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Profile: David Blunkett
Positions that David Blunkett has held:
- British Home Secretary when Tony Blair was in office
David Blunkett was a participant or observer in the following events:
During a British cabinet meeting, Home Secretary David Blunkett initiates a discussion about Iraq. During the discussion, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook mentions that most of the Arab world considers Ariel Sharon, rather than Saddam Hussein, to be the largest threat to peace in the Middle East. Describing the subsequent reaction to his comments, Cook later writes in his diary: “Somewhat to my surprise this line provides a round of ‘hear, hearing’ from colleagues, which is the nearest I heard to mutiny in the cabinet.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] During the meeting, Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, says “We are in danger of being seen as close to President Bush, but without any influence over President Bush.” [Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]
Alleged ricin ingredients. [Source: BBC]Home Secretary David Blunkett and Health Secretary John Reid issue a joint statement claiming “traces of ricin” and castor beans capable of making “one lethal dose” were found in a raid on a flat in Wood Green, north London, which also resulted in several arrests (see January 5, 2003). The joint statement says “ricin is a toxic material which if ingested or inhaled can be fatal… our primary concern is the safety of the public.” Prime Minister Tony Blair says the discovery highlights the perils of weapons of mass destruction, adding: “The arrests which were made show this danger is present and real and with us now. Its potential is huge.” Dr. Pat Troop, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, issues a statement with police confirming that materials seized “tested positive for the presence of ricin poison.” A small number of easily obtainable castor beans are found. But the same day, chemical weapons experts at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire discover in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat. But this finding will not be released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Dr. Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, confirms that there was no ricin in the flat. This report is also suppressed. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] The Ministry of Defence later confirms that the results of the Porton Down test are not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, one day after war in Iraq begins. [BBC, 9/15/2005] It appears that there was the intention to create ricin, based on evidence discovered in other raids, but not the technical know-how to actually do so (see January 20, 2003 and January 5, 2003).
Raid on Finsbury Park Mosque. [Source: BBC]The Metropolitan Police mount an early morning raid on Finsbury Park mosque, sending in 200 officers.
Decision to Launch - The raid is primarily the result of intelligence about Kamal Bourgass, a man implicated in an alleged ricin plot (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). Bourgass was in possession of an envelope with instructions in Arabic for manufacturing poisons and explosives, as well as lists of chemicals, discovered by police during a raid in Wood Green days earlier (see January 5, 2003). These “poison recipes” were in Bourgass’s writing, and the envelope had the address of the Finsbury Park Mosque with the name of “Nadir,” an alias used by Bourgass. [Observer, 4/17/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254] Like other illegal immigrants, Bourgass had used the mosque as a place to stay and as his postal address for correspondence with the immigration service. He had stayed there in the weeks before his attempts to make ricin were discovered. [BBC, 2/7/2006] In addition, one of many suspects detained by the police around Britain at this time tells police that the photocopier in the mosque’s office had been used to copy some “recipes” written by Bourgass. Other suspects detained have links to the mosque, and have worked or slept there. Finally, two suspects the police want to detain are known to sleep in the mosque’s basement.
High-Level Approval - Due to the politically sensitive nature of the operation, it is approved in advance by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. In the 24 hours before the raid, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens says publicly that many terrorists are under surveillance and Blunkett says he is happy for counterterrorist units to take “whatever steps necessary, controversial, or otherwise.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254-256]
Searches, Discoveries - Armored officers batter down the doors to begin days of searches. In addition, they make seven arrests. After the trial and conviction of radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri for hate crimes in February 2006, police will reveal their discoveries from the raid. The police uncover chemical weapons protection suits, pistols, CS spray, and a stun gun. Other military paraphernalia include a gas mask, handcuffs, hunting knives, and a walkie-talkie. The police also find more than 100 stolen or forged passports and identity documents, credit cards, laminating equipment, and checkbooks hidden in the ceiling and under rugs, as well as more than $6,000 in cash. A senior police officer will say, “The fact that they were happy to keep this sort of stuff in the building is an indication of how safe and secure they felt they were inside.” Authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill will comment, “This was exactly the kind of material that informants like Reda Hassaine had told the intelligence services about years before” (see 1995-April 21, 2000).
Afterwards - Despite the haul, Abu Hamza is neither arrested nor interviewed, although police believe he must have known what was going on. The items seized will not be mentioned at his trial, or, with the exception of the photocopier, the ricin trial. However, they lead to police inquiries in 26 countries, which McGrory and O’Neill will call “a clear indication of the reach and influence of the terrorist networks operating out of Finsbury Park.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 260-262; BBC, 2/7/2006]
Items seized in a raid on Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque in January 2003. [Source: Daily Telegraph]After learning some information about the Islamist militant connections of leading London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, British Home Secretary David Blunkett initiates a campaign against him. Blunkett introduces legislation to have Abu Hamza stripped of his British citizenship, which he acquired unlawfully (see April 29, 1986), and then either deported or interned. However, the British intelligence service MI5 fails to provide Blunkett with all the information it has about Abu Hamza, who has been an informer for MI5 and Special Branch since 1997 (see Early 1997 and Before May 27, 2004). Even after the relevant legislation is passed in April 2003, the process is drawn out by Abu Hamza, who appeals, delays the appeal process by not filing a defense, and then argues the government should pay his legal fees. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284-5] A hearing will be held on the case in April 2004 (see April 26, 2004).
The British intelligence service MI5 develops information showing that London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri has significant connections with radical militants, but fails to show this to Home Secretary David Blunkett. Blunkett apparently learns this information after Abu Hamza, who has been an MI5 informer (see Early 1997), is arrested in 2004 (see May 27, 2004). When Blunkett takes office in 2001, as he will later recall, there is an assumption that Abu Hamza “was a bigmouth and was worth tracking but wasn’t at the centre of events.” The security services have a “detailed trail” of networks, personal history, and high-level contacts showing that Abu Hamza is “a real threat and a danger,” but they do not tell Blunkett. He will reportedly be angry when he learns MI5 failed to inform him of the material. What material is provided to Blunkett and what is kept from him is unknown; MI5’s explanation for withholding the information is also unknown. Blunkett will later indicate that action should have been taken against Abu Hamza earlier: “It is clear now—and I think that those close to this would acknowledge it—that there were opportunities for having taken action. By putting the jigsaw together, it is possible for us to realize that this man was a danger becuase he was at the heart of organizing, glorifying, and persuading.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284, 291]
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. [Source: BBC]The New York Times reveals the identity of al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. Bush administration officials allegedly revealed his name to the Times in an attempt to defend a controversial US terror alert issued the day before (see August 1, 2004). [Associated Press, 8/10/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] Officials from the Department of Homeland Security apparently gave out the name without revealing that Khan had already been turned and was helping to catch other al-Qaeda operatives. [Daily Times (Lahore), 8/8/2004] A few days later, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice confirms that US officials named Khan to the reporters “on background.” [Boston Globe, 8/10/2004] But some days after that, anonymous Pakistani government sources will claim that Khan’s name was initially leaked by Pakistani officials. [Salon, 8/17/2004] Middle East expert Juan Cole suggests both accounts have merit. In the hours after the August 1 terror alert that was based on information secured from Khan’s computer, reporters scramble to determine the source of the alert. One reporter learns of the Khan arrest from a CIA analyst, though the analyst refuses to give out any names. Cole believes that New York Times reporter David Rohde then acquires Khan’s name from his Pakistani sources and confirms it through US sources at the Department of Homeland Security. [Antiwar.com, 8/19/2004] Khan, an al-Qaeda computer expert, was arrested in Pakistan on July 13 and quickly began cooperating with investigators. He started sending e-mails to other operatives around the world and asked them to report back in. As they replied, investigators began tracing their locations. But Khan’s name is revealed before his computer contacts could be fully exploited. Many al-Qaeda members, including some suspected plotters planning strikes on US targets, escape arrest because of the outing. One Pakistani official says, “Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away.” [Associated Press, 8/10/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] Intelligence reports also indicate that the exposure of Khan makes al-Qaeda members more cautious in their electronic communications. Many cells abruptly move their hideouts, causing the US losing track of them. [Salon, 8/9/2004; Village Voice, 8/2/2005] Some are critical about the leak of Khan’s name:
Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane’s Defense publications, says, “The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse. You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al-Qaeda, when it’s so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place? It goes against all the rules of counterespionage, counterterrorism, running agents, and so forth. It’s not exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it’s on the front pages every time there’s a development, is it?”
British Home Secretary David Blunkett is openly contemptuous of the White House’s management of the information. “In the United States there is often high-profile commentary followed, as in the current case, by detailed scrutiny, with the potential risk of ridicule. Is it really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counter-terrorism to feed the media? To increase concern? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense.” [Salon, 8/9/2004]
Other high-level British officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” They complain that they had to act precipitously in arresting low-level al-Qaeda figures connected to Khan instead of using those suspects to ferret out more senior al-Qaeda figures. These officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” [New York Observer, 8/11/2004]
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) writes in a letter to Bush officials, “I respectfully request an explanation [about] who leaked this Mr. Khan’s name, for what reason it was leaked, and whether the British and Pakistani reports that this leak compromised future intelligence activity are accurate.” [Boston Globe, 8/10/2004]
Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “In this situation, in my view, they should have kept their mouth shut and just said, ‘We have information, trust us’.”
[Inter Press Service, 8/10/2004]
Middle East expert Juan Cole notes that the leak of Khan’s name forced the British to arrest 12 members of an al-Qaeda cell prematurely, allowing others to escape. “[T]his slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity. They don’t deserve to be in power either way.” [Daily Times (Lahore), 8/8/2004]
Salon’s Dale Davis says, “[S]adly, the damage [the Bush administration’s] machinations have caused to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda will be measured in the loss of the young American servicemen and women who carry the burden of their failed policies.” [Salon, 8/13/2004]
Entity Tags: John Loftus, Juan Cole, New York Times, James Ridgeway, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, George W. Bush, Dale Davis, Douglas Jehl, George F. Allen, Tim Ripley, Al-Qaeda, David Rohde, David Blunkett, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
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