At lunchtime today, along with my beans on toast, I get a large helping of fantasy courtesy of the news media. BBC’s One O’Clock News is running with the headline that the July 7 bombings could have been avoided. (See here for an online version.) Apparently. Elsewhere, Yahoo! states that “more resources” could have prevented 7/7, and the Guardian says pretty much the same thing. All of this pertains, basically, to the fact that Mohammed Sidique Khan, the ringleader of the suicide bombers who carried out the July 7 attacks, and one of his accomplices, Shehzad Tanweer, were under surveillance by intelligence and security services prior to the London bombings. And all of it is, quite frankly, bunk.
As the report and statements by intelligence chiefs make clear, Khan was a minor figure in an investigation that had recently been concluded. Police and MI5 were following up these minor characters in order to tie up loose ends and do a thorough job when another, more serious, threat presented itself. Resources were diverted from following Khan, and he managed to carry out his attacks.
So yes, more resources would have allowed the security services to both address the new threat and follow up Khan and other minor figures at the same time. But taking this to its logical conclusion, where do we end up? If the security services had unlimited resources, they could chase up any two-bit grumbler about modern Britain who happened to say something about causing explosions, but it wouldn’t necessarily make us more safe. The money would have to come from somewhere – the defence budget, say, or community policing – and when those impoverished services failed to prevent a major incident, investigations will find that they too would benefit from ‘more resources’.
This is the real world, and money does not fall from some magical pot in the sky. The fact is that security services will be allotted a certain amount of money, which they then have to make the best use of, by the government. The government will itself have only a limited pot of cash upon which it can draw to pay for healthcare, education, defence, policing, and so on. A line has to be drawn somewhere. Sometimes, bad things happen to people and no person, or lack of resources, is to blame.