Page last updated at 05:01 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 06:01 UK

MI5 'does not collude in torture'

MI5 chief Jonathan Evans
Mr Evans said it would have been wrong not to work with foreign services

The head of MI5 has defended the way the security service works with other countries, but said that does not mean its officers are involved in torture.

Jonathan Evans said not co-operating with foreign security services would be a dereliction of duty by MI5.

But he said not colluding with torture was a long-standing MI5 principle.

He was speaking as judges prepared to rule on the release of documents on the alleged ill-treatment of UK resident Binyam Mohamed in American custody.

He said that the work of MI5 agents around the world saw them co-operating with countries who had very different standards of conduct from the UK.

But he said said: "I can say quite clearly that the security service does not torture people, nor do we collude in torture or solicit others to torture people on our behalf.

I have every confidence in the behaviour of my officers in what were difficult and at times dangerous circumstances
MI5 chief Jonathan Evans

"That is a very clear and long established principle", he told an audience at Bristol University.

Pressing need

But he said that after the 9/11 attacks in the US "Our intelligence resources were not adequate to the situation we faced and the root of the terrorist problem was in parts of the world where the standards and practices of the local security apparatus were very far removed from our own."

He said: "Given the pressing need to understand and uncover al-Qaeda's plans, were we to deal with those security services who had experience of working against al-Qaeda on their own territory?

"In my view we would have been derelict in our duty if we had not worked, circumspectly, with overseas liaisons who were in a position to provide intelligence that could safeguard this country from attack."

Dangerous work

He added: "I have every confidence in the behaviour of my officers in what were difficult and at times dangerous circumstances."

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said the speech marking the centenary of MI5 makes clear just how much of a watershed the 11th September attacks were for the organisation as it shifted from counter-espionage to counter-terrorism.

Mr Evans makes it clear that "even now, domestic security depends as much on events overseas as it does on those in the UK," our correspondent says.

Binyam Mohamed's allegation that British agents fed questions to his interrogators who ill-treated him in Morocco and elsewhere is under investigation.

The High Court is due to rule on whether more details of his treatment can be made public.

The Ethiopian-born British resident was arrested trying to leave Pakistan on a false passport in early 2002.

The United States accused him of attending terrorist training camps and of involvement in a plot to set off a "dirty" bomb in the US.

Mr Mohamed spent nearly seven years in custody, four of them at Guantanamo Bay before being released without charge last year and returning to the UK.

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