UK’s MI5: Infiltrated by Islamists and Renegades?
While many Americans believe the UK is our greatest ally in the war against Jihadism, as FSM Contributing Editor Adrian Morgan describes, we probably should not feel all that consoled by their support. You’ll read with great concern about the state of the UK’s intelligence services.
Earlier this month, a new Director General, Jonathan Evans, took over the reins of power at MI5, Britain’s homeland intelligence agency.
His predecessor, Dame Eliza Mannigham-Buller had been in the post since 2002. Evans, 49 years old, worked in the fields of Irish terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s, and since 1999 has specialized in international terrorism. Ten days before 9/11, he became director of international counter terrorism at MI5.
Before 1993, the identities of the leaders of MI5 were kept secret. It was announced in that year that Stella Rimington had become the first woman head of MI5.
Rimington was the 13th Director General, heading the agency from 1992 to 1996. Jonathan Evans is the 16th head of MI5.
MI5 is one of two agencies dealing with intelligence. The other is MI6 or SIS or Secret Intelligence Service, which primarily deals with offshore-related intelligence. Both agencies have their headquarters alongside the river Thames in central London.
MI6 aka SIS, headed by John Scarlett, is based at Vauxhall Cross and featured in the opening scenes of the 1999 James Bond Movie, The World Is Not Enough.
Since the late 1980s, MI5 has been based at Thames House a building completed in 1930 at 11, Millbank.
MI5 began operating in 1909, when it was the “Home Section” of the Secret Service Bureau. It gained its title “MI5” during World War One, in 1916, when it became “Military Intelligence, Section 5”. The bureaucratic reality of MI5 is far removed from the BBC’s portrayal of it in the slick and entertaining TV show MI-5, but its work in gathering information is vital in the “war on terror”.
MI5 is answerable to three governing authorities - senior ministers, the Intelligence and Security Committee, and since 2000 to two independent commissioners.
The two commissioners, whose role was established under the terms of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, are appointed by the prime minister. They also oversee the activities of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), based at the “donut”, a purpose-built construction at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
GCHQ is a listening center employing 4,500 staff, gathering information from Britain and abroad for both MI5 and MI6. It is the equivalent of NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland.
The escalation of the threat of Islamic terrorism has seen an expansion in MI5’s operations. At the end of 2001, following the events of 9/11, the department of MI5 charged to tackle Islamic terrorism - G-Branch - admitted that it had “woefully few” agents who could infiltrate Muslim terror groups.
After failing in attempts to attract Muslims into the service three years previously, it began another Muslim recruitment campaign in late 2001. At that time 2,000 people were employed by MI5.
Potential Islamists were intended to be weeded out by its policies of “developed vetting”. Security checks on applicants take six to eight months, and in some cases more than a year.
Though Muslim applicants to MI5 did not drastically increase, a month after 7/7 there was a surge in applicants to join MI5, including a large percentage of Muslims.
Eliza Manningham-Buller then stated her aims to increase the numbers of staff to 3,000. Such measures cost money. In November she announced that she wished to see 4,000 people employed by MI5 by 2009. She requested from the then Home Secretary an estimated sum of £50 million ($99 million) to recruit 800 extra spies, surveillance and desk officers. At that time, according to former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Stevens, there were 200 Al Qaeda terror suspects in Britain.
In April 2006, MI5 and police claimed that the figure of terrorist suspects in Britain was around 400 individuals. Of these, about 40 to 60 were regarded as capable and seriously intending to commit terror acts. Manningham-Buller said that if people who had attended training camps in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other locations were included, the true figure was close to 600.
Using the additional funding granted after 7/7, MI5 had set up offices in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and Glasgow, with plans to open more in Wales and the southwest of England.
On May 14, 2006, a report by Vincent Moss in the Sunday Mirror claimed that MI5’s Muslim recruitment drive had attracted Al Qaeda supporters. The article was later pulled from the newspaper’s website. Moss quoted an unnamed minister who said: “The truth is that it has now been discovered that some of those people have strong links with al-Qaeda.
There was always a risk that with such a speedy and widespread recruitment some would turn out to be bad eggs. But the recruitment has meant we are now in a much better position to stop al-Qaeda attacks than we have ever been before. Several planned attacks have already been stopped thanks to the high quality of our intelligence.”
In July 2006, MI5 confirmed with the BBC that Al Qaeda sympathizers had tried to infiltrate the service. The BBC stated that MI5 believed that there were 400,000 individuals in Britain who were “sympathetic to violent jihad around the world”.
Additionally Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-terrorist branch, said that there were 1,200 people who were regarded as Islamist “activists”. He said 60 people were awaiting trial, and claimed that his staff were investigating at least 70 terror plots in the country. The majority of these related “to the activities of British citizens against their fellow countrymen”.
On July 4, three days before the first anniversary of the 7/7 attack which killed 52 people, prime minister Tony Blair said: “I believe at the moment we have a clear, active threat. I want our police and our security services focused on dealing with that threat.”
In August 2006, the Times revealed that a record amount of MI5’s annual budget of £200 million ($381.62 million) was being allocated to Islamist terrorism. £16 million ($30.53 million) of its budget had recently been switched to counter-terrorism operations and protective security, bringing its total spend on such work to 87% or £174 million ($332 million) per year.
Six percent of the budget was spent on counter-espionage - £12 million ($22.89 million), 4% on external assistance - £8 million ($15.26 million), 2.5% on counter-proliferation - £5 million ($9.54 million) and 0.5% on emerging terrorism and other threats - £1 million ($1.9 million).
In the same month, Home Secretary John Reid confirmed that there were 70 terrorist plots in Britain, with 24 of these being “major conspiracies”.
On November 9 2006, when there were 2,800 staff members at MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller (pictured) made a speech at Queen Mary’s College in London. Some of her speech was politically correct dogma, such as the assertion that “We also need to understand some of the differences between non-Western and Western life-styles; and not treat people with suspicion because of their religion, or indeed to confuse fundamentalism with terrorism.”
Islamic terrorism is fueled by fundamentalism, and for a head of MI5 to claim differently should raise alarm bells. She did say, however: “I do not speak in this way to alarm nor, as the cynics might claim, to enhance the reputation of my organization but to give the most frank account I can of the Al-Qaeda threat to the UK.
That threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation. It is a sustained campaign, not a series of isolated incidents. It aims to wear down our will to resist.”
That much is true - resistance to the fundamentalist forces which fuel terrorism has been entirely abandoned by politically correct elements within the UK government. Senior members of MI6 and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office support the “Engaging With the Islamic World Group”, which has paid flight and hotel expenses for Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and an advocate of terror attacks against Israeli citizens, to travel to an Islamic conference in Turkey.
The effectiveness of MI5 depends upon clear-sightedness, and not PC dogma. Already it has had agents turning renegade, such as David Shayler. He passed 28 secret documents to the Express on Sunday newspaper, which included names of MI5 agents. Shayler was convicted of breaching the terms of the Official Secrets Act on November 4, 2002. He was sentenced to only six months’ jail on November 5.
In 2000, a US website revealed confidential information leaked from MI5. The material was so sensitive it was classed as “UK EYES ALPHA” - meaning it was not even to be seen by US agents. The information concerned intelligence on Libyan spies, though Shayler denied responsibility for the leak. The leaked report named MI5 and MI6 agents, putting their lives at risk.
In late February 2003, immediately prior to the Iraq invasion, a woman translator, Katherine Gun, who worked at GCHQ in Cheltenham discovered an email which gave details of the UK/US negotiations. This document also named the head of the US’ National Security Agency (NSA), whose identity was not authorized to be made public.
Gun ignored this and passed the email to the Observer newspaper, which published it. She was arrested on March 5, fourteen days before the Iraq invasion. She was not immediately charged, and did not lose her job until June.
She was finally charged under Section 1 of the Official Secrets Act on November 13, 2003. In February 25, 2004, she appeared in court but the case was dropped as the prosecution offered no evidence. Unrepentant, Gun announced in September, 2004 that she had set up a “support group” for potential “whistleblowers”.
Some MI5 details have seeped out from incompetence or negligence. In April 2006 the then Home Secretary announced that three laptop computers belonging to MI5 agents had been stolen. One laptop, containing information on Northern Ireland, had been stolen from an officer at Paddington station in March 2000. The details of the other two stolen laptops and their contents were not disclosed.
Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter terrorism department, claimed on April 26 this year that there was “deliberate leaking of highly sensitive operational intelligence” in police counter-terror operations. He mentioned that on January 31 this year, police in Birmingham were mounting an operation in Birmingham.
Eight people were arrested, connected with a plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier. Assistant Chief Constable David Shaw, the officer in charge of the operation, had complained at the time that a leak from Whitehall to the press had compromised the investigation’s effectiveness.
Clarke said of this leak: “This damaged the interview strategy of the investigators, and undoubtedly raised community tensions... What I am talking about is the deliberate leaking of highly sensitive operational intelligence, often classified, and the unauthorized release of which can be a criminal offense.”
Where the leak came from is unknown but Clarke suggested government “spin doctors” were responsible. There were calls in parliament for an official investigation, and Blair was forced to condemn the issuing of leaks to the press.
When Mohammed Sidique Khan led a team of four suicide bombers who murdered 52 people on London Transport on July 7, 2005, the nation was shocked. It later emerged that MI5 had placed Khan under surveillance in 2004, but had decided he was not a serious security risk.
A parliamentary committee criticized MI5 for this oversight in April 2006 but later exonerated the agency of blame for 7/7. In May, it was revealed that MI5 had made recordings of Khan discussing the mechanics of building of a bomb.
David Davis, shadow Home Secretary said: “It seems that MI5 taped Mohammad Sidique Khan talking about his wish to fight in the jihad and saying his goodbyes to his family... a clear indication that he was intending a suicide mission. He was known to have attended late-stage discussions on planning another major terror attack.”
The committee had never been presented with these tapes.
The threat of Islamist terror attacks is still very real. On April 22, the Sunday Times revealed details from a leaked intelligence report compiled earlier in the month by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC) - based at MI5’s Thames House.
The report claimed that Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq were planning a major attack. It stated: “A member of this network is reportedly involved in an operation which he believes requires AQ Core authorization. He claims the operation will be on ’a par with Hiroshima and Nagasaki’ and will ’shake the Roman throne’. We assess that this operation is most likely to be a large-scale, mass casualty attack against the West.”
The report stated that Abdul al-Hadi al-Iraqi, a Kurdish member of Al-Qaeda’s leadership in Iraq had written of a specific plot to attack the UK, preferably before Blair steps down as prime minister. He had “stressed the need to take care to ensure that the attack was successful and on a large scale.”
Al-Hadi was last week transferred to Guantanamo, following his arrest last year and being in CIA custody since then. He is said to have met two of the 7/7 bombers, Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, at a Pakistan terror training camp in 2004, according to a source close to MI5.
The source claimed: “They talked about the sort of targets they were going to look at. These included the national transport system, the Underground network and Heathrow airport. They also examined targets such as the energy network and poisoning the water supply.”
MI5, it seems, authorizes leaks which serve its purposes, but there is always the risk of infiltration and leaks from renegade agents. David Shayler had been the first person to be prosecuted for leaking serious information from MI5 in almost two decades. A former assistant director of MI5, Peter Wright, had infuriated Margaret Thatcher when he tried to have his autobiography, called “Spycatcher”, published in 1985.
The material was not particularly sensitive, and eventually sold 2 million copies globally. In 1988, Law Lords cleared the book for UK publication.
At the end of March, the current Home Secretary confirmed that the Home Office will be split in two. Currently the ministry deals with issues of policing and security, as well as prisons and sentencing of convicts. In the future, the Home Office, which already has affiliations with MI5, will deal only with issues of policing, terrorism, security and immigration.
What may threaten future operations will be decisions of existing agents to ally themselves with the Islamist cause, or Al Qaeda sympathizers managing to slip past the checks and balances of MI5’s “developed vetting”. No organization can be expected to predict every possible attack, but without a doubt, MI5 will be more active in the future than it is at present.
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