Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)



Mr Cran

  180. Professor Rogers, you put forward the distinctive view, in answer to the Chairman, that quite a lot of these terrorism problems are being activated by the international inequities that you outline. I entirely understand that. At the same time you said that if the international community had a will to solve these various inequities about which we are talking it would take 20, 30, 40 for all I know 100 years. I simply do not know but it will take a long time. The terrorism problem that we have is one of now and, therefore, the question that I would like you to answer is: would the mere fact that the international community has decided, if it did, to take action to solve such inequities, would that in any way modify the actions of the terrorist bodies to which you addressed yourself? I think I know Sir Tim's view, but I am not sure that I know the view of Professor Rogers.
  (Professor Rogers) Perhaps I can draw the distinction again, or look at both of them, between the longer-term problems of insurgencies and the problems that we face now. The kind of insurgency problems of which we see examples now, I think will develop much more on current trends. If over the next three to five years we are able to start making serious inroads in the problems of the world poverty divide and environmental constraints, you will start to see a diminishing of the risk of those insurgencies over a five to 10 year period. But we are talking longer term. My argument is that if we do not do that, we shall face much greater problems over the next 10 to 20 years. Turning to the specific problem here, of the Al-Qaeda network and its origins, we have to look at the roots. The roots are complex and they concern partly a range of people taking refuge in a particular form of one of the world's major religions, but doing so in very defined political and economic contexts. Those contexts are principally what is perceived to be—I use that term very carefully—US control of Gulf oil reserves with major US occupation of the Persian Gulf including elements of Saudi Arabia. That is a matter of perception. We may disagree entirely. However, there is a problem across much of South West Asia that the perception is there, that a powerful state, 6,000 miles away, controls that part of the world. Just as you have strong opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the beginning of the 1980s, so over the past 10 or 11 years there has been the developing opposition to this US military presence. It is seen as a form of control and the Arab/Israeli conflict makes it rather worse, but it is not as serious as this fundamental view. That relates very strongly to what I mentioned earlier. There has been a range of attacks over 10 years, all directed at US interests, either in the United States or in the region or elsewhere in the case of the embassies. It is a long-term process that has been developing over at least a decade.

  181. Whether I agree with your analysis or not, your view is that these groups about which you speak, would not necessarily respond very quickly to international action?
  (Professor Rogers) These particular groups responsible for this atrocity, no. They come from a different area. Their significance is to demonstrate what extreme groups can do and to demonstrate the vulnerability of industrialised societies.


  182. Is the United States becoming more unilateralist?
  (Sir Tim Garden) Now you have used the word, Chairman! Again, it is too early to say, but the effect of 11 September in that sense has been benign on the willingness of the US to engage with other nations with which it has not been willing to engage before and indeed with the United Nations. The US has seen that the United Nations has a useful role to play in all this. The relationship that has developed between Russia and the United States has been entirely benign and will serve us well into the future. The intelligence sharing that appears to be taking place between nations, including the United States, that was inconceivable before 11 September, may build trust. As many of us in the academic community have, we can all put down a list of the things that the United States—

  183. That is another word I do not like—academic!
  (Sir Tim Garden) We can all put down a list of things that the United States should do in order to make it a better player in the world and to make the world a better place. Arms control is one that has particularly worried Europe. We can say, "I told you so", but the biological weapons protocol is quite a good thing and might have helped. Over a period of time it seems to me that we have the prospect of the US realising that it has friends in the rest of the world if it shares with them properly. I am optimistic, but it is too early to tell.

Mr Howarth

  184. I am sure that we shall not solve the problems of world economic inequality now or in the next five or 10 years. As Mr Cran said, what we face is an immediate threat that we have to deal with. Professor Rogers, I thought you were becoming dangerously close to providing justification for the attacks on the World Trade Center.
  (Professor Rogers) No, no.

  185. We must be very clear that nothing justifies the attacks on the World Trade Center. The American action must not be seen to be comparable to the attack on the World Trade Center. Perhaps I can turn to what Sir Tim said about intelligence, which is an important issue. Professor Rogers, you said that relatively few people in the intelligence circles identified with the symptoms of the trend already under way and the US has come in for considerable attack for what is perceived to be a failure of US intelligence. How well do you think we, in the United Kingdom, are placed to deal with this sort of terrorist threat. Do you feel that our intelligence services have neglected traditional human intelligence gathering in favour of more technological intelligence gathering?
  (Professor Rogers) I shall be cautious in responding. First, in no way do I justify the 11 September attacks. We must draw a clear distinction between trying to analyse the circumstances under which those attacks took place and in any sense trying to justify them. As far as I am concerned, they were massacres and they were atrocities. In relation to your question, I have to be careful, because it stretches a little beyond my own area of specialism and I have no access to classified information. So that is really looking at it from a more general view. I think that there has been an overall tendency—stronger in the United States than in Britain—to concentrate on signal and communication intelligence and to concentrate less on human intelligence. Broadly speaking, in Britain the change has been less extreme. As a result I think that the British intelligence communities are more able to address developing problems by looking at a wider range of sources of information. At the same time, I think necessarily the intelligence communities tend to look relatively short term and they tend to have areas of particular interest. It may be that the very heavy concentration on the difficult problems in Northern Ireland have perhaps tended to draw attention away from other significant parts of the world. It is also the case that for historic reasons, Britain has greater intelligence capability in relation to the Middle East and South West Asia, which broadly puts it at a slight advantage compared with its United States' counterparts, however much more thoroughly they may be financed and resourced.
  (Sir Tim Garden) As with all these things—I have no particular inside knowledge—it is a matter of where the resources go. At the end of the Cold War it was clear that there was a reallocation of resources towards what was perceived as the security challenges of the future. The intelligence services followed where the money went. If you take the nationalities of those who committed the atrocities in America, do we focus our intelligence on the countries from which they came, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the operations in Afghanistan? I do not know, but I suspect that if you were bidding for an intelligence budget in the mid-1990s you would not have had an enormous amount of success in focusing on those areas.

  186. Notwithstanding the warning given by this Committee under the chairmanship of our current Chairman—
  (Sir Tim Garden) I have read the Committee's report, but did the Committee say that there should be human intelligence placed in Egypt to protect our future? As with all things, there are difficult priorities. One problem is that until you received the intelligence you do not know where the threat is in order to justify carrying out the intelligence. Inevitably, it seems that the intelligence organisations focused on where they knew they would get the resources, which was the immediate threat to the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland. I do not doubt that there will be a reallocation of resources in the light of all this. Training the experts in this area is not a quick process. Yes, we have some advantages in terms of having a presence in Gulf states for a long time, so we probably have people who speak the language and know the culture, but gearing up an intelligence operation that is radically different from what has been done before requires not just money but also time.


  187. We had a large section in our report on the crisis, including the Middle Eastern countries that were Islamic, which was more than the MoD did.
  (Sir Tim Garden) Of course, we are not talking about the MoD's budget now. We are talking about the wider intelligence services.

  188. We did not have access to the intelligence services. They pointedly refused to come. Our SDR analysis of international security work was rather more robust than that of the Ministry of Defence. If the MoD had taken a robust attitude to security, a budget that was declining by 2.3 per cent would hardly be commensurate with a robust threat assessment. One may imagine that one of the reasons that they were less than robust was because they knew that the budget was not going to rise. Our view was much less constrained by financial realities and said it as it more or less was.

Mr Howarth

  189. Your conclusion is that if there is a new chapter in the SDR, it has to be paid for? What you have just said is not simply a matter of more money, but of structural change in the nature of the intelligence gathering as well.
  (Sir Tim Garden) I would go far wider than that. Assuming we get to the stage of how we organise ourselves for what is a new threat to the United Kingdom, new in the sense that we now perceive it, the primary role of Government is the protection of its citizens and we must decide whether we do it piecemeal, as we seem to do between different departments. There is a whole range of things of which intelligence is only one and they are necessary if we are to take this threat seriously and deal with it in terms of protection and prevention and coping with the consequences when we fail. All of those matters cross different departments. Many of them are local government issues rather than national government issues. Whether the arrangements that we have had are the best way of doing that seems to me to be slightly doubtful. Certainly, putting it all on the back of the MoD, will not produce a focused approach because of the problem of resources. The MoD still has to do all the things it was doing before and it did not have enough money to do those or enough people. The SDR never got itself manned to the level that was predicted. We have a serious problem that we must address in a serious manner.

  190. That brings me on neatly to our question of the Government's response to the Organisation of Civil Contingency Secretariat, which has a very sexy sounding name. We have been told that that organisation is every bit as good as the office of the Director of Homeland Security that President Bush has set up. Do you understand from your background in the Ministry of Defence, whether that is a sensible way of operating, or do you think that because of the nature of what happened on 11 September and what you have both identified as continuing and growing threats we should think more seriously about restructuring the co-ordination of our responses in the United Kingdom?
  (Sir Tim Garden) We need to consider carefully whether the traditional Whitehall ways of doing things are appropriate for what is an urgent and serious threat. In the end—here I show my background as a defence programmer—all these matters come down to resources and money. Into what are you going to put your money so as to get the best return in terms of added security for the nation? When it crosses departments, in a way it becomes a turf battle. However serious it is, that may not be the best way of putting these things together. When it is not only Whitehall activity but is a local government activity, who are the deliverers of a quite a lot of the aspects of homeland security, to use the American expression, you then have even more difficulty. The committee structure may make you feel warm and cosy at the Whitehall level but when you get down to local government level they have problems with money and budget just as much as everybody else and if they are asked to provide a sufficient number of nuclear biological chemical suits in order to look after a disaster that could be terrorist generated in their area and their budget is short in the things they have to do everyday, the fire service or the Health Service, whatever it may be, then they may not attach as much importance to this particular threat. It is an almost fingers crossed it will not happen in my area approach. What I worry about with a Committee structure which is interdepartmental is how you get the accountability for the delivery of greater security, because everyone says, that is a Home Office problem, the MoD will do this. Questions like, and one of this Committee's previous favourite ones, the Reserves. It seems strange that the Home Office is generating part time civilian policemen at a time when we have 40,000 trained armed people who could do some of this sort of role. A Committee tends to issue edicts out to departments, I do not get a feel for how it is being pulled together, but the new arrangements, as I understand it, stem from the fuel crisis and the flooding, for one, and there has been a paper circulated for discussion this year, which had a reporting dated of 31 October, on the way we deal with emergencies. All of this happened before 11 September but some of the commentaries will be in the light of 11 September. This suggests to me that we have a new form of emergency planning system that is in transition at the moment because they are thinking of the new arrangements. We need one really quite urgently, in my view, we do not have time to wait for another six months.

  191. Given all of your experience in Whitehall do you think if they created a special office director of the United Kingdom for homeland security, presided over by a single cabinet minister, whose responsibility would be to account to us in Parliament and also to pull together all of the different assets and different government departments, is a way forward?
  (Sir Tim Garden) It is a way that needs to be looked at quite seriously, I think, and the key is that it would be a serious senior post. One could make it the deputy Prime Minister, if you like.

  192. I hoped you were not going to say that!
  (Sir Tim Garden) I am not talking personalities, I am talking positions. It is a serious, potential threat to have the possibility of tens of thousands of people being killed in a single incident in the United Kingdom, this is something that we have really not focussed on before and that seems to be something that the government needs to take very seriously. Making the arrangements, if you like, delegated to an official who runs the committee, even if you just think about the public presentation bit, however good the system is, this does not give the same sense of urgency. The public need to be involved, they need to have a hot line for terrorism.

  Mr Howarth: At the moment the services, the Armed Forces have a responsibility for protecting the air, land and sea, if you were to take some of those away—once it comes on to the shore it is a Home Office responsibility—is the MoD asking to wear that or that somebody else has that responsibility?


  193. It is more the Cabinet Office than the Home Office.
  (Sir Tim Garden) The system at the moment is no different. If the committee decides that it wants the MoD to do something in this counter terrorist role then it presumably tells the MoD to send in some reservists with air defence missiles to sit round nuclear power stations, or whatever it might be. Those are quite dramatic decisions. Certainly when you talk to the Ministry of Defence I do not get the impression that their top priority activity at the moment is homeland defence. They have quite a lot of problems in doing all of the other jobs.

Mr Howarth

  194. Do you think we could cope with a terrorist attack involving somebody coming in with a suit case?
  (Sir Tim Garden) What do you mean "cope"?

  195. Could we identify the source?
  (Sir Tim Garden) A whole series of things roll out, one is the intelligence to discover it is happening, the next one is the police activity to find the person, the next one is preventive measures, such as you can take against the thing. Then if it all goes wrong there is the emergency planning and systems and equipment. We are talking about capital equipment here. If it is biological warfare or if it is chemical or nuclear or nuclear material release you need enough protected equipment to cope with the disaster in the right place. These are things the military have quite a lot of but others do not, so you need to have it available, not out on exercise in Germany or elsewhere, you need it somewhere where it can be deployed, with the ability to deploy it rapidly to where it is needed. You need to practice people, this is, perhaps, the most important bit of it, you need training systems, evaluation, you need to know which counties are doing it properly and those that are not need to be told that they have to get their training up. These are priority activities. You have to do all of this without alarming the public as well, which is quite difficult. In a sense, if you have somebody who is reassuring, that is from the government, that these measure are being taken in order to reduce the risks. There is prevention as well as consequence management, which is really what I am talking about, then you can get the balance right, it would be a political judgment. The resource question still remains in all of this.

  196. Can I have one other question, it goes back to what we were talking about before, human intelligence. One of the things that occurred to me following your remarks about how Britain is quite well placed with contacts in the Middle East and the Far East is should we be making more use of our own ethnic minorities and recruit them to our intelligence service? That seems to me to be a way forward, albeit it is going to take a long time to train up people and, if you like, infiltrate them into terrorist organisations. Would you see that as a way forward?
  (Sir Tim Garden) I would not want to get involved in the technique. I did find it extraordinary that we were turning away Afghan refugees and at the same time claiming we did not have Afghan intelligence. We have people begging to come into the country, so you have something really good to offer them.

  197. You can come in if you join up to the intelligent services!
  (Sir Tim Garden) Your application will go to the top of pile if you are helpful to us. We do have a human resource, because of the terrible things going on in these terrible countries, I do not know, but I hope we are utilising it.
  (Professor Rogers) Can I just add one brief point, in terms of responding to major incidents it is worth recalling that Britain of western countries probably has more experience than virtually any other country because of the experience in relation to the Provisional IRA city centre bombs of the 1990s, and that is an experience that certainly relates to any kind of emergency planning entertained at present.

David Crausby

  198. Still on ethnic minorities, my experience of the Asian community is that the vast majority just want to get on with their own lives. There is a significant minority of men who are highly motivated by the issues that surround Kashmir and Palestine. I wonder, how much of a domestic threat is there and how do we keep our finger on the pulse domestically? How do we improve intelligence gathering within the ethnic minority communities?
  (Professor Rogers) The threat domestically is minimal in terms of established ethnic minority communities. There is certainly a great deal of unease amongst a number of communities over recent events.

  199. Do they reflect the anti-American view you talked about earlier?
  (Professor Rogers) To some extent. I think we have to be careful because it is more a worry and an unease rather than distinct anti-American attitudes. Yes, you will get some younger people who are very disenchanted, but for the most part in my experience there is just a real concern of what is happening and an unease of what it is going to bring rather than a bitter anti-American attitude.

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