Former top MI6 official says bird flu more of a threat than terrorism

Published 11 February 2009

Former assistant chief of U.K.’s MI6 says pandemics posed more of threat to the U.K. population than terrorism; he also says that privacy worries about the international counterterrorist databases are exaggerated




A former assistant chief of the U..’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI6) has played down the threat of jihadi terrorism, saying that other dangers are more serious. The former spy also said that global counterterrorism database plans were “unlikely ever to succeed.”

Nigel Inkster, who was an SIS officer from 1975 to 2006 and rose to be assistant chief and director of operations and intelligence, was speaking the other day at the Counter Terror Expo, being held in London yesterday and today. Lewis Page writes that on the subject of international counterterrorist databases, an issue of concern among privacy advocates, Inkster had reassuring words. “There are limits to what we can sensibly aspire to,” he said. “Efforts to establish a global repository of counterterrorist information are unlikely ever to succeed. We need to be wary of rebuilding our world to deal with just one problem, one which might not be by any means the most serious we face.”

Asked what dangers were more serious than terrorism, Inkster suggested that British government planners were more concerned regarding the possible results of global pandemics, or perhaps the worst-case outcomes of climate change. “We need to keep terrorism in some kind of context,” he said. “For example, every year in the U.K., more people die in road accidents than have been killed by terrorists in all of recorded history.”

Inkster suggested that the Global War On Terror initiated by the Bush administration could never be won. “We can’t kill or arrest our way out of this problem… we will never solve this issue and live in a terrorism-free world. It has to be managed.” Inkster said that there was definitely a need for police and sometimes military action in fighting terrorism, but suggested that it was now widely acknowledged in the intelligence community that the Iraq invasion — and now the Israeli assault on Gaza — were definite factors in radicalization of British domestic terrorists. “A move away from the rhetoric of GWOT will help,” he said, saying that the “more nuanced message” of the Obama administration was already showing results.

As for recommendations, Inkster said that it was important to promote good government and economic opportunity around the world. “If I hear one more speaker suggest that the root of terrorism is poverty I’ll probably become a terrorist myself,” he joked. “But we have to acknowledge that it’s a factor.” As for the West, he said: “We should keep our nerve and our faith in our own values. Our own behavior — especially with respect to the rule of law — is very important.”