Twenty Years After 9/11: Reflections from Alex Younger, Former Chief of the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Posted: September 13, 2021 in CTC Sentinel
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Another piece linked to the September 11 anniversary, this time another interview of the series that I have been doing for CTC Sentinel. There are a few more recent pieces to publish, and some bigger research pieces for CTC in the pipeline. The interview was done initially before the fall of Kabul and then we revisited some of the questions afterwards.

Twenty Years After 9/11: Reflections from Alex Younger, Former Chief of the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Sir Alex Younger was a career intelligence officer in Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, for 30 years. He served in Europe, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. He was appointed as Director of Counter Terrorism in 2009, and as Chief from 2014 to 2020. Prior to SIS, he served in the British Army as an infantry officer.

Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of an oral interview conducted ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It has been lightly edited by CTC Sentinel.

CTC: Take us back to 9/11. You were already working in SIS (the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6) at the time. How much of a shock was the attack to SIS and to U.K. intelligence more broadly?

Younger: Clearly, it was a shock, and it was designed to shock. Visually, it was an extraordinarily traumatic and shocking sight, and that was the point. The attack was designed to be the ultimate provocation, and that was the effect that it had. It also engendered huge uncertainty because at the time we had none of the knowledge we now have with hindsight, and it seemed eminently probable that this was the first of a number of such attacks. To this day, I am pleasantly surprised that it did not lead to a series of similar outrages. In fact, on that day, I remember thinking that the very building I was sitting in could be on the list. So it also had a very personal effect. And it was clear that it did change everything.

CTC: How did 9/11 change the work and thinking at SIS? Did change occur immediately after the attack itself, or did it take some time for it to filter through the organization?

Younger: No, it was pretty quick. I think if you looked at the situation on the day before September 11, by and large terrorism was still treated as a discrete set of regional but probably even national phenomena rather than something strategic. When you looked at our version of terrorism in the U.K., for example, it felt very different to what was being faced in France. By and large, it was our domestic colleagues [at MI5] who were in the lead on all of this in the U.K. International partnership was less important. Secondly, and this may have been a failure of imagination as much as anything else, people did not conceive of things going on in far off places, like in failed states like Afghanistan, as actively threatening their homelands. That connection wasn’t considered adequately. It was obviously there theoretically, but I do not think it was properly internalized.

Bear in mind that we, as the U.K., were somewhat ahead of the pack in many respects for the very sad reason that we had dealt with terrorism for decades generated by the IRA [Irish Republican Army]. That was a quintessential domestic, politically orientated problem—all the things that the attack of September 11 was not.

So the main changes were two-fold. One, a pretty instant ovenight understanding that what happened in Afghanistan obviously mattered to the security of our people, and that, of course, put my service properly into the fight. And then secondly, an understanding of the premium on partnership. We realized that, by and large, we all had the same problem and it was coming from similar places. The days where you could take a not-my-problem or, worse, beggar my neighbour approach to terrorism were well and truly over.

CTC: You are one of many SIS officers who served in Afghanistan. You’ve stated that after 9/11, you and your colleagues had a “profound impulse to step forward into the line of danger” and that you felt that your organization was “one of the few that could make a difference, faced with a wholly new, and open-ended, threat from international terrorism.”1 Talk us through the role SIS played in going after al-Qa`ida in Afghanistan and has played in detecting and [working to thwart] jihadi terrorist plotting around the world.

Younger: It’s an odd thing to say, but in some ways, we were the lucky ones; terrorist attacks are awful things, but we are in a position to do something about them. I think one of the most difficult experiences after something like 9/11 or 7/7 [the al-Qa`ida attack of July 2005 on London’s transport system] must have been a sense of helplessness in the face of this hidden menace, set against [the] very human wish and need to get involved and do something. In SIS, we had the privilege, if you can call it that, to be in a position to do something about attacks in however small a way. That also, of course, conferred a frightening responsibility, which I would not pretend was a light burden for anyone. Our mission intensified in this new and difficult context. But it was our traditional mission. Put simply, we discovered that groups of people in far-off lands, predominantly in failed states which constituted a permissive environment for terrorists, were organizing to kill our citizens. It was our job specifically to get inside those groups, to reveal what was going on, and to work in partnership to stop it—a task, albeit in different contexts, that is as old as SIS.

CTC: How shocking was it to discover that there were British nationals involved in these networks? The July 7 attacks of 2005 were the archetypal example of this link, but there were also many other plots, as well as Brits fighting with the Taliban when the Americans went into Afghanistan. How much did that particular community become a focus of work?

Younger: It was not a shock in the sense that we had already seen al-Qa`ida rather successfully—the ideology, that is—appear within communities that should otherwise call the United Kingdom home. People born here and who nonetheless conceive for various complex reasons to be in a state of war with their own country. So, it was not intellectually out of kilter, but speaking as a British citizen, someone who lives here and cherishes the values the U.K. espouses, it still remains a profoundly shocking fact. I am a huge beneficiary of all of the things that are good about this country, and I make it a principle of life to try to put myself in other people’s positions to try to understand their choices. But I nonetheless find it extraordinary that a country that has provided succor to people is turned upon in this way.

But what I think is not the important thing. The important thing is for us to properly understand the thought processes and conditions that lead to people making these choices. To deal with this problem in the longer term, we have to understand these underlying issues and deal with them. We in the CT [counterterrorism] community working in the Pursue strand of our strategya are not the solution here. What we are is the means for buying time and a way to suppress the problem, to provide space so that the political, psychological, social, and cultural aspects that lie at the heart of this problem can be fully addressed.

CTC: Beyond Afghanistan, were there any parts of the world SIS was particularly focused on when it was going after the threat?

Younger: I always thought we had two jobs. One was to join the community of nations in bearing down on the networked jihadi threat; be part of a networked solution to a networked threat. Additionally, I was very conscious of our need to play our part as a globally engaged power across the globe in dealing with these problems. Things that happened in far-off countries affected us and others. It was very difficult to isolate the terrorist problem to a specific geography, and it was our job to be making a contribution to counter the problem.

But I also felt that we are a medium-sized power, and it would be a huge mistake to set ourselves up as a global policeman. We are just not suited for that, and I do not think there is a particular appetite within the U.K. to play that role. It simply is not practical. So our priority needed to be to bear down on places and people that were generating a direct threat, either to the U.K. or to our citizens and allies. The most forbidding and essential aspect to a successful counterterrorism campaign is to prioritize. You naturally prioritize on the threats to the lives of our citizens and those of our allies. So that takes you to places where we have a contiguous geography in all senses of the word, not just physical but human and societal, and so in particular South Asia: India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Our links to that whole region are profoundly enriching for our country, but sadly, there is a negative aspect. These links are exploited by extremists.


CTC: How did SIS change its practices of working with other agencies and allies in the United States and elsewhere as a result of 9/11? What were the most significant changes you observed in its wake?

Younger: To extend my recipe about effective CT, I would say it is one percent inspiration and 99 percent teamwork. Suddenly, and bear in mind intelligence services are broadly configured around the need-to-know principle, counterterrorism forced us to rapidly shift to a dare-to-share principle. It became evident that the risks of not sharing frequently in counterterrorism were far more forbidding than the risks of sharing. It was a complete inversion of our normal paradigm.

We embarked—it has to be said, led by the United States—in an aggressive pursuit of effective partnership with the countries where the threat was coming from. Which, of course, immediately generated a set of really serious ethical and legal considerations because normally you are partnering with a country that’s very different from a prototypical Western liberal democracy, and this brings a whole set of challenges with it. And that was the thing that hit us pretty quickly. There was a lot that was familiar about the task, which for SIS since 1909 has been about finding out what is going on and doing something about it. But there is something about counterterrorism and the need to share to be effective, and the need to do something with what you find while remaining consistent with your laws and values, that brought with it a set of really new and very difficult disciplines into play almost overnight. That was tough because it was matched with the impulse I described in the speech you mentioned earlier, which is to do stuff. And our absolute impulse, which I’m still proud of, was to get out there and be shoulder to shoulder with the United States, which had suffered the most grievous attack.

CTC: 9/11 happened as we were on the cusp of the current information revolution. Al-Qa`ida was quite an early adopter of the internet. Could you talk us through the complexities of adopting to this new world and how it might have impacted intelligence collection and counterterrorism in particular?

Younger: I think it was most important on the CT capability side: information sharing, data discovery, recognizing that huge holdings of data would very rarely make any sense unless they were compared with other huge holdings of data. That was the really big issue and change. It was actually on our side of the fence rather than the terrorists’ where the data and technology was most important. When it comes to our adversaries, it is worth remembering this was 2002. The internet as a means of propagating ideas was still pretty nascent. You have to fast forward to Daesh [the Islamic State] before you get to the profoundly internet-enabled terrorist phenomenon that is such a major preoccupation today. And there wasn’t any cyber component to the threat; I think there were a couple of small attempts at cyber-terrorism, but I don’t think anyone seriously attempted that with any great effort or impact.

Predominantly for me, the bigger change was the astonishing revolution that took place in the latter part of my career where we had access to abundant information, technical data, and other things, and struggled to figure out how to manage and decipher it all. The real issue was, again ensuring it was done in a manner that was lawful and consistent with our values, using that information to get the right answer before terrorists acted.

CTC: With the Arab Spring and the death of Usama bin Ladin, there was a sense 10 years ago that the global jihadi terror threat was waning. But within just a few years, the Islamic State had taken control of vast swaths of Syria and Iraq and embarked on a global terror campaign. Was SIS surprised by the speed and extent of the rise of the Islamic State? What for you are the lessons learned for the future when it comes to identifying and confronting such gathering threats as early as possible?

Younger: I don’t think the phenomenon of Daesh itself was a surprise insofar as you could see in the situation in Iraq a sort of textbook environment for radicalization. The speed of it was absolutely a surprise, and the asymmetric success that Daesh enjoyed in 2014 was pretty stunning. I am sure you will remember those images. That was a shock. However, a significant galvanizing factor was quite particular to that time and place. Essentially, hardline elements of Saddam’s former intelligence apparatus rapidly changed sides and brought a pretty hardcore level of security expertise to what I think otherwise would have been quite a disparate insurgency. It was a really evil combination of a rapidly intensifying and mutating jihadist ideology galvanized in a pretty cynical way by a lot of former Soviet-trained Iraqi operatives. And that produced what we subsequently saw, which was an incredibly intractable and difficult security problem. Allied to this was the more modern phenomenon that we have just been talking about, which is their realization and capacity to conduct a digital campaign and propagate the jihadist single narrative in a far more sophisticated way than had been possible hitherto.

It was also profoundly worrying to see the caliphate set up as a working example of the jihadist ideology on earth, operating and to the extent that it did. And that success, while it lasted, pulled people in, which was a significant source of threat to us as those people were pulled from their host communities, including here in the U.K., and retained links back home alongside the capacity to use those links. I remember thinking at the time that this was an open-ended, toxic, and extraordinarily dangerous situation. One of the things I am most proud of is the role we played in removing the caliphate from Syria. It remains in many important ways an unfinished and very open situation, but if I cast my mind back to, say, 2014 and you had told me we would ultimately prevail over the caliphate, that would have been, in my mind, a very good outcome. Not least because specific British operators within Daesh were very prominent in the group’s campaign and a source of extreme national shame and embarrassment.

CTC: Could you tell us a bit more about the indicators you saw for the rise of the Islamic State? Looking at that experience, are there any other parts of the world where you could envision something similar happening?

Younger: I remember at the time being very concerned about the way that [Syrian leader Bashar al-] Assad was behaving towards his own people and the brutality he was meting out. I think this in large part was what would feed the Daesh phenomenon. But even with hindsight, we can’t beat ourselves up for failing to see the speed and scale with which it happened, because it is quite a dramatic butterfly effect, in the sense that small changes to the inputs made a large difference to the outputs. There were several different, unrelated factors that coincided to put Daesh’s development at the worse end of anybody’s expectations of what might happen. In large part, this surprise is why they were so militarily successful, because they were just moving so much faster than anyone’s understanding of the threat.

CTC: What is interesting looking back is that in the end, the United Kingdom did not face the same sort of threat as continental Europe from the Islamic State terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq. What plots we did see were of a much smaller magnitude than, for example, the November 2015 Paris attacks. It could be that you and your colleagues were just doing a fantastic job and that’s what kept the threat away, but I wonder was there anything else to it. Was there anything about the way the United Kingdom was connected to the battlefield that seemed different to the earlier wave of al-Qa`ida-linked threats from South Asia? Can you tell us why you think the United Kingdom did not end up with the same sort of threat?

Younger: Well, I think we had a head start in terms of doing counterterrorism for decades and learning some very hard lessons in part through mistakes. We learned early the importance of being joined up within our various security services, which placed us ahead of the pack. We therefore likely did pose a more difficult environment for terrorists to operate in than the average in Europe. But I would not want to exaggerate that lead. The reality is that we were all vulnerable and we all faced this phenomenon together.

Looking back, however, the role of charismatic and prominent individuals should not be underestimated, so part of the reason that brought the particular intensity of threat to both France and Belgium was that their nationals happened to be in influential and capable positions within the caliphate. And so in that sense, for them it was really a case of bad luck. But that’s how it was. And if you take that reality alongside the fact that those countries are not islands and that firearms are therefore more accessible than they are in the U.K., then you have some part of the answer to the question. We will not ever, of course, absolutely know the answer, but I would also highlight that European counterterrorism capabilities at that time were growing much more effective and continued to [do] so.

CTC: Twenty years on from 9/11, there is again this sense that the global jihadi threat is in retreat. What is your assessment? Have you been surprised by the growth of the Islamic State in Africa in particular? Where do you think we may see jihadi threats coming from next?

Younger: It is really difficult to speculate. Broadly speaking, I would say that the threat is less than it was, and I would link that to the successes we have had in terms of suppressing the networks in Syria and Afghanistan. This is combined with a much more effective counterterrorism machine across the technical, foreign, and domestic spaces that are much better integrated than they were. Our counterterrorism capability is an order of magnitude more effective and capable than it was in the past.

Set against this reality are two issues. One, as the Manchester attack illustrated,b a spontaneous, non-directed attack is just as devastating as networked plots. Terrorism is now more spontaneous and delegated, but that does not mean it is less dangerous, something the Manchester attack sadly showed. But terrorism of this sort is a different type of problem, and in some ways, it has now reverted to being much more conditioned or sensitive to the domestic conditions in the target country, rather than being primarily something that is directed from abroad (in the U.K. at least). It is still fundamentally underpinned by a single narrative, which is very effectively propagated online by groups like Daesh and al-Qa`ida.

Yet, at the same time, it is also at the moment pleasing to see that international terrorist networks, both al-Qa`ida and Daesh, are to some extent in abeyance because we have been successful against them. There is no real cause to pause and celebrate that fact because Africa and the Sahel are looking dangerous and difficult. In addition, there is, of course, Afghanistan.

CTC: MI5 Director General Ken McCallum recently warned that terrorists will seek to take advantage from the U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.2 In the wake of the fall of Kabul, how concerned are you by this, and what needs to be done to ensure that Western intelligence is best placed to detect and thwart any future international attack plotting from the country?

Younger: The sudden collapse of the Afghan government was brought on by [a] set of unforgivable unforced errors. Trump’s inexplicable decision to abandon any political conditionality in his withdrawal “negotiations,” his immoral pact with the Taliban that essentially made it OK to attack Afghans, if Americans were left alone, creating a dynamic that led directly to the collapse of the Afghan Army. And the Biden administration’s tactical missteps: the abrupt removal of all enablers, and the decision to do this in the middle of the fighting season. All without any meaningful allied consultation.

The consequences are [evident]: harrowing scenes at the airport; Afghans who chose to support us left behind; and the loved ones of our fallen soldiers asking what it was all for.

And they are strategic: this sends a damaging message. It is a humiliation for the “West” and represents encouragement for despots and autocrats everywhere who know they can simply wait for Western democratic resolve to weaken with the passage of time. I was in Afghanistan in the period after the Soviets left. Najibullah’s government proved to have far more staying power [than] the one we chose to underpin at vastly higher cost. What does that say?

Even in these circumstances, though, it is important to retain some balance. The idea that this somehow represents the end of American power is grossly overdone. When it comes to counterterrorism, we would be wise to remember that U.S. agencies, particularly the CIA, have been at the forefront of developing the most powerful global CT network ever known; there are people alive in all of our countries who would not be, were it not for their efforts. Their work, capability, and partnership will become more important, not less.

Most importantly, however crass U.S. policy might appear, it does represent a welcome if belated realization that there is rarely a pure military solution to a terrorist problem. The causes are ultimately political, and so must be the end game. It became obvious a number of years ago that nation building, Western style, was either wholly impracticable or beyond the resources allied nations were prepared to commit. A way had to be found to integrate politically the powerful Pashtun nationalist faction represented by the Taliban. But the leadership to do this, including in Afghanistan, was not there. I do believe that the comparatively light Western military presence could have been maintained much longer and used much more effectively as a bargaining chip. But it was not the solution.

What does this mean for the threat? That depends on what the Taliban do next. They have sought to project a reassuring message, but history teaches us to approach this with caution. We discussed earlier what it was like in 2001/2002: how stunning it was to discover the degree of terrorist infrastructure that existed in Afghanistan, specifically in the Tora Bora complex. There had been a wholesale state capture by al-Qa`ida of Afghanistan, to a degree that none of us could have really imagined. Right there you have a worked example of what happens when Afghanistan is left unsupported and to its own devices. The Taliban took over and were wholly permissive to al-Qa`ida, who, in turn, organized at almost military-scale capability to attack our countries. You have to ask yourself why that wouldn’t happen again, because obviously it could as it has happened before. There are a few factors that make the current situation different. Clearly the Taliban are not stupid and will have noticed what happens to them when they allow people to operate out of their territory in the manner that al-Qa`ida did before 2001. So while they might be conflicted, I imagine this will weigh on their considerations. Afghanistan itself is also a very different place and the population has very different expectations than they would have had in the 1990s. So not everything is the same, making a clean comparison complicated.

My main plea is that we remain engaged across the intelligence, defense, security, diplomatic, humanitarian piece. That’s much more difficult if you do not have a security or even diplomatic presence on the ground, but history shows us what happens when you turn your back on Afghanistan.

Above all, we need an approach by regional states that rises above their narrow struggle to assert sectoral interests that it has been Afghanistan’s tragedy to host.

CTC: With the U.S. and NATO militarily withdrawal from Afghanistan and the resulting Taliban takeover of the country, how do you think regional powers like China, Russia, Iran, and of course Pakistan will react going forward? What is their long-term view of Afghanistan and the terrorist threats there, and how do you think they will try to mitigate them?

Younger: I think this is a very good example of ‘be careful what you wish for.’ All of those powers in their different guises have been campaigning for NATO to leave for some time, and we are now where we are. They will undoubtedly enjoy the reputational damage that this causes the Western coalition, but beyond that, I cannot see how this is going to improve their security situation in any way. Most obviously, China has a border with Afghanistan. We do not have any physical border there. We are a long way away, and yet we have been the ones essentially being custodians of security. Clearly, there is going to be a lot of thought going on in Beijing about how what is now an open flank is going to be dealt with. There has been a lot of speculation about how Belt and Road [Initiative] can be used to exploit what at one level is a new opportunity in Afghanistan, but the reality is that this is a highly unstable and radicalized place that borders one of China’s most sensitive regions.

With Russia and Iran, it is a pretty similar story. With Pakistan, we have just seen exactly the successful, radicalized, Pashtun Islamist takeover [in Afghanistan], that much of their security apparatus has facilitated and worked for over years, seeing, as they did, a stable Afghanistan as a source of strength to India. Wiser heads have pointed out that Pakistan’s stability depends on successful control of its own radicalized Pashtun elements, a task that will be rendered close to impossible with a radicalized Islamist takeover of their western neighbor.

CTC: In this era of great power competition, there is concern that countries might start to use (or increase their use of) terrorist groups as proxies to strike against each other, especially in a situation with an asymmetrically powerful United States. How do you see this issue? To what degree might shifting prioritization away from counterterrorism to great power competition impact counterterrorism capability?

Younger: I think states and terrorism have always been intertwined to some degree because terrorism happens in geographies. You could also argue that the al-Qa`ida phenomenon distorted all of our longer-term security priorities, but most specifically those of the United States. When the history is written, you will probably see that the U.S. response to a rising China was more muted because it was prioritizing the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa`ida. I think we’re still a bit too close to that to be able to really judge this balance. But what is certain is that great power competition introduces a potential existential threat in a way that counterterrorism does not. What terrorism does, which is almost as difficult and certainly as pernicious, is undermine the social fabric of our countries. This is why governments take it so seriously and why there is so little tolerance of it. But clearly when it comes to conventional destructive power, an international conflict is a far more significant issue.

To look at the question of use of terrorist proxies: With the advent of hybrid warfare, states, and most prominently non-democratic states, have become adept at integrating all aspects of national power into their security toolkit. Relationships with militant groups can and have become another of those tools. You cannot rule out the possibility of these things being used to attack us. Look at the way Russia has used militant groups in the Ukraine.

CTC: The recent U.K. Integrated Review stated that “It is likely that a terrorist group will launch a successful CBRN attack by 2030.”3 According to a May 2021 report by an U.N. investigative team looking at Islamic State activity in Syria and Iraq, “evidence already secured indicates that ISIL tested biological and chemical agents and conducted experiments on prisoners as part of [a biological and chemicals weapons] programme, causing death.”4 Given the intelligence you saw come out of Syria and Iraq, how concerned are you about this threat vector?

Younger: These are difficult attacks to mount, so I would say they are unlikely, but they are very high impact. So it is a classic example of low-likelihood, high-impact threat, which is the sort of problem that is very difficult to deal with. That is, however, our life in the intelligence business. Particularly the issue of how you prioritize your effort against that specifically is hard. My way of getting out of that conundrum is to observe that, broadly speaking, it is the same individuals who are involved in the broad range of all terrorist activity. So insofar as your strategy needs to, and I believe it does need to, be focusing on key individuals and networks and key geographies, I do not think that this approach is invalidated by any expectation of the CBRN threat being more or less likely. You could, if it got sufficiently serious, take the completely opposite view and start going after it as a particular category of problem and look at it in those terms, but I think my advice would still, broadly speaking, be it is the same thing and the same people coming to attack us, just in a very wide variety of different ways, which will include CBRN. Clearly, they are hankering after the most spectacular impact they possibly can achieve.

CTC: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been renewed concern that terrorists or other bad actors could obtain or engineer and then deploy a more dangerous virus than even SARS-CoV-2. As the 2018 U.S. Strategy for Countering WMD Terrorism noted, “advances in biotechnology could theoretically allow even a single individual working in a laboratory to engineer pathogens that could have catastrophic effects.”5 What is your assessment of the biological threat landscape and what role can intelligence agencies play in preventing an engineered pandemic from materializing?

Younger: Clearly you have got a worked example in front of us. I have no idea if terrorist leaders noticed and wanted to do something similar, but I would be very surprised if that thought has not occurred to them. I would have thought, though, that the same logic applied as we were just discussing about CBRN threats more broadly. Having said that, we clearly do not want to suffer from a lack of imagination about what might happen, as arguably was the case before 9/11. We need to conceive that something like that could happen, but sadly, that is all too easy to do. I hope that as our intelligence services are collecting throughout the world, they are staying highly sensitized to this possibility, but what the signatures of that activity would be and if they would essentially be different to all the stuff that we ordinary do, I do not know.

CTC: In the wake of the events of January 6, there has been growing concern around the world about the threat posed by far-right extremism and its increasing transnational interconnectivity. According to MI5 Director General McCallum, “Of the 29 late-stage attack plots disrupted [in the United Kingdom] over the last four years, fully 10 have been Extreme Right Wing.”6 To what extent has going after violent extreme far-right networks been a priority for SIS, and do you think it will be a priority in the future?

Younger: I think it is incredibly serious. The concerns I have about terrorism writ large, but hitherto Islamist terrorism, are the effect that they have in degrading trust between citizens. It is trust that underpins our democracy and our social cohesion. So it is nothing to be taken lightly. In some ways, maybe the rising extreme right is the reaction that terrorists have sought to precipitate, but I actually think it is much broader than that and a function of a whole set of phenomena that we see in the modern age—most specifically, the internet.

The extreme right would become an issue for people like me while I was working for SIS if it was predominantly organized overseas and was done in an organized way, and unless those two facts are true, frankly there is not a lot we can bring to the party. My view is that it probably is not the situation at the moment. So in that sense, and you will have heard it from what Ken said, it remains a really significant and rising domestic preoccupation.

CTC: The lack of much external direction and links makes it less of a focus and role for SIS?

Younger: Were we to see a replica of the scenario we saw in 2001, when a group of terrorists that were organizing in a failed state, successfully radicalizing people within the U.K. to carry out attacks here, that would change things undoubtedly and bring it front and center for SIS. But that’s not how I would characterize it at the moment. There have been some individuals going to foreign battlefields like Ukraine, and we saw the same thing happen with elements of the Yugoslavia civil war. I am not ruling it out as a possibility, but I do not think at the moment we see that.     CTC

Substantive Notes
[a] Editor’s Note: The United Kingdom’s counterterrorism strategy (called Contest) has four pillars:
Prevent: to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism
Pursue: to stop terrorist attacks
Protect: to strengthen protection against a terrorist attack
Prepare: to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack

[b] Editor’s Note: On May 22, 2017, 22 people were murdered when Salman Abedi detonated a bomb in a crowd leaving a music concert at Manchester Arena. “Manchester attack: Who were the victims?” BBC, June 17, 2021.

Citations
[1] Alex Younger, “MI6 ‘C’ speech on fourth generation espionage,” U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Secret Intelligence Service, December 3, 2018.

[2] “Director General Ken McCallum gives annual threat update 2021,” MI5, July 14, 2021.

[3] “Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy,” Cabinet Office, updated July 2, 2021.

[4] “Sixth report of the Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” United Nations Security Council, May 3, 2021, p. 9.

[5] “U.S. National Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism,” December 2018, p. 1.

[6] “Director General Ken McCallum gives annual threat update 2021.”

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