Tuesday, June 17, 2003

So what did happen to the Stakeknife case? Mr. Knife's lawsuit intended to force the minister responsible to deny that he was a British agent has begun in earnest, although it's a common mistake to assume that being given leave to go to a judicial review means you're winning. It's not normal, though, for one secret service-related story to be driven off the newspile by another, which is roughly what happened with the dodgy dossiers. At this rate, MI5 will soon be less secret than the cabinet and the world will eat itself with sheer absurdity. Really, though, the Stakeknife affair is a fine example of how hard it is to take a war apart and put it away. There were all sorts of weird spooks and parallel networks, and these things have a tendency to leak back from terrorist wars and poison the commons. France is Exhibit A - the OAS and the various factions in the SDECE and the Securite Militaire came back from Algeria and took France to the brink of civil war. The US had a touch of the same disease over Vietnam, with odd secret service practices turning up about Nixon. We have to avoid it. This is why a serious and painful investigation into what-went-on in NI is so necessary. But at the same time, I can't help thinking that a double standard is coming to exist. Under the peace agreement, not only were the terrorist prisoners released early - at the end of a war, that's what happens - but the so-called OTRs, those who were still On The Run, were also pardoned. So - if you were in the IRA Nutting Squad and tortured an informer to death, and kept out of jail until '98, you are free to pursue a peaceful career - but if you were the informer's handler, you can still be pilloried. Tweegle wibble flarp! Perhaps the truth commission set up by the South African monitors is the best channel for this..

It's one of the many reasons, though, why we need democratic control of the secret services and clear accountability. This is the answer to the contradiction between the dangers of secret power and the reality that agent running and the like are indispensable in dealing with terrorism. In these terrorist times, why not a specific minister for security and intelligence, answerable to parliament and a beefed up, fully elected Intel. and Security Committee? That would also suggest an integrated terrorism policy incorporating intelligence, defence, civil defence and international aid. But the last thing we need is a US-type giant "homeland security" ministry. So it looks like I just contradicted myself. Bugger.

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