In his first interview since stepping down from the Secret Intelligence Service in January, Sir John Sawers told the BBC yesterday that security services “set aside the use of torture… because it is against the values” of British society, but not because it doesn't work.
Meanwhile, the Independent on Sunday reveals details of a dramatic “Jack Bauer real-time operation” to foil an al-Qaeda plot to bring down planes over the eastern US in 2010.
According to a well-placed intelligence source, the discovery of a printer cartridge bomb on a cargo aircraft at East Midlands airport was possible only because two British government officials in Saudi Arabia were in “immediate communication” with a team reportedly using torture to interrogate an al-Qaeda operative as part of a “ticking bomb scenario” operation.
British authorities intercepted the first device after what they described as a “tip-off” from Saudi Arabia. A second device was intercepted aboard a freight plane in Dubai; both aircraft had started their trips in Yemen.
The IoS reports there was a frantic search prompted by “two or three” calls to Saudi Arabia after the tip-off, with security services battling to find the device. French security sources revealed the device was within 17 minutes of detonating when bomb disposal teams disarmed it.
The people in London went back on the phone two or three times to where the interrogation was taking place in Riyadh to find out specifically where the bomb was hidden. There were two Britons there, in immediate communication with where the interrogation was taking place, and as soon as anything happened, they were in touch with the UK. It was all done in real time.
There is growing frustration on the part of some UK security officials at Britain’s lack of candour about aspects of intelligence work. “There is a lack of understanding in that most people, if they knew about a ticking bomb scenario, would say torture was defensible, yet we insist on saying ‘we never do it’. Yet we are very happy beneficiaries of it,” one official said.
The whole problem about torture and maltreatment is sadly is that it does produce intelligence. And that’s why in a civilised society like ours we have to set aside certain methods, even though they might be effective in the short term. In the longer term they are very counter-productive; they are undermining the values of our society.