The BBC has stated in its news bulletins that the Manchester bomb attack could have been stopped. In the web report they quote from a report saying that the attack coud have been stopped if… “the cards fallen differently.”
A major review of whether MI5 could have stopped any of 2017’s terrorism attacks has revealed details of opportunities that, had they been followed through, might have stopped two of them.
“MI5 … came by intelligence [on Abedi] in the months before the attack which, had its true significance been properly understood, would have caused an investigation into him to be opened.”
Those two pieces of undisclosed intelligence were thought to relate to crime, rather than terrorism.
Was this a missed opportunity? MI5 concluded that the intelligence was insufficient. But Mr Anderson’s review states: “It is conceivable that the Manchester attack… might have been averted had the cards fallen differently.”
Firstly that’s a totally meaningless statement…’if’ I had a time machine I could go back in time and fix everything with the knowledge I have now….if the cards had fallen differently is a nonsense statement…of course if things had been different…but they weren’t. Second the BBC misses out what was said before and after that claim.
Before we get to that let’s quote some more from the report, something of interest to do with the British people’s response….
The public response – like that of the police who reacted promptly to each attack – was impressive. Manchester came together in a moving demonstration of solidarity. The international headline which described London as “reeling” missed the mark: resilient, or resolute, would have been closer. Rather than divide the country, these shocking crimes united decent people of all races and religions in sympathy for the victims and condemnation for the attackers. Post-attack hate crimes, unacceptable though they are, cannot obscure this greater truth.
The BBC prefers to say that the British response was a wave of anti-Muslim hatred and a rising tide of ‘Islamophobic’ attacks. I might suggest the people of this country have been incredibly tolerant and patient with the Muslim community considering what has happened over the last 25 years.
But back to ‘they could have stopped it’……
The report says…‘in a free society and against a worsening threat background, it is not realistic to expect everything to be stopped.’
And in relation to the Manchester attack in particular….
Salman Abedi (Manchester)
Like Khalid Masood (but 30 years younger), Salman Abedi was a closed SOI at the time of his attack, and so not under active investigation. MI5 nonetheless came by intelligence in the months before the attack which, had its true significance been properly understood, would have caused an investigation into him to be opened. It is unknowable whether such an investigation would have allowed Abedi’s plans to be pre-empted and thwarted: MI5 assesses that it would not.
So completely unknowable if the attack could have been stopped….if only things had been different…well yes.
That phrase ‘had the cards fallen differently‘ was in fact part of a paragraph praising MI5 and the police whose systems were working well….and is a rather strange and casual line as it suggests a perfect knowledge of things they didn’t know and is a throwaway comment based more on hope than fact….
Nor could it be said of the attacks under review, save in the case of Finsbury Park, that MI5 and the police were entirely blindsided. Khalid Masood (Westminster) and Salman Abedi (Manchester) had both been subjects of interest, and Khuram Butt (London Bridge) remained under active investigation. Substantial and appropriate coverage was in place around key individuals, and mechanisms designed to assess risk were working as intended. MI5 and CT Policing got a great deal right: particularly in the case of Manchester, they could have succeeded had the cards fallen differently.
The report goes on to admit that this is purely the opinion of one man using knowledge gained after the event against the judgement of MI5’s professional opinion….The author claims he ‘offers no view’ but then strangely suggests it is possible MI5 could have stopped the atatck but we can’t know because that is pure speculation based upon a high degree of inherent uncertainty…in other words he doesn’t have a clue but is hedging his bets with some mealy mouthed words…
In relation to the question of whether the Manchester attack could or should have been stopped (2.37 and 3.15 above), I offer no view on whether the re-opening of an investigation into Salman Abedi in early 2017 would, as MI5 concludes “on the clear balance of professional opinion”, have been unlikely to result in the pre-emption of the gathering plot. While that may be right, I prefer to emphasise my agreement with the other point made in this connection: that “there is a high degree of inherent uncertainty in speculating as to what might or might not have been discovered”.
We are also told how difficult MI5’s job is…and yet the report can claim maybe, possibly, if only, had things been different….the attack could have been stopped….
The Director General of MI5 recently described the work of his staff in the following terms:
“They are constantly making tough professional judgments based on fragments of intelligence: pin pricks of light against a dark and shifting canvas.”
After immersing myself in the minutiae of these investigations, that strikes me as an accurate description of MI5’s counter-terrorism work. The reason why the judgements can be “tough” is that they are made against a background of imperfect information, and yet frequently require staff to choose which of a number of current and potentially deadly threats is most deserving of scarce investigative resource.
So pretty much nonsense to suggest the Manchester attack could have been stopped. The BBC of course grabs the headline that makes the most sensation…entirely irresponsible as it creates anger amongst victims and their families and expectations that can never be fulfilled…..as the report says…
‘in a free society and against a worsening threat background, it is not realistic to expect everything to be stopped.’
Hitler could have been stopped ‘had the cards fallen differently’.…but they didn’t. And of course the BBC played its part in that banning Churchill and his anti-Hitler speeches from the airwaves in case he ‘offended’ the Germans. Sounds very familiar today.