Whistleblower Edward Snowden is set to be invited to give evidence to the European Parliament (EP) in January, sparking strong protests from British Conservative MEPs at giving “a public unchallenged platform for a wanted criminal”.
The Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee is enquiring into Snowden's claims of mass electronic spying on EU citizens by America's NSA intelligence agency and Britain's GCHQ – and they wanted to hear from the man himself, despite the fact that he is on the run.
The Committee has now been given the green light to hear his evidence by the President of the European Parliament and the leaders of the EP's main political groups, who on 12 December refused to override their plan to see him.
But if Snowden is heard, British Conservative MEPs are threatening to withdraw from the inquiry altogether.
Timothy Kirkhope MEP, civil liberties spokesman for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group which includes British Conservatives, said in a statement: “We were willing to engage with the committee in a positive and constructive way. However, we will have no involvement in an inquiry that gives a platform to those whose actions, whatever their motives, have aided those who would do us serious harm.”
A final decision on Snowden's appearance was yet to be taken at time of writing, but a spokesperson for the Committee told SCMagazineUK.com that arrangements were being made for him to appear on video, giving pre-recorded answers to two to three questions put forward by each of the EP's main political groups.
The spokesperson told us it was initially hoped Snowden would appear this month in a live video, but explained: “That would compromise his security because his location could be revealed, so he wouldn't accept that.”
The likeliest dates are therefore the Committee hearings scheduled for 9 or 13 January. But that raises another issue, as Snowden will be appearing after the enquiry's preliminary conclusions are presented, which is happening on Wednesday 18 December.
Echoing Kirkhope's anger at the move, ECR Group leader Martin Callanan called the invitation “a provocative act that would enable him to further endanger public security”.
"The President of the Parliament and other group leaders have refused to stop a wanted fugitive being given a free platform to further endanger public security,” complained Callanan. “The committee of inquiry asked group leaders to make a decision and they ducked out of taking responsibility by passing the decision back to a lower level.
"If the parliament was so desperate to hear from Snowden, it could have done so in a private forum. It should not give a public, unchallenged platform for a wanted criminal and then claim to be conducting an impartial or credible inquiry. MEPs will have no opportunity to cross-examine him in a live discussion through fears for his security. But what about fears for public security? The parliament's priorities are dangerously warped."
Kirkhope added: "The European Parliament's self-appointed inquiry into these allegations never wanted to ascertain facts. It has been a one-sided prejudiced talking shop for the left and far-left that has shouted down anybody who wants to approach these allegations with an open mind.
“The fight against terrorism is an ongoing one and all of the security services have been quite clear that Snowden's actions have handed terrorists an advantage. We should not hand them more.”