Belfast Telegraph

Brian Rowan: There will always be doubts about intelligence

In a comment on the weekend Lurgan bomb a politician has asked a big question —about intelligence and the dissident republican threat.

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly suggested, “A handful of dissidents are running rings around MI5”.

It is a cutting analysis that will be heard in every corner of the Security Service’s new headquarters at Palace Barracks in Holywood.

The job of MI5 is the protection of national security. Its business is bugging and surveillance — the listening, watching and tracking that comes with having the lead intelligence-gathering role on organisations such as Oglaigh na hEireann, the Real and Continuity IRA.

But there is a growing and worrying number of examples showing how these groups are getting better at hiding themselves. And, in recent days, we have seen just how precise they are becoming in their targeting of security personnel, and just how many intelligence blind spots there are on the roads in and out of Bangor, Kilkeel, Cookstown and Lurgan.

An Army major, a civilian security guard and a woman police officer targeted with under car booby-trap devices all had lucky escapes. That bomb in Lurgan at the weekend was clearly intended for PSNI officers on cordon duties.

With so much activity packed into such a short space of time – there will always be questions and doubts about intelligence.

In this war-play the pendulum swings — one way and then the other. There are as many examples of the dissidents failing — of their people being arrested, their bombs not getting to their targets, or of devices failing to explode.

But a blast like the one in Lurgan at the weekend in which three children were hurt makes more noise in the news.

But decades of conflict have told us something. There is no security answer to this — no winning and no losing.

Sometimes MI5 will see what’s coming, and on other occasions it won’t.

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