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Alan Johnson right to stand up for security services

Posted on 12 February 2010 | 2:02pm

I’m pleased to see Home Secretary Alan Johnson hitting back at the media coverage of the Security Service, and supporting a similarly spirited defence of MI5 by its head Jonathan Evans.

The coverage is a very good example of how the modern media works. A judge makes a judgement which the British government has sought to resist. It concerned a case of alleged US torture of Binyam Mohamed. From that two plus two is made any number some in the media like to imagine.

What might be legitimate criticisms made of the Security Service are then lost in a welter of what Johnson calls ‘baseless, groundless accusations’ and, further, ‘ludicrous lies’.

He is right to resist what is now a kneejerk call on anything that dominates the news for more than a day or two, namely an independent inquiry.

Johnson said: “The security services in our country do not practice torture, they do not endorse torture, they don’t encourage others to torture on our behalf, they don’t collude in torture. Full stop.

“What we have to get back to is ensuring that our security services are treated fairly. People can make their arguments and their assertions but that shouldn’t be taken by some commentators in the media as true simply because someone has said it’s true. They’re baseless, groundless, and there’s no evidence to back them up.

“It’s a free society and that’s what actually the security services are out there to protect. But occasionally they have to argue back, they can’t allow that kind of misrepresentation to carry on unthwarted.

“The security service applies the highest ethical standards and with men and women who risk their lives in many cases to protect this country but who can’t speak for themselves. Jonathan as their leader was quite right to speak out for them.”

One other point I would make. The same people now screaming abuse at the Security Service will be the first in the queue to demand what on earth they were doing if anything goes wrong. Then the questions will be why weren’t more people under surveillance, why wasn’t every lead followed, why were phones not tapped, why didn’t the government spend more on the security services, and all the rest of it. We saw it after 7/7, and if anything like it happens again, we’ll see it all over again.

I don’t doubt there is bad as well as good in the Security Service, as in any organisation. But I reckon their actions and their standards would stand up to a lot closer scrutiny than the modern day journalist whose favourite expression now appears to be ‘this story, if true…’ folllowed by a torrent of interpretation, all designed to show the people who work to protect us in the worst possible light.

  • Quietzapple

    The responses by the “liberal” and trotskyite left and almost all the tendentious right ape or are examples of magical thinking, as has become standard practice: (Wiki)

    “magical thinking is causal reasoning that applies unwarranted weight to coincidence and often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world (see the philosophical problem of mental causation), and correlation mistaken for causation.

    “Associative thinking may be brought into play, as well as the power of magical symbols, metaphor and metonym, and synchronicity.”

    If it could be shown that ONE policeman hit someone we live in a police state.

    IF (and it is unclear to me that they did) MI5 did not pay sufficient attention to misbehaviours by the secret police of another state and sought information to protect us all, then Obviously the UK is a torturer-state, beneath the morality of the lowliest Islamo-fascist group.

    Hey Ho!

    If enough of them say “Shite-Bliar” the Uk will be theirs!

    We can hope to see how widely ignored they will be in the coming General Election.

  • Jeremy Pelling

    Agree up to a point. But where wrongdoing is committed, it does have to be exposed. where you have a point is that it is impossible to believe the papers on this any more because whatever the story they all have their own agenda. So the left papers hate the security services but as you say expect them to deliver our security and scream like blue murder if they miss things

  • Em

    Fair enough Alastair but it’s all in the presentation, innit?

    I don’t know who it was but SOMEBODY didn’t serve MI5 well this morning on Today. “He” can reject criticism all he wants, but he shouldn’t be haughty and bilious about it. This sort of attitude isn’t going to fly with the public. He’s not helping MI5’s cause at all, whoever he is.

    And the whole “you have no idea what we do to defend the liberties you enjoy” line is appalling as well. Millions of people are struggling every day to keep their heads above water and pay the salaries of MI5 employees. We wouldn’t do without those liberties, but for most of us our ability to exercise freedom is radically curtailed by economics and a myriad of daily contingencies.

    A bit of humility on the part of politicians and MI5 would not go amiss.

  • Harold Melton

    I wish we heard more of Alan Johnson. He is a very effective communicator, but too low profile for someone in such a big job. I also think as security and terrorism are such issues, and crime amd immigration, we should be making more of Labour’s stance on these issues as opposed to the rubbish from stats fiddler Mr Grayling. If you have not heard of him, be warned he will be home secretary if Cameron wins

  • JK

    thanks for an inspiring speech at the Sports Colleges conference yesterday, and thanks for all the tips about how to get our work noticed. Have acted on some of them already

  • mark

    The Blair years arrived just a couple of days after the order was placed. All in one piece and the dedication was word perfect. Many thanks.

  • Tom Wildy world wasn the perfect

    I think this is a good point. Like it or not MI5 is needed for our security. We’ve seen what can happen if campaigns of terror succeed. When Intelligence ‘fails’ and people die or are horribly wounded there is a great outcry and blame is showered around. If it ‘succeeds’ and plots are foiled then we only hear about it if people come to trial. The media like to catch the government coming and going, even more now that there is an election in the offing.

  • leo

    As I understand it, one of this country’s most senior judges in a draft judgement made extraordinary criticisms of MI5. Just to be clear – this is not a representative of the press against whom you rail ad nauseam, but a highly intelligent and distinguished judge responding to evidence put in front of him in a court of law. He withdrew these criticisms after requests from the Government’s legal representative. It has come to light that these requests were made outside normal legal practice. Anyway, the fact remains those getting on their high horses are members of the political classes and intelligence services – areas of life wherein the ability to lie is a requirement. Why shouldn’t the press and the public give more weight to the comments of a senior judge? For you to use this subject as another excuse to attack the media seems somewhat to miss the point.

  • Robert Jackson

    Drawing parallels with Matrix-Churchill, the four directors must be jolly thankful just now that Bill Clinton was President of the USA when the Tory Government locked them up for trying to export kit to Iraq.

    Had they done it under George W Bush’s Presidency they’d have been whipped off to Gitmo, questioned by the Yanks and the claims the UK government had told them how to evade export restrictions would have been regarded as lies. Would Hezza have been able to get them out? Would Alan Clark’s subtlety of tongue done the biz?

    Would ANY of it have come to light?

  • Matthew Patrick

    Thank you for writing this blog, Alastair. I find it incredibly interesting and well balanced.

    You’ve drilled home in recent months the needs to defend the record, attack the Tories and set out the plans for the future. You’ve also said that this election will require old fashioned campaigning.

    Analogue campaigning needed in a digital age (to butcher the phrase) means I’m going to now update my status whenever I log into Facebook with a reason I am proud of Labour and proud to support them (today’s was the National Minimum Wage). So many people that tell me they hate Labour and Gordon Brown can tell me nothing about Labour or the Conservatives. They allow themselves to be caught up in the Anti-Labour frenzy. Well, I aim to put the issues out there. So people can see for themselves who Labour are, what they stand for and what they’ve achieved.

    I consider your blog prime material for such status updates and any policies/ideas you want to tag on the end of your blogs to help, would be gratefully received.