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Breakfast with Frost
Jane Corbin
Jane Corbin, BBC reporter

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And now on Thursday morning terrorists struck again in a three part - pronged attack on a luxury coastal hotel in East Africa. Missiles were launched at a commercial jet, bombs were dropped from a light aircraft and a massive bomb was detonated outside the hotel foyer. The front of the hotel was destroyed and as well as the intended target the Israelis who frequented the holiday complex, many local East African workers were killed and maimed. The terror that shocked the world so profoundly on September 11th seemed to be back and Mombassa following the devastating attack in Bali raises a fear that nowhere is safe any more. With me to discuss the degree of that threat and what we can do about it is Jane Corbin who studied and reported extensively on Al Qaeda and we hope to be joined shortly by Lord Carlile from Burnley if the satellite links to Burnley have not been cut down by people all along the streets rushing to get their tickets for Burnley versus Manchester United, maybe they've blocked his way to the studio. Jane, good morning.

JANE CORBIN: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: Does this, with your tremendous expertise, does this recent event in Mombassa have the trademark of Al Qaeda on it?

JANE CORBIN: Yes David I think it really does. If not Al Qaeda itself, then one of the many groups that it's affiliated with throughout the world. I spent a large number of weeks in 1998 in East Africa reporting for Panorama on the last Embassy attacks there four years ago and you know Kenya is an absolutely ideal place for Al Qaeda, it's poor, the police force are inefficient and corrupt, there is a very large Muslim population, all of this added up to a perfect place for them to operate and they had extensive cells, large numbers of sleeps there that they activated in 1998. Now with the war against terror in Afghanistan we know that Bin Laden himself has told his followers to spread out to the four corners of the world and to attack American and Jewish interests where they can so East Africa is the perfect place for them. And even if we can't actually say it is an Al Qaeda member that planted that bomb I think that we'll find that Al Qaeda had a lot to do with it and in fact got their local people, their local sleepers perhaps from Somali groups to actually do the deed.

DAVID FROST: How many Al Qaeda sleepers would there be here in the UK?

JANE CORBIN: I think we have to believe that there are dozens if not hundreds. I know that our security services here are very concerned. I think that they stay pretty low profile here. At the moment Al Qaeda's strategy seems to be, obviously they want to hit soft targets, we know this from Bali, we've seen it now in Mombassa but I think that they're also going for countries which they feel are poorest, poorest borders, difficult for the West to police, like Indonesia we've seen in the last few weeks of Bali, like East Africa. But that doesn't mean that they haven't got people here hidden away deep down with an eye to the main chance. I mean it's all about opportunism with Al Qaeda, where they can they will strike so we have to look at the foreign situation, we also have to look at the situation here in England.

DAVID FROST: Well that's a perfect cue to go to Lord Carlile who's joining us now from Burnley as predicted. Alex good morning.

Lord Carlile
Lord Carlile
ALEX CARLILE: Good morning David how are you?

DAVID FROST: Very well indeed. In terms of the dangers in this country the first of your reports, you say that small airfields are the real centre of danger and, and also flight crews getting smaller security checks than normal passengers?

ALEX CARLILE: Yes I prepare an independent report for the Home Secretary which is published as a parliamentary paper and in order to do that I meet a great many people. Now there's a huge effort going into the protection of the public from terrorism by the police, an excellent group of civil servants, ministers and so on. But of course we have a huge coast and a lot of flights, including many private flights into the United Kingdom, and that was described to me by police officers as a problem. I think the recommendation I have made to the government is reasonably clear, I'm suggesting that the expertise perhaps should be concentrated more into a larger group of police officers, but in the end it's a matter for the vigilance of the public, our private pilots who have a great deal of knowledge, farmers who may have airstrips and all of us to be very vigilant about suspicious activity.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of, you say a frontier, a frontier force as it were, not frontier quite in the western sense of the word, but a national frontier force would be a way of uniting 43 different...

ALEX CARLILE: What we have a moment is something like 1200 police officers who are coordinated in the Home Office by a very senior police officer. But those 1200 police officers come from regional forces. I haven't made a recommendation for it because it isn't for me to make one but there should be a single borders police force. What I've suggested is that Mr Blunkett might look at the question of whether borders policing might be more effective if there was more central control of it by a chief constable responsible for all those officers or something like a single ports and borders police force and the Home Secretary has responded very positively and I know will be looking at these issues to decide what is most efficient operationally. It's not for me to judge but I think it's important to ask these questions so that we're sure that we're protecting our citizens as best we can from, I'm afraid the ever-present threat of terrorism which is liable to strike at unpredictable and soft targets as was the case in Bali.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the overall, will you say we're in good shape at the moment or we're not in good shape at the moment, or we haven't done enough?

ALEX CARLILE: Well I think we're in good shape, I think people can be confident but there is no country in the world that has taken more effective steps to protect the public from terrorism than the United Kingdom. The police are very experienced in this and there's some excellent officers around and I would like particularly to praise the civil servants and the Home Office who are the real experts I think in the world on these issues. But that's not to say that we can't do more and my concern in preparing my report as independent reviewer of the terrorism act is to ensure that no stone is left unturned, thus when a police officer said to me that small airfields are the soft underbelly of policing against terrorism in this country it was of course my duty to draw that remark to the attention of the Home Secretary and the public, particularly as it seemed to me to be justified. That is an area in which I think we could focus more of our energies and in the end I suspect it's a manpower problem.

DAVID FROST: We'll come back to you, if we have time in a moment Alex, and to Jane. We're joined now by David Davis who is Shadow Deputy Prime Minister of course, and what do you feel about the issue of terror, obviously we are, it's a sort of non-party issue ??? but do you think the government is doing enough as I was asking Alex Carlile there?

David Davis
David Davis MP, shadow deputy prime minister
DAVID DAVIS: Well I don't agree with Alex, it is as you say very much a non-party issue but the simple fact is that all the symptoms are that there are problems at every turn. I mean whether it's our defence of places like the air traffic control centre, the defence Select Committee highlighted that was not properly defended, whether it's the weakness of the National Health Service if we have to respond to terrorist attacks or whether it's the response of emergency planning officers, the local government personnel who actually lead the response to, to terrorist, terrorist attacks. All these people are saying that it's chaotic at the moment and 14 months after September the 11th frankly that's not really very acceptable.

DAVID FROST: How do you draw the line, do you think, one of the areas of criticism is should the government who said more about the Australian warning of, regarding Bali, should they have said more about the Australian warning regarding Mombassa and so on, and things like this. How would you balance between the need to know and the need not to encourage panic?

DAVID DAVIS: Well there are obviously times when, when you have to make that balance, but frankly when other countries are saying stay out of Mombassa then the British Foreign Office shouldn't be holding back the information, that is, that is, as the Americans would say, a no brainer I'm afraid.

DAVID FROST: What do you think on that Jane?

JANE CORBIN: Yes I think it was known to be an area which Al Qaeda had targeted in the past, Somalia is there, the Yemen is right across the water, it was an obvious target, it was obviously a place where there should have been warnings I think and I can't believe that that information didn't exist somewhere. Also we have intelligence sharing the big five Australia, Canada, New Zealand, America and Britain, share intelligence so if the Australians were warning about this, if the Americans had warned, which they did on July the 24th about East Africa, why, why wasn't this somehow disseminated?

DAVID FROST: Well exactly, I mean why not particularly since they're now supposed to be in even closer cahoots and so on, has intelligence sharing improved in the last year since September the 11th?

DAVID DAVIS: It doesn't look like it, I mean there must be some improved intelligence sharing on this particular issue because it's a new issue for the western intelligence services but it's not improved enough, clearly, and actually the handling of the product has not improved enough, the Foreign Office's response to it I suspect, is as important as MI6.

DAVID FROST: So if there's one thing that the government ought to do what would you say it is?

DAVID DAVIS: Oh it's, this is too big an issue to have a single solution, I mean one of the things that Oliver Letwin has proposed is the idea of a single minister, now that's just one proposal, it'll take a lot more than that, it's actually a question of raising this right up the priority and recognising it's a completely different sort of threat than the one posed by the IRA, for example, a completely - completely different: requires in-depth defence.

DAVID FROST: Would you like to see like, we had Tom Ridge here a few weeks ago, would you like to see departments, you said you'd like to see a department of Home and Security here?

DAVID DAVIS: Oliver, Oliver suggested that as one possibility but by itself it's, it's, it's only one component, this is a whole priority issue, I'd actually like to see not just Alex Carlile, I'd like to see the House of Commons' public accounting committee look at this in detail and actually come up with a review of what's happened in the last year. My feeling is that frankly we have not seen anything like enough emphasis, resource, commitment to the issue that we're dealing with.

DAVID FROST: Alex Carlile a reflection from you?

ALEX CARLILE: Well yes I have a reflection on this, I come from a politically independent viewpoint on this issue, frankly I'm shocked to hear this very important public issue being used for party point-scoring and I don't think David Davis should do it. The fact is that governments including the government of which he was a member, have consistently tried to develop our protections against terrorism. The present government which I'm not here to defend and his government which I'm not here to attack or defend have followed that line consistently. I think that civil servants and ministers have been as hard-working as they possibly could be. I don't think that the, a parliamentary committee would do anything about this issue except talk, the fact is that if we have processes that scrutinise this kind of problem then ministers must listen to the reports of those processes, I make one contribution to it in my reports as independent reviewer and I'm confident that the Home Office will take them fully into account. It should however be an a-political issue, I can't comment on the Mombassa issue, it's not part of my responsibility.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed Alex and while we're here, we've got you here David, also I just wanted to add an important postscript which is you presumably, it's a two-party almost strike isn't it, in a sense, that you probably endorse most if not all of what the government's done about the fire fighters?

DAVID DAVIS: Not all of what they've done, I mean we endorse their strategy of trying to get reform, I have to say it's been handled in a very cack-handed manner from the beginning, from the original handling of Bain and we've got the minister today talking about them. The negotiators taking their time over, over coming to a conclusion, he actually only gave them 24 hours from the Bain report before the first strike but we do endorse the idea of getting reform in the service to pay for any, any increase over four per cent, that at least we do agree with.

DAVID FROST: What about, what about the proposal that keeps coming up that in fact fire fighters are among those people, like police, should be classified legally like police as unable to strike?

DAVID DAVIS: Well the, the government's done two things on this, said one thing one day and another thing the next. I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea, we're actually looking at the whole question of how you resolve these disputes ourselves and it may well be that in the 21st century it's the wrong way to resolve this sort of dispute to have a strike that holds the public hostage. But it's not something I think one would make a snap judgement on right in the middle of the strike. In fact actually rather dangerous to play these sorts of games in public that way.

DAVID FROST: Was John Prescott right do you think to talk about 10,000 jobs going?

DAVID DAVIS: Well what he should have done is being actually rather more up front right at the beginning about what he's trying to do. The government through this whole exercise has talked with several voices and that's caused enormous confusion, on the one hand you've got people talking about Scargilites on the other hand you've got people talking about how there being room for manoeuvre. You really have got to be very precise and very careful when you're dealing with something as sensitive as this, a strike as sensitive as this and there's no point unnecessarily provoking the Fire Brigades Union and its membership but on the other hand you've got to recognise there will undoubtedly be a reduction in manpower and anybody with half a brain could see that, it was actually sensible for the government, or should be sensible for the government to specify precisely what it means.

DAVID FROST: Do you think this strike's going to last, as they say, months?

DAVID DAVIS: Regrettably I do because, because the government has manoeuvred themselves and I'm afraid the Fire Brigades Union are equally culpable, have manoeuvred themselves into position from which there seems to be no escape short of a sort of clashing of heads over several months until eventually people settle down and say okay we have to talk about what reforms have to happen and we have to talk about time, people and money.

DAVID FROST: Well at that point let's turn on the subject we were talking there about terror, obviously the focus of reaction to that terror is in Jerusalem and we were hoping, as I said earlier, to be joined by the Foreign Secretary Benjamin Netanyahu... unfortunately Mr Netanyahu himself has been at a lengthy Cabinet meeting this morning.

Come back on this point with Israel, how, how would you say Israel can look after its citizens, I mean on flights not in Israel like we saw with this flight, this hotel should they say initially because of the danger of Al Qaeda don't go to any recognisably Jewish resorts go to Arabic resorts or whatever, but I mean what should they do, how can you protect your citizens 8,000 miles away?

JANE CORBIN: Well it's very difficult for Israel and the tragic thing is a lot of these people are trying to get away from the violence and bloodshed back home by going abroad and of course it's very, very difficult for them. I am, I am somewhat surprised though knowing that there is a very large Muslim population in Mombassa that Israeli tourists were continuing to go there because Bin Laden has made it very, very clear in a tape that was broadcast only a couple of weeks ago that Israel was top of his list of targets now. For some years there's been quite a lot of criticism in the Arab world by those who are sympathetic to his aims about the fact that he's never actually targeted Israel directly abroad. He's tried to a few times but it's been foiled and I think that actually for the Israelis they've been shocked by this, particularly the whole question of the missiles fired at their plane. There is very little that you can do, obviously civilian airliners can have onboard devices to try and deflect missiles, it costs though up to 2 million a plane to fit those but I'm sure being the Israelis are very careful of their citizens lives they'll be doing that and I think also they'll be taking some direct action against some of the people...

DAVID FROST: And also, I mean in terms of preparing themselves for all of these things, there's a limit to how much they can do, it is very expensive and so 2 million?

JANE CORBIN: It's about that, per plane, so I understand, El Al already has it by the way, they have already have these things onboard but this particular airline which was a charter airline from Israel didn't as far as I know.

DAVID FROST: And you mentioned Osama Bin Laden and his tape, one of whose expert sources have said this week that it's a fake, right?

JANE CORBIN: Yes there's a Swiss group that say they don't believe it, however the CIA tend to believe that it's genuine, intelligence services in Europe also believe that it's genuine, I would tend to take their, their reckoning. They have very sophisticated means, I mean there are hundreds of analysts in America, in the CIA, pouring over these things day by day, I think they probably know what they're doing.

DAVID FROST: Alright at that point an update on the news headlines.


DAVID FROST: Well that's about it for this Sunday, next week we're going to go interactive so we'll tell you about that next week, a web chat after the programme with our tenth anniversary coming up we thought it was time that you our viewers had a chance to join in as well. Anyway more about that next week, until then thank you all very much indeed, top of the morning.


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