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7/7 inquest exposes lack of MI5 accountability

Perhaps the most important finding in the inquest on the 7 July 2005 bombings was the revelation of how MI5, on the evidence of a senior MI5 officer, misled Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). This is the body that is supposed to exercise scrutiny and oversight of the security services, but what the inquest has exposed is how easily MI5 can fool its supervisory body either by selective feeding of information or even by the use of downright deceptive or misleading material to manipulate the ISC’s judgement. The first lesson of the inquest is how that cosy relationship of insiders needs to be opened up and democratised.

The ISC is appointed by the PM and reports directly to the PM, not to Parliament, and the PM can then choose either to publish the full report or an edited report (without indicating which items may have been edited or deleted) or not to publish the report at all. If supervision of MI5/MI6 is to be real and effective, the ISC should be appointed by Parliament, have access to all relevant documents (other than those which the Information Commissioner judges to be genuinely covered by national security, not to save the embarrassment of the intelligence services), and then report directly to Parliament.

In its two earlier inquiries the ISC was told that MI5 had believed that two of the bombers, Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, were ‘small-time fraudsters’. The evidence extracted at the inquest shows conclusively that this is untrue – that, crucially, MI5 knew they were in touch with others against whom there was incriminating evidence. Once it became clear that the ISC misunderstood the truth, MI5 did not put them right – deliberately to avoid admitting to a very serious lapse in tracking the bombers prior to July 2005. MI5 were still trying to cover up their blunders even when the inquest started by telling the coroner that there was nothing new to learn.

The other key question at the inquest was whether the evidence showed that the bombings could have been prevented. Within the limits of her remit, the coroner believed not. But rule 43 restricted her observations to how further deaths might be prevented. From her persistent questioning she issued a report that is both revealing and disturbing. But it does not exonerate MI5. That still requires a public inquiry unencumbered by the restriction of inquest rules. The intelligence failures of the last decade – over WMD in Iraq, torture allegations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the London bombings – have been so profound and with such catastrophic consequences that a thorough, independent, in-depth investigation into MI5 is now long overdue.

One Comment

  1. Mauro Usai says:

    The matter is of course very critical.
    I suspect that more than a question of accountability, the real problem is a question of conformity.
    Secret services need to be secret. This is plain.
    It is vital that they cannot be perverted to goals which are not within the interest of the Country and its people.
    Their links to the Parliament or to the Government are dangerous too: The Iraq case show the dicotomy between serving political contingent goals and serving the Country.
    The two things are not the same, and the Country can rightly feel betrayed when the Intelligence is bent and used for what some politicians have deemed desirable, but on open scrutiny and democracy wouldn’t have been tenable.
    That is serious betrayal.
    So the question is not that of ex post facto accountability [which may be important but not sufficient]
    The question is that of ensuring that Intelligence acts within the goals chosen by the Country and not by hidden goals established by some politicians in charge.
    The question is that of keeping secret services secret while taking away, barring, those secret goals which are in fact a betrayal of a nation. That is what I called a question of conformity.
    It is paramount in order to remain a democratic Country.
    To you to work out solutions.

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