Zia Sardar on intelligence

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Zia Sardar in the current edition of the New Statesman on the folly of “intelligence-led” police operations:

Don’t be fooled by the mantra that intelligence is an extremely difficult business, prone to absurdly wide margins of error. If that were so, Britain would have lost the Second World War. The remarkable success of British intelligence, including counter-intelligence, during that war proves that we can produce reasonable - say, 25 or even 50 per cent - rates of success. Intelligence may be difficult to gather but it is not impossible to get right. It must follow certain simple rules and principles. One has to ask some fundamental questions. Is the source reliable? Clearly a source that has been tortured is going to tell you whatever you want to hear. If you are going to recruit your source from a mosque, you have to make sure he doesn’t harbour grudges against certain members of the group that you are targeting - which is probably what happened in the Forest Gate case. Can the source’s evidence be corroborated? The official excuse that the police have to act on every single tip-off, however dodgy the source, without bothering to corroborate it, is not only ridiculous, but dangerously so. Intelligence, to be intelligence, has to be based on more than one source. And then, to increase the margin of success, one has to check out the intelligence, using proper surveillance.

His conclusions are that these “intelligence-led” jobs are often the fruit of political expediency, often involving people who entered into conspiracies at the instigation of the informers themselves. The whole article can be read once per day only, other than by subscribers.

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