I have now returned from Russia to Shepherd’s Bush.
This post started as a response to a comment by Bridget Dunne on the post below, who was concerned there may have been a miscarriage of justice in the fertiliser bomb case. My own view is that the fertilser bomb, 7/7 and 21/7 cases deserve to be discussed in a much more penetrative and complex way than is being done at present. I have a strong feeling that few on any side will agree with this posting, which is probably why I need to make it.
Bridget has a good point in that certainly the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four should make us very wary. I can now reveal that I went to the Old Bailey at the request of the defence to discuss giving expert evidence in the fertiliser bomb plot case.
In closed session, a representative of the security services had given evidence that, in no circumstances would we accept intelligence from the Pakistanti secret services if we thought it was obtained by torture. He was simply lying, which may be a point of appeal. In the event the defence did not call me.
My own view is that there was indeed a bomb plot here, but whether all five defendants were involved is another matter. I fear some might have been unfairly dragged into the net. There are also questions to be asked about apparent agent provocateur activity by the Pakistani ISI, a deeply complex organisation which contains its own jihadists, and its own anti-jihadists, either of which factions might have felt their interests served if an actual bomb had gone off in London.
But we should be wary of the attitude that there is no such thing as Islamic terrorism and that those convicted are always innocent. I think at least some of these were guilty, and MI5 and the police do indeed deserve a measure of congratulation.
I also accept that there is a great deal of truth in MI5’s defence on 7/7, that you simply can’t follow up on every lead. Bluntly, I would not want to live in the kind of Police State that could, and the logic of many of those posting on 7/7 failure would tend to lead us towards the kind of massive surveillance and intrusion of Karimov’s Uzbekistan. I have seen that, and believe me, we do not want more of it here.
The truth is also that it would require levels of pressure on the Muslim population that would lead to a still greater and justified feeling of oppression, and engender more terrorism in reaction. Let’s not head for vicious spiral country. On balance, MI5 and the police do a good job despite constant political spin, pressure and interference in their work. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; identifying cause is so much simpler once you actually have an effect.
But where the security services and police did go wrong was after 7/7, in repeated lies to the public, the media and parliament over how much they did know. It turns out not to have been true that these bombers “Came out of nowhere” and “Had not crossed the radar screen before”. This overly defensive reaction was perhaps understandable as a first instinct before all information could be collated from the files, but maintained far too long. Why? And how involved were the spin doctors?
There is material here which indeed needs public inquiry. But let it not be based on the notion that security must never “fail”. That is a false direction. Much more important is how to reduce the despair that drives young British people to contemplate desperate acts of violence. As has frequently been proven, the most important step that can be taken is to stop our blind support for the appalling Bush policy of aggression in the Middle East. In the bigger picture, the dead, maimed and bereaved of 7/7 should count as part of the Blair legacy.