Secret intelligence and an adversarial court system do not live easily togetherby David Omand / December 16, 2006 / Leave a comment
The latest report on counter-terrorism strategy, from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust and Democratic Audit, “The Rules of the Game,” rehearses much of the familiar liberal left discourse on the importance of human rights and the failings of the Bush/Blair axis. But the reader will also find compelling insights into where we risk going wrong in fighting terrorism—and I say that as a hardened British “securocrat” and former director of GCHQ.
The authors—Andrew Blick, Tufyal Choudhury and Stuart Weir—do not ignore the reality of the threat from jihadist terrorism, nor do they argue that the government’s strategy is misguided—indeed, they describe it as balanced and sensible. But they warn that it could fail through the unintended consequences of some of its short-term measures and by trimming too far to the prevailing populist wind. Tough talking, rushed legislation and hastily contrived security measures will, the report concludes, alienate precisely those groups from which the extremists hope to recruit. Means as well as ends matter in fighting terrorism.
Such criticisms are not new, and no one can seriously argue that the government is not aware of the importance of working with Britain’s Muslim communities to isolate the terrorists, even if it struggles at times to find the right tone and interlocutors (see John Ware, Prospect online, on the Muslim Council of Britain’s fall from favour). Nevertheless, the charge of inconsistency between the government’s strategy and some of the security measures it adopts deserves to be taken seriously, since it raises dilemmas for civil libertarians as well as for the security establishment.
Consider the following. There is a significant terrorist threat to the public from revolutionary jihadism, with a worrying number of British recruits. These terrorist cells are becoming more proficient and further attacks are likely. The first duty of government, the intelligence and security services and the police is to protect the public. That is best achieved through a combination of action to reduce the threat directly and to reduce vulnerability to the threat. The latter will only be achieved by preventing the radicalisation of another generation of Muslims, both in Britain and abroad. But that task is hard, and will not be achieved quickly. The former depends upon vigorous pursuit of the present terrorist networks to keep down the level of violence and allow longer term measures to work. Successful pursuit should lead to prosecutions through the courts and deportation…