Reflections by Admiral Lord West of Spithead
The events of 11 September 2001 still bring shock and horror after all these years.
I was the newly appointed Commander in Chief Navy based in the Northwood Headquarters to the North-West of London and first became aware of something happening in New York when my red phone linking to the UK deterrent rang and I was told there was some excitement in the US missile triad control centre over real world events. They had been told not to raise readiness for firing but I was unclear as to why such an instruction.
It rapidly became clear that there had been a major incident in New York and then that it was terrorist related.
As the terrible events of that day slowly unfolded the impact and loss of life resulting from this act of terrorism only slowly dawned on me. I had been involved in the counter terrorist world as Chief of Defence Intelligence for some 3 years between 1998 and 2001 and was well aware of Islamist Terrorists’ desire to commit a terrorist act on a grand scale. Indeed numerous planned atrocities had been foiled because of the amazing work by our Agencies and Counter Terrorist specialists. Even with this background the impact of the Twin Towers attack was stupefying.
All commercial aircraft in the US were grounded and the hundreds of aircraft heading from Europe to the USA told to turn round. There was mayhem in the airspace over the North Atlantic which I am proud to say was resolved by Royal Naval air defence destroyers assuming the job of air traffic controllers.
The world rallied round the USA and there was near total blanket condemnation of what had happened.
What became clear was that there is no doubt the world was different after 9/11. The complete indifference to the fate of individual human beings of those perpetrating terrorist attacks was starkly illustrated. The failure of terrorism as a method of arguing ones point highlighted. The killing of so many innocents, from over 90 nations -dozens of whom were Muslim- left most people aghast. The clear linkages between terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and the use of its graduates to carry out global terrorist attacks was established and the reluctance of the Afghanistan regime to do anything about it led to the first ever NATO Article 5 operation and the invasion of that country.
The world certainly had changed.
It is now twenty-two years since the harrowing events of 9/11 and it is important that lessons have been learnt about the dangers of youth becoming radicalised and the impact of terrorism.
SINCE 9/11 is dedicated to using education to teach those lessons and make the world a better, safer place. And the dangers change with time. For example recent research shows that conspiracy theories in the classroom pose a very real threat, alongside disinformation and “deep fakes”, and the next generation require the skills to spot the signs of manipulation.
These conspiracy theories even go as far as to say the event never even took place, or that it was a Western plot.
This is why I am such a stalwart supporter, and why it is so important we should support the work of SINCE 9/11.
Admiral Lord West of Spithead