I’m pleased to see Home Secretary Alan Johnson hitting back at the media coverage of the Security Service, and supporting a similarly spirited defence of MI5 by its head Jonathan Evans.
The coverage is a very good example of how the modern media works. A judge makes a judgement which the British government has sought to resist. It concerned a case of alleged US torture of Binyam Mohamed. From that two plus two is made any number some in the media like to imagine.
What might be legitimate criticisms made of the Security Service are then lost in a welter of what Johnson calls ‘baseless, groundless accusations’ and, further, ‘ludicrous lies’.
He is right to resist what is now a kneejerk call on anything that dominates the news for more than a day or two, namely an independent inquiry.
Johnson said: “The security services in our country do not practice torture, they do not endorse torture, they don’t encourage others to torture on our behalf, they don’t collude in torture. Full stop.
“What we have to get back to is ensuring that our security services are treated fairly. People can make their arguments and their assertions but that shouldn’t be taken by some commentators in the media as true simply because someone has said it’s true. They’re baseless, groundless, and there’s no evidence to back them up.
“It’s a free society and that’s what actually the security services are out there to protect. But occasionally they have to argue back, they can’t allow that kind of misrepresentation to carry on unthwarted.
“The security service applies the highest ethical standards and with men and women who risk their lives in many cases to protect this country but who can’t speak for themselves. Jonathan as their leader was quite right to speak out for them.”
One other point I would make. The same people now screaming abuse at the Security Service will be the first in the queue to demand what on earth they were doing if anything goes wrong. Then the questions will be why weren’t more people under surveillance, why wasn’t every lead followed, why were phones not tapped, why didn’t the government spend more on the security services, and all the rest of it. We saw it after 7/7, and if anything like it happens again, we’ll see it all over again.
I don’t doubt there is bad as well as good in the Security Service, as in any organisation. But I reckon their actions and their standards would stand up to a lot closer scrutiny than the modern day journalist whose favourite expression now appears to be ‘this story, if true…’ folllowed by a torrent of interpretation, all designed to show the people who work to protect us in the worst possible light.