Security

MI5 told to share key facts with MPs after Manchester Arena security failures


Britain’s terror watchdog has called on the security services to ensure they promptly share any intelligence requested by MPs investigating the fallout of the Manchester Arena attack.

Last week’s public inquiry concluded that MI5 had missed a significant chance to take action that may have prevented the 2017 bombing that killed 22 people.

Parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) is likely to be handed the task of overseeing the agency’s response to the key recommendations. However, tensions have been simmering between the ISC, which oversees the UK intelligence community, and the security services, with MPs complaining about the speed and “provision of evidence” it has asked for.

Jonathan Hall, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: “There has been a bit of concern expressed by parliament that they’re not getting the cooperation they need. It begs the question whether that relationship will need to be improved if the ISC is going to deliver oversight of the recommendations.

“We need to have responsive, open- handed institutions willing to say: ‘Here it is’ and not try and second-guess what you’re going to say.”

Publication of the Manchester Arena inquiry’s third and final report on Thursday prompted the director general of MI5 to say he “deeply regrets” it did not act on information about the bomber, adding that he was “profoundly sorry” the agency had failed to stop the attack.

Hundreds were injured when Salman Abedi detonated his homemade device in the foyer of Manchester Arena as crowds left an Ariana Grande concert in May 2017. Abedi, who had links to Islamic State and al-Qaida terrorists, had appeared on the radar of MI5 and counterterrorism police at least 20 times before he blew himself up outside the concert.

In its latest annual report, published in December, the ISC – one of parliament’s most important committees – identified several areas of concern over its relationship with the intelligence agencies. It stated: “This committee has been severely hampered over the past year by the failure of the UK intelligence community to provide responses to the committee in accordance with the deadlines set.

“This is a serious issue, as it prevents the committee from effectively performing its statutory oversight role. If the ISC’s oversight is frustrated then the ISC cannot provide any assurance to the public or parliament that the intelligence agencies are acting appropriately.”

After publication of the inquiry’s report last week, MI5 claimed that since the arena attack it had made more than 100 improvements.

“But we are determined to do more. As the [inquiry] chair now considers his recommendations, we will engage fully,” said Ken McCallum, the director general of MI5.

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In its annual report, the ISC added that since it had raised the issue of information sharing with the heads of the UK’s intelligence agencies, MPs had been “reassured” that they had “recognised the need to address this situation”.

The final report by the inquiry, led by Sir John Saunders, delivered more damning verdicts into the security services than previous ones.

That difference is largely explained by the fact that a number of frontline MI5 officers were interviewed in secret, their accounts of vital intelligence surrounding Abedi differing from MI5’s “corporate position”, which was viewed by Saunders as more of a “retrospective justification for the actions taken or not taken”.

Some experts believe the verdict underlines the need for oversight bodies such as the ISC to be able to speak freely with all those involved, including frontline officers, in order to develop a full and true account of the circumstances surrounding terror attacks. Hall is among those who believe the findings may mean junior intelligence officials are automatically required to give evidence in the event of future terror incidents.

“It’s whether this sets a precedent for future post-attack inquests. There is, though, a risk of defensiveness [from the frontline officers]. You would hope it becomes collaborative,” Hall said.



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