Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Parliamentary and Devolution Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, from the Clerk of the Committee


  As you know, the Committee intends shortly to consider an interim Report of its inquiry into Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism.

  In oral evidence before the Committee, Professor Paul Wilkinson of the University of St Andrews criticised both the British and American governments' treatment of the emerging terrorist threat from Al-Qaeda, and suggested that failures of intelligence—principally by the US but also by the UK—allowed Al-Qaeda to develop its capability to undertake terrorist operations. I enclose a copy of the transcript of Professor Wilkinson's evidence. The Committee wishes to give the FCO the opportunity to respond to these assertions, and to others made in published sources, before it publishes its interim Report.

  I would be grateful to receive not later than 7 May a memorandum from the FCO, if necessary including a confidential annex, in answer to the following questions:

    —  To what extent was the threat from Al-Qaeda understood before 11 September?

    —  What was the Government doing to counter this threat and to warn the United States of it?

    —  What actions have been taken since 11 September to remedy any perceived deficiencies in the gathering, processing or sharing of intelligence?

Clerk of the Committee

April 2002

Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  The threat from Al Quaida networks has been perceived as the main international terrorist threat since the mid-90s. Considerable efforts have been devoted to understanding and countering this threat, and to assisting US and other efforts to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for the attack on US soldiers in Somalia in October 1993, the East African embassy bombings in August 1998 and the USS Cole attack in October 2000, for all of which Usama Bin Laden has claimed the credit. The FCO has held regular consultations with the US on this topic. The FCO has also discussed the Al Quaida threat, and ways of countering it, with a wide variety of foreign governments and in multilateral meetings eg of the G8.

  One part of the Government's reponse to the threat, going considerably wider than the area of responsibility of the FCO, lay in the work of the Agencies and others to improve our understanding of this target. There were a number of successes in the years before September 11 in predicting and disrupting a range of terrorist threats attributed to UBL and his associates, in the UK and abroad. The Terrorism Act 2000 was a clear demonstration of the Government's determination before September 11 to frustrate terrorist activity in the UK and beyond, as the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 has been in the period since.

  Threat reporting and analysis was routinely shared with other Governments, notably the US Government: it was clear that the threats could not be countered without close international collaboration.

    *  *  *  *  *

  Promoting such collaboration, and improving the international effort against terrorism in general, formed another part of the Government's response to the threat. The UK was active in a number of multilateral organisations to counter the threat of terrorism, in particular the G8 and the EU. The Government also sought to reinforce the UN-led effort to resolve the problems in Afghanistan which made it at that time such a convenient base for operations by Al-Qaeda.

  The Government's response to the events of September 11—which also ranges considerably wider than the area of responsibility of the FCO—has included efforts to increase the information available to us on the terrorist threat, from wherever it might come. Increased resources have been devoted to this work. The national machinery available for responding to counter-terrorist information has been expanded.

  At the international level, too, there has been a considerable increase in activity in multilateral institutions to counter international terrorism. The UN, G8, EU and NATO, for example, have all shown their commitment to countering the threat by enhancing arrangements for the sharing of information, building legal and operational capacity to counter terrorism, and by freezing terrorist assets. The UK has played a prominent part in all this, for instance by chairing the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee. And of course the international coalition has addressed one main source of the Al-Qaeda network with its action in Afghanistan.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

May 2002

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