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US fears UK will reveal American state secrets, top British official says

U.S. authorities fear that American secrets will be revealed by British courts and have cut back on intelligence-sharing, a top U.K. official said Wednesday.

Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary in the U.K. cabinet, has been criticized over proposals to hold some court hearings in secret to prevent sensitive information being disclosed.

The BBC said the plans were drawn up after a number of cases involving detainees at Guantanamo Bay, particularly that of British man Binyam Mohamed. The government has said it was forced to reveal U.S. intelligence information and this had caused friction.

'Americans have got nervous'

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Clarke said "the Americans have got nervous that we are going to start revealing some of the information and they have started cutting back, I’m sure, on what they disclose."

“I’m not told exactly, but I’m told that in fact the Americans have been extremely cautious since the Binyam Mohamed case and it’s getting in the way of cooperation," he said. “I can’t force Americans to give our intelligence people full cooperation... If they fear our courts they won’t give us the material.”

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“It’s easy to say ‘Oh the Americans have got to take their chances, if British courts want to reveal American intelligence, that’s fine,’” Clarke added. “I’m afraid the Americans are not accountable to me; I cannot make the Americans put up with that and sometimes national security requires that we have to give a guarantee of complete confidentiality to third-party countries, not just the Americans.”

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The government's proposals are outlined in a "Justice and Security Green Paper," which is designed to seek views of politicians and other interested parties. Assuming it didn't abandon the proposals, it would then draw up a "white paper" of potential legislation, which must be put to a series of votes by lawmakers in parliament.

In a statement Wednesday, lawmaker Hywel Francis, chair of the U.K. parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights, said he was "troubled" that Clarke did seem to think that the proposals were "as radical a departure from our longstanding traditions of open justice and fairness as I, the Committee and many others believe them to be."

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"Closed material procedures [court hearings] are inherently unfair and the Government has failed to show that extending their use might in some instances contribute to greater fairness.  All other means should be pursued to allow proceedings to take place without resort to them," Francis said.

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