The British internal security service, MI5, has found itself in all kinds of trouble this week. First there was the report of the inquiry into the intelligence aspects of the 7/7 bombings in London. Although the report ‘cleared’ MI5 of wrongdoing (which was hardly unexpected!), it is clear that there was a catalogue of intelligence failures resulting from aspects as varied as a lack of funding, poor communication between MI5 and police, and simple mistake in judging the seriousness of the activities of those who came to the notice of MI5, particularly the two eventual bombers, Mohammed Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer.
Then today, there have been serious allegations made in The Independent of the MI5 trying recruitment by blackmail on young British Muslims. Basically the modus operandi was to approach the potential informant and tell them that they were suspected of terrorist activities or terrorist sympathies, but that if they cooperated with MI5 then this would be overlooked. However if they refused then their ‘terrorist connections’ would be made more widely known.
All of this, as if it needed pointing out again, leads to the the clear conclusion that the security services need better and more transparent oversight, as well as clearer direction, and yes, perhaps more money (if they can behave themselves). The point is that properly controlled and justified targeted surveillance of genuine suspects (like Khan and Tanweer) is exactly what a security service should do, whereas mass preemptive surveillance (a la Met Police) or random blackmail is not. In fact the latter would tend to be counterproductive as in general, they will increase distrust in government and in particular, drive more young Muslims towards extremism.