Yesterday the heads of “MI5”, “MI6” and GCHQ appeared before the Intelligence Security Committee of Parliament. The uncorrected transcript of their evidence is now online (or you can watch the video).
One of the questions fielded by Andrew Parker (“MI5”) was how many terrorist plots there had been over the past ten years. According to the uncorrected transcript (and this accords with listening to the video — question starts at 34:40) he said:
I think the number since… if I go back to 2005, rather than ten years… 7/7 is that there have been 34 plots towards terrorism that have been disrupted in this country, at all sizes and stages. I have referred publicly and previously, and my predecessors have, to the fact that one or two of those were major plots aimed at mass casualty that have been attempted each year. Of that 34, most of them, the vast majority, have been disrupted by active detection and intervention by the Agencies and the police. One or two of them, a small number, have failed because they just failed. The plans did not come together. But the vast majority by intervention.
I understand that to mean 34 plots over 8 years most but not all of which were disrupted, rather than just discovered. Of these, one or two per year were aimed at causing mass casualties (that’s 8 to 16 of them). I find it really quite surprising that such a rough guess of 8 to 16 major plots was not remarked upon by the Committee — but then they were being pretty soft generally in what they asked about.
The journalists who covered the story heard this all slightly differently, both as to how many plots were foiled by the agencies and how many were aimed at causing mass casualties!
The BBC report has:
Andrew Parker, who handles agents within the UK, told the committee a total of 34 terror plots had been foiled since 2005 including “one or two” plots aimed at causing mass casualties.
The Guardian report has:
Andrew Parker, director of MI5, said that since 2005 and the 7/7 attacks, 34 separate plots had been foiled, including one that would have created mass casualties.
The Times (behind paywall) only has:
Thirty-four terrorist plots had been foiled in the UK since the July 7 bombings in 2005.
The Daily Mail gets it more right than most in the story:
At least 34 terrorist plots have been thwarted in Britain since the July 7 bombings in 2005, the head of MI5 has revealed. Andrew Parker said ‘one or two a year’ were designed to cause ‘mass casualties’ among the public.
but wrong in the headline !
Britain has faced 34 terror plots since 7/7 bombings including ‘one or two’ designed to cause ‘mass casualties’, head of MI5 reveals.
The Express goes with a headline that starts SPIES UNCOVERED! (which is a new meaning of ‘spies’ for me) and yes, they DO LIKE CAPITALS:
BRITAIN’S secret services have foiled 34 terrorist plots since the July 7 London bombings in 2005, the head of MI5 revealed today.
The Mirror has:
MI5’s director general Andrew Parker confirmed security services have foiled 34 attempted terror plots since the attacks on London’s tube and bus network on July 7 2005. One or two of the foiled plots were designed to cause mass casualties. The majority were thwarted by the actions of the intelligence and security agencies.
The Telegraph starts by getting it almost right:
A total of 34 terror plots, some of which were described as “major”, have been disrupted in the UK since the July 7 attacks.
and then quotes Andrew Parker as follows and so gets it correct in the end:
“I’ve referred publicly that one or two of those are major plots aimed at mass casualty that have been attempted each year. Of that 34, most of them have been disrupted by active detection and intervention by the agencies and the police. One or two of them have failed because they just failed. The plans didn’t come together.”
Abroad, the New York Times (some paywall) also does pretty well:
Mr. Parker repeated that the agencies had disrupted 34 plots to cause domestic harm since the bomb attacks on London in July 2005, with one or two each year intending to cause mass casualties.
So as ever, don’t believe what you read in the newspapers (even quality ones like the Grauniad, who went for “1” rather than “1 or 2” or what was actually said, which amounted to “8 to 16”) — they’re applying their own biases and hearing what they want to hear.
Of course Andrew Parker may have misspoken and meant “just one or two of the 34”, we’ll have to wait for the corrected transcript for that. But in the meantime we really should expect our press to tell us what actually happened.