The Sunday newspapers seem to have been briefed on the formation of a new UK Special Forces Reconnaissance and Surveillance Regiment: e.g. the Sunday Telegraph reports "Britain forms new special forces unit to fight al-Qaeda" and the Sunday Times reports "New elite force to combat Al-Qaeda"
Is this leaked announcement yet another empire building exercise between rival intelligence agencies in the UK ?
Will their intrusive surveillance operations be monitored by Sir Andrew Leggatt
and the Office of the Surveillance Commissioner under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part II ?
Since this Regiment is not defined under the Intelligence Services Act 1994,
is the placement of this new intelligence agency under the command of the Director of Special Forces, a ploy to prevent scrutiny of their activities by
Lord Justice Simon Brown, the Intelligence Services Commissioner
and also by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament ?
If they operate on the same basis as their former members did in Northern Ireland, then will they be similarly excluded from scrutiny by Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood who is the Intelligence Services Commissioner under section 59(1) of the Regualation of Investihgatory Powers Act 2000 ?
Just how many new recruits "of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean appearance, as well as Muslims and members of ethnic minorities." are they likely to get in competition with exactly the same sort of people which MI5 is trying to recruit, for their Mobile Surveillance Group:
"starting salary at grade MS5 is �22,445 rising to �25,856 on successful completion of the training course, once shift and weekend working allowance is included."
If the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Regiment do operate in the UK, does that mean that the "military assistance to the civil power orders" which pertain to Northern Ireland now apply to the whole of the UK ?
The vital work that the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Regiment will perform must only be done under proper democratic control. The various worthy ex-Judges and Privy Councellors who are supposed to provide some sort of scrutiny of the intelligence services should insist on scrutinising the activities of the Reconnaissance and Surveillance Regiment, which will effectively be another new State Surveillance Agency.
The Sunday Telegraph reports:
"Britain forms new special forces unit to fight al-Qaeda"
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
A new special forces regiment is being created to infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
The Reconnaissance and Surveillance Regiment will work closely with the Special Air Service and the Special Boat Service. Its mission will be to penetrate groups, either directly or by "turning" terrorists into double agents.
It will be given the authority to operate around the world, working closely with friendly intelligence agencies such as the CIA and Mossad.
Security chiefs hope that the regiment, comprising up to 600 troops, will run a network of agents providing the West with accurate intelligence on potential terrorist operations, allowing attacks to be foiled. It will at first be formed from members of a highly secret surveillance agency - the Joint Communications Unit Northern Ireland - which has worked in Ulster for more than 20 years. The unit, which worked with the SAS, MI5 and the Special Branch, perfected the art of covert surveillance in urban and rural areas and created a network of double agents who supplied the British security forces with intelligence on terrorist attacks.
Its success stemmed from its ability to plant listening devices and cameras in the homes and cars of terrorists, to bug phones and to monitor suspects at close quarters.
Such was the secrecy surrounding the unit that few of its operations were made public. Members of the unit are, however, some of the most highly decorated men and women in the Services.
One of its successes was providing the information for the SAS operation in 1988 which led to the shooting dead of three IRA terrorists who were planning to attack British forces in Gibraltar. The unit also took part in an operation that thwarted an IRA plot to attack a police station at Loughgall, County Tyrone, in 1987. Eight IRA members were killed by the SAS in a carefully planned ambush.
Volunteers for the regiment, both male and female, will be taken from all three branches of the Armed Forces. Officers are keen to recruit those of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean appearance, as well as Muslims and members of ethnic minorities.
Recruitment has begun and volunteers must pass an intensive six-month training course, learning covert surveillance, communications, driving skills and first aid as well as close-quarter battle skills, using a variety of weapons. Priority will be given to those able to infiltrate or blend in with Islamic terror groups, rather than, as with the SAS, their fitness or fighting capabilities.
One officer said: "The SAS's role is essentially to kill people. This new regiment's role is to provide the intelligence for the SAS to do that."
Those who pass - a 90 per cent failure rate is expected - will be sent on an Arabic course at the Armed Forces language school at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.
The unit will be commanded by a lieutenant colonel with a special forces background, although not necessarily a member of the SAS, and will be based in South Wales. He will report to the Director of Special Forces.
A senior officer associated with the formation of the new regiment said: "This unit will be used primarily for intelligence gathering. The work will be dangerous, as it was in Northern Ireland, and operators will be taught how to protect themselves. The threat from Irish terror groups is far less now and although we will keep a presence in Ulster, it is time to use this force on a worldwide basis."
The Sunday Times reports:
"July 25, 2004
New elite force to combat Al-Qaeda
Adam Nathan and Tony Allen-Mills
The unit, nicknamed the �X-men�, has already begun recruiting and is expected eventually to comprise some 600 men and women from all three armed services and the intelligence agencies.
Particular efforts will be made to recruit people of Arabic appearance in addition to members of ethnic minority communities and Muslims. The unit would be expected to operate around the world as well as to counter the terrorism threat in Britain itself.
Much of the core of the unit will be made up of undercover surveillance operators who have honed their skills fighting terrorists in Northern Ireland.
More than 150 members of the 14th Intelligence and Security Company, have already left Northern Ireland and are forming the nucleus of the new unit.
The company was involved in the bugging of Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, during the 1998 Good Friday peace negotiations.
Other Northern Ireland veterans who are experts at undermining terrorist groups using moles and informers are also likely to be recruited.
The move was hinted at in last week�s announcement by Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, on the restructuring of the armed forces. �We are increasing the strength of our special forces and investing in new equipment for them,� he said. "