In a speech at Queen Mary College here November 9, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of the Security Servicethe British secret police, usually known as MI5said the agency had 200 groupings or networks, totalling over 1,600 identified individuals under surveillance. She alleged that some 30 further bomb attacks were being prepared.
The police operations involve 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week surveillance, the BBC reported. Manningham-Buller said the MI5 has been expanded in size by 50 percent over the past six years, and projected yet another increase.
The spy chief also reported that 99 individuals are awaiting trial in 34 terror cases.
The individuals targeted are in many cases British citizens of Pakistani descent. Manningham-Buller pointed to the attraction of some British-born youth to Islamist political currents as a justification for an increase in domestic spying operations.
Manningham-Bullers speech came after statements made to the BBC in early September by Peter Clarke, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Clarke said, The numbers of people who we have to be interested in are into the thousands. That includes a whole range of people, not just terrorists, not just attackers, but the people who might be tempted to support or encourage or to assist.
Clarke, the national co-ordinator of terror investigations, added, What weve learnt since 9/11 is that the threat is not something thats simply coming from overseas. What weve seen all too graphically and all too murderously is that we have a threat which is being generated here within the United Kingdom.
Also, in late October Richard Thomas, the governments information commissioner, reported that the United Kingdom has 4.2 million closed-circuit television cameras used for surveillance of public places. That is one for every 14 people. This is more than any other country, the Times reported in an October 29 article titled, British the most spied-on people in western world.
Prime Minister Anthony Blair expressed support for the MI5 chiefs speech November 10. He said that the terrorist threat will last a generation and so will the fight against it.
Further attacks on rights
Finance minister Gordon Brown, expected to succeed Blair as prime minister next year, supported calls by Ian Blair, head of Londons Metropolitan Police, to increase the detention without charge of terrorist suspects from the current 28 days to 90 days.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Brown said, Given the scale of the threat we face, we must give the security service and the police not just the resources they need, but the powers they need. He attacked Conservative Party leader David Cameron for opposing the introduction of compulsory identity cards.
In a speech in Germany, Ian Blair also called for new laws to ban the burning of flags and effigies and to prevent demonstrators from covering their faces and to legalize the use of telephone intercept evidence in UK courts.
Manningham-Bullers speech came a few days after a life sentence was handed to Dhiren Barot, 34, who pled guilty to conspiracy to murder in a series of alleged planned bombings against British and U.S. targets. The case against him was based largely on what the police said they found on hard drives of computersoften deleted files, the BBC reported.
In addition, government officials have used the November 10 acquittal of two leaders of the ultraright British National Party (BNP) of charges of inciting racial hatred as an opportunity to project more assaults on freedom of speech, while at the same time countering claims that they are anti-Islamic. Rightists Nicholas Griffin and Mark Collet were charged after the BBC secretly filmed and televised speeches they gave at BNP meetings in 2004 that targeted the Islamic faith and South Asian immigrants.
Brown told the BBC that the laws on religious or racial hatred would have to be reviewed. Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer also called for laws against religious hatred stating, We should look at them in the light of what has happened because what is being said to young Muslim people of this country is that we as a country are anti-Islam and we have got to demonstrate without compromising freedom that we are not.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Blair announced November 16 that new antiterror laws would be brought before Parliament before the end of the year.
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