Dramatically increasing manpower at MI5, the nation’s domestic intelligence agency, was one of the measures outlined in parliament by Home Secretary David Blunkett.
Other plans call for legal changes to make it easier to prosecute and convict “terrorism” suspects, bringing British
“anti-terrorist laws” closer to those in the United States in the wake of the 11 September attacks in 2001.
The proposals were set out on Wednesday in a discussion paper titled “Counter Terrorism Powers: Reconciling Security and Liberty in an Open Society”.
As reported in the British press over the weekend, Blunkett announced plans to boost the size of the domestic intelligence department MI5 by 50% – in effect, adding 1000 new operatives – “in the next few years”.
Three million pounds ($5.7 million) will also be spent on regional police anti-terrorist intelligence cells.
“I am in no doubt that the terrorism threat remains and the need to have the right legislation in place is greater than ever,” Blunkett said.
Regarding forthcoming “anti-terror law” reforms, the home
secretary, considered authoritarian by his critics, said: “We are not advocating any particular course.”
One of the proposals would allow secretly taped telephone calls to be used as evidence at trials of “terrorism suspects”.
Prompting the debate is the looming expiration in 2006 of the
Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Law, adopted in 2001, under which 14 foreigners are being held indefinitely in high-security jails without trial.
Several BA flights have been
Some 500 other people have been arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000, the main anti-terrorist law in Britain, but only seven have been convicted.
The last major attacks on British soil occurred in 2001 when the Real IRA, a dissident republic group opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process, waged a bombing campaign in Britain.
Last November however, the British consulate and HSBC bank in the Turkish metropolis Istanbul were hit by bombers, killing 30 including the British consul.
Several airline flights to the United States and Saudi Arabia
have also been cancelled amid fears that they might be targeted by Usama bin Ladin’s al-Qaida network.
“We can not guarantee and nor should we pretend to that we can protect ourselves forever by security alone. But we can do a damn good job if we enable the security
Speaking on Tuesday to BBC television, Blunkett said a serious “terrorist” attack in Britain was a question of when, not if.
“It is the view that has been expressed by the head of the Security Service, Eliza Manningham-Buller”, said Blunkett, using MI5’s formal name.
“We can not guarantee and nor should we pretend to that we can protect ourselves forever by security alone,” he said.
“But we can do a damn good job if we enable the security services to be able to apprehend people before rather than after they have committed the act… In this country, the threat is extremely real.”
In his discussion paper, Blunkett said the government was
“willing to consider any realistic alternative proposals and
approaches which take account of… human rights obligations”.