The Folly of an Overwhelming Right to Know

By Andrew Field
Flickr_Andrew_XIThe most extraordinary decision by two, supposedly, learned judges to allow disclosure of foreign intelligence material in the legal matter of Binyan Mohamed beggars belief.   The judgement sets, to Britain’s great peril, a grievous precedent, if what the politicians say is correct.  Would the Americans cease intelligence co-operation in consequence?   Some say not.

Mohamed is an Ethiopian national, who was given refuge, benevolently one might add, by the British government back in 1994.  He is a manqué terrorist who would happily slaughter innocent Britons, given half the chance, according to the publicity the man has attracted.

Mohamed left the safety of the United Kingdom, as a drug addict, seeking solace for his filthy habit from the Muslim faithful in distant Afghanistan.  This country is the epicentre of terrorism, co-incidentally.  He soon became embroiled in the homicidal underworld of al-Qaeda fundamentalist terrorism.  Mohamed allegedly trained with Osama bin Laden’s terrorist mentors and other sources suggest his collusion with American gangster turned terrorist, Jose Padilla.

Our alleged terrorist and Padilla plotted death and mayhem, so they say, including the construction of dirty bombs and spraying people with cyanide.  He was arrested in Pakistan attempting to exit that country on a false passport, destined for the United Kingdom.  One might suspect that, on the face of it, he was up to no good.

Of course, this does not condone his rendition and alleged torture, but quite what he is doing back on British soil, to contest British intelligence involvement, is a mystery.  Surprisingly, it was British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who secured the man’s release from Guantánamo and allowed him back to Britain.  What was he thinking, one might ask, and have we lost all of our senses on the altar of political correctitude?

Clearly, Mohamed, had a few ulterior motives, and he is not exactly the model Muslim devotee that some would like us to believe, nor British.  And yet, this matter is not about Mohamed, but rather how this foreigner has brought the judiciary and government on a collision course, because a couple of fellows, bedecked in their wigs, have decided that the British people have an overwhelming ‘right to know’.  Really, so why do we not just throw open MI5 and MI6 headquarters as public archives, you could ask?

The suppression of foreign intelligence material, by Miliband, was considered by the judges to be ‘harmful to the rule of law’.  For those with any common sense, it is enough to make one vomit.  The judges have thoroughly ignored the appeals of the Foreign Secretary.  His position is contentious; would such disclosure strain intelligence relations between the United States, the originators of the material, and those attempting to defend the Realm?  It is considered that revelation may compromise vital sources of intelligence, including the death of agents, and breach a reciprocal understanding.

In all probability, the actual material subject to this furore may not divulge much that is either sensitive or secret, but it breaks a solid principal of absolute trust in the shadowy world of spy craft.  Friendly intelligence agencies share their information, knowledge and hard gleaned intelligence and nobody has any ‘right to know’ the content of these exchanges.  This reciprocity is secret and should not be scuppered.  It is done in the interests of combating a very serious threat, the type of threat our not-so-friendly Ethiopian terrorist would pose to the British people.

While the blood of British soldiers and airmen is soaking the soil of Taliban poppy fields, defending Britain from the al-Quaeda terrorist threat, so we are told, a couple of judges pontificate about the law and rights in the comfort of their chambers.  Are they are making decisions that would breach a trust and dangerously expose Britain’s hand?  If they are, some believe, then counter-terrorism operations will suffer and British servicemen and spies will be denied access to vital intelligence from their lead ally.

Let us not forget that the Americans are still seething badly at the release of another terrorist, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, by their British ally.  The State Department took that pretty seriously, and no doubt stifled intelligence outflows in consequence. The risk that Britain’s allies will clam up altogether, drying the intelligence fountain, perhaps is no theory.  This is the gambit. Surely, it is the Americans who should be authorising the release of the information anyway.

The judges may just have made terrorism a lot easier for al-Quaeda and damningly harder for the likes of MI5, MI6 and the men and women on the frontline.  Those who deem they have the overwhelming ‘right to know’ are increasing the odds of terror attack upon themselves.  The folly of this judicial thirst for transparency and lawful outcome may come back to haunt the Realm.