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07-26-2007, 08:30 AM
British security services ‘helped in rendition of terror suspects’


Michael Evans, Defence Editor

MI5 and MI6 were criticised yesterday for failing to warn ministers when they discovered that the CIA had begun to exploit British intelligence material to detain terrorist suspects and interrogate them in secret holding centres such as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In an investigation of the so-called American “rendition” policy � seizing terrorist suspects and flying them to third-country prisons � the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) uncovered evidence that the Americans had ignored a long-standing arrangement that they had with MI5 and MI6.

The agreement with the US intelligence agencies was that any information supplied by Britain leading to the arrest of terrorist suspects included certain caveats under which detainees were not to be tortured.

The committee said that it had been difficult to establish the facts from government records, but concluded that there was no evidence of any UK agency “being directly involved in the US rendition programme”, including “extraordinary rendition”, the term used to describe an extrajudicial transfer of persons from one country to another for interrogation “where there is a real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

The ISC also found no evidence that the CIA had used British airspace or British airports to fly detainees to these interrogation centres, except in two cases that had received British Government authorisation.

However, the ISC discovered that problems for the British intelligence agencies began in 2002 when President Bush gave the US intelligence services new powers to fight al-Qaeda. Their British counterparts began to realise that the US was not confining its actions to Afghanistan, but was detaining suspects from different parts of the globe and flying them secretly to Guantanamo Bay or to “black” [secret] interrogation centres in Europe.

In two cases, MI5 shared intelligence with the Americans on Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national who arrived in Britain in 1984, and Jamil el-Banna, a Jordanian-Palestinian who had refugee status in Britain. MI5 did not intend the men to be arrested and, under a carefully-worded caveat, prohibited any action being taken against them on the basis of the Security Service’s intelligence.

However, the caveat was ignored and the two men were arrested in The Gambia in 2002 and taken, possibly via Afghanistan, to Guantanamo Bay in a “rendition” operation.

MI5 told the ISC that this was the first time “when suddenly we found that people were . . . being taken”.

In late 2002, MI6 and MI5 became aware of another case involving the transfer of an individual to a third country. They were told about it because the suspect was thought to be planning attacks in Britain. Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, then MI5 Director-General, told the ISC: “With hindsight, we realise that [they] intended to render him without due process. We did not fully understand that.”

The ISC, headed by Paul Murphy, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, said that both MI6 and MI5 were “slow to appreciate this change in US rendition policy”. The report said that after the al-Qaeda attacks in the US in 2001, the agencies were under considerable pressure. However, the ISC said that MI5 and MI6 “should have detected the emerging pattern of renditions sooner and used greater caution in working with the US at an earlier stage”. Ministers should also have been told of what was going on.

The ISC detailed in unprecedented fashion the extraordinarily close intelligence relationship between Britain and the US which made it all the more difficult for either MI5 or MI6 to limit the intelligence-sharing.

Sir John Scarlett, the Chief of MI6, told the ISC: “The global resources of the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency are vast . . . the UK agencies’ long-developed relationships with US intelligence agencies give them vital access to US intelligence and resources. It is neither practical, desirable, nor is it in the national interest for UK agencies to carry out [counter-terrorism] work independently of the US effort.”

The ISC said that it was to the credit of the agencies that since 2004 they had adapted their procedures to “work round these problems”.