DEFENCE – TERRORISM & SECURITY – 31 October 2002

Dr Julian Lewis: The Minister [Adam Ingram] has had strong support from the official Opposition in the measures that have been taken to counteract the effects of organised terrorist groups, but I take his mind back to the period immediately after 11 September when we had the anthrax scare in the United States and the copycat element of the sending of harmless white powder by individuals who clearly were not organised terrorist groups but opportunist disrupters. Has attention been given to that copycat element of the individual malcontent as opposed to the penetration of organised groups, which I am sure the Security Services are doing their best to undertake?

[Mr Ingram: It is always difficult to reassure hon. Members about that issue, because the range of the threat is huge. It is almost impossible to apply a common definition, although the hon. Gentleman tried to set out his particular one. Even organised groups choose a time and place and an intended effect. As to individuals, as I am sure he recognises, if they are not in a loop of understanding and are not connected to a group or network, they are very difficult to detect. All that we can seek to do is ensure maximum public co-operation at all times and encourage people to report anything of a suspicious nature.]

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Dr Lewis: Has the right hon. Gentleman [Bruce George] any idea from his studies of the time why, at the time of the Strategic Defence Review, so little attention was given to the possibility of an extremist Islamist terrorist threat, when I think that we are all aware of the fact that, from quite early in the 1990s, the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service recognised it as the next possible threat over the horizon? Where does he think the breakdown of communication between Government agencies occurred?

[Mr George: It probably took place about 1991, when the Cold War was seen to end and the eyes of the Intelligence Services were taken off the range of threats. They looked at substitutes for the Soviets, who were not seen as the threat that they had been. They looked at crime, and I suspect that they did not look internationally and domestically at where other threats might exist. In fairness, the blame – if there is to be blame – goes back 10 or 12 years, and now they will spend another 10 or 12 years in making up for the fact that they averted their eyes to threats of political and religious extremism, wherever those threats exist. ] 

Dr Lewis: I am sorry to intervene again, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman has rather missed my point. As I understood it, the Security and Intelligence Services did appreciate the upcoming Islamist extremist threat from the early to mid-1990s onwards. My concern is that that appreciation by the intelligence services, which turned out to be accurate, does not appear to have been taken on board by those people who drew up the SDR in the Ministry of Defence.

[Mr George: I honestly cannot say. The hon. Gentleman was closer to the then Government than I was in those days. I look forward to his observations and insider knowledge as to whether what he says is right.]

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Dr Lewis: The hon. Gentleman [Harry Cohen] has a long history of open-mindedness on the dilemmas faced by successive Russian military authorities. Can he shed light on the fact that after the gas was applied in the theatre in Moscow – so effectively and lethally that it knocked everyone out or killed people so that nothing could explode – many of the assailants were dispatched by gunshot wounds? Presumably that happened when they were unconscious.

[Harry Cohen: I have seen those reports. I want the Russian authorities to be more open about what happened and why. I hope that they can be encouraged to produce that information.]