Donald Macintyre's sketch: MI5 boss has no licence to thrill

Andrew Parker made his job sound as exciting as being a bank manager

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Indy Politics

At the end of her BBC Radio 4 Today interview with Andrew Parker, Mishal Husain asked the MI5 head if he would be seeing the new Bond film. Obviously, he didn’t answer. That would be far too much to give away for a man in his position. He did, however, say: “I love Bond films because they are so distant from reality so we can all enjoy the fiction.”

This was as colourful as he got. But it played to one of his themes, which was to insist that the men and women of Five are “ordinary people who are part of our society, [and] live in our communities”.

Parker lived the part. He sounded as excited about the secret world as an assistant bank manager describing his business loans record. Okay, he was never going to say: “Look Mishal, as this is radio, let me show you this natty gizmo. Looks like an ordinary smoke alarm, right? In fact it’s a cutting-edge bugging device complete with video camera, used by our ‘lamplighters’ as John Le Carré so rightly calls them. And let me tell you some stories about that...”

But at least it would have enlivened a soporific interview, the first ever by a spy chief. All 22 minutes of it.

He was on to boost efforts to get the “snoopers’ charter” through Parliament and the social media companies’ reluctance to alert the authorities to suspicious or dangerous messages. So Parker was asked by Husain about his FBI director counterpart’s frustration about “going dark” on communications between the bad guys.

This term was too racy for Parker. “James Comey has referred to what he [brief pause] calls ‘going dark’,” Parker admitted. “By which he means shifts in technology, and particularly internet technology, encryption and so on, creating a situation where law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies can no longer obtain, under proper legal warrant, communications between people they believe are terrorists.”

Tell you what, Andrew, shall we stick with “going dark”?

Until the 1940s, the MI5 chiefs were called K, which at least had a whiff of excitement about it. Maybe Andrew Parker isn’t his real name. It’s so damned ordinary.

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