UK spy chief warns of civil liberties sacrifice
* Says containing terror in a democratic society is not easy
LONDON: The head of Britain’s security services has warned that civil liberties across the world may have to be sacrificed to prevent future terrorist attacks.
Eliza Manningham-Buller, MI5 director-general, also said the four suicide bomb attacks on London’s transport system on July 7 which killed 52 people had been a shock and the security services were disappointed they had not thwarted them.
“The world has changed and there needs to be a debate on whether some erosion of what we all value may be necessary to improve the chances of our citizens not being blown apart as they go about their daily lives,” she said.
Manningham-Buller’s comments, made in a speech to the Dutch Security Service in the Netherlands on September 1 but only published on MI5’s Web site on Saturday, back the position taken by the British government since the London attacks.
On Wednesday, British Interior Minister Charles Clarke warned that European Union states and judges needed to accept an erosion in freedoms in the wake of the London attacks and last year’s Madrid train bombings.
The government is frustrated that tough measures, such as deporting Al Qaeda suspects or extremist clerics who could inspire terrorism, were being hindered by the courts because of civil rights concerns.
Last year, the UK’s most senior court threw out a security law allowing police to detain foreign terrorist suspects indefinitely without trial saying the legislation breached basic human rights.
The government said there needed to be a redress in the balance of the rights of suspects and defendants and those of ordinary citizens, adding that the European Human Rights Convention might have to be amended if necessary.
“Containing terrorism in a democratic society, governed by the rule of law, where civil rights are of great value, is not straightforward,” the MI5 chief said.
However, the wife of an Algerian terrorist suspect who is in custody facing deportation from Britain and known only as “G”, accused authorities of infringing her husband’s rights by locking him up on the basis of secret evidence.
She said “G” would be tortured on his return to Algeria.
“If they bring him to justice with the legal judgement I will accept that. But like this, no,” she told BBC radio.
Manningham-Buller admitted problems had arisen because of the “fragility” of intelligence used to track suspects was unsuitable for use in courts which required high standards of proof and evidence.
It could also put sources’ lives at risk and play into the terrorists’ hands by revealing the technologies and skills used by spy agencies.
“We may be confident that an individual or group is planning an attack but that confidence comes from the sort of intelligence I described earlier, patchy and fragmentary and uncertain, to be interpreted and assessed,” she said.
“All to often it falls short of evidence to support criminal charges to being an individual before the courts.” reuters