PracticeAuditSpies who stayed out in the cold

Spies who stayed out in the cold

Whisper it but this week comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn saw fit to qualify the accounts of the UK's security services. And while the qualification itself isn't exactly secret, it isn't being volunteered either - it's news that floats somewhat uneasily between official and unofficial states.

Sir John said he had been forced to qualify as he had been ‘unable to obtain all the information and explanations’ he felt he needed to given the accounts a clean bill of health. However, we were told little more.

Even the Commons Public Accounts Committee was kept in the dark about the report involving GCHQ – members were not even shown the statements on a confidential basis. It was merely ‘seen’ by chairman Edward Leigh under ‘normal arrangements’.

The sensitivity of such accounts is not at issue. Neither would anyone suggest full disclosure is an option. But is this degree of secrecy necessary?

It doesn’t reflect well on the security services – or the NAO – when negotiations about the accuracy of the agencies’ accounts are so shrouded in secrecy.

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