Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
FARR, OBE AND
26 FEBRUARY 2009
Q140 Ms Buck: You talked earlier
about the PSA targets and obviously that is a performance benchmarking
process. In terms of the whole value for money argument, PSA is
part of that. What other mechanisms are there for auditing the
value for money outcome of the work of your organisational structure?
Mr Farr: That is a good question,
of course. When we were set up, if I can be a bit bureaucratic,
there was a degree of uncertainty, I think, in everyone's minds
about how much a central organisation like our own, sitting in
the Home Office, would be able to bear down on the programme costs
and VfM in a whole load of stakeholder organisations. There is
no precedent for an organisation sitting outside the Treasury
doing that, or certainly outside the Cabinet Office and the Treasury
doing that. I think it would be a bit alien. As time has moved
on and we have established ourselves and I think and believe have
got the trust and support of many of our stakeholders, to use
that dreadful term, actually, what you are proposing has become
much more feasible and possible. We have (a) much more oversight
of how money is being spent and, I think, (b) a greater ability
to press down on programme costs and to begin to interrogate them
to our satisfaction, leading, I think, eventually to a state where
we will be able to do what we want to do and that is certainly
what the Treasury, of course, would like us to be doing.
Q141 Chairman: Mr Farr, I must say
I think you have made a strong argument for further rationalisation
of the three services actually, but we will not dwell on that
particular subject. For my rather simplistic mind, do you think
you could provide an organic diagram of how these organisations
fit with one another, where the lines of communication fit, where
the lines of command fit? Would that be possible?
Mr Farr: Yes.
Q142 Chairman: I would be most grateful.
You also mentioned tasking and control and that that would be
a subject of a completely separate discussion. We could not visit,
could we, and have that explained to us?
Mr Farr: Yes. The answer is yes,
of course. As I made that comment, at the back of my mind was
that there are two different processes, and perhaps more than
two, that we need to be alert to, and I am sure you are. One is
the strategic planning framework, which is ours, and it is our
job, as I have said, to set the strategic parameters for what
we are trying to do on counter-terrorism in this country, what
it is realistic for us to achieve, what our objectives should
be and to monitor, as I have said, the ability and the result
of agency performance in those areas. Tactical co-ordination and
tasking is not our job. We have oversight over it but it is run
by a completely separate process, which I think Bob Quick, reading
his evidence to you, touched on, and involves the agencies and
the police. I see the results of thatit is reported back
to the Home Secretary every weekbut I do not participate
in it and I do not think it would be proper for us to do so. So
I am very happy to describe those processes in more detail but
suffice to say here perhaps that there are two: the strategic
planning process and the tactical command and control and co-ordination.
Q143 Chairman: Thank you. The next
question, I appreciate, is imprecise but do your best, either
of you, because I am conscious of the fact that you have been
talking so far, so maybe Ms McGregor can take it. How many terrorist
threats have been foiled since OSCT was created? I do appreciate:
what is a threat? Therefore I do not expect you to give me chapter
and verse but could you give us some details, please?
Mr Farr: Let me have a go, and
give you some statistics and a bit of background. Statistics first:
88 convictions of people for terrorist offences in this country
since the beginning of 2007. It is a bit of a messy picture because
people are arrested for all sorts of things. Actually, some of
the most important people we have caught have been caught on non-terrorist-related
offences, which makes the answer to your question quite complicated
Q144 Chairman: I do appreciate that.
Mr Farr: The headlines probably
tell the story, at least in rough outline: 88 convictions.
Ms McGregor: I would just add
to that that what is also important is that of the 88 that Charles
mentioned who have been convicted, nearly 50% of those pleaded
guilty, which is another issue. The statistics are very complicated.
We are currently working on an official statistical bulletin,
which we hope to publish very shortly, which will set out some
of this. It is tricky because, as Charles says, people may be
arrested under one Act and then convicted of something else. It
is a tricky picture.
Q145 Chairman: I absolutely understand
that and my codicil I put in before I think explained that. We
took evidence from Transport for London where the gentleman whose
name escapes me who gave evidence, when we said, "What is
the threat that faces Transport for London?" he said a series
of things: "Now that the IRA is dealt with", "now
that Islamic fundamentalism has burned itself out", and a
series of other jaw-dropping statements, franklyI do not
make any judgement but one of the things that worries me, one
of the many things that keeps me awake, as I am sure it does you,
is that form of complacency. Do you have that in the records?
So why do you not make more of your successes? Why do we not hear
more? Why do you not communicate that?
Mr Farr: Basically, I am not going
to defend this at all because I entirely agree with you, which
I know is rather revolutionary in committees of this kind! I would
say a couple of things. There are a couple of issues which preoccupy
us and trouble us in trying to do what you have described, about
which, by the way, I entirely agree. The first is the sub judice
problem. The second problem is that most of these trialsand
it is a very interesting feature of the threat we now faceinvolve
between 10 and 20 conspirators. That means you have more than
one trial and, until you have finished the sequence of trials,
you cannot actually talk about the offence. So the whole judicial
process and, to a degree, it reflects the number of conspirators,
inhibits your ability to talk about this. Although that is a problem,
it does not entirely explain why we have not given and been able
to get out a connected narrative, an explanation of how these
trials fit together. I am acutely aware of that. That is partly
why, when we came to write the new CONTEST strategy, we quickly
reached two conclusions about how we should do so: one, it had
to be unclassified. We had to be able to release the whole lot
into the public domainnot quite the whole lot actually
but a significant percentage; and two, that it had to have a historical
background, and for the first time therefore, when CONTEST is
published, which I hope will be in March, you will be able to
read in some detail a chronology about what has happened in this
country of a kind that I hope will begin to address your concern,
which I entirely share. Apart from anything else, we are all very
aware that unless people understand the threat, they do not understand
either the necessity or the proportionality of the measures that
we have to take to respond to it and that, of course, in a sense,
is where we are at the moment. I think it is quite difficult for
us because people just see the response. They do not understand
why we have made it and they can easily conclude that actually
it is excessive. That is a long answer to your question but we
are very aware of the issue that you raise.
Q146 Chairman: I base it on the fact
that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, in conjunction with MI5 and
other agencies, were very good at this. I know it was a different
sort of campaign and actually the day-to-day operations of the
IRA allowed it to be more high profile and therefore people were
more alert to it, yet it was not particularly dangerousand
I say that with great respect to those people who died and were
injured. I cannot help but feel that there must be more areas
where you can say, "Hey, listen; this is what we have done."
It may not be precise but "Last year we nobbled 12 of these
Mr Farr: If you are making this
point, and you follow it more closely than most, then clearly
we have a problem. I am not going to suggest for one moment that
we have got this right and I am very happy and indeed we will
take that away and look at it. We are trying to. I do not want
to understate the sub judice problem. I hope when you look
at CONTEST you may consider that it does address some of your
concerns but it will not do it entirely and I appreciate that.
Chairman: Thank you. That is a very encouraging
Q147 David Davies: The next question
is your relationship with the US and other European intelligence
agencies. How formal is that? Do we know, for example, if there
are members of the CIA working in this country? One would assume
that there are but to what extent is that declared and to what
extent do you have formal protocols for information sharing?
Mr Farr: I am going to be very
boring, of course, and say that generally speaking, this is a
matter for the intelligence services, not for us, but let me give
you the policy framework, if that is not too pretentious a way
of describing it. The terrorist threat we face, of course, as
you well know, is international and therefore requires international
co-operation. We cannot do it on our own. If you move overseas,
you need to be talking to other services, be they police, security
or intelligence, or often a combination of all three, and sometimes
military as well. Responsibility for that lies with SIS, the Security
Service, sometimes with the military, often co-ordinated by the
Foreign Office, and I think it works pretty effectively. Do those
organisations from outside have representatives here? Most certainly,
yes. Are they declared? Yes. They are in regular dialogue with
our agencies here. The cornerstone of much of this, of course,
is the American relationship. Why? For two reasons, I think, above
all: because of the huge American capability that can be brought
to bear on counter-terrorism, and has been since 9/11. Secondly,
as you well know, because people who pose a threat to this country
are six hours away from the eastern seaboard, something which
the Americans are acutely aware of, as are we, and therefore take
a very close interest in. Operations that we are conducting here,
people we are investigating and the whole counter-terrorist strategy
that we have is intimately connected to and relevant to their
own national security. So the relationships are very close. If
I may add just quickly, my office, OSCT, sitting in the Home Office,
we have a rather different map and set of international relationships.
My counterpart in the States is someone called NCTC, National
Counter-Terrorist Centre, set up after a recommendation in the
9/11 Commission report, and that organisation does sort of what
I do here: policy-making for the US Government on counter-terrorism,
delivery of some aspects of that policy, co-ordination inter-agency.
They also actually, in their case, absorb what in this country
is done by JTAC. We talk regularly to them, and I talk regularly
to our partners in France, Germany, Netherlands, and other European
countries who are responsible for strategic planning, and there
is quite good co-operation.
Q148 Chairman: We were rather surprised
by the Ministry of Defence statements last week, to hear that
the Glasgow bombings were described as a success.
Mr Farr: I did not see that. Was
it the Minister that said it?
Q149 Chairman: It was Brigadier Chapman
who came up with that particular statement.
Mr Farr: Was this in evidence
to you? I do not think that is official policy.
Q150 Chairman: I think we will probably
leave it there, shall we?
Mr Farr: One point, if I may.
I do think there were aspects of the investigation into Glasgowlet
us put it like thatthat were successful, although one could
argue, and I would accept, that any operation, investigation,
that actually does not stop a bomb is a success of a rather qualified
kind but, subject to that, and as I think actually Bob Quick mentioned
to youI was reading his evidencea couple of points.
I think the investigation into Glasgow after the Tiger Tiger attempted
bombing in London, because of course that was the start point,
was a really good example of joint work between the Security Service
and the police, a very rapid analysis of a very large amount of
data with the objective of finding what we then knew to be another
operational group who were attempting another operation. Moreover,
I think it was a very good example of interaction between the
National Police Command based in London and the police in Scotland,
who are, of course, devolved and therefore operating in a sense
outside of our authority. To that extent, I think the operation
was entirely successful because it really tested and demonstrated
the value of the co-operative partnerships that we have. It, by
the way, very nearly stopped the operation as well but, in the
time that was available, it could not. I would not just say it
was a success; of course not.
Q151 Chairman: Thank you. Moving
on then, again, much of this we have touched on but OSCT and Project
CONTEST: how do you measure the success or otherwise of OSCT against
the four strands of CONTEST? We have touched on this. There is
no need to repeat yourself but is there anything on the audit
process you think we need to know?
Mr Farr: I think I have probably
given you the headlines about this. The key mechanism for measuring
the success of CONTEST is the PSA. The PSA has a number of intended
outcomes, and for each outcome there are a number of intended
or associated indicators, and it is our job to track the performance
of agencies and departments against those indicators. Some indicators
are simply down to one department, some indicators, as it were,
relate to a number of departmental activities, and I think at
the end of that we can get a pretty good idea about how we are
doing. If I may, I would like to pick up something I know you
said in previous sessions, which is about how you measure the
impact of Prevent, because I think I understood you to say that
it was rather difficult to do that and I want, if I may, to push
back slightly on that.
Q152 Chairman: It is difficult to
quantify, is it not?
Mr Farr: It is difficult to quantify
it but I do not think it is impossible to do it and, if it is
helpful, can I spend two minutes explaining how we are trying
to do that?
Q153 Chairman: Please, yes.
Mr Farr: I think there are two
ways that you can do it. One is to look at the risk of radicalisation
in certain environments in this country. Let me give you a couple
of specific examples: prisons, and schools or higher education
and further education. If you create, as we are able to, an intelligence
baseline to establish how much radicalisation is going on in those
places at the moment, you then look at the programmes you are
trying to introduce in those areas to stop radicalisation, and
then you check your intelligence the following year, you can get
an idea, albeit an imperfect one, of whether the risk of radicalisation
in those areasand I have just picked those; there are othershas
reduced or increased. We are working on that very closely, for
example, with the Ministry of Justice in connection with prisons
as we speak, trying to understand how the programmes that we have
introduced with them into prisons are having an impact and how
you measure that against the intelligence assessments which are
produced for us for prisons by JTAC. So I think you can look at
institutional capability and the extent to which it reduces risk.
Secondly, you can look at attitudes. It is not difficult to look
at attitudes. It is more difficult to attribute or to understand
what has changed in attitudes but we haveand Communities
and Local Government are leading on this, Hazel Blearsprogrammes
which are intended to enable us to gauge changing attitudes in
Muslim communities towards key tests and issues of terrorism.
At the moment we are much too dependent upon commercial polling
generally done for media outlets. We are doing our own now, to
a much more rigorous framework, and we can do it year on year.
We need to be very careful because it is, of course, politically
sensitive with a small "p" and not easy to get accurate
feedback, but, taking advice from all sorts of commercial organisations,
we think we can do that. I would be very unhappy, and I know the
Treasury would, if we had a key strand of our counter-terrorism
strategy, £100 million or so this year, which we could not
measure, and we do believe we can. I would not say the call was
easy but I did want to push back slightly back on the concern
that you expressed at that earlier session.
Q154 Ms Buck: If you do not mind
my saying so, I think this issue is about what you know about
the causes of radicalisation and how you attack it. Obviously,
I would like you to talk about that a little bit. I also want
you, and maybe you could cover that in what you say, to talk a
little bit about that leaked draft in the media a couple of weeks
ago which included a definition of extremism, which, as someone
who has a number of Muslim friends through constituency work,
really covers all of them and the mere inclusion of the definition
would radicalise them further. It is a difficult task because
you do need something as a benchmark, a definition, but that is
a problem. I really would like to know what your current thinking
is on that question of the definition and what your professional
assessment is, based on this information you are acquiring, of
the causes of radicalisation.
Mr Farr: Can I do them in that
order? Hazel Blears gave a speech last night at the LSE which
I see characteristically misreported in the press this morning,
and I think it is quite useful in assessing some of what I am
talking about. If I may go back to our restructuring of the Prevent
strategy, which was one of the early bits of work we did at the
request of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary in the summer
and autumn of 2007, we provided, as you may know, a new framework
of seven objectives which we think should guide everything we
do on counter-radicalisation in this country. At the topor
the first one; it is not necessarily the most importantwe
said we had to challenge the ideology of violent extremism and
we used those terms, "the ideology of violent extremism".
There was a lot of discussion amongst us and with, by the way,
Muslim organisations at the time about whether that formula was
correct, because many people said to us, even at the time, "Listen:
there is not such a thing as an ideology of violent extremism.
There are ideologies of extremism which lend themselves to violence
and by limiting yourself to challenging violent extremism you
are operating too far down the conveyor belt of radicalisation.
If you wait till that point it is too late". At the time
we half accepted that advice but judged that it would be too difficult
for us to explain how a counter-terrorism strategy could have
at its heart countering the ideology of extremism; apart from
anything else, it is a rather odd expression, so we stuck with
"violent extremism". Since that time, in all the very
many, literally hundreds, of community interactions we have had,
quite a lot of people have insisted to us, "You have to challenge
the extremism which creates the climate in which violence becomes
acceptable. It might not specifically espouse violence but it
creates an environment in which violence begins to become acceptable".
What has happened since December is that the Home Secretary and
the Communities Secretary have begun to talk about this. There
are a couple of really important points. No-one is suggesting
that we criminalise extremism. We are not arguing that extremist
views should somehow now be criminalised; nor are we necessarily
saying, "By the way, challenging extremism is part of the
counter-terrorism policy". I am not sure that it is. I think
it may be part of the community cohesion policy but that is rather
a different thing. However, it does seem to me from where I sit
entirely appropriate that this Government, and I think probably
any other government, will want to challenge aspects of what we
might call Islamism which fall short of espousing violenceto
give you an example, reporting from CIVITAS, the think-tank, the
other day about views in some quarters here that western culture
is evil and that Muslims living in this country should not engage
with western cultural organisations, for want of a better term,
with western culture itself. There is nothing violent about that
and it is not necessarily going to lead to terrorism, but it does
seem to me to be unreal for this or any other government not to
say that they are going to challenge that, and that is no more
nor less than what this Government is now saying. It is saying,
"Yes, we will challenge violent extremism and, by the way,
we will criminalise it and we will proscribe groups who espouse
it, but we want to go a bit further. We are not going to sit on
the sidelines and listen without responding to either Islamist
extremist views or indeed to the far right".
Q155 Ms Buck: I think that is absolutely
right. As a deconstruction of the layers that is a completely
spot-on analysis. Going back to our communication strategy, of
course, the difficulty is that you cannot help the media filter,
which is part of the problem but not the whole problem. The difficulty
is that it is this common parlance of key indicators that are
not themselves indicators of violence but can sometimes be the
gateway into it that reinforces the sense of alienation and fear
Mr Farr: I am not disagreeing
with that and I think we are going into this aware of the risk,
and the risk is that by saying that we want to challenge these
views we are going to alienate the communities or parts of communities
on whom we necessarily depend for our key objective, which is
to challenge violence and the ideology of terrorism, but I think
any government in this country is going to face this challenge.
Q156 Ms Buck: No; this is not a political
point at all.
Mr Farr: I personally think you
simply have to ride that risk but I do not want to demean it.
It certainly does require very careful communication, absolute
crystal clarity, and I do not know whether, and I have said this
internally, this is something we want to be arguing about in the
context of counter-terrorism, because as soon as you do that you
put people on the defensive in a way that is unhelpful to us.
When we were drafting CONTEST there is a bit in CONTEST which
is about this subject but I have been very strong with Communities
and Local Government that it must be somewhere else too. This
is about promoting the values on which this society depends, whichever
government is in power, and there is more about that than counter-terrorism.
Q157 Ms Buck: Absolutely; that is
completely correct. I just want to pick up on the second part
of the question. It comes back to the point that if Operation
CONTEST Refresh includes a definition and that definition can
itself then be used and abused it is very important that, whether
it is you or DCLG, somewhere in the heart of government we have
to have means, very simple and effective top lines, that can be
disseminated, including via people like MPs, that whole range
of people interacting in the community that simply states, almost
in the words that you have already used, that that definition
is not about being criminalised. That single line is incredibly
important: we are not criminalising the views.
Mr Farr: Yes, and that is in our
strategy. It can so easily get lost in the wash. Let me if I may
pause for a minute on this. The way we want to put this is not
about defending anything, by the way; it is about promoting our
shared values. What we have tried to say on the strategy is, "Yes,
we are about attacking the ideology of violent extremism but we
are also about promoting the basis on which our society depends,
whichever government is in power, and we will challenge people
who are attacking those values", and your definition of extremism,
which I think is otherwise very difficult, relates to people who
are challenging values. In a sense that is what we are saying
extremism in this context is. I think it is very difficult to
define extremism in another way. I do not know whether I have
been clear about that.
Ms Buck: We can work it out.
Chairman: We can, yes.
Q158 David Davies: What influence
then do you have over people coming into this country whom you
might or might not think are appropriate visitors? We have seen
recently the Dutch politician Geert Wilders was banned, but I
read today that a senior member of Hezbollah is due to speak at
a university and there seems to be an inconsistency here. Do you
have any influence over that and should you not have an influence
over it, given your role in defending our values?
Mr Farr: Yes, we do have influence.
Decisions on these issues are made by the UK Borders Agency in
consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and up to
the Home Secretary, sometimes the Foreign Secretary and sometimes
the Communities Secretary. It is a complicated landscape, necessarily,
and into that, yes, OSCT will put a view. That is the policy framework.
The practical issues are quite complicated. If you look at the
person concerned, Ibrahim Moussawi, who is, as you rightly say,
a member of a part of Hezbollah, things get a little bit more
complicated. Not all of Hezbollah is a proscribed organisation.
As you know, it is a very complicated movement. It is a parliamentary
organisation, and the person concerned, from memory, operates
in the Hezbollah television station al-Manar.
Q159 David Davies: He may not be
a good example. I take your point entirely: there are elements
of Hezbollah and Hamas who are more moderate than others, I fully
accept that, but there have been people who have come over here
who are clearly not in that moderate section. I suppose the question
for you is, how much influence do you have and do you use it?
Mr Farr: We do have it and we
do use it, and if you notice inconsistencies, which to a degree
I plead guilty to, I think it is partly because consistency is
so difficult. Every case is a bit different. May I give you an
example? A notorious Islamist preacher operates on al-Jazeera,
Qaradawi. You may remember Qaradawi came to prominence in this
country when he came here and met Ken Livingstone. Qaradawi highlights
all the difficulties of this for us. In some ways Qaradawi holds
views which are certainly extremist by the definition that we
suggested earlier. In other words, they are critical of the values
on which our society rests.