wants big expansion of MI5 and new security laws to counter terror
Alan Travis and Richard Norton-Taylor
Monday February 23, 2004
The home secretary will this week propose a major extension of anti-terrorism
powers and the biggest expansion of the security services for nearly 50
counter the threat of Islamist extremism in Britain.
David Blunkett will present what officials describe as an "options paper" on
Wednesday which will be subjected to six months consultation with legislation
expected after the general election.
He is to confirm his desire to introduce legal powers, including lowering the
standard of proof, to enable pre-emptive action against British terror
including potential suicide bombers.
He will also announce a huge increase in MI5 officers, from the current
3,000, to be devoted to countering the threat of Islamist extremism. Mr
has been persuaded by Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, that she does
not have sufficient resources to combat what the security and intelligence
agencies say is a serious, long-term threat.
"We are facing a very high level of threat. It is a long-term threat which
not go away. That is why it is very important to renew the powers in the
Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act to be able to detain foreign
think are terrorists," the Home Office minister responsible for
counter-terrorism, Beverley Hughes, said yesterday.
The recruitment of the extra MI5 surveillance officers, linguists and
staff, over the next three years, will herald its biggest expansion since the
end of the second world war. The budget for the security services is
rise from £1.1bn to £1.5bn.
MPs will be asked on Wednesday to vote to approve the renewal of internment
powers in part four of the 2001 terrorism legislation.
The Commons will also debate the outcome of a critical review of the
anti-terrorist legislation by the former Tory cabinet minister, Lord Newton,
which demanded he find alternatives to the indefinite detention of 14 foreign
nationals held without trial as suspected international terrorists.
Mr Blunkett is to publish his "options paper" outlining how similar powers
be incorporated into British criminal law so they can be used against
British terrorists even though they involve derogating from key human rights
The options paper will examine how intelligence information can be used to
secure "pre-emptive" convictions in a British criminal court without
compromising the security sources involved. Mr Blunkett made clear during his
trip to India this month that it could include a lower standard of proof in
The existing anti-terrorist legislation passed after September 11 contains
"sunset clauses" which mean its powers will expire in November 2006 if not
replaced by a new anti-terrorism law. Mr Blunkett will confirm that he has no
intention of waiting until then to start the debate.
He will also make clear that the existing system of public interest immunity
certificates, developed in Irish terrorist cases to protect intelligence
sources, is no longer sophisticated enough and will have to be replaced. Since
September 11, MI5 has concentrated on suspect Islamist extremists, a far more
difficult target, security sources say, than Irish-based terror groups.
extremists, linked in different degrees to the al-Qaida network, are not
regimented and their affiliations are much more amorphous, security and
intelligence officials say.
They meet informally, use the internet and mobile telephones whose numbers
frequently change. Britain has mainly been a centre for communications and
support activities such as funding by credit card and other financial fraud.
Few individuals are judged to be prepared actually to commit terrorist acts in
Britain. However, police and security sources, aware of the difficulty of
preventing attacks by determined extremists, have been saying in recent months
that a suicide bombing in Britain is a matter of when, not if.
MI5 has been seeking informants in the Muslim community through messages on
internet in Arabic. It is also seeking Arabic speakers for its staff. The
agency's website is offering careers to "full time Arabic (all dialects
including North African)" speakers - as well as speakers of Urdu, Persian,
Turkish, Punjabi and Russian, Kurdish, Bengali, and Tamil - with a starting
salary of £20,100.
MI5 has won the backing of Tony Blair to allow the product of telephone
be used in court cases. By a legal anomaly, covert video surveillance and the
product of bugging property can be used in criminal trials but not
transcripts of the taps.