The broken terror systems that killed de Menezes

A study in systemic failure

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Because in the ideal scenario CO19 would do the stop, and because no word came from on high telling CO12 to do the stop, de Menezes was allowed to board two buses. Faulty communications made it difficult for Commander Dick to judge how close CO19 was, and therefore how feasible this plan still was, and inflexibility did the rest. Risk aversion right at the top? A contributing factor.

Intelligence and Risk

Jean Charles de Menezes was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a light denim jacket. He was not carrying a bag. To the lay observer he was quite obviously not wearing or carrying a bomb, and this should have been apparent to the surveillance team, who observed him closely over 30 minutes. But there seems to be no record of communications indicating that anybody was actually interested in what he was wearing, and when CO19 finally saw him in the last minute, they were convinced that he was a bomber ready to detonate. So how could that happen?

The Register has argued in the past, and will continue to argue, that the claims made by the security services regarding the danger of the 21st July bombs have been severely inflated. They were faultily constructed from doubtful material, and the detonators failed, four times, to set off the main charge. We are aware that the prosecution in the bombers' trial took a different view, but we are also aware that the expert witness put forward by the defence disputed this view. We should also note that the bombs were bulky, packed in rucksacks.

At a pre-operation briefing on the morning of the 22 July Commander Dick "was left in no doubt that the events on the 21 had been serious attempts and that detonation could have been achieved by simply putting two pieces of wire together." This would, presumably, be if putting the wires together had set off a powerful enough detonation to ignite the main charge, meaning that the 22 July 'bomber' would have a more effective detonator, a more effective main charge, or both. Is that likely?

Go just a little further down the risk assessment road and you wonder about the probability of a surprised suicide bomber with, QED, no pre-arranged escape plan, doing anything as implacable as building a bomb version 2.0, as opposed to running like a rabbit (which is what they all turned out to have done). And he wasn't wearing a rucksack, so any bomb would have to be a concealed suicide belt or harness - how likely is that? And if they did have these, and they worked, why didn't they use them on 21 July? Who would have used these 'spare' explosives if they had all blown themselves up?

Some of that's certainly possible, but even if you're anticipating worst possible case (risk aversion, again), the overall risk seems to take it into utterly improbable possible case. Attire should be factored into the risk assessment, unless you've already decided to anticipate the worst possible case where a devastating bomb that you are entirely unable to detect is present. The briefing to CO19 has more to say on explosives and suicide harnesses.

Detective Chief Inspector C from the anti-terrorist branch, CO13, was the "Silver Commander", effectively the ground commander for the operation. He based himself with CO19 and CO13 at the Nightingale Road Police station initially, and according to the report joined them in playing "catch up" throughout the operation. He briefed CO19, giving them information about the explosives used on 7 July, confirmed links between the 7 July and 21 July bombers, and "confirmed that the terrorists had the capability to attach a device to themselves that would be difficult to detect..." They were "deadly and determined and 'up for it.'" Earlier, CO19 had been briefed that they might have to use unusual tactics, and might be asked to do something they had never done before.

Some months prior to the July bombings the Met itself had been briefed by Israeli security on suicide bombers, so although the UK has yet to see terrorists capable of constructing effective concealed suicide harnesses, the Met was receptive to the notion that they might be out there already.

As the report notes, "The briefings that the officers received could only have heightened their desire to arrest the terrorists and add to the apprehension concerning the danger to which they were being exposed." CO19 were therefore expecting to confront a dangerous terrorist with a concealed bomb - wearing a light jacket and t-shirt wouldn't necessarily be enough to save you.

The last minutes

As de Menezes approached Stockwell station, Commander Dick asked for the surveillance team to give a percentage indication of how certain they were. Another officer asked for a score on a scale of one to ten, and this was described by one surveillance officer as a ridiculous question, impossible to answer. This week the Independent reported that the Met has now implemented a new system of classification of ID for surveillance teams, with three levels of certainty. So a score of one to three.

If Commander Dick was told that it was "definitely" Nettletip, she was told at this time. Similarly if CO19 heard "definitely", they heard it as they were moving in on Stockwell station. They would have been expecting a confirmed bomb suspect who wouldn't necessarily show any sign of carrying a bomb, and they were ready to employ "unusual" tactics if they were asked. De Menezes' chances were now slim, and rested on CO12 stopping him before CO19 got there.

As de Menezes approached Stockwell, Commander Dick was insisting that CO19 stop him - "don't want your people going up to him", she told SO12. But, "can't let him down the tube". CO19 weren't there yet.

At 10.03 de Menezes entered Stockwell station, and at 10.04 Commander Dick ordered: "must be challenged before going down the tube. Stockwell tube." But "No stop without 19". At 10.04 again, "Stop him". 10.05 "12 to do it." But also in the log for 10.05, "State red. SO19 doing stop do not let surveillance interfere."

"State red" means that SO19 has arrived and assumed primacy, and the operation is beyond the point of no return. You know what happens next. ®

* From very early on in the investigation process, 'sources' sought to undermine Jean Charles de Menezes. This process might be said to have culminated in the closing speech of Ronald Thwaites QC, for the Metropolitan Police defence in the recent trial for health and safety offences. The IPCC report does not support Thwaites' picture of a twitchy illegal immigrant confused by drugs and who "reacted precisely as [police] been briefed a suicide bomber might react." Nor does it support similar claims made in the evidence of Met officers, including that of Commander Dick.

The Register noted some time ago that a Home Office statement on the subject of de Menezes' immigration status (which was questioned by 'sources' immediately after the shooting) did not confirm categorically that the Indefinite Leave to Remain stamp in his passport was forged. We would therefore like to draw readers' attention to the note on page 21 of the Stockwell One Report which states: "Evidence emerged during the course of the criminal trial into the Health and Safety charge that Mr de Menezes was lawfully in the country on 22 July 2005."

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