Archive Classified Shopping Advertising Games Fast Times My Profile

BRITAIN
Politics
The Euro
Foot-and-mouth
Spending Review 2002
College of Law Results
TIMES ONLINE
Home
Breaking news
Britain
World
Business
Sport
Your Money
Comment
Sports Book
Travel
Shopping
Classifieds
Law
Games
Crossword
Sunday Times
NEWSPAPER
Sunday
Today
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
QUICK CLICKS
Appointments
Arts
Books
Clearing 2002
Contact Us
Creme
Education
Film
First night
Food and Drink
From the Archive
Good University Guide
Health
Motoring
Online Specials
Play
Promotions
Property
Subscription
Supplements
Talking Point
Television and Radio
The Register
Times e-mail
Times 2
Times Services
Weekend

British News

June 14, 2002

Spy chiefs warned ministers of al-Qaeda attacks

BRITAIN’S spy chiefs warned the Prime Minister less than two months before September 11 that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda group was in “the final stages” of preparing a terrorist attack in the West, it was disclosed yesterday.

The heads of MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, the signals eavesdropping centre, suggested that while the most likely targets were American or Israeli, there could be British casualties. Their warning was included in a report sent to Tony Blair and other senior Cabinet Ministers on July 16. But the agency chiefs admitted the “timings, targets and methods of attack” were not known.

The disclosure was made yesterday in the annual report of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which questioned the intelligence chiefs after the attacks. The July 16 warning to ministers was included in the weekly precis of intelligence assessments made by the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), on which the heads of the intelligence agencies sit.

The JIC prediction of an al-Qaeda attack was based on intelligence gleaned not just from MI6 and GCHQ but also from US agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency, which has staff working jointly with GCHQ.

The CIA sometimes has a representative on the JIC. The contents of the July 16 warning would have been passed to the Americans, Whitehall sources confirmed.

The news is consistent with what is now known about warnings given by American agencies before September 11. President Bush was given a CIA briefing on August 6 about a possible terrorist hijacking but the final pieces in the intelligence jigsaw — when, where and how — were missing. Subsequently it has emerged that an FBI agent’s warning of Arab suspects taking flying lessons was ignored.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, headed by Ann Taylor, the former Leader of the Commons, said that the JIC assessment was “not a stark warning of immediate danger to the UK”.

However, the July 2001 JIC assessment, warning that “organised attacks were in their final stages of preparation”, predicted that “UK interests were at risk, including from collateral damage in attacks on US targets”. Seventy-eight Britons died in the attack on the World Trade Centre.

Yesterday Richard Perle, the former US Assistant Defence Secretary, said in London that Britain was exposed to terrorist attack “more than anywhere else other than the US. Britain is a very open place with a large population from which terrorists can be recruited”.

In examining Britain’s preparedness for an al-Qaeda attack last year, the committee report said “the shortage of specific intelligence and Osama bin Laden’s record could have warned all concerned that more urgent action was needed to counter this threat”. The eight MPs and one peer said it was a “matter of conjecture” whether this would have forestalled bin Laden’s actions. But they noted that all three agencies had suffered cutbacks in funds and staffing in the 1990s and had been “operating under financial pressures prior to the September 11 attacks”.

Mrs Taylor said that there had been “intelligence gaps”, and one problem was that the agencies had not envisaged the scale of the September 11 attack. The committee report concluded: “With hindsight, the scale of the threat and the vulnerability of Western states to terrorists with this degree of sophistication and a total disregard for their own lives was not understood.”

The committee, which oversees the work of MI6, MI5 and GCHQ and always takes evidence in private, said: “The questions are whether the threat posed by UBL (Osama bin Laden) was understood and whether it was effectively brought to ministers’ attention.” Before September 11 the security and intelligence services had “identified the pressing need” to gather intelligence about bin Laden and al-Qaeda — a “notably hard target” to penetrate — and had informed ministers “that action was in hand”. The report, the first parliamentary assessment of intelligence leads before September 11, said: “The agencies have told us they had no intelligence forewarning them specifically about the September 11 attacks on the US.”

Sir Stephen Lander, Director-General of MI5, had told the committee seven weeks after the attacks that a subsequent re-examination of material did not find any that, with the wisdom of hindsight, could have given warning of the attacks. John Scarlett, who took over as chairman of the JIC a few days before the attacks in America, told the committee, according to the report, that there was “an acute awareness in the period before September 11” that bin Laden and his associates “represented a very serious threat” and that there was “planning activity”.

Print this article Send to a friend Back to top of page
 
  ALSO IN THIS SECTION
  Beckham's boy Romeo: Will he be a little forward?

  Ulster has too few detectives to do the job, says new chief

  A fifth of firefighters join moonlighting brigade

  Second job pays for holiday and treats

  Children can't tell their arias from their elbows

  Nine arrested in 'fuel-laundering' scam

BREAKING NEWS
Britain from PA
Mugabe's summit attack on Blair
Strike looms as fire pay talks fail
Maxine Carr "to ask for bail"
Mandela warns against Iraq war
Hijack suspect remanded in custody
  ADVERTISEMENT
TOOLS & SERVICES
Find a holiday
Search our database of flights, city breaks, holidays and late deals, today including 2 nights in Paris from only £105
.........................................
Money Shop
Search and compare loans, credit cards, mortgages and other financial products and buy online
.........................................
The Sunday Times Enterprise Network
Case studies, information, advice, events and exclusive offers for middle market businesses online
.........................................
Football auction
Signed shirts, programmes, autographs and more
.........................................
Crossword Maestro
Get the expert software system for solving crosswords
.........................................
  ADVERTISEMENT
JOB FINDER
Search for appointments in:
The Times
The Sunday Times
.........................................
FIND A CAR
Search for a car from the Times Online used car database, powered by Motortrak
.........................................
READER SERVICES
FAST TIMES
The latest information to your mobile phone
.........................................
PDA
News direct to your palm-top
.........................................
TALKING POINT
Visit the Times Online discussion forum
.........................................
SPORTS CALENDAR
Search the full year's fixtures
.........................................
YOUR WEATHER
Request the latest local weather forecast
.........................................
SHOPPING
Browse and buy online from a range of special offers
.........................................
CROSSWORD BOOK
Can you complete The Times crossword? Buy the latest crossword compendium here
.........................................
ARCHIVE
Search for stories published from 1985 onwards in The Times and The Sunday Times
.........................................



Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.
This service is provided on Times Newspapers' standard Terms and Conditions. Please read our Privacy Policy.
To inquire about a licence to reproduce material from The Times, visit the Syndication website.