MI6 left largely in the clear over exaggeration of WMD documents

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 8 July 2003

The foreign intelligence service has emerged largely unscathed from the parliamentary inquiry into the arguments used to justify the war in Iraq.

Throughout the political furore over whether elements in the government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons arsenal published last September were exaggerated, MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service – which provided the information – has remained confident its sources were reliable and its intelligence accurate.

The foreign affairs committee report yesterday made clear “the claims made in the September dossier were in all probability well founded on the basis of the intelligence then available”. MI6 has kept its distance from the row between Downing St and the BBC over allegations that the dossier was “sexed up”, regarding it as a dispute over the presentation of arguments rather than a well-informed debate over accuracy.

The use of intelligence information suggesting Iraq could use chemical weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so is criticised by the committee more for the prominence it is given in the dossier than any proven claim that it was wrong.

Most difficult for MI6, however, is the focus in the report on allegations that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa. The committee clearly remains suspicious of claims that intelligence information substantiating this accusation was not the same as US information later found to be based on forged documents. The UK evidence has not been made available because it was provided by a country that does not want to be identified, officials say. But Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK ambassador to the United Nations, has said the evidence is convincing.

Whitehall officials reject claims made in the committee’s report that Britain may have relied too heavily on information on Iraq provided by the US. They have insisted their human intelligence sources in Iraq before and during the war were more extensive than those of the US, which largely depended on electronic surveillance and the claims of defectors whose information has often proved inaccurate.

The tone of the report was regarded by some Whitehall officials familiar with the intelligence service as reflecting the committee’s resentment at having no access to intelligence information and MI6 officials.

The parliamentary intelligence and security committee, which operates within the “ring of secrecy” and enjoys this access, is conducting its own inquiry into the Iraq dossiers, which will be published in September.

It is expected to focus on the accuracy of the intelligence on Iraq and will be a much more robust assessment of whether MI6 got it facts right, a Whitehall official said yesterday.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Al-Qaeda attack is a matter of time, says MI5

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 18 June 2003

It is only a matter of time before a terrorist attack using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear technology is launched by al-Qaeda or its affiliates against a big western city, the head of MI5, the security service, said yesterday.

“My conclusion, based on the intelligence we have uncovered, is that we are faced with the realistic possibility of some form of unconventional attack,” Eliza Manningham-Buller, the MI5 director-general, said.

However, she made it clear a conventional terrorist attack remained more likely, telling a London conference at the Royal United Services Institute: “The bomb and the suicide bomber remain the most effective tool in the terrorist arsenal.”

In her most detailed assessment to date of al-Qaeda’s capabilities, Ms Manningham-Buller said the threat was “likely to remain for the foreseeable future”. Her comments are similar to predictions made by ministers since the September 11 attacks, and are part of the government’s strategy of maintaining a state of alert without causing alarm. Senior officials have regularly said they assume al-Qaeda will succeed in launching an attack.

MI5 and MI6, the foreign intelligence service, GCHQ, the monitoring service, and other government departments have streamlined the process of assessing the terrorist threat, partly in response to the attacks in Bali last October.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008


Seven states added to asylum ‘safe’ list

 

 

 

By Mark Huband

Financial Times, 18 June 2003

The number of countries considered “safe”, and from which rejected asylum applicants will have no right of appeal, has been raised by the government to 24. Seven more countries were added to the list yesterday, the Home Office said. Beverley Hughes, a Home Office minister, said the move was part of a drive to stop the widespread abuse of the asylum system.

The countries were Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. The “safe” list announced last November was issued partly in response to opposition criticism of the government’s policies on asylum seekers.

However, the list has been condemned by human rights campaigners. Amnesty International, which is due to issue a statement on the “safe” list today, said yesterday that 46 people were reported to have died from police and army torture in Bangladesh in 2002.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Threat from terrorist acts ‘not reduced’

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 12 June 2003

The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime has done little to reduce the terrorist threat, or to substantiate US allegations of links between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, counter-terrorist officials say.

“The confronting of the terrorist threat really has to do with other policies than what was done in Iraq,” a senior US official admitted on Thursday.

Before the war, on February 5, Colin Powell, US secretary of state, told the United Nations Security Council that al-Qaeda drew part of its capacity from ties with the Iraqi regime: “Early al-Qaeda ties were forged by secret high-level intelligence service contacts with al-Qaeda.”

He detailed evidence of both Iraqi meetings with al-Qaeda operatives, and links between an alleged al-Qaeda operative – Abu Musab al-Zarkawi – and the regime in Baghdad. He also said a group of al-Qaeda “affiliates based in Baghdad now co-ordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq” for Mr al-Zarkawi’s network. It was from Iraq that “Zarkawi can direct his network in the Middle East and beyond,” he said.

An early target for US bombing during the Iraq war was a camp in north-eastern Iraq, outside Baghdad’s control, occupied by the Ansar al-Islam, a group with known ties to al-Qaeda. Three western intelligence services alleged the group had developed chemical weapons. But Mr Powell also said the group liaised regularly with Baghdad, thereby linking Mr Hussein’s regime with the al-Qaeda network.

However, no evidence linking Ansar al-Islam with the development of chemical weapons or with Baghdad has been found at the camp since it was overrun by US special forces, intelligence sources say. Nor have Mr al-Zarkawi and other alleged Baghdad-based al-Qaeda operatives been traced.

Two senior al-Qaeda – Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda’s former planning chief, and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, its former military chief – have both told US interrogators that the network had no ties with Iraq. “From what has emerged, what they are saying seems accurate,” the official said.

Some intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say that al-Qaeda’s fragmentation before the war in Iraq meant that no specific act against it – such as the overthrow of an alleged ‘state sponsor’ – would destroy it. “The linkage between al-Qaeda’s centre and its local affiliates has fallen away,” said a senior UK official. “Now you also have some very radicalised people who remain incensed by Iraq. They are not cornered yet.”

The attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco last month are seen as signs of this fragmentation, as officials say the former was probably an al-Qaeda operation and the latter organised independently though with some outside assistance.

US officials now accept that groups such as that allegedly led by Mr al-Zarkawi have become more, rather than less, of a threat as a result of the war in Iraq.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Private security companies ‘have anti-terror role’

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 13 June 2003

Private security companies may play a role in the police response to a catastrophic terrorist attack, London’s top counter-terrorist police officer said yesterday.

David Veness, head of the anti-terrorist squad, said that private firms could provide essential support to police if large areas of cities were affected by a terrorist attack.

He said the police were considering providing training to private firms “to raise the level of capability when an event takes place”.

Mr Veness specifically envisaged the private security sector cordoning off affected districts, guarding buildings and compensating for insufficient police manpower.

“The police are looking for a strategic relationship with private security companies,” he said. “There are a range of opportunities for working more radically and imaginatively with them.”

Addressing business leaders at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Veness said that the presence of private security personnel at company premises already offered the potential for additional “eyes and ears”.

But the additional personnel they could potentially offer would help the police deal with a sudden large attack that would test all the emergency and security services simultaneously.

The LCCI was recently warned by the director-general of security service MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, that “it is not a question of if there is an attack in London, but when”. Businesses are now being warned that they must radically improve their readiness for an attack.

“We are operating dangerously too close to the point of an attack,” Mr Veness told the LCCI yesterday.

LCCI research has shown that 83 per cent of small companies in London have no contingency or security plans. US figures show that up to 50 per cent of businesses that do not have contingency plans go out of business permanently if they are faced by a big disruptive incident.

Nick Raynsford, the local government minister, told the LCCI meeting yesterday that there was inadequate attention being given to planning for the breakdown of business infrastructure.

“Too many people have assumed quite wrongly that they will be able to go on without thinking about their supply chain or their IT network. It’s those wider connections that are absolutely critical,” Mr Raynsford said.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Blair’s security watchdog raps No 10 over Iraq dossier

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 11 June 2003

The committee handpicked by Tony Blair to oversee the intelligence agencies yesterday rebuked Downing Street over its use of intelligence material in the “dodgy dossier” on Iraq.

In its annual report, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ICS) said that while it favoured the “responsible use of intelligence” to inform the public, its use in a February 2003 Downing Street dossier describing Iraq’s security failed this standard.

The February report was compiled by Downing Street officials, and included both intelligence material and information downloaded from the internet. A key source was the PhD thesis of an Iraq expert, whose work was not acknowledged.

It has not been made clear how Downing Street obtained and incorporated their intelligence material without the knowledge of MI6, which gathers intelligence from abroad. The parliamentary committee report said that since the embarrassment surrounding the February dossier, “systems have now been put in place to ensure that this cannot happen again”.

The key measure is that the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which collects intelligence from MI5, MI6 and the monitoring service GCHQ, will endorse publications before they are made public. The ICS, made up of MPs and peers and oversees MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, is to launch an inquiry into whether the government exaggerated the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and “sexed up” a dossier on its arsenal. Downing Street has apologised to MI6 for using intelligence material in the February dossier without consulting it.

The ICS strongly criticised the failure of ministers to co-ordinate their strategies for dealing with issues that involved the security and intelligence agencies.

Ministers are supposed to use the Ministerial Committee on Intelligence, which is chaired by the prime minister, to discuss intelligence issues. The committee has not met for several years, and the parliamentary report said: “The relevant cabinet ministers are not sufficiently engaged in the setting of long-term requirements and priorities for the [security and intelligence] agencies.”

Ann Taylor, the Security and Intelligence Committee chairman, said: “Ministers we feel are well advised when it’s an immediate problem. It’s this longer-term view we are concerned about.” Mrs Taylor also said that the committee was not satisfied that ministers were being kept sufficiently informed on issues relating to the proliferation of WMD.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Parliamentary inquiry to grill spies on ‘sexed up’ dossier

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 5 June 2003

A parliamentary inquiry into whether the government misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction will have access to intelligence officers and the raw intelligence information they provided, Tony Blair said yesterday.

Angrily rejecting accusations that the government “sexed up” the September 24 2002 dossier detailing Saddam Hussein’s arsenal in order to make a stronger case against the Iraqi regime, Mr Blair said the parliamentary intelligence and security committee would be “given all the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments and will also have access to the people who wrote the report”.

The Commons foreign affairs committee is also launching an inquiry. Both probes will coincide with planned Congress hearings that will focus on the substance of the intelligence information provided by the CIA in the US.

Opponents of the war against Iraq have alleged that the raw intelligence information presented to the JIC, which collates intelligence and presents its assessments to the prime minister, was “doctored” when it went into the published dossier in order to bolster the case for war.

The source of the most contentious accusation – that Downing Street insisted on the inclusion of a reference to weapons of mass destruction being ready for use within 45 minutes of an order – has not been established, although Whitehall officials said it did not reflect a broad view among intelligence officials.

Nor do officials think it came from within the JIC itself. People familiar with the intelligence assessment process insist that everything in the dossier was agreed by the committee, whose members include the heads of MI6, the secret intelligence service; MI5, the security service; and GCHQ the monitoring service, as well as the chief of the defence intelligence staff and Foreign Office officials.

“I would be staggered if the source of these statements was somebody on the JIC,” an official said. “We don’t know who it is, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be somebody from within the intelligence or security services. A great many people have access to the information out of the JIC.”

Officials have not said whether they regard this breaking of ranks on intelligence as a threat to national security nor whether a full internal inquiry has been launched. But they are concerned that it may harm the processing of intelligence. “The integrity of the process is being challenged from within,” one said.

Despite the controversy, officials strongly reject suggestions that the process of publishing intelligence material was resisted by intelligence officials. “There has been no politicisation of intelligence. Iraq became top of the political agenda. When you have states about which little is known, you rely on the security services,” said a senior official.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Activists pose big threat, bosses warned

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 30 May 2003

Businesses were given a chilling warning yesterday that violent protest groups can destroy them.

Brian Cass, managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences, told a London conference how his company had been taken to the edge of extinction by animal rights extremists.

Mr Cass said the message for protesters was: “If you go to extreme violence, the chances are you will win.”

Listing the successes achieved by the campaign to isolate and harm HLS’s business of carrying out chemical and medical tests on animals, Mr Cass’s comments amounted to an admission that the company had lost key aspects of its fight.

A campaign by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty in 1999 forced the company’s bank, insurers, largest shareholders and even its refuse collector to end their business with HLS.

The campaign has yet to achieve its aim of forcing HLS to close. The company’s worldwide business brought revenues of $120m (£73m) last year and it numbers 48 of the world’s top 50 pharmaceutical companies among its customers. Orders have increased by 70 per cent in the four years since the campaign started, Mr Cass said.

But Shac’s efforts to isolate HLS and discourage other companies from associating with it have been highly successful, Mr Cass admitted. The company has been forced to spend £750,000 on a piped gas supply to its site due to the refusal of local fuel companies to deliver oil by tanker.

Shac has denied it was responsible for violence against company employees, which included cars being burned and Mr Cass being assaulted. Mr Cass appeared amid tight security at yesterday’s conference organised by the business advisory group Survive, and his presence had not been announced in advance.

He detailed the successes of the Shac campaign, which eventually led to the Bank of England arranging finance to keep the company afloat and the Department of Trade and Industry providing it with insurance. HLS now banks with Stephens Bank of the US.

The campaign launched by Shac is thought to have been led by fewer than 20 activists, though with up to 1,000 supporters in the UK and abroad. It expanded to include activists in Japan, where HLS customers became its targets.

“The number of activists isn’t huge, but their impact has been incredible,” said Mr Cass, standing beneath a poster distributed by Shac which had his photograph above the caption: “the most evil man in Britain”.

“There needs to be an understanding that this is a threat to all industries. The tactics could be extended to any other sectors of the economy,” he said.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Bid to improve common action against terror

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 30 May 2003

The G8 summit will be dominated by development issues and the threat from global terrorism, which President Jacques Chirac, its host, hopes will allow the world’s leading industrial powers to revive the co-operation that existed after the September 11 attacks in the US but disappeared in the furore over war in Iraq.

Alongside the United Nations counter-terrorism committee, the G8 countries have been the driving force behind the globalisation of action against terrorist organisations.

While UN resolutions on counter-terrorism and organised crime have set the global standard for diplomatic co-operation between governments, the pooling of police, security and intelligence service resources by G8 countries has been the essential conduit for the global flow of information that has allowed arrests to be made.

The rapid introduction of financial measures to halt the flow of terrorist finance after September 11 was almost entirely dependent on the existing means of co-operation between G8 countries, operating under the auspices of the Financial Action Task Force. The FATF has been acting as a co-ordinating body to ensure compliance by banks, and has been vital in the freezing of $122m (£74m, €104m) of alleged al-Qaeda funds.

Co-operation between law enforcement services has remained remarkably unaffected by the poor diplomatic relations that dominated the run-up to the war in Iraq.

A large concern was that the war would see effort and resources diverted away from the unfinished campaign against al-Qaeda. In fact, the measures that had been put in place by the G8 before the month-long Iraq conflict, particularly in the area of intelligence sharing and police action, have endured, security officials say.

These measures are now regarded as certain to become even more important as the process of establishing an understanding of al-Qaeda’s strategy post-Iraq war starts to emerge.

G8 information-sharing, focused on efforts to confront the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, is now a key aspect of this effort. G8 states are co-ordinating strategies for dealing with terrorist use of WMD, and are jointly developing best practices to respond to a terrorist attack using WMD.

Analysts also regard the G8 as having a vital role in addressing the economic and social conditions that provide terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda with a constituency for recruitment.

“There are strong grounds for lining up worldwide development strategy with the anti-terrorist campaign,” Nicholas Bayne, an analyst of the G8, wrote in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Executives to be warned of kidnap risks

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 29 May 2003

Company executives will be warned today they are at increasing risk of being kidnapped by criminal gangs.

High-profile kidnappings have become a feature of life in parts of Asia but are now becoming more common in Europe, a security expert will say today at a security gathering in London.

The main threat remains in the former Soviet republics of Chechnya and Georgia, as well as in parts of South America – but it is now on the rise in western Europe, according to Chris Flint, a former senior Metropolitan Police officer.

Mr Flint will describe the growing trend of kidnapping at the conference of security officials and business advisers. The number of kidnappings in England and Wales has risen by 300 per cent in the past decade. Security experts believe that the ransoming of highly-paid executives may have become as attractive to criminals as laundering drugs money.

While many kidnaps are not aimed at business people, a growing number have targeted high-earners, Mr Flint will tell the conference organised by the London-based business advisory group Survive.

The two-day conference, which ends today, is designed to alert businesses to the risks of security breaches and other crises.

Senior police officers and UK government planners will today provide details of planning in the event of chemical, nuclear, biological or radiological attacks.

Security strategists from companies including Microsoft, Lego and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, will also detail security measures they have taken.

The vulnerability of business people to terrorist attacks was visibly illustrated by the suicide bombings in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh on May 12. Most of the foreigners who died were business people.

One topic for today will be the terrorist threat to business technology.

Following the September 11 attacks on the US, al-Qaeda threatened to hit the global financial system, and it has been assumed that this could involve hacking into computer systems.

“Hackers are trying to attack databases behind firewalls, and it is just a matter of time before people with an axe to grind could do a concerted attack on particular sectors of the UK economy via the internet,” Ian Glover, director of Insight Consulting, told the conference yesterday.

He advised businesses to become better informed about the measures put in place by their internet service providers for the recovery of information.

“Companies don’t necessarily know who is hosting their website, and they don’t know what kind of recovery systems are in place if they come under attack,” Mr Glover said.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


‘Gloves come off’ in US fight against terror

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security correspondent

Financial Times, 28 May 2003

It is the most widely-quoted statement issued during Algeria’s ten-year civil war between Islamic extremists and the military-backed government: “Fear must change sides.”

To the Algerian army, the statement by the country’s former prime minister Redha Malek appeared as a green light to use the terrorist tactics of the radical Islamic groups, whose resort to violence in 1992 unleashed a war which has now left more than 100,000 dead.

Last December, while on a visit to the Algerian capital, William Burns, US assistant secretary of state, announced that the US was finalizing the sale of military equipment to Algeria to fight terrorism. “Algeria counts itself among the nations that has suffered most from terrorism. We have much to learn from it,” Mr Burns said.

His comments were made amid growing concern over the methods now allegedly being used by the US and its allies in the Arab world and elsewhere to confront al-Qaeda.

Concern has centred on the treatment of prisoners, the methods used during the interrogation of suspects, the denial of legal representation, and incommunicado detention. The urgency of rooting out terrorist cells, and the “rendering” by the US of suspects to countries that are identified in US human rights reports as users of torture, have intensified concerns among human rights organisations, lawyers and politicians.

As Cofer Black, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA and now its head at the State Department, told Congress: “There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves come off.”

The treatment of detainees has fallen into sharper focus since a US army pathologist at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan recorded verdicts of “homicide” for two men, both Afghans, who died in US custody in December. While a further investigation into the deaths is now taking place, the pathologist’s report said the two died after suffering from “blunt force injuries”.

Meanwhile, the purpose of transferring detainees to Arab states, according to a senior western intelligence officer, is to both facilitate interrogation by officials from the same cultural and linguistic backgrounds as the detainees, while also allowing “methods with which we would not feel comfortable” to be used to extract information.

The whereabouts of many of the 3,000 alleged al-Qaeda operatives President George W. Bush said in January had been arrested by the US since the 11 September 2001 attacks, meanwhile remains a mystery. The identities of many have also remained secret, and their access to lawyers has been prevented, except for a handful who have gone on trial. Those detained have been left in a legal limbo by being identified as “unlawful enemy combatants” with few clear rights.

“The government has structured a legal regime that doesn’t allow anyone to hear the detainees,” said Joseph Margulies, a Minneapolis lawyer representing four detainees – though they are unaware of it – now being held at Camp Delta in the US military base of Guantánamo Bay on Cuba.

The 675 prisoners now being held at Guantánamo Bay are in the “legal equivalent of outer space”, according to one US official. The zone is leased from Cuba and is therefore outside US sovereign territory, which means neither the US courts – nor any other court – has jurisdiction over foreign nationals held there.

The names of only 40 of those being held have leaked out, while a mere 16 have legal representation – though they do not know it as their lawyers have been barred from meeting them. Several lawyers say that up to 20 of the inmates, who have two fifteen-minute periods out of their cells each week, have attempted suicide.

Its use of the law has led to criticism of the Bush administration: “There’s a real estate lawyer from Texas deciding on policy on the Geneva conventions,” said an expert on international law at Oxford university.

But for a growing number of lawyers, legal experts, specialists on terrorism, as well as intelligence officers and law enforcement officials, the treatment of so-called “unlawful enemy combatants” in the global war on terror, also risks creating new threats, by intensifying the enmity with which al-Qaeda and the potential radicals it attracts view the US and its allies.

“The unusual nature of this armed conflict is what in the government’s estimation entitles it to behave differently vis-a-vis the laws of war. But it should be just the opposite,” said Mr Margulies. “The way the US is prosecuting this war increases the risk of innocent civilians being scooped up into it. That underscores why we have to have some process to distinguish those who are innocent and those who are not,” he said, saying that in his view as many as 30 per cent of those being held at Guantánamo Bay are probably innocent.

Studies of Islamic extremism in Egypt during the 1980s made by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leading Egyptian sociologist, revealed a direct link between the violence committed against Islamist militants in prison, and their future extremism.

Film footage of the trials of Islamists found guilty of involvement in the assassination of the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981, also provides stark evidence of the direct links between them and al-Qaeda. While other prisoners reveal the scars of their torture – whose authenticity was confirmed in medical reports and later led to legal action being taken against several interrogators – a key figure whose testimony was filmed during the trial stands out. He is Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s deputy.

Mr al-Zawahiri details to the camera the torture that was used to extract his confession, then says: “Where is freedom? Where is human rights? Where is justice? Where is justice? We will never forget. We will never forget.”

He kept his word. Twenty years later he was at Osama bin Laden’s side at al-Qaeda’s Afghan base, as they heard the news that the suicide hijackers they had sent to the US had struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


London raises security levels in response to al-Qaeda terror fears

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 24 May 2003

Signs that parts of the al-Qaeda terrorist network have survived worldwide efforts to destroy it lie behind the decision to raise security levels in London, officials said yesterday.

In response to the threat, police and security chiefs ordered that a ring of concrete blocks be set-up around the Houses of Parliament as protection against bomb-laden vehicles being rammed into the building.

Extra police were yesterday at Heathrow airport, while an additional 150 officers were on patrol in central London. The heightened security has not been launched in response to a specific threat against a known target in the capital. However, counter-terrorism officials analysing signs of activity by al-Qaeda and its affiliates have decided that it has managed to adapt and remain effective.

“We have gone through some periods where we have believed that their capability and organisational direction was degraded. But there are clear signs that they have been able to rebuild. They are now back in business,” said a Whitehall insider.

Al-Qaeda’s probable role in the bombings that killed 34 in Saudi Arabia on May 12 has given security officials insight into how effective it remains. Ayman al-Zawahri, the al-Qaeda deputy chief, issued a statement this week exhorting the group’s supporters to “carry arms against your enemies . . Attack the [diplomatic] missions of the US, UK”.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Baghdad prison gives up its secrets

 

 

 

By Mark Huband in Baghdad

Financial Times, 23 May 2003

The tapping of a hammer inside a brick oven paused at the sound of military boots on the broken glass and smashed tiles. A dog howled outside, pigeons cooed, and the wrinkled, soot-caked face of a man appeared at an opening in the wall in which the cooks of Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison used to bake their bread.

The ransacking of Iraq’s most notorious prison – the man in the bread oven was stealing bricks, which he had neatly piled in the centre of the prison kitchen – has left much of the vast complex in ruins. But its atmosphere is intact.

A team of US and UK troops trawled through the mounds of partially-burned prison records and faded photographs of inmates holding up their prison numbers, searching for evidence of the violence with which the prison was associated throughout Saddam Hussein’s rule.

They waded through the dust and ash settling on the cells, corridors and offices in which the deposed Ba’ath party regime institutionalised brutality. The cell doors, hundreds of them, all painted recently in bright blue, lay open, the cells onto which they opened empty, the evidence of redecoration suggesting that the regime had plans for the place which hardly countenanced its overthrow.

On the corridor walls, as if designed to compound the misery and fear of those trapped within, brightly coloured murals depict a swan and its cygnets gliding along a pleasant stream, a horse galloping across open grassy plains, a sailing ship plunging through the sea without a crew, a boy washing his donkey in a fast running river watched by a stag and a family of deer.

According to human rights groups, the regime executed 4,000 prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 1984 alone. In February and March 2000, 122 political prisoners were executed there, and in October 2001 a further 23 political prisoners. A nearby graveyard is one of many in Iraq to have revealed grim secrets since the fall of the old regime.

The inmates were a mixture of dissenting voices, common criminals and those who had the misfortune to fall from grace with the regime. If ever they forgot whose rules they had broken, they could strain their eyes to the end of every one of the cell blocks and see the face of the dictator – smiling, holding a shotgun, laughing with children, dressed as a peasant.

“The last time I saw him was here.” Abdul Jaber Mutashir unrolled a piece of white paper. On it, a photograph of a man in Arab dress. “It was this cell.”

He was not talking about Saddam Hussein. He had shown the team of foreign troops to a two-storey building. It was the only one in the many acres within which Abu Ghraib sprawls, on which trees gave some shade. There was grass, and bougainvillea growing against a wall. The shadow of the trees would have shaded the building had it not been midday.

“Then he was taken here.” Abdul Jaber pointed to a heavy metal door painted grey, opened it, appearing to know his way, and walked inside a room which rose through the two storeys of the building.

There was no bright blue paint, just grey. A mezzanine at the top of the ramp was bare but for a metal box with two handles. Above it, two large metal brackets were welded to the ceiling and directly beneath them in the floor, two rectangular holes opened onto the concrete floor below.

Prisoners were hanged here side by side. Abdul Jaber Mutashir wondered aloud who had been hanged beside his brother. He wondered if they had spoken together before the handles were pulled and they fell.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Terror alert closes western missions

 

 

 

By Mark Huband in Kuwait

Financial Times, 21 May 2003

The US yesterday raised its terror alert to the second-highest level as officials said they had received “credible information” that more terrorist attacks were being planned against targets in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

The US, UK and German embassies and trade missions in the kingdom will be closed temporarily from today in response to intelligence reports suggesting that attacks against unspecified targets may be “imminent”.

The US decision to return to an orange alert will again trigger heightened security measures at US airports, government facilities and other possible targets.

Washington had previously raised the alert level before the war in Iraq, but dropped it back to yellow last month.

Saudi officials investigating the multiple suicide bombings that killed 34 – mainly foreign nationals – in Riyadh on May 12, said yesterday they had arrested three al-Qaeda suspects in the Red Sea port of Jeddah. A Saudi source said that one of the three was co-operating with the security forces.

Up to 50 Muslim extremists linked to the al-Qaeda network are still thought to be operating in the country and planning further attacks.

Referring to signs of increased terrorist activity, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the US, warned on Monday there was “a high level of chatter regionally and in other international spots” about possible new attacks on Saudi Arabia – or even the US.

The FBI warned that the bombings in Saudi Arabia indicated that al-Qaeda could launch new attacks in the US. Officials said the US embassy in Riyadh and consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran would close until Sunday.

The British embassy in Riyadh, the consulate in Jeddah and the trade office in al-Khobar will be closed to the public from today. A plan to re-open on Saturday was being kept under review. Germany will close its embassy in Riyadh and another mission in Jeddah at least until Friday.

According to the White House, the al-Qaeda network has been diminished by the war on terror ism, but not destroyed. Up to 60 FBI agents are assisting the Saudi authorities in their investigation.

The Riyadh attacks give the US an additional lever on the Saudi authorities, analysts say, as they encourage them to take even more decisive action against al-Qaeda supporters in the kingdom.

Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, insisted his country was increasing security measures. “We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” he said.

Prince Saud added that resolving the Palestinian issue would remove “a great part of the reasons for terrorism in our region”.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Helpful Iraqis now the key in WMD search

 

 

 

By Mark Huband in al-Qaim, Iraq

Financial Times, 20 May 2003

Saddam Hussein’s presence has been neatly erased from the al-Qaim fertiliser factory. While elsewhere in the country the former Iraqi leader’s portraits have had their eyes gouged out, or been sprayed with graffiti, the employees of Iraq’s largest fertiliser producer instead took a can of red paint and carefully coated the larger-than-life image which stood at the factory entrance.

For al-Qaim’s remaining 250 employees, erasing the past is a duty, a necessity and an obsession. The Sensitive Sight Team Five (SST5), however, has the opposite mission. Its role is painstakingly to go over old ground in the hunt for the evidence of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes.

Today tumbleweed blows past concrete bunkers in a fenced-off inner site within which Iraqi scientists in the 1980s extracted uranium oxide – so-called “Yellow Cake” – from phosphoric acid at al-Qaim, in an attempt to set up a nuclear programme.

The “cake”, if it had been produced in quantities Iraq never in fact achieved, could have been used in the development of nuclear fuel and weapons.

The bunkers were ordered to be closed and encased in concrete by United Nations inspectors after the 1991 Gulf war. UN teams regularly visited the site, most recently in early March, days before the US-led invasion.

But beneath a building part-destroyed by bombing in 1991, 16 blue plastic barrels still lie coated in a thin film of dust. A British specialist with the UK’s Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Regiment, seconded to the US-led SST5, surveyed the barrels with an Exploranium weapons detector. Its indicator ticked rapidly and words on a screen described the contents of the barrels as “industrial uranium 238” – yellow cake.

Until a month ago, as UK and US troops advanced through the country, the find, 20 miles from Iraq’s north-western border with Syria, would perhaps have been called a “smoking gun” by the excitable invaders. But as expectations have evaporated that big WMD finds will be made at sites identified before the war, the detection of yellow cake merely led to a report being filed and a recommendation that a second inspection team find ways of disposing of it.

Frustration is palpable among the weapons hunters, as site after site fails to provide evidence of the banned weapons programmes that would provide the retrospective justification for war.

“Our best information is going to come from human sources: Iraqis, when they feel comfortable enough, will come forward,” says Lieutenant Colonel Keith Harrington, the US Special Forces officer who heads SST5. “The new approach will be: piece it together from the human intelligence. We probably won’t find the big smoking gun.”

The first detail provided to the SST5 by Ismail Ibrahim, al-Qaim’s production manager, was that the site had already been visited by other coalition troops.

Undeterred by the possibility that they might have travelled for several hours by helicopter only to be duplicating others’ work, the 20-strong SST5 team, drawn from the US and British armies and the Royal Air Force, spent seven hours painstakingly testing chemicals, photographing laboratories, and examining mineral crushers and scores of other facilities.

The team had not been provided with details of al-Qaim’s activities included in previous UN inspections – some of which are available on the internet – and it was Mr Ibrahim who volunteered the information that yellow cake had once been produced at the site.

His readiness to provide details underlined both the dependence of the new WMD inspectors on well-informed Iraqis who are prepared to share information, and the risk of investigations being started from scratch when extensive information already lies with the UN. “The UN inspectors knew everything,” said Mr Ismail.

What the UN lacked was an environment in which people like him were able to speak frankly about the deposed regime and its alleged WMDs.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Al-Qaeda may focus future attacks on the Gulf area, insiders warn

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in Kuwait

Financial Times, 15 May 2003

The bombings in Riyadh have led western and Arab intelligence and security officials to reassess the capabilities and strategy of al-Qaeda, widely believed to have been behind the attacks.

The attacks are seen, both in intelligence circles and among Islamists opposed to the Saudi royal family, as evidence that al-Qaeda has decided to focus its attention on the Gulf area.

Islamists with knowledge of al-Qaeda’s strategy say that Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, has given a “green light” for attacks in his homeland.

However, insiders also say the terrorist cells responsible for Monday’s attacks would have operated with substantial autonomy, and may have sought the al-Qaeda leader’s approval just prior to the strikes.

The US is investigating alleged links between two suicide bombings this week in Chechnya and the Saudi attacks.

Senior western counter-terrorism officials said yesterday that international action against al-Qaeda had reduced it from a global network to more localised cells of the kind that now appeared to be operating in Saudi Arabia.

“The operatives are parts of networks, but the linkage now between the local groups and al-Qaeda has fallen away to some extent. Al-Qaeda has also lost some of its credibility among Islamists, because they did suggest that they would do something linked to the war in Iraq. But they didn’t do it,” the officials said.

The loss of its base in Afghanistan, and the arrest of key operatives such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged co-mastermind of the September 11 attacks in the US, is widely seen by security services as having forced al-Qaeda to fall back on groups across the Islamic world from which it had attracted support before the US attacks.

Since the launch of the US-led war in Afghanistan in October 2001, al-Qaeda operatives have been traced returning to the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia alone has charged 90 Saudis with belonging to al-Qaeda, and is currently interrogating around 250 other suspects.

Al-Qaeda’s supporters in Saudi Arabia are threatening a “guerrilla war” against the kingdom’s leaders and their western allies, according to a communiqué sent to Al-Majalla, a London-based, Saudi-owned magazine.

It says it has been told by an alleged al-Qaeda operative that an extensive network of terrorist cells has been established inside the country.

“What the al-Qaeda people are saying is ‘The best is yet to come’,” says Saad al-Fagui, an exiled Saudi Islamist who has criticised al-Qaeda but has contact with its supporters in Saudi Arabia.

“It seems there is going to be a series of suicide attacks, though with intervals between them. The al-Qaeda leadership behaves in a very cool, calm way, and they will only come back with an attack when nobody is expecting it,” says Mr al-Fagui, though he voiced scepticism of Al-Majalla’s claims.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Bin Laden may have directed attacks in Saudi capital

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in Kuwait

Financial Times, 14 May 2003

Saudi officials and Islamist opponents of the regime say Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, may have personally directed the terrorist attack in the Saudi capital.

Islamist opponents of the royal family, who are familiar with the activities of al-Qaeda’s supporters in the kingdom, said yesterday the attacks were the result of a decision by Mr bin Laden himself to target foreigners and members of the royal family in his homeland, where his support is strong.

“There is credible discussion in jihadi circles that this is the beginning of a new campaign, and that Osama bin Laden has given the go-ahead for a campaign in Saudi Arabia,” said Saad al-Fagui, a UK-based critic of the Saudi government who is also critical of al-Qaeda though has contacts with it.

Saudi officials also say that Mr bin Laden is directing attacks in the country.

No claim of responsibility has been issued for Monday’s bombings, though the practice of simultaneous attacks is similar to al-Qaeda’s. However, its near-silence during the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the arrest of key leaders, has led security officials to conclude that the network has been severely damaged, increasing its dependence on its core support in Saudi Arabia.

“There had been signs of a build-up in activity by al-Qaeda, and that foreign targets in Saudi Arabia were particularly vulnerable,” said a western intelligence official yesterday.

Monday’s attack, in which three car bombs were detonated simultaneously at three compounds housing foreign workers, is said by security sources to have been planned at least one month in advance.

Concerns about a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia had led the US State Department to issue a warning to US nationals on May 1 not to travel to the country.

However, the direct involvement of the al-Qaeda leadership in the attacks is doubted by other Saudi Islamists linked to radical groups.

“All these people need is a bit of money, perhaps from bin Laden, but perhaps from somebody else,” Mohammed al-Massari, an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family, said. “If you had 15 or 20 men who trained in Afghanistan, doing this kind of thing is easy.

“Al-Qaeda has a lot of influence in Saudi Arabia, and the events on Monday are a sign of the supportive environment in the country.”

Security sources say that the organisational weakness that the war of terror has caused in al-Qaeda’s international network would not hamper it in Saudi Arabia. Its support and operational capacity in the kingdom remain strong.

The attacks coincided with growing tension in the kingdom. This follows the publication of a communiqué by three Muslim scholars who called on Saudis not to assist the government in the hunt for 19 alleged al-Qaeda militants who have been sought since May 6 after the discovery of a large cache of weapons and explosives.

 

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Powell blames al-Qaeda for Riyadh bombings

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 13 May 2003

Three simultaneous suicide bombings, which left at least 10 Americans dead and up to 160 mainly foreign nationals injured in Saudi Arabia on Monday, marked the start of a new terrorist campaign linked to al-Qaeda, according to Islamist opponents of the Saudi government.

Television pictures showed massive damage to the three residential compounds in the Gharnata, Ishbiliya and Cordoba districts, with walls blown out and wrecked cars strewn around the scene.

Monday’s attack, in which three car bombs were detonated simultaneously at three different compounds housing foreign workers, is said by security sources to have been planned at least one month in advance.

The attacks came on the eve of a visit to Riyadh by Colin Powell, US secretary of state, to discuss the search for peace in the Israeli-Palistinian conflict.

“This was a well-planned terrorist attack,” said Mr Powell said, during a visit to one of three residential compounds attacked. “It has all the fingerprints of an al-Qaeda operation.”

In the United States, President George W. Bush pledged a “relentless” pursuit of whomever was behind the attacks.

“These despicable acts were committed by killers whose only faith is hate, and the United States will find the killers and they will learn the meaning of American justice,” Mr Bush said, without making any references to al-Qaeda.

Concerns about a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia had led the US State Department to issue a warning to US nationals on May 1 not to travel to the country.

Islamist opponents of the Saudi royal family, who are familiar with the activities of al-Qaeda’s supporters in the kingdom, said the attacks were the result of a decision by Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, to target foreigners and members of the royal family in his homeland where his support is strong.

“There is credible discussion in jihadi circles that this is the beginning of a new campaign, and that Osama bin Laden has given the go-ahead for a campaign in Saudi Arabia,” said Saad al-Fagui, a UK-based critic of the Saudi government who is also critical of al-Qaeda.

Saudi officials also say that Mr Bin Laden is directing attacks in the country. No claim of responsibility has been issued for Monday’s attacks, though the practice of simultaneous attacks is similar to al-Qaeda’s.

Al-Qaeda’s near-silence during the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the arrest of key leaders, has led security officials to conclude that the network has been severely damaged, increasing its dependence on its core support in Saudi Arabia.

“There had been signs of a build-up in activity by al-Qaeda, and that foreign targets in Saudi Arabia were particularly vulnerable,” said a western intelligence official yesterday. However, the direct involvement of the al-Qaeda leadership in Monday’s attacks is doubted by other Saudi Islamists linked to radical groups.

“All these people need is a bit of money, perhaps from Bin Laden, but perhaps from somebody else. If you had 15 or 20 men who trained in Afghanistan, doing this kind of thing is easy,” Mohammed al-Massari, an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family, said.

“Al-Qaeda has a lot of influence in Saudi Arabia, and the events on Monday are a sign of the supportive environment in the country,” he said.

The attacks coincided with growing tension in the kingdom, following the publication of a communique by three Muslim scholars who called on Saudis not to assist the government in the hunt for 19 alleged al-Qaeda militants who have been sought since May 6 after the discovery of a large cache of weapons and explosives. Prince Nayef, Saudi Arabian interior minister, said yesterday that the 19 were behind Monday’s attacks, while the scholars said prior to the attacks that the 19 had done no harm to Muslims and should be respected for being anti-American.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


‘Dr Germ’ in custody in Iraq

 

 

 

By Mark Huband in Kuwait

Financial Times, 13 May 2003

Iraq’s expert on anthrax and the deposed regime’s former army chief of staff have been taken into custody by American forces, US military officials said yesterday.

Rihab Rashid Taha, a British-trained microbiologist nicknamed “Dr Germ” and described by the US Central Command as the former director of Iraq’s bacterial and biological programme, surrendered in Iraq at the weekend after days of negotiations.

Also caught was Ibrahim Ahmad Abd al-Sattar al-Tikriti, the former army chief and the 11th most-wanted of 55 members of the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein.

Mrs Taha’s surrender means that three key officials in Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programme are now in custody. She was not on the most-wanted list, although her husband Amer Rashid, a missile specialist and former oil minister, was number eight on the list. He surrendered on April 28.

US forces are also holding Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, Mr Hussein’s former scientific adviser, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, nicknamed “Mrs Anthrax”, who also worked on Iraq’s biological weapons programme.

According to intelligence officials hunting Iraq’s banned weapons programmes, neither Mr Saadi nor Mrs Ammash has so far provided any leads as to where, or in what condition, the weapons might be found. Both deny any exist.

Mrs Taha said in an interview earlier this year that she had produced germ warfare agents in the past, including anthrax and botulinum, but that all such Iraqi weapons were destroyed.

She told ABC television that Iraq’s weapons programmes helped protect Iraqis from Israel.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


MI5 evolves to meet threat of international terror network

 

 

 

By Mark Huband

Financial Times, 5 May 2003

Bab el-Oued has little in common with Wood Green, and both are a far cry from the barren slopes of the Pankisi Gorge. But for the counter-terrorist officers in Britain’s security service, better known as MI5, the three areas are inextricably linked.

A network wove together the rundown district of the Algerian capital, Algiers – once the urban heartland of the country’s armed Islamist groups – with the north London suburb and the borderland between the Caucasus republics of Georgia and Chechnya.

A chance arrest in Algiers in December 2002, a tip-off to a European intelligence service, and the discovery of lists of names and addresses in cities in France, Italy, Spain and the UK led to the exposure a few weeks later of a trail of terrorist activity linked to al-Qaeda, which was then traced back to Afghanistan via the Pankisi.

At the centre of the network’s operations was a new weapon: ricin, a poison made from castor beans that, if used effectively, is lethal and its impact incurable. Acting on the tip-off, MI5 on January 5 discovered traces of ricin in a flat above a chemist’s shop in Wood Green.

Ever since, the process of piecing together the evidence learnt from those arrested in the UK and elsewhere has illustrated the twin roles MI5 has developed since the end of the cold war. For while it has developed its intelligence-gathering capacity on the global terrorist threat, it has also become a key part of the UK law enforcement machinery.

“The security service provides a bridge between the secret world and the police world. We can move intelligence from the secret world into the police world, so it can be used in court,” said a senior Whitehall official.

The linkage between the Algiers backstreet and Wood Green high street showed how the UK’s integrated intelligence and security apparatus has built up its effectiveness. The overseas and domestic intelligence services, as well as the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police, Special Branch and local police forces from Dorset to Edinburgh, all responded to the intelligence tip-off, resulting in numerous arrests.

Arrests in other European countries also revealed the extent of cross-border intelligence co-operation. MI5’s post-cold war role in confronting Irish terrorism since 1992 had already strengthened Europe-wide co-operation before al-Qaeda appeared on the scene.

“We had established a way of dealing with the IRA in Europe which involved the better integration of intelligence, and forging better relations with security services in other countries,” said a senior official.

However, with the exception of a recent case in Leicester that saw two al-Qaeda operatives prosecuted on terrorism charges, many of the successful prosecutions of alleged al-Qaeda terrorists in Europe in recent months have been on charges of credit card fraud or other criminal activities. Hard evidence of their alleged terrorist activity has been elusive.

This shortcoming is in part the result of the difficulty of infiltrating al-Qaeda at a senior level.

There is still debate as to whether MI5 should have been more assertive when future terrorist suspects claimed political asylum in the UK in the mid-1990s.

“I don’t think there is any evidence that MI5 had their eye off the ball regarding Islamic terrorism in the mid-90s. And it is difficult to act without burning your sources. It is a real dilemma,” said Peter Gill, a security expert at Liverpool John Moores university.

The post-September 11 onslaught against al-Qaeda may mean that the threat from it has now either diminished or mutated beyond recognition.

In response to last October’s Bali attack, the process of assessing dangers has been overhauled. The Counter-Terrorist Assessment Centre operated by MI5 has now been replaced by the Joint Terrorist Assessment Centre which will draw upon a wider range of analysts. But this additional streamlining is inadequate if it is not fed by better information.

“Within al-Qaeda, there are people who know about intelligence agencies and how they work,” said a senior security official. “The most effective way of knowing what’s going on is having someone inside. It’s something we have invested in very heavily.”

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Bilateral rivalries drop off agenda in wake of Sept 11

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 5 May 2003

When Vasily Mitrokhin walked into the British Embassy of an unidentified Baltic state and asked to speak with “someone in authority”, the past began to be rewritten.

It was March 24, 1992. The cold war was over, the Soviet Union was no more and the Berlin Wall was now reduced to rubble.

But when this former KGB chief archivist returned to the embassy, on April 9, with 2,000 closely typed pages of KGB secrets, British intelligence officers saw not only the past but the present and future detailed in front of them.

For the UK foreign intelligence service, called the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) – though better known as MI6 – the archive that had fallen into its hands was “not only illuminating past KGB activity against Western countries but also promising to nullify many of Russia’s current assets”, according to the inquiry that followed Mr Mitrokhin’s revelations.

While the Soviet Union was the country whose secrets Mr Mitrokhin had passed on, it was post-Soviet Russia that also stood to lose the “assets” – the spies and informers – that it had inherited from the USSR. No former or current Soviet or Russian spies were safe.

The exposure of sources is the death-knell of a secret service; it is also the Achilles’ heel that rival intelligence services continue to seek out in each other.

While the end of the cold war transformed diplomatic relations between the former ideological rivals, the political thaw did not reduce the levels of intelligence and counter-intelligence activity between what are now poli-tical and economic rivals.

But then came al-Qaeda.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, the shift in focus from bilateral rivalries to the global threat from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction has brought both a overhaul of intelligence-sharing practices – and along with it a readiness to use secret intelligence as source material in public debate. Both are huge shifts.

Al-Qaeda had proved near-impossible to infiltrate at a senior level. Subsequently, since the September 11 attacks, the shortcomings of technology-based information gathering has been revealed – intelligence gathering of the kind that US officials admit they have relied upon too heavily.

The need for “human intelligence” – or “humint” – was made stark by the al-Qaeda attacks, and the SIS is now seeking to double its number of frontline officers in order to expand its human intelligence capability.

But while the failure to infiltrate al-Qaeda at a senior level has brought a heavy price, success in “running” agents on the ground brought advantages in the war against Iraq.

“There, our effort was focused on working very closely with British forces. The real heroes were those incredibly brave Iraqis who worked with us,” said an intelligence official.

Most significantly, when British forces interpreted gun battles in the southern city of Basra as signs of an uprising against Saddam Hussein, Iraqis within the city passed on information to the SIS that the fighting was between Ba’ath party rivals. That intelligence had a big influence on the military strategy for the seizure of the city.

While the Iraq war proved the value of conventional “humint”, it was also a watershed in the use of intelligence for political purposes. In two UK government dossiers – one on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, the other on its efforts to hide that capacity from UN weapons inspectors – intelligence gathered by the SIS and allied services was used for the first time ever as the sole justification for war, placing a great responsibility on the SIS.

When the Tony Blair gave parliament details of Iraq’s alleged arms capacity last September, he forced previously unseen aspects of the secretive world of intelligence into the open.

This raised the spectre of intelligence becoming politicised, notably when Mr Bush announced that Iraq was linked to al-Qaeda, while Mr Blair told parliament there was no clear connection.

No intelligence agencies have produced evidence linking the Iraqi regime operationally with al-Qaeda, and the issue of why the two leaders – whose intelligence agencies share most of what they learn – came to such different conclusions, has yet to be addressed adequately.

Subsequently, the exposure of glaring factual errors in at least one intelligence report presented to the UN Security Council by Colin Powell, US secretary of state, has cast some doubt on the veracity of much of the intelligence material.

Mr Powell, citing UK intelligence material, said that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger. After examining letters allegedly substantiating the claim, Mohamed el-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the letters were fake.

Further intelligence material presented by US officials suggesting Iraq had sought to buy aluminium tubes for use in centrifuges for the uranium enrichment process was also dismissed by the inspectorate.

Within the SIS, there is the view that it is likely that similar disclosures will be made in the future. Its challenge now is to find the weapons over which the war in Iraq was fought.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


MI6 steps up spy recruits to cold war levels

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 4 May 2003

The UK’s foreign intelligence service has stepped up its staff recruitment in response to terrorist threats and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Although the global campaign against al-Qaeda has damaged the terrorist network, its supporters are thought to be joining other groups, making the security services’ task more difficult.

The Secret Intelligence Service, widely known as MI6, is recruiting 40 staff members annually and training them to be “front line” officers posted abroad with the task of recruiting spies and informers. The service, which was scaled down after the cold war, will soon return to its former size.

The pace of recruitment is now double that of the Foreign Office and will increase the size of the SIS staff to just below 2,000. Cutbacks in the 1990s saw its entire staff shrink to 1,600, officials say.

But the attacks in the US on September 11 2001 and concerns about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, have given SIS a central role in traditional intelligence gathering and the formation of government security policy.

The depletion of staff posted abroad in the 1990s is regarded as having weakened the service. But new funds were allocated to SIS and MI5, the domestic Security Service, in the wake of the September 11 attacks to reflect the threat to the UK from non-state groups such as al-Qaeda.

SIS is focused on counter-terrorism, weapons proliferation and political instability in global areas afflicted with conflict, crime and narcotics – all of which are regarded as having a direct impact on the security of the UK.

Recruitment from ethnic minorities and the Muslim community has remained in proportion with the overall increase in the number of people applying, while the slump facing financial institutions has increased the number of recruits from business backgrounds.

The need for more Muslim recruits was demonstrated again by last week’s suicide bomb attack in Israel, which was believed to have been carried out by two Britons. On Sunday, police were questioning three men and three women in connection with the bombing.

The service is led by Sir Richard Dearlove and has its headquarters on the Thames in a building known unofficially as “Legoland” at Vauxhall Cross. It has retained a degree of secrecy about its operations surpassed only by the Government Communications Headquarters eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham. This is unlikely to change, in spite of the need to attract a wider range of recruits.

A mark of how far this secrecy extends could be seen when Tony Blair, the prime minister, and George W. Bush, the US president, delivered post-summit statements on the war in Iraq at Camp David on March 27. The seats of top US and UK government officials had been clearly labelled in the front row, including one with the name “Dearlove”.

However, unlike George Tenet, his CIA equivalent, Sir Richard, known as “C” in the service, did not take up his place, denying the press any opportunity to update a hazy university-era photograph of him, which is the only one to have been published.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Finding Iraq arms evidence ‘rests on taking full control’

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 23 April 2003

The US and UK are not expecting to unearth significant evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before they have full control of the country, which could be at least another two weeks, intelligence officials said yesterday.

Military planners have given May 10 as the date they expect to establish full control. Only then would there be a systematic search for the weapons whose alleged existence provided the reason for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the officials said.

Both the British and US governments are under mounting pressure to provide evidence that Iraq was hiding its WMD programmes. Though foreign troops now have a presence throughout the country, officials believe Iraqi scientists with knowledge of WMD programmes are only likely to provide information once all signs of resistance by the deposed regime have ended.

US troops in areas near Baghdad have publicised a number of apparent finds of WMD-related material in recent weeks, but in each case have had to retract their claims.

However, intelligence officials insist there has been no significant change in their analysis of Iraqi capabilities, now that they have been able to make preliminary assessments on the ground.

Current intelligence thinking on the question of why no WMD have been found so far centres on suggestions that Mr Hussein’s regime reduced the scale of its alleged weapons programmes in order to hide them from UN inspectors.

US and UK weapons investigators expect to find small though useable quantities of chemical weapons, though they do not yet know where to look, officials say.

They also expect to find mobile biological warfare facilities capable of producing anthrax, and up to 20 banned Scud missiles with a range of up to 650km, though they are not expected to be weaponised for chemical warfare.

Pre-war assessments and UN inspections had led to the conclusion that Iraq had mothballed its nuclear programme before the war, though databases and research material had been retained. However, the programme is now said by intelligence officials to have been further advanced than the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had suggested.

While Iraq’s nuclear programme is regarded as the least active of its WMD projects, it has been at the heart of the controversy over the credibility of the intelligence on WMD programmes used to justify the war.

Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA director general, said on March 7 that letters purportedly proving Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger were forgeries. Colin Powell, US secretary of state, had previously used the documents in a presentation to the Security Council of US evidence against Iraq.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


UN may get Iraq inspections role

 

 

 

By Mark Huband

Financial Times, 22 April 2003

The UK said yesterday that United Nations weapons inspectors might play a role in verifying any new evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, suggesting a softening of US opposition to involvement by the UN.

Mike O’Brien, UK Foreign Office minister, acknowledged that “some element of independent verification” was needed. “The UN inspectors are clearly a possibility for doing that,” he added.

He told the BBC that Britain was discussing the issue of a UN role with US and UN officials.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


Hunt goes on for Saddam’s top scientists, says US

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 17 April 2003

Most members of the ousted Iraqi regime suspected of involvement in the country’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme are still being hunted inside Iraq, officials tracking their movements said yesterday.

US Special Forces yesterday raided the deserted home belonging, intelligence officials believe, to a leading figure in Iraq’s biological or chemical weapons programmes. The house belonged to one of two scientists now being sought – Suda Salih Mahdi Ammash, dubbed “Mrs Anthrax” by investigators, and Rihab Taha, nicknamed “Dr Germ”.

Both are thought to have fled to Syria, US officials said yesterday, though they would not say to which of the two the house belonged.

US and UK forces have now occupied all the areas in which sites identified in intelligence reports as part of Iraq’s WMD programmes are located, but no firm evidence of weapons production has emerged.

The surrender in Baghdad at the weekend of General Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, head of Iraq’s chemical weapons programme, has not led to any significant new information being provided to investigators, a senior intelligence official said yesterday. Jafar al-Jafar, an official alleged to have been involved in Iraq’s nuclear programme, is also being held.

“Our experience to date is that the people whom we have our hands on are sticking to the party line, that there have been no weapons of mass destruction programmes since 1991,” an official said yesterday. “Our guess is that most senior officials are inside Iraq, though a small number managed to use smugglers’ routes to Syria.”

Intelligence services had made known before the conflict that they did not expect to find the evidence until some time after the end of the war, in part because they think much has been buried and distributed in different parts of the country.

Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, US military spokesman, said yesterday the hunt for evidence of WMD is “very much putting together pieces of a puzzle, one piece at a time, and when you see the shape of the one piece, you see how it may relate to the other pieces that are out there”.

Investigators are also considering the possibility that the WMD had been dismantled and possibly distributed and that may have been the reason for the regime not having deployed the once-useable arsenal against US and UK forces.

A senior intelligence official said yesterday: “We know that they had tried to hide the various component parts in various areas. One can speculate that having dismantled them all and dispersed them in different parts of the country before the UN inspectors returned, that they didn’t have time to put them together again when the war started.”

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Report links al-Qaeda with diamond trade

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 17 April 2003

An alleged terrorist finance route linking West African conflict diamonds with extremist groups such as al-Qaeda has remained open despite global counter-terrorism measures launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks, a new investigation claims.

Inadequate independent oversight of the diamond industry allowed al-Qaeda to launder millions of dollars through the purchase of illegally mined Sierra Leonean diamonds, the investigation by the UK-based organisation Global Witness says. The value of the deals is unclear, though other investigations have estimated it at about $20m (£12.7m, €18.5m).

The report details how between 1998 and 2001 al-Qaeda sought to raise funds and hide its assets by using the diamond industry, and even considered developing its own diamond mines.

In doing so, the report claims, three al-Qaeda operatives used legitimate diamond industry contacts, while exploiting links between unscrupulous governments, arms traders and rebel forces controlling diamond-producing areas of Sierra Leone.

Measures to enforce the certification of diamonds to ensure they were not mined illegally were accepted by the diamond industry in November 2002. But the so-called Kimberley Process has been criticised for failing to introduce independent oversight of diamond exports.

In the wake of al-Qaeda’s bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7 1998, the organisation expanded its fund-raising efforts across Africa. Its Kenyan cell had launched commodity-buying efforts as early as 1993 but made a strategic decision to expand its commodity-trading enterprises to deflect international sanctions, the report says.

Global Witness alleges that the Lebanese Shia militant groups Hizbollah and Amal had established strong ties within the diamond-producing areas of Sierra Leone long before al-Qaeda did so.

The failure to act against them “ensured that the entrenched illicit diamond trading networks in Africa have been able to flourish, creating the blueprint for al-Qaeda’s subsequent infiltration of the diamond trade”, the report states.

Subsequent measures had not secured the industry from terrorist use.

Al-Qaeda’s first contacts with diamond dealers in the region were made in September 1998, the report says.

A senior adviser to Charles Taylor, Liberian president, and the Sierra Leonean Revolutionary United Front rebel force, which at that time controlled the country’s diamond area, allegedly met an al-Qaeda operative and opened negotiations.

The adviser who fought alongside Islamist forces in Afghanistan and received military training in Libya, is now thought to be living in Burkina Faso.

It was there in 2000 that he discussed diamond deals with Ali Darwish, a Lebanese diamond dealer working with another dealer, Aziz Nassour. Mr Nassour acknowledges he has links with the Amal leader and current Lebanese parliamentary president, Nabih Berri.

In a letter from the RUF rebels, reproduced by Global Witness, Mr Nassour is apparently shown to have had the monopoly of diamond purchases from the RUF, a large part of which was to be bought on behalf of the al-Qaeda operatives.

Mr Darwish yesterday told the Financial Times that the adviser despatched the three al-Qaeda operatives to Liberia’s border with Sierra Leone to finalise the buying deal. He denies knowing the three were part of al-Qaeda.

Mr Nassour, reached yesterday in Beirut, denied he had met the three al-Qaeda operatives in Liberia, or that terrorist groups had used diamonds as a means of raising funds or money laundering. He also denied allegations in the report that he had provided Mr Taylor with $1m as a pay-off from the al-Qaeda deal, a charge Mr Taylor has also denied.

“I don’t believe terrorists use diamonds. I have never come across it, but among diamond dealers, people tell stories,” he said yesterday.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


WAR IN IRAQ: US military officials question Saadi

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 14 April 2003

US military officials are interrogating General Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, the highest-ranking Iraqi official to have surrendered and the former head of Iraq’s chemical weapons programme. Gen Saadi gave himself up to US forces in Baghdad on Saturday.

Weapons experts and intelligence officials are uncertain how valuable Gen Saadi will be, despite his prominent role in the country’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme.

“If he chooses to be honest he could tell a lot,” a security official said yesterday, “but there’s still a lot of work to do on the ground before we can start to look for the evidence in a consistent way.”

In an interview with the German television channel ZDF, which filmed his surrender, Gen Saadi repeated claims he made in February when he dismissed evidence of a WMD programme presented to the UN Security Council by Colin Powell, US secretary of state.

Following Mr Powell’s presentation of alleged intercepted telephone conversations between two Iraqi army officers, which was said to reveal Iraqi efforts to conceal aspects of its WMD programme, Gen Saadi said: “Any third-rate intelligence outfit could produce it,” adding that the recordings were “simply manufactured evidence, simply not true at all”.

Intelligence officials say that the launch of a methodical inspection process is unlikely to start until the military defeat of all elements of the Iraqi army is near-total.

Although US and UK forces have occupied much of the territory in which Iraq was alleged to have secretly developed WMD programmes, no substantial evidence has yet been found.

Gen Saadi is closely associated with a period of rebuilding the country’s military capacity. Following the 1991 Gulf war he was appointed technical assistant to President Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamil al-Majid, a key figure in the WMD programme.

Gen Saadi then became minister of industry and minerals, and was responsible for announcing in January 1992 that Iraq had repaired and tooled up more than 200 factory buildings associated with various military production lines.

Five months later he announced that “more than 50 establishments” of the former Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialisation (Mimi) had been put back into commission, using equipment taken out of the weapons plants and hidden before the 1991 war.

The following year he said that Iraq had rebuilt the war-damaged Al Qaim industrial complex, which had been used to extract uranium from phosphate ore and for manufacture of chemical weapons precursors.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


WAR IN IRAQ: US engineers draw another blank over suspected weapons site

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 12 April 2003

American forces seeking evidence that Iraq was concealing a weapons of mass destruction programme yesterday acknowledged for the fourth time in a week that a suspect site had failed to provide proof of secret weapons production.

Since the outbreak of war, US and UK forces have occupied territory in which up to 30 of a total 40 alleged nuclear, chemical or biological weapons sites identified in UK and US intelligence reports are located.

US Marine engineers visiting the Tuwaitha nuclear research centre south of Baghdad on Thursday said they had found “many, many” drums that they said contained low-grade uranium.

What the Marines appeared not to know was that the site was visited by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 12 times between November and March. Iraq was permitted to retain uranium at the site under UN resolutions.

On entering the site, the troops were said yesterday by the IAEA to have broken door and container seals that were intended to prevent the nuclear material being smuggled out.

The revision of statements suggesting that new evidence had been found – which would have bolstered the case for war – follows similar reversals in the past few days.

A white powder found at a site near Najaf and first thought to be chemical agent was later deemed to have been explosives, while 14 barrels of liquid initially said to be sarin and tabun nerve agents found at Hindiyah are now thought to be pesticide. A further claim that a cache of rockets mounted on a multiple launcher has yet to be verified as being armed with chemical warheads.

Admiral Sir Alan West, head of the UK Royal Navy and a former chief of UK defence intelligence, said yesterday he was “absolutely convinced” that Iraq had WMD though in less abundance than widely suggested.

“There are some people who have talked in terms of thousands of tonnes of chemicals and hundreds and hundreds of missiles of extended range and I would say that is way beyond the top end,” he said.

Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, said this week: “We have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction – that is what this war was about and is about – and we have high confidence [they] will be found.”

However, the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime without its firing a single one of the WMD it allegedly possessed has raised the question of why it would have had them if it was not prepared to use them.

Equally mystifying has been the process of amassing evidence to justify the war. This has been marked by the exposure of glaring factual errors in intelligence reports and evidence of government pressure being exerted on intelligence services to find suitable proof.

Evidence presented by Tony Blair, prime minister, detailed alleged Iraqi efforts to buy uranium from Niger.

Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA director-general, told the UN Security Council on March 7 that the documents substantiating the claim were fake and that “these specific allegations are unfounded”.

Evidence presented by US officials that suggested Iraq had sought to buy aluminium tubes for use in centrifuges for the uranium enrichment process, has also been dismissed.

A weapons expert said: “All the evidence points to their being used for rockets not centrifuges.”

Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, said this week that UN weapons inspectors should return to Iraq quickly.

The US is assembling a team of its own inspectors, though weapons experts doubt that their finds will be regarded with the credibility of any made by a UN team.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.


WAR IN IRAQ: Bin Laden breaks silence with suicide attack call

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 9 April 2003

Osama bin Laden yesterday appeared to have broken weeks of silence by issuing a taped message calling on Muslims to mount suicide attacks against the US and its allies in response to the invasion of Iraq by American and British forces.

The al-Qaeda leader has not issued a statement since February 11. The voice on yesterday’s tape, whose authenticity has still to be verified, said: “Do not be afraid of their tanks and armoured personnel carriers. These are artificial things. If you started suicide attacks, you will see the fear of Americans all over the world.”

Following the capture of many of its key operatives, the ability of al-Qaeda to respond with more than words to the invasion of Iraq has been in doubt. Equally, its operational capacity in the Middle East is less evident than that of other militant Islamist groups.

Muslim activists, regional analysts and intelligence officials are uncertain whether al-Qaeda is intent upon specifically harnessing anti-American feeling in the area surrounding Iraq to its cause. It is also unclear whether it has the capacity to do so since the “war on terror” was launched to confront it. But whatever its capabilities, it is al-Qaeda’s violent defiance of American power that is seen as having taken root to the extent it is expected to have a big influence following the Iraq war.

“Forget about al-Qaeda. It has suffered gravely and there’s little it can do,” said Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al-Qaeda. “Even so, by conducting 9/11, bin Laden expected the masses to rise up against the US. Iraq has created that condition, and the call to jihad is having a profound effect,” he said.

With President Saddam Hussein’s regime near collapse, the popular condemnation of the US-led invasion in much of the region has intensified among Islamist activists. The same is true of Arabs who are critical of both al-Qaeda and Mr Hussein’s dictatorship but feel humiliated by the US-led presence in an important Arab and Muslim country.

“There is a feeling that Arab national pride has been hurt,” said Nabil Osman, spokesman of the anti-Islamist Egyptian government.

Osama bin Laden’s encouragement of suicide attacks is at the extreme end of the activists’ spectrum. However, with the invasion of Iraq now seeming to bolster al-Qaeda’s regular claims that Washington has deep political designs on the region, its focus on jihad is likely to have a stronger pull than calls for a more secular “Arabist” opposition to the US-led campaign.

“Many [Muslims] had doubts about the [justification for the] 11 September attacks. But now, after people have seen the television pictures of the bombing of Iraqis, and the arrogance of raising American flags in Iraqi towns, bin Laden’s arguments are unquestioned,” said a prominent Saudi Arabian Muslim activist. Al-Qaeda supporters in Saudi Arabia have been told to “hold on, but be ready for action”, though its plans remain a mystery, he said.

“The threats from jihadist quarters made before the Iraq war have failed to materialise, although it is pretty clear that there are operations being planned,” said a senior western intelligence officer. “Al-Qaeda is having to transmogrify, having lost Afghanistan. But it is certainly not dead and buried. Those in Afghanistan have gone back to their ‘home’ Islamic groups, and it’s now much more likely that they will be planning small-scale attacks.”

The mobilisation of civilians across the Middle East wanting to oppose the foreign forces in Iraq militarily has already started, if ineffectively. The character of the longer-term response is now being formulated.

“These people are not seeing it as the humiliation of Saddam but the humiliation of the Iraqi people and the symbolism of the defeat of one of the strongest governments in the Middle East,” said Robert Baer, a former CIA officer in Beirut. “For those planning a response, [Lebanese] Hizbollah is the organisational model, with small and effective armed groups being looked at,” he said.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 


Weapons experts examine suspected chemical caches

 

 

 

By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 8 April 2003

US weapons experts are examining barrels of chemical formula and a cache of missiles found at two sites in Iraq.

American forces were yesterday reported to have found 20 medium-range BM-21 missiles at a site near Baghdad airport. Western intelligence and military officials were unable to confirm a report from troops on the ground that the missiles contained weaponised sarin nerve gas.

Earlier, US troops near the town of al-Hindiyah found three 50-gallon and 11 25-gallon barrels which initial tests suggested may contain sarin, tabun and the blister agent lewisite.

US and UK officials have justified the campaign to overthrow the Iraqi regime on the grounds that it has failed to end its WMD programmes, and that it may provide WMD technology to terrorist groups.

Major Michael Hamlet of the US 101st Airborne Division, said experts would carry out further tests on the substances, discovered at a military camp in Abu Mahawish near the site of ancient Babylon.

“If tests from our experts confirm this, it would prove [President Saddam Hussein] has the weapons we have said he has all along. But right now we just don’t know,” he said.

US and UK forces now occupy territory in which 19 of Iraq’s alleged 40 WMD-related sites listed in CIA and UK intelligence reports are located. However, after 19 days of war the invading forces have so far offered no evidence to support their claims.

Moreover, without United Nations arms inspectors in the country, evidence provided by US officials under pressure to substantiate claims about WMD will be regarded with scepticism unless verified independently.

Referring to the discovery of barrels of chemicals, Major Ross Coffman, a US military spokesman, said yesterday: “Our detectors have indicated something. We’re talking about finding a site of possible WMD storage. This is an initial report, but it could be a smoking gun.” The barrels were discovered after a tip-off from an Iraqi army colonel.

US officials say that the thrust towards Baghdad and the overthrow of the regime have taken priority over the need to find the proof which might justify the war. However, Geoff Hoon, UK defence minister, yesterday told parliament: “As I have made clear, we will find weapons of mass destruction.”

But weapons experts drew a distinction between parts of the alleged WMD arsenal which had been weaponised, and chemicals which could have been discarded. “It doesn’t sound as though what has been found was ready for use,” said Garth Whitty, a former UN weapons inspector.

 

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.

 

 



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