Text of speech by head of MI5 - 'On the international terrorist threat to the UK' 1600 terrorists planning attacks
November 10, 2006
MI5 speech on terrorist threat
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On the international terrorist threat to the UK
"I rarely speak in public. I prefer to avoid the limelight and get on with my job. But today, I want to set out my views on the realities of the terrorist threat facing the UK in 2006; what motivates those who pose that threat; and what my Service is doing, with others, to counter it."
"We now know that the first Al-Qaida-related plot against the UK was the one we discovered and disrupted in November 2000 in Birmingham.
A British citizen is currently serving a long prison sentence for plotting to detonate a large bomb in the UK. Let there be no doubt about this: the international terrorist threat to this country is not new.
It began before Iraq, before Afghanistan, and before 9/11.
In the years after 9/11, with atrocities taking place in Madrid, Casablanca, Bali, Istanbul and elsewhere, terrorists plotted to mount a string of attacks in the UK, but were disrupted.
This run of domestic success was interrupted tragically in London in July 2005. Since then, the combined efforts of my Service, the police, SIS and GCHQ have thwarted a further five major conspiracies in the UK, saving many hundreds (possibly even thousands) of lives."
On current activities
"What I can say is that today, my officers and the police are working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks, totalling over 1600 identified individuals (and there will be many we don't know) who are actively engaged in plotting, or facilitating, terrorist acts here and overseas.
The extremists are motivated by a sense of grievance and injustice driven by their interpretation of the history between the West and the Muslim world. This view is shared, in some degree, by a far wider constituency.
If the opinion polls conducted in the UK since July 2005 are only broadly accurate, over 100,000 of our citizens consider that the July 2005 attacks in London were justified.
What we see at the extreme end of the spectrum are resilient networks, some directed from Al-Qaida in Pakistan, some more loosely inspired by it, planning attacks including mass casualty suicide attacks in the UK.
Today we see the use of home-made improvised explosive devices; tomorrow's threat may include the use of chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials and even nuclear technology.
More and more people are moving from passive sympathy towards active terrorism through being radicalised or indoctrinated by friends, families, in organised training events here and overseas, by images on television, through chat rooms and websites on the Internet.
The propaganda machine is sophisticated and Al-Qaida itself says that 50% of its war is conducted through the media.
In Iraq, attacks are regularly videoed and the footage downloaded onto the Internet within 30 minutes.
Virtual media teams then edit the result, translate it into English and many other languages, and package it for a worldwide audience. And, chillingly, we see the results here. Young teenagers being groomed to be suicide bombers.
We are aware of numerous plots to kill people and to damage our economy. What do I mean by numerous? Five? Ten? No, nearer thirty - that we know of.
These plots often have links back to Al-Qaida in Pakistan and through those links Al-Qaida gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale.
And it is not just the UK of course. Other countries also face a new terrorist threat: from Spain to France to Canada and Germany
On Al Qaida and Islam
Al-Qaida has developed an ideology which claims that Islam is under attack, and needs to be defended
Afghanistan, the Balkans, Chechnya, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Kashmir and Lebanon are regularly cited by those who advocate terrorist violence as illustrating what they allege is Western hostility to Islam.
On the role of Intelligence
I have been an intelligence officer for some 32 years. And I want again to describe what intelligence is and is not. I wish life were like 'Spooks', where everything is (a) knowable, and (b) soluble by six people.
We are faced by acute and very difficult choices of prioritisation. We cannot focus on everything so we have to decide on a daily basis with the police and others where to focus our energies, whom to follow, whose telephone lines need listening to, which seized media needs to go to the top of the analytic pile.
Because of the sheer scale of what we face (80% increase in casework since January), the task is daunting. We won't always make the right choices. And we recognise we shall have scarce sympathy if we are unable to prevent one of our targets committing an atrocity.
On the July 7 London Bombings
On July 8 last year I spoke to all my staff. I said that what we feared would happen had finally happened.
I reminded them that we had warned that it was a matter of when, not if, and that they were trained to respond - indeed many had been up all night, from the intelligence staff to the catering staff.
I told them that we had received many messages of support from around the world, and that we, along with our colleagues in the police and emergency services, were in the privileged position of being able to make a difference. And we did. And we have done so since.
On the future
Safety for us all means working together to protect those we care about, being alert to the danger without over-reacting, and reporting concerns. We need to be alert to attempts to radicalise and indoctrinate our youth and to seek to counter it.
Radicalising elements within communities are trying to exploit grievances for terrorist purposes; it is the youth who are being actively targeted, groomed, radicalised and set on a path that frighteningly quickly could end in their involvement in mass murder of their fellow UK citizens, or their early death in a suicide attack or on a foreign battlefield.
We also need to understand some of the differences between non-Western and Western life-styles; and not treat people with suspicion because of their religion, or indeed to confuse fundamentalism with terrorism.
We must realise that there are significant differences between faiths and communities within our society, and most people, from whatever origin, condemn all acts of terror in the UK.
My messages are sober ones. I do not speak in this way to alarm (nor as the cynics might claim to enhance the reputation of my organisation) but to give the most frank account I can of the Al-Qaida threat to the UK.
That threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation. It is a sustained campaign, not a series of isolated incidents. It aims to wear down our will to resist.