Lee Rigby atrocity: The acid test facing the MPs who hold the security services to account

Lee Rigby; Pic courtesy of AP Press

Lee Rigby;
Pic courtesy of AP Press

Britain’s only body that holds MI5 and MI6 to account is soon to produce a report on one of the most savage terrorist killings in this country – the hacking to death on the streets of Woolwich in south London of drummer Lee Rigby.

I am told that the security services have had to hand over highly sensitive material to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee about the security services knowledge of his killers as changes in the law last year stopped our spies duping the committee by pretending they don’t have it. This duplicity came to light after the inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson  Dame Janet Paraskeva and Peter Riddell, a very through journalist, discovered information on the treatment of detainees  who are alleged to have been tortured abroad which had been withheld from MPs on the committee.

His report is here .

The committee has had a very bad press and been attacked by MPs on the Commons home affairs committee. In a report on counter terrorism published at the end of April, the committee was scathing about its role.

It said; ”  We do not believe the current system of oversight is effective and we have concerns that the weak nature of that system has an impact upon the credibility of the agencies accountability, and to the credibility of Parliament itself. The scrutiny of the work of the security and intelligence agencies should be not the exclusive preserve of the Intelligence and Security Committee. ”

There have been some key reforms. As I reported in an article on Exaro   the committee has both new powers and new resources. What I am questioning is whether they will use them so the public have the unvarnished truth.

As well as the power to compel the security services to hand over information, the committee, in an age of austerity, has seen its budget nearly doubled from about £750,000 to £1.3m after a Parliamentary debate  (contribution by Julian Lewis MP)  revealed it was the worst funded scrutiny committee of the security services in the western world. This has enabled the committee, I am told, to employ competent ex spies to quiz existing spies, to avoid cover ups. Credit should be given to former Tory Cabinet minister, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman, for pushing for these changes.

This means that the inquiry into the Lee Rigby atrocity will be the first to be properly funded and with new powers to get to to the truth. There still is a  long stop which enables David Cameron, who appointed all existing members (though this will change), to censor part of its report if he wanted to. We will have to hope there is no self  censorship before it reaches him.

What is disturbing is that there are already signs that the security services – mindful that they might be trashed for failing to keep full tabs on Rigby’s killers- are  briefing the mainstream media as part of a damage limitation exercise. A recent article in the Sunday Times  where their solution was to demand even more intrusive monitoring of the internet is an example.

As I reported on Exaro : ” The UK’s Security Service, better known as MI5, faces claims that it failed to realise the threat posed by his killers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who were jailed for life in February after being convicted of murder…

Relatives of Adebolajo say that MI5 had even approached him in 2011 to become an agent after he was deported from Kenya.

According to Kenyan police, Adebolajo led a group of eight young men who were trying to travel to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab, an offshoot of al-Qaeda.”

What must be clear is that the report from MPs must concentrate on practical ways the security service can protect us, not giving them even more powers – after the revelations over the scale of the monitoring of us all through the  whistleblower Edward Snowdon- to obtrusively check every internet site. It will be acid test to see what is released and whether the committee- now properly resourced – can do a good job.

It is time for the intelligence services to be intelligent in chasing terrorists. It is not their job to want to be an overarching snooping body on the whole nation.