London bombing report says failure to stop attacks due to lack of resources and failure to anticipate homegrown Jihadis
May 11, 2006
Two 7/7 bombers were under surveillance
David Batty and agencies
Two of the July 7 suicide bombers were under surveillance by British intelligence but were not fully investigated because of a lack of resources, a parliamentary committee said today.
The cross-party intelligence and security committee (ISC) found "intelligence gaps" in security services monitoring of potential terrorist threats to the UK.
However, it concluded there was no evidence of an "intelligence failure" that could have prevented the attacks on London's transport system.
The committee found that MI5 officers assigned to investigate Mohammed Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the four suicide bombers, and Shehzad Tanweer, who carried out the Aldgate tube bombing, were diverted to another anti-terrorist operation.
"Prior to the 7 July attacks, the security service had come across Siddeque Khan and Shazad Tanweer on the peripheries of other surveillance and investigative operations," its report said.
"At that time, their identities were unknown to the security service and there was no appreciation of their subsequent significance.
"As there were more pressing priorities at the time, including the need to disrupt known plans to attack the UK, it was decided not to investigate them further or seek to identify them.
"When resources became available, attempts were made to find out more about these two and other peripheral contacts, but these resources were soon diverted back to what were considered to be higher investigative priorities."
The committee said the chances of preventing the July 7 attacks could have been increased if MI5 had fully investigated Tanweer and Khan, but concluded the decision not to do so was "understandable" given other terrorist threats.
It added that a lack of resources had hindered making further investigations into the pair.
After the attacks, MI5 discovered a telephone number for Germaine Lindsay, who bombed a train between King's Cross and Russell Square, in its files, the ISC noted.
The home secretary, John Reid, today set out to parliament the findings of a Home Office "narrative" of the July 7 attacks.
It concluded that the four bombers were motivated by "a mixture of anger at perceived injustices by the west against Muslims and a desire for martyrdom".
The bombs were made from readily available materials, and the whole operation cost the bombers less than £8,000 to prepare and execute.
Mr Reid told MPs it had been difficult to defend the UK against terrorism perpetrated by "ordinary British citizens with little known history of extremist views, far less violent intentions".
"At least three were apparently well integrated," he said. "Their radicalisation, to the extent that we know how and where it happened, was conducted away from places with any obvious association with extremism.
"The willingness of these men to use suicide bombing as their method and to attack vulnerable, civilian targets ... made them doubly difficult to defend against.
"That is not a comfortable message. But it is important that we are honest about it if we are to defend ourselves against the threat effectively."
Mr Reid ruled out a parliamentary inquiry into the bombings, but said he would be convening a series of meetings with families of the victims.
The reports were published as the security service MI5 announced it would focus its resources on preventing international terrorism in future, handing over its work on serious crime cases to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, set up last month.
Michael Henning, a broker from Kensington, west London, who survived one of the bombs, said it was a "scandal" that a lack of resources might have allowed the attacks to happen.
The ISC highlighted how the number of suspected terrorists known to British intelligence had risen substantially since the September 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and the Iraq war.
Between September 11 2001 and July 2005, the number of "primary investigative targets" rose from 250 to 800.
Today's report warned that more still needed to be done to improve the way the UK's security services and police special branches work together to tackle the threat of "home-grown" terrorism.
It also criticised the government's joint intelligence committee's March 2005 assessment that suicide bombings "would not become the norm in Europe", suggesting this could have led security agencies to underestimate the possible threat of "home-grown" terrorism.
"We are concerned that this judgment could have had an impact on the alertness of the authorities to the kind of threat they were facing and their ability to respond," the report said.
"We remain concerned that, across the whole of the counter-terrorism community, the development of the home-grown threat and the radicalisation of British citizens were not fully understood or applied to strategic thinking.
"A common and better level of understanding of these things among all those closely involved in identifying and countering the threat against the UK, whether that be the security service, or the police, or other parts of the government, is critical in order to be able to counter the threat effectively and prevent attacks."
The committee said greater co-operation between Britain and Pakistan could also have alerted the intelligence agencies to the July 7 bombers' plans.
In particular, it identified "intelligence gaps" between the two countries over visits to Pakistan by Khan and Tanweer between 2004 and 2005 to contact extremist groups and attend training camps.
The Home Office report added that the pair were assessed as "likely to have met al-Qaida figures during this visit.
But the ISC noted MI5 had discounted the theory that a terrorist mastermind had fled the country before the London bombings were carried out.
Mr Reid told MPs he would be developing consultations with Britain's Muslim community to "fight the distortion of Islam which turns young people into terrorists".
There would be an "inevitable" rise in intrusive activity by security services in the face of the terror threat, the ISC warned.
However, it added that even with greater resources and more investigations, it would be "unlikely" that all future attacks could be prevented.
The committee chairman, the former Northern Ireland secretary Paul Murphy, said: "We found that there was no prior warning from intelligence, domestic or foreign, of the plans to attack on July 7.
"None of the four bombers had been identified by the intelligence security agencies as a terrorist threat.
"The fact that the attacks were not prevented showed that there were and are clear areas for improvement."
The committee concluded that "it was not unreasonable" to reduce the threat level to the UK from "severe general" to "substantial" given there was "no specific intelligence of 7 July plot nor of any other group with a current credible plot".
However, it raised concerned that the reduction in the threat level was unlikely to have made any difference to the alertness and preparedness of the security services and police.
"We question the usefulness of a system in which changes can be made to threat levels with little or no practical effect," said the committee.
A revamp of the terror alert system should be undertaken to better inform the authorities and the public about the level of threat faced, it recommended.
"This will help avoid inappropriate reassurance about the level of threat in the absence of intelligence of a current plot," the report said.
The Home Office report also revealed new details about the London bombings.
Bomber Hasib Hussain stopped to buy batteries before blowing up the Number 30 bus in Tavistock Square, possibly indicating he had difficulty setting off his device.
Attack on London
July 7 report
Comment and analysis
Intelligence experts have given a mixed response to a new report on the 7 July attacks that found a lack of resources meant the bombers were not intercepted.
The Commons Intelligence and Security Committee report lacks "penetrating criticism", according to Crispin Black.
But Glenmore Trenear-Harvey said the report reflects the difficulty involved in monitoring potential attackers.
The report said two of the bombers were known to security officers, but the threat they posed was not realised.
The MPs' report said the security services had come across 30-year-old Mohammad Sidique Khan and fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer, 22, while they were investigating other cases.
Operatives knew the pair had travelled to Pakistan and it was "likely that they had some contact with al-Qaeda figures", according to the committee.
The cross-party group of MPs said intelligence officers had "more pressing priorities" at the time, including the need to disrupt known plans to attack the UK.
The failure to intercept the bombers was largely due to a lack of resources in the intelligence services, the report concluded.
This finding prompted criticism from intelligence analyst Crispin Black, the former adviser to the government's Joint Intelligence Committee.
"Its principle conclusion seems to be that there was a lack of resources," he said.
"It does not even seem to deign to investigate why there was a lack of resources four years after 9/11, and two years after the entry of the war in Iraq."
Comparing the report to the inquiry into the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, Mr Black said it had been a "limp effort" which lacked "penetrating criticism".
"I think we need to look for inspiration and example to the US," he said.
"When 9/11 happened to them they went for it. They searched their hearts, they left no stone unturned. The calls for a more 9/11 attitude to 7/7, I think, will increase.
"No-one is suggesting that... [they were]... biased, all that people are suggesting is that it hasn't got the full story and hasn't been punchy enough in the criticism it has made."
But Prof Paul Wilkinson, who chairs the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, said such a comparison was unfair.
"The 9/11 Commission was set up as a much more comprehensive inquiry.
"This report is a much more limited affair. Of course it is not the equivalent of a public inquiry - it isn't fair to compare them.
"Of course there would be a lot of support for a public inquiry... I certainly can understand why there is that feeling."
Mr Black also highlighted the fact that two of the bombers had been known to security officers.
"What more do you want in the counter-terrorist world? To have two of the people that then carry out the biggest terrorist attack in London on your radar - not just once, but again and again.
"That was a big, major intelligence blunder and we need to look at how to put that right."
Mr Black suggested the report was not as critical as it could have been because "largely what you will see is more or less what they [MPs] would have been told by the intelligence services - perhaps with some milder and sometimes more reasonable criticism put into it".
Glenmore Trenear-Harvey suggested the report's conclusions were correct and, ultimately, the intelligence services were not culpable in any way regarding the 7 July attacks.
He said the report exposed the "sheer volume of terrorist threats" faced by the UK, pointing out that nearly 1,000 individuals in the country are identified as having a "potential terrorist impact on us".
The security analyst said round-the-clock surveillance is "hugely demanding of resources" , pointing out that it can take up to 50 people with surveillance training to maintain 24-hour surveillance on one person.
"If we had a thousand potential terrorists, we would need 50,000 trained officers," he said.
"The security services, specifically MI5, have increased since 11 September 2001, but they have only gone up to 2,600 people from a base of 2,000, so there is a problem."
The report said the "radicalisation of British citizens" was still not fully understood or properly taken into consideration by the intelligence community.
And MPs expressed concern that more was not done sooner to tackle the development of "the home-grown threat".
Prof Wilkinson echoed these sentiments, although he suggested these themes could have been taken further.
He told BBC News: "It is important to understand more about the process of radicalisation and how you can prevent people from being led into the arms of extremists."