The security service trade union is now in full cry. It wants more money, more power, less oversight and will go to any lengths of scaremongering to get it.
Yesterday its cheerleader, the former defence secretary, Liam Fox, was unequivocal. There were people going about saying the state had too much power in Britain, he said, while “pretty much the rest of us say the state must protect itself”. We had “better start to reconsider” whether liberty was more important than security. This is dangerous talk.
In the past week David Cameron, MI6 and the London police have all issued warnings of the “danger to Britain” from this month’s Isis invasion of northernIraq, and from a possible 400-500 “returning jihadists”. This is the backdrop to a campaign for renewed military intervention in Iraq and, at home, for extending GCHQ’s freedom to conduct what it now admits is the warrant-less surveillance of all electronic communications by British citizens.
The idea that the Isis action in Iraq poses a threat to the British state is ludicrous. That it came as a complete surprise to London (and apparently Baghdad) shows how trivial MI6 thought the threat before it happened. Otherwise, why did Cameron not do something about it a month ago? Surely heads should roll. In truth there is no threat, just a useful excuse for sabre-rattling and fear politics. If Isis can undermine Britain’s safety, Britain must be a feeble place indeed.
As for the returning jihadists, they too are no threat to Britain. They may threaten to explode some bombs, a threat to life and limb. Why Cameron should want to elevate, indeed almost romanticise, that menace is a mystery. The only security against this violence is from policing and from targeted intelligence.
This certainly may involve intrusions that the Muslim community must accept as long as it harbours those willing to lead susceptible young people to violence.
The danger from these disparate individuals would appear to be far less serious than, for instance, that of the IRA during the Troubles. It is of criminal nuisance, not the undermining of the integrity of the state. That may not suit the dignity and budgetary ambition of the security apparatus. But it is not the nation’s problem, and certainly not a reason for dismantling the ever shaky basis of personal freedom from state power. What is truly alarming is that Fox, Cameron, the police and the secret service should be so careless of that freedom.