Sunday, April 09, 2006

We don't need assassinations we need an ethical code

It seems that a former key Whitehall adviser to David Blunkett when he was in the Home Office was a lot smarter than his political masters.

"Bush's approach is all the more disturbing because, post 9/11, so much of his system of government depends on barely constrained executive authority.

A recent but, until now, unreported public speech at Chatham House by Sir David Omand, the former Cabinet Office security and intelligence coordinator, offers a very different prescription. Omand may not be the leader of the world's only superpower, but until last year he played a key role, with Tony Blair and small number of officials, in shaping Britain's response to 9/11. Like Bush, Omand sees a long-term challenge that requires strategic responses. Like Bush, he acknowledges that jihadist terrorism is something new in type and scale. But that is where the resemblance ends.

Where Bush seeks to redefine the world in the light of the terrorist threat, Omand's concern is to particularise the challenge from terrorism. As he says, he wants counter-terrorist operations - and, crucially, the pre-emptive secret intelligence work that goes with them - to enjoy support and legitimacy without disrupting the normal life of the community. In terms of state action, he says he wants the bludgeon to be replaced by the rapier. And, more challengingly still, he wants the security response to take place "within rights" rather than in opposition to them. In other words, his approach could not be more different from that taken in Washington.

Omand recognises what politicians are often afraid to admit, that the fight against terrorism carries actual, rather than hypothetical, costs - including the compromise of values, and the counter-productive, even radicalising, effect of security measures. He identifies four particular concerns: the use of British intelligence to guide pre-emptive military or covert action by ourselves or others against terrorists; the exchange of intelligence between countries with differing approaches to questioning, or to other forms of state action against, terrorists; the danger of disproportionate legislative responses that risk eroding fundamental aspects of the rule of law; and, finally, the growth of intrusive information technologies which allow access to personal emails and invade privacy.

His answer to these problems is for six explicit ethical guidelines to shape such operations. There must be "sufficient sustainable cause" for them to be needed; there must be "integrity of motive"; the methods used must be "in proportion" to the task; there must a proper authorisation and oversight process; there must be "reasonable prospect of success"; and there must be "no reasonable alternative" to recourse to such methods."

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