The mainstream media is in a flurry of excitement over the “Terror” arrests of students in the North West of England. Linked to this is the media feeding frenzy over the resignation of Bob Quick, Scotland Yard’s anti-terror chief. It is important to note that the Quick incident only brought forward the arrests by a few hours. Yet in all the acres of coverage in the newspapers, and all the hype on TV, nobody seems to have noticed the real story.
It was an accident that Bob Quick had his secret document on display as he was photographed entering Downing St.
But it was no accident that he was photographed entering Downing Street.
No 10 is a Tardis-like building which is far more impressive inside than out, and which seems impossibly large. Its secret is that it links straight through to No 11 and, more importantly, through to the huge Cabinet Office building that runs along Whitehall. The Cabinet Office is the central secretariat of the British government and in effect the office of the Prime Minister. The separation of the No 10 staff and the Cabinet Office staff is a polite fiction. The government’s major interdepartmental committees meet in the Cabinet Office, including the sexy Joint Intelligence Committee and its sub-committees. One of the fascinating things about the vast Cabinet Office building is that it incorporates parts of the original fabric of the Tudor Whitehall Palace.
In the first Iraq War I used to hand carry intelligence reports to No 10, and sometimes had to explain them personally to Mrs Thatcher. I never once took one in the front door. In fact I have only ever walked in the front door of No 10 when accompanying a foreign dignitary or attending a party. The front door is for people the government wants to be seen ?” hence the permanent stand of photographers which captured Bob Quick. People arriving to brief on secret matters go in through the back door, or more likely through the Cabinet Office.
So why did the government want us to see that Bob Quick was entering No 10? The only possible answer is that, had things gone more smoothly in the arrest of the “Terror suspects”, the government would have paraded the footage of Quick entering no 10 as evidence that it was really Glorious Gordon and Genius Jacqui who had directed the operation and saved the world – again.
It is very, very wrong ?” it violates the whole spirit of the constitution ?” for politicians to be involved in arresting people. If the police had real evidence that these people are terrorists, then of course they should have been arrested when the Police felt the right moment had come. That moment is when they have sufficient evidence, and are not putting the public at risk by undue delay. That is a technical decision requiring skill, expertise and experience in operational policing.
It is a matter of the criminal law. It is absolutely not the business of Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown. But we know that under New Labour the politicians are deciding who should be arrested and when. We know that for sure because then Home Secretary John Reid said in terms that he decided when the arrests should be made in the farcical “Bigger than 9/11”, (though in the event non-existent), “Liquid airplane bomb plot” case.
If politicians are going to decide the timing of arrests, then they cannot be surprised or aggrieved if we suspect that the timing of arrests is political.
This was definitely the case in the “Liquid Bomb Plot”. I know for certain from my own sources that in that case the intelligence services believed they had been forced by politicians to act too soon. That was quite widely reported at the time.
The view that John Reid had acted too early appears proved by a complex series of verdicts brought in by the jury. Less than half of those arrested actually were brought to trial. The jury found that three of the accused did have an intention to commit terror, but had formed no definite plan and specifically cleared them of the charge of planning to down aeroplanes with explosives.
Why had Reid jumped the gun? Because the Americans asked him to. With Bob Quick’s predecessor, the disgraced Andy Hayman, giving an official Scotland Yard view that the “Liquid Bomb Plot” was “Bigger than 9/11″ and involved plans to fly up to a dozen passenger jets simultaneously into different US cities, the resulting worldwide front page headlines were a Godsend for Bush in mid-term elections. They also enable the government to permanently ramp up the fear factor by the ludicrous toothpaste and shampoo searches that make flying so miserable.
In the liquid bomb plot do you remember the massive banner headlines ?” the full front page of every single tabloid in the UK -about the evil Muslim mother who planned to blow up herself and her baby along with the plane? There was no media reporting at all when she was cleared and released. The “Suspicious chemical” which police announced they had found in baby bottles was, errr, baby bottle sterilising solution.
The reasons why these “Terror raids” might be the subject of political timing could not be more obvious. Both Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown were getting a well-deserved media pasting over the outrageous ripping off of the taxpayer for personal benefit through expense claims. The Metropolitan Police were under extreme criticism for their unprovoked killing of Ian Tomlinson.
So this morning, instead of the news headline being the disgraceful fact that the policeman who launched an unprovoked assault from behind on Ian Tomlinson has still not been arrested, the headline is that the police have saved us all from certain death.
Let me be plain. I am not saying that terrorism does not exist. I am not saying that those arrested are innocent. I do not know. I am saying that Brown and Smith’s involvement in operational police arrests, and the fact that less than 1% of those arrested under anti-terror legislation in the UK have ever been charged with anything connected to terrorism, gives me the right to be suspicious of what is undeniably, at the very least, politically very fortuitous timing.
It is also the arrest of alleged terrorists from Pakistan, at a time when the government is under both parliamentary and criminal investigation for participation in torture of terrorist suspects in Pakistan. The government has responded by arguing that intelligence from torture abroad is necessary to save lives in the UK. I have no doubt that we will find the government arguing that this “terror plot” justifies their case.
Because of this suspicion, I will be setting a high test for evidence that these arrests really were needed at this time. The accusation is that a bombing campaign was ready for this Easter ?” ie now. If that is true, there must be explosives and detonators ready, or in the very final stages of preparation. We will see.
According to Sky News this morning, police searches so far have discovered photographs of leading buildings in Manchester taken by the students.
I studied Russian in St Petersburg. I have photographs I took of the Hermitage, of the Church on the Holy Blood, of the St Peter and Paul Fortress, of the bridges over the Neva, of the ornate underground stations. I studied Polish in Lublin. I have photographs of Lublin castle, of the main shopping street, of the Catholic University of Lublin…
I have, in fact, photographs of prominent buildings everywhere I ever studied. And photographis in bars and nightclubs.
Why do the police feel the need to feed out to the media the complete non-news of the non-evidence that they have discovered photographs of Manchester in Manchester? Why was it necessary for the Prime Minister to make a statement announcing the arrests? What does that do to the chances of a fair trial? Why was it never necessary to make a prime ministerial statement every time a suspected Irish terrorist ?” and remember they really did blow up the Arndale Centre in Manchester ?” was arrested?
There are many genuine and diligent people carrying out counter-terrorism work in the police and intelligence services, working the old-fashioned way with painstaking accumulation of evidence. They do save lives and they should be applauded and supported. They should be free from political interference and distanced from politicians.
They may have foiled a genuine plot here. If so they must be congratulated. The Home Secretary ?”who has not foiled any plots – should have been briefed after arrests were made, and there should be no room for suspicion that politicians had interfered.
That would have stuck to the cardinal rule of only telling people who actually have to know about an operation – and the rule of not carting around secret documents for no purpose.
The photo leak ?” which could indeed have jeopardised a security operation which may or may not prove to have been vital – was caused directly by the excessive and completely unnecessary involvement of the politicians in policing detail.
A police state is not a state where the police rule. It is a state where there is no distance between the politicians and police.
A police state is a state where a policeman can be caught on camera launching an unprovoked fatal assault from behind, yet not be arrested. A police state is a state where the police raid the parliamentary offices of opposition MPs. A police state is a state where it is the politicians who are making the decisions on who gets arrested and when.