Monday, April 9, 2012

Rendition, MI6 and CIA

The attention that this story is getting in the UK is absurd. The British equivalent of the CIA, SIS (commonly known as MI6), are being investigated for potential criminal charges for their purported treatment of Belhadj. The problem with this is that the precedent it is setting will be fundamentally prohibitive to aggressive intelligence operations. Intelligence officers need the latitude and capability to pursue and defeat terrorist networks. In my opinion, rendition is not only lawful but also beneficial. It allows terrorists to be removed from action and placed into custody for productive interrogation. Torture is and ought to be illegal. However, when intelligence officers are faced with a situation in which an important target is operating in a state that lacks a credible judiciary, those officers must be able to take steps to address the threat. If rendition is illegal, the only prospective option would be to allow the target to stay in operation. If a couple of years down the line this target is involved in a terrorist attack.. then what do/would people say? Governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens and they must do so.

I hope that no charges are brought against the SIS officers in this case. From an American perspective, I am grateful that US intelligence agencies are able to aggressively confront our adversaries. The reason there is so much uproar about rendition in the UK is that the UK largely sees its counter-terrorism operations as an extension of criminal investigations. Conversely, the US is at war with Al Qa'ida and its ideological affiliates and so we are able to take more decisive action. Counter-Terrorism operations (as with any intelligence operations) are born of choices. The choice to investigate a target, the analysis of the threat and the decision to take or to not take action. The US learned on 9/11 that focused, aggressive action is necessary to protect our country. It might not be pleasant, but our adversaries are capable of extraordinary evil.

I have previously written on the risks that the UK investigation of SIS poses for future US-UK intelligence co-operation -

Photo - World Trade Center (Emporis)

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