BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 20.10.02

Film: Film on International Terrorism. After the bombings in Bali, what should be the next steps in the so-called war against terrorism?

IAIN WATSON: In an instant, the paradise island of Bali was transformed into a living hell for those who lost their loved ones in the terrorist outrage last weekend. At least 186 people perished and perhaps many more. Any complacency about al Qaeda's capacity to carry out attacks has now been eclipsed by concern. As grief turns to anger, the task for governments is to decide on the most effective means of preventing similar atrocities BRUCE GEORGE MP: I think we're now in for a very lengthy period of dealing with different types of terrorists attacking almost anywhere and we really need the capacity to respond better than we have done so far. ROBERT MACFARLANE: It will be a costly struggle enduring, for three to five years time but at the end of the day we will win. AIR MARSHAL SIR TIM GARDEN: In a modern society which is inherently vulnerable, we will have to learn to live with terrorist events. WATSON: There's a recognition that the different manifestations of terrorism will require not just renewed vigilance, but will need to be fought on many fronts. Sending in the troops to chase al Qaeda from Afghanistan was, believe it or not, one of the easier tasks in the war against terrorism; military planners could identify training camps that could be attacked and very few in the international community fretted over regime change - most Muslim countries didn't shed a tear over the toppling of the Taliban. But after the bombing in Bali, the military limitations to tackling terrorism are now becoming clear. In the war against terrorism, our enemy's enemy has become our friend. The Indonesian military - which caused these scenes of devastation during their occupation of East Timor - is now being called upon to be as ruthless in hunting down domestic terrorists as it used to be in suppressing civilians. But even if they can be relied upon - and there are serious doubts - the task they face in policing a massive archipelago is daunting. GEORGE: Even with the best police and the best military and the best support in the world, it would be very, very easy for a small dedicated group to hide indefinitely in one of the islands that is so remote that the writ of the Indonesian government does not stretch that far. WATSON: Although the Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri has introduced tough new anti-terrorist laws, a former US national security advisor says his country should still reserve the right to undertake military raids against terrorist targets without the explicit approval of the Indonesian government. MACFARLANE: The United States and our allies have to be quite firm in saying that if we identify a threat to us, to our facilities, to our people or indeed to the Indonesian people that is clear and present, we intend to intervene in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter to defend ourselves. WATSON: But more restrained voices say the intelligent approach is to assist friendly countries to root out terrorists for themselves. Perhaps the worst kept secret in London is that this building is the home of MI6, Britain's overseas intelligence agency. It even featured in a James Bond movie recently. But the question is whether MI6 keeps other secrets rather too close to its chest and that to counter international terrorism, they should be sharing their intelligence far more widely, even with regimes previously regarded as unpalatable or unreliable. DOUG HENDERSON: If the main terrorist threat in the world is this international terrorist like al Qaeda and that's been said by both President Bush and our Prime Minister, then surely we should be channeling our resources to meeting that, putting much more effort into intelligence gathering world wide, redistributing our military budgets to try to achieve that. And building political bridges with moderate Islamic countries, so that our intelligence services can to some extent operate together and also share some of the information. WATSON: But other senior defence experts in Labour's ranks think there's a danger in disseminating information too widely. GEORGE: A very important level rests with organisations like Interpol, which consist of a lot of countries who are not high on the list of the world's democracies. And therefore any information passed through that system might fall into the wrong hands. I can, if you press me, I can think of a number of countries who I wouldn't send a copy of the Daily Telegraph on to. WATSON: As the devastation in Bali demonstrates, even if intelligence reports are spread far and wide, it's the quality of the information that counts. After some confusion, the government has had to clarify there was no specific intelligence about the bomb which blew apart the Sari club, security experts say that's partly due to a lack of operatives on the ground. MACFARLANE: Our human intelligence collection in the United States is in a very woeful state. It's been declining for years and years and indeed decades and human intelligence is truly essential to penetrate groups of this kind of al Qaeda and their supporters. This is not something we can solve unfortunately in the next year or two or five. WATSON: But intelligence is only one weapon in the anti terrorist armoury. There's also a more overt option. Public diplomacy is a rather polite term for propaganda. Last week the Foreign Office increased its funds for monitoring broadcasts from Islamic countries, but some people feel there just isn't enough of a two way flow of information, that western governments simply aren't getting their message across and should do much more to win over the hearts and minds of people in the Muslim world. HAROLD PACHIOS: In the United States particularly we diminished our allocation of resources to telling our story and telling the facts greatly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and frankly it was just last September, after 9/11, that we began to pay attention to this again. So we're well behind, we have not done nearly as effective job as we need to do in telling people in the Middle East really the facts and putting our policy in context. WATSON: But influential voices say improving the west's image requires a little more than the sword of truth. HENDERSON: The cause on which Islamic opinion feels alienated from the non Islamic world is on the one hand is what's happening in Palestine and the inability of the international community to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis to a table and to thrash out a settlement. And secondly, the poverty that many Muslims are living in, in many parts of the world. In Indonesia for instance, in many different parts of Indonesia there is horrific policy....poverty. We've got to tackle those issues if we're to help moderate Islamic governments take on their terrorists. WATSON: Iraq is a nation in arms, as it prepares for a possible western attack. America and Britain are continuing to press the UN Security Council to agree a tough new resolution against Saddam's regime, carrying the implicit threat of military action. But any conflict could alienate more moderate Muslim states and according to a senior military expert, prove counter productive in the war against terrorism. GARDEN: I think whatever view you have about the way the Iraqi operation might be conducted, even with the best outcome you're going to promote instability in the region and you're going to bring aid and comfort to Muslim extremists. It could be very bad, it might just be slightly worse but it's quite difficult to think of a way that an Iraq operation could take place and the subsequent management of Iraq could take place, that would be helpful to the problem of international terrorism. WATSON: But political criticisms of the war on terrorism aren't limited to questioning the wisdom of possible US and British action in Iraq. There are calls for more resources to be devoted to counter the risk of attack within our own borders. During the summer, the influential Defence Committee of back bench MPs produced a report criticising the government for not doing enough to protect Britain from attack after September 11th. Now the Home Office can easily point out the measures they've introduced to crack down on terrorism, but some senior politicians still believe the government has got to do a lot more to convince the British people they are taking adequate steps to protect the UK from the terrorist threat. GEORGE: There is a very heavy agenda to be undertaken, simply in protecting our own citizens at home. Government, police, intelligence, security, private security, business, citizens, have to prepare for the inevitable which will be an attack much closer to home than an island in Indonesia. WATSON: The Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is expected to confirm in the Commons in the next week that the MoD is meeting one of the key demands of the Defence Committee, that regular, as well as reserve troops, will be available to fight any terrorist threat to the UK, or deal with the aftermath of any terrorist act. But some defence experts say it's high time we followed the American approach. GARDEN: Co-ordinating the different elements of government requires a pretty strong ministerial push, who can take resources perhaps out of the Defence Budget and put it into the local government budget, have we got enough National Health Service beds to cope with a massive disaster? Those sorts of problems are what the Director of Homeland Security is supposed to be doing in the States. He's finding it pretty difficult but we're content that our joined up government by committee of different departments will work. Some people - and I think I would include myself - worry a little bit about that approach. WATSON: Still waters run deep. The fact that there's been no outrage in the UK comparable with Bali, could be a testament to covert anti-terrorism operations, but last week's atrocity has made many of us feel vulnerable. Sceptics fear that as the government continues to pile pressure on Saddam, then the intelligence and propaganda war against al Qaeda may lose its current focus.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.