The relationship between the mainstream media and anonymous briefings by intelligence agency and police sources is a strange one.
The Guardian has, mysteriously, published a couple of figures, which do not appear in the Annual Reports of the Interception of Communications Commissioner or of the Intelligence Services Commissioner, which do not seem to add up.
MI5 targets dissidents as Irish terror threat grows
* Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent
* The Guardian,
* Monday July 28 2008
The security services are picking up more suspicious activity from Northern Ireland's dissident republicans than from any other radical group in the UK, the Guardian has learned.
Up to 60% of all the security services' electronic intercepts - phonetaps and other covert technical operations - have come from dissidents, despite the threat posed by hundreds of suspected Islamist extremists on the mainland.
MI5 is directing its attention to a hardcore of republicans, fearing they are determined to destabilise the peace process.
"Up to 60% of all the security services' electronic intercepts - phonetaps and other covert technical operations" - that is quite a startling claim, and if true, a very worrying one.
Sir Hugh Orde, chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, has separately confirmed that the dissident threat is the highest since he took office.
With fears escalating over the intent of republicans opposed to powersharing in the province, security sources have told the Guardian that:
· 80 hardcore dissidents may be plotting terrorist attacks.
· The Real IRA and Continuity IRA's short- term goal is to kill a Catholic police officer in the hope of deterring young Catholics and nationalists from joining the PSNI.
· Dissidents' targets have also recently extended to prison officers.
· Police numbers are so stretched that officers with anti-terrorist experience are being transferred from Greater Belfast - once the crucible of the Troubles - to rural areas.
The Director General of the Security Service MI5 , Jonathan Evans' speech in November 2007 in which he claimed that:
I mentioned earlier that the number of people we are seeing involved in terrorist-related activity in the UK has increased to at least 2000. And we suspect that there are as many again that we don't yet know of.
Something does not add up here.
Can it be true that 60% of MI5's surveillance activities are directed at only 80 hardcore dissidents supporting the Real IRA / Continuity IRA, and only 40% is being directed at the remaining 2000 - 80 = 1920 suspects ? These are presumably mostly Islamic suspects, but surely there are still some Protestant terrorist group supporters ? Is the surveillance of Russian and Chinese intelligence agents etc. who are also being monitored by MI5, counted separately ?
The tenor of the article strongly implies that this figure does not just apply to Northern Ireland, but to the whole of the United Kingdom.
Assuming that is actually possible to equate each "phonetap" with each "other covert technical operation" as a measure of MI5's Surveillance Activity:
80 x Real IRA = 60% of Surveillance Activity
1920 x Al-Quaeda = 40% of Surveillance Activity
(80 x Real IRA) / 60 = 1% of Surveillance Activity
(1920 x Al-Quaeda ) / 40 = 1% of Surveillance Activity
(80 x Real IRA) / 60 = (1920 x Al-Quaeda) / 40
80 x Real IRA x 40 = 1920 x Al-Quaeda x 60
3200 x Real IRA = 115200 x Al-Quaeda
Real IRA = (115200 / 3200) x Al-Quaeda
Real IRA = 36 x Al-Quaeda
Is each Real IRA or Continuity IRA supporter suspect in Northern Ireland really generating 36 times as much MI5 electronic surveillance activity, as each, mostly but not entirely mainland UK, Al Quaeda supporter suspect ?
Are Real IRA and Continuity IRA supporters likely to be more or less adept than Al-Quaeda linked plotters, at protecting their electronic communications, and in countering directed or
intrusive surveillance ?
The Omagh bomb trial must have made it clear to these "hardcore dissidents" that their mobile phone calls had been analysed and intercepted, both in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic.
Are they playing disinformation games with the Security Service, and creating artificial "chatter", to soak up and waste their surveillance resources ?
Even allowing for the fact that MI5, targether than the Police Service of Northern Ireland now has the lead role in Northern Irish anti-terrorist operations, and that on the mainland UK, many Al-Quaeda supporter suspects might be being watched by the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command or other Police Forces, the numbers in this article still seem to be wrong.