Crispin Black: Contempt is the new sleaze

Let us emulate the Americans, and insist on an inquiry into the 7/7 attack
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The Independent Online

There is a new sleaze abroad in our public life - much more dangerous and destructive than the financial or sexual improprieties of the past. Our Government, its allies and its senior apparatchiks are treating us with contempt; let me count the ways.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, is asking us to believe that the CIA shuttles terrorist suspects around on clandestine flights to keep them outside the jurisdiction of US law, but that this is not done for the purpose of torturing them. Our Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, is asking us to believe that he and the Government knew nothing about these flights. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, asks us to believe that an inquiry into the bloody outrage of 7 July would be an expensive diversion and that our security interests would be better served by a "narrative of events" produced by a senior civil servant. And the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, asks us to believe that he did not know Charles de Menezes was not a suicide bomber until the day after his killing, even though senior policemen on the ground must have known within minutes.

People are being persuaded through spin to accept this behaviour. Even those parts of the media that slavishly support the Government have been hard-pressed to come up with reasons why we should collude with American torture, but some have been able to do their duty over the lack of an inquiry into the events of 7 July - my favourite headline has been, "Trials and lack of key facts rule out 7/7 inquiry". Indeed.

Let's be clear about the company this puts us in. One of the techniques used by American interrogators, "waterboarding", in which the victim is tied to a board and half-drowned, was used unsuccessfully by the Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie on the French Resistance leader, Jean Moulin. Barbie received a congratulatory telegram from Himmler for his efforts. The Japanese secret policemen who used the same technique (unsuccessfully) on British POWs in Hong Kong were hanged for it after the war.

The Government does not want to acknowledge this, nor the effects the Iraq war has had on our security. It does not want an inquiry into the events of 7 July because, among other things, it does not want to face the fact that its actions put us into danger in the first place - that the prosecution of the Iraq War and the dishonest intelligence that ran up to it have caused anger and alienation and made a small number of our own Muslims more susceptible to the terrorists' message. And that message, however twisted, has gained resonance in the face of official evasions and lies. "They cooked the intelligence books to justify the war in Iraq" and "They turn a blind eye to CIA torture" could not have been better designed as recruiting slogans for fanatics. No wonder there is a lack of facts about 7 July. No wonder our security people find it hard to get good intelligence on Islamic extremists.

The police don't want to know; an inquiry would expose incompetence in their high command. Even a narrative of events is likely to prove embarrassing to Sir Ian Blair:

6 July: An unknown number of London's hard-pressed policemen were despatched to protect the G8 conference at Gleneagles.

7 July: The Commissioner boasted on radio that London's security was "the envy of the policing world". Later that morning came the largest and bloodiest terrorist attack in London's history.

22 July: During a bungled surveillance operation, police shot dead an innocent Brazilian electrician and then pretended he had failed to stop after a police challenge and had worn a bulky overcoat that could have concealed exposives.

And so on.

The intelligence services do not want to know either; an inquiry would expose their complacency and lack of independence. They failed analytically: the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which is responsible for all intelligence on terrorism, lowered the level of threat on 5 June with the immortal phrase: "There is no group with the current intent or capability to the attack the UK." And they failed operationally too: the leader of the 7 July plotters, Mohammed Sidique Khan, was picked up by a surveillance operation looking at a group of known terrorists. Subsequent articles in the press with a likely official provenance have suggested that the intelligence services do not have the resources to follow up on people with peripheral connections to a terrorist plot. An intelligence service which regards such individuals as not worth following up on because of resource problems is in deep trouble.

The intelligence services are over-dependent on their US counterparts. Worse, they operate to a political rather than a security agenda - as shown in the run-up to the Iraq war. The leadership hardly inspires confidence; MI6 is run by John Scarlett, a purveyor by appointment of dodgy dossiers to the Government, and MI5 by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, one of the most powerful members of the Joint Intelligence Committee. A single dissenting word from her in 2003 would have scuppered the whole dossier affair. Both these individuals allowed their judgement to be corrupted under political pressure.

The only people who do want an inquiry are the public - the targets of the attacks on 7 and 21 July. A properly organised security and intelligence apparatus would have had a good chance of detecting and preventing the 7 July attacks. If we cannot foil terrorist plots in which the ringleader has come to the attention of the intelligence services, what hope have we of stopping more sophisticated and possibly more deadly plots?

The best way to close off vulnerabilities in our intelligence and security services is to follow America's 9/11 inquiry in learning lessons for the future. Let's emulate the American people, who took control of their servants, the politicians, and forced them to hold a public, bipartisan inquiry.

Crispin Black is a former government intelligence analyst, and author of '7-7: What Went Wrong'