way, and I think that we owe it to them to protect them.

Sir Alex Younger:

It does not feel theoretical. You know, you have to examine the motives of the staff of the UK IC, who are ordinary members of the public, just like you and me. They are not doing this for personal gain.

There is a very practical point that I think the Committee must consider, which is the incentive. Over time, what is going to motivate admittedly a very mission-orientated community if they see personal legal jeopardy in an area where there is an unavoidable level of ambiguity? I think that will inhibit people from the exercise of sharing. I hope I have been really clear that it is the exercise of sharing that allows us, as a team, to deal with the threats that we face. The risk may be theoretical, but it does not feel like that when you are stood in front of the person or the computer.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

Q Sir Alex, this Bill certainly addresses foreign powers and the actions that they will undertake, but it does not update the Official Secrets Act 1989. That leaves us, or may leave us, in the bizarre position where someone discloses something that may inadvertently help a foreign power, but we have ended up with two different legal regimes and two different sentencing regimes for something that may deliver the same negative impact. If we assume that the Government are not at this point going to redraft the 1989 OSA, and we take for granted that they will introduce a foreign agent registration scheme of some sort, is there any other aspect of the 1989 Act that should definitely be included by amendment in this legislation later?

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

Just before we get the answer, I will just flag up that this may be outside of the scope of this Bill, but we will allow the discussion to proceed, because we have not made a precise ruling on it as the co-Chairs of this Committee. So please proceed, but there the potential for it not to be within the scope.

Sir Alex Younger:

My answer is a less eloquent version of that, which is that I have talked about the Government about this. Essentially, they say that they think it is too complicated to work this issue through in the timescale that this Bill is operating in. I am not a lawyer; I apologise. I do not have a detailed answer to your question.

Professor Sir David Omand:

I believe that the powers in the Bill are not only necessary, but urgent. In addition to everything that Alex was saying, we are living through a digital revolution. The digital harms are there. I would hate to see the powers in this Bill held up, and possibly even miss their legislative slot, while quite difficult work is done on the 1989 Act.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

I have never heard anybody apologise for not being a lawyer before.Q

Sir Alex Younger:

It is sincere.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

It is novel for me—I speak as a lawyer.

I would like to come back to clause 23 and the changes proposed to the Serious Crime Act 2007. I could tell you are very strongly in favour of the changes, but I wonder whether this kind of complete carve-out from liability for the agencies is something you have come across before anywhere else. Is this totally novel, or have you seen it operate somewhere else, and you think it would work well in these instances? There are already defences in that legislation to protect the people you were expressing concern about. What is so wrong with the defences that are already there?

Sir Alex Younger:

There are other examples. Australia is the clearest, but it goes much broader than this, actually. In our case, you are right, and it is really important to recognise that a large part of what is already there works. The SCA is, by the way, an Act that I absolutely support—I hate to see fat cats here helping people launder money overseas; it is really irritating. We need this stuff, but I am fairly sure that this aspect, the potential criminalisation of intelligence exchange, was unintentional. The reality is that the way the SCA is drawn, with its extraterritorial nature and its very broad conditions, captures things that would not be adequately addressed through the safeguards that were in place before.

Of course, as you allude to, there are defences in place, but to go back to the conversation we have just had, I do not think I as a counter-terrorist operator, which I was, would be particularly happy—even though I have faith in the justice system and the wisdom of juries—to know that what I did could be tested in a court of law with all the uncertainty that entails, when I am obeying a lawfully authorised instruction with all of the oversight that exists. I want to be really clear: when a UK intelligence community individual acts not in good faith or outside those instructions, they should absolutely be subject to all the considerations, including of secondary liability, that exist, but I think any ambiguity in the circumstances I just described is wrong and will have a chilling effect on our intelligence exchange.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood

Q Does not the ability to obtain a ministerial authorisation under the Intelligence Services Act 1994 deal with those concerns?

Sir Alex Younger:

Again, I am not a lawyer, but I do not believe that it does, no, not entirely. In fact, that is the predicate for what I am saying.

Professor Sir David Omand:

Yes, I would agree with that.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Sir David, you have a long sweep of history to look back at, with GCHQ and your role as the first security and intelligence co-ordinator, and now in academia. Sir Alex was speaking earlier about some of the long-term trends and the blurring of boundaries. I think you used the phrase “the digital revolution”. I wondered if you might say a word about what you think are the biggest growing or evolving threats right now.Q

Professor Sir David Omand:

From my experience, I would point to the consequences of the digitisation of every conceivable kind of information. That is proceeding apace. We have digital cities. Our infrastructure is now wholly dependent on IT.

In my recent book, I coined an acronym, CESSPIT—crime, espionage, sabotage and subversion perverting internet technology—and that perversion is going on as we speak. I will add one thought: I put “crime” in my acronym deliberately. If you take the activities of something like the North Korean Lazarus group, which was responsible for the WannaCry ransomware attack on our national health service, it is operating in order to obtain foreign exchange to pay for the North Korean nuclear programme and North Korean intelligence activity. In March, the group took more than $0.5 billion-worth of Ethereum currency from an exchange. This is large-scale larceny on behalf of a state.

My hope is that the powers in the Bill will help the police and agencies to deal with state-based criminal activity. I know that there are aggravated offences powers as well, which will help the police.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Q How do you see information operations working? How might foreign states seek to interfere in our democratic processes and public life?

Professor Sir David Omand:

If you recall the statement made almost exactly two years ago in the House by Dominic Raab, he said that the Government had concluded that it was “almost certain” that “Russian actors” had “sought to interfere” in our election in 2019; and we had the evidence from the American elections and the French presidential election in 2017. All the techniques were deployed. I do not know whether any members of the Committee have been watching the TV series showing on Channel 4, which is as good a primer as any on how such techniques can be used to pervert our political discourse as well as actually harm individuals. This is the world we are in, these are the harms we face and I think that this Bill is a good start in helping the agencies to address some of those harms.

Sir Alex Younger:

On this issue, you are right to focus on the possibility of interference in our democratic process and the potential unintended consequences of what we are talking about here. Of course, one person’s interference is another person’s legitimate intervention. Perish the thought that it should be the Government’s responsibility to say what is true and what is not. That is the difference between us and our opponents.

I can understand the scale of the problem; I have seen it. I had a long chat with the Government about this, and the thing that convinced me that this was an appropriate response was, first, the foreign powers condition—to be clear, that is about people acting on behalf of a foreign power—and, secondly, essentially the use of deception to achieve your aim. It seems to me that if someone is working on behalf of a foreign power, using deception, to distort our political process, we have a pretty clear basis for taking action. That, I think, is as it should be.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

Q I want to pick up on the foreign interference point in clause 13 of the Bill:

“A person commits an offence if…the person engages in conduct intending that the conduct, or a course of conduct…will have” a negative “effect” on the UK for or on behalf of the foreign power in question. In other areas of law, in particular the criminal law, we have intent and recklessness. Do you think that clause 13 should be expanded to include recklessness?

Professor Sir David Omand:

I looked at clause 24, “The foreign power condition”, and there is quite a lot of scope in it for a successful prosecution to demonstrate that the individual who as, as you say, acted recklessly, could reasonably have been expected to know that their act would benefit a foreign power, for example, so I was not so concerned about that particular question.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

So you do not think that it should be included in clause 13?

Professor Sir David Omand:

No, I had not concluded that.

Sir Alex Younger:

I do not have anything to add to that.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

Q I just want to press further on clause 23. You said that the absence of a carve-out to protect officers could have a chilling effect. Given that we have substantial data sharing, particularly with our closest partners, that the internal safeguards are very robust, and that there is already the defence of acting reasonably—you made the point that this would be on an order to do so—I am not clear yet why the carve-out in clause 23 is as necessary as you suggest it is.

Sir Alex Younger:

First of all, “carve-out” means different things to different people, but there is a wild idea that this is a granting of immunity that means we can behave willy-nilly. You will know from your Committee experience that this is not true. I want to make that really clear. The reality at the end of all this—we have had the theoretical versus practical conversation already—is that there exists a risk that individual UK IC officers will face criminal sanction for doing their job. I do not think that risk should exist. That is fundamentally where I am. You can decide as politicians that it is better than what is being proposed by the Government, but I am saying that I do not think it is compatible with a healthy sharing regime of the sort that produces the security benefits I have outlined.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

Q Sticking with that point, Sir Alex, in an earlier answer you referred to Australia having a much broader, greater carve-out for their intelligence officers to keep them safe and do their job legally. Could you expand on that?

Sir Alex Younger:

I cannot. I am sorry, but it happened just at the end of my time. I know from conversations with my Australian colleagues that they are very satisfied with the legislation that exists, in so far as that it deals with this issue. I would recommend looking into that yourself or speaking to the Australians. I do know that it is broader than what we are proposing here today. I am sorry I cannot be more helpful.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

Q I am sure the Clerks are listening. Speaking generally then, with Australia in particular being a close ally—there is Five Eyes and other joint initiatives—would you recommend more co-ordination legislatively with close allies such as Australia, to protect our frontline officers?

Sir Alex Younger:

Yes. It is not something I have thought hard about, but the fundamental principle of operating as a team is probably our most powerful riposte, alongside our values, to the threat of authoritarianism. It is something I am completely signed up for, but alliances are a thing we have that our opponents generally speaking do not. I was very proud to operate in one of those—Five Eyes—which is a particularly effective version. If we, as a matter of principle, aimed for interoperability through legal alignment, that is something I would absolutely support. It is never going to be complete. The United States particularly has a very different legal process to us. Certainly as regards counter-terrorism, the extent that we manage to align legally massively boosts operational co-operation. I am wholly confident that the same would be true when it comes to state threats.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

I think everybody here would agree that a team has to play by the same rules.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q The Bill creates a new offence of preparatory conduct in part 1. To what extent do you think that was an omission in previous legislation? I have heard from former members of the security services that they feel quite strongly that this is welcome, but the definition of preparatory conduct is drawn quite broadly. I wonder if you could comment a little on that.

Professor Sir David Omand:

I was pleased to see the power in the Bill because, particularly in the digital age, you can take the offensive and you can prepare, but you may not have got to the stage of actually pressing the button. If you can demonstrate that a foreign state was engaged with help from inside the country in some serious espionage or sabotage activity, it seems to me that the very preparation is something that the prosecutors ought to be able to bring forward. In the terrorism example, the cases would be slightly different, but the offence of acts preparatory to terrorism has been extremely helpful to the prosecution authorities for good reason.

Sir Alex Younger:

The bottom line is that we have to get in front of this stuff. Just speaking as a counter-terrorist practitioner, that is the additional discipline. It is not like solving the crime. We need to solve it before it has happened, and that raises a set of ethical and legal dilemmas where it is important to be striking the right balance, so I really welcome the proper treatment that we see of that in the Bill.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Sir David, following up on your points about the digitisation of information, Microsoft told me that a great deal of online state activity is around theft and access to data policy development, and think-tanks increasingly becoming a focus for attempts to have a look at and steal that type of work. Are those some of the things that you are seeing in terms of hostile state activity online, and do you think that the clauses in the Bill go far enough in protecting that type of policy work and data?

Professor Sir David Omand:

Probably not, but on the other hand you have to balance that against the risk that legislation would inadvertently catch, for example, academic activity in think-tanks. Alex Younger has referred to transparency and covertness. Where a foreign power is taking covert acts and dirty tricks in order to access our institutions, think-tanks and universities, that would be criminalised by the Bill.

Where a member of the embassy of any foreign state represented here attends, quite openly, think-tank meetings and so on—everybody knows who they are and they know they are on the guest list—that does not pose a direct harm. It would be a mistake to start to try to confuse those categories too much. However, what it comes down to is that this is a probabilistic business; this is doing things that increase the chances that we all protect the citizens and the interests of the state. This Bill alone is not going to prevent states from attempting harm against us, and it probably will not catch all those harms either, but it is a good start.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

Q I did not get a chance to ask you a question at the start of the session, Sir David, so I feel I am slightly obligated to ask you a question at the end. In terms of the need for reform, some of the legislation that preceded this is very old. You have mentioned some of this already, but could you expand a little on how changing the legislation will address some of the current state threats? It is worth having that on the record again.

Professor Sir David Omand:

Well, there is a lot in the Bill. The move away from having to identify states as enemies, for example. States have interests of their own and they will promote those interests. If they are doing so openly through diplomatic and academic means, that is one thing, but if they are doing it, as some are, covertly, then although you might not categorise them as enemies, they are none the less conducting themselves in a way that causes harm. That is one of the examples where I think the Bill takes a more up-to-date view. It is not just nations with which we are at war or potentially could be at war.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

That is very helpful. Thank you.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

We have a few more minutes. Does anyone else have any further questions?

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q I will pick up on a thread from the previous question, if that is okay. We talked about some of the physical engagement around think-tanks, universities and academia. Microsoft has done some work that shows the prevalence of targeting online, with Government, NGOs and think-tanks seen as emerging targets for hostile state activity. For understandable reasons, some of the limitations of the Bill would make it quite difficult to pursue and prosecute when theft takes place entirely online by somebody who is overseas. With that in mind, do you think there is anything further that we could do in legislation? Is what we have in the Bill enough to disincentivise, stop, disrupt and criminalise online theft of policy development and data, as opposed to trade secrets, which the Bill is quite explicit about in clause 2?

Professor Sir David Omand:

My reading of the Bill is that trade secrets and theft of intellectual property are well covered. You probably also have to have in mind the Online Safety Bill, which has a whole different set of considerations but which is, again, intended to reduce the amount of harmful content that citizens are exposed to. It is quite easy to envisage cases where a foreign state is putting material online covertly and pretending to be someone else.

In the 2016 US presidential election, there were a number of egregious examples of that—for example, in order to stir up conflict within society by exaggerating an existing split in society, be it over race, inequality or any other issue. That is the nature of the threat that we currently face in all democracies. You cannot solve it all by creating criminal offences where a link cannot be established back to the foreign powers condition, but you may be able—by working with the companies, which will exercise their own terms and conditions—to get more of this stuff removed. You need that as well as the powers in the Bill.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Further to that, we intend to table an amendment that would put a requirement on the Government to commission an independent annual review of the prevalence of disinformation pushed online by hostile states—looking at it in its entirety, but also its specific impact on UK elections—to try to deliver the transparency piece alongside some of the new offences. Is that the sort of thing that you think would be helpful?

Professor Sir David Omand:

Yes, and another important consideration is public education. I have argued before that we should start teaching critical thinking in schools and teaching kids how to be safe online when they come across deliberate and malicious misrepresentation.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Q I realise that we have a tiny amount of time left. It is the curse of these things that we have to finish exactly on time, because we are just getting into this very interesting and important topic. You mentioned the US elections in 2016. Do you think the word “disinformation” really covers what we are talking about? Sometimes, the most invidious and harmful activity is not necessarily saying something that is untrue; it is just winding people up to hate other people more than they did before, and to distrust the system, society and democracy more than they did before. I do not mean to lead the witness, Sir David.

Professor Sir David Omand:

I recommend the use of the OECD’s triplet of “misinformation”, which is wrong, but innocently so, and should be corrected; “disinformation”, which is deliberately and maliciously wrong; and “malinformation”, which is information that is true but was never intended to enter the public domain, such as the personal emails of Members of Parliament.

Sir Alex Younger:

Please hold that thought, because I spent years trying to work out whose side Vladimir Putin was on, as he was propagating all sorts of contradictory causes, and then I just realised that he wants an argument—he wants distrust and discord. I have not been to the OECD on the subject, but I entirely support that.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

That brings us to the end of the time allocated for this session. On behalf of the Committee, I thank our very distinguished witnesses for your time today.