The lead story in the UK today was a speech by the Director General of MI5, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, on the terrorist threat in the UK. Her full remarks are available here, and are worth taking the time to read in full. Some key excerpts:
On recent plots in the UK:
In the years after 9/11, with atrocities taking place in Madrid, Casablanca, Bali, Istanbul and elsewhere, terrorists plotted to mount a string of attacks in the UK, but were disrupted. This run of domestic success was interrupted tragically in London in July 2005. Since then, the combined efforts of my Service, the police, SIS and GCHQ have thwarted a further five major conspiracies in the UK, saving many hundreds (possibly even thousands) of lives.
On the scope of current surveillance activities in the UK:
What I can say is that today, my officers and the police are working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks, totalling over 1600 identified individuals (and there will be many we don’t know) who are actively engaged in plotting, or facilitating, terrorist acts here and overseas.
On the nature of the current threat:
What we see at the extreme end of the spectrum are resilient networks, some directed from Al-Qaida in Pakistan, some more loosely inspired by it, planning attacks including mass casualty suicide attacks in the UK. Today we see the use of home-made improvised explosive devices; tomorrow’s threat may include the use of chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials and even nuclear technology.
Perhaps the most interesting section of the speech is a passage where Dame Manningham-Buller address the frequently-aired critique regarding the proportionality of the government’s response to the terrorist threat:
A word on proportionality. My Service and the police have occasionally been accused of hype and lack of perspective or worse, of deliberately stirring up fear. It is difficult to argue that there are not worse problems facing us, for example climate change… and of course far more people are killed each year on the roads than die through terrorism. It is understandable that people are reluctant to accept assertions that do not always appear to be substantiated. It is right to be sceptical about intelligence. I shall say more about that later.
But just consider this. A terrorist spectacular would cost potentially thousands of lives and do major damage to the world economy. Imagine if a plot to bring down several passenger aircraft succeeded. Thousands dead, major economic damage, disruption across the globe. And Al-Qaida is an organisation without restraint.
In the latter part of the speech, Dame Manningham-Buller describes the internal changes to MI5 after 9/11, as it has added staff and enhanced its ability to discern and uncover intelligence about the new types of terrorist networks. Overall, a very interesting speech, and a somber reminder of the continued need for vigilance, not just in the UK but all over the world.