Tuesday, January 09, 2007

On Intelligence Failures

This is the dictionary definition of ''failure''.

1.an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success: His effort ended in failure. The campaign was a failure.
2.nonperformance of something due, required, or expected: a failure to do what one has promised; a failure to appear

If you are charged with protecting the country, and your job is to watch for terrorists, and you have two of the July 7 bombers in your sights, and you record and film them consorting with other known terrorists, talking about jihad, but you let them go, and they go on to kill, then that is a failure.

If your job is to know what to look out for with reference to the behaviour of self-styled jihadi terrorists, and the men you have in your sights, whom you are following, display many if not all of those danger-behaviours, but you let them go, and they go on and they kill 52 and maim and wound hundreds, then that is a failure.

(You don't need to be a spook to know what to look for: even I can tell you what the behaviours are likely to be, after researching and studying it: I have written about it before. The Spanish, after the Madrid bombing, could tell you, so could the French, who have years of experience in this area... I am sure M15 and M16 knew, after years of covertly monitoring militant Islamic activity in London and elsewhere, what they were looking at, who they were watching. Even if you didn't know their names at the time, they could have found out. For God's sake, you only need to research the profile and behaviour to get an idea. Anyone could see it, if they knew where to look. And the security services didn't have to look for a needle in a haystack: they were looking right at them, listening to them. Khan and Tanweer. They had them in their hands.)

What is the profile? What should they have been looking for?

First. A growing, pious interest in religion, regular praying and attendance of mosques which are not the barelwi mosques frequented by the subject's family. Listening to the exhortations of extremist preachers talking of jihad, on CD, on the net. He's distancing himself from his family and old friends, especially his non-Muslim friends, no longer participating in Western-style lesiure activities especially mixed-sex activities (though an interest in sport or cricket may remain). He has new company, new friends, dropping old, uncommitted ones unless they are a part of the gang: he's always hanging about with a close-knit cell or small group of 17-28 year old males.They regularly decry the corrupt West and are politically engaged, idealistic and angry, though nihilistic in outlook; have an interest in watching and distributing 'atrocity' videos and DVDs which show the suffering of Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechyna and other places of conflict. There's absences from work, a lack of interest in a career or future or study. There's talk of defending the Ummah, of feeling the pain of fellow Muslims.

So far, so normal , so'angry young man'; newly-politicised, fired up by watching the news, identifying himself with a global cause of the suffering. But still, so far, not a terrorist. ''So he's pious, these days; it gives him a channel for his youthful idealism, his young man's anger, and it is better that than he's using drugs or hanging about with dirty, bad women and getting into trouble, bringing shame on himself and his family...''

Then come the changes that mark this out as more than youthful anger and idealism:

All the time, now, he is with his 'brothers'. There's an interest in taking part in outdoor bonding activities, white-water-rafting, paint-balling, training hard at the gym , and praying with his close friends. Looks normal? But it isn't, not any more, this is male bonding over all the wrong reasons. There's evidence of paranoia, anger, antisocial behaviour. Casual cruelty, disordered thinking, an inability to care any more about other people, an objectification of those who do not make the grade and who are not in the gang, if you listen, if you talk to him, but he doesn't want to talk. He's behaving like he's joined a cult. (Which he has.) He's right, everyone else is wrong. Whispering phone calls on pay-as-you-go mobiles he doesn't keep for long, hours on the internet, emailing from email cafes: his behaviour is erratic and secretive now, he won't engage much, he's not really 'present' any more.

He's secretly proving his dedication to the 'cause' by taking part in fund-raising, often involving credit card fraud and other low level criminal activity. Then he's saying he's going on to study in a madrassa abroad, usually in Pakistan; fasting, praying. He's returns, and he says he's getting married ( the families of a shahid or martyr are also deemed eligible for a fast-track to the gardens of Paradise in this new warped ideaology, this perversion of Islam). He's different, angry, quieter, but he you can't get through to him anymore. He still prays. But not with us.

Finally, his loyalty proved to the extremists' cause, he's returning to a training camp in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Kashmir; on his return, he's dressing in Western clothes again, shaving off his beard. He's preparing for a mission. He's ready.

(With thanks to a well-respected journalist who has followed Crevice, and who has studied this subject, with whom I discussed radicalisation and the work of the intelligence services at length today.)

Right, so Khan and Tanweer fitted this later pattern. They were consorting with known terrorists, they were going abroad to study, going to training camps to learn how to use explosives and to be further indoctrinated in the Struggle, losing interest in their futures, committing fraud, raising money for jihad. They were taped and filmed talking about jihad. The clues were all there. The security services watched, and they listened, they bugged, they videoed - and for reasons I cannot understand, they let then them go.

Tanweer's 'martyr' speech, released on the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings makes his terrible beliefs and commitment clear. It was all there.

Reading the ISC report, published after the bombs, it seems that the intelligence officers wanted to carry on following them, even though the call was taken that Mohammed Siddique Kahan and Shehzad Tanweer were fraudsters, not terrorists - but the intelligence officers were moved to monitoring other threats. (Like this one.) Since then MI5 and the Counter-Terrorism Command have substantially increased their regional presence - perhaps an admission that things were not as they should have been?

I cannot imagine how hard it must be to work in the intelligence services. I know they tried; I am sure that nobody wanted to fail. But I see a failure, I know what happened, I was right there, when it happened, and it still breaks my heart that it was not stopped.

And then the Director of M15 stands up on the 6th July 2005...

''The director-general of the security service MI5 told senior MPs there was no imminent terrorist threat to London or the rest of the country less than 24 hours before the July 7 suicide bombings.
Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller gave the assurance at a private meeting of Labour whips at the Commons on the morning of July 6 2005, the Guardian has learned from a number of those present.
The whips are said to have been confident, on leaving the meeting, that they could brief fellow MPs that the security situation was under control, and are said to have been deeply alarmed by the following day's events.''

That is failure, by any dictionary's definition of the word. So Eliza, the Head of M15 has announced her resignation, and we are supposed to believe that she told Charles Clarke, two and a half years into her job, that she would retire in two years time. (Like Home Secretaries stay in their jobs that long. Like you can see that far into the future.) And the resignation of the Head of M15 was announced quietly, buried on the busiest news day of the year. A few weeks before the news is supposed to break about the alleged links between the July 7 bombers and other, intercepted terror cells planning atrocities. Yeah, right.

Nobody is perfect. Everybody fails. It is only lying, and covering up failure, refusing to admit where things went wrong, and not learning from mistakes, that is unforgiveable.

I go on and on about preserving civil liberties on this blog and elsewhere. I hate using fear to take away ancient rights. I say, again and again, that our riding pillion on the US foreign policy and its bloody war has damaged us, made us less safe. I understand a little; I feel terrible despair when I see people bombed. Whoever they are bombed by, for whatever reason, a bomb is a bomb and blood spilled is a tragedy. I am a white non-Muslim woman, and I am angry. If I were a 20 year old Pakistani British Muslim man, I might well be angrier still. I do not condone the harrassment and criminialisation of communities, the creeping Islamophobia, this newspaper hysteria, this climate of suspicion and fear.

But I know that the only way we can protect ourselves is by good intelligence work. And an ethical social and foreign policy would help, but if we are talking about stopping terror cells, then yes, you have to keep watch on those who are demonstrating all the signs of criminal, mass-murdering extremist jihadi behaviour. Not all Muslims. Just those who disgrace their religion by criminally using it to justify murder. Yes, it is difficult, it takes resources, and time and money. But it has to be done .

Note: I've linked here before, but if you haven't read it, here is the story of Khaled al-Berry. His story gives me hope and helped me to understand.

So, here we are. There will probably be a Crevice appeal after the verdict. There will probably be any number of attempts to stop all the failures being known, even with a new head of M15, even with a new, less-compromised Prime Minister. It's still not good enough. And so I will keep pushing: not because I want people to lose their jobs, not to have a blame-game, not to have catharis - but because I simply do not see, knowing what I know, what the hell else I can do.

The petition, again.

Other voices , Muslim voices, asking for an inquiry too. And see side bar of this blog.

UPDATE: I went on about it again, in today's Mirror who are supporting the campaign for an inquiry.

UPDATE 2: Ooh, thanks, Blairwatch.


Blogger Ms Melancholy said...

Hi Rachel, I find your analysis probably the most insightful of anything I have read on the so-called 'war on terror'. You manage to show compassion for those who experience Islamaphobia whilst not becoming an apologist for those who embrace fundamentalism. Keep writing. You are performing a public service x

January 10, 2007 9:16 am  
Blogger kris said...

I'm not saying the cops and intel services may not have dropped the ball- but the cops can't win.

When they do have intel, like in the Forest Gate Two case, but the search does not turn up what they are looking for (but does turn up kiddie porn and £38,000.00 in cash) the police were excoriated by the "muslim community" and the Forest Gate Two were treated by them as poor little boy scouts caught up in oppression.

January 10, 2007 9:55 am  
Blogger TryingTimes said...


A nicely dissected exploration of events, non-events, political-, media- and issue-management.


January 11, 2007 10:29 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is - how do you differentiate between the idiots fantasising and the real deal? Particularly since the first can turn into the second.

Think of it as a version of "saloon bar talk"...

The Anon

January 11, 2007 11:26 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks for the comments.

The Anon, I tried to make the distinction between fantasy and action clear in the post. It was the shift to hanging out with known terorists and committing fraud and crime to raise money for jihad and going to Al Q training camps that marks the terrorist. MSK and Tanweer were at *that* stage, not the 'angry young man' stage. You can't pick up everyone, everywhere in the UK doing that stuff - but in this case - they already had them - then they let them go.

January 11, 2007 12:35 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a good understanding of the nature of terrorism and terrorists in this country but alas you have no appreciation of the nature of counter terrorism work. This leads you to make unachievable demands on the intelligence services and, when they duly fail to achieve the standards you set, cry ‘failure’ and demand an inquiry.

Over the last decade there will have been a huge number of counter terrorist investigations in this country. Each one of those will have required a number of risk based judgements on the deployment of resources. The Security Service have always accepted their human fallibility (as well as the constraints of resources, law and civil rights) will mean that it was inevitable that eventually a terrorist plot would succeed. That one has does not mean that the ‘ball was dropped’.

The glib juxtaposition of facts out of context may present a compelling narrative of incompetent failure to the uninitiated (i.e. they were friends with other suspected terrorists, they had professed support for jihad etc.) but robbed of context it is a hollow argument. Saying that there was a failure to spot the signs can only be a legitimate complaint if those signs or combinations of signs were known at the time and sufficiently rare that each occurrence can be investigated. Your indicators are not conclusive enough (not every friend of a terrorist is a terrorist), not evidential enough (PROVE that money going to Afghanistan is for jihad and not a humanitarian case, PROVE that time spent in the tribal areas was spent at a training camp or working in a local school) and sadly not unusual enough to be definitive. They are a guide but because you NOW know conclusively that someone matched these criteria DOES NOT make a compelling case for them to have been the subject of a resource intensive counter terrorist investigation.

Speaking about the 7/7 bombers you said “they already had them”. No they didn’t. The decision not to pursue them in an investigation would have been based on what was known at the time when considered against other priorities. The limits of resource and those other priorities are the context you ignore every time you post on this subject.

Incidentally the main reason I oppose an inquiry is because it would deprive our counter terrorist agencies of further resources. Yes there is value in reviewing the failure to uncover the 7/7 plot but this value is not limitless and needs to be set against the additional risk accrued by removing these people from working on current counter terrorist operations.

January 11, 2007 3:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you picked up every young chap who went to a madrass in Pakistan, got devout etc. that would be a pretty large group. There is a fair congruence with ex-criminals going this road as part of going straight. Born again as it were...

What if one of them shaves the beard because the girlfriend doesn't like it?

Let alone definig a known terrorist or a terrorist training camp.....

So, you pick up someone who you think has met some dodgy people. Some bloke thinks they have been at a place that somone else thinks is a "training camp". If you haven't got actual criminal charges, how do you hold them? If you simply detain them for looking suspicious.... welcome to Bullmersh Prison. Alternatively, we could export them to a country which wants to have a chat with them....

The Anon

January 11, 2007 4:59 pm  
Blogger kris said...

Just because the cops didn't find the explosives at the Forest Gate Two house on the day- don't mean it never existed.

Kris' Stoke Newington: 7 July Bombers, Forest Gate Two and Shahid Malik: Labour MP Worth Listening To#links

January 11, 2007 8:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So much of British intelligence is taken up with disinformation and false-flag ops they don't appear to know which way is up anymore.

What do they do all day besides compiling dodgy dossiers, inventing Al Quaida myths (ask Craig Murray), planting stories in the press, shooting up foreigners on the tube and allegedly foiling alleged terror plots?

Whenever something real comes along, they're like Macavity the cat.

With the Litvinenko affair, hundreds of people have been contaminated with radioactive dirty bomb material - trundled around London's public places by by people who should surely have been under constant surveillance.

January 12, 2007 3:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You haven’t the faintest idea what British intelligences time is taken up with. Next you’ll be telling us Al Qaida is a CIA/MI6 creation and that UBL doesn’t exist and is really a computer generated image by Pixar.

I suggest you return to your conspiracy theory sites and leave the talking to the grown ups.

January 12, 2007 2:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote: 'Next you’ll be telling us Al Qaida is a CIA/MI6 creation'

Al Quaida was originally a CIA/MI6 creation, set up to destabilise the Russians in Afghanistan. That's fairly well documented

January 12, 2007 4:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

QUOTE: "I suggest you return to your conspiracy theory sites and leave the talking to the grown ups"

For the record, I never believed in WMDs. And it's the 'grown up' Joint Intelligence Chiefs who spun that conspiracy theory.

However, the London Bombings were a fact.

The current London Dirty Bombing with Polonium is a fact.

And it's an intelligence failure for so many members of the public to be harmed and to be put at risk.

Update from Reuters Jan 12

UK advises 48 countries on polonium tests

Troop said the HPA was sharing its data and testing methods with dozens of countries whose nationals had visited sites including a London hotel and sushi bar, where Litvinenko held meetings on the day he fell ill.

"We've been working with 48 other countries who have between them around 450 of their nationals who were affected through this incident," she told a news conference.

It remains unclear how the 13 people with doses over six mSv absorbed the traces of polonium.

Note the last line. In other words, British 'intelligence' doesn't have a clue.

January 12, 2007 4:59 pm  
Blogger kris said...

copy dude, you lost me the second you indicated you support your analysis by the weird and wonderful musings of Craig Murray (conspiracy theorist extrodinaire...)

January 14, 2007 11:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Al Qaida was set up by Bin Liner because he was upset with the money and influence the US was spreading around in Afganistan. He wanted a nice, pure revolution.

Its the old racist line - "these people aren't smart enough to be bad by themselves, they must have had help from white people"

The Anon

January 14, 2007 10:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yawn. This accusation is false and is based in a thin reading of recent history. Yet again you show your flimsy grasp of the facts. The CIA (not MI6) were giving money through ISID to the Afghan Mujahideen. Bin Laden and the other 'Saudi Afghans' never received any cash. They fought alongside groups that did. Even if AQ had been given money it would not have meant that the US "created" AQ, only funded it. These are facts.

Read a bit more on the subject and stick to credible sources. I'd recommend Peter Bergen's book 'Holy War Inc', don't be put off by the slightly sensationalist title but then it was marketed for the American market.

As for your claims of a "dirty bomb" putting hundreds at risk, well I think the less said about that the better. There is a huge difference between detecting traces of Polonium and dying from it. So far we have a body count of 1. It must have been a very very small bomb. Polonium is, relatively speaking, easy to detect given its natural rarity and radioactivity. Use of it would result in contamination spreading, altough not in lethal doses. If there had been a 'bomb' we would have many more dead and a bomb site that was massively contaminated. There is no such site.

January 15, 2007 9:14 pm  
Blogger kris said...

Wouldn't it be nice if muslims had their own Mohammad Luther King? Someone with an approach like Ghandi or Martin Luther King himself.

Poor bastards are stuck with Sheik Cat Meat (what do uncovered women expect if they get raped) and the Osama crew.

That's all the indication I need to know that it's about vandalism, criminality and a twisted form of masculinity rather than foreign policy.

January 17, 2007 9:30 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Kris, that's unfair IMO. The criminal behaviour of a fringe group of extremists is not representative of Muslims as a whole, any more than the KKK is representative of Christianity as a whole. There are many Muslim scholars, and leaders, and many who have spoken out against the rise of extremism. There are different types of Islam Sufi, Sunni, Shia...and more. It is a shame that the press give a platform to extremists and the moderate majority are not heard

January 17, 2007 9:33 am  

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