UK government bring in MI5 spies to plug leaks ahead of Brexit trade and security talks

CSTPV’s Charles Bird and IR’s Phillips O’Brien interviewed in this Sunday Herald article.

MI5 spies are being brought into the Brexit process amid fears that UK government leaks and covert surveillance by EU states could damage UK interests as crucial trade and security talks begin this week.

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Tim Wilson - A Good Week For Bad News

Last week turns out to have been a good week to bury bad news for the security services; in between Brexit mayhem and Donald Trump’s bonfire of established policy on the status of Jerusalem, the report by David Anderson QC based on MI5’s own internal deliberations sparked rather less debate than might have been expected. Anderson’s most prominent finding was that the Manchester suicide bombing by Salman Abedi on 22 May last might, possibly, have been prevented. The failure to stop Abedi at the airport on his recent return from Libya does seem striking since he had already apparently been a ‘subject of interest’ to the security services since 2014.

But there are very many potential ‘subjects of interests’ to MI5; and its agents, in turn, have to prioritise monitoring them ruthlessly. That MI5 came even slightly close to discerning Abedi’s intentions is more reassuring than if he had remained entirely unknown to them — though that observation is of precious little comfort now to the bereaved or injured, of course. For his part, the Director of MI5, Andrew Parker, was very keen to point out last week that the security services had prevented nine out of fourteen planned terrorist attacks over the last year (64%). Across both the natural and social sciences, many experts would be very happy with rates of prediction like that.

Rather less impressive at reflection on likely future consequences has been the new Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson. This week Williamson appeared to announce that government policy was now one of projected systematic extra-judicial executions against any British citizen who joined ISIS, however young or impressionable that individual might have been since ‘a dead terrorist cannot cause any harm to Britain’.

With its assumption of total accuracy in targeting and total indifference to any wider social or cultural legacies, this is policy pronouncement at its most resplendently vapid. ‘A dead terrorist cannot cause any harm to Britain?’ Really? Williamson could do worse here than simply google: ‘Bobby Sands’.

Dr Tim Wilson

Centre Director, CSTPV.

Studying the Victims and Perpetrators of Terrorism

What is the connection between victimhood and involvement in terrorism and political violence? What contributions can former perpetrators of violence make in deradicalisation programmes? How can former perperators and the victims of terrorism work together on these matters? The new book by Orla Lynch and CSTPV Lecturer Javier Argomaniz brings together important contributions by scholars whose work has illuminated an under-researched dimension of terrorism to answer these questions. Indeed, while the perpetrators of political violence have been the subject of significant academic research, victims of terrorism have rarely featured in this landscape.


In an effort to capture the vast complexity of terrorism, and to widen the scope of the agenda that informs terrorism research, the book presents a series of analyses that examines the role of the perpetrators, the experience of the victims, the public and media perceptions of both, and given the inherent intricacy of the phenomenon, how we might think about engaging with perpetrators in an effort to prevent further violence. By considering the role of the many actors who are central to our understanding and framing of terrorism and political violence, this book highlights the need to focus on how the interactivity of individuals and contexts have implications for the emergence, maintenance and termination of campaigns of political violence.

This volume also aims to understand not only how former perpetrators and victims can work in preventing violence in a number of contexts but, more broadly, the narratives that support and oppose violence, the construction of victimisation, the politicisation of victimhood, the justifications for violence and the potential for preventing and encouraging desistance from violence. Considering the significance of these issues for the field, this book will be of great interest to both students and researchers of terrorism and political violence.

Orla Lynch is Director of Postgraduate Criminology at University College Cork, Ireland, a fellow with Hedayah, Abu Dhabi, and co-author of The Psychological Processes of Terrorism (2018).

Javier Argomaniz is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of St Andrews and author of Post–9/11 EU Counter-Terrorism (Routledge, 2011).

Victims and Perpetrators of Terrorism. Exploring Identities, Roles and Narratives is published by Routledge, and is available now.