British Investigations Yield Few Clues Thus Far

As Londoners returned to work today, they found little encouraging news:

With No Leads, British Consult Allies on Blasts (NYT | RSS)

British intelligence officials, frustrated by their failure to quickly crack the worst terrorist attack here since World War II, have sought help from counterparts in the United States and two dozen European allies to develop possible leads, European counterterrorism officials said Sunday.

The contacts included an extraordinary, private meeting in London on Saturday, convened by Scotland Yard and MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, that brought together senior law enforcement and intelligence officials from the United States and the two dozen European countries, three participants and several others with knowledge of the session said.

European participants said they were struck by how little was known about the attacks, which hit three trains in the London Underground and a double-decker bus on Thursday.

The investigation into the coordinated bombings, which left at least 49 people dead and more than 700 wounded, is now the largest criminal inquiry in British history.

The call for help was unusual coming from Britain, which is regarded by other European countries as often having access to more and better quality intelligence because it is part of a long-established, Anglophone intelligence-sharing agreement with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But the two-hour session also indicated that the British officials running the complex inquiry were frustrated because they had few breaks, few leads and no suspects in the 48 hours after the attack, the most important investigative period after a terrorist bombing.

While such international cooperation is always welcome, the slow pace and limited progress are disconcerting. A copycat attack may be planned. Terrorist cells may become emboldened. Clues may disappear.

More generally, intelligence-gathering difficulties may ultimately reflect the terrorists’ more effective adjustments. That they essentially replicated the Madrid strategy in another European city — and confounded numerous governments, including those with high-quality counterterrorism operations, in the process — may indicate just how much they’ve been able to perfect their craft. It’s frightening to think that they may have distanced themselves further from authorities, especially when you consider the low costs of creating mayhem.

I may be (and hope that I am) wrong on this score. Otherwise, trouble may lurk right around a nearby corner.

FILED UNDER: Terrorism
Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Comments

  1. John Burgess says:

    I think the point here is that a determined terrorist can always get through. Some have phrased it, “The security services need to be right 100% of the time; the terrorists, only 1%.” That’s not far off.

    It’s incredibly easy to commit an act of terrorism, no matter how narrowly you define it. A high school education; access to a few components or a gun and you can commit terrorism.

    Perfect security is unattainable, even in police states–how many assassination attempts did Hitler face?

    I do think we now live in a different world, one with a higher level of anxiety and insecurity about our personal safety. Terrorism can’t be eradicated completely. Once one group gets pushed own, another group will find grievances serious enough to die or kill for.

    Had we been living in Europe for the past 30 years, we would have realized this, what with bombings and assassinations from the IRA, the Red Brigades, ETA, even the Mafia.

    This certainly isn’t Kansas of the 1930s, Toto.

  2. Darla Nuan says:

    Terrorism can’t be eradicated completely.

    Thanks, Senator Kerry, but you lost the election. We happen to be in A WAR AGAINST TERRORISM. It can be defeated. It’s comments like yours that give the terrorists confidence and erode the morale of the troops. Please, consider moving to France.

  3. McGehee says:

    Darla. Decaf.