MI5 raises stakes in war on terrorism
Algerian terrorists connected to Al Qaeda planned to put poisonous gas into London’s underground system
By David Bambar
LONDON: MI5 is to increase its budget dramatically to combat international terrorism in the light of the September 11 attacks and fresh warnings of strikes against targets in Britain.
In a significant switch in direction to be revealed this week, the security service will say that it will now devote 33 per cent of its spending power to fight Al Qaeda and other threats from abroad, up from 22 per cent last year.
This translates to a rise from about £44 million to £72 million, after an overall increase in budget for the organisation from about £198 million to £217 million. Extra staff from the agency’s 1,900 employees will also be devoted to tackling the threats.
The change of policy reflects continuing concerns that Al Qaeda remains intent on attacking Britain. It is understood that several specific threats have reached the security service in recent weeks, in addition to those already known about.
On September 11, terrorists from India planned to fly a plane into the Palace of Westminster, and last February, Algerian terrorists connected to Al Qaeda planned to put poisonous gas into London’s underground system.
MI5 is the security service with responsibility for combating domestic terrorism and monitoring international terrorists known to be planning to commit outrages in UK.
MI5’s role in recent years has included a sting operation in Slovakia last year which saw undercover agents entrap Real IRA members Paul O’Farrell, Declan Rafferty and Christopher McDonald, into attempting to buy weapons.
Areas being cut back to devote more resources to fighting international terrorism include work to combat industrial espionage, and assistance to other agencies, which has now been merged into other areas.
Spending on such co-operation constituted four per cent of MI5’s previous spending but has no formal budget now. In its first public document to be issued for four years, the security service is also stepping up its appeal for help from members of the public. Many arrests made after 9/11 in Britain were prompted by tip-offs from members of the public and a new information booklet to be published by MI5 will appeal for further information. In a foreword to the booklet, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, fully supports the switch in direction. He says: “The tragic events in the United States on September 11 underline the importance of the service’s work on national security and in particular counter-terrorism.
“Those terrible events significantly raise the stakes in a prime area of the service’s work. It is of the utmost importance that our security service is able to maintain its capacity against this very real threat, in terms of staff and other resources.”
In an endorsement of MI5, Blunkett adds: “I have confidence in the security service and I hold the work they do in high regard.”
In a rare public pronouncement, Sir Stephen Lander, the director general of MI5 who will retire in October and whose role will be taken over by Eliza Manningham-Buller, is encouraging members of the public to give information to MI5’s hotline.
The security service is also hitting back at the BBC television series Spooks. In an attempt to distance itself from the overdramatic portrayal of the organisation, MI5 is to revise information available to the public on its website.
The series, which has been a ratings hit for the BBC, has alarmed MI5 with its depiction of security service agents authorising the murders of opponents of Britain and of having sex in the corridors of its headquarters.
The service is worried that Spooks will replace James Bond - an agent of MI6 - in the public’s imagination as the epitome of the British secret services. —ST