Critics of the British and American governments' new legal measures against the terrorist threat have frequently made the point that the failure to anticipate the events of September 11 was not caused by inadequate laws but by poor intelligence and even poorer exchange of what is known. The truth of this assertion has been borne out by the revelations in the case of Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber. In just one week following his alleged attempt to destroy an American Airlines plane over the Atlantic it has become clear that several security and intelligence services had information about Reid which, without exception, they kept to themselves. The Israeli authorities, who have a formidable reputation in this field, interviewed Reid at Tel Aviv airport but released him even though he had torn out several pages of his passport to conceal his travels; the French even refused him permission to board a flight but relented a day later. Neither thought to share their doubts with Scotland Yard or MI5 even though Reid had a British passport (the French insisted he was Sri Lankan). By contrast, the FBI contacted Scotland Yard within hours of Reid's arrest at Boston and his identity was quickly confirmed through fingerprint examination.

It is often said that the essence of the UK/US “special relationship” is the trust between the two nations that enables them to share even the most sensitive intelligence. The global fight against terrorism will be severely hampered if this kind of trust cannot be developed in some degree among other leading members of the coalition, especially the members of NATO and the EU. Without better, and shared, intelligence the resrictive new laws will achieve little.

RAY FLEMING

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