Whilst googling for a recent post about Police surveillance I found a Daily Telegraph article in which the Metropolitan Police Service appear to acknowledge the existence of a previously secretive fleet of military grade surveillance aircraft. To my surprise I cannot find another original source on this highly newsworthy story.
The Telegraph story describes how the MPS hid the aircraft fleet from scrutiny using a private holding company (with a PO box address in Surbiton). The aircraft are fitted with “surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or eavesdropping on conversations“. The Telegraph story suggests a cover up of illegal activity – it is hard to imagine the MPS did not intercept phone calls without a warrant in over a decade of secretly flying planes built for this purpose.
Why are no media reporting this? As a complete layman on these subjects I can think of only two possible explanations:
- The Telegraph story is wrong
- Reporting is restricted
The story is credited to two people one of whom is Jason Lewis the Telegraph’s long standing Investigative Editor. I doubt he made it up. I can find no certain information about the second journalist.
So, is there some type of restriction on the reporting of this story?
From my very limited understanding there are two mechanisms that might explain this scenario – A court injunction or the DA-Notice system.
The DA-Notice System is a “set of guidelines, agreed by representatives of the government departments directly concerned with national security and of all elements from the British Media. It informs editors, broadcasters, authors, publishers and others about what types of information need to be protected, and provides the basis for prior negotiation when there is disagreement about what should be disclosed to the general public”.
It is overseen by a committee drawn from Government and media. The are 5 permanent DA-Notices which have broad descriptions to define what might be summarized as don’t publish anything which will compromise “national security”.
Publishers voluntarily clear stories (that may fall within the DA-Notices description) with the DA-Notice Secretary. Publishers rarely ignore recommendations by the Secretary. Normally an agreeable compromise is reached – eg the story is run with certain details removed.
The Secretary receives on average 9 such inquiries per week from the media. In May 2010 the committee reported most inquiries from the media were related to Wikileaks, Libya and Special Forces. The Secretary’s recommendations were accepted in “virtually all cases”.
The Secretary will also send out advisory letters to all media highlighting his concern with a specific issue. Six letters were sent in the 6 months up to May 2010. One was about Wikileaks.
DA-Notices seem intended to keep secret the operations of the military, intelligence services and special forces. I find it difficult to believe that every news outlet could be convinced that reporting on illegal Police spying would be a threat to national security.
The Government will use the courts as a last resort if a news outlet refuses to comply with a suggestion of the Secretary. I have found no reference to an injunction on the fleet.
Basically, I haven’t a clue why this story has been published but so ignored. Any ideas?