A couple of paragraphs from Mi5 Director General Jonathan Evans' speech seem to contradict each other:
Address at the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals by the Director General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans.
16 September 2010
10. It is interesting to note in this context that in the last ten years what might be called a "zero tolerance" attitude to terrorist risk in Great Britain has become more widespread. While it has always been the case that the authorities have made every effort to prevent terrorist attacks, it used to be accepted as part of everyday life that sometimes the terrorists would get lucky and there would be an attack. In recent years we appear increasingly to have imported from the American media the assumption that terrorism is 100% preventable and any incident that is not prevented is seen as a culpable government failure. This is a nonsensical way to consider terrorist risk and only plays into the hands of the terrorists themselves. Risk can be managed and reduced but it cannot realistically be abolished and if we delude ourselves that it can we are setting ourselves up for a nasty disappointment.
We agree with this, except that it is unfair to simply blame this risk aversion / "no stone unturned" / Cover My Bureaucratic Backside nonsense on the "American media". The morally weak, unscrupulous and incompetent Labour party control freaks, who were in positions of power in Government, are at least as much to blame.
They were always willing to Be Seen To Be Doing Something about terrorist threats, even though they were helping to make matters worse.
11. In the investigations that we are pursuing day to day, sometimes our ability to uncover and disrupt a threat goes right down to the wire, as was the case with the airline liquid bomb plot in 2006. The plotters were only days away from mounting an attack. Sometimes it is possible or necessary to step in much earlier, though in such cases it can be hard to get enough evidence to bring criminal charges. But I would rather face criticism when there is no prosecution (often accompanied by conspiracy theories about what was supposedly going on) than see a plot come to fruition because we had not acted soon enough. Operation Pathway, the disruption of an Al Qaida cell in North West England 18 months ago, is a good example of a necessarily early intervention where criminal charges could not eventually be sustained. The case has subsequently been reviewed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and Mr Justice Mitting concluded that the case involved a genuine threat from individuals tasked by Al Qaida. Whilst we are committed to prosecutions wherever possible it is a sad fact that for all sorts of good reasons terrorist threats can still exist which the English criminal justice system cannot reach. The government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility to protect its citizens just because the criminal law cannot, in the particular circumstances, serve the purpose.
"The government cannot absolve itself of the responsibility to protect its citizens just because the criminal law cannot, in the particular circumstances, serve the purpose."
No ! This is an argument for extra- judicial punishments and for the harassment of people who should be treated as "innocent until proven guilty, on actual evidence" regardless.
Where has this stupid idea been imported from ?
This weasel worded paragraph tries to imply that all of the people who were arrested under Operation Pathway pose a terrorist threat, which is obviously untrue.
There is also no mention of the "collateral damage" caused by the hurried arrests themselves, where at least two completely innocent people were forced to the ground at gunpoint, in public, putting their lives and those of the passing public at risk unnecessarily, before they were released without being arrested, and without any public apology or compensation.
Remember that despite intensive forensic searches, no weapons, explosive or terrorist money etc. was ever found in Operation Pathway.
Surely the benefit of doubt must be given to terrorist suspects, where it is not possible to catch them red handed and they should simply be be let go and kept under surveillance ?
This is an acceptable risk, as per the argument outlined in paragraph 10, because otherwise there is far too much "collateral damage" to innocent people and the terrorist s will have won a victory by conning the Government and intelligence agencies into destroying our freedoms and liberties, which is precisely what the terrorists want to achieve.
There is no evidence that the widely condemned house arrest and other restrictions without any trial or evidence, through the "Control Orders" scheme works at all.
Jonathan Evans appears to be arguing for its continuation, and possible extension to people who have been released after having served their time in prison for terrorist related offences.
Finally MI5 appears to be moving into the 21st century.
21. I would like to conclude with a brief reference to the espionage threat. Events over the summer in the United States underlined the continuing level of covert intelligence activity that takes place internationally. Espionage did not start with the Cold War and it did not end with it either. Both traditional and cyber espionage continue to pose a threat to British interests, with the commercial sector very much in the front line along with more traditional diplomatic and defence interests. Using cyberspace, especially the Internet, as a vector for espionage has lowered the barriers to entry and has also made attribution of attacks more difficult, reducing the political risks of spying. And cyber espionage can be facilitated by, and facilitate, traditional human spying. So the overall likelihood of any particular entity being the subject of state espionage has probably never been higher, though paradoxically many of the vulnerabilities exploited both in cyber espionage and traditional espionage are relatively straightforward to plug if you are aware of them. Cyber security is a priority for the government both in respect of national security and economic harm. Ensuring that well informed advice is available to those who need it, including through the use of private sector partners is, and will remain, vital.
"though paradoxically many of the vulnerabilities exploited both in cyber espionage and traditional espionage are relatively straightforward to plug if you are aware of them"
Another argument for not letting Hazel Blears anywhere near the Intelligence and Security Committee - see the previous Spy Blog article:
Unfortunately, MI5 itself has a history of "cyber security" blunders with their public website, their public alert email system and with the activities of the likes of Daniel Houghton, all of which were "relatively straightforward to plug if you are aware of them".