Did we learn so little about jihadism from the 7/7 bombings?

In Woolwich, the police were too slow off the mark and the politicians got the wrong end of the stick. Both groups need to focus hard

Related Topics

There is a Groundhog Day feel to the aftermath of the brutal killing of Drummer Lee Rigby. It would seem that not much has changed in the eight years since 7/7. As ever, it is the intelligence implications that are the most striking. The authorities have admitted that, far from being individuals below the radar who went through a rapid radicalisation, both suspects have been known to them for several years.

It gets worse. In an interview on Newsnight on Friday, Abu Nusaybah, a friend of Michael Adebolajo, one of the suspects, suggested that he had been approached by the intelligence services to act as a source. As The Independent on Sunday reports today, this claim is endorsed by his brother-in-law. If it is true, this is perfectly proper intelligence procedure – our spooks have to deal with all kinds of people in their duties. And we need to be careful – Islamist sympathisers have a long record of trying to discredit the intelligence services which are their most formidable enemies.

If it is true, however, there are some embarrassing implications. Before an individual is approached a full picture of his or her life and attitudes is prepared. "Would you like to work for us?" is a question expecting the answer "Yes".

There are two reasons he may have been selected as a potential source. Either, his heart was suspected of not being fully behind the cause, which, without wishing to prejudge anything, on the face of it seems unlikely. Or, his handlers assessed that he was the real McCoy – a proper Islamist fanatic – but that there was some area of vulnerability in his life that could be exploited to make him at least an occasional provider of information to the authorities. During the Troubles a number of highly placed sources at the heart of the IRA were recruited in this way – their irregular sex lives or tendency to steal from the IRA's petty cash providing ideal opportunities for pressure.

If Adebolajo was felt to be real thing, when he refused to go along with our intelligence people, the book should have been thrown at him. An assessment of his life and habits should have provided multiple avenues for examination. (If this scenario were to happen with an Islamist without British citizenship, that would be the time to deport them, and the law should ensure that this is possible.)

For all the talk of it "not being physically possible to keep tabs on everyone", given how much was known about this pair, Whitehall appears fearful over the events of the last few days. All those who are involved in the details of intelligence at the heart of government become "Persons notified by the prime minister" – which imposes on them, quite rightly, a tougher version of the Official Secrets Act – one that allows no public interest defence. But members of MI6 are subject to a lifelong ban on writing or speaking in public about their work. They can only do so if specifically authorised by their parent organisation.

That the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, Richard Barrett, has been appearing on television making excuses over the Rigby killing speaks volumes. The impression I get is that our intelligence establishment is trying to be too clever. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Jihadist. Perhaps there is confusion among our political and intelligence elite about the nature of jihadism – that it can be manipulated and contained – played subtly rather than fought tooth and nail.

They certainly seem to subscribe to the doctrine that one man's jihadist is another man's freedom fighter. Abroad, we are in one place fighting it militarily – helicopter gunships and drone strikes in Afghanistan. But in other places we seem to be supporting it – such as Libya, where jihadists supported by Western air power and intelligence played a key part in the fall of Gaddafi. Craziest of all, Mr Cameron is considering arming Syrian rebels.

Boris Johnson, who at Cobra has access to the most sensitive intelligence, seems astonishingly ignorant about what lies behind Islamist extremism. On Thursday in the aftermath of Drummer Rigby's killing, he said this had nothing to do with the religion of Islam or British foreign policy. The opposite is true: the twin drivers of home-grown British jihadism are a perverted, but seemingly quite popular, version of Islam and whipped up resentment about our decade long involvement in invading "Muslim lands".

Once again, in dealing with Islamist terror there is a gulf between popular expectation and official practice. From the police we expect a more sure-footed performance than their slow reaction last Wednesday. Fourteen minutes to get armed police officers to the scene was frankly disappointing given the amount of training they are supposed to have done for the Olympics – and to prepare for a Mumbai-style attack. In this case, luckily, time did not mean that further lives were lost. Next time we might not be so lucky. They need to look at both procedures and practicalities and get reaction times down.

From our politicians we expect less multicultural waffle and more action. We still have a long way to go before we have an official zero-tolerance policy for Islamist extremism.

As for our intelligence services, perhaps the time has come for less subtlety and creativity and more reliance on old-fashioned methods. Once Adebolajo had refused to help the intelligence services he should have been put under more scrutiny to find out about his motivation. If we are entering the era of self-starting terrorism, the calculation of risk has to change.

Convictions in British courts are the best way to defeat home-grown terrorism. They also firmly anchor the authorities to the moral high ground in a way that some intelligence and military operations cannot. They should be our weapon of first and last resort.

Crispin Black is an intelligence consultant, former army officer, and author of '7-7: The London Bombings - What Went Wrong?'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower