Former UK and US intelligence agents turned whistleblowers were given an unprecedented ovation at a European Parliament inquiry this week into the US's mass spying on EU citizens.
Ex-MI5 officer Annie Machon and former US National Security Agency senior executive Thomas Drake gave evidence to the EU's Civil Liberties Committee, which is investigating revelations that the US has been harvesting personal data on huge numbers of European and US citizens provided by Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft.
When Machon and Drake finished, they received prolonged applause from the 20-25 MEPs attending the hearing. An EU official said: “MEPs in this committee never praise anyone. They were really, really moved by the statements from Drake and Mrs Machon.”
Machon called for meaningful UK parliamentary committee oversight of surveillance activities, including legal powers of investigation. Referring to the former East German secret service, Drake said he never imagined "that the US would use the 'Stasi guidebook' for its secret mass surveillance programmes".
In another dramatic intervention, American civil liberties lawyer Jesselyn Radack read out a statement from Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA and CIA whistleblower who first revealed the full extent of the NSA's Prism programme of surveillance.
The statement said: “I thank the European Parliament and the LIBE Committee for taking up the challenge of mass surveillance. The surveillance of whole populations, rather than individuals, threatens to be the greatest human rights challenge of our time.”
Snowden called on the European Parliament to help shield whistleblowers. “We must create better channels for people of conscience to inform not only trusted agents of government, but independent representatives of the public outside of government.”
Radack likewise asked for tougher EU legislation. “I respectfully request that the Committee strengthen laws to protect whistleblowers, laws to protect privacy, and laws to protect the rights of publishers in the European Union to publish such revelations without fear of criminal penalty.”
The US Ambassador to Brussels, Robert A Wood, was invited to the hearing but declined. The head of UK spy agency GCHQ, Sir Iain Lobban, was due to appear before the Committee to face questions about GCHQ's alleged hacking of Belgian telecoms firm Belgacom on Thursday 3rd, but SC Magazine understood he too was unlikely to attend.