On Monday 5 November in his first public speech, Jonathan Evans, Director General of the Security Service, spoke to The Society of Editors about the challenges facing his service and, in particular, the threat from violent extremism.
The public identification of around 2,000 individuals being of direct threat to the UK (an increase from the 1,600 cited by ex-DG Eliza Manningham-Buller in November 2006) is significant, if only for the qualifications applied. The DG observed that this growth has been driven both by the extended coverage facilitated by MI5’s growth and regional expansion and a ‘steady flow’ of new recruits.
This is a fundamental, profoundly important and incomplete appraisal. Firstly, this dichotomy of growth versus identification leads to a difficulty in determining the extent of resources required to increase knowledge relative to the rate of growth of the number of individuals. Secondly, the missing factor is the extent to which the process of expansion in knowledge itself affects the rate of growth. Here we must consider the shorter-term protective arrangements in place that may affect wider opinions and pathways to extremism. In essence it returns us to the short-term/long-term objectives dilemma in which the mitigation of attack may, to some degree, perpetuate the growth of the number of individuals being ‘radicalized’.
It is clear from the statement made that understanding the rate of growth of ‘new recruits’ and precisely what drives them (i.e. actual or perceived approaches to countering the threat and/or wider issues), is fundamental to understanding what the primary drivers of extremism are, and subsequently, if the policies aimed at mitigating immediate threat are feeding the longer-term growth in violent extremism.
The DG alludes indirectly to this point through an observation of the limits of his (and by small extension, the Police’s) service. As the breadth and nature of support for violent extremism has become clearer, and as the networked form of terrorist cells involved has been evidenced, the need for a wider approach than disruption, arrest and other protective security initiatives has been driven home.
The DG describes the effort to counter violent extremism as ‘a collective effort in which Government, faith communities and wider civil society have an important part to play’. In addition, the much media-hyped influence that extremist ideas may hold over youth, and the function of elder extremists and recruiters in influencing them, is driven home. However, the influence of extremists and recruiters through infiltration of schools and youth organizations is a child protection issue – not a situation with which we are unfamiliar for an array of reasons. Similarly, the existence of such influences in the wider community, across a range of ages, points us in a pre-emptive sense in the direction of social work – in the same way that educating, enabling and encouraging members of society has produced productive and content citizens for decades.
The much-quoted comments around the recruitment of youth into extremism has echoes of John Reid’s unfortunately articulated and represented comments that were interpreted as encouraging parents to ‘spy’ on their children. This time the message is clearer and, perhaps by virtue of position, more credibly received. It is that we all share a responsibility to prevent our susceptible youth from being drawn into activity that may substantially harm them and wider society. It is a responsibility substantially similar to that and those activities that try to encourage youth to stay away from drugs, gangs and crime. This is at the core of the observation of a role for Government and civil society which is far beyond the actual and desirable reach of the Police and Security Service.
Head of Terrorism and International Homeland Security
November 11, 2007
The views of the author are not meant to represent the views of RUSI.