Project CONTEST: The Government's Counter - Terrorism Strategy - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Home Office


  CONTEST is the Government's long-term strategy for countering international terrorism. Details of the strategy were first published in July 2006 and it is currently being refreshed. The aim of CONTEST is to reduce the risk from international terrorism, so that people can go about their daily lives freely and with confidence. It is divided into four principal areas of work (supported by a number of cross-cutting areas) to enable us to combat the different aspects of trans-national terrorism more effectively. These work-strands are:

    —  Pursue: stopping terrorist attacks;

    —  Prevent: stopping people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism;

    —  Protect: strengthening our protection against attack; and

    —  Prepare: mitigating the impact of attacks.


  The Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) was established in 2007 in the Home Office, in order to bring more cohesion and greater strategic capability to our fight against international terrorism.

  OSCT's primary responsibilities are to:

    —  Support the Home Secretary and other Ministers in developing, directing, and implementing the UK's counter-terrorist strategy (CONTEST) across Government;

    —  Deliver aspects of the counter-terrorism strategy directly, such as legislation and protective security policy;

    —  Enable and support key structural developments, such as policing arrangements and border security;

    —  Manage counter-terrorism related crises through the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR);

    —  Facilitate the Home Secretary's statutory oversight of Security Service; and

    —  Exercise oversight of / monitor, on behalf of central Government, counter-terrorist operations in the UK.

  OSCT is led by a Director General and has six Directorates:

    (i) Prevent & RICU (the Research, Information and Communications Unit) is responsible for implementing strategies to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism; and for the strategic communications to support this;

    (ii) Strategy, Planning & Change is responsible for: setting strategic direction; programme and project management services; corporate services; strategic oversight of Police CT capability; and OSCT's Secretariat capability;

    (iii) Prepare, Protect, & CBRNE (the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Unit) is responsible for implementing strategies on the Protect and Prepare work-strands, as well as ensuring that science supports the delivery of counter-terrorism;

    (iv) Law, Security and International is responsible for: Pursue policy and delivery; OSCT's international engagement; interception and surveillance policy and casework; and oversight of the Security Service;

    (v) Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) is a mission-critical, large-scale cross-government programme being delivered out of OSCT. IMP aims to maintain the UK's lawful Interception and Communications Data capability; and

    (vi) OSCT Olympic Safety and Security is responsible for producing an integrated security strategy and costed plan with the police, London 2012 organisers and other security providers, which will deliver a safe, secure, and resilient Olympics in 2012.


  The UK faces a serious and sustained threat from acts of terrorism. The current UK national threat level is SEVERE, indicating that an attack is "highly likely and possibly without warning".


  The Government's response to international terrorism is well developed. Our long-term strategy, known as CONTEST, has been in place since early 2003 and details were published in the July 2006 Command Paper "Countering International Terrorism: the United Kingdom's Strategy."[36]

  Over the past year, the Government has been reviewing and updating all aspects of CONTEST, based upon enhanced experience of tackling the threat, lessons learned, and the evolving international context. As different elements of this work have been completed, they have been made public: for example, the new approach to Prevent and the reviews of different aspects of protective security. The Government plans to publish a detailed account of the revised CONTEST strategy later this Spring.

  The overall aim of CONTEST is to reduce the risk from international terrorism, so that people can go about their daily lives freely and with confidence. To achieve this, CONTEST is divided into four main work-streams, each with its own specific objective:

    —  Pursue: stopping terrorist attacks;

    —  Prevent: stopping people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism;

    —  Protect: strengthening our protection against attack; and

    —  Prepare: mitigating the impact of attacks.

  The Home Secretary has lead responsibility for co-ordinating the strategy and is supported in this by OSCT.

Governance of the CONTEST Programme

Resourcing Counter—Terrorism

  In 2008-09 annual spending on counter-terrorism and intelligence exceeds £2 billion, which is double what it was prior to 9/11. This will continue to rise over the CSR period to £3½ billion by 2010-11, more than triple pre-9/11 levels.

Performance Management for Counter-Terrorism

  A Counter-Terrorism Public Service Agreement (PSA) has been agreed with the Treasury, which (for the first time) covers the entire UK Counter-Terrorism effort. The agreement, which is supported by the CONTEST Delivery Plans, has been developed to ensure a better focus on delivery of the key counter terrorism programmes across Government.

Local Delivery

  The police's contribution to this PSA is being measured through the APACS (Assessment of Policing and Community Safety) performance framework. Where this is in partnership with local authorities, these measures are mirrored in the national indicators which may be selected by local authorities for inclusion in their Local Area Agreements. OSCT has a key role in monitoring the success of CONTEST through PSA and associated performance measures.


The strategy across HMG

  With the Police, the Security Service, and other departments across Whitehall, the Home Office is working to make it as difficult as possible for terrorists to operate in the UK and thereby reduce the threat they pose to the UK, its interests, and its allies.

  The Home Office is responsible for ensuring that the police and the agencies have the powers they need and that the options for disruption are as wide and effective as possible.

Home Office responsibilities

    —  Legislation—Advice on existing counter-terrorism legislation and the development and management of new legislation.

    —  Proscription—The Terrorism Act 2000 enables the Secretary of State to proscribe organisations she believes are concerned in terrorism. Since 2006 this has included organisations which have glorified terrorism.

    —  Control Orders—Preventative measures that place tailored obligations on suspected terrorists whom we cannot prosecute or deport in order to disrupt their terrorism-related activity.

    —  Deportations with Assurances—negotiating Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with foreign governments to enable us to deport foreign nationals safely.

    —  Terrorist Financing—Measures/policies to counter the financing of terrorism, including the development of a cross-Whitehall strategy to identify terrorist facilitators and funding operations, and disrupt terrorists' access to funds.

    —  International co-operation—Advancing CT co-operation through policy development, representing the UK in international fora.


The strategy across HMG

  The aim of the Prevent workstream is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism. The Government's overall strategy for Prevent has undergone a refresh, led by OSCT with input from key departments, and was agreed in October 2007 by the Ministerial Committee on National Security, International Relations and Development (Sub-Committee on Tackling Extremism). Under this new strategy, delivery of Prevent will be achieved through a new strategic framework with five distinct aims and two enabling workstreams.

  The five aims are:

    (i) Undermining extremist ideology; supporting mainstream voices;

    (ii) Disrupting those who promote violent extremism; strengthening vulnerable institutions;

    (iii) Supporting individuals who are vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremists; creating mechanisms for supporting them;

    (iv) Increasing the resilience of communities to engage with and resist violent extremists; and

    (v) Effectively addressing grievances whether real or perceived.

  The two enablers are:

    (i) Developing understanding, analysis and evaluation; and

    (ii) Strategic communications.

Home Office Responsibilities

  The OSCT Prevent teams have two main functions.

    —  leading on counter-radicalisation in order to prevent terrorism by helping individuals and groups to resist radicalisation and by disrupting the recruitment activities of extremists; and

    —  coordinating Prevent activity across government and works with the CONTEST Programme office to this effect.


The strategy across HMG

  The Protect work-stream of CONTEST aims to strengthen our overall protection against terrorist attack. Following the incidents in London and Glasgow in June and July 2007, the Prime Minister asked Lord West, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Security and Counter-terrorism in the Home Office, to review further measures necessary to protect the public against terrorist attacks on crowded places, transport infrastructure and critical national infrastructure. He was assisted in his work on crowded places by the Hon. Member for Newark and Retford (Patrick Mercer MP).

  The outcome of Lord West's reviews has enabled the Government to develop an improved Protect strategic framework based on reducing vulnerability in eight sectors: the Critical National Infrastructure; crowded places; transport; the UK Border; hazardous sites and substances; personnel security to mitigate hostile insider action; protecting individuals at risk of being targeted by terrorists; and UK interests overseas. Our protective security arrangements are kept under constant review including in the light of developments in the attack methodologies that terrorists are assessed to have the capability and intent to use.

Home Office Responsibilities

  OSCT has lead responsibility for overall delivery of the Protect programme as well as specific responsibilities in the eight workstreams:

    —  Crowded Places—OSCT is leading a new work programme on protecting people going about their daily lives in crowded places.

    —  The Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) —This is defined as the infrastructure assessed to be necessary to maintain delivery of essential services to the UK. OSCT, in conjunction with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), is responsible for leading and co-ordinating the inter-departmental effort to protect the CNI from physical and electronic attack and the threat from insiders. Responsibility for addressing risks in particular sectors rests with the lead Government Department that sponsors that sector.

    —  The transport system and its users—The transport sector can be considered as three modes; aviation, land transport and maritime. The protective security programme for transport infrastructure is led by the Department for Transport (TRANSEC), which works closely with the Home Office and CPNI.

    —  Hazardous sites and substances—OSCT is responsible for leading this work programme. Its purpose is to reduce the vulnerability of hazardous substances (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive) to terrorist misuse and to reduce the vulnerability of those sites holding them to terrorist attack.

    —  The UK Border—The Home Office is responsible for strengthening border security against terrorism. This includes fully exploiting the CT opportunities provided by the UK Border Agency (ie from UK presence at ports overseas and visa issuing points through to inland processes including asylum, enforcement and deportation). It also involves ever-closer working between the UK Border Agency and the police, and the implementation of the e-Borders Programme which allows advance checks on travellers arriving or leaving the UK against our watchlists. Currently more than 30 million passenger movements are checked in this way, and this will rise to 100 million movements by April 2009.

    —  Personnel security to mitigate hostile insider action—OSCT, in conjunction with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), is responsible for leading this work.

    —  Protection of individuals from terrorism—The Home Office is responsible for protective security for public figures and their residences.

    —  Reducing the vulnerability of UK interests overseas—The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible for leading this work programme. It is delivered through the provision of accurate public advice on the threat from both domestic and international terrorism, the physical protection of British diplomatic premises and personnel overseas, and the development of key foreign governments' own protective capability. The Home Office is closely involved in some aspects of this work, in particular supporting capacity building overseas.


The strategy across HMG and Home Office Responsibilities

  The aim of the PREPARE workstream is to ensure that the UK is ready to respond to any terrorist attack on the country and to mitigate its impact. It is part of the broader National Resilience Programme, which is led by the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, and includes planning for responding to and recovering from both natural hazards and man-made emergencies. Within this programme, the Home Office is responsible for ensuring that the country is well-prepared to manage the consequences of terrorist attacks.

  The objectives of the Prepare strategy are to ensure that:

    (i) capabilities are in place to enable the police and other local emergency services to respond effectively to terrorist incidents;

    (ii) operators of the UK's critical national infrastructure can continue to deliver their essential services following terrorist incidents or, where these services are disrupted, to restore them as quickly as possible; and

    (iii) national, regional and local crisis management structures are appropriately equipped and trained.

  The Home Office has worked closely with the police to strengthen their ability to provide a comprehensive and coordinated policing response which can manage the consequences of a terrorist attack alongside an effective investigative response. This has drawn on lessons identified in previous terrorist incidents as well as the Home Office National Counter-Terrorism Exercise Programme.

  In addition, the Home Office has put in a place a programme that is delivering a growing capacity for the police and other emergency services to deal with terrorist use of chemical, biological or radiological weapons.

  The Home Office also works closely with the Cabinet Office in convening and running the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) to provide strategic direction of the Government response to any terrorist incident. The Ministry of Defence is part of this response and can provide a number of niche capabilities in support of the police if required. Our Armed Forces have specialist CT capabilities in the Land, Maritime and Air environments which can be employed in a range of scenario including, but not limited to, the types of scenarios seen in Mumbai. Decisions to use military resources in support of a police counter terrorism operation require authorisation by Ministers.


  Several aspects of the Government's counter-terrorism activity apply to more than one strand of CONTEST and are given specific attention to ensure the cross-cutting aspects are fully effective. These include: working with partners to ensure practical implementation of our strategy at local, national and international levels; developing a substantial Police Counter-Terrorism Network—sufficient to engage in the full range of counter-terrorism policing activities; developing a security programme, closely aligned to CONTEST, to further our understanding and ability to tackle the potential terrorist threat to the 2012 Olympics; and implementing a cross-Government strategy for countering the terrorist use of the internet.

  The UK's strategy for countering terrorism is supported by a number of key enablers involving science & technology and engaging key partners outside Government (including those in the private sector and academia). It is reinforced by a communications approach (led by the Research, Information and Communications Unit—RICU) with three key objectives: 1) to expose the weaknesses of violent extremists' ideologies and brands; 2) to promote and support credible alternatives; and 3) to strengthen and protect the UK government through effective communication.

January 2009

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