Control orders mk2: costly way to keep Clegg sweet
Crispin Black: a system of mobile prison warders will make it easier for terror suspects to abscond
The transformation of Control Orders into TIPMs (Terrorism Investigation and Prevention Measures) announced by the Home Secretary yesterday is much more than an exercise in re-branding.
What was a system of house arrest – the most dangerous suspects had to spend most of their time in their own homes, with sharp-eyed policemen on the door - has been changed into a system of 'arrest by surveillance'.
Suspects will be allowed greater freedom of movement and contact – even sleepovers at other addresses - but will be followed around by surveillance teams. Four individuals absconded from the previous stricter regime, including one who escaped to Afghanistan. Be in no doubt, it will be easier for individuals to abscond from this more leisurely routine.
There is another snag with TIPMs. Surveillance is not reliable. It is easy to lose a suspect. It's also expensive, requiring a lot of trained manpower and costly overtime. A team of up to 30 people may be required to keep eyes on a single individual.
Yet, apparently, even in these straitened times, the coalition government can come up with an extra £20 million a year for this scheme. Given that one of the reasons the 7/7 bombers got through was a shortage of surveillance capability, and that MI5 is currently at full stretch, spending 80 million quid (it's a four-year commitment) on what is effectively a mobile group of prison warders seems odd.
In cynical Downing Street it looks like good value for money. It will allow Nick Clegg, who promised in the Lib Dem manifesto that control orders would be scrapped, to reassure his supporters that he is a man with at least one principle and one promise kept.
Never mind that the Liberal Democrat position is confused. Either control orders are absolutely necessary in the face of unprecedented dangers (similar to Winston Churchill's wartime defence Regulation 18B used to lock up Sir Oswald Mosley) - in which case they should be as tough as possible. Or they are both repugnant and ineffective, in which case we should revert as soon as possible to our thousand-year-old tradition of bringing suspected criminals before the courts so they can be tried and then sentenced appropriately.
It's not just Nick Clegg. The intelligence services haven't helped either by closing off the only sensible alternative – using the usual judicial procedures. They refuse to budge on presenting intelligence material as evidence. GCHQ in particular is said to be 'fundamentalist' on the matter.
To be fair, they have legitimate concerns. The IRA and some of the lawyers on its payroll became adept at harvesting intelligence presented during trials. But nearly every other jurisdiction in the world including Australia, the United States and France allows intercept evidence to be used in court, with suitable safeguards in place to protect sources and intelligence methods, where required.
Not only has Cameron indulged Clegg, he has also shown no desire to face down the intelligence establishment – as fusty, superior and out-of-touch as the courtiers who refused to fly a flag at half-mast from Buckingham Palace after the death of Princess Diana, just because they never had.
Like most members of the modern political class, Cameron has little experience of life outside politics. The sum total of his security and intelligence experience before limping into Downing Street last May appears to have been gleaned from being an avowed fan of the television series Spooks. How can he be expected to read the security meter accurately?
He should be careful, though. The Tory faithful expect the prime minister to be tough on terrorism. Most would accept his arguments for either a more effective control order regime or some other system that allowed the most dangerous suspects to be brought to trial. They will not be reassured by TIPMs - a mechanism designed to make Nick Clegg look more honest and honourable to his dwindling band of supporters in the wake of his student fees betrayal.
Intelligence analyst Crispin Black is the author of '7-7: What Went Wrong'. He stood unsuccessfully as an independent in South West Wiltshire at the last general election.
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