SECURITY & INTELLIGENCE SERVICES – 11 July 2002
Dr Julian Lewis: The right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) may be a new member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, but it is obvious to me as a non-member of that Committee that he has taken to his new role admirably. His comments, particularly about the continuing need to monitor and counter potential Irish terrorism, were well made. Indeed, one of the points that I wish to put before the House this afternoon is that intelligence must not be excessively compartmentalised. It may be that some of the techniques that Britain has sadly had to learn in combating Irish terrorism will need to be applied to the new threats that we face from fundamentalist Islamist terrorism.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (James Arbuthnot) rightly said that it cannot be regarded as a failure of intelligence not to know the details of a specific plan before it is put into action. He rightly talked of the need for imagination so that one does not spend one's time analysing what one's terrorist enemies have done in the past, but rather tries to foresee what new steps they are likely to take in the future.
What we have to face in dealing with fundamentalist Islamist terrorism requires a new type of approach and an ethos rather different from the way in which the Security Service has had to operate in the past. In the past, MI5 has often had to sit back, watch, monitor, bide its time and stay its hand so that when eventually the crisis came, speedy action could be taken. Now we are dealing with organisations that are rudimentary in terms of structure, lethal in terms of operation and limited in terms of numbers carrying out whatever particular plan they seek to implement.
It follows from that, as my right hon. Friend acknowledged, that unless there is some major failure of security within the terrorist cell itself - which will not happen often - one must be proactive, as I said in an intervention on him earlier, in seeking to dislocate, deceive and disrupt the organisation itself. We must keep the terrorist organisation on the back foot, and prevent it from having the time to reflect, plan and choose the moment at which it will implement action, rather being continuously on the defensive ourselves. In order to wage that sort of campaign against terrorism, we need a form of offensive intelligence.
In the slight spat that we have seen developing this afternoon between some members of the Intelligence and Security Committee and some members of the Foreign Affairs Committee over whether it was a failure, not necessarily on the part of British intelligence agencies, but on that of Western intelligence agencies, that 11 September happened, I incline somewhat more to the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), who made a superb, indeed magisterial, speech.
I believe that it was known that al-Qaeda existed, what aims it entertained and what modus operandi it preferred. As I said earlier, it is precisely because individual schemes are unlikely to leak in advance, that pre-emptive measures must be taken to undermine terrorist organisations before they can get anywhere near to putting those schemes into action.
Old habits die hard, and having been fortunate to be called to speak in every debate on the Intelligence Services since they began in the previous Parliament, I am well aware of the fact that there are Members wishing to speak in this one who are in danger of not being able to do so unless I am particularly brief, so that is what I propose to be.
Last year I made rather a long speech about several small topics. This time I wish to make a much shorter speech about rather a large topic. The topic is, of course, terrorism, but only one aspect of it, and that links directly to something that has been a recurring theme in all my speeches, year after year, since we were fortunate enough to have these debates in the House on a subject that used to be regarded as out of bounds. That theme is the need for an active counter-subversion arm in the Security Service. We know that F branch used to do that job. We also know that with the end of the cold war, F branch was successively wound down and eliminated. I am not particularly concerned about whether, when the Security Service revives anything analogous to F branch - if it has not already done so - it uses the same name or an entirely different one. What we must realise is that in fighting fundamentalist Islamist terrorism, the Security Service has a particular task in hand: to ensure that such terrorism is not allowed to put down roots and grow, expand and fester in this country.
Terrorists operate in a strange arena of warfare. Using standard terror techniques, they can hope to do one of at least four things. They can hope indiscriminately to kill some hundreds or even thousands of civilians. More specifically, they can hope to target individuals such as politicians, servicemen, police officers or security personnel. By doing all that, they can hope to provoke repression in free societies. Sometimes, they can even hope, as is the case in Northern Ireland, to gain concessions, many of which they do not deserve.
By using weapons of mass destruction, however, terrorists can threaten the existence of entire communities and cities, and possibly even of entire democratic states. They are unlikely by themselves to be able to acquire free-standing weapons of mass destruction that would operate on the largest of those three levels. However, they have a way of getting around that problem by infiltrating other regimes such as those in countries that already either have nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan, or may have nuclear weapons in future, such as some of the countries in the now notoriously-named ‘axis of evil’. It is especially disturbing that time and again, while we hear that the President of Pakistan is doing everything that he can to help the alliance forces root out al-Qaeda and its sympathisers, those terrorists seem to be supported, buttressed and reinforced by elements of Pakistan's own intelligence organisation. That is a very worrying issue and it must be a prime concern for MI6.
Returning to the problem in this country, we have to be concerned that if the organisation is not to put down the roots to which I referred, it must be completely transparent to our security authorities. In making the one key point that I wish to make in this speech, I want to divert for a moment to an obituary from yesterday's edition of the Daily Telegraph. Its relevance may not be immediately apparent, but I assure the House that it will become so very quickly. The obituary is for General Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who was commander during the Second World War of the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee, Alabama. He flew 60 combat missions and then commanded the 332nd Fighter Group, escorting US bombers on 200 raids over Europe and ensuring that not one of them was lost. That fighter group shot down 111 aircraft and destroyed 150 more on the ground, for the loss of 66 of its own fighters. It destroyed hundreds of railway wagons, dozens of boats and even sank a destroyer.
What is the relevance of that information? It is quite simple: all the pilots in those two units were black. All were fighting two wars - the first was against the Nazis, but the second was against the prejudice in their own great country, the United States of America, against black servicemen. The obstacles that they had to overcome to be able to volunteer to fight and go on those missions would have deterred most people from even wanting to bother. They were descendants of people who had not become citizens of the US voluntarily, but had been brought there against their will. They nevertheless fought to save an imperfect democracy, which, on occasion, had given them little cause to admire it. In short, they were proud to be American patriots.
In the fight against terrorism in this country, we need allies, and those allies are members of the moderate Muslim community. Those people - or their forebears - came to this country voluntarily because they thought that this country's methods, freedom and tolerance would give them better lives than the countries that they left. The appeal that I want to put out, in so far as I can do so through the medium of a House of Commons debate, is to ask members of the moderate Muslim community to follow the example of members of the black community in America - and, if I may so as a member myself, members of the Jewish community in this country. Jewish people fought in all the conflicts that have taken place since they became a community here, and they have won awards - the Victoria Cross, the George Cross, and probably just about every gallantry medal imaginable - in the course of serving with Her Majesty's armed forces.
Members of the moderate Muslim community now have an opportunity to assist our democracy to fight against an extremist awfulness that any right-thinking person who wants to be a citizen of a democratic country would utterly reject. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), whom I am delighted to see in his place, made - if I may say so without prejudice against the many other excellent speeches - the most important single point when he said that it is vital for the Security Service to recruit members of that community to be able to wage the campaign against Islamist terrorism.
Joining the Security Service and becoming agents for democracy will be a very dangerous thing for members of the moderate Muslim community to do, but they will follow in a proud tradition. Black people fought for democracy in America, even at a time when America should have behaved rather better towards them. Those people have now risen to the very top. Colin Powell is Secretary of State and was formerly chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I have every confidence that British moderate Muslims are as patriotic as British Jewish community members and British members of other communities that fought with the armed forces in war after war, for generation after generation. We also recall the Gurkhas in particular.
I hope that one day, when people look back on this battle as they now look back on previous battles, it will be possible to say that it was not a war of race against race or of class against class, but of democracy against totalitarianism. I am sure that there will be brave British Muslims who will want to take part in that war on the right side.