If you went to bed on 20 February 2012 having learnt about Mr Vine’s report only from reading the Guardian live blog (starting at 4:12 p.m.) and from hearing Yvette Cooper talking about it on the radio, then you probably slept badly with thoughts of something sacred (England) having been defiled (by the invention of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) disturbing your sleep and perhaps remembering that Hopkins poem, “No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,/More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring ...”.
Your mood will not have been improved in the morning by the woodentop predictability of the Daily Mail, with their Britain's 'Mickey Mouse' border controls let 500,000 into the country without any checks for FIVE YEARS headline and so you will have sat down to write your blog, entered the bilious title which wrote itself – John Vine signs death certificate – Home Office RIP – and then ... and then thought perhaps it might be a good idea to read the report first.
It's long. There's a lot in it. There's a lot to think about.
First things first, Mr Vine's report describes an exemplary piece of detective work. He has abided by his terms of reference, the work was done quickly and apparently thoroughly and he writes clearly. He hasn't been cross-examined in an open court of law, of course, but prima facie some of his findings look pretty damning.
Writing about the "intelligence-led" trial in Chapter 4 of his report, he successfully debunks UKBA, who obviously haven't got a clue how to run a trial. At para.4.103 he fingers UKBA for claiming that the trial had been a success on the basis of certain drug seizures they made, without being able to prove that they made the drug seizures because of the trial. If drugs companies conducted trials in the same way, we'd all be dead.
No-one knows what "intelligence-led" means, least of all the poor old Home Secretary – regular readers will remember this interchange when she gave evidence in front of the Home Affairs Committee:
Mr Vine's dissection of the Secure ID business in Chapter 3 of his report is minute. "Secure ID" is a misnomer and denotes checking travellers' fingerprints.
Q33 Michael Ellis: ... can you elaborate on what is meant by intelligence-led security measures? ...
Theresa May: Indeed. The basis on which the pilot was to operate was that it was to enable a greater focus on those who were at higher risk. Intelligence-led, led also at the discretion of the officers at the border so that they would be assessing within the two categories of EEA nationals and the biometric chips, and EEA national children ...
Mr Vine is at some pains to show how the failure of immigration officers to do their Secure ID checks can be explained by their inadvertently confusing "Level 2" and "Scenario 2" (para.4.39) or by their failure to understand that Damian Green MP's approval for the suspension of Secure ID checks was a "provisional" approval (para.3.67).
But in the end he has to give up and decide that the immigration officers at Heathrow, in particular, jolly well knew they were flouting ministerial instructions when they suspended Secure ID.
Why would they do that? Are they all rogues?
Maybe not. Maybe they suspended Secure ID because they knew it was a waste of time that they didn't have to waste.
Brodie Clark said when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that fingerprint checks are the least reliable security/identity checks available and that they are the ninth and bottom priority. Mr Vine doesn't disagree. Indeed he quotes Brodie Clark in this connection saying that there have only been seven "hits" from Secure ID (3.13) since it was introduced in 2009-10.
Let's take a bit of time out here for some numbers. In the first 18 months of the coalition government, the period ending 31 October 2011, two days before Brodie Clark was suspended, the following payments were made by UKBA to contractors involved with computerised border security systems including fingerprint-checking:
Did those seven hits Brodie Clark talks of cost £105,000,000 each? A cheap mind might say so. Money is the only currency some people can deal in.
Atos ............................... 67,461,976
CapGemini .............................. 90,000
CSC (Computer Sciences Corporation) 140,023,212
Detica ................................ 821,034
Fujitsu ........................... 175,743,106
IBM ............................... 155,438,327
Morpho .............................. 1,227,389
PA Consulting ....................... 3,428,522
QinetiQ ............................... 582,868
Serco ............................. 103,590,132
Steria ............................. 19,084,494
VF Worldwide ....................... 67,416,851
Total ............................ £734,907,911
But Mr Vine offers us something subtler and more human. He contrasts the pestilentially inflexible computer system which made it hard for immigration officers to collate the statistics of their drugs seizures (4.98) with the benefit of human beings with the gift of judgement, specifically an immigration officer faced with a traveller with impeccable credentials who turned out to have 93 packets of cocaine inside him (Figure 12, p.66).
The computer wouldn't have discovered that cocaine. The traveller's papers were in order. The immigration officer did. He disobeyed instructions and questioned the traveller. He had a hunch. He had a certain amount of autonomy and discretion. And presumably a sound understanding of his duty and an admirable commitment. Which one does the Daily Mail want? Which one do you want?
If you are persuaded that border security depends on people and not on senseless automata then, the more you read John Vine's report, the more you understand what that belief means. It means that forms won't always be filled in correctly. It means that the people at head office will add up the figures and get a different total. It means that one man's "provisional" is another man's "unqualified". No computer would confuse "Level 2" with "Scenario 2", but then no computer will find those 93 packets of cocaine.
Chapter 2 of Mr Vine's report is devoted to the Warnings Index (WI). The WI checks have had to be suspended too often, usually for good reasons (2.21) ...
... but not always for good reasons. Figure 6 on p.23 of Mr Vine's report lists suspensions of WI checks by port, ending with 106 suspensions at "Other ports combined". Mr Vine attaches a footnote, footnote no.13, one for the history books, explaining that these other combined ports include three holiday destinations. One of them is Disneyland Paris, side-splittingly referred to in the Daily Mail headline above. The three holiday destinations reported just one suspension each, which sounds statistically insignificant. It's just that the suspension went on in each case for four years, Yvette Cooper please note.
For example, on 15 July 2011, 100% checks were suspended for one hour and 20 minutes and the reason for this was recorded as “Coaches blocking roundabout”, whilst on 16 July 2011, the reason recorded was “Coaches tailed back to motorway”.
It's not good. In fact, it's bad. But look why it's bad. It's profiling.
Some clot decided that no-one coming home from Disneyland Paris was likely to be a security threat and stuck to it for four years. If you believe in the efficacy of targeting, though, this is the kind of result you must expect. This, and the rogue "Operation Savant" uncovered by Mr Vine and dealt with in Chapter 5 of his report.
It does have funny consequences. Also in Chapter 5, Mr Vine records the procedure at Portsmouth, where immigration officers didn't bother to "open the chip" in ePassports, except to annoy French travellers.
But in general, think twice before agreeing that profiling is a good idea.
It sounds targeted or intelligence-led or risk-based, it sounds advanced and scientific. The suggestion is of a crack team of 26 PhDs in the UKBA command and control bunker using advanced pattern-recognition to detect, hidden away in a mineful of data, the geometry of an organised crime or a planned act of terrorism. But as no-one knows the shape of organised crime or terrorism it's baloney.
Mr Vine says in his introduction that "there is nothing I have discovered which could not have been identified and addressed by senior managers exercising proper oversight" (p.6). Which senior managers does he mean?
Go back to the Home Affairs Committee report. The Committee say:
So that's who Mr Vine thinks should have exercised proper oversight. The problems aren't all the responsibility of Brodie Clark and a few senior UKBA staff at Heathrow. Responsibility is shared right up into the heart of the Home Office, right up to Dame Helen Ghosh, the Permanent Secretary. And the problems didn't start last year when she started. Dame Helen inherited a lot of the mess from Sir David Normington, her predecessor as Permanent Secretary, who remains as silent about her travails as his ex-boss, Sir Gus, now Lord O'Donnell.
14. ... The UK Border Agency is described as "an executive agency of the Home Office" but it is in fact an integral part of the Department. While it has its own management and budgetary structure, the UK Border Agency is still under the aegis of the Home Office and it no longer formulates its own policy—that is the responsibility of Home Office Ministers, on the advice of Home Office and UK Border Agency officials.
22. ... If we are to accept the version of events as recounted by Ministers and senior Home Office staff then it creates the impression that Mr Clark was running the UK Border Force without effective checks or balances from either his superiors or immediate colleagues despite the fact that the Border Force is not a separate organisation, nor even part of an independent agency, but is part of the mainstream responsibility of the Home Office and comes directly under the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary and the Board of the Department.
What's the solution? Split the Border Force from the rest of UKBA? That's obviously what Dame Helen and Theresa May have decided to do. A mistake. Especially if they accompany that move with a lot of opprobrium heaped undiscriminatingly on the heads of all their staff. There are success stories. Like the introduction of checks on lost and stolen passports. Success stories which it might be nice if Mr Vine had included in his report.
It could work, though, if UKBA stop wasting lorry-loads of public money on glitzy technology and plausible consultants and contractors and spend a bit instead on the human beings that border security really relies on.
Is there any hope of that happening? On past experience, no. But just maybe the Financial Times story about the deployment of smart gates at UK airports being delayed in advance of Mr Vine's report could herald a break with past experience – maybe UKBA will abort the deployment of smart gates and cut back on their staff cutbacks.