When Students Turn to Terror:
Terrorist and Extremist Activity on British Campuses
Anthony Glees and Chris Pope
The Social Affairs Unit
© The Social Affairs Unit 2005
All rights reserved
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All views expressed in this publication are those of the authors, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisers or Director
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Definition of terms used
Students at British universities who turned to terror/extremism
British universities where extremist and/or terror groups have been detected
Introduction: How safe are Britain’s universities?
Chapter One: The problem with British universities
Chapter Two: Target Britain
Chapter Three: Islamists on UK campuses
The London Bombers and UK campuses
Other terrorists found on UK campuses
Noteworthy Islamist groups on UK campuses
Hizb ut-Tahrir on UK campuses
Al Muhajiroun on UK campuses
MPACUK on UK campuses: Islamic or Islamists, pressure group or extremist organisation?
The campus situation abroad
Chapter Four: The British National Party on UK campuses
Tony Wentworth at Salford University
Mark Collett at Leeds University
Nick Griffin at Cambridge University
How the BNP operates on UK campuses
Chapter Five: The Animal Liberation Front on UK campuses
Chapter Six: The response from the university authorities
Chapter Seven: The response from Government and Police
Conclusion: So what should be done?
Appendix: Policy recommendations
Notes and references
Definition of terms used
When we use the words terror, terrorist, extreme or extremist in this report it should be stressed that are not simply referring to groups found on our campuses who are part of wider national groupings prepared to use explosives and other weapons designed to cause bodily or material harm (for example, baseball bats and other implements) in order to terrorise individuals and those with political authority (both inside and outside higher education). We also use those words to define those who seek to exploit the threat of terror against third parties or innocent individuals in order to advance their own political purpose (in order to demonstrate their power) or to maim or kill perceived opponents (who may be people who hold certain political or scientific beliefs or come from a particular ethnic background), as well as those who attempt, for political purposes, to justify and glamorise illegal violent acts. Britain, we affirm, is a mature liberal parliamentary democracy in which political change proceeds, and must always proceed, as the outcome of democratic decision-making processes regulated, in particular, be European, national and regional or local elections to appropriate parliaments or assemblies.
Any actions which seek through violence, or the threat of violence, to undermine the authority of parliamentary democracy to determine what is or is not lawful behaviour by the Government or by individuals are, by our definition, illegal and subversive. Our definition of subversion is taken from the one provided by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, namely, “actions intended to overthrow parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means”.1
There are, of course, grounds for arguing that this phrase is neither legally nor philosophically watertight but simply a convenient and practical way of describing the kind of plans and terrorist acts which should attract the attention of the various security agencies. Terrorism and revolutionary extremism of all political varieties are hereby deemed serious threats in a suitably workmanlike but catch-all way. An “action intended” could be an isolated act (possibly designed to have a minor impact) but intended to cause a major political change. Whilst such acts might, in reality, be most unlikely to achieve their goal (since parliamentary democracy is so firmly entrenched in Britain), the threat of attempting to do so is properly viewed as a grave threat by any society which values law, order and peacefulness. In this sense it is undoubtedly a threat to national security. Equally, this definition covers the activities of groupings or organisations who might seek, for example by means of armed force (a putsch) or by violent industrial action, to undermine or overthrow our parliamentary democracy.
There could also be said to be a conceptual distinction between subversion and terrorism. In particular, it could be said that a terrorist does not need to belong to an organisation whereas a subversive must do so. However, it is perfectly sensible to argue that before becoming a terrorist (that is, someone who commits terrorist acts for political purposes), the individual in question will first have had to become a subversive (a member of an organisation or group which might consider the use of terror or violence, threaten it, but has refused actually to practise it).
When we write here of terrorists and extremists, we intend to imply that where such people subscribe to a set of political beliefs, they are more than simply violent criminals and represent a security threat of a different order because of the political beliefs they seek to advance.
Finally, we distinguish throughout between Islam and Islamic on the one hand, and Jihadism and Jihadist or Islamist on the other, accepting the distinction made by Islamic leaders that the religion of Islam is totally opposed to terrorist acts and is, and should be, fundamentally apolitical. However, it is clear that for some Muslims, including some of its foremost scholars, Islam is itself a revolutionary faith which supports the overthrow of western liberal democracy. Although we adhere in this report to the authoritative distinction that is currently being made by Islamic leaders between that which is effectively Islamic and that which is Islamist, we are mindful of the fact that in the weeks and months ahead, this definition may break down. In this sense, our distinguishing between the two concepts may prove to have been over-optimistic and could be overtaken by events.
In respect of racist views held by individuals or groupings, we argue that however odious they may be, they are not, in themselves, to be equated with terrorist views. Anti-Semitic attitudes in themselves are, in the same way, not prima facie evidence of terrorist ambitions. To verbally abuse someone because they are ethnically other, however disgusting, is not to use terror. To physically abuse them, cause serious damage to their property or to verbally threaten them, either directly or by implication, with violence or murder is. The dividing line between anti-Semitism and terror is, however, a thin one and the use of anti-Semitic acts and words to seek to intimidate or terrorise Jews is one feature of Islamist terrorism. Certainly, it is something that must be kept under review.
Similarly, acts of student violence may have nothing to do with terrorism.
Sit-ins and demos - unless they are specifically designed to support terrorism - are not terrorist actions even if terrorists might regard them as helpful to their cause.
What we are concerned with here, then, is actual terrorism, where the threat of death or extreme violence is used to try to achieve aims which would either take very long to be achieved through parliamentary means or might never be achieved in a democratic system.
Our report shows that there are people within our system of higher education who have armed themselves there with terrorist ideas, who have learned to glorify them and peddle them there, and have then gone on to act them out against all the people of Britain, irrespective of their ethnic background or their religious beliefs.2
Students at British universities who turned to terror/extremism
Zacanias Moussaoui: One of the Hamburg cell responsible for the September 11 attacks. Had completed a Masters at South Bank University.
Omar Sheikh: Currently awaiting execution in Pakistan for the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. Had been a student at the LSE and an active member of the LSE Islamic Society.
Ferroz Abbasi: Captured in Afghanistan. Had attended Nescot College, Ascot.
Saajid Badat: Would be shoe-bomber. Attended university in London before travelling to Pakistan for terrorist training.
Ramadan Shallah: Studied for PhD at Durham University from1985-90 on Islamic banking and went on to be a lecturer at the University of South Florida (USA) and is suspected of the Tel Aviv terror attack.
Babar Ahmad: Worked in the IT centre at Imperial College and a committed Jihadist.
Azahari Husin and Shamsul Bahri Hussein: who studied at Reading University and Dundee University respectively, both wanted in connection with the Bali bombing.
Afzal Munir: Studied at Luton University and later killed fighting in Afghanistan
Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif: the 2003 Tel Aviv bar bombers were students in Britain.
Mohammed Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer: Both former Leeds Metropolitan University students and two of the 7 July bombers.
Nick Griffin: BNP leader and former Cambridge University student.
British universities where extremist and/or terror groups have been detected
Brunel BNP, Islamist
Imperial College Islamist
Leeds BNP, Islamist
Leeds Metropolitan Islamist
Manchester BNP, Islamist
Manchester Metropolitan BNP
Oxford Animal rights extremists
South Bank Islamist
Sunderland BNP, Islamist
Introduction - How safe are Britain’s universities?
The terrorist attacks on London of 7 and 21 July 2005 provided graphic and chilling evidence of the existence in Britain of violent radical groups and murderous terrorist cells. All the evidence indicates that those responsible were in some way connected, or believed themselves to be connected, with the murderous Al Qaeda Jihadists. Yet all the 7 July bombers had grown up in Britain and had benefited from the opportunities and the freedoms of contemporary British life. They could have been assumed to have been totally loyal to British values. However, these British citizens hated Britain. They were part of a completely genuine fifth column, seeking to destroy this country from within, and fighting alongside the enemy abroad.
One matter which has received less attention than it deserves is that at least two of those involved with 7/7 had studied at British universities and colleges of higher education. Mohammed Sidique Khan, who detonated the Edgware Road bomb, had been a student at Dewsbury College and then Leeds Metropolitan University, together with the Aldgate bomber, Shehzad Tanweer.
Germaine Lindsay (also known as Abdullah Shaheed Jamal) and Hasib Hussain had not studied in higher education, but Hussain had been in Pakistan along with Khan and Tanweer from 2004 to early this year.3 Tanweer had dropped out of Leeds Metropolitan to go to Pakistan. Of Hussain, his school said: “There was nothing unusual about his school records except that he was withdrawn by the school from all of his GCSEs except GNVQ Business Studies.”4 The four Britons murdered 52 people in London and maimed or wounded another seven hundred individuals.
There is, at the time of writing, some evidence to suggest that all four were in some way in contact with Magdi el-Nashar (33). El-Nashar himself is a PhD student at Leeds University, working in the biochemistry department there, who may also have undertaken some tutoring in the subject. El-Nashar denies that there was anything sinister about his connection to some of these bombers.
On 4 July 2005 Animal Liberation Front activists carried out an arson attack against Oxford University, causing an estimated £500,000 of damage. Luckily, no lives were lost in this outrage, but at the very least those of the fire fighters were at grave risk. A reliable claim of responsibility described the event in the following terms: “On July 4 an ALF cell travelled to Oxford with an incendiary device containing eleven litres petrol…they broke into Oxford University’s Hertford College boathouse and deployed the devices among the boats…”5
On 23 August 2005, a Staffordshire farm which breeds guinea pigs for medical research was forced to close after a long and carefully organised campaign of threats and intimidation by ALF members which included the desecration of the grave of one of the farm’s original owners. (Her earthly remains were stolen, to be returned only when the farm stopped breeding guinea pigs.) It was depressing but also highly significant that the BBC reports on that day, and on its website news subsequently, doggedly referred to the ALF either as activists or as radicals but not as terrorists.6 Yet, by our definition, the ALF cell responsible for the closure of this factory, which was engaged in quite lawful work, was an act of terror.7 That the police should be seen to be incapable of countering it successfully is no less disturbing and raises the issue of whether the police, rather than MI5, are the correct body to be dealing with the ALF. This is a matter we explore below.
In addition to having to address these specific acts of terror, Britain also faces extremist and militant onslaughts from many other quarters, all of whom are represented in British universities, whether they be of the extreme left or right, whether militant Zionists, Palestinians or Marxists.
All of these extreme and extremist groupings are making efforts to recruit previously unaligned students at universities and colleges to their cause, recognising the fact that mass higher education in Britain offers easy pickings. Members with the perceived kudos of a degree are much more likely to be taken seriously than less educated street fighters. Students at one university claim to be threatened by the presence of a BNP recruiter on campus. His very presence there, however, seems to suggest that today’s BNP seeks the imprimatur of higher education, which is some distance removed from the more traditional skinhead, one as well as an obvious wish to gain student recruits to its cause.
How safe, then, are Britain’s universities? Safe does not simply mean safe from attack by extremists of whatever leaning. It also means safe in the sense that university students and facilities are properly protected against infiltration and penetration by extremist groups and individuals who may also exploit the possibilities for recruitment and organisation offered by each of Britain’s hundred or so universities. The question is truly important, although it is scarcely ever asked. Our reply, alas, is a disturbing one. They are not safe now, and there is every reason to believe that unless major changes are effected they will be even less safe in the future. There are two fundamental arguments that underpin this report.
The first is that if we examine the careers and life-events of the British terrorists about whom we know something, we see that although there may be numerous reasons why they turned to terror, one important fact about them is that many of them spent time at a British university. It is one red line that links a significant number of British terrorists to each other. We ask what, if any, is the significance of this and suggest the link, which we describe, is indeed significant. It may not be the only red line, and it may not be the most significant one. (Jihadist beliefs, attendance at radical mosques, even work-outs at specific gyms may be equally or more significant.) However, the university dimension is without doubt a key one.
Ideas lie at the heart of higher education. Ideas (admittedly, quite different ones) lie at the heart of all violent and terrorist political movements, from Jihadism to Animal Liberation. Training young minds to be receptive to ideas is what universities do. Recruiting and exploiting young minds who have been opened to ideas is what extremists do. No one believes that young people, or indeed people of any age, should be robbed of the opportunity to learn how to use ideas. Yet no one in their right mind could possibly believe that using ideas to murder other humans is a legitimate or acceptable way to put the theory of higher education into practice. Terror is the antithesis of intellectual activity. We suggest that we are currently under attack, not quite at war, but certainly engaged in a different kind of war. Our work shows that universities seem blissfully unaware of their own duties at such a time and remarkably naïve when it comes to understanding how what they provide could be used to attempt to destroy the very values they stand for.
Our second argument is that if there is something in the culture of contemporary British higher education which can, under certain conditions, fuel terrorist ambitions, then universities must urgently devise ways of mending what has clearly become broken. At a time when higher education seems to be more about selling education to customers and making money in the process, universities may have become too driven by profit, too ready to take short-cuts. Universities should remember that they are serious institutions. To be dedicated to the world of ideas is in itself important, but they must do more than this, for they are also concerned with the exchange of ideas and dialogue. They are places where attitudes are formed but also changed, charged with equipping their students with the wherewithal to undertake useful and constructive lives. What better mission could there be for today’s universities and colleges but to think carefully how they might actively prevent young radicals from becoming people who could do us harm? We believe that many students, particularly, perhaps, Muslim students want to discuss and explore views about politics, history and their faith. Where better, where safer, than on a properly run campus?
What is more, universities are public institutions, chiefly funded by the taxpayer. The public should be satisfied that they examine what goes on inside them, particularly, at this heightened time of crisis, in respect of the students they admit, how they manage student matters, what they teach them, and how well they get to know them. There is evidence that, as a rule, this is poorly done, if at all. Universities should also seek to be transparent to the outside world, allowing outside inspection of what goes on inside them. Inspection, naturally enough, could also, with luck, lead one straight to the identification of individuals in higher education who may be a threat to our way of life.
In stating our case in respect of British higher education, we seek to make a contribution to the wider question of how Britain as a mature liberal democracy can be made more secure. This is because we not only identify groups and individuals in order to construct a template for understanding the present and future threat but also because we conclude our report with specific policy proposals. These stem from our view that the desperate situation in which Britain now finds itself might well have been prevented in part, if not in whole, had certain measures been taken at the right time. These proposals are, of course, aimed only at universities and colleges of higher education for that has been our remit. We must repeat that we understand, of course, that there is unlikely to be either a monocausal explanation for terrorist acts or a single remedy for them. Rather, we argue that many things must happen before a person turns to terror but that if one of those things can be prevented from occurring then the transformation from a radical young student into a terrorist can be perhaps be avoided or postponed while other things happen. Here, that one thing has to do with higher education. Attending to this matter now, we suggest, could help prevent the formation of terrorist groups in the future.
Although we did not know at the time (and received no indication of the fact in our research), the British Government had been presented, behind locked doors, with a similar set of arguments about a year ago.8 In a paper prepared in 2004 in the wake of 3/11, the Madrid bombings, to which Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet Secretary, and Sir John Gieve, the Permanent Under Secretary at the Home Office, had contributed, the Prime Minister’s attention was directed to “the first pillar of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy” which was “prevention…to diminish support for terrorists by influencing relevant social and economic issues”. Mr Blair was told: “extremists [are] known to target schools and colleges where young people are inquisitive and more susceptible to extremist reasoning and argument”. The report added: “British Muslims who are most at risk of being drawn into extremism and terrorism fall into two groups. First, those who are well-educated with degrees or technical/professional qualifications, typically targeted by extremist recruiters and organisations circulating on campuses [our emphasis] and, second, underachievers with few or no qualifications and often a non-terrorist criminal background, often drawn to Mosques where they may be targeted by extremist preachers, or radicalised or converted in prison.”
There is today every reason to believe that these conclusions were correctly drawn – although these two groups are by no means as discrete as they might appear to be. The high drop-out rate in many British universities, and the large number of students with very poor qualifications happily accepted into British higher education show that many campuses bring together those who are academically strong with those who are weak, sometimes hopelessly so. Similarly, as we shall see, there is almost certainly a cross-over between those sufficiently hungry for ideas and skills which can be provided by higher education and those who also seek a different sort of satisfaction from the ideas and skills provided by mosques or other centres which can propagate extreme ideas. The extent of interaction between university, college and mosque still needs to be researched but it is not hard to believe that it is frequently a vigorous one. Instead of encouraging students to reflect on the values and virtues of liberal democracy, universities may be teaching them subjects or theoretical tools for understanding the world – Marxism, for example - which could encourage them to believe Britain and other western states are in terminal decline. Moving from campus to mosque, students convinced by their dons might gain further inspiration from radical mullahs.
In particular, where Muslims are concerned, it seems safe to say that a relatively small number of them per head of population, added to a university which recruits locally from areas with large Muslim populations, rather than nationally, could easily encourage students to avoid any idea of assimilation into a shared Britishness, simply reinforcing already existing links to a local mosque. In this way, issues these people might have with aspects of British politics, actions perceived (rightly, perhaps) as unjust or prejudiced against specific minorities could so easily be internalised and then radicalised, rather than being diffused through contact with extraneous influences. Isolated and smaller communities of minorities anywhere in the United Kingdom might find it easier to convince themselves that extremism or terrorism were acceptable forms of political action more easily than larger communities in more cosmopolitan environments.
It follows that universities that recruit locally, where local communities may not broadly reflect the ethnic background of the country as a whole, might find it harder to dissect and deconstruct dangerous radical thinking than universities who recruit exclusively according to national criteria of excellence and achievement in a national market place. It is one of the many unintended consequences of changes to university funding that students now have an incentive not to leave home and not to escape their local communities. No one foresaw how this would dramatically change the nature of many of Britain’s apparently national institutions of higher education.
Britain’s universities and colleges should reflect very carefully on these facts. It is wrong to make Britain’s overstretched police forces, or even its Security Service, MI5, responsible for every security issue facing Britain today. Certainly, MI5 has a statutory duty to safeguard Britain’s national security and terrorism is correctly seen as a threat to the national fabric of this country. MI5 should, of course, be in the forefront of the fight against it, as is, broadly, the case. And, patently, it does not always succeed in this task. What is more, in the wake of 7/7 and 21/7, there are doubtless going to be specific sins, both of commission and omission, for which MI5 must and will have to answer. Every terrorist success is, after all, an MI5 failure.
Many of MI5’s operational errors are likely to have complex origins (lying in difficult subjective decision-making or even in its leaders’ often overdone political sensitivity), and even the sins of omission, where the Security Service should have done things which it did not do, are not necessarily always MI5’s responsibility. MI5 certainly dropped its guard in the 1990s, when it ceased to work against subversives in the UK, and it was possibly a mistake to leave the Animal Liberation Front to the Special Branch.9
Yet MI5’s job has been made immeasurably harder by the lack of a clear political will to tackle extremism and by what has often been the shambolic way in which security matters have, or have not, been addressed. The outgoing Saudi Ambassador, Prince Turki al-Fasal, has convincingly and clearly described the chaos that has undoubtedly existed in part of Britain’s security management.10 Criticising the Government’s “inadequate response” to dealing with extremist Muslims he said: “When you call somebody, he says it is the other guy. If you talk to the security people, they say it is the politicians’ fault. If you talk to the politicians, they say it the Crown Prosecution Service. If you call the Crown Prosecution Service, they say, no it is MI5. So we have been in this run-around for the last two and a half years.”
According to The Times, the Saudi authorities have repeatedly taken up the matter with Tony Blair who had promised to deal with it but nothing had ever happened. The Prince said: “We have been urging the [British] Government to send them back since 1996, if not earlier. During my two and a half years here it was one of the most persistent and consistent topics.”
Yet there are many areas where MI5’s tasks could have been considerably lightened. In particular, university administrators and academics have failed, or have not been instructed, to do some fairly basic and straightforward things which have allowed radical terrorists to emerge from our campuses. Individuals who went on to put British security at risk could certainly have been identified whilst still undergraduate students had certain safeguards been put in place by universities. What is more, many if not most could probably have been turned away from terrorism by effective control, containment and careful teaching. We explore this point in detail at the end of this report.
In short, whilst MI5 and the police have the lead role in trying to provide security for Britain, others are also responsible. Universities and colleges, in particular, should have been far more aware of specific ways in which they could have discharged their obligation to their students and the rest of us to help make Britain safer. They should, for instance, have taken more care in the recruitment of their students and screened them more fully, especially during the annual Clearing process in which they seek to sell empty places at high speed to less able students. Many universities fail to interview Clearing students properly and cannot therefore come to a considered evaluation of their individual commitment to learning. Students are taken on, sometimes with very little supporting evidence of achievement or even identity. How, without a formal in-depth interview, can a university be sure that a candidate for a place is coming because they are keen to learn from the dons rather than from extremist fellow-students? How can they know whether the person in question is, in fact, a student at all or whether they have turned up simply to recruit other students? The answer is blindingly obvious: under existing procedures they cannot know.
Once on campus, they should have required academics to know their students adequately, and been more mindful of the ways in which academic freedoms can be exploited by extremists using the medium of student unions, groupings and websites. Universities were wrong to chase fees to the exclusion of real talent, not least because failing students are always a source of trouble and can all too easily become disaffected with a system which they believe has failed them. There was, after all, copious evidence to show that both 7/7 and 21/7 were foreseen in outline, even predicted, but that too little, if anything, was done to try to prevent them from happening. Various reports by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee argued from 1997 onwards that there were “dangerous terrorists in the UK who want to attack the fundamentals of our life”, that they represented “major national security issues”.11 One former senior anti-terrorist officer told a London audience recently that we had now reached a “new threshold of terror” in which “politically motivated groups were now prepared to use terror as a weapon”.12
The idea that we (where “we” means all of us who work in public institutions and not just the security forces) cannot defend ourselves against terror, that the “bomber will always get through” (an off-the-cuff comment by a senior British politician on BBC Radio following 7/7), is not just only factually inaccurate but, from a terrorist’s viewpoint, a dangerous incentive to action.13 Things must be done to prevent the bomber from getting through; measures must be taken to provide a proper culture of security in Britain. After all, the provision of security to a citizen is one of the basic duties of representative government and everyone who can assist in delivering it must do so.
Some of the measures that will now have to be used will inevitably resemble existing measures. That is to say they will be reactive measures of last resort – calling in the police once a terrorist cell has been spotted, or the “shoot to protect life” policy currently found on the streets of London. Others, however, must be pro-active ones. It is in this field that MI5, the police and campus authorities have been failing. Pro-active measures against terrorists are far more likely to meet with success precisely because they are pro-active. Seeking out potential sites of radicalisation and then seeking to contain them by starving them of recruits and cash could extinguish them before they become hotspots for terrorist activity.
This report seeks to explore - in the specific context of Britain’s higher education system - some of the pro-active security and counter-terrorist policies we should now be considering. This context is a key one, not just because we argue that higher education provides one of the points of entry into terrorist thought and culture, but also because higher education could also marginalise and dissipate terrorist thinking. It always makes sense to act preventively at minimum cost.
This is the argument underlying our report. But it is not a theoretical one. As we show here, there are good grounds for believing that Britain’s universities are no longer safe for a variety of reasons and that some of them may have become, and may still be, safe havens for terrorist ideas and recruits.
As one of us (Anthony Glees) argued in a paper to the Political Studies Association early in 2004, anyone concerned to protect the UK as a liberal democratic political system was even then, before 7/7 or 21/7 obliged to confront the fact that university campuses in the UK were increasingly - if inadvertently - playing host to extremist groups.14 Some of these groups, it was argued then, might easily support the use of terror as a political weapon.
Today, of course, “the rules of the game have changed”, as Tony Blair put it after the July London bombings, and there is a far greater consensus amongst all Britons, whatever their faith, that we must now focus our attention more carefully on perceived radical Islamist or Jihadist terrorist groups. Even so, we forget at our peril that these are by no means the only groups to worry about. Any extremist group using terror to achieve its aims, whether political or religious, must be classified as extremist. This report, therefore includes Islamist groupings justifying terror, militant Zionist groups, extreme left and extreme right wing ones and also the Animal Liberation Front.
There are, of course, two sides to the cultural role that universities and colleges must play in today’s liberal democracies. On the one hand, as institutions dedicated to the pursuit of learning, knowledge and the free exchange of ideas, universities are, or at any rate should be, sites of tough argument and robust debate. As places which must (or, at least, ought) to be blind to colour, race or gender, universities can also execute the important task of bringing disparate individuals together as student members of a greater community, dedicated to the ideals of learning. Each individual shares the status of student and each student is a vital part of the academic community - which is what a university ought to be. Students are vital for without students, there can be no universities. Students themselves are not the problem; the problem lies with the ways in which they are admitted, and the general ignorance that exists about what students do when they are not studying. In this way, universities can also homogenize bona fide disparate social or political groups, and may even help in defusing conflicts articulated by their students but generated outside universities. Universities can (and should be) systems for integration, whose power to do so relies wholly on their core values of rationality, wisdom, critical analysis and value-free and objective observation of the external world.
On the other hand, precisely because modern western universities are free institutions, which only flourish if there is free speech (a concept which is, in fact, a relative one rather than an absolute), they are places which can be exploited by groups who do not themselves support or uphold the liberal attitudes which produced them in the first place. Where poor or failing students are involved, they may start off with good intentions but be dragged into disillusionment and alienation by their limited ability or lack of comprehension about what higher education actually consists of. The exponential growth in plagiarism, which causes all universities so much concern, is not just a function of the Web but of the lack of a personal commitment to the values of the academic community and an awareness by many students that they are not up to the job in hand.
Hiding behind demands for free speech and the unrestricted right to organise, or seeking to make up for academic failure, universities make it easy for single persons or groups of individuals to construct societies or wider groupings which are dedicated to the destruction of liberal values, to feel free to glorify acts of terror and to incite fellow students to use violence in pursuit of their aims. What is more, not every student is necessarily a bona fide student. Evidence from more that one university suggests that some universities may be little more than covers for people who have no intention of spending their time on study but every intention of being inspired by the trade of terror or recruiting others to do so.
There is nothing new here. Throughout the twentieth century, British and non-British universities were being used systematically as recruiting groups for extremists and terrorists of all kinds, exploiting the freedoms of the campus for their own violent purposes. There are many other reasons, apart from their statutory duty to provide free speech, why universities are such obvious targets for extremists. People going to them are, on the whole, interested in ideas and changing themselves. It may be their first experience of adult life beyond the reach of parents, families and home-based peer groups. They may also, because many of them are young, be keen to change the world along with themselves (change is sometimes said to be in the “DNA” of the young). David Trimble, the senior Ulster politician, told a London audience recently that terrorism “involves well educated people, the rising middle class are susceptible to it, especially students and academics; one need only to look at the role that Marxism played in the universities in the 1970s and 1980s”.15 Trimble’s point is spot-on. What is more, the generally left-wing bias in academe (itself a product of the “revolutionary sixties”), reinforced by the ageing of the young radical dons of those times who have now become higher education’s senior academics, may be one reason why universities have found it so hard to lay down the law on campus extremism. Some of the senior figures still hold that a strong security culture is not the solution to the problem of terror but its cause.
Trimble was also right to warn against assuming that extremism is a function of autocratic regimes and that democracies will not spawn terrorism. He pointed out that terrorism is found in democracies more frequently than in autocracies. He singled out the German Baader-Meinhof gang as an example of a middle-class terrorist movement, whose leading members were almost all highly educated and lived in one of the most liberal and democratically adroit polities of our age.
Whilst there is some merit in his contention, it is by no means the full story: the Baader-Meinhof gang in fact hated parliamentary liberal democracy as it was developing in the Federal Republic of Germany in the late 1960s and 1970s, because the emphasis on consensus and liberalism acted, they rightly saw, as a obstacle to the extreme Marxist and Communist policies it desired.16 The Baader-Meinhof gang were, of course, quite right to see that successful liberalism would make Communism impossible to achieve and that it might, in fact, even overturn it. However, rather than live with majority decisions, the gang tried to impose minority dictatorship, justifying this with the same sort of hate campaigns (against America, Israel, Zionists, Jews, Nazis and so forth) that Jihadists press.
We, in turn, must learn the lessons of this frightening period in modern German history which can certainly illuminate Britain’s position in 2005. The first is that the leading gang members were trained in the use of weapons either by the East German Stasi or by Arab terrorist groups. Nothing was done to prevent this from happening, on the basis that what was out of sight should also be regarded being out of mind. Second, the relatively small number of murderers was generated by a far wider group of sympathisers. By 1977, the West German Federal Criminal Agency had a terrorist index which contained the names of some 4.7 million suspects and sympathisers, many of them university students and at one time or another it had had 6,047 individuals under surveillance. The third point to note is that attempts to treat the gang with kid gloves by seeking to appease them, and re-integrate them into German life, merely increased the incidence of terrorism (in the process destroying the reputations of politicians and church leaders advocating dialogue). It took decisive military action, the storming of a Lufthansa jet (whose passengers had been taken hostage) in October 1977 in the deserts of Mogadishu to break the gang’s murderous reign of terror.
Unlike the terrorists of the 1970s who tried to justify their killings by targeting prominent West Germans whom they accused of having been Nazis, Jihadists, as we discuss later on, target perfectly ordinary people, including other Muslims. They take no interest in who they are, or even what their ethnic background might be. However, as we show, Jihadists can profit from a very large group of sympathisers and potential sympathisers, particularly amongst what appear to a very large majority who opposed the Government’s Iraq policy.
Some attempt has been made to quantify these. The 2004 report prepared for the Prime Minister, described above, said that “the number of British Muslims actively engaged in terrorist activity whether at home or abroad or supporting such activity is extremely small and estimated at less than ten per cent”.
This translates, it was suggested, into there being 16,000 potential terrorists out of an officially listed Muslim population of 1.5 million (2.7 per cent of the total population of the UK). The Sunday Times claimed that MI5 believed that the number of those who were actually prepared to commit terrorist offences might run into hundreds.
It is interesting and perhaps revealing to contrast these figures with those coming from a poll taken between 15 and 22 July 2005.17 Whilst 77 per cent found the London bombings to lack any justification whatsoever, six per cent of interviewees said “on balance” the attacks were justified; 24 per cent said they had either a lot, or a little “sympathy with the feelings and motives of those who carried out the attacks” (with 13 per cent saying they had a “lot of sympathy”); 56 per cent said they could “understand why some people behaved in this way”. Only one per cent of those asked said they believed Muslims should use violence to bring about the collapse of western society but 31 per cent agreed with the statement that “western society is decadent and immoral and Muslims should seek to bring it to an end but only by non-violent means”. Only three per cent said they would not tell anyone if they got to hear of a terror attack but 10 per cent said they would not tell anyone if they found themselves being recruited by extremists.
As we have seen, it takes no more than four bombers to unsettle a major world city with many millions of inhabitants. If the Security Service believes that there are possibly hundreds of Jihadists prepared to use terror to achieve their political ends, that is a large number of potential terrorists to be concerned about. Equally, those 24 per cent of people who were sympathetic to some degree with the bombers are a major cause for worry. The existence of a large number of sympathisers provides extremists with a once in a lifetime chance to recruit sizeable numbers of young people to their cause. Even if student radicals grow up to be affluent supporters of the status quo, what counts, of course, is their potential as young weapons in the fight against the west.
Though it is impossible to pinpoint precisely how, when and where, using open sources as we do here, recruitment appears to take place through contact with a student recruiter or an adult recruiter brought into the university. Recruitment, we stress, is a secret activity, which puts Jihadist recruiters in the same category as officers of a hostile intelligence service who wish to recruit British spies. It can also clearly occur when a university, obliged to provide free speech, finds itself providing a platform for individuals who may have some sort of heroic or charismatic standing amongst particular student groups. This can happen officially (through university ignorance about the individual invited to the campus) or sub rosa (where the authorities might intervene were they to be told so are not). Student societies can provide strong peer-group support for radical mindsets. Some of these may justify violence and the use of terror for political ends and a potentially lethal group think culture is born.
It is important that universities realise that they have the same duty of care to all their students. There is evidence that a number of radical or fundamentalist student societies do not permit certain students to join that society: some may be barred to those who are female, others to those who do not share the same religion or political viewpoint. Universities seem ready to turn a blind eye to what may, in fact, be illegal discrimination (in the same way that the Government which has banned corporal punishment in the state and private sector permits it to take place in certain religious establishments).18
The British security community believes firmly that many things need to happen before a radical but peaceful individual turns into an extremist who is prepared to use terror to achieve his or her political goals, not to mention become a suicide bomber who will kill not just himself or herself but as many innocent people as possible at the same time.19 Security officials call this transformation the tipping point. It may be right to regard this point as the intersection of a variety of discrete but linked circles. One circle may be a local community, possibly religious. Another might be a leading figure or group of elders. One might be the environment of a university.
In short, there is a real and serious problem in UK higher education establishments at present. There is evidence that they have become recruiting grounds and training areas for terrorists and that some of the knowledge and expertise that they pursue may be additional bait for terrorist groups. Some may be Jihadists, some right or left wing extremists and some supporters of animal rights. All share a belief that our democracy acts as a brake on the achievement of their extremist goals and that terror and the threat of terror therefore becomes a legitimate way of achieving them. We do not claim that higher education is the only tipping point, nor that it is necessarily the most important one. But we do claim that the evidence indicates that is a tipping point. We know that terrorists have had many other things in common, attending particular Mosques, visiting Pakistan or Afghanistan and so on. It has been suggested that some of the London bombers worked out at the same gym, and Robert S Mueller III, the Director of the FBI, has singled out prisons as sites of recruitment.20 But, we must ask, from where do young people get the very idea of extremism and radicalism? The idea always predates the act itself and universities have always been places where ideas dominate the environment.
A major problem, one perhaps far greater prior to 7/7 and 21/7 was the fundamental refusal of large sections of the British political class, the Judiciary and academe to accept that a terrorist risk existed in Britain. For some time, the British intelligence community had used the opportunities open to it (these include statements made to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, closed seminars meeting under Chatham House rules and informal briefings on a confidential basis) to try to get the word across that the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom was real.
Although many political leaders and the Director General of the Security Service had repeatedly warned of a terrorist attack, there was evidence to suggest that the threat was not taken as seriously as it should have been. This in turn may have rebounded on the intelligence and security community, making them too wary of crying wolf.
Speaking on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour on 28 February 2005, for example, Tony Blair spelt out what he insisted was a major national problem. There were, he said, “dangerous terrorists who threaten the fundamentals of our life”. The best way of addressing this threat was, he said, through “surveillance and intelligence”. These were the “key to countering the threat we face”. The Government’s suggestion was to use the intelligence that we had to initiate a policy of detention orders, including house arrest for suspects (a modern version of the old nostrum of internment). He also added that the use of intercept evidence in court cases should be re-assessed, 21 something that is currently being considered again, in light of the London bombings of July 2005.
Yet voices could be heard asking whether either the Prime Minister – or the evidence he was using, if it was intelligence-based, could be trusted?22 Anti-terror laws, some suggested, would simply “alienate” people and drive them into the hands of terrorists. What was more, anti-terror legislation had not produced results since scarcely more than a dozen people had been convicted under them. At the end of the day, it was said, secret intelligence had not correctly identified Iraqi WMD – then why should we believe it when it came up with the idea of a “global war on terror”? The idea that the number of convictions (and indeed the number of arrests) were not by themselves useful indicators of the effectiveness of the legislation since the deterrent effect of laws meant that absence of evidence was not necessarily evidence of absence.
Even more problematic was the view taken by the Law Lords when examining key parts of the Government’s anti-terror legislation on 16 December 2004 Lord Hoffmann said there was: “no ‘state of public emergency threatening the life of the nation’- the only basis on which Britain would be entitled to exercise its opt-out from article five of the European convention, the right to liberty”. Instead, Lord Hoffmann said it was the anti-terror laws introduced by the Government which had posed such a threat. Hoffmann said: “The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these” [our emphasis]. On 26 July 2005, the Prime Minister himself criticised Hoffman, doubting that he would say these things now that London had been hit twice.23 The British public were entitled to be confused and British academics, trained to be sceptical in any case, were probably now even more sceptical about the existence of a terrorist threat than ever before.
Speaking at various times to invited and discrete groups of industrialists, academics and journalists, security and intelligence chiefs showed themselves to be clearly worried about such attitudes. A very senior figure told one meeting that if they could not convince the Law Lords about the need for a robust positive approach to security issues, they were hardly going to convince the public and gain the public’s acceptance for the measures deemed necessary.24 The only way forward, he argued, was to make the case as plain as possible in order to “squeeze terror out of our system”.
He said that the span of activity had shown that Al Qaeda was still acting as a vanguard for British terror groups but had now interlinked itself with other groups that had grown in the UK independently of it. There was now even a third tier of even smaller groupings, he said, who were seizing the agenda. They were “global” in their “intentions, impact and reach” and were “murderous in intent”, ambitious, international and resourceful. They were intent on researching how to make their bombs more sinister, as can be seen in the images released of horrific nail bombs, to kill more people and strike fear into the public.
The public, in turn, needed to be convinced that we had reached a new threshold of terror he said, whose defining characteristic was to cause the mass murder of totally innocent people. They had to believe that this was something that would be developing over many years, and that they should agree to fighting it and investing in the battle. Eventually, we might, he said, achieve “balanced normality” but only with renewed effort.
British terror groups, he asserted, had ongoing linkages to the Maghreb, the Islamic diaspora and – increasingly – Iraq. Iraq, he argued, represented a “looming danger”, because it could become the base for what had previously existed in Afghanistan. Despite the Government’s refusal to admit a link between the London bombers and Iraq, the Security Service’s own website notes of Al Qaeda that: “Countries that are participating in the reconstruction efforts in Iraq have also been identified as targets.”25 Cells of terrorists were, he suggested, able to act alone but were also probably supported by operatives from the outside. Intelligence had shown that the new targets were likely to be crowded places, so as to hit people at their most defenceless – early in the morning, for example, on their way to work.
The best the public could hope for, he insisted, was that in five years time we might have reduced the terrorists’ strategic potential to cause murder or harm. As far as individuals were concerned, our aims should be to marginalize them, to identify them, criminalise them and cut them off from broader social support. We needed to depict them, he said, credibly for what they were – mass murderers. For this to happen, community support was vital, for it was ultimately communities who would defeat and contain terror. The intelligence and security community could not do this by itself. Universities were, he insisted, an obvious target even if they were also able to integrate minorities into British ways and habits.
Indeed, the Security Service has, since 1998-9, pursued an awareness programme with universities. MI5 describes it as follows: “Staff visit universities as part of a series of pre-programmed visits to brief them on the countries and the organisations of WMD concern. The awareness visits also provide useful information for the Security Service which is reported back to the Restricted Enforcement Unit and the Department of Trade and Industry”.26
It is also the case that MI5 appears to have prevented more than two hundred foreign “scientists” from studying in the UK over the past four years following vetting of more than 2000 of them who had applied for postgraduate or postdoctoral work in chemistry, microbiology and biotechnology and 18 other disciplines.27 MI5 operates a voluntary vetting scheme which it established in 1994 to address the WMD threat. This was, perhaps, in part a product of the successful British intelligence operation against Abdul Qadir Khan who had studied in Europe and then established a uranium enrichment facility, called the Khan Research Laboratories, which had then passed technical information and hardware to various Middle Eastern states, in particular Libya.28 In all, 2282 individuals were vetted, of whom 238 were rejected to May 2005. Security checks were conducted on individuals from ten countries, including Pakistan, Syria, India and Egypt.
However, security sources state that this scheme was not merely a voluntary one but one which had met with opposition from some universities: “Many academics believe the scheme is flawed and several prominent universities refuse to cooperate in it. Because it is voluntary, some view it as an unnecessary bureaucratic burden while others believe it is an interference in their academic freedom.” Many universities do not refer students to the authorities because they fear that if the students were to hear about the scheme, they might lose them and will lose the revenue they generate.
One senior academic at a top university was quoted as saying “We are all in competition for overseas students; they provide us with a lot of our income and speed of processing applications is a key factor in ensuring a student will come. So any delay because of a diversion to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a big issue.” One strong university recently concluded an agreement with an authoritarian Middle East state deeply hostile to British policy in the area to train large numbers (18 initially but set to “increase substantially” by 2009) of postgraduate students, concerned to gain an expertise in information systems and computer science. None of these 18 has been security cleared.29 The state’s foreign policy goals do not run parallel to those of the UK and to deliver leading edge IT teaching to its students (of whom some will certainly have a connection to the state’s intelligence and security agencies) may strike the ordinary citizen as a touch misguided. What could be the national advantage to Britain in giving these students our best IT training?
The chair of the Association of University Administrators said rather bizarrely, given his position, but accurately in the event that: “National security is too important to be left to universities…the government is the appropriate body and it should be done at the visa offices when potential students first apply to study here. The way the scheme is implemented varies widely from institution to institution. It is an unsatisfactory way to operate something as important as national security.”
Events have, of course, shown who was right and who was wrong. The consequences of this are far harder to judge. Certainly, our research shows that at the operational level, the security community was very anxious (we would argue much too anxious) about any measures which could be seen as overly pro-active and that it believed the best strategy was a softly, softly one. Their reasons for this were operational, it should be stressed, and, on the face of it, were not rooted in any way in what might be termed political correctness.30 Nevertheless, as the Prime Minister has said: things must be different now, and the security forces must take account of this.
Prior to 7/7 and 21/7, officers involved in security work were certainly fully aware of the security problems posed by universities -- but they were also mindful of the problems which could be provoked by what might be seen by students and academics as over-intrusive police or special branch investigation. Even a hint of a police presence could, they suggested, cause difficulties. In addition, the academic management of universities was complex and hard for outsiders to understand, or know how to approach. They also found it difficult to know what the powers of various bodies in universities were – could a university simply expel a student suspected of radical activity? Could a students’ union, they queried, expel a club on suspicion of extremism? Even if they could, some of those in the security community might conclude it was unwise to do so for there was experience to suggest that it could make sense to encourage students to voice their opinions and protest. Students, it was thought, would feel they were doing something and leave it there.
The security community believed it possessed a good understanding of extremism, and had done so ever since the early 1970s and even before. Officers and others were well aware, for example, that ever since the 1970s extremists from various quarters, including the National Front, had got onto campuses and sought to recruit on them. But the judgement was that it was very difficult for the police to know where to draw the line and whether they should intervene – so deciding, in effect, that to do nothing was the best policy.
The security community certainly observe groups like Al Muhajiroun. At present, however, no one in the security community knows whether particular universities are hotbeds of extremism or have any reliable means of finding out. Certainly, officers and others could understand that university outsiders or travellers who might have personal experience of operations against British or American troops in, say, Iraq would be a danger if they turned up on campuses. It would be a major step forward, the police say, if they could find out about such people. They also understand that today deliberate grooming to target problem students can easily occur. Similarly, evidence of a group shifting into extremism is always worrying.
Yet officers and others involved in security believed that they had good contacts (that is “sufficiently good contacts”) with “practically every university and higher education college in their district”. But this contact, it was stressed, was reactive and confined to campus security guards. It was contact with university security staff maintained simply in order to be able to react as quickly as possible to a security problem that had already occurred. There was absolutely no contact with academic or administrative staff established with the aim of preventing a problem from happening in the first place.
Once an event had taken place, it followed, officers were confident they could get the information they needed about any student, who they were, where they lived and so on. Indeed, members of the security community pointed out that if one knew just the name of the college a student had attended, the rest would follow easily. Nor was it necessary to “go in at the top”. Generally speaking, officers believed that once one discovered an individual of note was in higher education, it was easy to get at them.
Although there was some security interest in organisations on campus, the police and security authorities insisted that they had had always found it easier to look for individuals. As one put it: “it makes far more sense to go for the individual in the organisation, than for the organisation in the individual”. Of course, it must be pointed out that any attempt to start a policy of pro-active security would totally undermine this approach. After all, it is the “organisation in the individual” that can spark terrorist activity unless we believe (against the evidence, it has to be said) that terrorists are simply criminals and murders for whom politics is a convenient and cynical smokescreen.
Curiously, perhaps, security and police officers have also argued that the situation today at British universities is very similar to that of Communism in the 1930s where recruitment would frequently mean an individual was asked to leave the organisation, or never to join it (“come and join the KGB but leave the Party first”). It might seem to follow that membership or even attendance at an extremist event might automatically rule out an individual becoming a terrorist. In fact, of course, we would argue that this would be a reduction into the absurd, because in the case of Communists, the membership – the significant feature – had preceded the activity. Even if the formal membership then lapsed, the historical fact of membership was a significant pointer to possible future anti-democratic activity. In the 1930s, the thing to have done would have been to focus on membership lists (which met with real success) but then ask more pointed questions about what had happened to individuals once they had apparently ceased to be members. Today, formal membership of terrorist organisations may not exist but membership of groups or attendance at various meetings, political or religious, where extremist ideas are discussed would constitute a significant pointer. Police and security officers accept this and stress that they would certainly seek lists of student who are members of radical organisations if they were instructed to do so, and could see a certain logic in being asked to, but they had not been.
Officers were, however, very sceptical indeed about any pro-active security work being undertaken on Britain’s campuses. The difficulty with pro-active strategies, they suggested, was that it was hard to know whom to target. As one view had it: just because someone looked liked a radical, it did not follow that he or she was a radical. In any case, radicalisation could have already taken place, in sixth form colleges, for instance. What was more, officers pointed out that students might well not like police on campus (“people in big boots trampling around”) and plain clothes officers could easily be seen as “secret police”. There was no doubt in the minds of the security and police community that opportunities for being pro-active had become very limited indeed.
Police and security officials pointed out that individual profiling had also revealed that some extremists had started off by simply being petty criminals. The authorities underlined that there was also a difference in the ways people from different groups and communities were sucked into extremism. Some groups might seek advice from a priest or a Mullah. Mullahs were asked, for example, if people wished to change their identities. Yet there was undoubtedly a tipping point which would take an individual over the threshold and into possible terrorism. This needed to be looked out for. Police and security officers suggested that the Muslim Contact Unit in the Met was an important resource, for it would hear of radicalisation and matters such as these.
Indeed, so successful has the Muslim Contact Unit been that it has been announced that it is to be expanded out of London across the rest of the country. The move has been welcomed by Muslim groups, with Azad Ali of the Muslim Safety Forum saying: “They’ve done a lot of good work in reassuring communities.”31
The security community did accept that, since 1992 subversion was no longer a permitted target for security activity. However, they insisted, counter-terrorism work was essentially counter-subversion and since 9/11 the security community had been playing catch-up. Terrorism, they felt, was simply the new word for subversion.
We, however, would argue that there is a real difference between the two. A terrorist is someone who has already crossed the tipping point into action or a readiness for action. Subversion has to do with preparing the ground to allow the tipping point to be reached. It is subversion which primes an individual, creating the preconditions for terrorism or extremism.
The security community was also firmly opposed to the idea that covert work on campuses might supply missing answers. Indeed, some officers took the view that covert work might backfire by making it harder to detect when the tipping point had been reached. It was also true the all officers knew they had to be more aware of violence. One stated that everyone had today become much more violent – and that even quite young children were now involved in extremely violent crime.
We would suggest, however, that today there is no alternative to targeted covert work on campuses. This is a point to which we return at the end of our report. Suffice it to say here, once again, that reactive security is not sufficient to meet the national need at present. Pro-active work, without covert operations, would be endlessly time-consuming and could easily be directed to the wrong places. Only covert work would supply the authorities with the intelligence needed to pre-empt further terror attacks.
Instead of covert activity, officials believe there should be full time police officers on campus - community beat officers. Modern campuses, they point out, can include upwards of 14,000 people. It is unthinkable, they argue, that communities of that size should have no interaction with the police. Campus officers, for example, would certainly get information if anything untoward was happening. Security and police officers accepted that it would also be useful if Immigration Officers were to have an immediate means of checking with a university whether the place on the course really exists, and whether the qualifications are really genuine.
Admissions policies are also an issue of security concern in the view of officials in the field. The police do ask themselves: “Why are these people trying to get into that university? Imperial College, for example, has the means to create WMD. They have their own nuclear reactor and at Wye Agricultural College there is all the nitrate fertiliser you could want.” It is true that bomb-making can be learned, like so much else, off the internet. But information is usually not the same as knowledge, which has to be acquired and taught. Learning from a don is a much better way of learning than working off a website. A dedicated terrorist will understand this.
It is clear that the authorities face formidable problems, even if they confine themselves to what is in essence reactive control. They are forced to work, with limited resources, in a blizzard of information and are in essence incident or event led. But what is essentially reactive security work has major drawbacks. Certain things follow as a matter of course. They don’t know about people on campuses unless dangerous individuals have already been identified. They don’t know about things that might happen but haven’t happened yet. It also means that the group culture which might encourage terrorist activity is not researched and not known about.
Whilst officers plainly have good links with security staff at universities, all this facilitates in the discovery of individuals who have already been identified. Officers know virtually nothing about the peer group culture or clubs and societies, nothing about any recruitment that might be undertaken during Freshers’ Week. They seek to identify the tipping-point or Group Shift where a specific gathering of individuals makes a commitment move from mouthing extremism to becoming extremists but in fact they cannot do so if they rely simply on their existing links to security staff within universities, or on individuals (who are by definition students) who might decide to inform on their comrades. Police “university community officers” are one way forward but not a major one.
Whilst we can accept the dangers posed by travellers or outsiders reactive policing means that, at best, it is only after a visit has taken place that officers would get to know about it. It is also by no means clear that the university administration still less the academic staff would get to know if travellers or outsiders have been on campus.
The whole problem in our view, must, of course, be set in the context of how the Security Service and the other agencies have managed our security over the past twenty five years. We believe they may have spent too much time looking over their shoulder at the Government, at politicians and at powerful institutions such as the universities. They have been too nervous of appearing to interfere in affairs that were none of their business. Indeed, it is plain that all agencies, in particular MI5 since 1992, must now urgently change its policy of not working on subversion. Terrorism is, indeed, not another term for subversion which is properly defined – by MI5 – as “action intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means”. A subversive may not always be a terrorist, but a terrorist, where the purpose of terror is political, is always a subversive. Indeed, it is not far-fetched to argue that it is easier and better all round to catch a subversive whilst that is still what they are, before he or she becomes a terrorist and proves it.
To point out that the best known terrorists in today’s world have attended universities may simply be a reflection of the fact that many people attend universities. Yet whether or not it is a question of chance, the fact is that terrorists have been students. At the very least, this provided the authorities with an opportunity to identify, contain or re-educate them.
They could be influenced for the better as well as the worse, if one knew who they were. One could identify actions likely to lead to terror. The UK has had a good record of identifying people. Academics may say there is nothing to identify but do academics know what their students are doing?