The Blog

Defence of The Realm

Security services within the UK will always have a hard time. On one hand they suffer accusations of not having done enough to ensure the safety of the country; whilst on the other, people remain consistently paranoid about how they operate. The constant factor in all of this is never hearing about their work unless something bad happens.

If an attack did take place, the first thing some would do is to assume there must have been an intelligence failure. There is every chance there may have been a failure, yet equally there very well may not have been either.

There may be the perception that those who live and work within the intelligence world, do so in the shadows. These individuals are still people, it's all too easily forgotten that we often keep secrets from each other in our day to day lives.

It has often been said that people live their lives in a blissful and unknowing ignorance of the dangers the country faces. Some argue that such rhetoric is designed to scare people into submission. This is of course forgetting that truthful or not, you'll never know when a man or woman working in the shadows has been an unsung hero.

It's likely that some of the information they acquire and hold is not interesting or useful in the slightest. Such as, if five years ago someone blabbed what Osama Bin Laden had for breakfast, that information may very well be classed as secret to protect the source. This point highlights that the security services may well withhold almost pointless information, not because of what it is, but where it came from.

People are naturally suspicious about that which they know little about. In recent years those who defend the realm from within the "shadows" have moved towards a more open nature, but perhaps not by much. Yet they'll never be able to operative effectively if completely open. That may well sound crazy to some, but it's true.

It's important that we strike a careful balance between civil liberties and the ability to defend the United Kingdom from threats. Due to the nature of their work many will perceive the discussion about what is a sensible balance, to be one sided and may never truly come to accept it.

Even Mr Spock (in the original Star Trek films) said "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." That phrase is sure to enrage civil liberty groups and many citizens alike if used in the context of national security. The use of it in this particular context is both right and wrong.

I don't like the idea that someone could have their civil liberties infringed for "the greater good," but at the same time I'm going to have to have a split personality over this.

On Armistice Day in 1918, a letter was written which thanked MI5 for their efforts. The record number of Soviet intelligence officers expelled as part of Operation FOOT in 1971. The first reported uncovering of an Islamist bomb factory, in July 2000 as part of Operation LARGE. Evidence of military style training taking place in Cumbria of all places, in 2004.

The aforementioned details are a minute selection of some of the work the security services have undertaken. I've recently been reading "Defence of the Realm" the authorized history of MI5 by Christopher Andrew. Frankly, whilst I thought I was in the know about these kind of things a lot more than the average person, my eyes have been opened even more.

Undertaking work every day whilst never knowingly being acknowledged or thanked by the general public, all the time knowing that mistakes may endanger many people, has to be a tough job. We may never know when we need to be thankful, but in this day and age I'd be surprised if we didn't need to be at some point.