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United Kingdom
Prime Minister's Official Spokesman
Lobby Briefing
October 4, 2001
11:00 A.M. GMT

US TERROR ATTACKS

Evidence Document. The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the evidence document referred to by the Prime Minister in his statement to the House this morning had been put in the library at 11am today. Of necessity, it was not complete. For obvious reasons - and as people would understand - we were unable to put into the public domain any intelligence material which could jeopardise intelligence sources or intelligence methods. As the Prime Minister had said in his statement, both he and the Government had absolutely no doubt that Bin Laden and the al-Qaida network were responsible for the events of 11 September. It was also the unanimous view of the Opposition Leader and Charles Kennedy, as well as NATO - all of whom had seen more evidence. As Lord Robertson had said yesterday, he had found it 'clear and compelling'.

Asked whether the Prime Minister would show the evidence to his hosts and exactly how much evidence had been seen by Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Kennedy, the PMOS said as much evidence as possible had been shown on Privy Council terms. The discussions the Prime Minister would be having in Moscow later today with President Putin would no doubt cover many of the issues raised in the document which was now clearly in the public domain. He did not know how much actual material the Prime Minister would show or discuss with the Russians, but clearly he would go into detail with President Putin. That said, discussions were ongoing between different agencies at different levels as appropriate. Asked if he was implying that the Opposition Leader would have seen more intelligence material than President Putin, the PMOS acknowledged that Privy Council terms meant that other party leaders were able to see additional intelligence material. However, that did not prevent detailed discussions with other world leaders about issues of culpability taking place. He pointed out that President Putin himself had expressed his certainty that al Qaida and Bin Laden were responsible for the attacks in the US and had been extremely forceful on the whole issue of international terrorism. There was no disagreement with the Russians on culpability in any event.

Asked if the US Administration had published its own evidence document today, the PMOS said no. As he understood it, they were still considering their position. Clearly they were aware of today's publication following ongoing discussions about intelligence matters between the two countries. The British document had been drawn from a number of different sources. Where appropriate, they would obviously have been cleared with the different organisations to ensure that they were happy with the document's release. Asked if he was implying that the conclusions in the British document had been drawn from the CIA and FBI, the PMOS said he wasn't implying anything. He repeated that the document consisted of material pulled together from a variety of different sources. It was a UK Government document. Pressed as to whether the sources were solely UK based, the PMOS said that UK intelligence was included in the document which contained material pulled together from a number of different sources. It would not be helpful to go into further detail about who had provided what. Asked if we had cleared the document with the US, the PMOS said there had been close contact with the US in advance of publication.

Asked whether the people and organisations named in the document would be targeted in the military action expected imminently, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had not given a timetable for military action. Nor should he be expected to. As we had acknowledged in recent weeks, we were in a situation where we might be taking military action and it was possible our forces could be involved. It was therefore important to continue to set out to the public as best we could the reasons for that - hence the publication of the evidence document today. The focus was currently on Afghanistan. There was an iron determination to bring those responsible to justice. Bin Laden was obviously at the head of the al Qaida organisation. However, as we had made clear throughout, this was not just about one individual. It was about a network of terror. There were a number of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The document itself talked of one of Bin Laden's closest and most senior associates having responsibility for the detailed planning. We were targeting the network.

Asked if the document was just 'the tip of the iceberg', the PMOS said that in such a situation we obviously had to proceed very carefully. Following the appalling events of 11 September, there had been a lot of speculation about culpability and responsibility. Both the Prime Minister and President Bush had said that we needed to proceed in a calm, measured way, assemble the evidence and in doing so reach a conclusion. We had been able to make sense of some intelligence we had received prior to the events of September 11 in a way that we hadn't been able to at that time. Other material had also been made available to us. As in any investigation, we had to put together the different pieces of the jigsaw. In doing so, the UK Government had been very careful not to attribute culpability until such time as we had felt we were in a position to do so. This was a stance also adopted by the Americans. We had said throughout that if we were in a position to do so, we would make available to the public whatever we could reveal. That was what was happening today.

Put to him that the document set out a political rather than a judicial case, the PMOS agreed it was not a legal document. It was, however, the best explanation we were able to give under the constraints in which we were operating as to why the Prime Minister was able to say to the House that the Government had no doubt that Bin Laden was responsible.

In answer to further questions, the PMOS said it would have been possible for us not to have released anything and to ask the public to trust the judgements people were reaching. However, this was an exceptional situation. It was exceptional we were publishing the document in the way we were publishing it. It was not complete - for the very good reasons which he had already set out. Put to him that the document was 'thin' enough to worry people who might not trust the Government anyway, the PMOS said that all we could do in a situation like this was to put as much information as we could in the public domain. Al Qaida was a very secretive organisation. It was one which had been engaged in acts of terror even before the events of 11 September. He drew journalists' attention to what the UN Security Council had previously said about the operations of this group. There were two Resolutions from 1999 and 2000 calling on the Taliban to give up Bin Laden. We were not coming to this conclusion about an organisation we knew nothing about. It was not as though they didn't have a 'record of form'. They clearly did. They had been involved in some appalling atrocities prior to 11 September. It was important to remember that. We had, as best we could, put in the public domain further intelligence which underlined why we believed they were responsible for the attacks in the US.

Asked whether we believed we would have a legal case against Bin Laden were we to publish the sensitive evidence we had, the PMOS said that he was not a lawyer. Obviously there were issues relating to whether evidence which had come from intelligence sources would be admissible in a court of law. What was absolutely clear, however, was that the international community was in no doubt who was responsible for the atrocities in the US and for the need for those responsible to be held to account and brought to justice. That was a view which was very widely held.

Put to him that the document had not provided a fair overview of Bin Laden's background given that there was no mention of CIA funding of his activities, the PMOS repeated that the al Qaida organisation had conducted atrocities around the world. There were UN Security Council Resolutions calling on the Taliban to hand Bin Laden over. It was an organisation which existed to cause terror. It was harboured in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister had absolutely no doubt that the group were responsible for the terrorist attacks in the US. Pressed further, the PMOS pointed that not everything about al Qaida and Bin Laden was contained in this document. We were not claiming it was. The document was about the atrocities on 11 September and al Qaida's responsibility. We were being as open as we could in the circumstances and putting in the public domain information which put the case against them clearly. Asked if we knew where Bin Laden was, the PMOS said we believed he was in Afghanistan.

END


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Crown copyright material reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO.