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Profile: Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC)
Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The British government releases two official reports into the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). One report is from the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is not a House of Commons committee, but a Cabinet Office committee appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition. It concludes that two of the 7/7 bombers had been under surveillance, but while there were “intelligence gaps,” there was no evidence of an “intelligence failure that could have prevented the bombings.” British intelligence was justified in not devoting more resources to monitor the 7/7 bombers. The second report is a “narrative of events” by the Home Office. It acknowledges that British foreign policy was an element in the radicalization of the bombers, but concludes that British involvement in the Iraq war was not a key contributory factor behind the bombings. It highlights the “home-grown” nature of the bombers. It acknowledges that the bombers were inspired by Osama bin Laden’s ideology, but says that there is no evidence so far pointing to a direct al-Qaeda link or a mastermind in addition to the four suicide bombers. The Guardian editorial board criticizes the reports, and says that they are unlikely to quiet calls for an independent public inquiry. “The purpose of such reports is to draw lessons and point to ways of improving the public’s safety. In this respect neither report is entirely satisfactory. Each report leaves important questions hanging in the air. Each report tells a story of serious official failure. The failures were particular and general. Two of the 7/7 gang, [Mohammad Sidique] Khan and [Shehzad] Tanweer, were known to the security services. Both had visited Pakistan for extended periods in the months before their suicide mission. Khan, in particular, was already of considerable interest to MI5. It is MI5’s job to collate, to sift, to match and to interpret information of this kind. Patently, the service failed to do that in these cases. This seems not to have been purely a matter of inadequate resources. It was also an operational failure, and thus a failure for which management must take responsibility. The new home secretary, John Reid, gave no indication yesterday that this has happened.” [Guardian, 5/11/2006; Guardian, 5/12/2006] Yet within days, it will be revealed that key evidence had been withheld from the Intelligence and Security Committee that directly contradicts its conclusion that British intelligence was justified in not monitoring the 7/7 bombers more closely (see May 13-14, 2006).
On May 11, 2006, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), which is composed of members of parliament appointed by the prime minister, issued a report about the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005) that largely exonerates British intelligence for not stopping the bombings (see May 11, 2006). However, two days later, The Guardian and then the Sunday Times report that the ISC was never told that the British intelligence agency MI5 monitored head 7/7 suicide bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan discussing the building of a bomb and then his desire to leave Britain because there would be a lot of police activity. In early 2004, Khan was monitored talking to members of a fertilizer bomb plot (see February 2-March 23, 2004). Tapes show he had knowledge of the “late-stage discussions” of this plot, as well as discussions with them about making a bomb. He was also taped talking about his plans to wage jihad (holy war) and attend al-Qaeda training camps in Pakistan. Further details, such as exactly whom he was speaking to and when, have not been made public. Since the ISC was not aware of this material, it concluded that MI5 had no reason to suspect Khan of plotting bombings in Britain. A member of the ISC admits that the ISC did not see transcripts of MI5’s recordings of Khan. Instead, it listened to senior security officials and accepted their claims that there was no reason to regard Khan as a serious threat. After being told what was on these transcripts, this ISC member says: “If that is the case, it amounts to a scandal. I would be outraged.” Shadow home secretary David Davis of the Conservative Party tells Home Secretary John Reid in a private exchange at the House of Commons: “It seems that MI5 taped Mohammad Sidique Khan talking about his wish to fight in the jihad and saying his goodbyes to his family—a clear indication that he was intending a suicide mission… he was known to have attended late-stage discussions on planning another major terror attack. Again, I ask the home secretary whether that is true.” Reid responds that the questions are “legitimate” but fails to answer them. [Guardian, 5/13/2006; Sunday Times (London), 5/14/2006] Additionally, the ISC was only shown one surveillance photo of Khan. But in 2007 it will be revealed that MI5 in fact had at least six photos of him (see Between April 10, 2004 and July 7, 2005). It will also come to light in 2007 that Khan was briefly investigated in early 2005, and that all information about this was kept from the ISC (see January 27-February 3, 2005).
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed. [Source: Publicity photo]The Independent publishes an article questioning some aspects of the official account of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). The article notes that “There are some bewildering gaps in the [government’s] account of 7/7…” It quotes counterterrorism expert Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, who has recently published a book questioning the government account of the bombings. Ahmed concludes that the government has deliberately downplayed the sophistication of the operation, the size of its support network, and evidence of al-Qaeda involvement, in order to deflect questions about how a large network was able to operate in Britain for many years. The Independent notes that “even the nature of the explosives used in the bombing is unclear.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a group of MPs chosen by the prime minister, published a report on the 7/7 bombings in May 2006 (see May 11, 2006), but was vague about the explosives used. The Independent comments, “The report says only that ‘it appears’ they were home-made, although there is plenty of evidence that the bombs were powered by at least some commercial or military explosive.” Ahmed says: “Forensic science… tends to produce unambiguous answers within a matter of hours and days. The idea that continuous examination over many months has failed to finish the job beggars belief.” Ahmed also notes that the links between the 7/7 bombers such as Mohammad Sidique Khan and known al-Qaeda figures have been underplayed. For instance, the ISC report fails to mention Haroon Rashid Aswat at all, despite many articles suggesting that he may have been the mastermind of the bombings and may even have had a relationship with British intelligence (see Late June-July 7, 2005 and July 29, 2005). Ahmed says, “In systematically downplaying the undeniable role of al-Qaeda in the London bombings, the official account is attempting to draw public attention from the fact British authorities have tolerated the activities of an entrenched and burgeoning network of radical Islamists with terrorist connections for more than a decade.” [Independent, 7/2/2006]
At the end of April 2007, a trial against a group of men accused of planning a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain concluded (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), and a press ban on the trial was lifted. A number of stories come out revealing details on how two of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, were monitored by British intelligence as they interacted with some of the fertilizer bomb plotters (see February 2-March 23, 2004). This leads to new calls for an independent inquiry into the 7/7 bombings, since many of these details were left out of the two official government reports on the 7/7 bombings released in May 2006 (see May 11, 2006). But on May 2, 2007, British Prime Minister Tony Blair rejects demands for an independent inquiry. He says that the May 2006 Intelligence and Security Committee report examined the bombings in “immense detail.” He claims any further inquiry would “undermine support” for the intelligence agencies. “For us then to have a full, independent, further inquiry… would simply have the security service and the police and others diverted from the task of fighting terrorism.” He adds that many claims made in the media about what was known about the 7/7 bombers were “misleading and wrong.” But David Cameron, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, says that only a fully independent inquiry would “get to the truth” as to why Khan and Tanweer were not stopped despite being monitored. Fifty survivors and relatives of the 7/7 victims sign a letter renewing their calls for a public inquiry. [Guardian, 5/2/2007]
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