The Prime Minister's Written Statement on the reorganisation of the Home Office was smuggled out on Thursday 29th March 2007, just before Parliament's Easter recess.
Some thoughts about this:
- Ministry of Justice, therefore a "Ministry of Injustice" ?
- Lack of Sunday newspaper analysis and comment
- Two new Committees, and a sub-committee
- A new propaganda unit ?
- Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism
- Sir Richard Mottram and the existing Intelligence Machinery remain in place
- Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers’ Council - even more lobbying by vested commercial interests
- Department for Transport TRANSEC
- HM Treasury Financial Sanctions and Terrorism Finance snooping
- Has anything really changed for the better ?
Ministry of Justice, therefore a "Ministry of Injustice" ?
The removal of the politically embarrassing prisons and probation services etc. to the Department for Constitutional Affairs to create the new Ministry of Justice (which has a registered http://justice.gov.uk domain name at least) is not set to happen formally until May 9th (i.e. after Labour's anticipated electoral losses at the Local Elections)
No doubt we will have something to say about this "new" department (remembering that the Home Office used to be responsible for all of the functions currently assigned to the Department for Constitutional Affairs) later, but, according to the Prime Ministerial Statement, the changes to the "Ministry of Injustice" i.e. the rump of the Home Office have been brought into force immediately:
Lack of Sunday newspaper analysis and comment
There was quite a lot of media coverage leaked and briefed to the mainstream media before the official announcement to Parliament and on the day, which concentrated on the Ministry of Justice and the Conservative party's doubts about how two "not fit for purpose" Departments could possibly communicate better than one.
There was also some questioning of what happens to "normal" Policing, if the Home Secretary is focussed entirely on terrorism.
We were looking forward to some detailed, intelligent analysis and informed comment from the Sunday newspapers and the broadcast media, but, there seems to have been very little e.g. in the Sunday Herald from Scotland. All the other mainstream newspapers have ignored this major political upheaval, preferring instead to fill space with the usual April Fool's day nonsense, and the TV news has been too busy endlessly replaying the Iranian government's carefully edited video clips of the British sailors and marines which it has taken hostage.
As a consequence, by Sunday, the UK political blogosphere, also seems to have forgotten about this story, with the honourable exception of The Yorkshire Ranter:
"Political GOTO considered harmful"
Two new Committees, and a sub-committee
So what exactly is new about the "Ministry of Injustice" compared with the old "not fit for purpose" Home Office
with regard to anti-terrorism bureaucracy ?
A new Ministerial Committee on Security and Terrorism will be established, subsuming the current Defence and Overseas Policy (International Terrorism) Committee and the counter-radicalisation aspects of the Domestic Affairs Committee's work. The Prime Minister will chair the Committee, with the Home Secretary normally acting as deputy chair, although other Ministers such as the Foreign Secretary, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, will deputise as appropriate. It will be supported by a sub-committee focusing on counter-radicalisation, which will be chaired by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Committee will meet regularly, and will be supported by a more frequent meeting focusing on the threat to the UK, which will be chaired by the Home Secretary.
The impression given by the various media reports is that the Prime Minister's committee will meet monthly, and the Home Secretary's one will meet weekly.
So Ruth Kelly's department has not actually relinquished its alleged "hearts and minds" role, which was originally moved to her Communities and Local Government Department from the Home Office in the first place, after it was created to distract from the scandals of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
In order to support the Home Secretary in his new role,an Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism will be established in the Home Office. This will report to the Home Secretary.
It appears from The Guardian and the Financial Times reports, that perhaps 150 civil servants from the Foreign Office and an unknown number from the Cabinet Office will be transferred to join about 300 from the Home Office to set up the new unit.
What on earth do they all do at the moment ?
What role does Tony "not fit for purpose" McNulty, the Minister of State for policing, security and community safety have now under the new scheme?
Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism
The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism will take on overall responsibility for the CONTEST strategy, reporting through the new Ministerial Committee.
The current CONTEST strategy document
Countering Terrorism: The United Kingdom's Strategy (.pdf, 383Kb, 38 pages) is quite a disheartening read - there is virtually nothing in it about an effective mass media strategy or anything practical about, for example, the Internet.
There is a pathetic listing of various Ministerial meetings with "Islamic Community Leaders" after the July 2005 bomb attacks in London, as if that had any positive influence on "hearts and minds" of radicalised young people whatsoever. Even the elders of the Muslim Council of Britain seems to feel that they are now being ignored by the Labour politicians, once these meetings were milked for the publicity.
A new propaganda unit ?
The Government will also establish a research, information and communications unit in support of the struggle for ideas and values. This will be based in the Home Office, reporting to the Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
What exactly is this propaganda unit going to do ?
- What is its budget and who will run it ?
- Is this unit going to be financing "moderate" front organisations, and imams ?
- Will it try to actively influence discussions in online chat rooms or bullt in boards or blogs ?
- Will it be actively involved in UK and European Union effirts to censor the internet, either against "bomb making" or "glorification of terrorism" websites etc.,
without any real clue about how to do so ? See our 20 Questions about censoring the internet to European Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini
- Will it actually counter the exaggerated and counter-productive "climate of fear" media rumours and spin which seem to be leaked as "background" briefings from "intelligence" or "police" or "Whitehall" sources, after every major terrorism arrest or trial ?
- Or is it just going to be more of the traditional media spin and disinformation which the Labour Government spends so much of our money on ?
The changes set out here are aimed at producing a step change in our approach to managing the terrorist threat to the UK and winning the battle for hearts and minds.
Does anyone really believe that weekly or monthly committee meetings and a new propaganda unit actually represent a "step change" ?
Sir Richard Mottram and the existing Intelligence Machinery remain in place
These changes do not alter the responsibilities of the Foreign or Defence Secretaries, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, or other ministers, or the strategic and operational reporting lines of any of our security and intelligence agencies. The Cabinet Office will retain its role supporting the Prime Minister on national security and counter-terrorism.
So the role of Sir Richard Mottram KCB, the Permanent Secretary, Intelligence, Security and Resilience at the Cabinet Office remains untouched ?
He will still presumably chair the Joint Intelligence Committee - there are still other, non-terrorist threats to the United Kingdom e.g. espionage, proliferation of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons and long range missile technology by nation states etc.
The cross departmental Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre under the MI5 Security Service presumably remains, but does it still report to the JIC ?
Sir Richard will presumably still be the Principal Accounting Officer for the Single Intelligence Account budget, out of which GCHQ, MI6, MI5 etc are funded.
When asked in Parliament on Thursday, John Reid claimed that these changes would be met from existing departmental budgets i.e. an admission that there is actually no more money available from the Treasury for this re-organisation.
Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers’ Council - even more lobbying by vested commercial interests
Only the Financial Times reported that industry lobbyists with a vested financial interest in selling the Government even more useless and expensive technological magic fixes, will form part of this new team in Home Office.
Apparently, Thursday also saw the formal launch of the
Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers’ Council, which, confusingly seems to be referred to as "RISC" (an acronym which has already been bagged by Reduced Instruction Set Computing technologies and companies). This is, apparently chaired by Stephen Phipson, presumably the Group Managing Director of Smiths Detection, who design and sell various bomb sniffing products, and are associated with other Smiths Industries group companies which sell "see through your children's clothes" snooping devices.
According to the this Intellect trade association press release:
2. RISC Members include:
Association of Police and Public Security Suppliers
British Security Industry Association
Defence Manufacturers Association
Society of British Aerospace Companies
So no actual academic institutions with any detailed knowledge of engineering, IT systems security or privacy issues then e.g. University of Cambridge or the London School of Economics.
SELEX Sistemi Integrati
Which former Civil Servants and Ministers will be taking up jobs with these companies or the lobbyists they employ ?
Where are the counter balancing voices of practical technological scepticism, and privacy and security advocates ?
Department for Transport TRANSEC
Given that the policy review which led to these changes stemmed directly from the nonsensical "liquid explosives" on airliners alleged terrorist plot last August,where hundreds of millions of pounds of economic damage was done to the UK economy, and the trust of the public and of the airline and tourism industries that the bureaucrats and politicians in charge were at all competent, was severely damaged.
Airline passengers were put more at risk of a conventional "Lockerbie Boeing 747" type bomb in unattended luggage, as tens of thousands of suitcases were put on different flights from the passengers who had checked them in, directlu as a result of the idiotic bureaucratic red tape which spewed forth from Douglas Alexander at the Department for Transport and its Transport Security & Contingencies Directorate (TRANSEC)
Why is TranSec, which "sits within the Department but operates independently from the transport policy directorates", still under the control of the DfT ? Why is it not under the control of the Home Secretary ?
What else is missing from what has been spun as a thorough re-organisation of the anti-terrorism bureaucracy ?
HM Treasury Financial Sanctions and Terrorism Finance snooping
Obviously, Gordon Brown's Treasury does not seem to have been brought under the control or influence of either the Home Secretary or even of the Prime Minister - there is still a totally separate Financial Sanctions unit and the out of date Bank of England financial sanctions blacklists, and the extraordinary, unchecked, powers for snooping on any financial transaction, under the excuse of "terrorist finance".
What role will John Reid have in protecting UK privacy and security and the UK economy, from snooping by United States Government agencies and others, as revealed in the ongoing SWIFT international financial transactions snooping scandal ?
Has anything really changed for the better ?
Where exactly is the coordination and, more importantly the political accountability of this area of Kafkaesque anti-terrorist bureaucracy under the new Home Office scheme ?
There is now going to be Yet Another Monthly Committee chaired by the Prime Minister Tony Blair (i.e. for no more than six occasions before he is due to resign) and Yet Another Weekly Committee Meeting chaired by the Home Secretary John Reid, who probably will not last beyond the first Cabinet reshuffle under the likely unelected assumption of Prime Ministerial powers by Gordon Brown.
Does this imply that neither the Prime Minister nor the Home Secretary bothers with such Committee Meetings at the moment ?
Perhaps, if these Committee Meetings are properly Chaired and Minuted by Civil Servants, rather than of the "off the record" variety favoured by Tony Blair's "sofa style" of Government via political commissars and apparatchiki, this might be a small improvement, at least for future historians.
However, barring leaks of top secret memos to the public, this will do nothing to make our security and intelligence services more transparent or more trusted by the general public, especially the sections of society feeling the most alienated, amongst whom conspiracy theories and sympathy and perhaps support for terrorists might flourish.
Although Blair (may he soon resign) and Reid have been spinning this announcement, as if it will somehow vastly improve the UK's anti-terrorism defences, what exactly has changed which will cause "wailing and gnashing of teeth" amongst the likes of Osama bin Laden and his death cultist dupes ?