Let’s lose the kid gloves and get tough on internet giants
WESTMINSTER, Manchester, London Bridge, Parsons Green – an alarming spate of attacks in the course of a single year.
MI5 and the police should be praised for thwarting numerous plots, particularly when you bear in mind that the authorities estimate there are no fewer than 23,000 people in the UK with the potential to become jihadis.
It takes a minimum of 30 people to keep a suspect under close 24/7 surveillance, so here we must be realistic: it is not possible to stop every attack and we must prepare ourselves for more.
Certainly, increasing MI5’s manpower beyond the current 4,000 is not the solution since it takes a long time to train agents properly. This is not a counsel of
We must do everything we can to disrupt these jihadis
despair, however. There are things we can and must do better.
It is a disgrace, for example, that despite the incidents in recent months, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by Dominic Grieve, has not met since April. This is thanks mainly to the demands of party politics, to the disruption of the Election and the arguments about the composition of the committee in the new Parliament. Yet this group is supposed to monitor the effectiveness of our strategy and tactics precisely to defend ourselves against attacks such as this. Continuity could have been guaranteed.
I believe the Government should abandon its kid-glove treatment of Google, Facebook and Twitter and compel the internet giants to remove instantly any forms of incitement and subversion, and poisonous material which Islamists can watch in the safety of their homes. Yes, there is a right to free speech, but there is also a right to life.
I am concerned that, since the end of the Cold War, the authorities have abandoned monitoring those who actively oppose our broader way of life. And I regret the abolition of Special Branch, whose regionally based officers have been swallowed up into either MI5 or the new police SO15 counter-terrorist command. A great deal of local knowledge has been lost in the process. Sitting behind computer screens at MI5 HQ is no substitute for getting out and about on the streets.
It is also a fact that cuts to local government budgets mean that some radical Islamists have been able to take over the role vacated by youth workers in helping troubled young people.
There are encouraging signs that the Government is beginning to tackle jihadi recruitment in our prisons, establishing specialist units to isolate the more devious and influential figures. However, we should also pay attention to the known or suspected agents of influence who are still at liberty.
The state should use the full force of its bureaucracy to monitor their engagement with the benefits system, with visas, with driving licences and so on. And where there are infractions, no opportunity should be lost to bring the law to bear down on them. Their way of life should be disrupted.
Finally, we must be hard of heart and mind towards the hundreds of IS killers now held in detention in Iraq and Syria – and far too dangerous ever to be allowed back to these shores. These fighters would have enormous credibility were they ever to return to Birmingham, Luton or Walthamstow.
The French response to this has been simple: the identities of its overseas jihadis has been quietly shared with pro-Western local militias. They will not be returning to France.