The deadly intelligence gap
Published in: Daily Mail
Now more than ever, it is absolutely imperative that we keep our nerve. A terrible mistake has been made. An innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was killed by mistake last Friday when the Metropolitan Police wrongly assumed that he was a suicide bomber and shot him dead while he was cowering on the floor of a tube train.
It is crucial, however, that the correct conclusions are drawn from this appalling tragedy. The first and most important point is that the police response to the threat they believed was posed at Stockwell station was correct, and indeed was the only action they could responsibly have taken.
Those officers believed that he was a suicide bomber about to blow up a train. They were following rules laid down by the former Met Commissioner, Lord Stevens, under which they must shoot a suspected suicide bomber in the brain. This is because even if a suicide bomber is shot in the chest he could still detonate himself by a twitch of the finger.
In other words, the threat posed by a suspected suicide bomber -- even if he is down on the ground -- is quite unlike the threat posed by any other suspect, and the only way to protect the public is to kill him instantly.
But as we now know, the police were confronting someone who had nothing to do with terrorism. So how could such a dreadful mistake have been made?
The police were staking out the property where Mr de Menezes lived because the address was found in a bomber's rucksack. But it would appear that the police no idea who was supposed to be living there. When Mr de Menezes emerged, information that a suspect had left a property linked to suicide bombers was passed on to another squad who gave chase.
In other words, gripped by the fear that this man was a ticking human bomb the police jumped to a false conclusion, with tragic consequences. The reason they did so was not because they reacted wrongly -- indeed, they behaved with great courage -- but because of an appalling lack of intelligence information.
This is surely the crucial point. Since the July 7 bombings, the police have conducted an awesome forensic exercise in piecing together information. But they appear to have been doing so in an intelligence vacuum.
Obviously, we have no way of knowing what the intelligence services do know. And we are told they have succeeded in thwarting a number of previous Islamic terror attacks against this country.
Nevertheless, the gaps in their knowledge that now stand revealed are shocking. They had some 250 individuals under constant surveillance -- but none of the eight London bombers had shown up on their radar, even though some of them had appeared on the fringes of previous investigations. So how many other terrorists are there about whom the intelligence services have either suspected or done nothing?
Take, for example, the remarkable photograph that surfaced in the press last week of the group of young Asian men on a white water rafting holiday in north Wales last June. The newspapers immediately spotted two of the July 7 bombers in that group -- and now the police have revealed that they are investigating the possibility that at least two of last Thursday's bombers were on the same trip. Such collusion would constitute a major discovery.
But the disturbing fact is that security sources were aware months ago that al Qaeda terrorists had been on 'refresher' courses in Wales. In other words, it would seem that a group of suicide bombers had been conducting a group bonding and military planning session at an outdoors pursuits centre right under the noses of British intelligence, who at the time were unaccountably looking the other way.
Some security sources say in despair that there is still a lamentable dearth of informed analysis, and a state of denial of the nature and extent of the threat that persists at the highest level of the government's terrorist advisers.
Incredibly, even after the July 7 bombings, the intelligence services reportedly failed to foresee a follow-on attack, and told ministers they had very little to go on. This would explain the reported remark made by one participant at the COBRA meeting after last week's bombings that the head of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, had 'little to offer'.
This is because ever since 9/11 this country has been gripped by a kind of sleepwalker's trance. Security officials failed to take seriously enough the fact that extremist groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir or al Muhajiroun were recruiting young Muslims to the cause of terrorism, by using Islam to provide a sacred purpose to the call to arms over claims that Britain and the west were deliberately targeting Islam and murdering Muslims worldwide.
Above all, they failed to grasp how widely that hysteria had spread. A poll in the Daily Telegraph last weekend revealed that while the overwhelming majority of British Muslims abhorred terrorism, some six per cent supported it. Apply that percentage to Britain's Muslim population, and it makes no fewer than 100,000 individuals who might support terrorist acts.
The poll also found that more than half of Muslims believe that, while western society might not be perfect, they should live with it and not seek to bring it to an end. However, almost a third believed western society is decadent and immoral and Muslims should seek to bring it to an end, but only by non-violent means.
These figures suggest that a worrying proportion of Muslims are effectively at war with their own country. This became obvious following the invasion of Afghanistan, when some imams preached in British mosques that this was akin to Hitler's invasion of Europe and called Muslims to arms. Some young Muslim men accordingly went off to fight against the west in Afghanistan.
In just the same way, the war in Iraq is now being used as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, just as were the war in Bosnia, Australia's support for the liberation of East Timor and the existence of Israel.
In other words, anything that is seen as a challenge to the hegemony of Islam is used as a pretext to recruit terrorists to wage war against the west. And these grievances are carefully and shrewdly differentiated to sow maximum division and confusion among different target populations.
Even now, Britain has not emerged from its state of denial. Following the tragedy at Stockwell station, some are saying the police cannot be entrusted with extra powers, and are calling on the police to abandon what they emotively term a 'shoot to kill' policy; and from some Muslim leaders, there are thinly veiled threats that unless we leave Iraq there will be more terrorist attacks.
But the war being waged against civilisation is -- as the weekend's slaughter in Sharm el Sheikh displayed all too brutally -- a global assault by fanatics in the name of Islam which will not be assuaged by appeasement over any one grievance.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, was right to insist that the instruction to shoot dead suspected ticking human bombs would remain. And he was right to warn that such terrible mistakes might happen again.
But brutal realism must not stop there. It must also mean taking all necessary steps against all those who might harm us, including securing our borders, and it must mean radical improvements to intelligence. This country is facing an unprecedented type of war. We cannot fight it with our hands tied behind our backs.