Realism over MI5 needed, not hypocrisy

Rumbles about MI5 accountability or the lack of it featured in yesterday’s P&J debate. It was ironic that I was so absorbed in the debate that I forgot to head off to hear Eliza Manningham-Buller the former head of MI5 last night telling the Mile End Group that she had no knowledge of US torture in the interrogation of the British resident and Guantanamo detaineee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. She gave this naïve sounding answer to a question I had intended to ask myself.

I said to my staff, ‘Why is he talking?’ because our experience of Irish prisoners and terrorist was that they never said anything.
“They said the Americans say he is very proud of his achievements when questioned about it. It wasn’t actually until after I retired that I read that in fact he had been waterboarded more than 163 times.”

So odd that she didn’t check it out more, if only because we’re always told that intelligence is so much more reliable if volunteered than given under pressure. Is she to be believed? Unlikely that she would volunteer a direct lie, two years after her retirement. Ignorant because she was better off not knowing and didn’t ask? The Guardian’s timeline shows how close to American interrogations she was, and yet the torture took her by surprise. MI5’a record has been famously slammed in the Mohamed judgement and an MI5 officer is under police investigation. At the same time the agency’s effectiveness in thwarting several serious terrorist attacks is established. It’s worrying that alleged attempts by MI5 to set up the Derry man Kieran Doherty as an informer may have contributed to his murder by the RIRA, although this might be only an excuse. Neverthess it reopens old wounds and revives old memories that are still raw. To achieve some measure of MI5 accountability, MLAs have three choices: to continue asking the PSNI in the forum of the Policing Board if the national security protocols are being observed; to join in pressing for more effective scrutiny by a beefed up Intelligence and Scrutiny Committee at Westminster to which it would be a shrewd move to appoint Mark Durkan ; or join the like of SF’s Martina Anderson, who yesterday called for the removal of the “poisonous “ MI5 from “our country” and leave themselves open to the charge of hypocrisy when they call for the defeat of the dissident republicans.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London