A devastating catalogue of errors by the security services

Posted by Sara Ogilvie on 26 November 2014

Yesterday's Intelligence and Security Committee report into the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in May 2013 is a devastating catalogue of errors made by the security services. The report explains that prior to events of May 2013 both Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale – subsequently convicted of the murder – were known to the security services, but they weren’t treated as priority suspects. The warning signs were there, but over the course of several years - and seven Agency operations -  landline telephone records went unchecked, links with other suspected terrorists weren’t followed up, and warrants for intrusive surveillance were not requested in circumstances which the Committee describes as ‘surprising’. Even when Adebolajo returned from Kenya, having been voluntarily deported as a result of suspected involvement with terrorism there, he was not monitored by the security services and his allegations that he was tortured in Kenya were not investigated. When it was finally decided to place Adebowale under surveillance, there was a huge delay in granting authorisation for this request. The report reveals that, had this request been dealt with in a timely manner, at least one of the men would have been under surveillance in the days leading up to the murder.

When challenged by the ISC, the security services responded that they didn’t realise that the pair posed a threat, and in any case, even if they had looked at the content of communications, they would have dismissed most of it as rhetoric rather than demonstrating intent to kill.

However the ISC concluded that had this series of basic errors not been made, many more routes of investigation would have been open to the agencies and decisions as to priority may have taken on a different colour. The Committee stated that there was no way of knowing whether the outcome would have been different, but over the course of 191 pages the evidence speaks for itself.

And yet having revealed serious individual and cumulative failings on the part of the Agencies, the Committee then decides to place the blame on the communication service providers (CSP). The report describes an email written by Adebolajo in December 2012 in which he sets out that he wants to kill a soldier, and claims that had the security services had access to this email, the suspects would have become a ‘top priority’. Deep in the body of the report, it is explained that the relevant CSP was not asked to intercept the suspect’s emails. It is also explained that had the CSP refused to hand over the information, the security services would have had the technological capability to get it for themselves.

The reason that none of this had happened was because – yet again – the security services didn’t consider his monitoring to be priority. To blame the CSPs for not doing the work of the security services can only be described as perverse and is a dangerous deflection from the real issues at play.

In the face of a report showing that the UK’s anti-terror strategy is counterproductive and failing on almost every level it is bizarre that the Government is poised to introduce more of the same via its new counter terror legislation, due to be published today. Granting further divisive powers when it is clear that they are unable to properly use the ones they already have makes no sense, and will do nothing to make us any safer.