Sir Richard Dearlove, is the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, and as such has insights into the developments of the last twenty years that few can rival. At The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Sir Richard gave a talk entitled, Terrorism and National Security: Proportion or Distortion? It is well worth listening to the whole of his talk (follow this link).
Sir Richard’s main argument, which may at first sound strange given recent developments in Iraq, is that the UK is concentrating too high a percentage of its intelligence effort on Islamic terrorism and neglecting Russia and China, which are quite as important to British interests. While he does not discount future terrorist attacks in the UK, he sees what is occurring in the Middle East today as essentially a Muslim against Muslim conflict, a war between Sunni and Shitte (Shia). He quoted Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, who told him before 9/11, “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”
Sir Richard also referred to the question of the funding of ISIS (or the Islamic State); “For ISIS to be able to surge into the Sunni areas of Iraq in the way it has done recently has to be the consequence of substantial and sustained funding: such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” He said that there was no suggestion of “direct government funding”, but that “maybe a blind eye was being turned” to funding that had been “channelled to ISIL (ISIS)”. The Saudi Embassy in London subsequently issued a statement in which it called on news outlets to scrutinise the funding of IS and report impartially on the region. “We urge the British and international media to take an in-depth look into the financial backing and organizational structure of this terrorist organisation, as well as to report the situation in the region objectively and fairly and to verify allegations before reporting them as fact.”
He added that, “Every significant Muslim diaspora, but especially those in Europe because of their proximity to the conflict, is profoundly affected by this civil but religious war. So its reverberations are now reaching down and infecting our own Muslim communities. Sectarian passions are aroused, and also amongst the young, very easily exploited. But is this radicalization for a Muslim-on-Muslim conflict the same as the specific targeting of US and Western interests that Al Qaeda conducted before and after 9/11? I have yet to be convinced.” In other words, the West is not currently the direct target of Muslim extremists, but may experience collateral damage. Sir Richard said, “we can begin to think of it (Islamic terrorism) as the byproduct of a tragic but seminal conflict in the Middle East. And if we are an incidental target—bystanders who will occasionally be dragged into the conflict by British Muslims—it does begin to open up the possibility that our national security resources should no longer be dominated by an issue, which from time to time can threaten our safety, but does not really wrap itself around our vital interest and threaten fundamentally our national security when it’s viewed in a broad, regional context.”
In summary this is an important statement by a man who remains an insider, and who is arguing that British interests now require a reallocation of intelligence assets to targets other than the Middle East, in particular, Europe, Russia and China.