Wednesday, December 28, 2005

UK agencies fight over anti-terror funding

Today's Times reports on how stretched the police are in their fight to prevent more terrorist attacks in Britain. Worse, they face severe funding difficulties.

A senior figure at the centre of the fight against terrorism has told The Times that the Prime Minister and the Government are felt to have reneged on assurances to give police forces everything they need to fight the “war on terrorism”. Scotland Yard chiefs fear that the majority of extra resources for national security, to be allocated next month, will be awarded to the intelligence services, whose failings were exposed by the July London bombings.

Sir Ian Blair says that at least three credible threats have been thwarted since the July attacks, but the police badly need more resources because of the new type of threat.
No arrests have been made in connection with the July 7 bombings and the suspected mastermind behind the plot has never been identified. The inquiry has, however, forced Scotland Yard to throw away the existing intelligence profile of a terrorist because none of the bombers fitted the model.

Senior officers are engaged in trying to draw up “a new topology” of the radicalisation of a young Muslim to attempt to stem the influence of extremists and prevent further attacks.

Columnist Alice Miles writes further on this in her column "Where have we got to in the fight against terrorism? We're lost in a fog"
Before July 7, officers had a “threat profile” which suggested that potential terrorists would have some of the following characteristics: they attended mosques, were foreign or had spent significant time abroad, met associates in prison or at university, used internet cafés and Islamic bookshops, and may have been disadvantaged. The suicide bombers of July 7 showed that profile to be out of date. Most importantly, all four were British citizens. Now officers look for meetings in private houses, not mosques, and links to gymnasiums or macho “bonding” activities, such as the whitewater rafting trip taken by the July 7 bombers a month before their suicide mission.

Yet it is hard to match the profile of the July 7 bombers with even the alleged bombers of July 21, let alone with the characters of the suspects arrested and charged in anti-terror raids since then.

Profiles and patterns are crucially important to police and intelligence services, but there is the disturbing possibility that there may not be a pattern to find in the new terrorism.
If young British terrorists are operating on their own initiative, without being “run” by outsiders then, as one senior officer put it, “We really are in the shit.” For if there is nothing linking them, there is no pattern, and the police work on patterns.

Everyone likes a pattern. Attacks on the intelligence services in the US have focused on their failure to identify a pattern — or “connect the dots”, as the congressional intelligence committees put it — before 9/11. Yet intelligence patterns, as cogently argued by Malcolm Gladwell ( in the New Yorker, are often clear in retrospect only. A number of dots that might appear linked will lead nowhere in the end. Thousands of other dots will go uninvestigated — or be missing the other dots that would make them tell a story. The post-9/11 congressional intelligence report mentioned that the FBI’s counter-terrorism division had 68,000 outstanding leads dating back to 1995.

The British police force is rightly regarded as one of the best in the world. If anyone can join together the dots, or even learn to do their work without patterns of dots, it is Scotland Yard. But they must have the necessary funding, and if the Government doesn't provide it, politicians should be held responsible when a future preventable attack occurs.


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