Friday, November 17, 2006

"The fiasco of Tony Blair's terror strategy"

Fraser Nelson in The Spectator (registration required):
The fiasco of Tony Blair’s terror strategy has been one of the best-kept secrets in Whitehall. As a matter of principle, the Prime Minister never answers questions about MI5 or MI6 — although he enjoys flaunting what he claims is his close relationship with the ‘professionals’. Those affected by his years of indecision have tended to keep their counsel…

The head of MI5 came as close as she could to making this exasperation in the intelligence community explicit last week. In a rare public speech, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller said she wished her job was as simple as fiction would have us believe — the spook dramas in which a small team of people hunt a known enemy, one at a time. In reality, MI5 is monitoring 1,600 suspects, with 2,800 staff trying to distinguish serious plots from youthful fantasy. They have scored several successes, most notably disrupting the alleged transatlantic airline plot this summer. But the jihadi menace, Dame Eliza concluded, will be with us for a generation.
Nelson states that the current strategy, ‘Project Contest’, which was designed in 2002, “reads like the woolliest sociological lecture by Sir Ian Blair into the causes of crime”. Last year a confidential report into Project Contest made the following observations: "The strategy is immature… Forward planning is disjointed or has yet to occur. Accountability for delivery is weak. Real world impact is seldom measured." And yet Project Contest survives. Ministerial dithering and the legacy of Gordon’s Brown freeze on the budgets of intelligence agencies when Labour first came to power have left the security services playing a life-or-death game of catch-up.

According to Nelson, Manningham-Buller’s intervention last week had nothing to do with a desire to see suspects detained for 90 days without charge; in fact, she resents government ministers making such suggestions. Sir Ian Blair may want 90 days, but Manningham-Buller would prefer a change in the law to allow continued questioning of terror suspects after they have been charged.

Nelson says that insiders have told him Dame Eliza was trying to make two points with her speech last week:
The first is that the typical homegrown Islamic terrorist is far more dangerous than the public understands… 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. The deadly sophistication of the plans hatched by Dhiren Barot — the al-Qa’eda terrorist sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court to at least 40 years in prison earlier this month — shows how right Dame Eliza is on this score.

Her second point was to prepare the public for a terrorist success.
There’s a cheery thought.