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MI5 head's warning on terrorism

BBC | November 9, 2006
Gordon Corera

The "serious, growing threat" of terrorism will be "with us for a generation", MI5's head has warned.

The "campaign" was "sustained... not a series of isolated incidents", Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller said in a speech to an audience of academics.

MI5 knew of up to 30 alleged terror plots to kill and was watching about 200 networks or groups, she said.

Her warning comes days after a UK man was sentenced to at least 40 years in jail for planning a series of attacks.

Attacks planned by Dhiren Barot, 34, from London, included using a so-called "dirty bomb" using radioactive material.

Dame Eliza, who rarely speaks in public, gave a speech to a small audience on Thursday morning, detailing what she believes her organisation and the UK is facing.

She said that, since the 7 July bombings, five further major conspiracies in the UK had been thwarted.

"Today, my officers and the police are working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks, totalling over 1,600 identified individuals - and there will be many we don't know - who are actively engaged in plotting, or facilitating, terrorist acts here and overseas," she said.

"What we see at the extreme end of the spectrum are resilient networks, some directed from al-Qaeda 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 - I suggest will - include the use of chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials and even nuclear technology."

Out of the 200 or so groups being watched by MI5, a smaller subset are of the highest priority because its feared that they are plotting actual attacks.

'Foot soldiers'

"We are aware of numerous plots to kill people and to damage our economy. What do I mean by numerous? Five? Ten?

"No, nearer 30 that we currently know of.


"These plots often have linked back to al-Qaeda in Pakistan and through those links al-Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale."

Of the 30 plots some may turn out to be less credible or advanced but it's hard to be sure until they are fully investigated. And that takes resources.

MI5 has increased in size by nearly 50% since 9/11 and now stands at roughly 2,800 staff.

But, according to Dame Eliza, the concern is that even with this rapid growth it won't be able to investigate nearly enough of the activity that is currently underway in the UK. This means that hard choices have to be made about where to put resources.

"I wish life were like Spooks [the TV series] where everything is, a, knowable, and, b, soluble by six people," she explained.

"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 - my service has seen an 80% increase in casework since January - the task is daunting.

"We shan'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."

'Real threat'

Dame Eliza has been Director General of MI5 since 2002 and, prior to that, deputy director general for five years and has spent 32 years in the UK intelligence community.

She acknowledged the fact that some people accuse her organisation and others of hyping up the threat and that people are reluctant to accept assertions that do no always appear to be substantiated.

But she argued that while it was right to be sceptical about intelligence, the threat was real.

A particular concern expressed by the security service chief was the need to deal with radicalisation - especially amongst the young.

"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," she warned.

"Young teenagers are being groomed to be suicide bombers."

Trying to identify people of school age who might be undergoing radicalisation presents particular problems for the security service.

And while MI5 has to deal with the consequences of radicalisation, its role is not to deal with the causes.

"My service is dedicated to tackling the deadly manifestations of terrorism.

"Tackling its roots is the work of us all."

"TerrorStorm is something that should be seen by everyone, no matter what their stance/affiliation/political bent. " - Rich Rosell, Digitally Obsessed UK
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