Attempting to harden soft targets has made our cities feel very different, but the big plots like the attack on new york are now seen as less likely. Terrorist groups like al qaeda, still have the ambition and the desire to launch that same scale of terrorist attacks, but its much harder for them to do. The security forces that theyre facing up against in the west have gotten much more attuned to managing and responding to those threats, and so its a much harder environment for them to try to do that. But certainly the intent is still there. The uks counter terrorism strategy was developed after 9 11., its called contest it has four pillars prevent, pursue, protect and prepare, and on the morning of 9 11., according to the head of mi5, who gave a rare interview today, the threat hasnt gone away, its changed. One consequence of broad success in reducing the frequency of those kinds of spectacular plots, so called has been that weve seen the growth of inspired terrorism. The so called islamic state, largely based in syria, achieved something that al qaeda did not so much in managing to inspire lots of people with no direct connection to the islamic state to to take their online inspirational material and instructional material and attempt much smaller scale. Plots which, by their nature, are harder to detect. If you look at uk deaths from terrorism since 1970, the vast bulk were actually before 9 11.. They were connected mostly not to islamism, but to the conflict in northern ireland.
The last terrorist deaths in the uk were those of saskia jones and jack merritt murdered at fishmongers hall in late 2019 by usman khan, a convicted terrorist who was attending a rehabilitation event. This is the type of loan actor attack that the authorities say is so hard to detect and prevent what weve heard today from the head of mi5 that they they have prevented a number of these types of attacks. There are individuals – and i think, the biggest issue here – that people arent talking about the elephant in the room actually is their criminal justice system. That is allowing people who are still a big danger to us back free into society, releasing them from prison uh halfway through their sentences, often and weve, seen those attacks recently uh in the last couple of years. Of course, and – and those are just more likely to happen in the future, so the needle is smaller and the haystack now much much bigger hostile reconnaissance now is something you can do using google maps. You dont need to go to a location to see it. You can see a picture online, you can get the weapon you want from amazon or some other online forum. You can get your choice of targets in the individual. You want to target, you can find out where they live just going online. So you can assemble a huge amount of information and data online put that together and then go and attack your target frankly, without ever having to leave your house and technology has made our world more vulnerable since 9, 11.
in may, a few malicious lines of code Shut down a vital petrol pipeline in the united states, the biggest threat to life is terrorism within our country here, but there are deeper other threats to our way of life which are posed by these more insidious state run threats in terms of espionage, interference in our Way of life, interference in our democracy, alongside occasional state, backed assassination attempts, as weve seen on a number of occasions. Mi5, though, can only fight what they can find so far. Cyber terrorism has yet to materialize as a significant threat. More worrying, perhaps, are the events in afghanistan, where there may once again be the space for terrorists to plan and launch attacks. David grossman im joined by jennifer miller, wise dyke, who was at the time of 9 11 a white house, deputy assistant press secretary and later worked as a cia head of public affairs. Matthew levitt is a counter terrorism, specialist and a former fbi counter terrorism analyst during the 9 11 attack and has been a counter terrorism adviser to the u.s state department, and also here, is lord richards, former chief of the defense staff good evening to you both. If i can begin with you jennifer miller, wise dyke, you were there when it happened, you were, there paint a picture of how instantly the mood and the imperative the administration shifted. Um. It was instant. If you look back at that day, you will see it was a beautiful calm, perfect autumn day, blue skies um.
It was a quiet morning because president bush was not in the white house that day he was actually in florida, as everyone is seeing now reading to school children, because his highest priority. What he was elected on was to focus on really making our education system in the u.s much more equitable for people, especially children who were in need and ensuring that they had great quality education access. That was our focus. We were. We ran on the platform of compassionate conservatism, focusing mostly on domestic and societal issues, and you think about what happened in just a matter of moments. We went from that focus to being in a wartime presidency almost overnight on that on that day and um, it changed everything you cant overstate how much it changed. Im sure that most people dont remember even those things that i talked about on the platform that he ran on unity was another one. You know if you look at his cabinet, it was one of the most diverse women people of color, even democrats were serving in his cabinet. He really focused on uniting people, so from that moment he became for the whole of his presence, a war president. Yes, he did and it was instant, it was instant um. There was no question, i think in his mind from you know, once you had, the second plane hit that this was um an act of terrorism and then um as a third in the fourth.
It was clear that it was an act of war and we had not. You know at fortress america we had not since really pearl harbor had any sort of an attack on our shores, and i think for most of us it seemed um far fetched at best that you know we still kind of lived under this world where we thought The oceans could protect us from things like this grand mass acts of terror and that we saw 911. and the impact of that more broadly on america has obviously lasted ever since on the american psyche. But i wonder when you having been in afghanistan in the early 2000s, when you saw the manner of the departure from afghanistan, what did you think about that honestly, im still stunned, it did not have to look like that. It did not have to um. I will use the term chaos to be charitable uh that we saw and um im im still im saddened by those images and by the lasting impacts that i think it has on um. The way that we left, i think uh, will unfortunately leave the impression um about how committed we were to those afghans, especially who worked so hard side by side with america for so long so im. I am somewhat heartened that we are continuing to try to get them out, but it certainly didnt have to be the kind of uh exit that we saw. Lord richards uh, we heard the mi chief, mi5 chief ken mccallum, on the today program, his view that this has once more emboldened would be terrorist, and actually it poses more of a threat in terms of well developed, sophisticated plot, sometimes years in the making.
So, in terms of the way that we approach, you know, foreign policy and defense policy, what is our best way of countering that? Well, i i think that uh, we need to engage quickly with the taliban. You might be surprised to hear me say that, but the decision to come out in the way uh we did the west did, i think, was morally but strategically pretty illiterate and in order to regain our influence to some degree within afghanistan and stop it becoming a Haven for future terrorism, but we need to start influencing the taliban government quickly and as decisively decisively as we can and thats going to be a combination of carrot and stick but more widely. As i heard tony blair say in an interview earlier today, i think we need to engage with other countries, both in the region and across the world, in what should be as it were, as was the case in 2001, a united front against terrorism, but um. You know what jennifer millers night was saying about the the manner of the departure and what it said to the world. I wonder in terms of not only what happened in terms of u.s military, but also british military and afghans who worked hubu were left behind. How impactful will that be on future intelligence gathering, not just in those countries, but when we want other people to work. For us in covert ways will we be trusted? Well, i think theres, a big question mark about that and not only um.
Have we not got everybody out the apparent incompetence of the situation that we that arrived, that those scenes that we saw in in kabul airport will have a big impact on the impression that we hitherto had hoped to create in the minds of both allies and our Potential adversaries, so there is a big issue about that, but i think the biggest problem in the short term is preventing uh that ungoverned space in afghanistan becoming a new haven for terrorism. Let me ask that uh to matthew levitt. You know, as lord richards saying, the ungoverned space who fills that space well lets be clear. The vacuum created by the withdrawal of the coalition is too large for the taliban to completely fill, and that means we have two distinct baskets of safe haven, terrorism, problems in afghanistan. One involves the areas that the taliban actually control and there were concerned about those groups that have close ties to the taliban, in particular al qaeda and its potential resurrection there and the haqqani network right now. The minister of interior believe it is in afghanistan, is on the fbis most wanted terrorism list and the second basket is those parts of the country where the taliban is not in full control and groups like islamic state horus on isk are present. The taliban has no love for them, but the taliban is not going to be able to completely control those spaces, so youll have vacuums in parts of afghanistan for people even that the taliban dont like so so.
In that case, do we have to rethink foreign policy and our attitude, for example, to china and russia, because its not really in their interest to have afghanistan implode in a kind of melee of terrorists? So do we have to actually support china and russia in their efforts? Well, i dont know if we need to go so far saying we need to support russia and china, but we do need to work with partners and competitors alike, including russia and china, to try and exert pressure, as you heard a moment ago, that will include both Carrots and sticks to get the taliban government to behave in ways that will be acceptable to the international community and will prevent afghanistan from becoming a safe haven again. But and look i mean china must be very pleased to see all the egg on the face of the united states and its allies to be sure. But i think that deep down china is quite concerned about the withdrawal of the coalition theyre quite happy to have the coalition there keeping the pot on top of this lid and now that were not there, uh weve gone away. China is still on the border. This is a threat to them before its a threat to us and its something that theyre going to have to deal with in a way that they didnt before. Briefly, lord richards uh, ten days or so ago, you told newsnight that the, for example, the cobra system was really set in the 19th century, and i wonder if you were giving free advice, what would you do to transform it? What would you do to transform that whole system? Well, i i know things have improved since i was a member of the national security council but um.
Essentially it is a pretty anti diluvian system uh. It needs to be brought into the 21st century so that its suitable and appropriate for 21st century conflict, and indeed domestic crises that you know occasionally come our way here within the country its not that now and it needs to become. I ive called it as a national command and communication center if you like, but something that can act decisively and at very high tempo that ensures cross government coordination is affected. Clearly, that is not yet the case and briefly jen jennifer miller wise died because i know you are, as as it were out of that, that washington circle now but youre looking from the outside and seeing where the main threat lies and the main threats we were Hearing earlier from david grossman is the idea of cyber state terrorism, cyber state to terrorism, and are we up to that? I mean, i certainly hope so. I think some of these threats that we have are not new um to the intelligence community, not here or not. In the uk, these are things that we have professionals that are working on and planning for for quite some time its. I always remember when i was at the cia. It was the things that dont happen that you never hear about, that are the real successes, um, and i do believe that those are happening. My large concern remains what it similar to what the guests are, having a sanctuary where terrorists can once again um plan, train and plot is not good for anyone, especially for those of us who live in western democracies.