Fresh revelations about the CIA’s torture techniques have thrown the spotlight on British Intelligence, which gained valuable insight into terror networks from confessions extracted by American officers. They have raised further fears that British agents could be prosecuted for their indirect role in the abuse of detainees.
Documents declassified this week by the Obama Administration – four US Justice Department memos authorising “harsh interrogation” – show that the CIA based more than 3,000 intelligence reports on the questioning of “high-value” terror suspects from September 11 2001 to April 2003.
They were sanctioned by US government lawyers during the Bush presidency, and MI5 and MI6 would have had access to huge amounts of such material.
The memos show that the majority of these reports – some of which would have been passed to the British as part of intelligence-sharing arrangements between the two countries – came “from detainees subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques”.
In the period between September 11 2001 and April 2003, there were a number of crucial intelligence tip-offs to the British authorities that may have come via US interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.
They include the alert that led to the decision by Tony Blair in February 2003 to send 400 troops in light tanks to Heathrow after a warning of an imminent attack on airliners coming into the airport. Another led to the deployment of special forces to intercept a cargo vessel, the MV Nisha, off the Isle of Wight in December 2001 because of intelligence that a ship in the English Channel might be carrying biological weapon components.