UK should talk to al-Qaeda, says former head of MI5

Former director general of MI5 Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller was head of MI5 between 2002 and 2007

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The British government should be "reaching out" to al-Qaeda, the former head of MI5 has suggested.

Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller said she believed the "war on terror" was not winnable in a military sense.

"It's always better to talk to the people who are attacking you than attacking them, if you can," she said.

However, a former CIA director says the use of unmanned drone aircraft to target al-Qaeda leaders is turning the conflict.

In her first television interview, Baroness Manningham-Buller reflects on the UK's intelligence services' role in tackling home-grown terror plots supported or encouraged by al-Qaeda.

She suggests a safer future with fewer attacks is achievable.

"If we can get to a state where there are fewer attacks, less lethal attacks, fewer young people being drawn into this, less causes - resolution of the Palestinian question, less impetus for this activity, I think we can get to a stage where the threat is thus reduced," she told Peter Taylor for the BBC Two series, The Secret War on Terror.

The baroness said she hoped people were trying to talk to "people on the edges of al-Qaeda".

"There won't be a Waterloo or an El-Alamein," she added.

WATCH THE PROGRAMME

  • The Secret War on Terror is broadcast on Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2100GMT on BBC. Or catch up afterwards on BBC iPlayer

Critics of the "war on terror" have argued that the torture of terror suspects and the continuing use of Guantanamo Bay for detainees has led to a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda.

Baroness Manningham-Buller says hearts and minds are critical in combating terrorism.

"I think making sure we hold to our values, our ethical standards, our laws, and are not tempted to go down a route which others, in my view have made the profound mistake of going down, means in the longer run we'll have a chance from that moral authority of addressing some of the underlying causes of these problems," she said.

Drone attacks

Meanwhile, a former CIA chief told the programme that the increasing use of pilotless aircraft armed with weapons is helping the US win the fight against terrorism.

Former director of CIA Gen Michael Hayden Former director of CIA Gen Michael Hayden denies drone attacks are unlawful assassinations

Gen Michael Hayden was director of the CIA until 2009 and in a rare interview he described the secretive CIA drone operation as: "The best game in town. The one that's shifted the battlefield in our favour...

"It has been a very strong significant force in making the al-Qaeda senior leadership spend most of their waking moments worrying about their survival, rather than threatening yours or mine. And that is a war-winning effort."

The CIA's programme has been criticised as "state-sponsored assassination" but Gen Hayden denies they are unlawful assassinations.

"In the traditional conduct of war and that's the punchline here, this is a war, you asked the question 'Aren't these assassinations?'. No they're not assassinations," he said.

"This is armed conflict, this is action against opposing armed enemy force, this is an inherent right of the American state to self-defence."

Peter Taylor will report for BBC Two's The Secret War on Terror on Monday, 21 March, at 2100 GMT. Catch up afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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