In their carefully choreographed first public session, MPs and peers on parliament's intelligence and security committee ranged predictably, and thinly, over the work of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ.
Andrew Parker, the new head of MI5, had the air of someone who wanted to go on and on, emphasising the (genuine) threats posed by potential terrorists. Sir Iain Lobban, head of GCHQ - the electronic eavesdropping agency at the heart of the Edward Snowden allegations, seemed full of venom towards the leakers and the newspapers, notably the Guardian, that revealed the enormous capabilities of his agency and its close partner, America's NSA, but unable to spit it out.
It was left to Sir John Sawers, the smooth chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (commonly known as MI6), to deliver the soundbite.
"What I can tell you is that the leaks from Snowden have been very damaging; they have put our operations at risk. It is clear that our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaida is lapping it up," he told the committee. As a result, he added, "it becomes more difficult to acquire the intelligence that this country needs".
The committee's big failure was not to probe the witnesses at all on the allegations of mass, computer-driven surveillance operations of GCHQand NSA. The agencies are reported to have the ability to intercept the main communication links that carry users' data for big internet companies such as Google and Yahoo.
This strikes at the heart of the unaccountable power of GCHQ – and theNSA – to invade personal privacy. It is an issue which has provoked outrage in many quarters in the US, in Germany and in other countries, but not very much, it seems, in Britain.
And, it appeared, the members of the committee did not begin to understand the significance of such invasion of personal privacy and the links between GCHQ, the NSA and Silicon Valley.
Lobban repeated the comparison of trying to look for needles in haystacks. The vast majority of the communication would be discarded. How do we know? Because you can trust his staff.
Rifkind sensibly asked what his witnesses thought about the NSA sharing sensitive GCHQ information with "a junior clerk" – ie, Snowden. We know that the NSA shares such information with more than 800,000 people. Parker replied simply that UK agencies have vetting procedures. He added: "I can't comment on US arrangements."
The committee members could scarcely avoid the allegations – indeed evidence – that MI6 and MI5 had colluded with the CIA in the abuse and torture of terror suspects. MI6 was involved in the rendition of two prominent Libyan dissidents who were subsequently tortured by Muammar Gaddafi's secret police.
Sawers was quick to emphasise, more than once, that in potentially difficult cases his officers always consulted ministers. Any changes in the law covering their activities were also entirely a matter for ministers.
Asked why the intelligence agencies had not foreseen the end of the cold war, the 9/11 attacks, and the Arab spring, Sawers said the agencies were "not crystal-ball gazers".
The witnesses thus got off scot-free. They did reveal, however, that whether the line between secrecy and transparency should be redrawn was being "actively considered". In private, of course.