Shouldn't Justine Greening resign over the West Coast fiasco?

The former Transport Secetary described the bidding as a "fair and well established process".

So, when did David Cameron know about the West Coast Main Line contract debacle? I only ask because normally the Secretary of State responsible for a major tender like this would be considering their position. In response to loud and vociferous complaints, the individual in question described the bidding as a "fair and well established process", and only opened an inquiry into the process after a threat of legal action from one of the bidders - an inquiry which concluded that "regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes" had been made by the Transport Department.

Add in the £40m compensation it is estimated that we, the taxpayer, will have to pay to the losing bidders, plus the questions it raises over the award of every other rail tender – and normally that Secretary of State would face the prospect of "more time with their family" right now. But that hasn’t happened because the Secretary of State in charge of the department while this fiasco was going on was moved in the reshuffle.

I always wondered about the ‘too opposed to Heathrow’ excuse that was given for moving Justine Greening. Firstly, she was the MP for Putney and her views on the third runway were well known before Cameron put her in Transport. To move her just 11 months later over Heathrow would actually suggest a complete political misjudgement in the first place. Secondly, Greening had stuck rigidly to the official Tory line on Heathrow – no change in view before 2015.  She said nothing about after 2015 - that’s a dangerous line to try and hold in West London. Sacking her for that was harsh, to put it mildly. And while the new Secretary of State for Transport describes himself as neutral on a third runway, the new transport minister, Simon Burns, has said: "Just as I am opposed to a second runway at Stansted, I am equally opposed to a third runway at Heathrow. This is environmental vandalism and will dramatically increase our carbon dioxide emission levels. The government should be encouraging better use of regional airports rather than concentrating on travel around London".

All of which suggests either Cameron cocked up his evil plans once again or that Heathrow wasn’t the main reason for moving Greening out.

Which takes me back to the original question. When did Cameron know about this debacle? And did it have anything to do with moving Greening? And I’d add a third question – isn’t there a case for her resigning over this fiasco anyway?

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.

Justine Greening was moved from Transport to International Development in last month's cabinet reshuffle. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty
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Mass surveillance doesn’t work – it’s time to go back to the drawing board

Lacking an answer to the problem of radicalisation, the government has confused tactics with strategy.

This week saw the release of not one but two parliamentary reports on the government’s proposed new spying law, the first from the Intelligence and Security Committee and the second from the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

Both reports suggested the government hasn’t fully made the case for some elements of mass surveillance put forward in the Bill. But neither went so far as to ask the most important question in this debate – does mass surveillance actually work?

The proposed law, known as the Investigatory Powers Bill, looks set to enshrine almost all the government’s mass surveillance powers and capabilities in a single law for the first time. It has been touted by the Prime Minister as a vital weapon in the UK’s fight against Islamic State.

Most of the noise about mass surveillance since the Snowden revelations has predictably come from civil liberties groups. But the privacy and safeguards debate skips over the highly dubious assumption underpinning the Investigatory Powers Bill – that mass surveillance will stop terrorists.

In fact, mass surveillance is not only ineffective but downright counter-productive.

A 2009 report by the US government found that only 1.2 per cent of tips provided to the FBI by mass surveillance techniques made a significant contribution to counter-terrorism efforts. Another recent study by the New America Foundation found that National Security Agency mass data collection played a role in, at most, 1.8 per cent of terrorism cases examined. By contrast, traditional investigative methods initiated 60 per cent of investigations. Suddenly mass surveillance doesn’t seem so vital.

This is because the technology is far from perfect. As computer scientist Ray Corrigan has written, “Even if your magic terrorist-catching machine has a false positive rate of 1 in 1,000—and no security technology comes anywhere near this—every time you asked it for suspects in the UK it would flag 60,000 innocent people.”

Perversely, this lack of precision means mass surveillance can actually frustrate counter-terrorism efforts. Michael Adebolajo, who brutally murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, was so well known to the security services prior to the attack they had even tried to recruit him as an informant. Yet insufficient monitoring later on let him slip through the net. The same thing happened with the Hebdo killers. Mass surveillance means intelligence analysts are forced to spend their time fruitlessly sifting through endless reams of data rather than carrying out the targeted monitoring and detection that’s really needed.

Counter-radicalisation experts have meanwhile argued that mass surveillance may alienate Muslim communities, making them distrustful of the police and possibly even contributing to radicalisation. In 2014, Jonathan Russell from the counter-extremism group Quilliam wrote that the “introduction of a sweeping [mass surveillance] law…will be exploited by extremists to show that the government wants to spy on its own citizens [and] that all Muslims are suspected of being terrorists.” This will set alarm bells ringing for those who know the fight against terrorism will ultimately be won only by preventing radicalisation in the first place.

And therein lies the real problem with this Bill. It’s tactics, not strategy. If we stop for a second and think about what the problem is – namely that thousands of young Britons are at risk of radicalisation – we’d never prescribe mass surveillance as the answer. It would be nonsensical to propose something that risks making alienation worse.

The trouble is we don’t have a convincing answer to the actual problem. The government’s counter-radicalisation strategy is mired in controversy. So instead a different question is being posed. Not how do we stop people from signing up to join Islamic State, but how do we gather as much communications data as possible? GCHQ have an answer for that. It’s a classic case of confusing a tactic – and a highly unreliable one at that – with a strategy actually designed to tackle the root of the problem.

Never mind our privacy for a moment. For the sake of our security, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and think of something better.

 

Andrew Noakes is Senior Advocacy Officer at the Remote Control Project. He writes about covert and unconventional methods of warfare, counter-terrorism, and human rights.