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'Spying' warrants for MI5 rejected by Theresa Villiers

By Michael McHugh

Published 27/07/2015

Refusal: Theresa Villiers
Refusal: Theresa Villiers

MI5 has been refused surveillance warrants by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, a watchdog has disclosed.

The Intelligence Services Commissioner said the Northern Ireland Office took great care when considering requests from the counter-terrorism agency and paperwork was in good order.

But Sir Mark Waller expressed concern about the breadth of language used to define the subjects on two urgent warrants, one which included intrusive surveillance.

He said: "The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shows a keen interest in the case for necessity and proportionality. She can and does refuse warrants."

Intrusive surveillance can only take place in support of one of the functions of the intelligence services in relation to the activity specified in the warrant signed by the Secretary of State.

Dissident republicans pose a severe threat and have killed policemen, soldiers and a prison officer. MI5 took on responsibility for national security intelligence work in Northern Ireland in 2007.

Most dissident attacks last year were foiled, according to the head of the organisation.

Andrew Parker said of more than 20 such incidents, most were unsuccessful and that up to four times that amount had been prevented.

Late last year, secret MI5 recordings at a house in Newry, Co Down, led to the arrest of 12 men during a police sting operation.

The commissioner said: "In Northern Ireland I was concerned with the breadth of language used to define the subjects on two urgent warrants, one of which included an intrusive surveillance authorisation.

"However, after challenging the NIO I was reassured that they were keeping a close eye on the use of the warrants and that the Secretary of State expected to be notified of any use."

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