Charles Farr: Chief snooper pops out of the shadows

David Leppard writes in the Sunday Times about Charles Farr, who he described as ‘the Home Office’s top “securocrat”‘:

It’s no secret in Whitehall that the grandiosely titled communications capabilities development programme was Farr’s “policy baby”. In fact, it was a rehash of an earlier attempt by Farr in 2009 to persuade the then Labour home secretary to build a giant database where the government could hold details of all emails and telephone calls. It obviously needed sensitive handling, but its delivery was bungled by Farr’s office and it was dumped by Labour after an uproar. When a new government was elected he tried to resurrect the plan — with similar results.

A similar lack of deftness befell Farr’s efforts to develop “Prevent”, a controversial plank of the government’s counterterrorism policy that aimed to identify and thwart thousands of young Muslim men who might be vulnerable to violent extremism. A key strand of Prevent was the policy of dishing out tens of millions of pounds of public money to Muslim youth groups and charities. Basically Farr believed the government should engage with fundamentalist Muslim leaders because they were best placed to stop the radicalisation of the youths who were the most likely to become violent extremists. The problem with the policy was some of these groups were asked to “spot” potential extremists and report on teen­agers who might be vulnerable to grooming.

Critics inside and outside the government soon saw it as turning the Home Office into a giant spying machine. “They were offering money to youth groups and Muslim charities contingent on them spying for the Home Office,” said a prominent lawyer, who saw draft documents outlining the conditions of the grant agreements.

The scheme became characterised as a huge bid for surveillance. “It was a blurring of the policy of surveillance with a different policy of community engagement and building a civil society” said a former Home Office official.

“But if like Charles Fair, you are a career spook you just don’t get that. You see everything as an opportunity for surveillance and you see everybody as potentially sinsister.”

The article is behind the Sunday Times paywall, but excerpts and commentary are available at Cryptome.org and Spyblog.org.uk

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