MI5 has been mounting a PR offensive. BBC Home Affairs reporter Dominic Casciani was invited to Thames House to take part in an electronic training exercise. He has written a piece for BBC News entitled: “The Day I tried to become an MI5 spook.” The questions might reasonably be asked: “Why the BBC?” and “Why now?”
MI5 is facing mounting criticism, not only over its role in the London Bridge attack, but also over its poor performance in recent years. It frequently boasts that it has prevented a number of terrorist attacks at home, but there doesn’t seem to be sufficient evidence in the form of successful prosecutions to support this assertion. MI5 has to make these claims as it has more money and higher staffing levels than ever before. But some in government are beginning to wonder if it is really money well spent and if the true reason that there are fewer terrorist attacks in the past few years is because the terrorist threat is far lower than MI5 tries to make out. In any case, most of the leads in these cases tend to be provided by the interception capabilities of GCHQ and then the arrests are carried out by the counter terrorist sections of the police. To some, MI5 seems to be one area of national security where considerable savings could be made.
So the fallout from the recent London Bridge attack inquest is the reason why the PR exercise was carried out. The BBC was chosen because the corporation has close ties to the intelligence services and MI5 could be almost guaranteed an easy ride. But, to his credit, Casciani played a very straight bat. He does not say that he was particularly impressed by his day at Thames House, but merely reports how the exercise was structured and the views of the officers he met. His handler tried to tell him that MI5 is under tremendous resource pressure, but Casciani does not play along. One might wish that he had been more incisive, but at least he didn’t fawn the way some other reporters might have done in gratitude for the opportunity. MI5 may be wishing that they had picked someone else.