17 November, 2006

"Fiasco Royale": Labour's counter-terrrorism strategy.

In the Spectator, Fraser Nelson examines in depth the government's counter terrorism policy and his conclusions do not make comfortable reading.

Fraser calls Tony Blair's counter-terrorist strategy a "fiasco". The government's approach is still rooted in the days of Project Contest, when Islamic terrorism was viewed as a sociological problem. The level of present funding is not the problem; the Treasury is now providing all the finance MI5 can use but the agency is still suffering from being squeezed in previous years, before the government had fully woken up to the terrorist problem. Neither do the intelligence services favour the police's favoured prescription of changes in the law to allow suspects to be detained for 90 days; rather, they want to able to interview suspects after they have been charged. The major problem is ministerial dithering and inaction.

According to Nelson, five years after 9/11, and 16 months after the London bombings, only now is the current Home Secretary, John Reid, working with MI5 and MI6 to try to fashion a coherent policy out of a terrorist strategy he inherited "that was no more fit for purpose than the rest of his dysfunctional department". In a series of Thursday afternoon meetings, Reid, his officials and the intelligence agencies are trying to rework Project Contest into an effective counter-terrorist strategy.

Nelson has been told by those intelligence officials he has talked to that in her recent speech, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5 "was trying to make two points by implication".

The first is that the typical homegrown Islamic terrorist is far more dangerous than the public understands: he is not the young, amateur extremist talking wildly about making fertilised bombs in his bathtub. Now, the suspects categorised as ‘essential’ by MI5, the highest risk of the three categories, are more likely to be trained by al-Qa’eda professionals — and seeking chemical weapons. Qualitatively and quantitatively, the threat is of a different scale...

...Her second point was to prepare the public for a terrorist success. When she gave the figure of 30 separate terrorism plots being kept under surveillance, those familiar with MI5 idiom knew what she was really saying. If one plot is considered active, as the Heathrow plot was in the summer, it consumes literally half the manpower of MI5. If three or four plots go live at the same time, the agency would be overwhelmed.
One implication of Manningham-Buller's remarks is that if the terrorist do succeed in perpetrating another atrocity, it is the politicians, rather than the intelligence community, that should take responsibility. I am inclined to agree.

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