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.

  • joeCanuck

    Is she to be believed?

    Only if you are totally naive. Lies are part of the stock in trade of spy organisations and MI5 are experts.

  • IRIA

    Good post, Brian. Very important questions

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Hmmm.
    “joining the like of SFs Martina Anderson”.
    What exactly is her “like”. Why not just say “join SFs Martina Anderson”

    Its almost like Mr Walker thinks shes a child of a lesser God.
    But isnt that exactly the crude analysis of superiority/inferiority which allows torture.

    Mr Walker was maybe in the Belfast Newsroom in August 1971. Maybe even out and about interviweing “the like” of Unionist Brian Faulkner who was asked about torture allegations against internees.
    “We are British…..we dont do that sort of thing” Well er….
    Intelligence all seems to be about need to know. Take that “24” programme. I dont watch it but the hero of sorts “Jack Somebody”……he is no wimp.

    And lets be frank….its not always about getting intelligence. Sometimes its just about Revenge. Like those squaddies in Iraq.
    Officers (just like Eliza Manningham Buller and Manuel in Fawlty Towers) all say the same thing.

    “I know noooooothing”
    Yet it strikes me that for centuries Torture is in the weaponry of the State. Unspoken. But real enough.
    Cant really think Eliza Bullingham Manners or whatever is that worked up about it.
    I mean it doesnt say much for MI5 if they didnt even know about it
    Getting caught out…now thats different.
    So….er…….blame the Yanks.
    Gin and tonics all round.
    Shaken not stirred Moneypenny.

  • Brian,

    “and leave themselves open to the charge of hypocrisy when they call for the defeat of the dissident republicans.”

    What’s hypocritical about it? SF called today for the establishment of a seperate PSNI unit to deal with dissidents. It is certainly arguable, that having an organisation like MI5 with its reputation in Republican circles is likely to lead to an increase in dissident activity and exactly the same reasons were give for taking the soldiers off the streets and resisting call to put them back i.e. it is obvious even to an extremely moderate Unionist like myself that their involvement is counter productive.

  • Brian Walker

    fitzj, The “Like” of martina Anderson, bit of a picky point this. I obviously mean Ms Anderson and those who think LIKE her, you see? From the rest of the ramble.. On August 7 1971 I was in the Creggan interviewing the first internee to be released after a few hours in detention, the Official Johnny White (quite recently deceased I see).. whatever the relevance of the question. Perhaps you’re trying to say I have no experience of the fornt line.. Alas quite a lot in the very old days.
    Moderate U I salute your insight about the counterproductive MI5 and leave you to it.

  • drunk as a rule

    Moderate Unionist,

    While I accept this doesn’t resolve the NI Intelligence issue, in respect of Martina Anderson do you not feel there is SF hypocrisy where the Reserve Police Officers who were employed for specific roles due to the security issue get their contracts terminated. Then without even allowing the dust to settle public calls are made by SF for specially trained officers to tackle dissidents.

    That my friend is hypocrisy.

  • drunk as a rule,

    that’s like saying it is hypocritical to sack an employee and then hire a different one becuase the previous one was not deemed fit for purpose.

    You may not agree with it – but it is not hypocritical.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Walker, Im happy that like me you agree Ms Anderson is not a child of a lesser God.
    Not sure if the “ramble” was mine, yours or both……but Im old enough to remember you out and about on camera. And darned good you were too.

    Perhaps a typo has appeared in your ramble as they oft appear in mine.
    Internment was of course 9th August 1971 (not 7th)

  • extremely moderate Unionist like myself

    MU, the Union of which you speak is apparently a United Ireland – but you sound more like a Sinner than a Stoop 😉

  • Nevin,

    as the esteemed and extremely astute commentator ItwasSammyMcNallywhatdoneit might well have remarked – away and feck off with yourself.

  • Nevin,

    as the esteemed and extremely astute commentator ItwasSammyMcNallywhatdoneit might well have remarked – away and feck off with yourself.

  • … well the boul whatdoneit did have a habit of repeating himself

  • Garza

    Sammy at least have the honour and decency to represent what you really believe. Be a Martin Mc Guinness, not a Gerry Adams.

    Don’t play childish sock puppet games.

  • Garza,

    as the great Grizzly might well remark on the topic of the boul whatdoneit he hasn’t gone away you know.

  • Brian Walker

    fitzj, spot on on the 9th.. I went on to crash my car taking the film back to Belfast..

  • Vaguely on topic …

    Having finally made the end of James Ellroy’s Blood’s A Rover (it took a month, with time off for good behaviour), I was looking for some light relief.

    As part of those “three-for…” come-ons, I had a go with Chris Mullin’s A View from the Foothills. And so I finally reach the point.

    Here is Mullin, back with the Home Affairs Committee, in the aftermath of 9/11 [the emphases are mine]:

    Wednesday, 31 October

    To Thames House, headquarters of MI5, to discuss the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act with the Director, Stephen Lander. In appearance, though not in demeanour, he vaguely resembles Norman Lamont. Every time I see him I am struck by how down to earth he is – open, relaxed, frank, at ease with the democratic process, which could not be said of all his predecessors. At one point our committee clerk, Andrew Kennon, passed me a note: ‘Did you ever dream you might hear a Director General of the Security Service bandying around articles of the European Charter of Human Rights with such fluency?’ He gave every appearance of taking us seriously and not just going through the motions.

    We sat around the table in the boardroom, with our backs to the fine view of the river and Lambeth Palace. Chocolate biscuits were offered with the coffee, though there were few takers. A couple of people – Winnick and Cameron – arrived late, which must give a bad impression. I asked if he had read Stella Rimington’s book and he said he had seen about five different drafts. ‘Was her description of the early days accurate?’

    ‘Yes, there was a lot of drinking and laziness.’

    The threat, he said, was threefold: (a) al-Qaida, made up of individuals who met during the Russian-Afghan war and who went on to fuel (b) individual nationalist struggles in Egypt, Algeria, Kashmir, Chechnya; and (c) individuals radicalised by these events who choose to do something on their own. He added, ‘There is a strong presumption that further events are planned.’ He is seeking power to detain indefinitely (i) terrorist suspects who are denied entry and immediately trump a refusal by claiming asylum, and (ii) suspected terrorists, resident here, whose lives would be at risk were they to be deported to their country of origin.

    Afterwards, we had a briefing from Ben Gunn, of the Association of Chief Police Officers (also Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire), who detailed the extra powers the police are seeking to interfere with bank accounts of suspected terrorists. ‘We recognise this doesn’t sit easily with the Human Rights, Freedom of Information and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Acts,’ he said. Surprisingly, the police have no legal power to collect intelligence. ‘Previously, we could do what we liked, but now we need specific authority.’ He said that as the law stands the police can’t photocopy a passport or examine baggage at ports. So far the law is untested. ‘Until challenged, we do it.’ He added that it was time to look at a new offence of conspiracy to commit terrorism.

    Mullin is as near to a good, decent liberal socialist as the modern Labour Party can stretch. I’d rather have him around than any number of LibDem hand-wringers or Tories-discovering-libertarianism at the Young Britons’ Foundation.

    Much of what this thread depends on is prejudice from “then”. This is “now”.

    The Bush (actually Cheney) régime deplorably gave the CIA (and others) free rein (as the intelligence services had in NI until called to heel). Mullin says a few pages later, recording Blair at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (7 November 2001):

    ‘… the Americans want to take the initiative, but a minimum level of calm is needed first. The timing must be right.’ On the big picture, he spelled out the realpolitik: ‘No-one has 6,000’ (he keeps using that figure, even though the true figure seems to be about half that number) ‘of their citizens wiped out and says they’ll do nothing.’ It was important that they didn’t act alone. That, of course, is the bottom line. We are all but irrelevant. The only choice for us was whether to go along in the hope of exerting some influence or to sit quietly on the sidelines and let them get on with it.

    Seemed then, and seems still, to be a reasonable appraisal.

  • Pete Baker

    And back on topic..

    Brian

    I put some of those national security protocols ‘above the fold’ here. [fixed link]

  • Brian

    Like the US government when they imprisoned countless innocent people in Guantanamo , you seem to have got the wrong guy, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was never a British resident, indeed despite his considerable ability with disguises, it seems certain he has never set foot in Ireland or the UK.

    Why you would even ask if Manningham-Buller is to be believed, is beyond me, as she told lies for a living and as she rose to the top of her profession, one can only presume she did it well.

    Still I will give the old gal one thing she has a sense of humour.

    ““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.”

    As much as I despise Khalid Mohammed, perhaps the lying old bag should try water boarding herself, It certainly would take that smirk off her face.

  • It is extremely unlikely that EM-B would ever have been informed of the methods of interrogation being used by the CIA. They would simply pass on the information gained to a friendly countries intelligence agency if the information related to a specific threat in or to that country.

  • II

    Come on, are you telling me the lads would not have sat around with their limey allies, with a few beers after a hard days work torturing people, boasting about how Khalid Mohamed squealed like a pig, etc,etc.

    Your be telling me next the Brits do not have their own sources within Pakistan, Moroccan, etc, intel, and they would not have past such info up the line for a shilling or two.

    Even if I were daft enough to believe such crap, as far as I am aware, Mi6, not being an equal opportunity employer, has not yet got around to hiring blind folk on the front line, so when its officers talked to people like Binyam Mohamed, the individual Brian is actually referring to, they may have noticed he had been knocked about a bit and acted accordingly. Instead of saying good on you mate and singing the first three verses of the star spangled banner and a ‘rendition’ of Pakistan Zindabad.

    What is that saying about all it takes is for evil to triumph is for goodmen to turn the other way. Or some such.

  • Mickhall,

    Are you telling me the lads would not have sat around with their republican allies, with a few beers after a hard days work torturing people, boasting about how Kieran Doherty squealed like a pig, etc,etc.?

    That is how pira/rira/cira operate, and that is also why we will always win. We don’t need your tactics.

  • Michaelhenry

    the dissidents are not a real army they have never in over 20 years killed an armed british soldier and never will

  • Paddy

    Are you telling me the lads would not have sat around with their republican allies, with a few beers after a hard days work torturing people, boasting about how Kieran Doherty squealed like a pig, etc,etc.?

    That is how pira/rira/cira operate, and that is also why we will always win. We don’t need your tactics.

    You obviously don’t monitor Royal Legion type sites. Ex British forces terrorists are lower class nobodies. That is why so many of them end up homeless/in jail.

    Do all ex MI5/6 terrorists think they are Jesus Christ mark 2 in drag?
    http://tinyurl.com/yjuj7hm

  • Brian Walker

    Thank you Pete, that will be appreciated. Malcolm, I agree totoally with your reading of Mullin, who as we know is no slouch on the realities of justice.