Statement to Parliament: PM Commons statement: Intelligence and Security Committee report on...

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  1. Introduction

    Mr Speaker, today the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee has published its report into the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

    He was a British soldier who stood for our country and for our way of life…

    ….and he was killed in broad daylight on the streets of our capital city.

    It was a stark reminder of threat we face from home-grown terrorists and extremists plotting to murder our people.

    But at the same time we should be clear that it was a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities in Britain who give so much to our country.

    Mr Speaker, I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with his friends and family at this time.

    When I spoke in this House in the aftermath of the attack, I said we would bring those responsible to justice…

    …and we would learn the lessons of what happened in Woolwich.

    The 2 murderers Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo have since been convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

    And today this report answers the questions we had about what our security services knew about these murderers….

    ….and the lessons we can learn to help stop similar attacks in the future.

    I am grateful to my Rt Hon Friend the Member for Kensington and his committee for this comprehensive report.

    It contains an unprecedented degree of detail on the current workings of MI5, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ.

    I wanted us to get to the truth as quickly as possible, without a prolonged judicial process.

    And I think that is exactly what we have done with this exceptional report.

    Few countries in the world would publish this degree of detail about the activities of their security services.

    It reflects the way we have strengthened this committee with new powers to hold our security services to account.

    And for this report, the agencies have carried out the same searches they would for proceedings in the law courts.

    Key findings

    Mr Speaker, before I turn to the key findings let me be clear that this is a very serious report…

    …and there are significant areas of concern within it.

    I don’t want anyone to be in any doubt that there are lessons to be learned and that things needs to change.

    But on the key findings, I am sure the House will welcome that the Committee does “…not consider that, given what the agencies knew at the time, they were in a position to prevent the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby.”

    Furthermore, as the Committee says: “it is greatly to the agencies’ credit that that they have protected the UK from a number of terrorist plots in recent years.”

    As the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police says 4 or 5 serious plots have been foiled this year alone.

    Mr Speaker, so much of what our agencies do necessarily goes unreported.

    They are Britain’s silent heroes.

    And the whole country owes them an enormous debt of gratitude.

    But there are 4 broad areas where things need to change.

    On dealing with delays in the process of investigating potential terrorists.

    On dealing with low priority cases and so-called self-starting terrorists.

    On the role and responsibilities of internet companies in helping to keep us safe.

    And on tackling foreign fighters travelling abroad for terrorist purposes.

    Let me take each in turn.

    Delays in investigating potential terrorists

    First, the report identifies a number of serious delays and potential missed opportunities.

    The committee expressed concern over the 4 month delay in opening an investigation into Michael Adebolago following his return from Kenya in 2010…

    …and the 8 month delay before Michael Adebowale was first actively investigated in 2012.

    The report concludes that an application for intrusive surveillance on Michael Adebowale in 2013 took “nearly twice as long as it should have”…

    …and that had the original target been met: “these further intrusive techniques would have been in place during the week before, and on the day of the attack.”

    But the report does go on to say that “there is no indication that this would have provided advance warning of the attack: retrospective analysis of all the information now available to the agencies has not provided any such evidence.”

    The report also finds that the 2 murderers were in contact 39 times between 11 April and 22 May – including 7 attempted calls and 16 text messages on the day before the attack.

    But again we should be clear that post event analysis shows – and I quote – “none of these text messages revealed any indication of attack planning or indeed anything of significance.”

    So Mr Speaker, while the committee accepts that these delays and missed opportunities did not affect the outcome in this case…

    …they are, however, clear that processes need to be substantially improved.

    Mr Speaker, MI5 are improving guidance and training for investigators for their online teams…

    …and looking at new automated processes to act on extremist material online.

    The MI5 initial lessons learned document has already been published in today’s report.

    And I have asked the Security Service to provide a further detailed report to the Home Secretary and me in the New Year setting out progress on implementing each and every one of these lessons learned.

    In all of this we need to remember the extreme pressure our agencies are under.

    As the Director General of MI5 put it: “We are not an army that has battalions waiting in barracks for deployment.”

    Low priority cases and self-starting terrorists

    Second, one of the most challenging tasks facing our agencies is how to prioritise the many and various potential threats to our security.

    This is difficult and it is not an exact science.

    During the weeks prior to the Woolwich attack, they were running several hundred counter-terrorism investigations…

    …and as the Committee note they are monitoring at any one time several thousand Subjects of Interest.

    It is obviously essential to focus on the highest priority cases and especially those where there is specific intelligence that terrorists are planning an attack in the UK.

    But the report details how Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale were both known to the security services for some time.

    Michael Adebolajo had featured in 5 separate Security Service investigations since 2008 and MI5 had put significant effort into investigating him as part of several of these investigations.

    Michael Adebowale featured in 2 lower priority investigations.

    While none of these investigations revealed any intelligence of an attack…

    …the Committee does recommend improvements to the processes for dealing with recurring subjects of Interest, low priority cases and so-called ‘self-starting’ terrorists.

    This government has protected budgets for counter-terrorism and the security services have been clear with me that they have always had the resources they need.

    But the increasing threat we face, including from these so-called ‘self-starting’ terrorists, means that we should now go further in strengthening our capabilities.

    So my Rt Hon Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make an additional £130 million available over the next 2 years, including new funding to enhance our ability to monitor and disrupt these self-starting terrorists.

    Mr Speaker, the report also makes clear the important role of all public bodies in dealing with this threat of self-starting terrorists and extremists.

    Our Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill being introduced tomorrow will include for the first time a clear legal obligation on our universities, prisons, councils and schools to play their part in tackling this poisonous extremism.

    And the new funding being made available today will include additional resources for programmes to prevent radicalisation.

    Internet companies

    Third, turning to the role of internet companies.

    The Committee is clear that they did find – and I quote – “one issue that could have been decisive.”

    In December 2012, 5 months before the attack, Michael Adebowale had a crucial online exchange in which he wrote about his desire to kill a soldier.

    But the automated systems in the internet company concerned did not identify this exchange.

    And further, when they automatically shut down other accounts used by Michael Adebowale on the grounds of terrorism…

    …there was no mechanism to notify the authorities.

    So this information only came to light several weeks after the attack as a result of a retrospective review by the company.

    The Committee conclude that “this is the single issue which – had it been known at the time – might have enabled MI5 to prevent the attack.”

    This is a very serious finding.

    The report does not name the company and it would not be appropriate for me to give a running commentary on the level of co-operation from different internet companies.

    But the Committee is clear that they have serious concerns about the approach of a number of communications service providers based overseas.

    This summer, the government introduced emergency legislation to put beyond doubt in UK law that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act applies to companies based overseas that deliver services in this country.

    And I appointed Sir Nigel Sheinwald as a Special Envoy on intelligence and law enforcement data sharing to address concerns that there could be a conflict between UK and US law in this area.

    Since then a number of companies have improved their co-operation.

    But as I said in my speech to the Australian Parliament earlier this month, there is further to go.

    We are already having detailed discussions with internet companies on the new steps they can take.

    And we expect the companies to report back on progress in the New Year.

    Mr Speaker, terrorists are using the internet to communicate with each other.

    We must not accept that these communications are beyond the reach of the authorities or the internet companies themselves.

    We have taken action. We have passed legislation. And we will continue to do everything we can.

    And we expect the internet companies to do all they can too.

    Their networks are being used to plot murder and mayhem.

    It is their social responsibility to act on this. And we expect them to live up to it.

    Powers for the agencies

    Fourth, the report also raises a series of issues directly relevant to the increased threat in recent months from British citizens travelling to fight abroad, so-called foreign fighters.

    The Committee expresses concern about what they describe as a “deeply unsatisfactory” response to Michael Adebolajo’s arrest in Kenya.

    They highlight the importance of tackling British citizens travelling to fight with terrorists groups in Syria and Iraq.

    And the report recommends further powers, including considering whether existing proscription powers should be amended to enable further prosecutions.

    Tackling foreign fighters is an absolute priority for our agencies.

    To be fair to the agencies and police, in the case of Michael Adebolajo, he was interviewed on return to the UK.

    And their operational effort has been stepped up with more than 120 arrests this year for Syria-related offences, compared to 27 in the whole of 2013.

    But the committee is right to ask whether we need to give our agencies stronger powers to tackle extremists.

    Our Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill being introduced in Parliament tomorrow will include essential new powers to seize passports to prevent travel…

    …to stop suspects returning unless they do so on our terms and…

    …to relocate suspected terrorists to other parts of the country and away from their extremist networks.

    And I hope that we can take this Bill forward on a cross-party basis so our agencies are able to start using these vital powers as soon as possible.

    MI6 and detainees

    Finally, Mr Speaker, the Committee criticises the Secret Intelligence Service for the handling of allegations of Michael Adebolajo’s mistreatment in Kenya.

    This government took the important step of publishing the Consolidated Guidance in 2010 on the obligations of our agencies and the Ministry of Defence in relation to detainees held overseas.

    But of course there are cases which fall outside the scope of this guidance, for instance where people are entirely dealt with by overseas agencies, but where the Secret Intelligence Service clearly still has an operational interest.

    In these cases the agency are clear they always seek assurances about the treatment of detainees…

    …and that in future they will record the outcome of their investigations and inform Ministers if mistreatment has occurred.

    Of course it is right that there is vigorous oversight of this issue.

    So the government will put the oversight role of the Intelligence Services Commissioner on a statutory footing.

    I will issue a direction under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in the coming days to formalise Sir Mark Waller’s role in overseeing the guidance on detainees.

    Sir Mark will have full access to all the material referred to in the report and will be able to examine the concerns raised by the committee about the government’s responsibilities in relation to partner counter-terrorism units overseas.


    Mr Speaker, today’s report contains a number of very detailed recommendations…

    …and we will publish a full response to all the points raised in the New Year.

    We will not shrink from doing what is necessary to keep our people safe.

    The terrorist threat we face cannot be ignored or contained.

    We have to confront it.

    We have to equip our security services with the powers and the information they need to track down these terrorists and stop them attacking our people.

    And we have to confront the extremist ideology that drives this terrorism by defeating the ideas that warp so many young minds at their root.

    Of course none of this will be easy. And none of it will happen overnight.

    We will need stamina, patience and endurance.

    But we will in the end succeed.

    We will in the end defeat this extremism…

    …and protect our people and our way of life for generations to come.

    And I commend this Statement to the House.

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