Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1180
TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002
CBE, AND DEPUTY
1180. The whole system degradates. How are you
going to guard against that?
(Mr Veness) I think that is a bigger issue. It is
an enormously important issue around how people retain the reality
in respect of what has occurred on 11 September. We describe it
as the management of complacency because I think there is a very
real danger, which I think is based upon a lack of understanding
of the scale and the long term impact of what occurred last autumn.
It is a fact that we now have a global threat of an enduring nature
which has fundamentally changed the nature of certainly counter-terrorism
because terrorism in this international dimension has changed.
I do not think that understanding is totally widespread, neither
do I think there is an understanding that it is an enduring phenomenon
that we have not got live with for weeks and months but I am afraid
for years in terms of the resolution of that issue. I think the
challenge for us all against that background is to find a way
of having a broader debate which does not generate needless paranoia
or public concern but nevertheless ensures that there is commensurate
and measured vigilance and indeed within that, that all parts
of the machinery themselves maintain their cutting edge and do
not lose an understanding of what has happened. One could almost
sense it around Christmas time, which to me was the time when
that impacted, a sense of "Well, there has not been another
attack has there. The military are doing very well, we are very
grateful for that. This means that al-Qaeda will no longer be
able to impact". Well, there are 2,000 kilometre porous borders
into Pakistan and Iran and we know the reality of ex-filtration,
let alone all of those other groups which never were in Afghanistan.
I think there is a very real issue of finding a way ahead with
a measured public debate which gets the best of all of the wonderful
way in which the public have been supportive of their own safety
and supportive of security endeavour in the many years that we
have had this problem on a lesser scale but which does not do
that in a way which causes public concern.
1181. Just so that I can understand what you
have said simply. Would you say to me that between 11 September
and now there has been no diminution of vigilance by those who
work for you vigilance in terms of doing the job that they are
meant to do? I worry that the reality is different.
(Mr Veness) I think the closer the individuals are
to working the cases and seeing the reality of the intelligence
then their sense of foreboding is the most acute. As soon as you
move away from that to duties that are not so engaged with that
day to day, and then when I look at my friends and those I know
and move around with in London, one sees a distance away from
the problem. I think it is an issue of how close and how often
one is being reminded of the reality.
1182. Okay. Again thinking about intelligence
gathering and the dissemination of the information, are you absolutely
clear in your mind that the information once collected, digested,
analysed and so on is being distributed to whom it should be distributed?
I am thinking again about a quote I read out to you from Sir John
Stevens where he was saying that he did not know about Mr Reid's
(Mr Veness) Yes.
1183. Again, it is going to be clearly crucial
in the future that everybody who should know must know about that
sort of information.
(Mr Veness) I think there are two important points
in there, if I may, Sir. One is in relation to what is the scoping
of our intelligence. I think it is undeniably true that one of
the impacts in the intelligence world post 11 September has been
a probing down into areas which would not otherwise perhaps have
had the same systematic review. I think it is within that territory
that the Commissioner's remarks are so appropriate because we
are looking there at an individual, clearly his case has yet to
be adjudged by the United States' courts, all of this is allegation.
If those allegations are correct here was an individual who had
contact with other groupings but who to a degree was operating
at a lower tier, conscious of course, it is alleged, that he came
very close to murdering 200 people in cold blood. That is the
danger of that scale of activity. I think to sum that up: the
probing and the scale of intelligence gathering has increased.
On your first point, I would be absolutely confident that if an
item of intelligence arose which could save a life in the United
Kingdom then it would be actioned and it would be passed on. We
must remember the United Kingdom has gone through some of those
episodes in the past, for example the death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher
in April 1984 in an international context where there was a debate
and an improvement in relations and the passage of intelligence
and similar experience in relation to Irish terrorism. I think
it does come back to the school of hard knocks. There would be
no forgiveness whatsoever in obscuring an item of intelligence
which could lead to the saving of life or reduction of harm.
1184. As we sit here now you are absolutely
confident that a Richard Reid type situation would not occur?
(Mr Veness) No, I did not say that, Sir.
1185. That is why I just want to know in the
scale of these things where we are. I have not got there yet.
(Mr Veness) What I am saying is I am confident if
there is intelligence in the system then it will be passed through
the system to where it can be acted upon in order to reduce public
harm. That is what I was referring to by way of the historic examples.
Where I do not think we can yet be confident, and much hard work
needs to be done, is in driving down our intelligence coverage
so that it picks up individuals, small groups or people who may
be moving in a way that has not hitherto been anticipated, of
which Richard Colvin Reid would be an example. There is more work
to be done in relation to that category of terrorism.
1186. How long is this work going to take?
(Mr Veness) I fear it is going to be with us for years
to come. What we are talking about on a tier of threats is al-Qaeda
at the top of the pyramid, and clearly an enormous investment
in their activity, military action as we speak. Then a second
tier of groups who are linked by a dotted line but enormously
spread in figurative terms from Marrakech to Manila with an axis
through the middle from the Central Asian states through to Central
and Eastern Africa, so a very large slice of the world. Our coverage
of those is going to be an enduring activity. Then in the category
that I am describing at the bottom of the pyramid are groups of
individuals who may be small in number and picking those up, to
be frank, is going to be a Herculean and enduring task. That was
the reservation that I was seeking to express. To me the lesson
is that even the people at the bottom of that particular pyramid
can nevertheless prove to be potential mass murderers. Moving
from where we are at the moment to achieving that degree of almost
global intelligence coverage with what may be a lone individual,
I describe the scale of the problem, Sir.
1187. I am grateful for the clarification. The
Committee would be interested to know how the various Special
Branch organisations fit in to the relationship we have just been
(Mr Veness) Yes. Special Branch is an essential concept
of British policing which moves between a security and intelligence
world which does not have executive powers, which I suppose is
policeman speak for a power of arrest. The intelligence world
operates in order to produce analysis. We need a mechanism by
which that can then move to a world of arrest, operations and
prosecution and the vehicle by which the United Kingdom does that
is through the Special Branch system which effectively provides
a means of moving intelligence in a way which preserves the intelligence
for its use next week but nevertheless allows the essential assessment
or broad threat, or indeed in some cases very specific threat,
to be passed on in a way that it can be the basis of an operation
and ideally the basis of a prosecution. If we did not have that
mechanism somehow we would have to invent it. It does mean we
are able to preserve the operational focus of the general police
service and indeed the advantages of an intelligence focus community
1188. My last question is simply this. On this
sort of mosaic of bodies that are involved in the whole anti-terrorism
activity, the Committee would be interested to know what your
view is of the lines of demarcation between Security Service,
Special Branch and the various police forces. I am slightly unclear,
could you just elaborate?
(Mr Veness) Yes, indeed. I think the job that we are
seeking to have done as a country by the intelligence agencies
collectively is to provide the intelligence picture of the menace
that is potentially going to afflict and cause public harm primarily
here within the United Kingdom. We are looking for a degree of
breadth of thought, breadth of method, global linkages through
liaison agencies around the world which is able to operate in
a way that is not constrained by the necessary accountability
of law enforcement, not that there are not accountabilities but
they are different accountabilities. I think it is essential that
any country enjoys that window on the world. Then there is the
mechanism that I seek to describe by which a country needs to
move that into a process where executive action, arrest, the search
for evidence can be conducted in a way that does not prevent us
losing the benefits of intelligence, our look over the horizon
that we will need tomorrow and the week after. So Special Branch
provides us with that bridge between those two worlds. Then the
role of the police service is unequivocally focused on preserving
life and preventing people becoming victims. In order to do that
it seeks to prevent crime ideally informed by the intelligence
which I referred to and with an additional duty of investigation
of presenting the best possible evidence, if that is feasible,
to the criminal justice system. The police service has the additional
responsibility of providing evidence before the courts. That is
the continuum that I would seek.
1189. You have described the golden thread,
the link from PM to the PC and James described it as a mosaic,
and you have put a convincing argument that it is coherent and
very clear in your mind, and it becomes clearer in my mind. With
the danger that thread could get knotted, given the global context
as well as the local context, do you think a National Counter
Terrorism Service along the lines of the National Crime Squad
or the National Criminal Intelligence Service would be a useful
(Mr Veness) I think it is a very interesting proposition
and I think it is one which requires further thought and consideration.
I refer to where we came to, to be here this afternoon. The National
Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence ServiceI
was a fervent supporter and I have been on their service authorities
since inceptionwere very clear national needs because of
the way the United Kingdom in my judgment as an individual was
not addressing trans-national crime. We need to have a means of
impacting upon trans-national crime. That work is progressing
effectively through the creation of those two new national bodies.
I know the experiences are not directly capable of being read
across. By dint of the regret that we have experienced 30 years
of relatively regular Irish activity, Republican activity, and
that we still have got the recurring dissident threat and in the
midst of that we have had intermittent international terrorism,
back at the end of the 1960s, early 1970s through the early 1980s
there was a great deal of Middle Eastern terrorism occurring in
London, that led to relatively refined structures, all of which
of course are capable of improvement. I think the crying need
which was there for NCS and NCIS was slightly different in terms
of a national counter-terrorist force. That does not mean that
we can be in any way complacent around that. My own personal view
is that we have come to a stage where the role of the National
Co-ordinator, for example, perhaps should no longer be regarded
as an issue of invitation by the police service within the United
Kingdom but should rather more be the way that we conduct our
business. In fact there is no practical difference between those
two positions because chief constables do invite in. I would see
that as a potential development. I would also see the need to
ensure that the Special Branches which are an integral part of
this structure should be fully manned at all stages and in my
view significantly enhanced, as has been the case. It may be that
those developments in terms of operating by right and by reinforcement
of resources are capable of being achieved by dint of the organisation
you describe. I do not think we are too far off it now in relation
to the structures which are in place today but, for example, if
there was a further dramatic terrorist development this would
become a very real debate indeed. I think there are identifiable
areas where we could make progress.
1190. On a similar vein, at the beginning of
your comments you were an advocate for the Civil Contingency Secretariat.
(Mr Veness) Yes.
1191. Which does not always happen here. Do
you think we should have a UK co-ordinator for homeland defence?
(Mr Veness) I think we need to look at what the Americans
are doing with very keen interest. Again, I think there is a difference
in how the Americans came to have this particular office and small
staff and where the United Kingdom is in terms of its development
of counter-terrorism. I can look at it in two halves, both in
terms of what the homeland security director is able to do in
terms of public warning and what it is addressing in terms of
preparation for after the event activity. I think if you look
at the way public warnings have been handled within the UK and
US in recent months, there may be some lessons to be drawn. Again,
I think it is one of the by-products of what has gone on in recent
years that there is now a relatively sophisticated process by
which intelligence from the agencies can be assessed, put in a
form on a scale, for example, of one to six in a way that every
law enforcement agency in this country understands, not only that
but a broad range of other players in counter-terrorism, in a
way that can be translated then. The operation within London which
deals with counter-terrorism is known as Rainbow and according
to the threat level we can then implement a whole range of different
actions as a result of where we are. That is all widely understood
in British law enforcement and there is a Rainbow or its equivalent
in pretty well every police force in the United Kingdom. That
leads on then to useful activity. Then, for example, if we use
the media or make a TV appeal for people to have greater care,
we know we will get a great many useful calls on the terrorist
hotline and we will get some very useful activity by members of
the public who will spot a bag and draw attention to it. You get
this degree of understanding already and useful activity which
occurs because of the experience that Britain has been through.
Again, we should not in any way disregard what benefits America
brings to that but at the moment I think in terms of what we are
doing around public warning, we have a reasonably credible system,
of course it needs improving. In terms of building up for consequence
management, again the disparate nature of American agencies, the
sheer number of American law enforcement agencies, compared with
here is of a different order of events, and thus the nature of
the challenge of cohesion and direction is different. But, all
that being said, we are keeping very, very closely in touch. We
have been privileged to contribute to the debates around homeland
security, particularly on the subject that the industry have just
mentioned in respect of public warning, and we will keep in very
close contact to see whether there are compelling lessons which
are coming out of their arrangements that we can steal with pride
in relation to our system.
1192. I will happily move on from the co-ordination
of things to the current level of security in the UK. It is clear
from the comments you have made already post 11 September your
assessment of the scale of threat facing the UK has changed significantly.
(Mr Veness) Yes.
1193. Can you just talk us through the qualitative
change in the threat? Has there been one? It is about predicting
the unpredictable now which seems to be the game.
(Mr Veness) Yes.
1194. Has there been a qualitative change?
(Mr Veness) You are absolutely right, Sir, we must
move to a position whereby, for example, compared with what has
been our major threat these last 30 yearswhich has been
Republican extremismthe degree of precision that the United
Kingdom may have been able to obtain in relation to the public
danger which confronted both the mainland and Northern Ireland
is bound to be different if we are talking about a threat which
is truly global. If I had to choose one word in what the qualitative
difference is it is the global nature of the threat. Not only
have we got the impact in terms of the venues that have been attacked
already, ranging from the Middle East, East Africa into the Eastern
Seaboard, the scale of what has been achieved there, but what
we know are the intentions across an even broader geographic span,
then in terms of quality I think one has got the frustration of
global intractability. One of the ways in which terrorism can
be addressed is to move to the root cause and seek to eliminate
the grievance that brought that about. Well, nothing can justify
murder and this degree of harm but nevertheless may be at the
heart of what has caused that. When one looks at the global span,
for example, of the al-Qaeda agenda and the groups which are associated
with it, the United States to abandon its support for Israel,
a resolution of the Palestinian issue, the bombed minority of
Iraq, oppressed regimes across the whole span of Islamic nations
on a very broad geographic issue, and then America to quit the
Arabian Peninsula, put all together, together with the other agendasAlgerian,
Egyptian, Indonesian, Philippine, Kashmirthat does not
appear to be the most soluble agenda in terms of resolution. I
think again that is another one of the issues that has moved this
in qualitative terms to the truly global dimension that I am referring
to. Then I would add in all those other issues, what I would describe
as the lines which were crossed on 11 September which is a short
but sobering list of suicide terrorism, by definition no notice,
macro casualty and simultaneous events which are long planned
and meticulously referred. That is the group of factors which
has changed the nature of the threat.
1195. The macro casualties, the simultaneous
co-ordination that made 11 September so extraordinary, would that
be difficult to replicate? Is that a one-off spectacular? How
can you assess the possibility of that threat happening again?
(Mr Veness) I think one needs to avoid any sense that
this was a one-off. If one looks at the period of preparation
for these events over the last five, six, seven years, if you
look at the attacks in East Africa, we know they occurred in 1998,
they were planned in 1993/1994, then you have got Yeman, the attack
on the USS Cole in October 2000, we know there was an attempt
upon another USS warship earlier that year, we know that was years
in the preparation, and if you look at 11 September we know, it
is not entirely precise, it is around there at least. One almost
has interleaved attacks where the preparation of at least one
attack is occurring whilst another has taken place. I think we
would be foolish indeed not to be alert to the possibility that
there was another leaf or two to that possibility. Now one hopes,
of course, that the denial and the impact of the logistic base
in Afghanistan has caused an adverse impact on that planning,
not least other activities globally, but I think it would be wrong
and we would be sending the wrong message to say that 11 September
was a one-off. Put in a nutshell it is when and not if a further
attack will occur and we just hope that is less draconian than
the events of 11 September.
1196. We have seen in Israel and Palestine the
repeated use of suicide bombers.
(Mr Veness) Yes.
1197. Israel is a state clearly determined to
do everything it can to stop that.
(Mr Veness) Yes.
1198. Yet it continues. In defence terms we
are taught that threat is the balance of capability and intent.
How do you assess the threat over here given that it seems impossible
to stop it if someone really wants to go out taking lives?
(Mr Veness) We have sought to advance our knowledge
as quickly as we can, not only with Israeli colleagues but also
in Sri Lanka which is similarly afflicted. I am afraid repeated
contact with both those nations does not produce easy solutions.
This is the intelligent bomb which is capable of being delivered
and none of the compensating defences that have supported British
counter-terrorism in the past, which to a degree have involved
the fact that someone wanted to escape afterwards, are present.
We do not under-estimate the scale of the problem. We are looking
very, very hard at a range of tactics, techniques and technologies
which might assist us. Could this happen here? Certainly it could.
It has happened to our east repeatedly in the Middle East. It
has happened to our west in the United States. Will it occur in
Europe? Again I think the only prudent comment would be we are
into when, not if.
1199. I will not ask you how significant the
danger of complacency is because I think the tone of your answers
throughout has given us a flavour of that. In the event of a large
emergency moving to a catastrophe, do you simply ramp up the existing
structures that we have or are there new assets that you can bring
(Mr Veness) I think it would be wrong to regard all
of the achievements of integrated emergency management, in which
Britain has not a bad record in comparative terms, to regard that
as the answer to this problem is to miss the scale of the challenge.
It is utterly around scalability and it is around the resources
that we would need to bring to bear and I think some new thinking
around how we would coalesce our resources. This is Alan's side
of the house.
(Mr Goldsmith) Yes. The issues which emerged from
11 September were in terms of scalability and in terms of contamination
which took us to a different level than we had planned for in
the past. There are some issues which arise which are not just
about doing the same but doing more of it. There are issues about
mutual aid. The police service has existing mutual aid arrangements.
The other emergency services tend to have them on a regional rather
than a national basis and they are now looking at those, and they
might well have given evidence. There are issues about mass evacuation
which again we have not addressed. Unlike some parts of the world,
perhaps the southern states of America where tornadoes are going
to happen every September time, then they have evacuation plans
in place because the threat will always be the same from the same
direction and the movements required will always be the same,
we have great difficulty if we are looking at a suicide or other
terrorist attempt in terms of evacuation of large parts of any
city or town. Therefore, what we have done is to prepare some
guidelines so that those who are making a decision about evacuation
have got some thoughts ready prepared for them to follow. That
is an example of where we try to look at if this were to happen
on this scale anywhere in the UK how would we respond. There is
an issue also about communications, how the emergency services
communicate with each other but above all there is the issue of
how national government then fits in to what is essentially a
local response. The basis of Dealing with Disaster is that
responding to a major incident is dealt with locally with the
emergency services' local authorities on that level. There is
mention in Dealing with Disaster of the concept of lead
Government department. I think the role of CCS now means that
has to be re-examined and in terms of how national Government
responds to a large scale even multi-site event then needs working
through, thinking through, exercising.