The Intelligence and Security Committee
The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) is a committee of Parliament of the United Kingdom appointed to oversee the work of the intelligence machinery of the United Kingdom.
The committee's formal responsibilities are to examine the expenditure, administration and policies of the security and intelligence agencies as laid down in statute; the Secret Intelligence Service, the Security Service and Government Communications Headquarters. It has however extended its oversight responsibilities to include the Defence Intelligence Staff and the Joint Intelligence Committee. The members of the committee are notified under the Official Secrets Act 1989 and are given access to highly classified material in carrying out their duties. The committee holds evidence sessions with Government ministers and senior officials (for example, the head of the Security Service). It also considers written evidence from the intelligence and security agencies and relevant government departments. The work of the committee is invariably conducted in secret, though an unclassified annual report is issued. The committee also produces reports on issues of particular concern, either on its own initiative or at the request of government ministers.
The ISC is a committee of Parliament, with nine members appointed by Parliament after nomination by the Prime Minister. It is slightly anomalous, being a statutory committee rather than a normal parliamentary select committee. The ISC was created by Part 1 of the Justice and Security Act 2013, which reversed the previous, more anomalous, position, where the members of the committee were appointed by, and reported to, the Prime Minister, after nomination by Parliament.
The committee has greater powers than a select committee of Parliament, being able to demand papers from former governments and official advice to ministers, both of which are forbidden to select committees.
The committee has an independent secretariat which was previously provided by the Cabinet Office. In its 2009–10 annual report, the ISC said there was a conflict of interest in being hosted by a department which came under its scrutiny and it has since moved to government offices at 35 Great Smith Street, with an independent web page.It also, from 2009, had a panel of three investigators: a general investigator to undertake specific investigations covering the administration and policy of the agencies, a financial investigator covering expenditure issues, and a legal advisor to provide the committee with independent legal advice. It is not known whether the current committee has continued with these three investigators. From 1999 to 2004, the committee's only investigator was John Morrison, who is a co-author of the only in-depth study of the ISC to date. Before 2013, the ISC had been established under the terms of the Intelligence Services Act 1994. There was an unsuccessful attempt to bring the committee under the administration of Parliament in July 2008.
Since the committee is nominated by the Prime Minister, the degree to which it is independent has been questioned by journalists, privacy groups such as Liberty, and MPs. The ISC itself says it is independent because it is composed of cross-party MPs and Peers and gained stronger powers under the Justice and Security Act 2013.