Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-294)

Professor Paul Wilkinson

17 NOVEMBER 2004

  Q280Chairman: I think that fits very neatly with my first question, so it has been extremely helpful. I wonder if you could elaborate on how you work in the counter-terrorism field.

  Professor Wilkinson: There is an amazing amount in open sources. Because we are independent and academic we obviously do not have access to classified material but if you scan the internet—as all of you will be doing—it is amazing what is publicised on the internet, from statements by the propaganda groupings, political wings of extremist organisations to government sites such as the MI5 site, which has become very useful recently to members of the public who want to know about the security threat to Britain. There is also information about new technologies. One of the advantages to academics is that we have access to all that information in the open sources; unfortunately, the terrorist organisations also do and they study these things and they really are getting very sophisticated, as you know, in using the new information technology and in finding out what they need to know about, for example, vulnerabilities in the national critical infrastructure, about the coming events which they might want to target and, of course, the kind of weapons they can use. It is a sad fact that if you know where to look on the internet you can find the formula for pretty well any weapon of chemical or biological nature that could be extremely dangerous in the hands of terrorists. The information revolution has actually made our job in terms of combating or preventing terrorism that much more difficult.

  Q281Chairman: We all recognise that and it is exchange of data which is one of the areas which concerns us most at the moment and we will ask questions around that. Can I ask how, from your perspective, you feel the terrorist threat and the response to it has changed in recent years? In your paper you talk very clearly about 9/11 and what happened from then, but how has it affected the work that you do at the university?

  Professor Wilkinson: Going back to the 1970s and 1980s when I was researching at the University of Wales and then later at Aberdeen University it was regarded as a serious problem by countries which had a major internal problem, for example the United Kingdom or Spain. It became a problem for those   countries with the fighting communist organisations—, the Red Brigades, the Red Army Faction in Germany and so on. However, it was never a problem of such strategic concern that it was pushed to the top of the agenda; it remained, as one of my colleagues, the late Professor Hedley Bull (who was a very distinguished international relations specialist) a law and order problem, a minor problem for governments rather than a problem for the international community. It is interesting that many international conferences at that time did not figure terrorism in the agenda; it was not regarded as an important subject. However, by the mid- and late-70s after the beginnings of many different kinds of terrorism—Middle Eastern terrorism stimulated by   the Israel/Palestinian conflict, the fighting communist organisations beginning to launch a series of attempted assassinations and attacks in Europe—the Council of Europe (which has traditionally, as you know, taken a rather interesting role in trying to harmonise laws in Europe) took an initiative with the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. That was an interesting act because it was the first time that the European countries collectively decided that this was a problem that required some wider action by all European states acting together. Unfortunately, as I explained in my paper, it was a rather empty gesture in some ways because in order to get the thing agreed and ratified by the member states of the Council of Europe they had to make all kinds of caveats. If you look at the caveats you could drive a tank through them really and so a country could decide to regard a particular event as a political crime even though other countries in the Council of Europe regarded it as an obvious deliberate attempt to use terror as a weapon. That was a faltering step and I would have generally described the early progress in the European Union response as a rather faltering but incremental response. As they became aware of the more serious implications of terrorism and the terrorists themselves became more destructive in the 1980s—but particularly in the 1990s—you then get a rather major output of measures designed to strengthen co-operation and with some effectiveness, such as the Mutual Assistance Convention, such as the means of tackling the financing of terrorism which was strongly supported by the major European Union states. This is, you must remember, well before the 2001 events of 9/11, so the European Union was certainly incrementally and very slowly moving towards a stronger international approach to co-operation. It was taking rather important steps in the 1990s and there were good reasons for this. You will recall that it was a decade in which there were some really very lethal, highly destructive terrorist attacks, for example the Oklahoma bombing, the first attempt on the World Trade Centre in 1993, which was a failure in terms of killing large numbers of people. We now know that they did want to kill large numbers of people, they wanted to tip the tower; it just technically did not work out for them,. It is certainly clear that a number of groups decided that they wanted to go for spectacular headlines with particularly bloody attacks, for example the Baruch Goldstein attack on the mosque in Israel which had very serious consequences for the peace process (although there were a lot of other reasons which undermined the Oslo Accord, it was certainly one of the factors); the Buenos Aires attacks on the Israel Embassy and on the charity headquarters in Buenos Aires. All these were on a scale which was much more serious and the range of attacks over a wide range of countries I think persuaded European leaders that they needed to take the threat very seriously. Then of course closer to home we had the concerns about the Northern Ireland situation and whether we would be able to bring about a successful conclusion to the discussions on a ceasefire and a peace process. There was great pressure within the European Union to strengthen cooperation in all these respects: political, diplomatic, addressing the roots of terrorism and the security aspects and improving security co-operation with the police and judicial cooperation. However, the really big break through in terms of a desire to do something rather more comes rather inevitably after 9/11 which was unprecedented in terms of the lethality of the attacks. In one single day you had more people killed in the United States than had been killed in the entire Basque terrorist campaign against the Spanish state. That does put it into perspective. More people were killed than were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbour. There were a very large number of civilians killed, so inevitably countries throughout the world began to look to this sign of much more serious terrorist capability as a threat of a strategic nature. I think they are right because clearly the Al-Qaeda movement which was responsible for this attack and its various affiliated organisations does have the explicit aim of killing large numbers of civilians and that is contained in the so-called fatwa issued by Bin Laden for the World Front for an Islamic Jihad, in which he explicitly said that it is the duty of Muslims everywhere to kill Americans, their allies—including civilians—whenever and wherever the possibility arises. Therefore you have a rather different kind of response necessary when you are dealing with such a ruthless and lethal organisation. Organisations that we faced in the 1970s and 1980s, although they certainly committed some awful violations of human rights, did have some sense of restraint. They were political in the sense that they wanted to garner some support from their constituency—they did not want to throw away that support—and they must have been aware that by, for example, poisoning the water supply or launching some kind of chemical or biological agent that would cause mass casualties, that would hardly have endeared them to the people in their own communities to whom they were looking for support. The more political minded secular groups of the 1970s and 1980s wanted to use terrorism, as Brian Jenkins has said, to get a lot of people watching rather than a lot of people dead. However, the Al-Qaeda movement is decidedly interested in getting both a lot of people watching and a lot of people dead, as we have seen in so many of the attacks this movement has been responsible for since 9/11. Although fortunately they have not succeeded in doing anything since of that scale they are certainly capable of killing hundreds of people in individual attacks as we saw with the Madrid train bombings. I think the reason why the European Union responded so strongly to the 9/11 events was a very logical, very sensible appreciation of the much more serious level of threat that we now all face. Naturally there are no immune countries in the European Union. Although some governments may feel that they are rather more immune I think that is a dangerous illusion; they are really fooling themselves if they think that Al-Qaeda is really interested in giving immunity to countries which are seen collectively as part of an enemy.

Chairman: I know Lord Wright wishes to say something at this point. We do not have very much time this morning unfortunately so if I could invite members to keep questions fairly limited, please.

  Q282Lord Wright of Richmond: I will ask a very brief question and invite you to give a very brief answer. Professor Wilkinson, you referred to some measures which would hardly have endeared terrorist groups to their supporters. How do you explain briefly the murder of Margaret Hassan?

  Professor Wilkinson: I think that the group that carried out that atrocity clearly did not care about the public opinion response, the public opinion dimension. To some extent the Islamist groups do care to the extent that they want to try to build up support. They would make a great mistake, I think, if they ignore public reaction to their activities and they did make great mistakes in Saudi Arabia, in Turkey and in Indonesia. We see parts of the population becoming highly critical of what they see as weak responses by governments and demanding much stronger responses because fellow Muslims are dying at the hands of this group that claims to be championing their religion. This clearly does not make any sense and they have become very angry and are demanding stronger measures. I think in the case of the group that has carried out the atrocity in Iraq it may well help the more moderate forces in Iraq who want to say, "Look, we recognise that this is simply totally unacceptable. Whatever the cause, whatever your political argument, nothing can justify anything like that." It is rather like the Beslan school massacre in that respect; it is totally beyond any kind of moral justification.

  Q283Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Professor, in your paper you speak on the one hand about Europe-wide integration and in the next paragraph EU cooperation. Is it either/or, or a combination of both in the real world.

  Professor Wilkinson: In the real world, as you probably guessed from the language of my brief, I would regard myself as a liberal realist; I am not a liberal utopian. I think the integration within the European Union has been surprisingly effective in the economic and social sphere but surprisingly slender in the area of foreign policy and security. The implication in my paper is really that whatever the European Union does, if it is doing good sensible things, it has to recognise that the leading players are still the national governments and the national security agencies. I think that Mr Solana's proposals are realistic in the sense that he recognises that that is where the lead remains and is likely to remain for a very long time ahead.

  Q284Lord Dubs: Professor Wilkinson, in the different EU states there are significant differences in legislation and culture. To what extent do these differences hinder international cooperation on anti-terrorist measures?

  Professor Wilkinson: They have been a handicap in the past. for example, the different procedures on extradition which are inherent in our different legal systems: in some countries as you know you virtually had to have a kind of pre-trial—a trial before the trial in the requesting state—and that was something that would take a very long time. That was one of the factors which I am sure led the European Union ministers to think in terms of a European arrest warrant as a possibility. I think that the fact is that legal differences between the national states have often limited the amount of cooperation that could actually be achieved. We are still seeing some effects of that. I mentioned in my paper the difficulty in getting implementation of the European arrest warrant, which is partly a cultural thing if not legal; it is a reluctance on the part of certain countries to go as far, as it were, in trusting—in the context of this idea of mutual recognition—the decisions of the justice systems of another country. That kind of scepticism and distrust is something which the European Union has always had to contend with but especially in the field of law and order and security co-operation. I think it remains a problem that is, if you like, inherent in the whole European Union project. However, I am a realist and a pluralist and I believe that although those are difficulties we can overcome them by accepting that nation states are the lead players but using the fora that are provided in the European Union—and they are very useful fora, now much larger, of course, since enlargement—to create a greater awareness and a more realistic awareness of the nature of terrorism and the threat of terrorism and of other problems. I think that the other benefit of having these fora is that you can bring together the police chiefs in the Police Chiefs Task Force, the heads of the security services under the framework of the counter-terrorism group and so forth. I do not mean to imply in my paper that these meetings are not useful; they can be very useful in agreeing on things where there is a consensus within the wider European Union and that can carry us forward. However, there will be occasions when there will be deep divisions and it will be then up to the nation states to take the measures they think are necessary.

  Q285Lord Dubs: You referred to enlargement; what do you think is the impact of enlargement on the capacity of the EU to deal with counter-terrorism?

  Professor Wilkinson: I think it is going to make the whole problem of decision making much more challenging and probably prolonged because of the large number of different national interests and national considerations involved. I think it was difficult enough prior to enlargement but it is going to be even more difficult when you are dealing with such a large grouping of countries. On the positive side, if we do get agreement on something like a new legal arrangement like the European arrest warrant, then if it applies over such a grouping it is all the more effective because it is working over a wider area involving far more judicial co-operation. Again, I am a realist; I do not think we are going to find it easy to arrive at these consensual decisions, but where we can get some consensus then we can move forward through the European Union and we can do certain things in the European Union—I would go so far as to say—which cannot really be so easily achieved at bilateral or trilateral level. At operational level it is bilateral cooperation that has historically been the most effective and successful way in which governments and security agencies have combined against terrorism. Look at the co-operation between the Spanish and the French authorities in whittling down the violence from the ETA movement. I think that if we are looking at creating arrangements which will deny resources to terrorism such as agreement on financial measures to exchange information about banking transactions and so on, that is very important because the financial intelligence that you can get from those kinds of things may lead you to identifying the terrorists; it is a very valuable intelligence asset. If you can get agreement on those rather unglamorous, little noticed aspects of combating terrorism, then that is progress. I am happy that we can achieve that through cooperation, through the European Union, where we can achieve it.

  Q286Earl of Listowel: Professor Wilkinson, how important is the training of law enforcement officers in enhancing Member States' counter-terrorism capacity? In answering that question perhaps you could also speak to the question of language across Europe—you mentioned this earlier in your introduction—and perhaps the development of a common format in the gathering of information, if that is relevant in your opinion. Also, the funding of exchanges of officers from one country to another which is perhaps related to the language question.

  Professor Wilkinson: Thank you very much for that question because I am a great believer in joint training and exercises which I think are a very practical way of training for both the police and the other emergency services that might have to deal with terrorism events. If we bear in mind that some of the things we have to worry about from a network like Al-Qaeda could simultaneously affect the population on one side of a national member state border and on the other side of the border—so you cannot inevitably predict that each event is going to be confined to a particular member state frontier—it may be something which they all need to collaborate on. Then joint exercising and joint training become all the more important and you can create a more common culture—raising the point which was made by a member earlier—it really is important to develop that common culture of co-operation not only in a greater awareness of the problems but also how other people work within the European Union in order to better understand how to cooperate effectively. I have had a little experience of this in the Irish context with conferences involving people from north and south of the border and mainland police forces for that, and so on. It is extremely effective; it gradually improves the spirit of co-operation. It is very good for creating personal links which, as you know, at the end of the day are so important in bilateral and trilateral cooperation. There is an enormous amount of benefit to be had from the joint exercises in training. Recently in Tulliallan, the Scottish police college, we mounted a joint leadership course in counter-terrorism which involved the Canadian RCMP, the police service of Northern Ireland, the Irish police, the UK mainland police (both Scottish and English) and the FBI (so there was an American dimension as well), so there was a pretty comprehensive grouping. It went very well; the feedback from the students was extremely favourable. If it can work among those very different countries, I think it is clear that you could make this work at the European Union level as we cooperate so successfully in a lot of other areas. I think the idea of a European police college is an excellent idea and we should develop it by supporting joint training and joint education, and language training of course would be a valuable part of that because if you are looking at border controls—something I mentioned in my conclusion and something which is very ripe for greater action I think—then one of the great deficiencies we have in our immigration service and the services that have to try to deal with border control is a language deficiency. I think we could certainly benefit enormously in that respect. In joint investigations one of the very good developments since 9/11 has been the development of the idea of joint investigative task forces. In the Madrid bombing you have a very good example of the need for that co-operation because there were links, if you recall, between the people who planned the bombing in Madrid and people based in other European countries and they were all extremely helpful. That can be best organised when you have a joint structure for investigation. That is another example, I think, of a positive thing that you can do through the European machinery.

  Q287Lord Wright of Richmond: Professor Wilkinson, I think your reference to co-operation and your warm endorsement in your paper of a more pro-active approach by the EU probably answers my next two questions. First of all, on the adoption of exceptional counter-terrorism measures, are there measures both in our own legislation and in EU regulation that you think are not justified by the  increased terrorist threat? Secondly, the Commission's proposals to facilitate the exchange of data between law enforcement authorities: I think the implication of your paper is that you welcome that, but is there anything in either of those fields that you think is not justified?

  Professor Wilkinson: I do not think so. I think at the moment if you are looking at, for example, implications for civil liberties, the national government's response and the national legislation and the actions of security forces within national borders should be the main target, if you like, for those who are concerned with ensuring that there are no unnecessary infringements of civil liberties. I believe—and I have written about this on many occasions and I strongly believe it in terms of the experience of fighting terrorism—that despite the greater threat to be faced from Al-Qaeda we do not need to suspend a rule of law in our observance of human rights and democratic process in the name of greater security. I think that is a great mistake. To cross-refer to another inquiry which Parliament launched into the Blunkett measure—the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001—I did, with other academics, express strong reservations about the fourth section of that Act which, as you know, deals with detention without trial. I know it affects a small number, but the principle is important and I still believe that if we gave the police sufficient resources they could actually mount the monitoring which would then lead to evidence and you could use the Terrorism Act 2000 (which is in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights in my view) if you find they are involved. However, if they are not involved, just to put them in prison and throw away the key does seem to me to be a great mistake.

  Q288Lord Wright of Richmond: Do you have any reservations about data exchange between law enforcement authorities?

  Professor Wilkinson: I do not because within the European Union as a whole I think there has been a rather less draconian response—if I can put it that way—in terms of the nature of the laws they have passed. They are, from my understanding, in accordance with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and I think that should be our guideline. If we are having to derogate from important principles of human rights in the Convention and other members of the European Union are not, we should be asking ourselves, "What are we doing or what are we not doing that really necessitates that? Should we not try to get into step?" because I think the European Union's concern about human rights matters is well known. I would, however, just add the rider that I think that the European Parliament should be expending more time on scrutinising the security cooperation measures because that, is very much their task as a European Parliament and I do get the impression that they have been rather peremptory in the way they have approached security measures.

  Q289Earl of Listowel: There is an issue, a tension, between being parsimonious with information and also having enough soft information to generate a profile of people. Where do you stand on that? Are you concerned that not enough information is transmitted or do you feel that it is about right at the moment?

  Professor Wilkinson: I think from a realistic perspective if one talks to people in government and in the security services it is simply not going to happen, to have a kind of free access to the full intelligence which each nation state is going to have on terrorist organisations. It is just not going to happen. Countries are too jealous of their national prerogative in terms of their secret intelligence. I listed some of the reasons for that in my paper: the danger of compromising sources, the worry about another state misusing the information in some way which would be counter-productive and so on. Some of these are very logical and very understandable reasons. In my view it would be difficult to be the first country that heroically threw away all these safeguards on national security hoping for the best within a European Union which is not yet a European state. It would be very reckless to throw away those precautions but I think there is room for sharing analytical assessment. This is different from divulging all the details of names, addresses and circumstances of a particular on-going investigation; this is a question of distilling the information that you have in your intelligence community and providing really good quality assessments that are going to be useful for your allies within the European Union. We do that in our relations with the United States of course already, and with Canada and other close allies. We do it on a bilateral basis with the French who have been extremely helpful, by the way, in counter-terrorism intelligence because they know so much about the Middle East. However, on the European level, in my view, there is room for sharing threat analyses, analyses of trends and developments in terrorism and that is my understanding of what Mr Solana really expects; he does not expect a kind of portcullis to go up and everybody to agree to allow full entry to the secret tower of the intelligence community. I do not think he is envisaging that at all. What he is working for is greater collaboration, sharing of ideas, bringing people together to discuss possible pan-European efforts. I think that is a very sensible position. His experience in NATO gives him that realist background.

  Q290Lord Avebury: When you talk about sharing analytical assessments do you think that enough has gone on at the European level concerning the ideological basis of terrorism? I do not know whether you have read Jason Burke's book on Al-Qaeda but I was very much impressed with that as an analysis of the ideological foundation from which terrorism springs. It seems to me that, unless you understand that, you are not in a position to take the detailed action that states in particular have the power to do. Do you think that enough goes on at European level in relation to sharing that sort of analysis?

  Professor Wilkinson: I do not think it does and I do not think it does at national level. I agree with you; I think it is important to try to understand the roots of these terrorist campaigns and the conflicts which are often much broader which spawn terrorism as a by-product. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict would be a good example. I think there are ways in which the European Union is already trying to address some of those conflicts to reduce the reservoir of people who might be willing to become suicide bombers. The European Union has been very strongly out in front in asking for greater international effort and promoting greater international effort at revitalising the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. I believe we should continue to be urging that because although that would not end international terrorism magically—it is unrealistic to expect that it would; these people often have other motivations for continuing with terrorism—it would greatly reduce the reservoir of young people who would be willing to do this kind of thing. It reduces one of the major grievances or injustices which they are concerned about. We should be making progress on what I would call corrigible conflict situations but at the same time recognise that there are some incorrigible situations. I do not think you can regard Bin Laden, for example, as an interlocutor whom we should invite to a meeting with the European Union and say, "Now, Mr Bin Laden, what would it take to stop you promoting mass killing and bombing attacks?" It would be as absurd as the Japanese prime minister, after the Aum Shinriky nerve gas bombing in Tokyo, inviting Asahara, the leader of the Shinriko group, into his office and saying, "Now, Mr Asahara, just tell me what kind of deal we should do to get you to abandon this?" A democratic government cannot do   that without betraying their citizens and their   fundamental principles. That is why law enforcement, rule of law, international intelligence cooperation, is really the best way of dealing with these extremely incorrigible situations.

  Q291Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: Professor Wilkinson, you obviously believe in co-operation but I am wondering if you think there are limits to co-operation between law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies.

  Professor Wilkinson: Yes, I think there are some very strict limits. I do not think that any of the intelligence agencies or police forces in Europe would be prepared to give a totally free access to other agencies, even within their own country. This is the big thing that people are perhaps not aware of. It is not a question of agencies already sharing everything within their own state because they are concerned about the possibility of information being misused or problems of that kind—we know there is a traditional tension between uniformed and non-uniformed sections of the police and security services—and that will continue to be a realistic factor which we have to reckon with but that does not mean that we should give up on co-operation and somehow imagine that what European Union organisations do is not relevant to us. It can be extremely helpful in creating the awareness that we have been talking about and the problem that Lord Avebury raised of creating a greater European energy to do something about the basic conflicts which are spawning terrorism. The European Union is potentially an extremely helpful body for us, it is just that the lead role for dealing with the security aspects is going to remain with the nation states for a very long time ahead.

  Q292Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: That said, Professor Wilkinson, there is a proliferation of agencies in both formal and informal structures within the EU dealing with counter-terrorism. Do you see a need for better co-ordination and streamlining of these bodies? Secondly, do you think they should all be brought formally within the EU structures?

  Professor Wilkinson: I do not think that it is realistic to bring them into the European Union's structure. I think they will remain essentially inter-governmental fora because of the factors that I have described, but that does not mean that they cannot be useful or that we should be reluctant to cooperate with them.

  Q293Chairman: Could I have a final word about your views on the role of the Counter-terrorism Co-ordinator?

  Professor Wilkinson: I am due to meet him very shortly so I must be careful what I say. I think the idea of having a co-ordinator is an excellent one. I will reserve judgment on what the impact is going to be. If we judge by the impact of our own co-ordinator on these matters, Sir David Omand, he has been a superb man at getting co-ordinated action in this area. I think that if we had a kind of equivalent person in the European Union it would be marvellous; someone who knows their way round the system. Of course Sir David had experience in so many relevant ministries before taking his present position so he is ideally placed. I will reserve judgment on whether the new European Co-ordinator is going to energise European coordination in the same way.

  Q294Thank you very much indeed, Professor Wilkinson. I am terribly sorry that we have had such a dash through because I know we would have much preferred to spend a lot more time asking you many, many more questions. Could I, on behalf of the Sub-Committee, thank you very much indeed for coming and sharing your views with us and for the very interesting paper that you submitted.

  Professor Wilkinson: It has been my pleasure.

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2005