So the ISC spent eighteen months (how did it take eighteen months? It shouldn’t have taken eighteen weeks) examining the background to Lee Rigby’s murder. Today it issued a report containing 59 recommendations, 44 of which were highly crticical of the intelligence and security services. They showed that the suspects had been the subject of no less than seven operations of interest (of varying levels of importance) and that one had even been given security clearance to return from Kenya where he was known to have been a member of al-Shabaab. The ISC also logged numerous instances of incompetence by each of the services including files lost, intelligence not logged and leads simply not followed up because officers were too lazy.
The end result of all this analysis is that the services responsible for the debacle have been rewarded with £130 million of extra funding. Meanwhile, the government has said that the whole episode was actually the fault of the internet service providers for not spotting the danger sooner.
Much has been made of a conversation that one of the suspects held on Facebook in which he discussed murdering a soldier. If only this had been made known to the authorities (wail the armchair generals), then the attack might have been averted. What the critics fail to notice is that the message in question was dated a full six months before the attack and was sent at a time when the suspect was already under surveillance. This surveillance was subsequently cancelled as it seemed that the suspect had become more interested in drug peddling. One Facebook message, violent though it was, is unlikely to have changed that assessment. Furthermore, critics also fail to realise that, even if this type of information had been handed over, it would have been in its raw state i.e. part of a massive tranche of data out of which the intelligence services would have had to find this particular message. And finally, even if the message had been found, amongst the 2000 or so suspects which the agencies already have on their books, this type of talk is common. They are always bragging to each other about doing some killing or attacking a building or kidnapping a celebrity and nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand it comes to nothing. So even with this “crucial” piece of evidence it is still highly unlikely that the attack would have been stopped.
Meanwhile, buried in the report is one really interesting recommendation: that the Prevent programme should be better funded as it has a far better chance of preventing these lone wolf attacks ever happening. This has been ignored in all the coverage. Nor has the ISC examined another key problem: that there is far too much duplication and waste in a system which has both police and a security service covering the same ground. There is far too much delay in developing, merging and following up intelligence leads. But you won’t hear anything about these points. In the first place, there are too many vested interests in maintaining two separate, but parallel empires. In the second place, it is a lot easier to throw money at a problem than to do any original thinking. And finally, the whole point of the report is to prepare the ground for new legislation. That is why the news about the Facebook conversation was leaked to the right-wing press on the morning of the report (as was pointed out by a former Conservative minister).
And so, as expected, the services have escaped without penalty. No-one has been sacked, no-one has been punished. Instead, the government is going to use that one Facebook conversation as the basis for a press campaign with which it will drive through more draconian communications monitoring powers. It will be a new Snoopers’ Charter implemented on a wave of carefully orchestrated public outrage. (Apologies if I sound a bit “conspiracy theorist”, but that’s the way it is). The end result is that not only are the services getting more funds, they are also getting greater powers. Who knows, perhaps next time, if the terrorists manage to detonate a bomb in a British city, the services will get £500 million extra? As an officer once said: “That’s the point about being the intelligence services – we never lose.”
If only it weren’t so tragic I could laugh.