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Britain Not Prepared for Terrorist Attack, Government Says - 2002-07-24

A committee of Britain's parliament says the country is not prepared to deal with a large-scale terrorist attack like the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Britain has known terrorism for decades, primarily from Irish nationalist extremists. But September 11 shows the scale of any potential future attacks could be far more devastating. And the British parliament's defense committee says the country is not prepared.

The committee's chairman, Bruce George, said two problems are the lack of coordination between departments and a lack of funding. "To meet that enormous challenge of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that may be already in the hands of terrorist organizations will require rather more effort on the part of government and the public than so far we have been able to see," he said.

A committee advisor, terrorism expert Michael Clarke, said the new threat requires new thinking. "What the government tends to say is that we know about terrorism. We know about planning for major disasters. So, we do a little bit more of this and a little bit more of that and what the committee is concerned about is that the government is not really taking on board the difference in scale that is involved," Mr. Clarke said.

A British Home Office minister, John Denham, said the government has overhauled security during the past 10 months. And he said other new measures also are in place. "We are significantly better prepared than we were last September. A huge amount of work has been done, for example, with the health service, with the emergency services, other services, to prepare for the sort of terrorist attack that we must now have in our minds," Mr. Denham said.

But the report said the British government has not done enough. It recommends more central control to counteract what it calls the real deficiencies still present in the system.

Fire crews, for instance, lack the training or equipment to cope with a large chemical, biological, or nuclear attack. And the report said communication between the emergency services and the armed forces is woefully lacking.

The committee recommends the establishment of a national police counter-terrorism service. It also said security must be reviewed more thoroughly regarding nuclear power stations and seaports.