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Brit spooks: Yanks are frightful cowboys

But we should still be chums with them

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The ISC went on to say that:

"Ethical dilemmas are not confined to countries with poor track records on human rights – the UK now has some ethical dilemmas with our closest ally."

Famously, in 1995, then-President Clinton issued a directive that stated:

"Where we do not receive adequate cooperation from a State that harbors a terrorist ... we shall take appropriate measures to induce cooperation. Return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government."

This allowed various "rendition to justice" efforts, in some of which SIS gave the Americans a hand.

Then came 9/11, and the rules of the game changed. President Bush authorised American servicemen and spooks to carry out the various other sorts of rendition. Apparently, the Americans told SIS that the gloves were coming off, but the British spies were "sceptical about these new powers – in part because there was a great deal of 'tough talk' following 9/11. They did not therefore report this information to UK Ministers".

But a wakeup call came in 2002. MI5 was monitoring three suspected terorists in the UK, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, and Abdallah el-Janoudi (a British national). They arrived at Gatwick airport planning to fly to the Gambia, and their bags were secretly searched.

The spooks found a bunch of Islamic literature and "a bundle of electrical wires wrapped around a set of tweezers, a 'folding plotter', three manuals for VHM FM hand-held transceivers, an air pump manual, drill bits, a gas cylinder, a voltage inverter, and various bits of electronic equipment. There was also an item described as 'a quantity of masking tape wrapped around an unidentified object [with] a metal sheet stuck to it, and wires leading from it to a battery pack (without batteries). Also connected to this were a series of clips on the ends of several other wires.'... This was later discovered to be a modified battery charger."

Al-Rawi, el-Janoudi and el-Banna were arrested - apparently a police decision rather than an MI5 one - but there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. The men were released. A few days later they flew to Gambia without interference.

MI5 informed the US of the move, and referring to the baggage search said that the pair had been in possession of a "home-made electronic device" and indicated that it "may be a timing device [or] part of a car-based IED [improvised explosive device]..."

Why they said that, only they know. However, the British spooks included a header on their messages saying that the info shouldn't be used as the basis for "overt, covert or executive action". Apparently the US agencies had always honoured such headers up to that point.

However, when al-Rawi, el-Janoudi, and el-Banna arrived in Gambia they were searched and seized, along with Bisher's brother Wahab al-Rawi (a British national). This time their baggage contained:

"...a solar panel for a satellite phone, several thousand dollars worth of outdoor equipment, a repair kit for wetsuits, mountain-climbing gear, and a large plastic bag full of hand-soldered electrical components."

The men were passed into US custody at an undisclosed location. Then the Americans informed MI5 that they intended to move the four prisoners to a secret holding facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan - a "rendition to detention".

MI5 said the Americans had completely disregarded their request that no "overt, covert or executive" action be taken. They said it "was a surprise to us that the Americans were operating in this way."

After a diplomatic scuffle, the two British nationals (el-Janoudi and Wahab al-Rawi) were released and returned to the UK the following month. Bisher al-Rawi and el-Banna were moved to Bagram, then to Kabul, then finally passed to military custody at Guantanamo the following year. The US forces determined that they had been correctly classified as "enemy combatants".

According to the report, Bisher al-Rawi has now been released from Guantánamo and el-Banna - five years after being snatched for posession of a battery charger - has been cleared for release.

"This case showed that the US rendition programme had now extended its boundaries beyond individuals connected to the conflict in Afghanistan... the Agencies had seen that passing intelligence to the US about individuals not directly involved in the Afghanistan conflict could lead to a rendition... despite their protesting once they learnt of US plans," the ISC says.

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