Peter Taylor, a respected journalist at the BBC, argues that if there had been more coöperation between MI5 and regional police Special Branches, then the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005 could have been prevented. His thesis appears to be that MI5 did not work closely enough with the police (the executive branch) of the UK’s intelligence community: the aptly-named Operation Crevice has exposed the cracks in the unified public façade of the UK intelligence community.
However, Taylor assures us that this problem is in the past, with MI5 officers and Special Branch police now happily working side by side in regional offices across the UK. So that’s OK then.
It continues to surprise me that seasoned British journalists repeatedly fall into the post‑9/11 group-think of the USA — that terrorism is a new phenomenon. Rather startlingly, Taylor’s article even asserts that the FBI had the Crevice information in real-time, while the West Yorks SB was left in the dark.
Those in the UK with a memory longer than a mayfly’s will be aware that this country endured 30 years of Irish Republican terrorism, and during the 1990s MI5 had lead responsibility for investigating this threat. So from 1993 the spooks did indeed work side-by-side with their regional SB counter-parts across the country. During this period the emphasis was on gathering both intelligence to pre-emptively thwart terrorist plots and also evidence to use in the ensuing court cases. And there were some notable successes.
So what changed in the following decade? Did the spooks retreat back behind the barricades of their London HQ, Thames House, as the ink dried on the Good Friday Agreement? Were the hard-won lessons of the 1990s so quickly forgotten?
Well, certainly other lessons from the civil war in Nortern Ireland appear to have been expunged from the collective intelligence memory. For example, the use of torture, military tribunals, internment and curfews were all used extensively in the early years of the NI conflict and all were spectacularly counter-productive, acting as a recruiting ground for new generations of terrorists. Yet these practices now once again appear to be implicitly condoned by MI5 and MI6 in the USA’s brutal “war on terror”.
So one would hope that this new BBC programme calls for a reappraisal of our intelligence infrastructure. Why should we mindlessly continue to accept the status quo, when this results in lessons being forgotten and mistakes being repeated? How about the BBC calling for a root and branch review of the threats the UK realistically faces, and the most efeective way to guard against them, while working within the democratic process?