Blunkett issues rebuke to Bush on terror alerts

By Francis Elliott, Deputy Political Editor

The Independent

08 August 2004

David Blunkett has issued a barely coded rebuke to President George Bush for issuing a terror alert that resulted in "ridicule".

The Home Secretary went on the offensive to explain why Britain did not follow suit when the US administration issued a warning on information that turned out to be four years old.

Ministers and senior figures in the security service are known to have been dismayed at the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.

There was widespread irritation in Whitehall at last Sunday's warnings, repeated by Mr Bush, based on information captured by Pakistani intelligence agencies on al-Qa'ida's preparations for attacks on British and US targets.

The British response was markedly more low key, insisting that there was no specific information of an imminent threat: an assessment which looked far more credible as fuller details of the seized information emerged. Mr Blunkett comes close to openly criticising Mr Bush in a newspaper article published today in which he defended his refusal to comment on the the latest assessments.

"In the United States there is often high-profile commentary followed, as in the current case by detailed scrutiny, with the potential risk of ridicule," writes Mr Blunkett in The Observer.

"Is it really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counter-terrorism? To feed the media? To increase concern? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense."

The remarks follow those made yesterday in which Mr Blunkett drew a contrast between "alerting people to a specific threat and alarming people unnecessarily".

The Home Secretary has clashed with Tom Ridge, the head of the US Department of Homeland Security, before. Mr Ridge is the man who issued last week's warning.

He is known to have been furious when Mr Ridge grounded flights around the world causing travel chaos during the Christmas holidays without first warning him.