FECL 04 (March 1992):


Security chiefs in MI5 (the counter-intelligence service) are pressing ministers to let them take over key functions in terrorist and criminal intelligence gathering from the police.

The move, led by Stella Rimington, MI5's director-general designate, has provoked a bitter row in Whitehall over interservice demarcation and has serious implications for civil liberties.

Sources say Mrs Rimington and her colleagues are seeking to "take the lead" in mainland operations against the Provisional IRA, now directed by the Metropolitan Police's Special Branch and the anti-terrorist squad.

Senior police officers believe these demands may be the thin end of the wedge, and could lead to MI5 involvment in other areas managed by the police and Customs, such as organised crime and drug trafficking. It has brought to a head long-standing rivalry between the police and MI5, with senior police officers openly voicing reservations about MI5's operational competence and concern about its lack of accountability.

Next month, the new National Crime Intelligence Service will begin work. Aided by a huge new criminal intelligence super-computer, the service is supposed to serve different police forces and enable co-ordination of information, particularly on drugs and organised crime. Its constitution specifically precludes an operational policing role.

If MI5 is allowed to wrest the lead in IRA terrorist work from the police, it will have full access to the computer.

One senior police officer said: "The outcome, if MI5 gets its way, could be the creation of a sort of FBI, but by the back door. If they get terrorism, drugs will be next."

Jolyon Jenkins


Source: The Observer, 9.2.1992