BBC article: could 7/7 have been prevented?

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?

 

 

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