Deportations not based on intelligence assessment of risk

In the Home Affairs Committee hearings Charles Clarke admits that there is no intelligence assessment to suggest that his plans for deportation will reduce the threat of terrorism. This admission follows concerns about the risk of torture for people being deported to countries with a track record of abuse. The hearing was also told of the first British citizen to be subject to executive detention without trial (control orders).

JAMES KIRKUP, writing in the Scotsman looks at what was said.

“MI5 HAS not told ministers that deporting alleged Islamic extremists will significantly reduce the threat of terrorist attacks, Charles Clarke admitted yesterday, prompting suggestions the government’s policy is driven more by politics than genuine security concerns.

The Home Secretary’s revelation came as he gave evidence to a committee of MPs investigating anti-terrorism laws.

The Home Secretary was asked by Janet Dean, a Labour MP, if he had been advised by MI5 that deporting foreign preachers would significantly reduce the risk of bombings.

“It does not reflect specific security service advice in the way that you put your question,” Mr Clarke replied.

A senior Whitehall official later confirmed that MI5 had not been involved in the formulation of the deportation policy, and would only become involved if asked to provide a security assessment of individuals facing expulsion. The deportation plan was conceived in the Home Office, the official said.

Mr Clarke told the committee that in the wake of the London bomb attacks, the “climate” around terrorism had changed, which explained new government policies.

But, questioned about officials’ decision to lower their threat assessment in the months before the 7 July attack, he insisted that the level of danger had not risen and that intelligence did not suggest any specific threat facing Britain.

John Denham, the former Labour Home Office minister who chairs the committee, said afterwards that Mr Clarke’s answers suggested a government policy driven by the desire simply to reflect public opinion and not sensible precautions.

“The implication is that the decision to deport is based not on the actual threat but on the change of mood and atmosphere since the bombings.

Mr Denham pointed out that earlier this year the government had argued that its “control orders” curbing individual freedoms were an adequate safeguard against terrorism.

Since the London bombings, Mr Denham said, the government’s stance had changed, “even though there has been no change in the threat”.

He added: “Some of the policies from the government appear to be reflective only of the need to be seen to be doing something.”

So far, the government has not successfully deported anyone suspected of encouraging militancy, though officials have drawn up a list of several likely targets for expulsion.

Nine of the people on that list were previously interned at Belmarsh jail in London, then released and subject to “control orders.” Those orders have been allowed to lapse pending deportation proceedings, Mr Clarke revealed yesterday. He also said that the first control order has been imposed on an unnamed British citizen, last Monday.

There are now three people in Britain under control orders, among them believed to be Abu Qatada, a preacher who is linked to Osama bin Laden and was arrested last month.

Mr Clarke said he had refused three requests to modify terms of the control orders, which impose a loose form of house arrest on suspects, including a curfew and restrictions on who they can speak to and meet.

Mr Clarke also said “hundreds” of people in Britain remained under surveillance.”