Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ministers Warned of Terrorism Threat From Iran

The Guardian:
The intelligence agencies have warned ministers that Iran could launch terrorist attacks against British targets if the row over its controversial nuclear programme escalates, it was disclosed today.

The parliamentary intelligence and security committee - which oversees the work of the agencies - said the possibility of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism was now considered one of the main threats facing the UK.

"There is increasing international tension over Iran's nuclear programme and backing of groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah," the committee said in its annual report.

"There is a possibility of an increased threat to UK interests from Iranian state-sponsored terrorism should the diplomatic situation deteriorate." READ MORE

Ministers have previously claimed that sophisticated roadside bombs used in a series of deadly attacks on British troops in Iraq have been supplied through Iran, although they have not blamed the regime directly.

The committee - which is made up of senior MPs and peers - took evidence from the heads of MI6, MI5, GCHQ and the defence intelligence staff in drawing up its report.

It said that Britain continued to face a "serious and sustained threat" from international terrorism - most significantly from al Qaida and associated networks.

Other security threats included the activities of dissident groups in Northern Ireland - which continued to pose a threat in the province and on the British mainland - and the international spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Asked about the perceived threat from Iran, Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "I don't want to give a piecemeal response to the ISC report. I think it's better we respond in terms of the government as a whole."

He said the cabinet this morning, at its regular weekly meeting, "reviewed the whole counter-terrorism strategy and approach but, in terms of the particular aspects of the ISC report, I think it's better we give our collective response".

That would probably be in about six months' time, added the spokesman.

He went on: "The terrorism threat remains very active and very real. Our commitment is that, if there is a specific threat the public need to know about, then we will tell them."

The report also revealed that MI5, the security service, was expanding so rapidly in order to meet the threat of terrorism in the UK that it had outgrown its London headquarters building.

Thames House at Westminster is expected to have exhausted its capacity by October. The committee said another building had been found to provide additional accommodation - but its identity was censored out on security grounds.

MI5 staff numbers are now expected to grow by over 50% over the next three years, with over half its resources now devoted to counter-terrorism.

The committee welcomed the expansion but warned that the risks involved in taking on large numbers of inexperienced staff would have to be carefully managed.

"This growth carries a series of risks that the service will need to manage over the next few years, including the need to maintain standards in operational capability and service to customers in spite of the increased proportion of new and inexperienced staff," it said.

It said that the expansion had been accompanied by an acceleration of MI5's regionalisation programme in the wake of the July 7 bombings, with the opening of a number of regional stations around the country.

The committee said that with the overall budget for the intelligence agencies due to rise to more than £1.5bn, it was essential to have proper financial controls in place.

"The significant additional funding made available since 9/11 has generally been accepted as essential for building capacity across the intelligence community to counter threats from international terrorism and to provide an enhanced standard of coverage and assurance," it said.

"Given that this represents an unprecedented level of new funding for the agencies, it is important, the committees view, that mechanisms are in place and functioning to ensure that money is well spent, appropriately controlled and monitored, and serves as a driver for increased efficiency."