Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520
WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002
HOUGHTON, CBE AND
520. It is the judgement you have to make about
the endgame, is it not? ***. I cannot remember the exact words,
but I do remember it was quoted recently at the Council of Europe
when people were arguing about the legality of shooting planes
down. I am interested to know where you have looked to make that
(Air Commodore Cook) ***
(Mr Davenport) ***. That must ultimately be a political
(Air Commodore Cook) May I finish by saying that the
whole procedure and process and this hostile intent, the legality
of it, have all been tested at the highest judicial and political
level. It is not just something that the Royal Air Force
521. I understand and accept that entirely.
What are the manpower implications and the cost implications of
keeping this up for a long period of time on an Air Force already
over-stretched and financially suffering?
(Air Commodore Cook) It is an unwelcome additional
burden. If you look at the F3 force at the moment, not only is
it holding two sets of QRA in the UK, it is holding QRA down in
the Falklands, it is committed to the Middle East. You will be
aware from our last session that we have just re-allocated the
manpower and resources of 5 Squadron across the F3 fleet to enable
it to continue with those commitments. It is a strain, but it
is doable in the short to near term, providing we continue to
retain our pilots and the pilot wastage does not get any worse.
522. What have you done to give your pilots
some help about what they might have to be confronted with? A
pilot going in to fight against a known enemy is a different scenario
to shooting down an aeroplane full of civilians. What have you
done to help pilots come to terms in advance of that possibility?
(Air Commodore Cook) December last year we held a
very large seminar at Boulmer where we had both Cabinet Office
members, NATS reps were there, weapons controllers from the CRCs
were there and air crew from the front line were there. We had
a very useful day going through a whole range of scenarios, some
of them we touched upon today. That is the sort of level of teaching
we have done. We had lawyers there to look at the legal implications
and that will be a continuing process. As each new air crew, man
or lady, comes through the process and has to be trained up to
what we call combat ready status to hold QRA, he or she will be
trained in the process and procedures of *** . It will be something
which will have to be regularly practised ***.
523. Could you say when you are going to do
(Air Commodore Cook) ***.
524. It is not just the problem of training
the Air Force personnel psychologically, it is training the ***.
These questions seem to show I am in an advanced state of paranoia.
***. There are lots of very, very sensitive targets, nuclear establishments,
which will be vulnerable as well as central London because of
its political targets. Where do Rapier batteries fit into this?
***, what thinking have you given and what are the cost implications
and the technical implications of deploying around London, in
central London or in Aldermaston or wherever in times of crisis?
Are Rapier batteries available? Have you looked at the options?
(Brigadier Houghton) The *** within this scenario.
The manner in which they operate is that they ***, so there is
no way of identifying the ***. The rules of procedure for engagement
in war are that they declare a kill box and anything which comes
into it, they knock it out of the sky ***. We do not entirely
dismiss it as a capability within what we call layered defence
*** and it would be conceivable to then communicate to***.
525. You have given a perfectly rational explanation
of how things should be done by the textbook. ***. The chance
is therefore that it is heading for the Ministry of Defence, Downing
Street or Parliament, the intention is pretty obvious. The police
cannot do anything about it, Rapier batteries in an act of desperation
by the authorities might be an answer. A dangerous answer but
the alternatives seem even worse.
(Mr Bowen) ***. At least with an aircraft you have
some human contact who can relay to you as the decision maker
what he thinks is going on, but an aircraft which just diverts
and is found in the wrong place and the idea that you would be
able to make a decision to launch a Rapier to bring that down
is very much more difficult. These are
526. Terrible dilemmas.
(Mr Bowen)terrible dilemmas.
527. But if it is heading for a nuclear establishment
you have to balance the probability that it is a deliberate attack,
because a 747 has not been seen within 20 miles of that establishment
ever before. It is heading in a straight line. It seems to me
a pretty reasonable grounds for suspicion, more than suspicion.
(Mr Bowen) But knowing that is the fact, that it is
heading in a straight line, that it is descending, that it is
heading for Aldermaston, is a lot to know.
(Mr Davenport) ***. You would not have been able to
interrogate at an earlier stage.
528. Would it not be better to break that up
in the air than to allow it to crash, wherever it was going. A
plane breaking up in the air would have a less devastating effect
on Sellafield, say. A plane taking off from the Isle of Man would
be at Sellafield in a matter of a very few minutes.
(Air Commodore Cook) ***. The difficulties we see
are the ones Nick has articulated. How can you legislate for the
case where perhaps an aeroplane has suffered a navigation failure,
so it is a purely innocent reason why that pilot and that aeroplane
is in that piece of sky at that particular time. Would it not
be an awful decision to make to fire that missile autonomously
in that zone? That is what you would have to do. To use the Rapier
system on its own, given the short range nature of it, you have
to create an Air Exclusion Zone around the target to guarantee
sufficient time to engage that aeroplane. That does not allow
for mistakes which may happen.
529. What would a Rapier do to a fairly substantial
jet, say a 737? Would it blow it apart or would it just cripple
it so it crashed? Would it actually take it out in the air?
(Brigadier Houghton) The analysis is that ***
Chairman: We shall be writing to the
Secretary of State enlisting some fuller answers on this. ***,
even for reasons of deterrence it would seem to be desirable at
least to threaten a terrorist, because if Gerald can work it out
with his Chipmunk experience, I am sure a terrorist with his training
school in the United States or in Oxford will be able to work
out the same thing we have managed to work out, *** It seems to
me a Rapier battery might be a deterrent if nothing else.
530. I have read reference to some air defence
systems which have been put in and around Washington all round
the White House. What are they? Do you have any knowledge of exactly
what the Americans have put around buildings in Washington?
(Air Commodore Cook) They may well have put in place
what they call a Patriot system, which is a medium-level battery
which we do not possess in the UK.
531. We shall certainly be watching. I should
also alert you to the fact that whilst we would not expect definitive
legal advice on what we were asking earlier about the legality
of shooting aircraft down, we shall be seeking some form of briefing
just to see what the difficulties are rather than ourselves engaging
a barrister at enormous cost to find out what the legal arguments
(Mr Bowen) We shall be happy to respond to that. One
of the things we wish to emphasise is that intelligence, prior
warning, defeating the threat away from the home land, is what
we must try to do and we need to confront as last resort, but
at the same time we need to be doing these things as far away
532. And checking baggage. Whole courses are
taught on intelligence failure. You can be pretty certain that
whenever there is an incident the chances are fairly high that
all these decent things you say might happen will not happen and
that is why we are thinking the unthinkable. There is no point
exploring that more fully.
(Air Commodore Cook) I am aware that you are visiting
*** later on this month and it may be an opportune time to offer
to run through a couple of scenarios during that visit to bring
out these issues and we may well bring our legal adviser along
at the same time.
Chairman: That would be amazingly helpful. Just
because you are telling us now, does not mean to say it is going
to be in our report, because there are some very sensitive issues
and we will exercise a considerable degree of restraint and we
certainly are not going to put pen to paper with every piece of
information and provide a manual for Al-Qaeda or anyone else to
read and find ways of scoring hits.
533. I want to move on to the Senior Service
and bring in the Commodore. One of the most lethal scenarios the
US are talking about at the moment is the container ship terrorist
threat. They have 50,000 container ships entering America each
day. It must be very similar in this country but on a different
scale. It is a big problem. A nuclear weapon could easily be hidden
in a container and that could cause devastation. Only two per
cent of American containers are checked because it is just too
complicated and at Portsmouth where Mike and I have responsibility
we are up to a *** and it is causing chaos. Are the Royal Navyor
hopefully the Royal Marines as the best part of the Royal Navyor
the other armed forces engaged in any special measures to protect
the UK against the possibility of container ships being used by
terrorists as a means of launching an attack?
(Commodore Dickson) Thank you for your kind reference
to the Senior Service, although you rather lost me later on. Sitting
quietly for a long time now and almost losing the will to live,
I hesitate to open by saying that unlike the business of rogue
aircraft and the role of the Royal Air Force and UK air space
and its role within NATO, all very clear cut, although you instantly
relate maritime issues to the Royal Navy and what they are doing
about it, I hesitate to use the words Home Office lead or other
government department lead, but of course that is very much the
case in this area. We have been working with all of those other
departments on just that issue. Perhaps in due course Bruce Mann
would like to say something about the work that is being done
there as part of his own remit. The scale of the problem you talked
about is absolutely correct. Even one or two per cent of the number
of container units moving into this countryin 2000 it was
around five millionis an enormous number. You made reference
to delays and the Americans have the benefit of a Coastguard Agency.
534. You were explaining that we are well protected
and it is not going to happen.
(Commodore Dickson) I was agreeing with you on the
scale of the problem and I tried briefly to point out that although
it is a maritime matter in fact the link with the Royal Navy and
what specifically the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy as
part of that is doing is rather less. We have been very much involved
in the work which Mr Mann has been leading in working with those
other departments, DTLR, HMC&E and so on, in just how best
to address this. The key elements of that are going to be better
intelligence, which is a feature of any aspect of counter-terrorism
and the maritime aspects of that being then better able than perhaps
we were before 11 September, although there were things in place
at that stage, to deal with something when we have that specific
intelligence. Perhaps the next strand then is being better able
to deal with any incident that arises as a result of that. Our
involvement is very much along the lines that you have heard quite
a lot about already, through the whole business of MACA and being
drawn into that counter-terrorist aspect. You talked about the
fact that things have actually happened, there has been an increase,
but this has to be an increase in searching containers to a level
where it does not impact on our freedom of movement and freedom
of trade because that runs completely counter and you can put
in place all the damage and interference which the terrorists
would be well satisfied with. In the work which has already been
going on in terms of counter-terrorist activity, ***, we have
had extensive dealings with all these other departments. It is
really an extension of that, but the focus now is on the ***.
We have brought in extra resources in terms of people into the
*** outfit as well as other agencies. Some of those have been
reservists too; I cannot remember the numbers but quite a substantial
number of reservists have been activated and are now working for
535. May I get back to the containers? ***.
Containers are a new phenomenon and the real worry is the containers
themselves because we do not check inside the containers. Should
we be doing something about having a system of checking containers
or X-raying them or something. It is probably too great a job
in reality but it worries me that that scenario is not being covered,
whereas we know the systems are very well in place for interception
at the moment for other things if you rely upon intelligence.
Containers are a real worry. Terrorists could carry a small nuclear
device or something else within a container and we have no means
of detecting it if we have not picked it up with intelligence.
(Mr Bowen) Some work is being done.
(Mr Davenport) Yes, there is. The work is focused
on what is called the CBRN Sub-committee of the Civil Contingencies
Committee and the sub-committee is chaired by John Denham the
Minister of State at the Home Office. It has been looking very
closely at improved detection of CBRN devices, in particular at
ports of entry. ***. Depending on the results of that, which should
be available some time in the summer, then Ministers will want
to consider whether there is a case for devoting more resources
to this sort of protection, given that it is potentially pretty
extensive in terms of places you need to protect. There is this
programme of work which is being carried forward.
536. You have given me a lead and inspiration
now as to how I can bring DERA into my speech on terrorism tomorrow.
Thank you very much, I really appreciate that. So now DERA is
being retained we do really need it more to provide you with the
research. I owe you a debt of gratitude. I was going to gloat
tomorrow in a speech on terrorism.
(Mr Davenport) I should underline of course that what
I said is fairly highly classified.
537. My recollection of when we first had our
conversations with MOD officials in this area of investigation
was that the responsibility of the armed forces was the defence
of the UK from air and sea and that the civil powers did the land
in broad terms. What you said, unless I have misinterpreted it,
was the lead has been taken by other departments in terms of the
sort of stuff Syd has been talking about. Where does that begin
and end? How does that work?
(Commodore Dickson) It would be very clear cut in
defence. In the course of a war that is very straightforward,
if you are dealing with enemy naval forces. Essentially terrorism
is a criminal offence and if it is terrorism you are dealing with,
then because it is a criminal offence, that takes the lead for
that in the UK to the Home Office and those other government departments.
In terms of looking at the monitoring of merchant shipping or
the searching of containers and security in ports, then that is
not a Royal Navy task drawn down from a Ministry of Defence remit.
We had quite a discussion on this the last time and I understand
very readily that when you use this words "defence against
something" it is the Ministry of Defence who must be involved
in this and if it is on the sea then it is the Navy and if it
is in the air it is the Air Force. But we are not dealing with
a wartime threat to the United Kingdom and home waters.
538. It is not clear cut but ultimately it helps
us to be clearer and I am sure it helps everyone operationally.
(Commodore Dickson) The point is that we are hugely
involved. We are very, very much involved with all of those departments,
agencies and so on and there has been an enormous amount of activity.
In the areas we have been talking about we are very much part
of the organisations, the various committees which have been looking
at this and how best to do something about it. The key element
is intelligence where that is very much the sort of things we
can pull together and which we need in order to be able to play
our part .
539. What general lessons were learned from
the MV Nisha incident before Christmas and how have these been
implemented? Can you tell us the nature of the threat that the
Nisha was suspected of?
(Commodore Dickson) Because it happened at sea I will
kick off on that. I mentioned briefly to Mr Hancock after we had
finished the last session that I was looking forward to the opportunity
in closed session to being able to correct one or two of the inaccuracies,
although you explained to me later that you had been given that
information by a naval colleagues, although you divulged no name
so I have not been able to do anything about it. It was introduced
by the Brigadier the last time as a successful run-out of the
counter-terrorism machinery and that is exactly what it was. In
terms of when the Ministry of Defence was alerted to this, that
happened *** that the Ministry of Defence and its *** were alerted
to this as being a possible threat. We then went into the process
which we have or we took part in the process which exists through
COBR which has already been referred to. The initial meeting took
place *** and put in place the chain of events which led to the
military agencies involved, *** , a frigate from the Royal Navy,
the fleet ready escort which was sent to sea and sailed at 2000
hours and intercepted the ship just a few hours later that evening.
*** at a later stage and there was an *** which had been escorting
this ship as well. A decision was taken that the right time to
do something about this would be at first light the next day because
*** . So we shadowed the ship overnight. She was shadowed by the
fleet ready escort and *** and then *** launched the operation
to gain access to the ship ***.