Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 290 - 299)



Asterisks in the Oral and Written Evidence denote that part or all of a question or answer thereto, or a passage of Evidence has not been reported, at the request of the Ministry of Defence and with the agreement of the Committee.


  290. Thanks very much for coming. The reason we have been delayed is that this is the first time we have ever had a formal session with the intelligence community so we are trying to work out the ground rules as we are breaking new territory. Would you like to comment as far as you see things?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Talking in security terms, I intend to speak up to secret level. When I am talking at secret level I might just creep above it by mistake in an error, but the arrangements within here are adequate to make sure that that is all right and we see the transcript so that if there is something specific it could then be removed.

  291. Absolutely.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) If I do go above it in error I will try and catch myself and tell you that it is above that level.

  292. Although technically, and people who are much older than yourselves, ie probably me, would remember that we have in the past established, if not a precedent, that we can get information higher than secret. Somebody has unilaterally downgraded the whole system, ministers no doubt, so there may, in the course of either this session or in the negotiations afterwards, be questions as to whether you were right in deleting. I do not want to get into a conflict situation. We have not done this since our first meeting on ammunition storage in West Germany in 1980 where the Ministry of Defence asked us to delete the fact that our ammunition storage site was at Brake, west of the Rhine. We did indicate that probably the Russians were aware that two-thirds of Brake was for ammunition storage. We conceded that but it did not mean that we conceded much subsequently. There may be some correspondence and you can tell us what the official line is.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) I do not have difficulty with that. That is basically the ground rules as secret. As I say, I do not have difficulty going above that at certain points.

  293. In the course of the morning there might be some dispute over why you are not answering or why you are being excessively evasive, but please do not take that as—
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) That would normally be because I do not know the answer.

  294. As long as you check your laptop! We do not want any of that publicity. Thanks very much for coming. Mr Hatfield we have known for a long time. First, how soon after Dayton did you start seriously thinking about the possible need to plan for preventing a crisis in Kosovo?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) All these answers will be from the intelligence perspective, if I may do that. I took over from General Sir John Foley in October 1997, and certainly as soon as I came into post it was apparent from the reporting we were getting (we had set up within the DIS a Balkans special task group in about 1990 and that was still functioning as a sort of crisis cell) that there were reasons for us to be concerned at what was happening in Kosovo. It was about that time, September, October, November, that the contact group were meeting and conducting various meetings, led I think by the UK in September (in September we started the process), and expressing concerns about Kosovo. That concern of mine in terms of the intelligence reporting, which showed that there was reason for us to be concerned, grew through into 1998 and I think it must have been in about May or early June of 1998 when NATO were formally tasked to do planning for various military options to impact on the Kosovo crisis. Certainly by that stage there was a lot of intelligence which gave cause for concern about Serb actions within Kosovo and how the tension and the risk of killings and humanitarian issues were beginning to become more prevalent.

  295. There must have been some kind of Balkan cell since about 1913. At least I hope there was. Obviously it was not very successful in the early days. In terms of organisation, functions, geographical distribution, you must have Balkan specialists.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Yes. The organisation of this office is extremely complex within the DIS. I will not go into the full organisation but one part of the Defence Intelligence Analysis staff, the DIAS, which sits under a two-star civilian, Mr Tony Cragg, and indeed is the largest group of all source analysts anywhere in the United Kingdom (it stems historically from the Joint Intelligence Bureau, JIB) is split up on a geographical basis. In fact there are three chunks: one is scientific and technical, one of them is to do with ***, and one is on a geographical basis. Yes, going back over many years, we have had people responsible for looking at the Balkans, looking at various Mediterranean regions, the Gulf, that sort of thing. What happened at the beginning of the nineties was that there was a Yugoslav crisis cell set up because of events that appeared to be about to start happening, and indeed started happening, with Slovenia going, Croatia, Bosnia, all that sort of thing, and that Yugoslav crisis cell was the cell that was giving me the input when I took over in 1997, showing me that actually we had good reason to be concerned in Kosovo. I think the international community realised before then. Bush gave a warning to Milosevic I think in late 1992, and I know Clinton did the same in 1993 when he came into power. There had been concern over various matters in Kosovo, Vojvodina and the Sandzac that Milosevic would be back. There were strands of that. That was before I came in, but certainly when I came in there were very real pieces of intelligence that gave cause for concern about the situation in Kosovo, that it could lead to much greater violence and real problems.

  296. You had to get authorisation from outside the military sector for any stepping up of activity, or is that purely an internal issue?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Is this intelligence gathering?

  297. Yes.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Depending on what I am gathering and where I am getting it from, there are procedures for the approvals I have to get. Certainly at that stage I was content that we were getting sufficient intelligence to show us that there was cause for concern there, and we were getting it through the normal ways. We were getting it from our own sources, and I do all source analysis ***. I was content with that and I felt no need at that stage for example to boost anything like particular *** requirements or anything like that. If I do want to put in some extra *** , I have to get approvals in the normal way up through ministerial approval to do those sorts of things.

  298. How early on (and it was hopefully a long time before you came on the scene) were your predecessors or people at a comparably high level aware of the KLA?
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) That specific name, or UCK, whatever one wants to call them, we were not really aware of them until very nearly when I came in. You know the history very well, I am sure, but basically there was a very long history of difficulties over Kosovo and without going right back into the mists of time, which I suppose goes back to the Field of the Blackbirds where the Serbs were defeated by the Turks and that made the Serbs feel that this was a particularly important thing—

  299. It was a draw, according to recent sources, manipulated by the Serbs, an honourable draw.
  (Vice-Admiral Sir Alan West) Therefore that gave a particular feel for Kosovo and the religious sites there. It has a place in the heart of all Serbs. Going back to 1913 after the Balkan War there, Kosovo was given to Serbia. It had a majority of Kosovo Albanians and from that time there was trouble. One then saw lots of Serbian writings and there were certain characters in Serbia who were very racist really and who felt that there was a risk of this large number of Albanians within what they saw as Serbia, and they wanted to get them out. There were incidents that went on for years and years and one can see large outflows of Albanians who were forced out by the Serbs at that time. Then if one comes post-war and up to Tito's time. Tito, I think rather pragmatically, made them an autonomous region. He did not make them a republic which a lot of the Albanians felt that he should do. Coming on a little bit more towards our time, Milosevic came in with his very extreme and racist policies. I think in 1989 he gave a speech on the Field of Blackbirds which was to boost the minority Serbians in Kosovo who felt they were very badly done by and were at risk. He gave this very racist speech and one could argue that that led to the whole break-up of Yugoslavia and all the horror that has happened there. At that stage certain rights were withdrawn from the Albanians. They were not allowed to have a university, there were restrictions on Albanians in Kosovo taking up certain senior posts in the civil service. Opposition grew and Rugova was really the focus and it was a peaceful opposition. They had an election and Rugova was elected. He was not recognised by Belgrade and they felt that by acting as if they were an autonomous area they would get some impact. At that stage there was very little violence. As the nineties moved on and the repression continued one began to see little bits of violence, initially very much in clan areas. It is very much a clan society. That did not get to a stage where we were beginning to feel that there was some organised violence until late 1997. That is when we first started hearing about the KLA or UCK, and at that stage we did not have many details. It was something we did not have a very good handle on, exactly what they were, who they were, what the organisation was, ***, how well structured it was.

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