Crispin Black: The spymasters need a Sir Alan. Or the sack

New blood and new thinking are needed to fight a new threat
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The Independent Online

So it was a lack of resources that did for the innocent on 7/7. The Intelligence and Security Committee's report can be summarised as follows: Sorry, we had a strong suspicion that Mohammed Siddique Khan was intent on jihad and we wanted to follow him, honestly. On a number of occasions, in fact, we nearly followed him. But we never got round to it because of a lack of resources. Oh, and yes, we also knew about two other members of the gang. Resources again, I am afraid.

If you accept this excuse, the ISC report is devastating, if unintentionally so. Pages 34 and 38, which deal with the Single Intelligence Account (the £1.3bn or so we spend on our spooks each year), contain all you need to know about the mindset of the leaders of our intelligence services. The increase in funding between 2004-05 and 2005-06 was a grand total of £47.6m, split between all three services (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) but with most of it going to MI5, the domestic security service. Four years after 9/11, two years after the start of the war on Iraq and in the year in which London suffered its worst terrorist outrage, we spent an extra £47.6m. Enough to pay the salary and expenses of nearly 60 John Prescotts, but hardly a major injection of cash. Presumably, even the ISC thought this odd because it questioned the heads of both human intelligence services about why they did not ask for more. Their replies say it all.

"If you try to bring in more than a certain number of new people every year, you can literally bust the system," said our old friend John "dodgy dossier" Scarlett. "You can only tolerate a certain number of inexperienced people dealing with very sensitive subjects."

In a world where new blood, new energy and new thinking are going to make all the difference to our success against the new threat, mark Mr Scarlett's use of the word "tolerate". No mention of having to grow faster to catch up with or even get ahead of the threat. The referencing is all about what they feel comfortable with.

The reply by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, director of the Security Service, is even more damning. "What we are trying to do is the maximum we think we can bear in terms of recruitment, training, vetting expansion, scale, new offices, a big northern operations centre ... it is a very challenging programme." Obviously, we do not know what words were left out. Perhaps something too secret or sensitive for people to know or something that would aid or comfort our enemies. My best guess is "new curtains/décor in my office at Albert Embankment". Answers on a postcard please.

And so there we have it: the intelligence services did not grow faster because they did not want to. No hint of any imagination or hard thought about how recruitment could be accelerated. If it takes one Oxbridge don one year and one bottle of sherry to recruit one potential spook, maybe two dons and two bottles of sherry could do it in half the time. The performance of our intelligence apparatus before 7/7 is too depressing to comment on without black humour.

MI5 and MI6 need help, now. Public confidence in them needs to be restored, now. To ensure correct lessons are learnt from the 7/7 débâcle and the intelligence services achieve match fitness as soon as possible, the only quick constitutional option we have is Sir Alan Sugar, or someone of his relentlessness.

He should go through the report paragraph by paragraph on TV with the heads of the two services, or better, their successors.

Crispin Black is author of 'What Went Wrong: 7-7'