Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 420 - 432)



  420. Thank you.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) All I can say is the new world environment does cause me a problem with languages. At the end of the 1980s we realised that we needed more Serbo-Croat speakers and we started training them through. Since the beginning of the 1990s we seem to have got even more involved in the Balkans and with Kosovo even more and, therefore, there has been a bigger and bigger demand and I am having to put double courses through now at Chicksands. Of course when things crop up in other places it is quite difficult because whereas once I just trained Russian speakers, now we have to train all sorts of people, not just Farsi speakers, Arabic speakers, suddenly we are down in Sierra Leone trying to speak some of those tribal languages, Rwanda. It is an issue that you have identified but we can come back with the precise number.

Laura Moffatt

  421. I am pleased to hear the numbers of reservists you are using in the service, do you have any difficulty recruiting skilled analysts?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) In fact, we just recently, in 1999, went out and did a recruitment, the prime reason for that being the new emphasis ***. In fact we had a very good take up on that, a large number applied to do that. I think going back a couple of years before that we had found it quite difficult to get enough of the right quality. On this occasion we had a very large number applying which enabled us to sift it down and go through the interview process with some particularly good candidates and we have not really had the difficulty on this occasion.

  422. That is pleasing. What effect do you think there will be if the MoD moves ahead with its plans for DERA? Will that have any effect on your ability to get the sort of people you need?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) It should not really directly affect it. The people I recruit come in specifically as analysts in the DIS. They are separate from the scientific grades who are DERA. However, I do employ quite a lot of scientists in my scientific and technical area. Historically the way those have been kept up to speed is because the pool of scientists at DERA have been used to flip into my organisation and my guys have gone back there. Therefore, one could see it having an impact on the pool one has to work out of, depending on how big the private or public chunks are of the new DERA organisation. I am not quite sure what is going to happen, I have to say, with DERA.

  Chairman: You had better make sure the good guys are retained otherwise you will have to ask Nomura or Lockheed for permission to approach them for advice, but we shall not pursue that, that is for the Secretary of State, sooner rather than later.

Laura Moffatt

  423. Of course, what we are driving at is that we believe—this Committee believes—that if we were to go ahead with the PP partnership with DERA then it may put at risk information gathering and our relationship with the Americans. We know they are very upset about it. What about in this very critical area of getting the information you need, they will not be very happy about it.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I think probably all I would say is that in terms of DERA, when this was first raised clearly there were issues there in intelligence terms, because DERA does do work for me and I reflected all of those issues and inputted to the work that was going on and spoke with my colleagues in the intelligence agencies in America. All of their views and my views have been passed across and hopefully are being taken into account in whatever decision is made.

  Laura Moffatt: Good.


  424. ***
  (Mr Hatfield) Chairman, I do not think that is quite fair. You said "any privatisation", I think there are certain parts of what is done by DERA which the Americans would, indeed, feel very worried about if they were privatised, rightly or wrongly. There are other parts of DERA where that is not even an issue. I think, like Admiral West, there are parts of DERA I sincerely hope are retained to support my organisation. That is not necessarily in any way contradicting what the MoD is going to do. They are not going to privatise, and never have been going to privatise, the entire DERA organisation.


  425. There will be a big bunch of those you are going to retain. We will look forward to your support, Mr Hatfield. We just have a couple more questions before we finish. Would you list your intelligence successes and your intelligence failures? It would be helpful if you could do that. We will start off with failures, obviously in Kosovo?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) In relation to Kosovo, gosh.

Mr Cann

  426. You cannot think of one.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) I am trying to think of one.
  (Mr Hatfield) I think that is an unfair question. It is a wife beating question, Chairman.

Laura Moffatt

  427. When did you stop.
  (Mr Hatfield) Yes.


  428. If I ask you to write them the MoD will nobble your answer and we will have some anodyne response written by Mr Hatfield when he has more time to reflect. Obviously we have embarrassed you. You tell us your successes, I am sure he would approve of that.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Going back to the build up to it, I think one of my responsibilities is for intelligence warning and I think we did give intelligence warning. Early on, certainly I came in in October and I can remember at the end of October when I had only been in post for a few days, a week or something, speaking to the chiefs and to others saying that I was concerned about Kosovo looking to the future and we kept up those warnings throughout the following year. It was not that it caught us out by surprise.

Mr Gapes

  429. That is not what we have heard.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) It was becoming an area of concern. I am not saying that we were particularly clever judging by Bush's warning in 1992 and Clinton's in 1993 and the removal of OSCE in 1995. I think that side was good. I think the detail we had of the IADS system, we had a very good understanding of their IADS system and that is partly why we did not lose any aircraft. *** I think that was a great success, the fact that we did not lose anyone. I am trying to think now of where we might have failed. I would not call it a failure but one of the areas where I would like to put more work in the future is in information operations. We could be more joined up in that. It is very early and embryonic days there. It is an area that I think is worth putting more effort into and concentrating on because *** and, therefore, that has to be attractive. That might be an area where I would like to see more done. I would not call it a failure because actually it is very early days and I have started shifting that way.


  430. I have 30 seconds for two questions. What are the major intelligence capability shortfalls, if not for us for the Alliance generally and for NATO in Europe?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) We are doing a lessons learned process. The sorts of areas that I would like to improve are connectivity, in other words sufficient connectivity with our various headquarters right down into the field at the right levels of classification and at the right amount of bandwidth to enable all sorts of data, ***. That is something we have still got to work on that we have still not got right. It was something that we were aware of before Kosovo and we have just got to keep working at it. There is a funding aspect to that obviously. I mentioned information operations which is an area we need to work on. The whole issue of ISTAR, which I describe as sensor to shooter, which I think someone else talked about because I saw it spelt as "censor" rather than "sensor"—

  431. That was a civilian mistake.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) The whole of that area of ISTAR. The BDA process and how we teach people to understand that is an area that needs improvement. What else? There are some areas *** where I think we need some more equipment for people. So, far from being perfect, there are lots of things we have got to improve on but they have been flagged up and they are things we will have to work away at. There is no quick, easy answer to some of them.

  432. Thank you so much. I was thinking when you were talking how good it will be when Milosevic is finally ousted if maybe Mr Livingstone's agents, who are very good at hiring people to go on lecture circuits, hired him. It would be wonderful if Milosevic, assuming he was not arrested and taken to the Hague, could at least send a proxy or one of those lookalikes, "I was Monty's double", and perhaps provide some of the answers that you would like to have.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Alan West) Absolutely.

  Chairman: Thank you so much to both of you for your help. Thank you very much.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 25 May 2000