Could the intelligence services have prevented the murder of Lee Rigby last year? Probably not, but there was more they could have known and possibly done, according to a report from the Intelligence and Security Committee (pdf) out today. While the committee has praised the intelligence services for the work they do, there are criticisms levelled at people both in and out of government. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Although errors were made, Rigby’s murder was unlikely to have been prevented
The report credits the intelligence agencies for protecting Britain from a ‘number of terrorist plots in recent years’ — one or two serious plots each year. However, a ‘number of errors’ have been discovered leading up to the murder of Drummer Rigby, where ‘processes have not been followed or decisions have not been recorded’. Despite this, the committee does not believe the murder of Rigby could have been prevented:
‘Based on the evidence we have seen, we do not consider that any of the Agencies’ errors, when taken individually, were significant enough to have affected the outcome.’
2. Internet firms could have prevented murder, says Rifkind
Six months prior to the event, one of the killers, Michael Adebolajo, expressed his desire to murder a solider in a ‘most graphic and emotive manner’. However, an unnamed internet firm failed to pickup on this and report his remarks to MI5. Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the ISC, has released a statement on this:
‘The one issue which we have learned of which, in our view, could have been decisive only came to light after the attack. This was an online exchange in December 2012 between Adebowale and an extremist overseas, in which Adebowale expressed his intent to murder a soldier in the most graphic and emotive manner.’
In an online op-ed for the Telegraph, Rifkind points out the failures of this unknown internet firm:
‘The internet company, itself, appears to have had an automated monitoring system but to have been unaware of Adebowale’s message until after the murder had taken place. This is unacceptable: however unintentionally, the company is providing a safe haven for terrorists.’
3. The murders were monitored by the intelligence agencies
Michael Adebolajo was a high priority surveillance target for MI5: there was significant effort put into investigating him and a broad range of ‘intrusive techniques’ were used. But none of them revealed any information that could have prevented the attack.
Michael Adebowale on the other hand was only a low level subject. The security services had not received any intelligence that suggested he was planning anything. Despite the online conversation, the reports concludes it was unlikely they could have found out he was planning an attack.
4. Home Office blunders delayed surveillance opportunities
Although Adebowale was only under low level surveillance, an application to use ‘intrusive’ spying techniques took twice as long as normal to be processed — it was only sent to the Home Office the day before Rigby was beheaded:
‘If the application had not taken nearly twice as long as it should have – coincidentally, being sent to the Home Office only the day before the murder itself – MI5 would probably have had intrusive coverage of Adebowale in place during the days before, and on the day of, the attack’
5. Prevent isn’t working and SIS’s response was ‘inadequate’
The report concludes that the ‘scale of the problem indicates that the Government’s counter-terrorism programmes are not working’, urging for more work to ensure that individuals do not head onto the radicalisation path. The report criticises the government for not prioritising its Prevent programmes.
Secondly, SIS (also known as MI6) is criticised for an ‘inadequate response’ with regards to Michael Adebolajo. The report says that their idea of deportation was not a sufficient solution; that they failed to investigate allegations of mistreatment and he was not enough of a priority to MI6 or MI5 upon his return. ‘We have very significant concerns in this regard’.