I was driving up to London yesterday (of which more later) listening to the news of the conviction of Omar Khyam and four colleagues for conspiracy to create a terrorist outrage in London that could have rivaled 911. 7/7 was bad enough, but this could of being worse. Instead of celebrating a success, the Press (and the political opposition) were set onto a joining up the dots witch hunt of the Intelligence services for not following through on earlier connections to the “successful” 7/7 terrorists. It was a classic example of retrospective coherence. With the benefit of hind sight everyone can see what could have been done, but no one is taking account of the sheer volume of data and priority decisions that had to be made at the time. The failure of intelligence (small i here) is in the Press and the politicians not the Intelligence Services. The better i word is probably ignorance. Tom Quiggin, a colleague from NTU and a Cognitive Edge accredited practitioner makes the point more eloquently than I can here.
This retrospective, blame based culture which wants a public enquiry for eveything represents the greatest support that western society can give to the terrorist cause. I do not mean that the Intelligence Services should not be accountable, or that they should have license to run roughshod over civil liberties. However it must be recognised that they are dealing with asymmetric threat, which is complex, largely unpredictable and certainly not susceptible to accurate forecasting. They are doing that with limited (compared to the task) resource and in the full eyes of a cynical the story comes first Press.
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