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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Was it a failure of British intelligence too? 26/9/01

JEREMY PAXMAN:
When I spoke to the Home Secretary this afternoon, I began by asking him whether the fact that the 11 of the terrorists had passed through London, pointed to a failure of British intelligence?

DAVID BLUNKETT:
I don't think anyone was expecting the nature or the extent of the attack on the World Trade Center. What we do know is that there are immediate lessons to be learnt both in terms of the international mobility of the people who are organising, funding and carrying out terrorism and therefore surveillance of those who passed through and not just those who stay is going to be absolutely crucial.

PAXMAN:
Were these 11 under surveillance when they were here?

BLUNKETT:
As far as I'm aware, they were not. That doesn't mean to say that they haven't been some intelligence about them, but some of them will have passed through and some will have actually stayed over. What we do now know is having identified these people, because the very reason we are discussing this is because we actually do now have the line, if you like, back to where they were, that we can track not only their movements but those who associated with them. That is the crucial issue the we cannot bring bad, sadly, the people who died on the 11th of September, but we can make sure that we identify the network that were behind that.

PAXMAN:
Do you believe there's a support network in this country?

BLUNKETT:
I believe that we shouldn't rule it out. As I am with civil contingencies as well as protecting ourselves against the attack with the kind of speculation, some of it wild and dangerous, we've got to avoid people being frightened of what we have in our midst, because what changed on the 11th September was our awareness and vigilance and our ability to do something about it. What didn't change was the immediate risk that we are at in this country.

PAXMAN:
Sir John Stevens says this country is the obvious next target. Are we currently under threat?

BLUNKETT:
I discussed this with Sir John last Friday and I said I understand given the closeness that we are with the United States and the terrorists in terms with our international political stance that of course we have to be vigilant that isn┐t the same thing as believing there's about to be an imminent attack in this country. The reason why I say that, because I'm not overconfident or being complacent is precisely because of what happened on September 11th our Special Branch and related services are on bigger alert, have a handle on the network and are in touch with their international counterparts in a way that didn't exist on September 10th.

PAXMAN:
About specific changes to legislation, are you looking at the question of incitement to terrorism, for example, there are people in this country who have openly called for the assassination of General Musharraf in Pakistan.

BLUNKETT:
We are looking at the nature of incitement. This goes back a long way. There's been a number of cases. Salman Rushdie was one in point, where people have got very close indeed to incitement to both the attack on and the life of the others. In fact, one of the individuals concerned in 1991 threatened the life of Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister. When it came to the Crown Prosecution Service examining this, they had not overstepped the mark to the point where our existing laws allowed action. I am examining the situation. I have to say that I'm reluctant to act in this particular instance in terms of changing the law only because in a free society the difference between free speech and incitement to terrorist action is a very fine when it applies to those outside this country. In other words those who have been making these statements have been very careful as to how far they have gone.

PAXMAN:
One other specific measure, it is quite clear according to the polling evidence that a majority of people in this country are now willing to countenance or actively in favour of the identity cards. What it is argument against introducing them?

BLUNKETT:
We haven't made a decision because these things need to be weighed in terms of the cost and administrative challenge in terms of implementation. But they also need to be weighed in terms of making this not an argument about identity in terms of picking people up off the street but of citizenship and entitlement. So any card that entitles us to services, of an indication to citizenship and our right to be in the country would be very important and those are the balance that is we're seeking to achieve and not ones frightening people to believing that we are moving into a policing mythical state.

PAXMAN:
Are you considering introducing legislation to change aspects of the Human Rights Act? BLINKETT: We are looking again at the relationship between securing common sense, that is if someone is passing through the country or comes to the country and we believe they are a terrorist or there's evidence of terrorist activity elsewhere, that they shouldn't be able the claim asylum and spend years going through the system.

PAXMAN:
But fast tracking extradition would reduce British scrutiny?

BLUNKETT:
It would involve concertinaing the scrutiny to common sense so that people can't use judicial review to constantly make a monkey out of a system that should, of course, allow due process through law, of course, ensure that people's right to appeal a decision is not taken away, but not use that system in order to abuse democracy in the drive to destroy democracy.


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