Leaked memos show the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ has repeatedly warned internally that it fears “damaging public debate” about the nature and scale of its mass spying activities because it could lead to legal challenges that affect the program.

The memos belong to the cache of classified documents disclosed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden and detail the agency’s long-standing fight against public awareness of its activities.

“Foremost among the reasons was a desire to minimise the potential for challenges against the agency’s large-scale interception programmes, rather than any intrinsic threat to security, the documents show,” wrote The Guardian’s James Ball.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

James Ball at The Guardian:

The papers also reveal that:

• GCHQ lobbied furiously to keep secret the fact that telecoms firms had gone “well beyond” what they were legally required to do to help intelligence agencies’ mass interception of communications, both in the UK and overseas.

• GCHQ feared a legal challenge under the right to privacy in the Human Rights Act if evidence of its surveillance methods became admissable in court.

• GCHQ assisted the Home Office in lining up sympathetic people to help with “press handling”, including the Liberal Democrat peer and former intelligence services commissioner Lord Carlile, who this week criticised the Guardian for its coverage of mass surveillance by GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.

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