War against terrorism will fail, says former MI5 head

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President Bush's war against global terrorism is destined for failure, the former head of MI5, Stella Rimington, warned yesterday.

Dame Stella, who was speaking about the military action in Afghanistan, said that terrorism could never be wiped out altogether. And she warned that there could be a repeat of the attack on New York because the intelligence network was not advanced enough.

The former director general, a diplomat's wife who rose to the highest position within the intelligence service before retiring five years ago, was speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in Gloucestershire to promote her autobiography, Open Secret.

She said: "I do not feel incredibly confident about this war against terrorism. I think it is encouraging to see that there is better, closer collaboration between the world's intelligence agencies. That is quite positive, but rooting out terrorism strikes me as an extremely difficult thing to do.

"Terrorism is with us. New groups will come who regard terrorism as useful in drawing attention to their causes. I don't think rooting it out for all time is a very practical objective."

Dame Stella, who worked for MI5 for 27 years, said the spy network was not advanced enough to predict exactly when and where terrorists would strike. "There is no such thing as 100 per cent intelligence," she said. "There will always be a risk that terrorist incidents may take place because there is not sufficiently advanced intelligence."

Since 11 September, some of Dame Stella's critics within MI5 have blamed her for the failure of British intelligence to keep track of Islamic terrorists. They say she diverted resources towards in Northern Ireland and organised crime, particularly drugs.

In 1994 Dame Stella disbanded the special unit known as G7, a "joint section" set up with MI6 to monitor Islamic terrorism. As a result, when the threat from Osama bin Laden began to become apparent in 1998, vital experience and continuity had been lost, her critics said.