Select Committee on Defence Sixth Report

Ministry of Defence Police

  1. We reported in December 2001 on the proposals in the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Bill to extend the jurisdiction of the MDP.[92] The bill included a proposal to replace the existing power of MDP constables to operate 'in the vicinity' of defence land with a power to allow them to respond to requests from local forces for assistance in a specific investigation or operation. One of the justifications for this was the heightened terrorist threat including the possibility of suicide attacks. ACPO firmly supported this proposal in the context of counter-terrorism.[93]
  2. One of the first occasions on which this new power was used was in the MV Nisha incident. The Chief Constable of the MDP, Mr Lloyd Clarke, explained—
  3. ... we have used the recent anti-terrorist legislation under mutual aid when the MV Nisha incident broke, that was commanded by the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist group and they came to MDP in terms of mutual aid and we were able to respond in terms of armed officers that were put on to the MV Nisha, and in terms of the exclusion area round that vessel which was provided by MDP resources.[94]

    At the time of our inquiry into the provisions in the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Bill we were under the impression that the power to respond to requests from local authorities in the context of counter-terrorism would be used where there was a threat to part of the defence estate. We note that the Stage 1 Report of the current Quinquennial Review of the MDP places the role of the MDP in this respect firmly in the context of the continuing risk of armed terrorist attack which the MoD faces.[95]

  4. The MV Nisha was a bulk cargo vessel carrying a load of sugar to London. Whatever it was suspected of, it was not of a terrorist attack on the defence estate.
  5. The Stage 1 report also proposed that the MDP should have a 'reserve uniformed policing capability' and adds that further work in Stage 2 of the review will be required to determine how large that reserve strength should be.[96] In evidence the Chief Constable of the MDP linked that reserve capability to the terrorist threat post-11 September, and explained—
  6. There has never been a strategic reserve, as it were. What the Quinquennial Review are proposing is that there should be some planning assumptions, that is where you get this formula, and what might be the worse case scenario. Post 11 September almost the sky is the limit and it is how we actually get a realistic assumption. MoD have a role to play in that and we will play a role in that from MDP on the basis of the kind of incidents that we have experienced.[97]

  7. The MDP's role in the MV Nisha incident demonstrates that the powers given to it under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act can be used to assist in general counter-terrorist operations. There is no requirement that the threat be directed at the MoD or the defence estate. The creation of a reserve capability with an explicit counter-terrorism role will presumably allow the MDP to be more regularly involved in such operations. The Home Secretary told the House of Commons on 11 July that the MDP had participated in counter-terrorism operations on 19 occasions since the passage of the Act. MDP officers are weapons-trained. In general we have a high opinion of the professionalism of the MDP, but we would be concerned to see them develop a role as an armed counter-terrorist police force without appropriate safeguards in terms of governance and public accountability.
  8. Stage 2 of the Quinquennial Review of the MDP will look at governance arrangements for the Force including arrangements for public accountability as well as the reserve capability. In January the MoD's Director General, Security and Safety, hoped that it would be completed by the summer. We understand that it is not now expected before September. We recommend that the MoD publishes the conclusions of Stage 2 of the Quinquennial Review of the MDP as they relate to the proposed reserve capability and governance and public accountability issues.
  9. Royal Navy Vessels

  10. Militant Islamist terrorists were responsible for the attack on USS Cole in Aden harbour in 2000 in which 17 sailors were killed and 39 injured.[98] In May 2002, Moroccan police reportedly foiled plans by a team of al Qaeda operatives to attack American and British naval vessels passing through the straits of Gilbraltar.
  11. We have not addressed the security of our Armed Forces overseas in this inquiry, but we were concerned by the apparent vulnerability of Royal Navy vessels in UK ports such as Portsmouth. In March, MoD witnesses told us-
  12. The rules within Portsmouth, within the dockyard, are that you should not be approaching within 50 metres of warships and those are the promulgated rules. You know well the little pleasure boats which take trippers round there and they would be very disappointed if they were kept at arm's-length. How to deal with these threats? We could put a gate across Portsmouth Harbour. We could build a fence around the territorial waters. These are not realistic measures and you have to deal with a threat at a conscious level.[99]

  13. The responsibility for security at Portsmouth as at other military sites rests with the MDP. They have a 24 hour presence on the water.[100] The level of resources committed to their patrols and other security duties reflects the security state and specific intelligence.[101]
  14. On 2 July the Minister for Armed Forces, in answer to a parliamentary question, refused to give specific details of measures taken to protect fleet units against asymmetric attack. He did, however, confirm that trials and training against these threats are conducted on a regular basis.[102] In June, it was reported that staff in the MoD's Directorate Equipment Capability (Above Water Battlespace) had identified a significant capability gap in Royal Navy ships' defences against small fast craft such as power boats and rigid inflatables.[103]
  15. We accept that security measures at naval bases and military ports should be based on threat assessment and intelligence and should be designed to interfere as little as possible with legitimate civilian activity consistent with maintaining appropriate levels of security. This balance should be kept under review. We believe that the threat of an asymmetric terrorist attack on Royal Navy ships is a real one and we recommend that the MoD take urgent steps to ensure that any capability gaps in their defences against such known threats are closed.
  16. Counter-terrorism

  17. The Minister of State, Home Office described how the Government's counter-terrorist activity is organised—
  18. The Home Secretary has lead responsibility within government for counter terrorist policy. His chairmanship of the Ministerial Committee on Terrorism and the Civil Contingencies Committee allows him to maintain a clear oversight of the issues and measures being taken to strengthen the UK's ability to respond to the terrorist threat ... The assessment of the terrorist threat is a continuous process and with DOP(IT)(T)[104] which ... is the name of the relevant committee, the threat has been analysed and planning assumptions made for the prioritisation of protective and consequence planning across all departments.[105]

  19. Terrorism in the UK is treated as criminal activity. Its prevention and investigation are the responsibility of the police. Operationally that responsibility falls to individual Chief Officers. National co-ordination is achieved through the office of the Anti-Terrorist National Co-ordinator. In constitutional terms, the National Co-ordinator is available to be invited in by a Chief Officer in order to deal with terrorist crime which has occurred within his locality. In practice that invitation is almost invariably issued.[106]
  20. The Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee of ACPO (ACPO TAM) is the forum in which the police discuss general issues related to terrorism. But ACPO TAM's membership is wider than just senior police officers. It includes representatives of the Home Office, of non-Home Office Police Forces and of the Security Service. Below ACPO TAM is the ACPO Advisory Group which is chaired by the Assistant Commissioner Specialist Operations, Metropolitan Police. Its objective is to 'take rather more immediate and flexible operational decisions if there is an initiative required, for example, around ports policing or.. other forms of transport like the motorways'.[107]
  21. After 11 September an additional 22 million was made available for the Metropolitan Police not only for its anti-terrorist activities but also other policing activity including 'the overt highly visible presence which was necessary in order to restore confidence and stability'.[108] With the co-operation of chief constables and the National Crime Squad, and by redeploying officers from other duties within the Metropolitan Police, the Anti-Terrorist Branch was doubled in strength.[109]
  22. The Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, David Veness, believed that that augmentation needed to be maintained—
  23. in order to preserve the public from harm we need to stop the terrorists before they have the opportunity to mount their operations. It is too late when we are guarding on an unspecified way on the street. The focus, the shift ... has been to a much greater emphasis on intelligence-led interdiction before the event.[110]

  24. In the light of these comments we asked him whether he believed that a case could now be made for a National Counter-Terrorism Service along the lines of the National Crime Squad or the National Criminal Intelligence Service. In response he highlighted the thirty years experience which the UK has had of 'relatively regular Irish activity' coupled with 'intermittent international terrorism,' which had led to 'relatively refined structures'[111] for counter-terrorist co-operation. He contrasted that situation with the 'very clear national need' for improvements in how the UK addressed 'trans-national crime' which had led to the creation of those two national bodies.[112] Nonetheless he believed that a National Counter-Terrorism Service merited further consideration. In particular it was his personal view that the Anti-Terrorist National Co-ordinator should be able to operate nationally on his own authority and not have to rely on an invitation from Chief Constables, however routinely issued.[113]
  25. We put the proposal for a National Counter-Terrorist Service to the Minister of State, Home Office, but he was unreceptive—
  26. I think that the arrangements that we have at the moment do seem to me to be, certainly in terms of the way they are structured and the way they inter-relate, both robust and flexible.[114]

    We have not examined in detail the case for National Counter-Terrorism Service, but we do believe that it merits further consideration. The Anti-Terrorist National Co-ordinator should not have to operate by invitation. It is odd that the national co-ordination of anti-terrorist matters is achieved through a Committee of ACPO. We do not criticise the present arrangements which seem to work well, but neither do we believe that they are incapable of improvements.


  27. In this inquiry we have not attempted to examine the ways in which intelligence is collected. The Intelligence and Security Committee in its Annual Report 2001-02 discussed the roles of UK intelligence and security agencies in respect of the attacks of 11 September. It looked at both their immediate response and their longer term plans.[115] Our focus is on the use of that intelligence and its dissemination to those who may face the threat of terrorist attack.
  28.  The Security Service's functions are to protect national security, to safeguard the economic well-being of the UK against threats from overseas, and to act in support of the police and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime. The Security Service's key responsibility is for intelligence work to investigate and counter covertly organised threats. These include terrorism, espionage and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In addition it provides security advice to help reduce vulnerability to threats. The Service works closely with the UK's 55 police forces, particularly their Special Branches, and with other law enforcement agencies, such as HM Customs and Excise, and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Since 1992 the Security Service has had the principal responsibility for counter-terrorism intelligence on the mainland as well as in Northern Ireland.
  29. As we have already noted, good intelligence is an essential element of an effective counter-terrorist strategy. But it is not enough simply to acquire that intelligence. It must also be used. Generally speaking, the problem with intelligence is not that there is too little, but that there is too much, or not the right sort. Individual items of intelligence are rarely more than single pieces of a very large and very complex jigsaw. They need to be assembled; and they need to be assessed. There are mechanisms within government for achieving that. There is also a need for the filtration of information, whilst ensuring that small nuggets of valuable information are not overlooked. Once that has been done the results need to be acted on. As the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee on 16 July—
  30. You get a vast amount of intelligence the whole time and picking out the bits that you should really be alarmed about as opposed to the bits you have to just put in the tray marked 'too absurd to think about' is very, very hard.[116]

    The information needs to be passed to those in a position to react to it. The dilemma is how to balance those actions against the need to protect the sources of the intelligence so that it can go on 'protecting the public the next time and the next time.'[117]

  31. Outside government the Security Service's assessments are made available to the police through Special Branches (see paragraph 93 below) and to others in a number of ways including what is known as the 'Vellum' System. This system was described to us in a short memorandum from the Home Office.[118]
  32. Distribution of intelligence-based information

  33. One of the lessons reinforced by 11 September is that terrorists are as likely to attack economic targets as they are to attack government or military ones. In the UK, of course, we already had experience of this with Irish republican terrorist attacks on Canary Wharf, the City of London and Manchester. The memorandum from the Home Office stated that 'Vellum' assessments were available to companies in a wide range of sectors, but it also explained that those assessments were set at a very low level of classification—not higher than 'restricted'. Assessments at that level can only be couched in very general terms.
  34.  The present arrangements clearly did not provide the level of guidance which Mr Paul Wood, Head of Global Security at UBS Warburg, the third largest investment bank in Europe,[119] was after He told us—
  35. Government has continued to provide to the public sector advice and guidance on threat levels and how to protect its infrastructure and ... they have continued to provide that level of support and advice and guidance on threat levels [to the defence industry], but they really have not provided it to the private sector.[120]

    Consequently he had contacted the Cabinet Office himself and had succeeded in opening up a conduit for guidance and advice, but that was for him only. He believed that a similar arrangement needed to be made more widely available both to the financial sector and to other areas of industry.[121]

  36. Local authorities (whose role in emergency planning we discuss below) also expressed concern that they did not receive sensitive information. Speaking for the Local Government Association (LGA), Mr David Kerry, Chief Emergency Planning Officer for the London Borough of Hounslow, told us that his experience was that—
  37. the Government does not share a great deal of sensitive information with local authorities on emergency management. We would argue that if we are to have proper partnership workings, develop properly integrated plans, there needs to be some movement on that.[122]

  38. Local authority emergency planning officers do not have security clearance, and, in fact, Mr Kerry expressed some reluctance to join what he likened to a 'secret society.'[123] Mr Ian Hoult, Emergency Planning Officer for Hampshire and Honorary General Secretary of the Emergency Planning Society told us that when he went to military liaison panel meetings[124] 'everybody around the table has the papers in front of them except me and I am not allowed to have them in front of me because I am not security cleared ... it is quite an extraordinary position.'[125] He could not have the papers because he was not security cleared. He was not security cleared because, the council had told him, that clearance was incompatible with his duty to make information and papers available to his superiors and to elected members of the council.
  39. This arrangement, however, is not applied consistently. Shire County Fire Brigades, for example, operate under the control of their County Council. Their officers are officers of the Council and therefore accountable to senior members of the authority and to elected members, at least in theory, in the same way as emergency planning officers. Yet chief fire officers and other nominated principal fire officers have been security cleared.[126] Devon's Chief Officer told us that there had been some concern over the arrangement—
  40. In my own case I had a dialogue with my own Fire Authority, particularly my Chairman, when it was made clear that I and other colleagues would be security cleared. There may well be issues that members may want to ask questions on which would put me in a difficult position ... when it may be something that I actually cannot divulge ... we have tried to develop a mutual understanding about where we are and to do our best to try and avoid putting each other in difficult positions.[127]

  41.  We have noted the statement in the 2001-02 Annual Report of the Intelligence and Security Committee—
  42. Because intelligence coverage of priority targets can never be total, the defence of this country against terrorist attack must also depend on protective security. The [Security] Service plans to expand its protective security work in response to the changed threat, which now includes suicide attacks in the UK, and an increased demand from both old and new customers for advice.[128]

    These are encouraging statements, since it appears to us, that there are unnecessary inconsistencies in the protective security field, particularly in the provision of security clearances and in the transmission of intelligence-based information.

  43. This inquiry has not given us the opportunity to examine this issue in sufficient detail to make specific recommendations, but we do recommend that the Government reviews the arrangements for the transmission of intelligence-based information to individuals with key responsibilities in local government and in the private sector. We are not satisfied that the current system is adequate.
  44. As we mentioned above, intelligence information is made available to the police through the Special Branches. These contacts can work on a hour by hour basis. Assistant Commissioner Veness described them as 'a golden thread by which we can move intelligence into an operation and an operation then ideally into a prosecution.'[129] He told us—
  45. The intelligence world operates in order to produce analysis. We need a mechanism by which that can then move to a world of arrest, operations and prosecution and the vehicle by which the United Kingdom does that is through the Special Branch system which effectively provides a means of moving intelligence in a way which preserves the intelligence for its use next week but nevertheless allows the essential assessment or broad threat, or indeed in some cases, very specific threat, to be passed on in a way that it can be the basis of an operation and ideally the basis of a prosecution. If we did not have that mechanism somehow we would have to invent it. It does mean we are able to preserve the operational focus of the general police service and indeed the advantages of an intelligence-focussed community of agencies.[130]

    The relationship between the police and the intelligence agencies appears to be both close and effective. The Security Service sit on ACPO's Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee.[131] The Assistant Commissioner believed that 'the British model [stood] comparison with any other jurisdiction.'[132] He added—

    I would be absolutely confident that if an item of intelligence arose which could save a life in the United Kingdom then it would be actioned and it would be passed on ... There would be no forgiveness whatsoever in obscuring an item of intelligence which could lead to the saving of life or reduction of harm.[133]

  46. His concern was over what he termed 'the scoping of our intelligence.'[134] The case of Richard Reid was an example. Reid boarded an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on 22 December 2001. He had explosives hidden in his shoes which he attempted to detonate during the flight. Only the rapid reactions of the cabin crew and passengers, who overpowered him, prevented him from blowing up an aircraft containing nearly two hundred passengers and crew. Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, stated after the incident that 'British police had not been warned that the suspected shoe bomber Richard Reid was a potential security risk.'
  47. Assistant Commissioner Veness described acquiring intelligence on people such as Reid as an area where there was more work to be done.[135] He did not underestimate the difficulty of the task—
  48. What we are talking about on a tier of threats is al Qaeda at the top of the pyramid ... Then a second tier of groups who are linked by a dotted line but enormously spread, in figurative terms from Marrakesh to Manila with an axis through the middle from the Central Asian states through to Central and Eastern Africa, so a very large slice of the world. Our coverage of those is going to be an enduring activity. Then in the category ... at the bottom of the pyramid are groups of individuals who may be small in number and picking those up, to be frank, is going to be a Herculean and enduring task ... To me the lesson is that even the people at the bottom of that particular pyramid can nevertheless prove to be potential mass murderers.[136]

  49.  Accurate and timely intelligence on such individuals and small groups can be extremely difficult to obtain. Some of the means by which it might be obtained can be controversial. They can give rise to justifiable concerns over civil liberties. They can risk damaging relations between the police and other agencies and ethnic minority communities.
  50. Transport Security

  51. The regulation and inspection of security regimes in the aviation, maritime and railways industries is the responsibility of Transec, a division of the Department of Transport. The legal basis for its work is set out in the Aviation Security Act 1982, as amended by the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001; the Aviation Security (Air Cargo Agents) Regulation 1993; the Channel Tunnel (Security) Order 1994; and Sections 119-121 of the Railways Act 1993. The legislation and Transec's activities are designed, among other things, to meet the UK's international obligations as a signatory to the Chicago Convention on civil aviation, and various other international conventions for countering terrorism.
  52. Airports and Airlines

  53. Inevitably the attacks of 11 September focussed particular attention on the security of airports and airlines. Short term measures were introduced on 11 September itself to provide 'the highest possible level of security'.[137] On 12 September the Civil Aviation Authority published a requirement to lock flight deck doors. Further measures were implemented by a letter from Transec to UK airlines and airports on 13 September. But it soon became apparent that these were both unsustainable for more than a few days, and 'internally inconsistent and impractical'.[138] Accordingly meetings were held between Transec and industry representatives, which, in British Airways' view led to two key results—
  54. Firstly, the enhanced measures detailed in the letter of 13 September were communicated to the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and were accepted in their entirety by the USA as an alternative to the US Emergency Amendments to the US Airline Security Programme. This allowed the resumption of flights to the USA and Canada by UK airlines, well before other European carriers. Secondly, the measures in the UK were rationalised so that resources could be more appropriately deployed, predominantly focussed on flights to North America.[139]

    These measures were replaced on 18 September with 'more specific directions based on consultation with the aviation industry which they were able to sustain'.[140] Since then further steps have been taken both internationally (for example at the meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in November 2001) and nationally (for example in the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act relating to police powers).[141]

  55. Additionally the Home Secretary has established a Review of Airport Security under the Chairmanship of Sir John Wheeler, former Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office and Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. We believe that some of our conclusions in this report will be relevant to that review.
  56. The UK has a good record in implementing international aviation security measures. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, Mr David Jamieson MP, said on 9 July 2002, 'I can say that the UK does have one of the most demanding aviation security regimes in the world'.[142] According to the Director of Transec—
  57. Our standards exceed in almost all respects those required under the Chicago Convention internationally or even European standards.[143]

    Mr Ian Jack, Senior Security Adviser at the International Air Transport Association described the UK as 'the foremost state in the range of security measures which are applied'.[144] UK registered airlines have also introduced their own security measures for their overseas operations where the host state's measures do not meet UK requirements.[145] Transec offer guidance on such measures,[146] and UK embassies also have a Post Aviation Security Officer (normally the Defence Attaché) who is able to liaise with host governments on security issues.[147] We have not examined aviation security outside the UK, but clearly, given the nature of the aviation industry, the security not just of UK airlines but of all air traffic coming into the UK will depend significantly on the robustness of the international security regime.

  58.  Even within the UK there are many different elements which contribute to the total security of airports. We have not attempted to examine them all. The centrepiece of airport security is the maintenance of the restricted zone around the core operating elements of the airport. In the UK all personnel entering the restricted zone must be security screened, including pass holders and air crew.[148] Aircraft are searched when they are brought into the restricted zone from elsewhere on the airport.[149]


92   First Report, Session 2001-02, HC 382 Back

93   Op cit paragraphs 18 and 19 Back

94   Q 276 Back

95   Op cit paragraph 9 Back

96   Op cit paragraph 9d Back

97   Q 292 Back

98   Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000, US State Department, April 2001 Back

99   Q 549 Back

100   Q 277 Back

101   Q 276 Back

102   HC Deb, 2 July 2002, col 229w Back

103   Jane's Defence Weekly, 19 June 2002 Back

104   ie the Ministerial Group on Prevention and Protective Security Back

105   Q 1392 Back

106   Q 1150 Back

107   Q 1146 Back

108   Q 1165 Back

109   ibid Back

110   Q 1168 Back

111   Q 1189 Back

112   ibid Back

113   ibid Back

114   Q 1415 Back

115   Intelligence and Security Committee, Annual Report, 2001-02, Cm 5542 Back

116   Liaison Committee, Minutes of Evidence 16 July 2002, HC 1095, Q 102 Back

117   Q 1178 Back

118   Ev 318 Back

119   Q 794 Back

120   Q 760 Back

121   ibid Back

122   Q 638 Back

123   Q 641 Back

124   For a description of the role of these committees see para 242 Back

125   Q 699 Back

126   Ev 206 Back

127   Q 1110 Back

128   Op cit para 72 Back

129   Q 1147 Back

130   Q 1187 Back

131   Q 1146 Back

132   Q 1178 Back

133   Q 1183 Back

134   ibid Back

135   Q 1185 Back

136   Q 1186 Back

137   Q 878 Back

138   Q 892 Back

139   Ev 315 Back

140   Q 878 Back

141   Q 874 Back

142   HC Deb, 9 July 2002, col 796w Back

143   Q 838 Back

144   Q 1265 Back

145   Q 1297 Back

146   Ev 169 Back

147   Q 1265 Back

148   Q 843 Back

149   Q 846 Back

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