Magazine article The Spectator

If We Don't Bug a Conversation between Kan and Ahmed, Who De We Bug?

Magazine article The Spectator

If We Don't Bug a Conversation between Kan and Ahmed, Who De We Bug?

Article excerpt

Should members of Britain's beleaguered and persecuted bombing community be subjected to intrusive surveillance techniques such as bugging? It seems a bit illiberal, given their very real difficulties in day-to-day life. Hard enough trying to find a safe place to hide all that fertiliser, castor beans, etc. , without having to worry if your whispered conversations after Friday prayers are being eavesdropped upon by some spook. There is probably a European Union law about bugging Muslim terrorists, which insists you have to notify them in advance and also provide disabled access ramps if you're bugging them in a public place.

I remember an enormous furore a couple of decades back when it was revealed that MI5 had been bugging one or another homicidal Welsh nationalist group -- The Revolutionary Sons of Noggin the Nog, or something. The Welsh psychos complained that this was an infringement of their civil liberties and that one should be allowed to go about one's business, setting houses alight and planning bomb attacks on people whose names had vowels, without the totalitarian interference of the state. It occurred to me at the time that if MI5 weren't bugging these rabid, pinch-faced maniacs, then it was time for a few sackings.

The story is back with us because it has been revealed that the Labour MP Sadiq Khan has been bugged by the Old Bill too, during conversations he had with someone who is allegedly a member of Britain's vibrant bombing community, a man called Babar Ahmed.

Babar is currently fighting extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on charges relating to terrorism. It is argued that he is a fervent jihadi in cyberspace, at least. Mr Khan MP is apparently outraged at having been thus bugged; he seems to have taken it personally.

And so we now have a debate as to whether it is right that Members of Parliament should be immune from the attentions of the security services -- as, it is argued, they have been for a long time.

The present privileged position enjoyed by MPs comes from Harold Wilson's premiership, of course. I don't suppose MI5 took the slightest notice of the stricture back then, still less the police. Some commentators, casting dark glances in the direction of, say, George Galloway -- or even Sadiq Khan -- will assert that things have changed with our MPs, they are no longer the thoroughly dependable fellows that were kicking about in the 1960s and 1970s, and that therefore the rules must change. Even by today's standards, though, it is hard to think of a less dependable chap than Tom Driberg. Or for that matter -- please remember, I come from the Left, and we lefties had one or two constitutional worries back in the late 1970s -- the late Airey Neave. So that argument, I think, does not apply. A short while ago, Sir Swinton Thomas, the Interception of Communications Commissioner (have you ever seen that job advertised, by the way? I want it, next time it comes up), argued that MPs should lose their privileged status because the current position meant that 'MPs and peers can engage in serious crime or terrorism (sic) without running the risk of being investigated'. Tony Blair presumably agreed and quickly decided that the status quo should remain. …

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