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MI5 chief Andrew Parker told the Royal United Services Institute 'there are several thousand Islamist extremists here who see the British public as a legitimate target' according to Frank Gardner of the BBC.
Information from the government in September shows that, in 2011/12, there were 37 persons charged with terrorism-related offences.
37 out of 'several thousand'.
Does that mean;
1) MI5 and the anti-terrorist branch are doing a rotten job of investigating these people 2) In a time of austerity, fear is a good way to keep your budget intact 3) Parker is contributing to efforts to persuade people that the activities of GCHQ, even if illegal, are justified 4) Something else?
Be afraid, very afraid.
Two stories from this mornings Telegraph.
"Britain's intelligence agencies should be trusted to operate in secret because they are not "political tools" of repression like security services in Russia and China, the head of the Intelligence and Security Committee has said."
*"Regulation will be imposed on press as politicians reject self-regulation The first rules on state regulation of the press for more than 300 years will be set out this week after politicians rejected the newspaper industry’s plans for self-regulation."*
Is nothing 'hush-hush' anymore click here
Those two stories come down to the same thing - expecting people to trust organisations that have proved they can't be trusted.
If Parker is right with his 'thousands' claim then letting them work in secret just covers up how poorly they are doing the job. If his 'thousands' is, shall we say, 'fanciful' they need to be scrutinised to make sure they aren't wasting millions on 'jobs for the boys'.
And the press has shown repeatedly that it can't be trusted to use its freedom responsibly. That puts it at risk but, if we end up with an unfree press, it will be the fault of the newspapers not the politicians.
All this is not new news. During WW2 Royal mail to suspects was routinely intercepted by MI5 - both suspected foreign spies and militant (usually left wing) trade unionists. Interception of e mail and telephones is an uncomfortable extension of activities that have gone on for years. Even the original "Special Branch" was formed to counter the old IRA.
The recent primary terrorist threat has moved from the PIRA to domestic or immigrant militant Islamists (see the tube bombers et al). If you just take the UK Pakistani diaspora alone of over 1.2 million - even if only a very small % are committed anti western militants you have a few thousand, plus all the recent Libyan, Syrian UK based nationals who have rushed to Syria to fight their cause and maybe get more radicalised.
It takes about 12 operatives (due to shifts etc) to physically follow suspects, and the MI5 "watcher" service simply cannot justify, say, 36000 to follow 3000. Parker cannot neutralise the folk without very strong evidence.
It is a given that such folk rely on telephone and e mail (bin Laden was traced in part by interception) so MI5, GCHQ etc together with NSA have developed extensive surveillance systems, and I am quite sure have foiled a number of "plots" that they keep secret. Do I trust them - not entirely, but there is no evidence that they rummage about looking at "non terrorist" activities of average folk. Those who are most uncomfortable might like to suggest alternative. I think it is essential that these agencies are closely monitored by a Parliamentary committee to ensure that they only are allowed to monitor a strict range of terrorist or very serious crime (drug trafficking etc) I do not like it but accept it in a similar way to accepting CCTV etc
I am not sure what evidence there is of these agencies regularly abusing trust - if they do then they must be severely punished.
'I think it is essential that these agencies are closely monitored by a Parliamentary committee'
I wouldn't disagree with that.
But, just yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee looking into the workings of the UK Border Force was told it could only see a redacted version of the report into the e-borders scheme.
The HASC was told that the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament would see the unredacted report but, as that link shows, the ISC isn't forthcoming about what it does.
What is it I read, One Man's Terrorist is another man's Freedom Fighter. think of the last ware and the Underground moment
*"Does that mean; 1) MI5 and the anti-terrorist branch are doing a rotten job of investigating these people 2) In a time of austerity, fear is a good way to keep your budget intact 3) Parker is contributing to efforts to persuade people that the activities of GCHQ, even if illegal, are justified 4) Something else?"*
I imagine it means that it's not an offence to be an Islamic extremist, or to see the British public as a legitimate target. You need evidence of terrorist-related activities, and if you don't have that you'll not get far in court.
I could be wrong, of course.
I sometimes think that we're sending some of our security agencies into battle with one hand tied behind their backs. The very nature of their work often means that they operate in the shadows, as it were, but we expect them to keep us all safe, and at the same time subject themselves to intense scrutiny. I accept that someone has to be accounted to, but that's what Ministers are for.
I tend to agree with you, in the main the work the security services do is for our benefit, but the nature of the work means it can never be fully 'open' for public scrutiny, yet is no doubt full of dangers for the personnel concerned.
'I imagine it means that it's not an offence to be an Islamic extremist, or to see the British public as a legitimate target. You need evidence of terrorist-related activities, and if you don't have that you'll not get far in court.'
The first part of that suggests that Parker shouldn't have suggested that those people are part of the threat his organisation needs to deal with. The second part says they aren't doing a very good job if there are people who are terrorists and they aren't bringing them to court.
As for accountability it appears that even the National Security Council wasn't aware of the extent of the activities of GCHQ.
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