Letter to the Parliamentary and Devolution
Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, from the Clerk of
FOREIGN POLICY ASPECTS OF THE WAR AGAINST
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
intelligenceprincipally by the US but also by the UKallowed
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
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
* * * * *
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
11which also ranges considerably wider than the area of
responsibility of the FCOhas 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