back to article UK terror law probe stresses 'safeguards' amid MI5 plot claims

Blighty's domestic intelligence agency MI5 foiled a number of life-threatening terrorist plots over the last 12 months, underlining the need "for good intelligence and strong anti-terrorism laws, accompanied by proper safeguards." This was the conclusion of the watchdog report by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism …

  1. Ian Bush

    "Blighty's domestic intelligence agency MI5 foiled a number of life-threatening terrorist plots over the last 12 months, underlining the" point that existing powers are more than sufficient to address current needs.

    1. Little Mouse

      ...or maybe the abuse of those existing powers.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Well.. it that's the case over there in Blighty, then the US has more than enough powers yet, they want more... This reminds of pigs at the trough. The more you toss in it, the more they want. Or maybe it's corporate investors and profits.... but I digress.

      1. Ian Bush
        Thumb Down

        Blighty is little different. Indeed the rush to follow the lead of the "Land Of The Lobbyist" is one of the things that most depresses me, politically even having a common language barely divides us any more.

  2. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Meh

    Good News!

    They are able to stop these dastardly plots without all the new measures the spooks say are 'essential'

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Good News!

      It's two years since the head of MI6 said that the Snowden leaks meant that terrorists "could hit us at will"

      Which means that at least one of them is an egregious lying tosspot.

  3. sysconfig

    If there was a "number of life-threatening terrorist plots"...

    ...surely somebody would be able to share details with us, aka Joe and Jane Public, now that they have allegedly averted them.

    I for one would really like to see how snooping helped, and I would like to understand why even more snooping would be needed, if it was as successful as they would like us to think.

    If successfully closed cases can not be disclosed, I am tempted to think that they are talking utter bollocks.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: If there was a "number of life-threatening terrorist plots"...

      Just because the plot was foiled doesn't mean that the perps have been brought in. It is possible that MI5, having learned of the plot, engineered circumstances to prevent the plot coming to fruition. Then they can leave the plotters out there, under much closer surveillance, potentially helping them to identify further persons of interest.

      If that's the case, then it could jeapordise the longer-term plan if they publicised the initial foiling.

      Example, I learn that you are about to buy some dodgy stuff from supplier "A". I do something to prevent you meeting "A" - maybe detain "A" on a trivial suspicion-of-X charge - and you get impatient and try to set up a deal with somebody else, thus allowing me to identify big supplier "B" that I wasn't previously aware of.

      1. sysconfig

        @Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese - Re: If there was a "number of life-threatening terrorist plots"...

        Of course, and if we were talking two or three years, I would accept that. But they pat their own backs for foiling terror plots since 7/7, which is more than ten years in the past now. Surely if they have been as successful in the meantime as we are expected to believe, they are able to give us at least *something* to substantiate their claims.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If there was a "number of life-threatening terrorist plots"...

        "Just because the plot was foiled doesn't mean that the perps have been brought in."

        Quite right. Fortunately, we have a recent example where there's allegedly been a plot, it's allegedly been foiled, and the alleged perps have been brought to trial. Unfortunately in this instance, for the first time in living memory the trial was mostly held in secret. The few journos that were allowed in court know more details than the rest of us, and they're not allowed to tell us what they do know.

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11479825/Erol-Incedal-cleared-of-terror-attack-plot-after-secret-trial.html (26 Mar 2015)

        "A row over secret courts erupted last night after a British law student was cleared of plotting the first Isil-inspired terror attack on UK soil, but the public cannot be told why.

        Erol Incedal, 27, was found not guilty of planning to target former Prime Minister Tony Blair or to carry out a Mumbai-style rampaging gun attack on the streets of London.

        He was cleared in an “extraordinary” trial at the Old Bailey where, for the first time, the majority of the evidence was heard behind closed doors" (continues)

        See also e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31989581 on why the trial couldn't be reported.

        So where does that leave us?

      3. PGregg

        Re: If there was a "number of life-threatening terrorist plots"...

        Thats the kind of thinking that ends up with headlines about Police/MI5 collusion in murders (like in Northern Ireland) or stories about (successful) terrorist atrocities and the authorites admitting that the person was known to them but we really didn't think they were doing anything wrong, honest.

        Deferred gratification really doesn't work when it comes to criminal/terrorist activities.

  4. Vimes

    As others have asked elsewhere, is there any time in history - except perhaps for a little while after WW2 - where they *didn't* say that the threat was getting worse?

    And yet we're still here.

    It's also interesting the director general of MI5 claims that he wants the public to have a greater understanding of what MI5 does, yet he refuses to answer questions put to him by the home affairs select committee, preferring instead to go on radio 4 whilst ignoring any sort of established oversight.

    As for the number of plots foiled, does anybody really believe that? He might as well start making claims involving 45 minutes. Even if that total is accurate - a big 'if' - then for all we know these include 'plots' that had no real chance of success and consequently posed no substantial threat.

  5. ColonelClaw
    Unhappy

    Scaremongering bollocks.

  6. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Flame

    since 7/7 "only two people have been killed by terrorists"

    And how many innocent people have been killed by the police ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: since 7/7 "only two people have been killed by terrorists"

      Memory lapse here...Fusilier Rigby was one, who was t'other?

    2. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: since 7/7 "only two people have been killed by terrorists"

      Don't forget that after murdering an innocent electrician they then lied through their teeth tyring to blacken his character in an attempt to justify their actions - fortunately someone managed to publish the video evidence before they could get hold of it. His family still hasn't seen justice

    3. Ralph B

      Re: since 7/7 "only two people have been killed by terrorists"

      > And how many innocent people have been killed by the police ?

      That would be 18 or 19 according to the standard presumption of innocence.

      Of course, we could now argue if more innocent people would have been killed by terrorists if the police hadn't been so busy killing people themselves. Maybe complete competitors cannot coexist.

  7. Sarah Balfour

    The five biggest wastes of tax money (In no particular order)

    1. Surveillance

    2. The Misuse of Drugs Act

    3. Trident

    4. Statins (and associated drugs)

    5. Tories

    Personally, it's got fuck all to do with national security, and everything to do with the fact the fuckers are paranoid. Paranoid personality disorder is a severe mental illness - should the mentally ill REALLY be in charge of a country…?!

    1. tony2heads

      Re: The five biggest wastes of tax money (In no particular order)

      Paranoid , but only as long as they are paid to be.

      Anyway I think that looking at it historically, most of the time mentally ill people have been in charge of countries.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: The five biggest wastes of tax money (In no particular order)

      Paranoid personality disorder is a severe mental illness - should the mentally ill REALLY be in charge of a country…?!

      I'm not sure who said it first but the gist is: If you want to be in a political office you have to be crazy. There's more to it about the best person for the job never runs for it... etc.

      1. Ralph B

        Re: The five biggest wastes of tax money (In no particular order)

        > I'm not sure who said it first but the gist is: If you want to be in a political office you have to be crazy.

        You might have been thinking of Douglas Adams who, in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, wrote:

        “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

        To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

        To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

  8. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

    Common law duty

    It is a duty on all of us under English common law to help prevent crime. So MI5 are entitled to expect more co-operation than they actually get from Facebook etc.

    As the US inherited English common law, there are similar obligations in North America with the arguable exceptions of Louisiana and Quebec. Some might argue that Alaska should respect whatever Russian equivalent there is of common law.

    1. depicus

      Re: Common law duty

      "It is a duty on all of us under English common law to help prevent crime"

      No it is not.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When will these people stop bullshitting?

    It's this simple.

    They can and do spy on everyone, everyone knows this therefore those they wish to capture/foil in their dastardly deeds won't use computers or phones to communicate unless of course they are complete idiots who fail to grasp simple logic.

    Let's for a minute think of the humble carrier pigeon, if terrorists(insurgents/freedom fighters take your pick) were using pigeons the governments would devise a way to capture them, the terrorists would know this and stop using them.

    Therefore what is the real reason for all this data collection and spying on everyone? and can someone tell me why because the above is being overlooked?

    P.S. I foiled 27 major life-threatening terrorist plots last year however I'm not going to give you any details whatsoever, you'll just have to take my word for it and trust that I dealt with said terrorists without using the British courts.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
      Joke

      I foiled 27 major life-threatening terrorist plots last year...

      I have some excellent elephant repellent. I know it works as I haven't seen any elephants around these parts in years...

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge
        Happy

        The joke icon spoils the truth .....

    2. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      "Let's for a minute think of the humble carrier pigeon, if terrorists(insurgents/freedom fighters take your pick) were using pigeons the governments would devise a way to capture them...."

      Dunno mate, the Terrorpedos have provably been using CARS as bombs for quite some time, and to drive around the country in pursuit of their nefarious schemes. Gov hasn't done much about all those dangerous cars! They've not even told the car companies its THEIR responsibility to stop terrorists using them somehow, but then they don't really understand car technologies, so they probably realise they're not in a position to dictate how the car companies should go about it....

  10. Warm Braw Silver badge

    Over the last 12 months ... five life-threatening terrorist operations

    Based on the Single Intelligence Account being budgeted at around £2bn*, that makes it around £400M for each "plot" that comes to trial,

    Or alternatively, the annual intelligence budget would be the equivalent (according to DoT figures) of the value of preventing 1100 road deaths. I doubt even Andrew Parker is going to claim he's saved that many lives.

    *Yes, I know that includes MI6, but GCHQ seems to eat up most of it and it's surveillance he's defending.

    1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      Re: Over the last 12 months ... five life-threatening terrorist operations

      He also admitted that they had been monitoring adubwale (sp?) for some time before he attacked Fusilier Rigby....

      ....but they didn't stop that attack.

      Why?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Over the last 12 months ... five life-threatening terrorist operations

        " they had been monitoring adubwale (sp?) for some time before he attacked Fusilier Rigby....

        ....but they didn't stop that attack.

        Why?"

        Good question. The obvious answer, as pointed out on BBC Radio 4's excellent More or Less program (Listen Again link below), is that the more surveillance you do, the more "false positives" you get, and you can't meaningfully watch them all, unless you significantly improve the quality of your intelligence and targeting.

        Maybe someone will keep asking the same question of Mr Mi5 and friends.

        More Or Less-based Article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22718000

        More Or Less Listen Again: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01snyk3

      2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        The Enigmatic Dilemma .... and Catch 22 on Steroids

        He also admitted that they had been monitoring adubwale (sp?) for some time before he attacked Fusilier Rigby....

        ....but they didn't stop that attack.

        Why? .... Bernard M. Orwell

        Suspecting and/or knowing someone has dangerous sociopathic tendencies still does not allow third parties to act before the fact on the presumption that there will be an action which they, the third party, have imagined possible and have considered probably likely at a future date.

        Such proaction would surely be too unacceptable and very Minority Report

        The future can change, and be changed, in an instant and one can easily forge another completely different path for more than oneself if one knows what one is doing and what needs to be done.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The Enigmatic Dilemma .... and Catch 22 on Steroids

          Tell that to the two British Jihadis that were killed by a drone strike in syria...

          1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

            Re: Re: The Enigmatic Dilemma .... and Catch 22 on Steroids

            Quite so, AC, I stand corrected. :-) So, that is what we are all dealing with nowadays, is it? Summary execution by remote control of robots? One imagines that Jihadis will follow that lead to liquidate commanders and prime ministers and administers of policies attacking them too soon, for that appears to be their modus operandi ..... watch and learn what works best to achieve best results?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A much more serious problem ...

    ... in terms of deaths or injuries, is domestic violence. This could easily be drastically reduced by having video recording in all residences along with microphones connected to AI systems capable of detecting heated arguments. I don't mistreat SWIMBO (I wouldn't dare, to be honest) so I have no reason to object and, extrapolating from my own personal circumstances, I cannot imagine why anyone except a ne'er-do-well could possibly object.

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: A much more serious problem ...

      I think those young ladies who supplement their zero hours contracts by selling access to their existing video capture devices might be a little upset.

  12. Amorous Cowherder
    Boffin

    With no wars to fight the spooks need to keep inventing bogeymen to keep us all scared and paranoid, and ultimately ensure they keep their budgets and have plenty of new toys to play with. Of course there are terrorist scum out there that we need protecting from, I can fully accept that but what I have trouble with is the level of Hollywood style paranoia they would have us into believe. All the time they make us paranoid and afraid of each other we're distracted from watching what the watchers are up to. Every Sun/Daily Mail reader they make shit their pants when they see someone wearing a hijab, is one less person watching those we pay to run the country.

    1. Vimes

      ...Hollywood style paranoia...

      I seem to recall Cameron saying that TV dramas showed why they needed these powers.

      Somebody ought to explain to him the concept of fiction, and that life is far less like NCIS:LA than he thinks it is...

    2. Vimes

      Every Sun/Daily Mail reader they make shit their pants when they see someone wearing a hijab

      In the US they just arrest somebody for showing any sort of ingenuity by building a homemade clock whilst committing the crime of being brown...

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Or anyone who doesn't religiously follow and believe certain news outlets......

      2. The Travelling Dangleberries
        Joke

        PC Savage rides again

        @Vimes

        "In the US they just arrest somebody for showing any sort of ingenuity by building a homemade clock whilst committing the crime of being brown..."

        Pre-emptive policing.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chOtJdiBZR4

  13. moiety

    Blighty's domestic intelligence agency MI5 foiled a number of life-threatening terrorist plots over the last 12 months,

    Prove it. Until then, it's just a statement from an organisation who have lied their tits off every time they've opened their mouths for the whole of this century. In fact, sneakery, misdirection and the spewing of misinformation is the point of the organisation, so tell me again why we should take a statement from them at face value.

    This was the conclusion of the watchdog report by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC.

    Correct me if I'm wrong; but is a QC not a sort of Premier Division lawyer; and therefore thoroughly an establishment figure? I'm not seeing the independence there, in other words. I don't know for a fact that failing to toe the party line would lead to withdrawal of his QC badge; loss of his Golden Gavel and being charged full price for gin...but the job title alone suggests more of a vested interest than the work "independent" would lead you to believe.

    He said online data encryption was creating a situation where the police and intelligence agencies "can no longer obtain under proper legal warrant the communication of people they believe to be terrorists". (Andrew Parker, from the linked beeb article)

    Yeah, well that, you see, is the backlash from all the data-rape MI5 etc. have been up to up until now. *IF* the various agencies had been a bit more transparent in the first place and abided by the law and due process then they would be having a much easier time of things. But nooooo; it's all "rape the peasants because they're too stupid to find out"; and now that particular chicken has come home to roost. It's going to take a fuck sight more than an "Ooh! Pity me! My job is sooo hard!" before you even ->start<- to regain people's trust; if that's even possible at this point.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: foiled a number of life-threatening terrorist plots

      "Blighty's domestic intelligence agency MI5 foiled a number of life-threatening terrorist plots over the last 12 months,

      Prove it"

      The trial earlier this year of Erol Incedal was exactly such an opportunity, where the court could be shown and the people outside could be convinced.

      Instead, for the first time in living memory (?), the vast majority of the trial was held in secret and almost nothing has been reported, except the verdict.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31989581 (26 Mar 2015)

      "On 13 October 2013, armed police blew out the tyres of a car near the Tower of London. That much we know for sure about the arrest and prosecution of Erol Incedal for preparing for acts of terrorism.

      Since then, he has faced two trials for preparing for acts of terrorism. But what was his alleged plan?

      Well, we simply do not know - and the jury at his retrial has decided it did not buy whatever it was being told he was supposed to have done.

      This has been the most secret prosecution since World War Two - and it has ended with the only defendant being cleared.

      A few journalists were permitted to hear to some of the secret Old Bailey sessions - but they will go to prison if they reveal what they learned.

      The rest of us were allowed in to Court Nine for some brief open sessions - but most of the time the doors were locked.

      Two weeks before his arrest, traffic police had stopped the 26-year-old for speeding.

      He was taken to a police station for two hours - and while he was there, officers searched the black, E-class Mercedes.

      They found a note inside a glasses case of the address of a property owned by former Prime Minster Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie." (continues)

      Is this where relying on an unreformed Intelligence service and terrorism laws leads? Secret courts?

      And then in this example the awkward squad on the jury find him not guilty anyway?

      Not ideal, mr MI5. Must try harder.

      re QC: Bob Marshall-Andrews is a QC. He is the exception (one of very few, the only other one that springs to mind is Michael Mansfield) that proves your rule - that in general they're as establishment as they come (e.g. Cherie Blair).

  14. Tanglewood73

    Wanting to make 'unbreakable' encryption illegal reminds me of the old Windows NT High Encryption warning that it was illegal to use the software outside of the US and Canada. As if international criminals/terrorists are going to follow that law and not use encryption, whilst simultaneously breaking a load of others is just plain stupid.

  15. scrubber
    Thumb Down

    "Life-threatening plots" ???

    I'm pretty sure some/most/(all the ones you 'prevented'?) of these are so far fetched as to be laughable (our twitter friend threatening to blow up Nottingham airport) and others were pushed and assisted by the security services in sting operations (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/21/government-agents-directly-involved-us-terror-plots-report) so let's not pat ourselves on the back too much, eh?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Life-threatening plots" ???

      Easy solution: Make it illegal to commit a terrorist act by proxy, ie encouraging someone else to do so and giving them the tools to do it.

      ...Wait.

      Then we'd have to arrest the police for breaking the law! Thankfully there's no such thing already...

      ...Right?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NI

    If they have reduced the rate in NI then they should be able to show a verifiable statistical trend over time which doesn't give away details of plots. You could adjust for the decrease in total plots to factor in the impact of the peace process I guess.

  17. RobHib
    Meh

    A Scenario that doesn't give The State right to ruin our democracy.

    Scenario:

    1. Say Alice has never come to the attention of the law thus there's no knowledge of or surveillance on her.

    2. Alice is in her home and she says to Bob that she is planning an illegal activity. No one will ever know about that activity unless (a) either one or other blabs or (b) the knowledge of their identity leaks out because of imperfect execution of the crime. In the long history of fighting crime, normally this is where the police/authorities enter the scene.

    3. Private living space expands: Alice and Bob are now connected via an unencrypted communication network. Again, in the normal course of events–i.e.: no ubiquitous state surveillance–no one will still be any wiser to their planned illegal activity.

    4. Widespread state surveillance is implemented and Alice and Bob are overheard, game's up! It's roughly equivalent to Alice and Bob speaking loudly at home and nosey-neighbour serendipitously overhears the conversation and reports it.

    5. Neighbours Betty and Paul are on the opposite side of nosey-neighbour and they hear of Alice and Bob's horrible plight so they agree never speak their nefarious plans loudly enough for nosey-neighbour to overhear them.

    6. Nosey-neighbour, now keyed up with first success, deliberately spies (intrudes into) Betty and Paul's private space by putting a tiny mike bug through a hole in the adjacent wall and overhears a conversation that otherwise would be completely private. What nosey-neighbour has deliberately done is to commit an act of spying on his or her neighbour without any prior evidence. Just because he/she has spied and thus overheard some nefarious plan DOES NOT make what he/she has done right.

    What Andrew Parker and cronies have done is to say we ACCIDENTALLY overheard Alice and Bob concocting some nefarious plan in their private home so that gives us the right to drill holes in everyone's wall and drop in a hidden mike.

    Well, I and I reckon any reasonable person, would contend that The State has gone too far–because of technology it accidentally stumbled on a way of making plod detective work easier by spying on everyone. In essence, this is not new law for a new environment (i.e.: telephone/electronic network) BECAUSE in NORMAL circumstances that electronic network is just an extension of one's private space (being private space the old rules still apply–or they should).

    7. Continuing on: Thus, when a third couple get wind of the plight of the previous two they decide to encrypt the extension of their private space.

    8. When Andrew Parker and cronies get wind of this encryption they now cry foul as they permanently want access–to private space that they NEVER previously had rights to access. What Andrew Parker and cronies have done is fundamentally to reduce the freedoms of everyone in the state and they have done it dishonestly and by sleight-of-hand. This incessant creeping in on our freedoms by The State is not only Orwellian but it is also fundamentally paralysing democracy.

    Private space is just that–private. People say and do silly things in the private domain which for the very vast majority of the population is harmless–thus they should remain private. Orwellian state monitoring of the population will not only detect many false positives but it will also likely to ruin people's lives in the process not to mention generally making society much more fearful.

    If The State wants to gather surveillance then let it do it in the manner it has always been done–by foot, contacts etc., etc. Once it has good reason to think Alice and Bob are up to some nefarious business then it can apply for a wiretap warrant in the traditional manner.

    Allowing The State and its spy agencies carte blanche is unacceptable. Just because it is easier for spies to sit all day in front of screens instead of being out and around on the beat is not sufficient an excuse for them to further ruin our fragile democracy.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How Did We Get Here?

    It is sad to say, but we actually have more to fear from the police, government and the so called security services than any terrorists.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      How Did We Get Here? This is How?

      It is sad to say, but we actually have more to fear from the police, government and the so called security services than any terrorists........ RedSchuhart

      It could be successfully argued that Inept and Inequitable Establishment Rule, which be Really Misrule, and Systems' Paranoid Schizophrenia, which be Virtual Madness, is how we get to where they are, RedSchuhart.

  19. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Royal Mail

    Saying that tech firms have a responsibility to alert the authorities to what wrong'uns are up to is like saying that Royal Mail should open and read everybody's letters to see if terrorphiles are sending letters to each other.

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