Saturday, June 17, 2006

All aboard!

The Liberal Democrats have never met a bandwagon they didn't like, so it is no surprise to find 'Nick Nick' Clegg aiming a kick at the award of a CBE to Asst Commissioner Andy Hayman.

Yes, the timing could have been better, but as everyone else knows, these awards aren't actually knocked out the night before they are announced, they are decided months in advance so that the recipients can be sounded out to avoid embarrassments. It would have looked just as bad if they had pulled the award at short notice, because that would have leaked out and it would seem as though AC Hayman was being blamed for the Forest Gate affair rather than praised for his and his department's sterling work over the past year in combatting terrorism in London and elsewhere. Scarily, I find myself lining up alongside Iain Dale against a rather puerile attack from Cleggy, who is clearly desperate to raise his profile ahead of a possible leadership campaign.

I find myself in great sympathy with the police position. We're heading towards the first anniversary of last year's attacks on the tube network, so tensions are bound to be running higher than usual. Intelligence sources had clearly developed some information that they considered merited raiding the property - although there has been some suggestion that the police didn't agree and that the final arbiter on the intelligence data was the Cabinet Office. Bear in mind that hindsight is always in glorious 20/20, so you must always ask yourself how it looked to the decision-makers at the time. Remember also the criticism levelled at the police and security services last year when those bombs exploded in London - would you want to take the risk of a repeat?

While I'm also sympathetic towards the targets of this raid and I'm critical of the police attempts to spin the facts after the shooting - accusing one of the suspects of shooting the other or of struggling with police, what I have heard so far only says that the core intelligence was wrong, not the decision-making itself. We may never know why the wrong information was received - whether it was intentionally wrong, for the sources' own reasons, whether the source was fed false data to expose them or whether it was just a case of mistaken identity.

Intelligence analysis is a little like assembling a jigsaw, but you don't know what the final picture will look like. Additionally, many of the pieces will fit together to make more than one picture, some key parts will be missing and there will be other pieces in the box from other jigsaws. It is clear that we have had to make up a lot of ground in this particular field.

For decades, our intelligence services focussed on the Soviet threat and on a domestic Irish terrorist threat. Many shady Islamic groups were tolerated in London, with an unspoken agreement that they would be allowed to oppose Israel or their own governments with a degree of impunity, providing that they didn't engage in illegal acts on British soil. Now, the ground rules have changed and we've been caught unawares. It takes years to build up the experience and the contacts in a new environment, particularly one so unfamiliar to the security and police services. More should have been done at that stage to develop an overall strategy, but I'm loathe to criticise this particular tactical decision.

UPDATE: Can I recommend Stephen Pollard's view on Cleggy's future as leader?

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