Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson speaks at RUSI
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson gave a speech at RUSI on 'Building National Resilience'. The Commissioner said that, whilst several significant threats to UK security have been disrupted since 9/11, the threat from terrorism is a persistent and constantly changing landscape that the police, security services and public must work together to address.
Welcome and introduction
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. The Metropolitan Police and, in particular our Counter Terrorist Command, has a longstanding and special relationship with RUSI and long may it continue.
I am going talk about building national resilience within policing with the aim of combating terrorism; but I will also take this opportunity today to comment on the security versus liberty debate.
I am keen to stress how seriously we view not only the threat facing us from domestic and international terrorism, but also the impact of what we do on the freedom of our citizens.
Terrorism continues to be a persistent and enduring tactic, affecting all religions along with many different countries and communities.
In confronting this challenge, as we must, we are of course safeguarding the most basic human right - the right of ordinary people to feel safe and go about their daily lives without fear.
Like others, I don't want to inadvertently overstate the influence of terrorism and thereby give it undue promotion, because terrorism usually has two key component parts - the act itself which can kill - and the images in the media and our minds which create the fear upon which terrorists thrive.
In this address, I want to cover three broad areas of building national resilience:
Firstly, the context for this resilience - the threat we face,
Secondly, some underlying principles for our delivery of a Counter-Terrorism policing structure in the UK, including planning for the Olympic Games in 2012.
And lastly, I'll touch on the current security versus liberty debate.
The current threat
So to start with, let me say something about the threat we face from terrorism; a threat that is global, diverse and sometimes unpredictable.
Recent world events confirm Sir Stephen Lander's comments in 1991 when, as head of the Security Service, he said:
"Terrorism is here to stay. The circumstances that gave rise to it may change and terrorist organisation and state sponsorship may come and go but the phenomena is very unlikely to disappear".
When considering the threat, we must remind ourselves that, since 9/11 in 2001, there have been numerous international terrorist plots disrupted in the UK by the combined efforts of the Security and Intelligence Services working side by side with Counter Terrorist policing. Had the terrorists been successful, each one of these plots could have resulted in mass fatalities.
It could be claimed that this is a good track record, though the vivid, personal tragedies of victims and families being described presently in the Inquest into the 7/7 bombings is a reminder to us all of the potential human cost of one single day of atrocities.
Terrorism is also a constantly diversifying phenomenon and the threat landscape shifts around us all the time. Despite our decade long focus on International terrorism, for instance, we have recently seen a dangerous resurgence in the threat posed by Republican terrorist groups.
Further, we must be alert to the risk from right wing extremists, and I remind you of the neo-Nazi Ian Davison, and his son Nicky, convicted this year of making Ricin and plotting to attack the Government.
These additional, competing demands on our Counter Terrorism policing resources serve to compound the broader and more prevalent threat from AQ-inspired attacks. These, of course, are all too well known. Public places have been attacked in Mumbai and Times Square, transport systems in Madrid and London, places of worship in Lahore, Istanbul and Iraq. We have seen attacks against UK nationals in Iraq and Afghanistan and two attacks this year in Yemen against embassy staff.
And it is of course, the aviation industry that some terrorists aspire to use to further their cause.
We have seen British nationals convicted of intending to carry improvised explosive devices disguised as soft drinks on transatlantic aircraft to undertake an attack to rival 9/11.
And more recently, we have seen the discovery of explosives on cargo flights in transit through the United Kingdom to the USA.
Further testament to the evolving face of today's terror threat, we also saw a violent attack on the MP Stephen Timms by a woman radicalised on the internet.
These attacks are a reminder of the scale, the variety of methodologies of attack, the history and the global reach of terrorism. In my judgement, and this is a view shared by my senior colleagues in the Security Service, this is undoubtedly as dangerous a time as we have seen for the UK, and UK interests abroad, since the attempted attacks on the Tiger-Tiger nightclub in London and Glasgow airport in 2007. There can be no complacency.
Key principles of delivering national CT policing
Let me now outline the principles underpinning the development of our Counter-Terrorism policing structures.
It is sometimes said that society has unrealistic expectations of security - expectations that can never be satisfied.
From my perspective, counter terrorism is the only area where law enforcement is expected to get it right 100% of the time. No other area of policing is like this. Even with homicide there is a realisation that not all extreme violence can be prevented.
But one might view this high expectation as a sign of confidence by the public in our capability, and a recognition of our success in thwarting attacks to date. Perhaps - but there may also be an element of a simple inability to accept the real potential for such devastating, murderous attacks, despite the history of 7/7, in a society still for the most part relatively untouched by such events. We set ourselves high aspirations, but a note of caution - there is no such thing as absolute or perfect security. Effective, but acceptable security within a liberal democracy inevitably requires compromise, and it is for Parliament, on behalf of citizens, to balance our desire for security with the value we place on our freedoms.
In 1993, John Major said in relation to negotiating an IRA ceasefire, "making peace is a tricky business". Let me add "keeping the peace is a pretty tricky business too!"
Our first underlying principle in building resilience is the importance of relationships and partnerships, both at home and abroad.
Our relationships across agencies, governments and continents are grounded in genuine familiarity and trust, so that information sharing comes naturally and quickly, enabling our constituent parts to work seamlessly together across continents and national boundaries.
Our network of international counter terrorist liaison officers in 15 countries is a critical part of this, and of course our relationships with the Security Service, Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ.
Underpinning these relationships are sound processes and planning, robust command and control protocols; common language and operating procedures and training, and policy and strategy that is consistent and well rehearsed; so that the police responses to threats are proportionate and in accordance with human rights.
Our second underlying principle is interoperability. I have already indicated the importance of achieving synergies, both with domestic partners and internationally, and of the need for consistency of practices and processes.
Our interoperability project co-ordinates work streams across the national counter terrorist policing infrastructure, to ensure that all police resources, centred on our regional Counter Terrorism Units, are able to work together as one if and when required.
Whilst geography still dictates much of the tasking of these assets, the aim of the Interoperability project is to ensure that operational procedures, tactics and information technology are mutually compatible. This is intended to enable us to provide a resilient, and consistent, policing response to terrorist incidents wherever, and on whatever scale, they manifest themselves.
Our third principle is a national infrastructure that has the capability and capacity to deal with threats, overseen by the Met. Police Service Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations and delivered by the police Senior National Co-ordinator who can direct and control investigations in the event of a national counter terrorist incident.
Unlike our capability for dealing with serious organised crime, and of course I have commented previously on our disappointing progress in creating police structures nationally to competently address that particular challenge, within counter terrorism policing we are fortunate to have both an effective intelligence infrastructure alongside an integrated and comprehensive operational capability for dealing with it.
The current National Co-ordinator of Terrorist Investigations (NCTI) undertakes national co-ordination of regional hubs alongside the Security Service and with the full agreement of Chief Constables. This has taken considerable time, effort and frankly sweat to develop, but it works well.
Developed since 2005, the National counter terrorist infrastructure consists of four Counter Terrorism Units in addition to the Met's Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) here in London. By virtue of its size, experience and capacity, the Met's 'CTC' will naturally take the lead on many major counter terrorist incidents but the four CTUs, based respectively at West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Thames Valley, replicate the full investigative capability of the Met's CTC on a regional basis, thereby providing counter terrorist policing resilience across England and Wales. These units are now fully established in their own right and provide regional expertise in counter terrorism investigation.
These 5 hubs are, in turn, supported by 5 Counter Terrorism Intelligence Units (including Scotland) and, of course, individual Force Special Branch capabilities that deliver surveillance and intelligence support to provide a truly national counter terrorist operational capability to complement the efforts of our partners in the Security Service.
I am proud, though most certainly not complacent, of the track record of New Scotland Yard in tackling terrorism. Our history of dealing with terrorism goes back at least as far as 1883, when our own Great Scotland Yard was bombed by the forerunners of the Irish Republican terrorist movement, prompting the creation of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch a few months later.
The Met plays a significant role in our ability to move our counter terrorist policing response from the local to regional to national and then to international - swiftly and seamlessly. It is a strength of the UK system and the envy of our partners across the world.
It allows us to manage complex international investigations in a proportionate and sensitive manner, whilst acknowledging and dealing with local community concerns and impact.
I describe this as a vital part of the balanced model of policing with the UK. The balance of uniform Beat officers patrolling their beat, building community confidence, alert to signs that may suggest terrorist activity, balanced by less visible, but specialist colleagues leading counter terrorist investigations and sharing intelligence regionally, nationally and internationally with partner agencies here and abroad. It is this balanced model, both in counter terrorism and wider policing, that works to keep our streets safe. No one part alone can achieve this.
Our Counter terrorist liaison officers around the world were once themselves beat officers on our streets and can, if necessary, pick up the phone and speak direct to a Safer Neighbourhood Team officer about a particular suspect living on their patch. There are no barriers to understanding - they work for the same organisation and know what each is capable of achieving. This is the unique strength of our Counter Terrorism policing - our ability to move to and from the local to the international in fast time.
Before I move off this area, let me give you one other example of how our resilience in combating terrorism has been built up in recent years: our experience and capability in dealing with terrorists' use of the internet and other hi-tech storage media.
Just as we have, in the past, had to sift through rubble and debris from bomb-scenes, looking for component parts of explosive devices to forensicate and reconstruct; now we seize and sift through everything that today's terrorist suspects have downloaded, emailed, saved or otherwise generated on their PC, laptop or smart-Phone.
This has added a whole new technological dimension to our terrorist investigation practices, and it is a challenge that can only be fully understood if we remind ourselves of how the storage capacity of personal computers and media has burgeoned in the last two decades.
In 1994 the largest commercially available hard drive was 340 megabytes in size and cost roughly £600. Today a 1.5million megabyte hard drive (or 1.5 'Terabytes') costs around £120. A Terabyte is capable of storing 220 million pages of text, 1.5 million photographs or 16,000 hours of music.
In 2009, our two largest Counter Terrorist operations resulted in the seizure of 4 Terabytes and 3.5 Terabytes respectively. The enormity of challenge associated with the scale of these technological recoveries and the prospect of detailed examination is clear.
That said, we know from experience that terrorists and their supporters use computers and the Internet for a variety of purposes. The broadest and most overt of these is the posting of inflammatory propaganda and extremist material, aimed at radicalising others and persuading them, albeit often indirectly, into committing violent offences.
On a more direct and - from their point of view - covert basis, we have previously found evidence of terrorist suspects using computers and the Internet to plan and facilitate terrorist attacks; including discussing such things 'on-line', using tools such as Internet based mapping systems for hostile reconnaissance, and raising and exchanging funds for their activities.
Following an investigation which centred around such use of the Internet for terrorist purposes, in 2007 a man named Younes Tsouli pleaded guilty to "inciting another person to commit an act of terrorism....which would, if committed in England and Wales, constitute murder".
Tsouli, who had described himself as a 'cyber jihadist' and used the nick name 'irhabi (meaning terrorist) 007' was - amongst other things - circulating instructional videos on how to build an explosive suicide body-vest. He was ultimately sentenced to 16 years imprisonment for his involvement in a plot which spanned Europe.
2012 Olympic Games
I've discussed the threats facing us and the infrastructure for dealing with those threats, but I haven't yet mentioned the Olympic Games, the largest staged event on the planet. We must not underestimate the scale of the challenge we face in providing for a secure and safe event.
Once again, success will be dependent on relationships and partnerships, all working closely together as one team. This is the reality of our current work, with the development of top class cross-agency collaboration, building upon what we have and incorporating the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), LOCOG, the event organiser, and Home Office colleagues in the Olympic Security Directorate (OSD).
This is a hugely complex challenge - not least because of the enduring terrorist threat we face, but also incorporating concerns about serious organised crime and, of course, public order. You'll have seen the unacceptable destruction caused by a minority element during the National Union of Student's march two weeks ago. We cannot be blind to this potential threat.
But life is about balance, and our guiding principle remains that the Olympics is a sporting event, not a security event, and we are therefore making every effort to design a security regime that is reassuringly visible but not oppressive.
We are planning a 'blue games' - policed by the British Police Service in the form of the predominantly unarmed British bobby policing style, operating with the consent and support of the public.
And this is of course not just about the Games - we still have to service London's citizens and communities, and we will be relying on mutual aid from other police forces around the country to assist in our task.
Security versus liberty debate
I would like to finish by commenting specifically, but briefly, on the security versus liberty debate because it is relevant to building national resilience. Indeed, in many ways the entirety of this address has been about just that.
I have always believed that whilst security is a key pre-requisite for the effective enjoyment of rights, policing, appropriately and sensitively deployed, can both protect liberty and deliver security simultaneously, but this is a difficult balance and occasionally we can get it wrong. So it is right that we are subject to the most rigorous scrutiny, because of course we have great power entrusted to us.
My start point is that Parliament decides what legislation is appropriate and what powers are available to policing. It is their job to achieve the legislative balance.
I am conscious that in the past, Chief Police officers may have strayed inadvertently, and perhaps unintentionally, into looking like we were part of the decision making apparatus. Our role is to inform the debate with our professional opinion. It is for elected politicians to take account of that opinion when deciding upon what legislation should be made available to us. This is a heavy responsibility, and it is theirs to discharge wisely.
I am very aware of the current debates about Control Orders, use of Section 44 in relation to stop and search, pre-charge detention for terrorism, DNA retention and other powers that impact on the freedoms of citizens.
I respect those that have to make these difficult decisions and I am clear about one thing - this is difficult territory - these are fine judgements and there are no black and white answers, no absolutes - only shades of grey.
Let me take Section 44 as an example, the power to stop and search without reasonable grounds which we have used extensively as a deterrent power.
I was worried for some time about the damage this power had caused to public confidence in policing and about the volume of stops and the feedback we were getting.
We responded, however, and took the decision in July 2009 to limit the power to certain sites based on vulnerability and a risk assessment process, vastly reducing the number of stops. Indeed, following the European Court of Human Rights ruling this year and the subsequent guidance issued around the continued use of Section 44 by the Home Secretary in July 2010 the decision was taken not to seek to renew the authorisation to use the power at this current time.
This is one example of the police discharging our own heavy responsibility, listening and balancing our actions appropriately
And following reviews of our use of this power we have recently indicated, in our view, that changes to section 44 could be made to ensure it's more discreet and sparing use in times of increased threat. Public safety remains our top priority and we continue to use all other powers available to us to maintain London as a hostile environment for terrorists.
So to conclude. whilst it is likely that terrorism of one sort or other will always be with us, we aspire to match the high public expectation that has been rightly set for us.
From the Prime Minister and the Cabinet down to every Police Constable on the beat, we share the same objective of keeping all of our citizens safe from the threat of terrorism. Indeed, this is, I believe, a shared objective of all our communities.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that this is his number one priority.
Jonathan Evans, the Director General of MI5, recently said that at any one time his organisation has a number of investigations which involve the real possibility of a terrorist attack being planned against the United Kingdom.
But the skills of our Security Agencies in gathering intelligence and the efforts our Police Forces make to turn that intelligence into prosecutions are not, on there own, enough to combat the persistent threat.
The best protection for us all is in public vigilance and awareness, and a willingness to report concerns about unusual behaviour - whether that involves a single individual or a group of people.
Anyone who has information has a number of ways of getting that to the relevant authorities, whether it is through the Anti-Terrorist Hotline or via the MI5 website. Their information could save lives and their anonymity is guaranteed.
Terrorists search for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our systems, and in turn we need to do all we can to deter them by ensuring we take every protective measure. Again this goes beyond the capabilities of the Police alone.
We need to ensure that those responsible for the protection of public buildings, or iconic sites, and those organising public events are aware of their responsibilities. Security managers need to ensure their staff are alert to the terrorist threat, are well briefed and well trained in what they need to look out for.
The public will always be our eyes and ears on the street and in our communities and their role in keeping the country safe is invaluable.
We strive to get counter terrorism right 100% of the time and judge ourselves harshly when we don't. We strive to detect, arrest and put away terrorists, as we would any other serious organised crime group. With the consequences of terrorism so great, I expect nothing less from my officers and staff; but everyone must play their part in keeping our society safe.
On 3rd November this year at RUSI, the Home Secretary stated:
'I want an approach which is more targeted against extremist individuals, which marginalises them to the edge of society where they belong, but that impacts much less on the good people of our communities. I want an approach which allows people to enjoy their liberty in safety and security. And I want an approach where we only use powers which are necessary, proportionate and effective to deal with an ongoing, evolving and serious threat. That is what I am focussed on delivering.'
I agree and see this as a personal challenge to myself, my counter terrorism colleagues and the police service more broadly. Success to me looks like the absence of attacks, the elimination of safe havens and the disruption of recruitment. Success is also about winning and maintaining public support and confidence in our counter terrorist measures. It is all about achieving this critical balance.
*Please note that this is an unedited transcript of the speech given on 24 November 2010 and that the views expressed in this speech are the views of the author and not those of RUSI*