Daily Archives: October 9, 2009

MI5 warned of “major attacks” in July 2001

MI5 warned that bin Laden was planning attacks on morning of 9/11

MI5 warned the government that Osama bin Laden was planning an attack in the weeks leading up to September 11, including the morning itself, a new history of the Security Service discloses.

Telegraph | Oct 5, 2009

By Duncan Gardham

Newly published memos disclose an escalating concern about the terrorist leader right up until the moment he launched his attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington killing nearly 3,000 people.

But the files also reveal that MI5 discounted the threat from Islamic extremism just six years before the attacks and did not believe that America was vulnerable.

The author of the book, Defence of the Realm, has been given access to all of MI5’s files dating back to its foundation in October 1909 in the first authorised history of an intelligence service anywhere in the world.

In a memo from July 6 2001, MI5 said the increase in the number of reports were “sufficient to conclude that UBL [Osama bin Laden] and those that share his agenda are currently well advanced in operational planning for a number of major attacks on western interests.”

Professor Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge University historian who wrote the book, added: “Similar Security Service warnings to Whitehall of imminent attack continued at intervals over the next two months, up to and including the morning of 11 September. The intelligence received during the simmer of 2001, however, did not point either to a major attack in the United States or to an operation based on hijacked aircraft.”

But MI5 had huge gaps in its knowledge about al-Qaeda and later on the morning of September 11, Sir Stephen Lander, then director general of MI5, told Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, that bin Laden was not head of a “coherent unified terrorist structure” according to a briefing note.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Sir Stephen said MI5 had been “slow to get going” on the threat because they were pre-occupied with the IRA and that afterwards they had a “major set to, sitting around a board room table working out how to move on.”

MI5 had opened a permanent file on bin Laden in September 1995, but they believed he was a terrorist financier rather than a leader, adding the source of his wealth was a “mystery.”

In December 1995, a memo to the heads of police Special Branches, said: “Suggestions in the press of a world-wide Islamic extremist network poised to launch terrorist attacks against the West are greatly exaggerated…The contact between Islamic extremists in various countries appears to be largely opportunistic at present and seems unlikely to result in the emergence of a potent trans-national force.”

When Dame Stella Rimington visited the US in March 1996, a few weeks before her retirement as head of MI5, she had never heard the name al-Qaeda, the book reveals.

Nevertheless MI5 scored an intelligence triumph shortly afterwards when they became the first western intelligence agency to gain a recording of bin Laden’s voice.

But a memo from 1999 admitted: “The allied intelligence community does not have a clear view of UBL’s terrorist planning process. Even the most reliably sourced intelligence on this question usually consists of a snapshot of a proposed plan being discussed. Most of the reporting does not make clear how advanced the plan is. It is rare that intelligence has named those who are to take part ion a planned attack.”

Later in the summer of 1999, MI5 reported: “Intelligence suggests that while UBL is seeking to launch an attack inside the US, he is aware that the US will provide a tough operating environment for his organisation.”

Unknown to MI5, Britain had already been targeted by al-Qaeda. It was only after September 11 that officers discovered that a Pakistani microbiologist called Rauf Ahmad, also known as Abdur Rauf, who traveled to a conference in Britain in September 2000 to try and buy pathogens from fellow delegates, was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.

Harold Wilson’s KGB contacts made him an MI5 suspect


Harold Wilson leaves Downing Street at the end of his first term as Prime Minister in 1970

London Times | Oct 3, 2009

by Michael Evans

MI5 held a secret file on Harold Wilson throughout the time he was Labour Prime Minister, The Times can reveal.

According to the first official history of the Security Service, the former Prime Minister was viewed as a cause of concern by MI5 because of his relationships with Eastern European businessmen, his contacts with known KGB officers and a belief among communist civil servants in Whitehall that he had similar political sympathies.

The associates who were highlighted as being dubious contacts included Lithuanian-born Joseph Kagan, whose company made the Gannex macs that became one of Wilson’s trademarks. When Kagan was made a peer by Wilson, he invited a KGB officer to his investiture at Buckingham Palace.

Other names on MI5’s list of Wilson’s contacts were Rudy Sternberg, who had made a fortune out of trading with the Soviet bloc and was suspected by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of being a Soviet spy but was later knighted; and Harry (later Lord) Kissin, a Wilson confidant who had also made a fortune from East-West trade.

Wilson’s MI5 file was opened in 1945 when he became an MP and remained one of the Security Service’s most closely kept secrets throughout his premierships, 1964-1970 and 1974-1976.

But it was “never used to undermine him”, according to The Defence of the Realm, published next week to mark MI5’s centenary and serialised in The Times today and on Monday and Tuesday. Past claims that there was a plot against the former Labour Prime Minister, who became Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, are dismissed.

The authorised history, however, reveals that the existence of the file was so secret that he was given a cover name. Christopher Andrew, the author of the book and Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Cambridge, who had access to all MI5 files, told The Times that Wilson was the only serving Prime Minister to have a permanent Security Service file.

Because of its unusual sensitivity, his file was kept under the pseudonym “Norman John Worthington”. When Sir Michael Hanley became the MI5 Director-General in 1972, he went to even greater lengths than Sir Roger Hollis or Sir Martin Furnival Jones, his predecessors, to conceal its existence. “In March 1974, the DG instructed that the card referring to the file should be removed from the Registry Central Index, with the result that ‘a look-up on Harold Wilson would therefore be No Trace’.” Access to the file required the personal permission of Sir Michael.

“Hanley’s decision to preserve it, approved by [Bernard] Sheldon [MI5 legal adviser] would doubtless not have been approved by either the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister,” the official history says.

Peter Wright, a former MI5 officer, alleged in his book Spycatcher, that there had been a Security Service plot against Wilsoninvolving a number of intelligence officers. But Wright himself later admitted in a television interview that the plot only involved one person — him.

The revelation that MI5 had kept a personal file on Wilson since 1945 will reignite the question of whether the former Prime Minister had any grounds for his increasingly obsessive belief that the Security Service was bugging his office and plotting against him.

Professor Andrew writes in The Defence of the Realm: “Sitting in his study at Number Ten on his first day back in office [in February 1974], Wilson told [his business friend who Sir Michael Hanley said was not to be trusted with confidences] Lord Kissin of Camden, ‘there are only three people listening — you, me and MI5’.

“Though MI5 was not, of course, listening in to the Prime Minister and had never actively investigated him, it still had a file on him which recorded, inter alia, his past contacts with Communists, KGB officers and other Russians.”

Baroness Manningham-Buller, the director-general of MI5 from 2002 to 2007, told The Times: “Having a file doesn’t automatically mean that you are in any way under suspicion. You might well have a file, supposing you were a person who was a target for a terrorist attack. You might well have a file giving the security arrangements. So files don’t equal suspicion. There was no plot, no conspiracy.”

According to MI5 files, Graham Mitchell, a senior intelligence officer responsible during the Wilson era for studying communism in the UK — who was later investigated after a false accusation that he was a double agent — noted when the young Labour MP became a Cabinet Minister: “The security interest attaching to Wilson and justifying the opening of a PM [permanent file] for him derives from comments made about him by certain Communist members of the Civil Service which suggested an identity or similarity of political outlook.

“A telecheck on a Communist civil servant at the Ministry of Works recorded him bemoaning Wilson’s move to the Board of Trade in 1947: ‘He and I were getting, you know, quite a plot, but it has all gone west now’. ”

In October 1954, a year before Clement Attlee retired as Labour leader, a bugged discussion at the headquarters of the Communist Party of Great Britain in King Street, London, revealed that opinion favoured Wilson as Attlee’s successor. In the event, Attlee was succeeded in 1955 by Hugh Gaitskell.

“King Street’s misplaced hopes in Harold Wilson doubtless owed much to his unusually frequent contacts with the Soviet Union. While at the Board of Trade, Wilson had paid three official visits to Moscow for trade negotiations, claiming after a game of cricket near the River Moskva ‘to be the only batsman ever to have been dropped at square leg by a member of the NKVD [KGB].”

Britain’s MI5 feared Zionist terror

Menachem Begin

Menachem Begin: suspect

Revealed: MI5’s Jewish terrorism fear

Jewish Community Online | Oct 8, 2009

By Simon Rocker

MI5 for many years avoided recruiting Jews as spies out of concern about their potential loyalty to Israel, according to a new book published this week.

Its policy stemmed from the years of Israel’s struggle for independence when the security services feared terrorist attacks on Britain by militant Zionist groups.

The revelation comes in The Defence of the Realm, an authorised history of M15 based on its archives, by Chistopher Andrew.

Although some Jews were enlisted, most notably Victor, Lord Rothschild, who set up M15’s first counter-sabotage department during the Second World War, Professor Andrew writes: “The post-war Service refused to recruit Jews on the grounds that their dual loyalty to both Britain and Israel might create an unacceptable conflict of interest.”

He quotes one MI5 section head, John Marriot, saying in 1955 that “our policy is to avoid recruiting Jews if possible” unless they had qualifications that were needed. One woman was rejected the following year because she was a practising Jew.

“As late as 1974,” Prof Andrew writes, “when it was agreed that there was ‘no general bar on the recruitment of Jews of British nationality’, there was still prejudice against particularly observant Jews and those of distinctively Jewish ‘physical appearance and demeanour’.”

His book devotes one chapter to the threat of Zionism extremism as the militant Irgun and Stern Gang launched attacks on British troops in Palestine. Reports circulated in autumn 1946 that the wanted Irgun leader Menachem Begin was intending to travel to the UK.

In 1947 the Colonial Office in Whitehall survived a Stern Gang bomb — only because the timer failed — and the same group sent letter bombs to British politicians that year.

Although most British Jewish organisations were opposed to terrorism, a few Jews were suspected of planning terrorist attacks here. In one case, in July 1947, grenades and detonators were discovered, by his chauffeur, in the boot of the car of Harry Isaac Presman of north London, but he pleaded ignorance and the police did not charge him.

The authorities were concerned about arms purchases for the Zionist underground and illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine to beat the tight British quota.

Prof Andrew writes: “The Security Service believed that, as a result of its penetration of the Jewish organisations in London and other intelligence sources, ‘only one out of 30 ships carrying illegal immigrants reached their destination.’”

Elsewhere in the book Prof Andrew records how the notorious double-agent Kim Philby, the first of the Cambridge Five, was recruited for the KGB by Arnold Deutsch, a Jewish Communist from central Europe who was studying in London and who was a cousin of Odeon cinema founder, Oscar Deutsch.

Many years later, Philby’s treachery was exposed after Flora Solomon, a Wizo activist, told Victor Rothschild, in a conversation at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, that Philby had tried to recruit her for the KGB.

In the 1970s MI5 was worried about some of the Jewish business associates of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Joseph Kagan, Rudy Sternberg and Harry Kissin, whose dealings in Eastern Europe made them potential targets of Soviet espionage. All became peers.

Kagan was courted by a KGB officer who successfully persuaded him to ask Jewish leaders in the UK to call off demonstrations on behalf of Soviet Jewry. One MI5 officer said he did not think Kagan was “likely to become a conscious Soviet agent but I am sure he has been a valuable source of information”.

Kissin’s taste for call girls also made him a dubious confidant of Wilson’s, MI5 thought.