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'U-turn' West: MI5 watching 'great' terror plot right now

Severe severe = safer, but not actually safe

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Everyone's favourite knockabout security minister, Lord Alan West of Spithead, has said that the UK security services are aware of "complex plots" - in particular "another great plot" by jihadi terrorists - "building" in the UK.

Lord West was speaking in the House of Lords on Tuesday following peers' rejection on Monday of legislation allowing terror suspects to be held for 42 days without charge. West himself had appeared to waver on the need for such measures when they were first discussed, but fell smarting smartly back into line after a sudden interview with Gordon Brown.

Speaking after Monday's Lords defeat, West said:

People have joked and accused me falsely of U-turns...

I have been accused of saying that we are safer [from terrorism than we were] ... that does not mean that we are safe.

The threat is huge. It dipped slightly and is now rising again ... There are large complex plots. We unravelled one, which caused damage to al-Qaeda, and the plots faded slightly. However, another great plot is building up again, which we are monitoring ... the threat is building — the complex plots are building.

The only possible interpretation of this is that the security services are watching a group of suspected would-be terrorists here in the UK, thought to be plotting a large atrocity which could result in hundreds of deaths.

There doesn't seem to be any way that announcing this in public isn't an enormous, cretinous blunder. About the only way it wouldn't be a horrifying operational gaffe would be as part of a disinformation strategy to discourage terrorists unknown to the government. But lying to Parliament, particularly in a civil-liberties legislative context, could never be justified by any such scheme.

So West must be telling what he believes to be the truth.

Even rabid supporters of extended detention powers must be cursing West today, as he didn't reveal that the spooks had unearthed another possible megaplot until after the lords had voted 42 days down, missing any possible political benefit.

Lord West came to his present position as security minister following long service in the Royal Navy. West was famous for the sudden acceleration of a previously ordinary career, following his courtmartial for letting a fat bundle of confidential documents fall from his pocket unnoticed while walking a friend's dog one weekend. The documents were apparently found almost at once by a passing journalist, resulting in some coverage which was very helpful to West's then superiors in the Navy. Strangely enough, his career subsequently went ballistic, and he finished up as First Sea Lord - head of the service.

Commander West had previous experience with leaks in the Falklands, where his ship was sunk by the Argentines. In the Navy he is nowadays known as "Lord Bournemouth" or "Lord Netley" - both being west of Spithead.

The Tories described yesterday's Lords speech as "reckless", and police spokesmen remained bitterly tightlipped.

It's to be hoped that the plotters mentioned by West are in fact of the much more common idiotic variety, rather than much rarer serious villains who might now drop out of sight to reappear in future. ®

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