Nervous MI5 chief Andrew Parker makes history with live broadcast interview

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The director general of MI5 said little in his first live radio interview that he had not said nine months ago in one of his occasional set-piece speeches.

His themes were the unprecedented scale of the Islamist terror threat and the worrying capability gap that is emerging as more terrorist communications move onto encrypted internet platforms.

What mattered more about Andrew Parker’s appearance on Today, Radio 4’s flagship current affairs programme, was that it happened at all.

Mr Parker was understandably nervous as he took his seat in the studio opposite presenter Mishal Hussain. In the 106-year history of the Security Service this was the first time its head had been subjected to a live broadcast interview – until 1986, Government did not formally acknowledge the service’s existence.

In the end he got a relatively gentle grilling which ended on a light-hearted note with a discussion about James Bond films.

The point of the exercise was not to divulge any secrets but to signal that MI5 was ready for the new age of transparency and accountability demanded in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks.

More significant than the hysteria about “mass surveillance” that accompanied Snowden was the realisation that governments, parliaments and the public had no clear idea what their spies were up to.

A new investigatory powers bill, expected next month, will attempt to address that crisis of confidence by devising a more transparent and rigorous oversight mechanism to govern the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

By appearing live on radio, Mr Parker was saying he would accept that part of the bargain. In return, however, he wants the enhanced powers he believes he needs to monitor terrorists’ cyber chatter and thwart their deadly plots.