Armed Hostilities

Could 7/7 Have Been Prevented?


The critical analysis of the findings that can be observed in Part C of the Review of the Intelligence on the London Terrorist Attacks on 7 July 2005 (Rai, 2006, p. 11) by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) should be started by the consideration of the background of the review’s authors, i. e. the ISC, its goals, and purposes. Such a step will facilitate a better understanding of the possible advantages and disadvantages of the findings presented in the mentioned chapter (Cottrell, 2005, p. 83). As well, Moore (2010) argues that the analysis of the authors’ background of any work allows seeing the latter’s limitations and influence of that background upon the way of building the main argument of the work (p. 102).

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Theoretical considerations

Authors’ background

Thus, the author of the further analyzed piece is the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) which, as its own review defines, is “an independent parliamentary body, set up under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, whose role is to examine the work of the intelligence and security Agencies” that include the MI5 (Security Service), the MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service), and the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) (ISC, 2009, p. 3).

Drawing from this, it is reasonable to assume that the role of ISC as a supervisory body of the UK parliament prevents it from providing any prejudiced or biased opinions on the performance efficiency of the intelligence agencies it is designed to control and assess.

Authors’ view of the situation

In fact, however, the overall tone of the review on the whole, and its Part C in particular, is rather protective. This means that instead of objective criticism of the work carried out by MI5 and the police before the terrorist attack on July 7, 2005, the ISC is seemingly explaining why the failure in preventing the attack can, and should, be viewed as a drawback in the whole system, but not in the work of intelligence agencies as such.

For example, the ISC (2009) provides an in-depth analysis of the factors that can back up the failure of MI5 in its performance related to 7/7 attacks (pp. 41 – 42). These factors include the resource, legal, and other constraints, from the analysis of which one can see that MI5, although regarded as one of the major UK intelligence services, lacks funding, human resources, and legislative bases for efficient work.

Drawing from this, the ISC (2010) argues that the MI5 had to prioritize its goals and tasks, which made it impossible to carry out permanent and legally based surveillance of all, even potentially related, persons who could conduct terrorist attacks on London or any other UK location (p. 41).

However, the role of intelligence as such, as can be seen from the further presented concepts and definitions applicable to the topic, presupposes that intelligence agencies can provide protection and security to the whole nation and that they have all the necessary resources for this. So, the authors’ view of the findings in Part C is not completely objective and looks more like an attempt to protect MI5 from the wave of public anger than the objective analysis of the pros and cons of the agency’s work.

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Concepts and definitions

Concepts defined

On the whole, the major concepts used in the review by the ISC are defined controversially. In other words, the review provides both fully defined and only partially covered concepts, and the lacking parts of the latter’s definitions might mislead the reader and allow varied use of one and the same notion in different contexts.

Needless to say, the main concept that the ISC review, and its Part C, operates with is the notion of intelligence. The ISC (2009) defines intelligence as “information that is lawfully gathered by the Agencies, but without the consent of the target” (p. 5). This definition also states that the intelligence can include any information from a person, an organization, or even a whole country, while the types of data regarded as intelligence are structured agents’ reports, interception of telephone calls, eavesdropping, etc (ISC, 2009, pp. 4 – 5).

However, scholars like Andrew, Aldrich, and Wark (2008), Gill and Phythian (2006), and Thomas (2009) consider intelligence as a two-fold term which, besides the information collected by secret agencies, also denotes the activities for gathering the secret information:

Intelligence is the umbrella term referring to the range of range of activities…conducted in secret, and aimed at maintaining or enhancing relative security by providing forewarning of threats or potential threats in a manner that allows for the timely implementation of a preventive policy or strategy, including, where deemed desirable, covert activities (Gill and Phythian, 2006, p. 7).

Thus, it is obvious that the ISC review (2009) provides only one side of the definition of intelligence. Although it is not known, for which purposes the second element of this definition is omitted by ISC (2009), it can be seen that such an approach to defining intelligence reduces the credibility of the ISC argument.

Analysis of concepts and definitions used

Accordingly, the term intelligence is used by the ISC (2009) in two major contexts, i. e. as a separate notion referring to the secretly collected information, and as a part of the work combination security agencies. This is an important fact to notice, as the one-sided definition of intelligence presented by ISC (2009) changes the meaning of the word-combination security agencies as well.

For example, the review by ISC (2009) presents a lot of ideas regarding the reasons and constraints that prevented MI5 from succeeding in determining the 7/7 attack participants. One of the major arguments presented by the ISC is that intelligence is a specific kind of data that are difficult to collect because they are never provided in full (only in fragments from various sources), and therefore, luck plays a crucial role in success, or failure, of an intelligence agency in investigating and preventing a certain illegal activity (ISC, 2009, p. 44).

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However, there are two drawbacks of such a point of view. First of all, Shulsky (2002) and Wilkinson (2007) argue that it is obviously unacceptable to explain issues related to national security with such a vague concept as luck (p. 29). Second, if the term intelligence were defined as a two-fold one, it would become evident that intelligence agencies that need luck, as ISC (2009) argues, should have specific practices of intelligence collection, and should not rely on luck in such a serious issue as terrorist attack prevention.

Evidence support

Evidence analysis

At the same time, little to no criticism can be aimed at ISC review on the whole and its Part C in particular in respect of evidence support. On the whole, Part C presents a succinct account of the factors that conditioned the failure of MI5 in relation to the 7/7 attacks, explains how those factors were determined, and what was done to avoid similar intelligence issues in the future. Naturally, the findings of Part C are illustrated by the strong evidence to the fullest extent possible as every single point made by ISC (2009) is supported by specific figures, steps taken, and potential limitations of those steps.

First of all, Part C provides numerous references to the former Head of MI5, which adds credibility to statements made in the review (ISC, 2009, pp. 42, 47). Further on, the review under consideration operates with only specific numeric data to give grounds to its claims. The examples of this point include specific data provided in the table illustrating the actual coverage MI5 could, and still can, give to the potential terrorist threats (p. 41) or the bar chart that displays the dynamics of growth of the funding of MI5 services between 2001 and 2011 (p. 45).

Specific evidence vs. general points

Accordingly, the use of the specific evidence for the support of the more general points made by the ISC review (2009) can be assessed as the proper one. First of all, ISC (2009) argues that the lack of resources did not allow MI5 to prevent the 7/7 terrorist attack, and specific numeric and qualitative data are presented to support this point (p. 41). Second, according to ISC (2009), legislative constraints also served obstacles on the way of MI5 proper work, and specific evidence of what MI5 can and cannot do according to the UK laws is presented (pp. 42 – 43). Third, irrespective of the constraints listed above, ISC (2009) argues that MI5 managed to do a lot of work, and this argument is also evidence-supported (p. 44).

Finally, the ISC (2009) analyzes what lessons have been learned from the 7/7 terrorist attack, and how MI5 and other intelligence services of the UK have worked ever since to prevent tragedies similar to July 7, 2005, one in future (pp. 45 – 46). At the same time, certain points in Part C findings can be observed, where the general idea that MI5 could not have prevented the 7/7 tragedy, can be observed, especially when ISC resorts to notions of luck in respect of national security matters.


Thus, the findings presented in Part C of the Review of the Intelligence on the London Terrorist Attacks on 7 July 2005 by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) can be assessed dually as they display both strong and weak points. On the one hand, the findings presented in Part C prove that MI5 had no actual resources and opportunities to prevent the 7/7 terrorist attack in London (Great Britain Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, 2006, p. 175). This is achieved through the proper use of strong specific evidence to support every point of this general idea of the review. At the same time, Part C contains several points where this general point is allegedly supported by weak, or too generalized, arguments. Accordingly, the findings presented in Part C of the discussed review are strong enough to persuade an average reader in the fact that MI5 did everything to prevent the terrorist attack but did not manage to do it. However, a closer consideration brings out numerous drawbacks of the Part C findings and the argument they help build.


Andrew, C., Aldrich, R. J., and Wark, W. K. (editors). (2008) Secret Intelligence: a reader. London: Routlegde.

Cottrell, S. (2005) Critical thinking skills: developing effective analysis and argument. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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Gill, P. and Phythian, M. (2006) Intelligence in an insecure world. London: Polity.

Great Britain Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee. (2006) Foreign Policy Aspects of the War Against Terrorism: Fourth Report; Report, Together with Formal Minutes, Oral and Written Evidence. London: The Stationery Office.

ISC. (2009) Could 7/7 Have Been Prevented? London: Intelligence and Security Committee.

Moore, D. (2010) Critical Thinking and Intelligence Analysis. Washington, D.C.: United States Dept. of Defense.

Rai, M. (2006) 7/7: the London bombings, Islam and the Iraq War. New York: Pluto Press.

Shulsky, A. (2002) Silent warfare: understanding the world of intelligence. London: Brassey’s.

Thomas, G. (2009) Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside MI5 and MI6. London: Thomas Dunne Books.

Wilkinson, P. (2007) Homeland security in the UK: future preparedness for terrorist attack since 9/11. London: Taylor & Francis.

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