As MI5 celebrates its centenary, its lack of legal or public accountability was the subject of an important public meeting.
On 30 September, a packed meeting at the Camden Centre heard accusations of illegal and secretive activities on the part of the security services, who allegedly tried to blackmail six British youth workers of Somali origin at Kentish Town Community Organisation (KTCO), demanding information about the youths they worked with and threatening to brand them as terrorists if they did not cooperate. Mohamed Nur, one of the six, described how he and his co-workers had worked hard to pass on to young people the message of the importance of education and working for a positive future. All this was jeopardised, he said, as trust between the youth workers and the police evaporated in the wake of the approach. They decided to use democratic means to deal with the threat, and went to Robert Vervaik of The Independent. Their story became front page news in May 2009.
Shar Habeel Lone, the chair of KTCO, talked about how the government’s anti-terrorism policies backfired in local communities by treating Muslims as a ‘suspect community’ in the same way that the Irish were treated four decades ago. He praised the courage of those who had been prepared to expose MI5, and called for courage on the part of security service officials to come forward and denounce what they had been ordered to do.
Saghir Hussain from Cageprisoners referred to the target-oriented culture which put pressure on officers to get results. Savas Kurt, from the Kurdish Federation UK, talked about similar tactics being used against Kurdish community organisations in Haringey. Lawyer Frances Webber spoke of a former client who was put on a control order after refusing to cooperate with MI5. She and other speakers pointed out that so long as the security services operated behind a veil of secrecy and were unaccountable to the public for their actions such abuses were inevitable, and called for a campaign to make them accountable in law and in public. Green councillor Alex Goodman pointed to the inadequate monitoring of the agency; the Tribunal set up to police MI5 under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) had heard only five cases in the past five years, all in secret. Les Levidov from CAMPACC talked about the way the government’s Prevent programme had been designed to increase surveillance of Muslims and foster obedience and conformity. Jasbir Singh of the Justice for the North West Ten campaign (J4NW10) gave the meeting an update on the campaign for the students arrested in April, found innocent of wrongdoing but redetained by the Border Agency for deportation.
Organisers hope that the meeting will lead to a concerted community campaign to expose MI5 practices and demand legal and public accountability for the security services.
Independent (21 May 2009): ‘How MI5 blackmails British Muslims’