David Cameron must decide whether to publish evidence behind claims of spies’ failure
By David Hencke | 22 April 2014
“It was the prime minister who appointed me and all my predecessors. That is the current situation, but he will no longer have that power”
– Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman, intelligence and security committee
MI5 has been forced to hand over highly sensitive files on the killers of soldier Lee Rigby to a parliamentary committee of MPs and peers.
The drummer in the Royal Fusiliers was hacked to death in May last year in Woolwich, south-east London as he returned to his barracks.
The UK’s Security Service, better known as MI5, faces claims that it failed to realise the threat posed by his killers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who were jailed for life in February after being convicted of murder.
Exaro can reveal that Parliament’s intelligence and security committee demanded the MI5 files on the two killers under powers that only came into law last year as a result of the Justice and Security Act.
Both killers are understood to have been known to MI5 for several years.
Relatives of Adebolajo say that MI5 had even approached him in 2011 to become an agent after he was deported from Kenya.
According to Kenyan police, Adebolajo led a group of eight young men who were trying to travel to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab, an offshoot of al-Qaeda.
Kenya says that it warned the UK that Adebolajo was a dangerous extremist.
Adebolajo claimed that he was tortured while he was detained in Kenya.
He is said to have rejected the approach from MI5.
Whitehall sources say that the intelligence and security committee has completed a report on its findings, and wants to publish supporting evidence that was supplied by MI5.
The report includes “highly sensitive” information about MI5’s role and its prior knowledge of the killers, said one source.
The committee will formally submit the report shortly to David Cameron, prime minister. Under the Justice and Security Act, the prime minister can veto material in such a report on grounds of national security. His decision will be the first test of the new law, which is supposed to strengthen the committee’s independence.
The committee includes six MPs – three Conservative, two Labour and one Liberal Democrat. It also has two Lords – a Conservative and a crossbencherr.
The chairman is Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a Conservative MP and former cabinet minister, who was defence secretary then foreign secretary in John Major’s government.
The committee will next turn to investigating the role of the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, in the rendition of a Libyan dissident, Abdel Hakim Belhadj. He claims that, after rendition in a joint operation by America’s Central Intelligence Agency and MI6, he was tortured by the then ruling regime of Muammar Gaddafi.
Papers discovered after Gaddafi’s fall suggest that MI6 gave intelligence to the Americans to enable his rendition.
The issue is a sore point for the committee. It follows disclosures during an inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson, a retired appeal court judge, into Britain’s role in “improper treatment of detainees” overseas.
His inquiry made clear that the intelligence committee, before last year’s Justice and Security Act, was denied information that it had requested.
Whitehall sources said that this led Rifkind, appointed by Cameron, to demand sweeping reforms to the committee’s powers.
These included the power to demand – rather than request – information from the intelligence services, and resources for dedicated research staff. It also transferred from the prime minister to Parliament the power to choose members of the committee, and widened its scope.
Rifkind told Parliament when the legislation was being debated: “The chairman will be elected by the committee members from among themselves.”
“It was the prime minister who appointed me and all my predecessors. That is the current situation, but he will no longer have that power.”
Whitehall sources said that Rifkind had made a bid to become foreign secretary when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government in 2010.
However, Cameron told him that the job would go to William Hague, who was shadow foreign secretary before the general election in 2010. Cameron offered Rifkind chairmanship of the intelligence committee instead.
The committee is also committed to a further inquiry into the intelligence services’ widespread access to people’s data following disclosures by the whistleblower, Edward Snowden. It will hold public hearings after calling for written evidence.