back to article Ex-MI5 boss: People ask, why didn't you follow all these people ... on your radar?

Former MI5 boss Stella Rimington says complex communications "make it very difficult for our intelligence services" to keep pace against "hideous ideologies" whose sole aim is to kill, while cyber espionage is something "no one really knows effectively how to deal with". It was a bleak picture she painted of the threat …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Says it all

    Very revealing:

    'What are we going to do to ensure we still are needed and stop all our resources being taken away?'

    Not:

    "As a publicly funded agency, what should we do for the people?"

    Can I rephrase her statement as "this trough is almost empty - quick find another one"

    1. Allonymous Coward

      Re: Says it all

      I raised my eyebrows at that too. It could be argued that if your taxpayer-funded department no longer has a role, it should be disbanded.

      Sadly, organisation-centric (as opposed to, say, user- or public-service-centric) thinking like this seems to be pretty common in the public sector.

      Maybe she meant to say that MI5 was aware of new threats and knew they still had a role to play, but needed to make that clear to their political paymasters. Which is reasonable, and a lot more palatable than the words she actually used.

      1. ChrisB 2

        Re: Says it all

        You're right, that's what she should (rightly) have said.

        I've read her "novel" - she can't write/plot. I suspect her talents are more spying than comms and she thought that that plain speaking would make her appear more down-to-earth and non-politician like.

    2. Marcus Fil

      Re: Says it all

      In the period immediately after World War II the British Special Forces and SOE were wound down - the thought of semi-autonomous units who played cricket by different rules did not sit well with "upper management". It was quickly realised that actually some of their skills may yet come in useful in a colder war and the Special Forces were re-establlshed. Likewise people in MI5 probably knew the enemy may change clothes and motives, but there will always be an enemy and they had the necessary skills to counter. What Stella articulated, perhaps badly, is that the incumbent government, constantly juggling an insufficient budget, will quite often make short-sighted savings to the long term detriment of our nation.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Says it all

        'What are we going to do to ensure we still are needed and stop all our resources being taken away?'."

        Swordfish.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What are we going to do to [...] stop all our resources being taken away? Swordfish!

          I wouldn't think that a 1930's era biplane torpedo bomber - or even a squadron of them - would require all that much in the way of resources.

          1. Toni the terrible

            Re: What are we going to do to [...] stop all our resources being taken away? Swordfish!

            I think he meant the fishy sort, sort of taste like Tuna I am told - the chicken of the sea

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Says it all

        But then how were they used? To aid BP in holding on to the Iranian oil fields by overthrowing that country's democratically elected government in 1953 and installing a king? The deep state in Britain has an even longer history than that in the US. They've consistently made the wrong decisions, based on what best served the elites at the top, exposing the public to more danger than they already were in. They doubled down on that in the War on Terror. Then people ask, "what is causing all these often home grown terrorists to become radicalized?" It's not the Internet. You could bar the public from all electronic networks and it wouldn't stop. Kids would still get radicalized. Through handbills, underground newspapers, even audio tapes (Iran's 1979 revolution). Behaving better would have consequences. It would rip the rug from under the feet of the bad guys and give those in the security services who actually care about protecting the public a fighting chance. If they were to start doing that, I don't think they'd have a budget problem.

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Not the Internet?

          Revolution requires radicalising the unradical, and in 2017 with control of digital media (as presumably in China) that can be prevented. Handing out your political message on cassette tapes today is ludicrous, and if you print handbills or a secret newspaper then the printer puts the date, time, and probably place of printing on every pages in nearly-invisible ink (pale yellow). And by now it probably also reads the thing you're copying and phones the government if it's naughty. So, yes, you can disguise all your plans as fruit cake recipes, but then you have to hand them out to the public and as far as they know it -is- a cake recipe. Maybe that's why "Great British BakeOff" is suspiciously popular......is that what they're up to? :-)

          1. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

            Re: Not the Internet?

            I don't believe the printer includes the date, time or location.

            What it does include on modern laser printers is the serial number encoded as a yellow dot pattern so that prints can be traced to the machine that printed them. You need a x25 magnification tool to see it. You may be able to get around this by printing in mono as the transfer belt is (usually on Ricoh devices) moved away from the colour units to reduce wear.

            The reason that this was implemented was to be able to trace fake currency to a specific printer. Other manufacturers can prevent copying of currency, i believe KM / Olivetti went down this route at one point. The rumors about it bricking the machine dissuaded me from giving it a go.

            Ink jet on the other hand, no idea as I hate the things.

            1. Peter X

              Re: Not the Internet?

              @LeahroyNake

              I don't believe the printer includes the date, time or location.

              Apparently, these days, they do... :-O (as well as serial no.)

              slashdot.org (how a few yellow dots burned the intercepts nsa leaker)

              I've linked slashdot simply because there's a bunch of links to useful articles from there.

              1. Ed_UK

                Re: Not the Internet?

                <<@LeahroyNake

                I don't believe the printer includes the date, time or location.

                Apparently, these days, they do... :-O (as well as serial no.)

                ...

                >>

                They have included date & time for many years.

                https://www.eff.org/press/archives/2005/10/16

                "We've found that the dots from at least one line of printers encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer," said EFF Staff Technologist Seth David Schoen.

                Example of cracking the code:

                https://w2.eff.org/Privacy/printers/docucolor/

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Not the Internet?

              "What it does include on modern laser printers is the serial number encoded as a yellow dot pattern so that prints can be traced to the machine that printed them. You need a x25 magnification tool to see it. "

              Yellow dots are highly visible as dark spots if you use a UV lamp. Not all printers do this stuff and some which do, have the option to disable printing the code.

            3. Toni the terrible

              Re: Not the Internet?

              You could use a fully mechanical printer of a John Bull Printing set.

          2. iron Silver badge

            Re: Not the Internet?

            @Robert Carnegie

            The only way you can envisage to produce handbills or an underground newspaper is a computer printer? That wouldn't even be in my first three options.

            If the Internet is to blame for creating terrorists then clearly there were no terrorists before about 1990. So no IRA, Hamas, PLO, Mujahadeen, etc? (forgive my awful spelling)

            1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

              Re: Not the Internet?

              A modern "photocopier" is basically a computer scanner with attached printer, and it can probably recognise seditious material, either now or soon. And that will include Up The Workers and Black Lives Matter. It also probably has Wi-Fi built-in and it probably will use that to alert the police.

              If instead you want to do your subversion of state power with a hand-built printing press, that's vastly more complicated to build than if you're just campaigning by using the printer at work or by posting videos on Google - which will get you caught pretty quick. Of course there's Wikipedia and How It Works to consult - oh, but they're surveilled too. As are 3-D printers to manufacture an unlicensed press, probably. Certainly now that I've suggested it.

              Actual terrorism is sufficiently exciting to be involved in that you probably can persuade a few suckers face to face to join in with you, but it doesn't achieve political change, which is what the establishment really fears. The establishment itself is very well guarded (an MP or a Congresswoman is not "the establishment": it doesn't mind losing a few of those). And having people frightened into giving up their liberty in exchange for apparent security is worth losing some civilians and pretending to care about them.

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: Not the Internet?

                "If instead you want to do your subversion of state power with a hand-built printing press, that's vastly more complicated to build than if you're just campaigning by using the printer at work or by posting videos on Google - which will get you caught pretty quick."

                But not THAT much more complicated. Short runs could be done using a carved woodblock (What are you gonna do? Ban trees?), homemade ink (plenty to go around), and ubiquitous sheets of paper. The woodblock can be chopped up and burned if need be, the ink dumped, and the paper is innocuous enough.

          3. Potemkine Silver badge

            Breaking the thermometer doesn't stop the heat wave

            2017 with control of digital media (as presumably in China) that can be prevented.

            Control of digital media does not stop terrorists attacks, even in China

            A feeling of injustice (true or not), of being put aside often fuels extremism. Controlling information sources won't stop that, on the contrary, it will exacerbate these feelings.

          4. tiggity Silver badge

            Re: Not the Internet?

            .. You can print things without using an electronic printer you know!

            How do you think pamphlets used to be made (and often still are, as old skool printing cheap once you have the kit)

          5. paulc

            Re: Not the Internet?

            " and if you print handbills or a secret newspaper then the printer puts the date, time, and probably place of printing on every pages in nearly-invisible ink (pale yellow). "

            why the downvotes? This is true...

        2. Chris Miller

          @AC

          If you want to claim that terror attacks are the result of the West meddling in the Middle East (interference that I'm certainly not trying to argue a case for), how do you explain the attacks on (e.g.) Coptic Christians? What part of Irag had they invaded?

          1. Jim Birch

            Re: @AC

            ... and even if it was the result of meddling does that mean we should let innocent people die?

            Personally, I'm clear that we have foolishly and violently meddled with other peoples but this can't be considered as a simple cause/response. A Weaponised Loser thesis closer to the reality of this kind of attack.

            https://aeon.co/essays/humiliation-and-rage-how-toxic-masculinity-fuels-mass-shootings

          2. Toni the terrible

            Re: @AC

            They were christain and therefore must be crusaders QED

      3. PickledAardvark

        Re: Says it all

        The SOE employed men and women who were incredibly brave when operating outside the UK. Many agents were young people who had lived in the countries where they would be dropped and would be expected to pass as a local to Germans. They had a chance, however brief, to cause damage to the Nazi cause. The odds still were that they would be caught within weeks of arrival.

        In the cold war, SOE was irrelevant. The need to plant French, Italian and Dutch speaking agents in Europe diminished; different types of agents, perhaps. And whilst SOE might have known a few Czechs, Poles and Germans, their motivations needed to be understood. A different security service was required.

        ---

        When Peter Wright's Spycatcher was published overseas in the 1980s, it was banned in the UK. Many of us waited for a mate to lend their copy. And we were disappointed. Peter Wright seemed as mad as a box of frogs and his revelations were not taken seriously -- even the content about cryptography.

        Spooks of the past seem very strange to me. Their concepts of patriotism and loyalty are from another time. I've no idea where Stella Remington fits in.

        1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

          Re: Says it all

          @PickledA

          "In the cold war, SOE was irrelevant."

          A long time ago I visited SAS HQ. We were shown into a room decorated with flags from all round the world; I assumed they were souvenirs of places they had visited. I recognised East Germany and Poland.

          1. PickledAardvark

            Re: Says it all

            The SAS is part of the British army. The SBS is part of the Naval Service, but not of the Royal Navy.

            The SOE was not part of any military or intelligence body. In theory, it was run by the Minister of Economic Warfare. In the politics of 1946, Minister of Economic Warfare might have been an unhelpful role.

            The cold war was very subtle, except when the other side had something embarrassing to say.

            1. Spleenmeister

              Re: Says it all

              The SBS are Royal Marines

            2. macjules Silver badge

              Re: Says it all

              SBS are a part of Royal Marines Commando which comprises of 4 arms: SBS, the band, 3 commando and the assault group IIRC.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Says it all

          One of the reasons that Peter Wright saw Spycatcher banned was because he revealed some fairly sensitive stuff. I know someone who worked for the security services at the time (something I only found out about when they retired) and they confirmed that he hadn't just crossed the line he'd borrowed a Ferrari and gone way beyond it. I own a copy of Spycatcher and the reason for my friend going pale when they saw it in my flat way back around Christmas in 1987 when round for a quiet drink. The telephone tap methods he talked about, "Special Facilities" were much harder to implement undetected when people knew what to look for.

          I looked at purchasing some flats in Notting Hill overlooking the Czech Embassy a fair few years ago. I asked about the history of them and why they were now on the market. The estate agent said he wasn't joking when he said they were very rarely available. MI5 had been using them round the clock until fairly recently to keep tabs on the denizens of the embassy.

    3. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Says it all

      "'What are we going to do to ensure we still are needed and stop all our resources being taken away?'

      Not:

      "As a publicly funded agency, what should we do for the people?"

      Can I rephrase her statement as "this trough is almost empty - quick find another one""

      No. She said that they were dealing with terrorism as well, and that was obviously getting big during the 1980s, but people didn't know about it so after the end of the Cold War, there was a danger that MI5 would be defunded and all that expertise in plot disruption would be lost.

    4. Uffish

      Re: Says it all

      'What are we going to do to ensure we still are needed and stop all our resources being taken away?'

      Sounds like anyone in any business that is losing sales. Not a politically incorrect thought in itself.

      "As a publicly funded agency, what should we do for the people?" Do exactly what you are told to do by parliament. The last thing we need is a secret service that runs by it's own rules.

  2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Change

    I've heard various politicians saying we need radical change... because once there is a crisis [there are calls for] radical change... but probably what we need is gradual change.

    No. What you really need is to be flexible and adaptable. It's much easier to cope with the unexpected if you're not set in certain ways.

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: Change

      It's much easier to cope with the unexpected if you're not set in certain ways.

      Well yes... but... If there is no "established way of doing things" then there is a risk that things will be done in a haphazard way, and that is wholly undesirable. The trick is to be set in certain ways but have the ability to spot that a "certain way" may not be appropriate in some circumstances and thus might have to change quite quickly in a controlled manner.

      Easier said than done, I suspect.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Change

        Especially on a budget. It's basically a case of having to put the chips somewhere.

  3. andy gibson

    "[When I joined it] was like a John Le Carre novel, people were leaving packets of money in hollow trees in Hampstead Heath," she recalled."

    1. Is this still done?

    2. Where might these trees be?

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      "Where might these trees be?"

      Hampstead Heath?

      I think you'll have to visit them all but it's a start.

      1. Your alien overlord - fear me

        I thought it was a different kind of bloke walking around in dirty macs who frequented Hampstead Heath.

    2. twiss97

      Deposit 2.65 Bitcoin into Acct.# KGBNS@&556 and I'll email you a map....

    3. Paul Renault

      "Where might these trees be?"

      They're palm trees in the shape of the letter 'T' - Molloy

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "They're palm trees in the shape of the letter 'T'"

        Or a big double yer.

    4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Coat

      " like a..Le Carre novel, people were leaving packets of money in hollow trees in Hampstead Heath,"

      Hmmm.

      So May is wrong.

      There really is a secret money tree.

      Who knew?

    5. 's water music Silver badge

      "[When I joined it] was like a John Le Carre novel, people were leaving packets of money in hollow trees in Hampstead Heath," she recalled."

      1. Is this still done?

      2. Where might these trees be?

      I was told that 'there isn’t a magic money tree' although recent fiscal policy seems hard to square with this

      :-(

    6. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. FuzzyWuzzys Silver badge
    Facepalm

    MI5: "We can't catch them and they keep getting away!"

    Gov: "Hang on, we'll get you more powers to access more people's info."

    MI5: "Now we can't catch them, there's too much information to sift through!"

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Gov: Would you like a bigger budget to process all of that information?

      Councils: And can we have it databased and available so we can check if people are really resident within schools catchment areas, and are putting the right things in the right bins?

      MI5: . . .

    2. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

      MI5: "Now we can't catch them, there's too much information to sift through!"

      Problem: We can't find the needle in the haystack

      Solution: Get a bigger haystack

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "At least with the IRA,... they were not anxious to kill a lot of people,"

    That's not what it seemed like at the time. MI5 weren't involved in day-to-day murder investigations so she might not have noticed.

    1. John Riddoch

      There were several bombs left by the IRA in public places where they warned the police in advance of the explosion so people could get out of the way. It still caused terror and awareness, but generally wasn't indiscriminate slaughter. Where they aimed to kill, it was generally targeted (generally, because there were civilian casualties), whether that be RUC, army, politicians etc.

      1. Rob Crawford

        Actually they had a habit of giving warnings that were crafted to move people closer to other other bombs which they neglected to mention to anybody

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        John, I worked in this area when the IRA were active. They sometimes gave a false warning so that people would go towards the site of the imminent explosion. Some thought that these were cock-ups, sometimes they weren't. AC, because I must.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "There were several bombs left by the IRA in public places where they warned the police in advance of the explosion so people could get out of the way."

        I assume that you weren't involved in trying to identify the appallingly burned bodies from La Mon House. I was. I assume you don't remember all the arbitrary killings of protestants such as the Darkley shootings. Or the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen. Or Omagh. This is not to say there weren't atrocities perpetrated in the opposite direction - Greysteel and Cappagh spring to mind as examples.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          I should have added the booby traps. They were intrinsically no-warning devices although not likely to cause so many casualties. I had a lucky escape from one of those.

    2. PatientOne

      "At least with the IRA,... they were not anxious to kill a lot of people,"

      Birmingham Pub Bombings, shootings and bombings in NI, targetted attacks against London and other cities... no, the IRA were not out to kill a lot of people. They were, however, unconcerned by how many they did kill: They wanted attention. If people died during those attacks: That was fine. So technically she might be correct, but that doesn't mean the IRA didn't kill a lot of people.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        The IRA had huge stashes of weapons, including on the British Mainland, if all they had wanted to do was kill Englishmen including civilians it would have been easy. But they didn't, they wanted to highlight a centuries old grievance . Even in Ulster the casualties were far less than they could have been if the bombers and gunmen had gone all out. That doesn't make everything ok but the troubles could have been a lot worse.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Shugyosha

            Terry Christian's let himself go.

      2. macjules Silver badge

        At least with the IRA, they had a mission and they were not anxious to kill a lot of people," she told delegates.

        A totally disgraceful thing to say. The fucking bitch should be horsewhipped through the streets for that.

        Europa Hotel

        Guildford

        Birmingham

        Hyde Park Corner

        Brighton

        Warrington

        Enniskillen (as the 'peace' talks were ongoing)

        And several thousand more cases.

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      And add to the list the RAF (the German lot), Italy's Red Brigade and ETA.

      The RAF definitely were keen on indiscriminate murder because they felt the whole society was evil, definite parallels with the current lot of extremists, and ETA and the IRA also had their moments. Manchester in 1996 very nearly was a bloodbath, in the end "only" 200 people were injured.

      Ideological conflicts often have multiple causes: the Israeli/Palestinian mess is certainly one but the various "regime changes" for oil haven't helped. And, of course, the Americans created their very one by setting up madrasas in Pakistan and supplying guns to the Mujaheddin. But you also get nutters like Breivik who need no reason for reaping havoc.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Dr Syntax.

      Quite so. The IRA weren't suicide bombers, and were certainly trying not to kill themselves.

      Yes, they sometimes left warnings, but not always. I don't recollect any warnings on the day that Mountbatten and 18 soldiers were murdered. Inniskilling, anyone?

      And all that was done by people who aren't actually insane, but just very violent. And don't have any empathy. Eventually, even they (well, their leaders, anyway) realised that this wasn't getting them anywhere, they joined in the secret peace talks, and now it's relatively peaceful. It's worth noting that the MI6 people who dealt with Martin McGuiness said they couldn't help liking him, and also that he always kept his word.

      Your average jihadi, on the other hand, can appear perfectly normal in day to day situations, but can be thought of as being 'secretly insane'. He actually wants to die and take a lot of people with him.

      What makes them do it? As the saying has it 'Evil people do evil things, but to make good people do evil things you need religion'.

      That is obviously true but can't be the whole story. Can you imagine a roly poly lady from Red Squadron, 22nd WI Regiment, dashing onto a station concourse, pulling a concealed ripcord and releasing 200 very sticky buns, in the hope that her enemies (T. Blair, etc.) would eventually die of diabetes?

      Is it just a middle eastern (or should I say- non western) mentality? The Palestinians aren't like it, but then they're fairly secular, and generally well educated.

      Why can a young non western person be convinced to do something that any reasonable person would consider insane?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Why can a young non western person be convinced to do something that any reasonable person would consider insane?"

        Three words: Death Before Dishonor. Or IOW, "Life is Fleeting, Honor is Eternal." It's a mentality that actually IS more prevalent in the East than it is in the West because they value some notable things higher than life itself (such as honor, family, the kingdom); the West doesn't have that kind of emphasis; most people are worth sparing, which is why respecting a surrender was IINM part of the code of Chivalry.

    5. gandalfcn

      I was intending to post something similar, my take was that they had every intention of killing as many people as possible, as did the Unionists.

    6. Mark Dempster

      >"At least with the IRA,... they were not anxious to kill a lot of people,"

      That's not what it seemed like at the time. MI5 weren't involved in day-to-day murder investigations so she might not have noticed.<

      To be fair to them, although they were pretty brutal in Ireland they did give warnings for *most* (not all!) of their mainland bombings, meaning the buildings could usually be evacuated. Looking back at it now it seems almost civilised, in terrorist terms at least.

      And that is NOT to say I condone their actions, or those of any other groups.

  6. frank ly Silver badge

    Stella Rimington ....

    .... is a former _spymistress_.

    If you're going to use gender specific terms then please get them right.

  7. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Not trying to kill a lot of people...

    ...well intensity of combat is relative. If you are safe and secure in a DC or London HQ I guess all combat looks pretty low intensity. I can assure you, though, that when you are actively being shot at the notion of 'low intensity combat' is BS. Suppose that must have been the experience for in Belfast...

    1. DMSlicer

      > Suppose that must have been the experience for in Belfast...

      It's interesting how much Belfast has been portrayed as a "War Zone" in international news over the years, but I can say that growing up here has been a vastly different experience.

      I was born in the very early 80s in East Belfast. I remember hearing bombs going off and there being a security fence around the pedestrian precinct in the City Center.

      Occasionally I heard bangs in the background (one or two a year perhaps?) and later on I might see the front of a building lying in rubble and/or being rebuilt. But generally any violence I saw was more just young thugs chucking bricks at each other - which happens in most cities but at least in Belfast you could tell what side they were on by which football top they were wearing.

      There were security mesh/bars on the windows of most public buildings to stop them getting a brick or petrol bomb thrown through them. My Mum used to get her handbag searched going into shops in the City Center until they took down the security fencing, and during parade season every July there were a slew of buses + cars being stolen and burnt out to block a road and we had to go home via a different route.

      Apart from that, life pretty much just went on - aside from developing a rather black and sarcastic sense of humour, myself and most of my friends that grew up all over Belfast weren't too badly affected by the "Troubles". I had two school classmates die, but neither was related to the violence - one was due to a congenital illness and the other was a teen suicide.

      Once you got further outside the City Center into the suburbs, it was very rare for there to be any trouble. At least in East/Southeast Belfast which was predominantly Loyalist (and I assume also Northwest Belfast which was predominantly Republican...) where the only trouble you heard of tended to be infighting between different Paramilitary groups. If you went further out into towns/villages it was rare to find a "mixed" town - you could tell what the town's political stance was by the flags and the colour of paint on the kerbstones, and things were generally quiet as long as nobody stirred up any trouble.

      The various paramilitary groups had pretty much cornered the market on crime, so much so that you never really heard about anyone selling drugs in the schoolyard or pedophiles pulling kids into cars because the Paramilitary groups put the fear of God into anyone that looked remotely shifty. During the late 80s and early 90s I walked home from primary school and got the bus to/from town regularly and never had any trouble - the place was probably safer for a civilian than it is today.

      Most of the province was even fairly receptive to outsiders (unless you had an Irish/English accent and were in the "wrong" part of the city). Although understandably there were very few foreigners that actually wanted to come to Belfast... I think I only saw a single person with black skin my entire childhood - he was the much-loved owner of a local Corner Newsagents/Sweet shop.

      Over the years as the peace process developed, most of the hatred just seems to have been redirected. Young thugs are now more likely to target a local Asian or Polish family than their traditional "other side"... and heaven help you if you're non-white and Islamic with a foreign accent.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "The various paramilitary groups had pretty much cornered the market on crime"

        I was told that at least in the early days - presumably the late 60s and early 70s - most of those involved were already known to the police as local criminals. I sometimes remember that when I read accounts of those involved in the current outbreak.

        "Although understandably there were very few foreigners that actually wanted to come to Belfast."

        Just before I started work at QUB the department had had a Sikh research student (this would have been early to mid '60s). I often wondered what the population of rural South Down made of a turbaned Sikh peddling round on a cycle with a set of Hiller borer rods tied to the cross-bar.

      2. Glenturret Single Malt

        Despite my reassurances along these lines (after speaking to a friend who had just been working there for two years), my wife totally refused to accompany me if I accepted a job offer in Belfast in the early 70s. So, we didn't go and I still have never been back to Northern Ireland.

  8. c1ue

    Interesting what is left out

    For example:

    British involvement in Iraq - including the WMD justification for Saddam removal

    Libya

    Afghanistan

    Really hard to give a lot of positive credit for an institution, if not the specific person, who supposedly should know better.

    Then again, those of us laboring in the trenches know full well that titles don't make for ability - they primarily denote politics.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Interesting what is left out

      I believe they were all after her time as DG of MI5 so she may have felt it wasn't her place to discuss that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting what is left out

        MI6 were responsible for the WMD 'scare' not MI5. Post Rimmington's time, I believe, but I saw reports of 6 being chucked out of 5s premises (over rendition I seem to remember)

  9. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    IRA

    Drawing parallels with the IRA seems somewhat artificial to me. The IRA acted as a politically-motivated organisation with a clear goal, i.e. a united Ireland for the Irish.

    The more recent terror operations seem a bit more open-ended, i.e. kill anyone who isn't one of us

    Like a software engineering problem, it gets harder to work towards a tangible solution when the requirements are less well-defined

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: IRA

      Drawing parallels seems artificial? Well, it rather depends on how short your memory is.

      The names behind it, the reasons behind it, might have changed, but if you are on the receiving end of half-a-pound of nails delivered courtesy of a lump of Semtex, you're not going to be going to pieces over how clearly defined the motivations behind your imminent death are.

      I think the IRA are far from finished, however. I still pick up news of killings perpetrated in the cause of Irish nationalism. That moment where Sarah Connor is sitting at the gas station watching the boys fight... that.

    2. Rob Crawford

      Re: IRA

      Had the IRA got 36 counties the next target would have been the Irish government as they were essentially a Marxist organisation that would not have tolerated Irish governments of the time.

      As has been shown they would not have given up the power and control of their communities or the lucrative "community worker" status

      1. Fortycoats
        Headmaster

        Re: IRA

        32 counties, not 36 :-)

        But you're right on the rest. Though I don't think they're targeting the Irish government. Their target is to be IN the next Irish government. The main political parties have each proved they're useless and can't run the country, so I fear the Shinners will do rather well at the next election. Taoiseach Gerry? Ugh!

    3. JimC Silver badge

      Re: IRA

      The big difference was that the IRA had a very limited supply of would be terrorists who were generally intended to survive their missions in order to execute another one. By contrast the Islamists have a more generous supply of prospective terrorists and their leaders positively prefer them not to survive.

  10. boltar Silver badge

    Re: IRA

    "At least with the IRA, they had a mission and they were not anxious to kill a lot of people"

    Really? Tell that to the 3700 civilians, police and soldiers the IRA murdered in its 3 decades of mayhem. They were not noble saints straining against a corrupt establishment, they were murdering criminal shits who brought terror and chaos to NI, Eire, the mainland and at a local level their own communities. Eg: How is blowing up 11 army bandsman in Hyde Park ANY different on a moral level to murdering an army musician with knives In Woolwich?

    But the IRA didn't deberately target civilians some say. Didn't they? Imprecise bomb warnings with too little time to clear the area allowed them to shift responsibility and blame the authorities for any deaths but it wasn't by accident that the warnings were frequently vague. The only difference between NI dissidents and Islamists is that the former had some sort of vague dream about a united ireland whereas the Islamists just seem to be a nihilistic death cult, but thats about it. The end result is often the same.

    1. Noel Morgan

      Re: IRA

      Just to point out that not all 3600 deaths in the troubles in N. Ireland were caused by the IRA. (I am no friend of theirs, they almost killed my mother and did manage to kill some friends)

      Of the approx 3500 deaths - 2000 were killed by the IRA. The other 1500 were killed by the people opposing them.

      They also had a lower casualty rate among civilians than the Loyalists and surprisingly the British Army.

      Republicans 35% civilian casualties

      British Army 51% civilian casualties

      Loyalists 85% civilian casualties.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Troubles#Responsibility

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: IRA

      @boltar

      the Islamic terrorists do have a stated aim: to establish a world-wide caliphate. But the vision gets lost in the torrents of blood.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: IRA

        Actually, for some, the torrents of blood are REQUIRED for the worldwide Caliphate. They WANT to trigger Armageddon or the Muslim equivalent since that's the condition for the Twelfth Imam to appear who will then miraculously end all the fighting and install the Caliphate.

  11. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    An inconvenient question with no attractive answer.

    What sort of intelligence service is duty bound to server and suffer the intelligence of crass wannabe leaderships of politically inept Parliamentarians?

    Who would ever think it a smart move in such an horrendous state, to join forces and share sources with such a conspiring enterprise, other than all of those Walty Mitty types blissfully content to suck at the teat of the public cash cow, which is a magic money tree?

    1. PickledAardvark

      Re: An inconvenient question with no attractive answer.

      This is a fascinating argument. In past times, I suppose some spooks signed up to serve the Crown. To what do they agree today? To serve the Nation? For some, it is a job; for others, it is a purpose in life.

      Every intelligence service has to employ non-nationals. Much of the intelligence service spends its time looking for ringers -- nationals or non-nationals -- within itself. The less time it wastes looking for intruders, the more it has for useful work.

      When amanfromMars1 suggests that spooks suffer from "politically inept Parliamentarians", I don't know what he means. To become a Parliamentarian, you have to be quick with wits, well advised, adept.

      The Walter Mitty stories were about a man who fantasised about catching criminals and going into space, whilst his wife went shopping.

    2. Uffish

      Re: An inconvenient question with no attractive answer.

      I posted above arguing precisely that an intelligence service should suffer under crass Parliamentarians. I agree with you though that there are difficulties and drawbacks involved. I think the relevant laws permit "following your nose" for a limited time before legal oversight is required.

      "At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­ra­cy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point". —Winston Churchill, House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

      1. Uffish

        Re: An inconvenient question with no attractive answer.

        Point of order: I do not think amanfrommars deserves downvotes - I think he makes very valid points, but I think that Parliament (and the Sovereign I suppose)) is/are sovereign, not the spooks.

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

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  12. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    I'm shocked, *shocked* to find that spying is going on in here

    'The former MI5 chief said...she went to Moscow to make "first contact" with the KGB. "I found myself facing a long line of KGB officers in their headquarters".'

    The surprise must have ranked with that of visiting a nudist camp and finding it full of naked people.

  13. Potemkine Silver badge

    A suggestion

    Instead of trying to spy everybody everywhere anytime, what about putting the resources on people already identified as dangerous because they were identified as wannabe terrorists by TV shows or because they were signaled as such by other european agencies?

    As the War Nerd wrote it, "They should just drop the façade and call military intelligence the Department of “Whoops!”"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A suggestion

      Perhaps a better question to ask would be, "WHO were you following so intently that you couldn't devote time to someone for whom you received a specific threat?" If they can't give you a straight-up and immediate answer, the assumption will become they weren't following ANYONE, meaning they were either incompetent or (worse) complicit. Either way, there will soon be a call to nuke 'em.

    2. Mister Fluffy

      Re: A suggestion

      Military Intelligence may be an oxymoron.

      See Singapore WWII, or thereabouts.

  14. moiety

    "That is a debate going on now. How much should we sacrifice our privacy, our human rights, in order for the government to be able to look afterwards?"

    Frankly, it's in the current government's interests to have the occasional atrocity. Keep everybody scared and they get to pass laws consolidating their power base without too much squawking from the public.

    So. None. No privacy or human rights should be sacrificed.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Then you're saying the human race is actually incapable of ruling itself...?

        1. moiety

          Donald Trump is POTUS. It's not looking good, to be honest.

      2. harmjschoonhoven

        @Aladdin Sane

        Franklin's quote on Liberty and Safety was taken from a letter he wrote about a tax dispute between the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the family of the Penns, the proprietary family of the Pennsylvania colony who ruled it from afar. And the legislature was trying to tax the Penn family lands to pay for frontier defense during the French and Indian War. And the Penn family kept instructing the governor to veto. Franklin felt that this was a great affront to the ability of the legislature to govern. And so he actually meant purchase a little temporary safety very literally. The Penn family was trying to give a lump sum of money in exchange for the General Assembly's acknowledging that it did not have the authority to tax it. http://www.npr.org/2015/03/02/390245038/ben-franklins-famous-liberty-safety-quote-lost-its-context-in-21st-century

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: @Aladdin Sane

          Do you really think Franklin was likely to express an opinion about a specific matter in terms suggesting a general principle without meaning it to be the latter?

  15. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Privacy versus Security

    The security services need to protect their access with more jealousy. Reading our e-mails for the purpose of uncovering terrorist plots might be tolerated by a portion of society. Might.

    But once granting these powers and they are used to see who might be looking at other people's naughty bits, we get the feeling that we were being lied to.

  16. Mage Silver badge

    IRA: not anxious to kill a lot of people

    REALLY?

    Indiscriminate bombings, mostly of civilians. The shootings and beatings were more targeted... mostly at their own community. Look at the figures.

    From 1969 to about 1998:

    More than 3,500 people were killed in the conflict, of whom 52% were civilians, 32% were members of the British security forces, and 16% were members of paramilitary groups.

    More people were killed in the Irish Civil War than War of Independence: Previous incarnation of IRA.

    Most attacks on security forces were ambushes.

    Though from 1916 to the GFA, reacting with force, executions, internment, shooting at protesters etc, only created followers.

    Though contrary to much media reporting, unlike current terrorism, it was purely about politics, not religion. It was just historical accident that the two sides mostly belonged to two different denominations.

    What is this person thinking?

  17. tfewster Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Outdated, yet still pushing bullshit

    "In a democracy, it would not be acceptable to have a security service police force that is so enormous that it can follow everyone around."

    But that's precisely what they want to do, using computers instead of agents. And she still avoided the question of why they didn't "follow a small number of known hostiles around"

    1. Deckard_C

      Re: Outdated, yet still pushing bullshit

      What is the "small number of known hostiles" you are talking about? The ones which have committed there act and now dead? We don't know how many get highlighted and need following.

      We can find out how many get arrested for terrorism related offences in the UK. Which is 255 for 2016 and 317 for 2015. Less than half of those even get charged So that's a starting point for known. You could guess a lot more than that will be followed but haven't got enough on them to be arrested yet. Probably a lot more again which get highlighted by the public.

      Doesn't take much planning to hire a van and get a knife, those sort of attacks will always be very hard to stop. So where do you want to be on the scale of a free society to police state. I think we more on the free society end than say Iran.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Outdated, yet still pushing bullshit

        "We can find out how many get arrested for terrorism related offences in the UK. Which is 255 for 2016 and 317 for 2015. Less than half of those even get charged"

        Largely friends and family of the attackers. The paucity of the charges is a good indication of what's happening - they're just arresting bystanders and hoping a few don't prove to be innocent.

        1. Deckard_C

          Re: Outdated, yet still pushing bullshit

          Indeed, since I can't remember many attacks in 2015 and 2016, it's probably largely friends and family of potential attackers. Since they can hold you for up to 14 days without charge I think we don't want to become any more of a police state else you lose what you are trying to defend.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So the actual quote is:

    'Why were you not following around all these people, who have been on your radar?'

    And then you make a clickbait heading that implies that people think there is an actual radar tracking terrorists:

    "Ex-MI5 boss: People ask, why didn't you follow all these people ... on your radar?"

    I don't know who works at The Reg, but in English "being on someone's radar" is just a common phrase for being of interest.

  19. Smooth Newt Silver badge
    Unhappy

    "hideous ideologies" whose sole aim is to kill

    It is wildly simplistic to say that terrorists' sole aim is to kill. It is much closer to the truth to say that their sole aim is to appear on television.

    Acts of terrorism are performed to raise the profile of a cause, and especially to maximize media exposure so as to further the atmosphere of fear. Their goal is to influence an audience by causing fear amongst it, and killing is just a way of achieving that. "Performed" is the right word to use, because they are public performances.

    Media coverage is a key incentive for terrorist acts, since mass media provides a reach across the whole population which a random act of violence in itself could not. The sad thing is that by providing days of wall to wall coverage on par with a Royal Marriage, some of the mass media are making it happen.

    1. technoise

      Re: "hideous ideologies" whose sole aim is to kill

      It is wildly simplistic to say that terrorists' sole aim is to kill. It is much closer to the truth to say that their sole aim is to appear on television.

      This is not the Baader Meinhof gang - the extreme Islamists believe that if they die waging Jihad against the infidel, then they will go straight to paradise. They aren't doing it just for publicity, or to spark a reaction - they are also operating from the simple Stoical philosophy that if they are killing us, they are doing the right thing.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. tiggity Silver badge

    Unions

    The security services did infiltrate / destabilize the unions.

    It's very well known - some of the dirt was even leaked from GCHQ folk thinking this was going a bit too far!

    Lying about that means it's difficult to trust any of the other stuff she says.

    Full disclosure (I was a mining region during the Miners Strike, had friends & relatives who were miners, it was dirty tricks central. At some meetings probably more special branch, IRIS & MI5/6 folk around than "genuine" union folk)

  22. Glenturret Single Malt

    Reform?

    "She also says the service was forced to reform from the old boy network it used to be."

    It makes a diametrically opposite difference to the meaning whether the emphasis is on the first syllable or the second syllable of reform.

  23. kenpile

    Why is privacy even considered important relative to security

    It beats me, from day 1, why people in the UK ( and USA ) are so concerned about their privacy when national security has to be the most important thing in the world along with the economy. Yes, privacy is very important, more to some than others, but surely living in a safe place has to be way more important.

    I am a Brit, currently living in the US, and I have no idea how people feel about privacy in the rest of Europe and Australia for example, so I won't comment on their views.

    With the number of smartphone cameras in use every day in public, I suspect these users are the same people complaining about privacy. That makes no sense to me at all.

    I personally don't care about my "privacy". I have nothing to hide. I suspect that most people who do care about their privacy have nothing to hide either so what are they worried about?

    I don't use clouds and I don't photograph everything that moves so maybe that's my problem! ha ha

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Why is privacy even considered important relative to security

      "I personally don't care about my "privacy". I have nothing to hide."

      Except that you're clearly a squakker. And we don't put up with behaviour like yours in this day and age. So watch out sonny, me and the boys will catch up with you one of these days. Probably on Wardour Street, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

      Detective Inspector R Carnegie (no not really but weren't you starting to worry?)

      (Is Wardour Street particularly interesting? I don't actually know.)

  24. N2 Silver badge

    Stop trying to re-write history

    "At least with the IRA, they had a mission and they were not anxious to kill a lot of people"

    Well, they did actually and all these years later there seem so many organisations & politicians who try to wash it away. The Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing referred to the September 11 attacks as "not that terrible" compared to the campaign of terror waged by the IRA in Britain and Northern Ireland with over 3600 killed and many thousands injured.

    Granted, it was over several decades but that dosnt make it any less of a crime.

    1. Noel Morgan

      Re: Stop trying to re-write history

      As mentioned previously.

      Although 3532 people were killed - they weren't all killed by the IRA.

      1390 were killed by loyalists/British Army Forces.

      2058 Were Killed by the IRA.

      The British Army killed a greater percentage of Civilians to Combatants than the IRA did.

      Loyalists killed 878 Civilians

      Republicans killed 723 Civilians.

      Who were the terrorists again ?

      Who are the Conservatives getting in to bed with ?

      1. mwnci

        Re: Stop trying to re-write history

        That is interesting....You are saying that the IRA killing Soldiers is legitimate? But if a Soldier kills a member of the IRA is that a civilian death? Because they aren't a privileged combatant? I think you need to look at the term Combatant and how it's defined under the Laws of Armed Combat (LOAC).

        Your entire position. is wrong, Loyalists committing terrorism, are as guilty as Republicans committing Terrorism. Some members of the RUC were guilty in colluding with Loyalist terrorists (Stevens Inquiries) and should be rightfully prosecuted.

        But you cannot lump British Army in with with Loyalist Terrorists. One is state authorised, and accountable under Law, the other are Terrorists. Criminal Violence, is Criminal Violence.

        1. Noel Morgan

          Re: Stop trying to re-write history

          I was just pointing out that there were more terrorists in N. Ireland than just the republicans.

          I was also responding to the original statement by the ex head of MI5 that the IRA did not TARGET civilians with any great strength of conviction

          People in Britain are sensitive to the deaths of people on the mainland - but many thousands more were killed over here in N. Ireland 'on British soil'.

          I am responding to the idea that some people had that all 3532 people who died were innocent civilians killed by the IRA.

          The IRA killed over 2000 people - that is abhorrent, just don't whitewash the rest.

          The British army killing IRA people were not killing civilians, however in trying to kill enemy combatants they managed to kill a even higher proportion of civilians than the IRA did while trying to kill them.

          Approximately 60% of the dead were killed by republicans, 30% by loyalists and 10% by British security forces.

          Responsibility for killing

          Responsible party No.

          Republican paramilitary groups 2058

          Loyalist paramilitary groups 1027

          British security forces 363

          Persons unknown 79

          Irish security forces 5

          Total 3532

          According to Malcolm Sutton's Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland:

          Of those killed by republican paramilitaries:

          1080 (~52%) were members/former members of the British security forces

          723 (~35%) were civilians

          187 (~9%) were members of republican paramilitaries

          57 (~2.7%) were members of loyalist paramilitaries

          11 (~0.5%) were members of the Irish security forces

          Of those killed by British security forces:

          187 (~51.5%) were civilians

          145 (~39.9%) were members of republican paramilitaries

          18 (~4.9%) were members of loyalist paramilitaries

          13 (~3.5%) were fellow members of the British security forces

          Of those killed by loyalist paramilitaries:

          878 (~85.4%) were civilians

          94 (~9%) were members of loyalist paramilitaries

          41 (~4%) were members of republican paramilitaries

          14 (~1%) were members of the British security forces

          Also if the British Army are accountable under law then why is there so much annoyance over some of them being prosecuted for what was done.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Terrible article

    First a click bait question in the title which was not answered in the article.

    Then the author seemed more intent on repeatedly telling us that this MI5 boss was the first woman in the position.

  26. mwnci

    I find this "Large list of people, difficult to monitor all of them" trope is very like when a business suffers a cyber attack and says "Nation state, nothing we can do to stop it" trope.

    The reality is often different, it seems increasingly so to me, that it's a convenient position to take when awkward questions you'd rather not honestly answer come up.

    I'm old and cynical, but that GCHQ/ Police Intelligence Trope does come to the fore after major Terrorist incidents, and the whole "SOCIAL MEDIA" monitoring kicks in and breaking or access to encryption usually follows...

  27. SidF

    She was talking about the Security Services of Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Cairncross, Blake and others. This organisation did not serve the citizens of the UK at all well.

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