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Dr. Julian Lewis: If what my right hon. Friend is saying is correct, surely the implication is that the intelligence services have to be proactive. If we cannot rely on a terrorist cell to leak, we need to acquire enough intelligence to disrupt it so that it cannot proceed with its plans, even if we do not know what those plans are.
Mr. Arbuthnot: My hon. Friend is right to say that the intelligence services must be proactive. However, we should not give the impression that this country's intelligence servicesor for that matter, those of the USare not proactive, because they are highly so. However, they cannot know everything that is thought, done or planned. If they could, I suspect that the House would be extremely concerned.
In one respect, I agree with the remarks on the failure of intelligence by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling. The security of the western world has been predicated on the idea that those who would attack us would wish to survive themselves. We had not paid enough attention to suicide as a weapon. That charge cannot be laid solely at the door of the security services or those in charge of them in this country, because the western world as a whole had failed to follow through the implications of what had begun in Beirut, been taken up by Hamas and been pursued in the attack on the USS Cole. For example, the normal procedure in dealing with hijacking was that those in charge of the aircraft should go along with whatever it was that the hijackers asked. That was a weakness that Osama bin Laden recognised and acted on with ruthless imagination.
Osama bin Laden was capable of using imagination, and we knew that. He had done so in many different aspects of his life and the western world did not have the imagination to predict how far he would take it. So it was a failure of imagination more than a failure of intelligence. Our imagination could fail us again. If we spend the next few months trying to stop people flying aeroplanes into buildings, we will miss the point. We need to do that, but we also need to think more like those who threaten us think, instead of how we have thought in the past. The issue is not what al-Qaeda, or similar groups, did last but what they might do next.
Where are we vulnerable? We used to need to protect strong points, such as power stations, water supplies and critical manufacturers. Now that our society has become so complicated and interdependent, the key to our survival is not so much strong points as systems. Those systems are often in the control of the private sector. Public confidence in our computer systems, for example, is as important as public confidence in the World Trade Centre. Therefore, we need to use our imaginations to build up a picture of how those computer systems could be vulnerable. I know that much thought is going into that and it is essential that it should.
We also need to consider not only the spectacular results of terrorism, but what gives birth to terror in the first place. That is not an issue that we consider in our report, perhaps because we think that it would be more the province of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who is a conscientious and highly effective member of the Committee. I fully endorse the tribute that he paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) for the excellent leadership that she has provided in the past year.
Four years ago I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak in what was the first parliamentary debate on an Intelligence and Security Committee annual report. It was the first speech I had made in the House since rejoining the Back Benches. I sought that opportunity to speak because of the importance I attached to the work of the intelligence and security services and the Committee. Having had a year as a member of the Committee, I am now very pleased to be able to participate in this debate. I feel that I have secured a better understanding of the state's security apparatus, and also believe that the Committee is well served by its staff.
I have never been under any illusion as to the necessity of deploying adequate resources in this area. It has been a pleasure to meet many of the dedicated public servants who work for the agencies. I do not intend to spend much time on the role of the Committee in relation to the agencies. It is a fascinating question, which I am still in the process of trying to answer for myself. However, I am convinced that there is a legitimate function for the Committee. I also believe that the senior people in our security and intelligence services recognise the Committee's value to the democratic process. One reason for that recognition is that, to my knowledge, no secret information shared with the Committee has leaked into the public domain, a point that a number of right hon. and hon. Members have made this afternoon. It goes without saying that the value of the work of the Committee depends on the extent to which senior Ministers and senior staff in the intelligence community are fully open with the Committee.
On the day my hon. Friends and I were appointed to the Committee last summer, no one could have guessed that before we would hold our first formal meeting, the landscape that the Committee surveyed would be drastically altered. It is worth mentioning that all four members of the Committee who have spoken so far this afternoon, including me, are relatively new and were appointed a year ago.
I am in no doubt that the atrocities of 11 September changed the world because of the scale of the civilian slaughter, which left 3,000 people dead, the spectacular nature of the attacksimages of which were brought straight into our living rooms by televisionand the level of organisation required to co-ordinate the strikes throughout the United States. Moreover, the United States had not previously seen its homeland as a target for international terrorism. It is my view that if the terrorists responsible for the atrocities on 11 September could have killed more people, they would have done so. We should be concerned that terrorists in the future will try to do just that.
In its annual report, the Intelligence and Security Committee sets out a future programme of work. The threat from international terrorism is one reason why I am very pleased that the Committee has included in its future programme an item on the work of the agencies to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Committee looked at the issue and reported on it in its annual report of 1998-99, but matters have moved on in the three years since then, and we need to do more.
Until recently, terrorist leaders apparently did not consider that mass civilian slaughter on the scale that we have now witnessed would further their aims. Perhaps the Tokyo sarin gas attack in 1995 marked the watershed. The concern is that to achieve the desired effectterrorterrorists need continually to increase the levels of violence to secure the necessary impact on the target population and in the media. We have to ask ourselves what they will try next. There is surely a real and increasing threat that terrorists will obtain and use weapons of mass destruction.
I should like to concentrate on the orthodox categories of chemical, biological and radiological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction, although the House will be all too well aware that terrorists have already proved capable of turning a jet plane into a weapon of large-scale destruction.
Acquiring chemical weapons is relatively easy. There is access to ingredients for nerve agents, and so on, on the open market, and the science is not difficult. As I have mentioned, the Aum group in Japan successfully prepared and released sarin gas in the Tokyo underground in 1995. Terrorists may not need to bother preparing chemical weaponsthere are great stockpiles world wide. As the Defence Committee stated, there is concern that these weapons may find their way into the hands of terrorist groups.
Getting hold of biological agents can also be straightforward. Many agents can be bought from legitimate suppliers or acquired from laboratories by theft or through a laboratory worker. There have been a number
Opinions vary as to whether terrorists could use nuclear material to manufacture and successfully detonate a nuclear bomb. Mr. El Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last November that such a development is "highly unlikely" but that "no scenario is impossible". However, Dr. Frank Barnaby believes that the construction of a crude nuclear weapon need not be beyond the capabilities of a sophisticated and well resourced terrorist group.
There is a flourishing black market in fissile materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency recorded 175 cases of trafficking in nuclear material between 1993 and 2000, 18 of which involved highly enriched uranium or plutonium.
Finally, I should like to mention radiological weaponry. There has been a fair amount of press coverage recently of "dirty bombs"that is, radioactive material distributed by a conventional explosion. Some radioactive isotopes suitable for constructing a dirty bomb have been smuggled on to the black market. Indeed, Chechen rebels placed a container of caesium-137 in a Moscow park in 1996.
IAEA experts are concerned that terrorists will develop a crude radiological dispersal device. The agency database includes 284 confirmed incidents of unauthorised movements of radioactive material other than nuclear material. Just two weeks ago, the agency warned that safeguards on powerful radioactive sources are inadequate, and called for cradle-to-grave control.
The security and intelligence services will be vital in countering the threat from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Human intelligenceinfiltrating and recruitingand signal intelligence in intercepting communications will be of huge importance. Because the
Organised crime and terrorism have long been closely linked, and with the increase in global transport, trade and communications, organised crime and terrorism are spreading and strengthening their links. As terrorism and international crime endeavour to globalise, we must ensure that intelligence and security services are not hindered by national boundaries. I was pleased to see that at the recent summit in Canada the leaders of the G8 countries agreed to launch a new global partnership against the spread of weapons of mass destruction to help prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. I should be interested to learn what effect that programme may have on the work of our security and intelligence agencies in this field.
I said at the outset that I valued the opportunity to consider these matters, along with my colleagues on the Intelligence and Security Committee. The world did change on 11 September. The Government have already recognised that by providing extra resources for the agencies. I agree with colleagues who have said that further investment will be needed in the medium to long term. I look forward to an important announcement on that next week.
Of course, international terrorism is not the only challenge that the agencies facefar from it. Indeed, we were only recently reminded that we still have a significant domestic terrorist threat. It is hard to think of anything more degrading to civilisation than the wanton slaughter of innocent people. There is all the difference in the world between the loss of life on the battlefield, among combatants, and the killing of men, women and children who just want to go about their daily lives in peace.
Of course, we must not be blind to the underlying historical or social causes of terrorism, but at the same time the House and the Government should give the highest priority to thwarting terrorists from wherever they come.