Keep national security confidential

Letters to the Editor

Keep national security confidential

Thursday, November 07, 2019

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Dear Editor,

Whatever happened to that much-publicised national security summit between the two political parties sponsored and moderated by civil society groups a few weeks ago?

I was optimistic that our leaders would finally put the national interest above partisan politics and have a common understanding on national security, crime in particular. This naive hope was dashed at last week Tuesday's sitting of Parliament when shadow minister on national security Fitz Jackson and other members of the Opposition insisted on discussing sensitive national security matters during the public session.

Apparently it was all talk. If there had been agreement between the two sides to co-operate on national security why didn't the Opposition utilise that mechanism, instead of seeking to hang out our national security underwear for all and sundry to see the holes in it?

I am no expert in national security and governance; however, I read enough to know that the countries we so emulate, the US, UK, and Canada, do not discuss the sensitive details of their national security strategies, capacity (or lack thereof), or its procurement in open fora. Nevertheless, they still have rigorous parliamentary oversight through select committees in which both Government and Opposition members are sworn to secrecy. While it would be impossible to eliminate competitive politics from democracies, the representatives in those countries are sophisticated enough and understand the threats to be real that they would not go as far as some members in our Parliament attempted to do last week.

Take the current impeachment case of the sitting US president. Most of the hearings are taking place in secret and sensitive information is filtered out of the released transcripts. There is no question that healthy competitive politics is at play by the Democrats, but they behave in a way not to disclose classified information that could compromise their national security. This is quite unlike our representatives here, who are prepared to tell the criminals what capabilities we have, from whom it was bought, and who is being trained to use it.

I thought the prime minister's intervention was timely and saved ultimate disaster. He quite diplomatically redirected members to utilise the Internal and External Affairs Committee to have their questions addressed.

My disappointment is not only with the Opposition, I am disappointed with The Gleaner's editorial as well, for insisting on the disclosure of the judge's ruling on the secret memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreed to by former Minister of National Security Dr Peter Phillips. I stand to be corrected, but I don't recall a similar call for the now adjudged unlawful secret MOU to be released to the public when it came to light. The call for transparency in the release of the judgement is defeated by the very fact that Phillips, the man they now seem to defend, claimed that he had to sign the MOU in secret for national security reasons. Clearly, for him, national security is a valid reason to scuttle transparency.

While I agree that not all national security matters should be publicly disclosed, all matters of the State, especially national security matters, must have oversight. There must be another arm or agency of Government that reviews these matters on the public's behalf without necessarily making public disclosure. Peter Phillips didn't even tell his prime minister or minister of foreign affairs of his act of binding the nation in an MOU. So much for transparency!

Jamaica has never been in a war or face any real external threat, so our concept of national security is limited and unsophisticated as easy-going island people. Add to that the overwhelming distrust of the State, which leads to the commonly held view that everything should be publicly disclosed. It is hard to fathom in our excessively liberal democracy, but it is nonetheless true that not everything in which the public is interested is indeed in the public's interest.

Roshean Williams

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