Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1200 - 1219)




  1200. If I could follow up on that. In the 19th century almost all urban centres had military units deployed nearby, much more I suspect for internal security than the threat from Napoleon or his successors. We do not really have that now. The army, much of it, is deployed abroad. The TA footprint is being very sharply reduced. When we have spoken to people earlier in our inquiry people see the military coming as a bonus that they cannot count upon and if they do count upon them then there is a problem of whether they will have to pay for them. In the House of Commons at the moment they are debating the Police Reform Bill. Now we have within that the concept we have already of support for the police, which the Police Federation does not really like, and we have private security held up to now in pretty low repute but about to be reformed as a result of regulation. When we spoke to Mr Veness in New Scotland Yard he spoke about relationships between the police and the business community who do an enormous amount to protect themselves. Could you comment on where you see the non state sector is in response to a medium level or major catastrophe? There are not enough soldiers around or TA personnel that you would need to seal off a city with so many roads leaving that city. In your thinking—maybe I could ask Mr Veness also this question—how do you think you could incorporate these police auxiliaries, community safety personnel, a competent section of the private security industry, the business community who are amongst the biggest hirers of private security? Is there any room for these in your emergency planning disaster recovery preparations?
  (Mr Goldsmith) Certainly the creation of community support officers will provide more resources. Basically what we are looking for there are bodies to carry out pretty much low tech tasks such as securing areas. If one thinks of the bomb in Manchester where, again, a large portion of the city centre was cordoned off then that was managed quite effectively. The use of the military would be seen as a bonus. Less than a hundred years ago they were deployed in Lincoln for that purpose but caused more of a problem than they were there to deal with.

  1201. And Manchester with the Peterloo massacre, so there is a history.
  (Mr Goldsmith) Peterloo, exactly the same. One must learn from history. However, we have good relationships with the military and in an event of any magnitude, major disaster, one looks to the military to try to incorporate them and say what skills do we have or is there a gap that we need to fill and can the military provide that? It might be in terms of civil engineering, it might be in terms of amphibious craft in flooding or it could be in terms of cordons, and there were examples used at Lockerbie and others so that is there. The creation of a larger Territorial Army purely for that purpose is perhaps not recognising what we need and not necessarily trained soldiers, airmen or sailors but individuals who one can call upon when they are needed. There are a number of civilian support organisations at the moment. If one thinks of national parks and their wardens, there are some wardens along the Wash, the Norfolk/Lincolnshire area, they are the sort of people that in our force plans and other force plans one has contacts for to use for their skills. The other issue in terms of territorial, if there is an event in a city or town a large number of those territorial soldiers would be engaged in their normal day to day activity, for example Territorial Royal Army Medical Corps, actually the nurses and doctors in the hospitals, one has to say then "Do we need them in a Territorial Army Medical Unit or in the hospital". I do not think it is an issue where there is an easy answer other than to say in the event of an incident of anywhere near this scale one looks to use whatever resources are available however they can best be used to meet the need.

  1202. The planning would be there so people might know in advance they would be called upon as opposed to it arising and having to put an announcement on the television.
  (Mr Goldsmith) That is right. One might know who one would call but in terms of day to day availability I would guess it would be a pretty impossible task to keep that up to date for every individual that one might wish to call out.

  1203. Mr Veness?
  (Mr Veness) I agree with everything Alan says. It is possible also to try and broaden the focus. In terms of the military per se they are absolutely invaluable partners in counter-terrorism. British counter-terrorism is indispensably supportive. I can think of three key areas which I would describe as designated counter-terrorism in terms of EOD support, bomb disposal, in terms of the support for search operations and special forces giving a capability which is beyond that which can be provided by any UK police force. I think that is the designated area of counter-terrorism where the military role is absolutely critical. I think you have a label Alan was describing which is almost in the dire need category where if a sudden catastrophe emerges the military is available then with whatever available assets they can muster and be as ever disposed to assist, and I am sure that will happen. There is then the rather more complicated issue, which you were referring to Chairman, of how do we go around counter-terrorist reinforcement. One can imagine a variety of scenarios. If we need to evacuate a city, if we had a massive scene or if, for example, there was a threat which required us to protect a sector of British industry which is pretty geographically spread, for example, power, how would we go about that? We have not got a gendarmerie. We have not got a third force. We have none of those other issues, a national guard. There is a real opportunity to develop here this discussion. My batting order would be somewhere like the special constabulary is a very obvious first port, they are already a part of British policing and are readily available and aligned with what we do everyday. Then I would turn to the private security industry if only because if one looks at sectors of major cities there are areas which are effectively and certainly numerically policed by private security. If we were to travel to Canary Wharf we would see somewhere in the region of four to one of the ratio of private security which is working to very beneficial effect there as opposed to sworn police officers. We are seeking to develop with the security industry representatives ways in which that could be developed. We have had a very encouraging response. It is corporate citizenship and there is a sense of provided this is on a relatively defined role but I think there is more to be proven in that task. There is then the role of the police auxiliary within London. We are looking to implement those. One of those purposes would be counter-terrorism because we are otherwise short of numbers. The alternative is to pull a police officer away from dealing with a burglary, preventing street robbery and stopping car crime but the public, very understandably, have a view around that. Then I think you are into what might the volunteer reserve contribute but I think we need to have a very specified thought in mind: building upon the best of the local volunteering spirit which is much to be commended but in a way that does not relegate people to be merely static guards for protracted periods which do not appear to have a beginning, middle or end, I do not think that would be a valued role. It is finding within that raft and then you have got what I describe as the others, which is not unkind, it is all of the charitable otherwise non governmental sector who might be bought. I think the useful discussion is around a broader concept of counter-terrorist reinforcement in which context the volunteer reserve undoubtedly would play a key role. I think the equation between no third force therefore a volunteer reserve is actually out of kilter with the way the resources are currently deployed within British structures.

  1204. I presume there is no problem in deploying large numbers of policemen from other police areas? I remember a threat in the early 1980s arising in my constituency, two bus loads of coppers from Port Talbot drove around the town which certainly had a deterrent effect on the criminals. I presume there are clearly exercised and written procedures for large numbers of policemen from neighbouring authorities moving in?
  (Mr Goldsmith) Yes, there are indeed. We established a National Information Intelligence Co-ordinating Centre which enables forces to share resources so that every morning if that room is open somewhere like Lincolnshire would phone in to say we have two police support units available that day or for the following week and then they are redeployed to wherever the need is.

Syd Rapson

  1205. One of your briefs we had earlier talked about you considering resources to assist the police in emergencies both before and after terrorist incidents as such, maybe that is to do with the civil side, and you have been explaining most of the resources required. How is the police service actually coping at the moment with the responsibility of increased anti-terrorism activity and doing their normal policing? There must be some pressures at the moment building up with numbers. How are they doing at the moment?
  (Mr Veness) We are in danger of doing both jobs less professionally than we might, Sir. We need to continue to respond to all of the concerns that the public very properly expects of its police service. The classic demands that I have described are in relation to street robbery, burglary but it applies also to missing children and other offences where we need to be alert and responsive in an extremely professional way to public expectations. That is what we want to do and we want to do that job professionally. I think almost the last eight months have given us a role which has required an equal degree of sustained and reinforced professionalism which is around the new dimension of internal security. I think British policing is now faced with two very important roles and, to be candid, we have been resourced in order to perform one of those truly professionally. How has British policing coped over the last X number of years? Well, it has moved backwards and forwards between these various functions. We have moved people to do the jobs in these respective roles. I do not think—and many colleagues would agree—that the new world challenge that we face provides us with any alternative but to seek to do both those functions as professionally as we can achieve and on a long term basis. That has been at the heart of the arguments that we have been making in relation to resourcing for the security resources.

  1206. Whilst we respect the professionalism of the police service, and I think we all do that, there must come a time when the fear and the danger that was aroused out of this September attack is starting to die down a bit and the police officers are starting to think "I am not going to do two jobs now and get paid for one". I know they are not doing it on a scale of money but they are putting themselves out to an nth degree because of security and trusting their loyalty. Is there a point in time when they will get to the point of saying "Enough is enough".
  (Mr Veness) Yes. The number of occasions that we have had to get through in the last eight months to cancel leave, not only holidays but the two days off a week that an officer is entitled to, on a very, very regular basis indeed, that is unacceptable even in the short term. It is no way to run professional security for the United Kingdom. It is on that basis that we are suggesting that to deliver a service that is effective for the public we need to think very carefully about the long term resourcing of both overt and covert counter-terrorist activity.

Mr Cran

  1207. Gentlemen, we live in an open society and of course that is a huge strength to us but it is also a weakness—I suspect you would have to agree—in terms of combatting terrorism. Therefore, against that background I am bound to say when I have been in my own constituency I have just conceptually thought to myself "What in this area is a possible target?" and I have concluded what I have concluded, and I will not outline what it is. It does raise a question of whether there have been any assessments made nationally or regionally of possible targets in the United Kingdom? One has to take the view that they might not necessarily be only static installations, they could also be moveable ones.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  1208. What assessment has been made?
  (Mr Veness) The point is entirely pertinent. The issue around people, locations and events has been one of the key areas of review. Put bluntly, are the arrangements that are the results of 30 years' experience of combatting terrorism on a different scale, are they fit for purpose for these new dimensions of activity? For example, do they defend against the suicide bomb? Do they defend against a simultaneous attack delivered with great ruthlessness on a particular day? Do they take account of the symbolic and the significant which clearly 11 September targets were and the apparent desire to cause ruthlessly mass death at the same time? We do not only need to concentrate on the people, locations and events but if one looks at the track record of al-Qaeda there is also a history of the attacks being distinct and innovative so it is not necessarily what it was last time. That picture is even more complicated if I can revert to the pyramid that we were describing in terms of the three tiers of threat. I think that means that all of the other methods are there as well: the gun, the bomb, kidnapping, hostage taking, aircraft hijacking, all of those threats remain because they are within the competence of those groups. One could imagine ways in which they could achieve symbolic impact by a combination of events which would not necessarily be as deadly as 11 September but nevertheless would bring their intentions to notice. I think we have got not only all of the problems of the new scale of terrorism but we have not lost the problems that we already had. Put those two together and there is a very real task around when one can concentrate on the immobile target, looking at venues which maybe not in the past would have been regarded as absolutely critical to the national infrastructure but now are both important and vulnerable and, question mark, what are we doing around the security of those locations? Undoubtedly that will be continuing work. A great deal has gone on and a great deal of analysis, as you would expect, beginning at the top tier. The scale of protective security which will now be necessary around the United Kingdom across a range of vulnerable industries, vulnerable sites and indeed the movement of material between those sites again is on a scale that we were not envisaging nearly eight months ago.

  1209. Just so I understand this. You are indicating clearly to the Committee that a great deal of work has and is being done.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  1210. Would you specifically say to me that there is a list of highly sensitive targets that is in the ownership of whoever in the United Kingdom now?
  (Mr Veness) We are continuing a review. As you would predict there has always been such a list in relation to those venues without which the United Kingdom cannot enjoy continuity of business in the commercial sense, those which are absolutely critical to the national infrastructure. What has occurred in the last nearly eight months has been a very significant extension beyond those venues which could be regarded as absolutely vital to national continuity but which are clearly potentially symbolic, significant, vital sites which meet the criteria in one form or another. That list not only exists but sadly is expanding hourly and daily as the work goes on. The list of itself only has merit if we then put in place advisory mechanisms, preventative and defence mechanisms which reduce the vulnerability of those targets. Clearly that work is and needs to be pursued. I would not pretend that it is painting the Forth Bridge but it is a very significant extra dimension of business both for policing and a whole range of other agencies and indeed the impact it will have on commerce.

  1211. I am grateful for that. Moving on. The Committee will produce its report in the fullness of time and it has got to be a realistic report, of course. One of the things which concerns us is how the United Kingdom could deal with well prepared, sustained and maybe even multiple attacks on our infrastructure. How well prepared are we?
  (Mr Veness) Alan may wish to comment.
  (Mr Goldsmith) Yes. This is where work is going on in the UK Resilience and London Resilience Committees under the CCS structure because it is about how we keep vital resources, vital industries working. I think it is fair to say that a lot of work has been done, a lot of gaps identified and gaps are being filled. That is a continuing process as David mentioned previously. Very difficult, I suggest, whether one puts a percentage figure or whatever else, what sort of answer you are looking for there. The best I would offer is that being aware of the issues and the difficulties and of national resilience then a lot of work is underway at the moment. I think to identify specific areas of concern is perhaps not a role here in a public forum. I think the important thing is that work through the CCS is continuing quickly on that together with co-operation from across the piece.

  1212. Perhaps what you could say is that our ability to respond is—one could use any collection of words one wanted to—infinitely better now than it was pre—11 September? Could you say that?
  (Mr Goldsmith) It is far better than it was pre—11 September because we have changed now the planning assumption. Therefore having changed the planning assumption, particularly in terms of scale, we are working towards meeting that. The difficulty I guess comes if I say I am confident that we can meet something of the scale of 11 September, the next incident might be three times that size involving far more and different risks and I think that is a difficult area that we get into. Certainly compared with the situation pre- 11 September then the emergency services, local authorities, central Government departments are far more focused and far more able to respond both in terms of dealing with the risk and also the consequences of an event where having thought through and tested some of the assumptions which follow then we are in a better place both in terms of individual awareness and training but also in terms of equipment to deal with something of that nature.

  1213. My last question, Chairman, is simply this. The likelihood is that if one wanted to do what al-Qaeda did to the West on 11 September, you can do the same thing. So it could be quite easy to destabilise a capitalist society, of course, by attacking business, the City and so on and, indeed, we have seen a bit of that in the City of London already. Therefore presumably what you could do is interfere with information technology and all the rest of it. Does this come within your thinking?
  (Mr Veness) Yes. There are 12 areas, and I think I have shared them in a note to the Committee, which we have identified as what we describe as the long term review themes. They are the agenda, the template which we think is an enduring checklist that we need to be examining every day to make sure that we are making progress against not only what are the obvious changed dimensions of the threat but the way in which we, the authorities, are collectively responding to that. Clearly included in those is the terrorist both use and abuse of IT because they are doing both. They are using IT as an innovative communications and logistics mechanism and indeed a financial movement mechanism in a global sense. They are gaining the benefits of IT. They are potentially abusing IT in using it as a target, as a means of impacting on our own economic systems, our own communications systems. We are very alert to both those dimensions of this form of terrorism. Al-Qaeda has demonstrated, certainly, innovative application in the use and we are looking very carefully at both that group and others in relation to attack abuse.

  Mr Cran: I must read my papers more carefully next time.

Jim Knight

  1214. In recent months we have seen two major robberies at Heathrow in five weeks. We are seeing British Airways Security and British Airports Authority we are meeting tomorrow. We have another session with representatives from the private security industry partly in response to issues around airport and airline security. I note comments which may or may not have been made by you expressing concern, and I am sure there is concern, about those robberies and about the past regime and CCTV as well. Can you talk us through a little bit your concern about airport security?
  (Mr Veness) Yes. It would be foolish indeed, given the precise nature of the attacks on 11 September, if one did not focus on transport security—land, sea and air—as a critical issue. That is very obviously a recurrent threat and it is a means also by which aircraft have been used as missiles in order to cause mass casualties. Clearly it has to be at the top of everybody's agenda. I think we start from a position in the United Kingdom where we have some very significant assets and a great deal of energy and goodwill which I think stands well by a great many international comparisons. The Department of Transport, the TRANSEC arrangements, the goodwill and the commitment of the British Airports Authority and all the airlines and a great many people who make up the aviation community. We are lucky indeed in the United Kingdom and I think the track record back to the Aviation Security Act, the lessons learnt and applied after the tragedy of Lockerbie have put us in a significantly beneficial position. I think one needs to give credit to all of those agencies who are engaged. Despite what the media might have reported I am an unequivocal supporter and value everything that is done in that regard. But, could we try harder, could we do more, yes. If we look hard at the position which prevails post 11 September, I think we need to look with a different scale of threat in mind. I for one am relatively contemptuous of the distinction between ordinary crime and terrorist crime because I fear that where a thief goes so could a terrorist go. If it is possible to move cocaine and if it is possible to move a smuggled human being then I fear that route could well be exploited by those who have political crime in mind as well as felonious outcome in their motivation. I think one needs to be careful about drawing a distinction between those. Where are the practical areas of difficulty? I think we do need to look very carefully at what we have achieved in terms of CCTV coverage at the whole of the airport. They will have arisen for different reasons because we have got different control agencies with different priorities. The priority now is to stop mass murder so we must look at each and every camera deployment and ask "Does it achieve that objective?" If it does that then it could be doing smuggling and other things as well, I make the case simply. CCTV is one area. Another area is around he or she who has access to the airside restricted zones. I think there is a great deal more we could be doing and are now doing in relation to ensuring that only those who genuinely need the passes and are vetted in the sense that they pass their employee's references, they are vetted in terms of criminal record and they are subject to review by their companies, only those individuals should have the privilege of airside access. Then there are issues around the restricted zone. Is it wise in this sort of world that we only have one restricted zone to which once you have gained access you then are able to move airside—that is not the totality of the position—or should we be moving to a more rigorous security regime whereby we subdivide the restricted zone? I think there are those and a raft of other questions. I think there is also a foundation question in that given that aviation security has arisen for a variety of reasons with the partnerships that I have described, with great credit remaining to all of those contributing agencies, have we got our roles and responsibilities sharp enough for this particular threat? Do we use the police service in the wisest possible way? At airports, for example, it has traditionally been the role of the police service to be engaged in landside security. When one looks at the horrors of airport attacks in Israel over the years, Vienna, Lod, that is where people were mown down before they had gone through to airside. There is understandable concern with landside before one has embarked security. Is there now not a case—and I think there is—to be looking much more critically at the static aircraft which has yet to receive passengers, indeed what are the security arrangements which might involve in a more overt sense the police service airside? Now there are difficulties there because that is an operating environment. It is subject to very proper regimes and one needs to fit in with that. I think all of those issues and how we work together as the contributing team which enhances aviation security, I think we owe it to ourselves to look at what we are doing almost with a clean sheet of paper and say "Well, fine, this worked and is as good as a great many other countries but let us be ruthlessly honest with ourselves because the price of us getting this wrong is a plane load of people who may be at greater risk than they need to be" and nobody from any agency wants that to happen. I am suggesting a rigorous debate. To be absolutely fair there is unanimity that is the wise course ahead and that has been vigorously seized by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for the Department of Transport and the Regions and that is now a debate within Government as to how that is going to go ahead so I am very encouraged by that.

  1215. Good. We have had evidence from Mr Ian Devlin of TRANSEC and from what you have said I am interested in the extent to which your voice is heard by TRANSEC and others. Clearly in airport security there is a balance between some of the commercial considerations, if they have got CCTV guarding property, if there is a check for scissors one side of the barrier and then there is a Boots selling scissors the other side, there are commercial considerations and I am interested that your pure security anti-terrorist voice is properly heard and I am glad you have some confidence in TRANSEC here.
  (Mr Veness) Yes. Credit where it is due. TRANSEC was an innovative approach to a very significant set of challenges and it has moved Britain on both nationally and internationally to a level of screening of baggage which nobody is pretending is perfect but nevertheless is commendable in international comparative terms. I think we can do well to look at some of the regimes which apply not too distant. It is easy to be ruthlessly critical of ourselves, and we should not be complacent, but in terms of international comparators of aviation security we should recognise where Britain fits into the league table. That all being said, I do welcome the fact that despite the fact there will be tensions inevitably in the relationship between a regulator, the airlines, the need to run a business at profit—and I recognise and respect that—and we are providing part of the security package, I sense genuinely a renewed candour in the willingness to be open to new solutions there and I am keen to encourage that.


  1216. It is not just Heathrow and Gatwick, I assume your remit stretches even beyond British Airports Authority?
  (Mr Veness) Indeed. Talking in terms of the national role of ACPO and at the heart of that is going to be a debate about where designation goes because at the moment that is the key to paid police presence.

Jim Knight

  1217. Finally, what role do you think profiling can play in the security of airports and elsewhere?
  (Mr Veness) It is very important and there are innovative examples which Americans, and particularly our Israeli colleagues, apply with very great vigour. I think profiling is an asset. It needs to be constantly updated and adaptable because a great many lessons of suicide bombing, talking to colleagues where this is occurring, the profile has moved pretty significantly in terms of those one would expect to be occupying the role of a suicide bomber. Profiling is a beneficial tool but it is one component of a security regime and it is likely to be one which needs to be rapidly modified under circumstances. Like many crime prevention aspects it is part of the toolbox, it is not a solution that delivers on its own.

Syd Rapson

  1218. It is clearly a serious business. The last people you would want around you, I suspect, are politicians who are completely useless except for one facet and that is formulating law and legislation to assist you to do your job better We had a go with the Terrorism Act 2000 and then we extended it with the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security 2001 and gave our MoD police officers a bit more freedom to operate in that way. How has the situation changed with the passing of these two particular pieces of legislation?
  (Mr Veness) They both have been important and, indeed, they are essential given the nature of the challenge that we confront. We were very privileged to be very closely involved in the debate around which provisions might be considered. Clearly we can only contribute a view but it is gratifying that view is seriously taken on board. That was true for the Terrorism Act 2000 which, for example, provides the proscription powers. When one looks at the threat we now face, provided that is applied judiciously, for example the group al-Qaeda is a proscribed group within the list that the Home Secretary has determined. I think proscription, I think, is a very valuable tool. Of course, the 2000 Act was very much a consolidation of acts that had gone before and some of the provisions in there, for example a wide ranging, by comparison, power of arrest for terrorism and the ability for us to make application for extended periods of detention, those are absolutely vital provisions. Unless we have the opportunity to engage in the sort of detailed search for evidence that is necessary in terrorist cases, literally tiny flakes and tiny pieces of devices, we would not be able to successfully bring cases to prosecution. If one turns to the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act enacted just before Christmas, the critical provisions relate to the designation of international terrorists, which is an immigration matter, not a police matter, and also the issues around financial investigations because there were some very significant provisions made in terms of financial attack on terrorism. The work which has been spearheaded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this regard and the support that there is from the financial institutions of Great Britain, not only here but internationally, has been a very powerful lever against terrorism. I merely cite those as examples but it has enabled us to make a dent and continue to be proactive in relation to terrorism in a way that would otherwise not have been possible.

  1219. It might be a reflection of the political debate we had about whether it was good or bad but people's expectations were raised and the legislation was passed and we all expected the next day a number of people to be rounded up, or at least some in the Liberal Democrat Party and others. There does not appear to be a response to the use of the powers. Is there a problem in the constraints that are now imposed with the legislation and you have not got that wide freedom that you thought you might have had? It appears although they are there, and you have recognised that has been a great asset and you can call upon them, etc., there does not appear to have been a move suddenly to do something and make a difference.
  (Mr Veness) There has been a difference. There has not been a Casablanca moment and we have not rounded up the usual suspects, I think that would be utterly the wrong thing to do and if we did do something like that I think we would abandon community support and deserve to abandon community support on the day that we did it. There has been application of these powers, notably in relation to the designation of international terrorists and, as I say, that is a Home Office lead. There has also been application in relation to terrorism in the financial attack sense and there has been application of the proscription powers as well. We need to be driven by accurate intelligence and clearly we are in the process of formulating that ever more vigorously and we will take ahead both arrests and prosecutions as soon as those cases are compelling and we can place those before the court. Counter-terrorism is sometimes a strange body to assess almost by performance measures and league tables because it is very much what one has been able to stop. An arrest which may not have led to a prosecution or an examination at port or by seizing money may well have interdicted an attack. In fact, that certainly is the case more regularly than is known within the public domain. That, to me, is the performance measure of effective counter-terrorism: are we preventing loss of life within the United Kingdom and of British and other citizens elsewhere and are we applying the powers effectively? I think we are. I agree with you, I think one looks forward to a period when with due balance we are applying the powers ever more robustly.

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