Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
Assistant Commissioner David Veness and Chief Constable
27 OCTOBER 2004
Q40Chairman: Those are the three new ones you
Mr Veness: Yes, and it will reflect EU membership.
It operates, in terms of the actual meeting arrangements, six-monthly
in a different nation on each occasion. It last met in Poland
in May of this year. There is an imminent meeting, in fact later
next week, in Germany of that grouping. Each of the operational
services will be represented. It tends to operate at a level which
is below that of the European Police Chiefs Task Force. For example,
among our UK representatives next week will be the Head of Special
Branch within the Metropolitan Police, who is mandated to take
forward that role. It is helpful to describe the various operational
activities that have flowed from the working group's creation.
Within Scotland Yardbut that is only a convenience on behalf
of UK policingthe Police Working Group on Terrorism led
to a body which is now the National Terrorism and Extremism Liaison
Section, and that acts as a post-box by which urgent communication
can be initiated, even on the most mundane inquiriesfor
example, who owns a particular motor car or about a recent crimewithin
each of the contributing states. Within the United Kingdom, there
is that 24-hour capability of linking in with the other constituent
organisations. There is then a structure, in terms of deployment
of officers, which is known as the Counter-Terrorism and Extremism
Liaison Systemand I merely refer to the British examplewhereby
we deploy officers in locations abroad, notably within Europe.
There are others in Australia and Canada, but the officers are
mainly engaged in the European theatre in order to give us literally
the day-by-day liaison that we need with our colleagues engaged
in these duties around Europe. The reciprocal dimension of that
is that a great many other European nations are generous enough
to provide liaison officers to London, so what you see in London,
day by day, is team work between the hub, our own National Terrorism
and Extremism Liaison Office, and officers mainly from European
police forces and other like organisations, who are either on
the staff of that body or are in their embassies here in London.
They are available in order to give us that direct operational
linkage. Of course we would wish that network to be wider and
broader and often there is a number of countries covered from
one particular location, but that, broadly, is the method of operation.
Q41Chairman: Is that hub within Scotland Yard?
Mr Veness: It is, and that, in many ways, is
a historical fact because of the original concept. Although it
was a combined UK initiative, because the Special Branch facilities
within Scotland Yard in respect of counter-terrorism statistically
form one of the larger deployments it is a convenient location
for colleagues throughout the United Kingdom to act on a co-operative
Q42Chairman: It is a very complex web that you
weave. I do not know about my colleagues, but it is quite difficult
to try to find out where everyone links in. I do not know whether
a map of how that works would help.
Mr Veness: We would be very pleased to supply
that if that would be regarded as helpful. It will be illustrative
for ourselves, I am sure!
Q43Chairman: I know, whenever I have to look
at anything complicated, having a map is just the easiest way.
If members would be happy for that, we would be very grateful
for that. How does it fit into Europol?
Mr Veness: It invites Europol to be an observer
as part of the structure of the Police Working Group on Terrorism.
I think your question is extremely well placed because there is
a timely opportunityI believe and I know colleagues would
agreeto look at how many of these institutions might be
more closely interleaved in relation to their operational effectiveness.
I mention the fact that the Police Working Group on Terrorism
historically has arisen from an earlier phase. I genuinely believe
that there is a chance for us all to link in, particularly with
the new invigorated role of the European Police Chiefs Task Force,
which has moved on transparently since the initiatives of March
of this year, post-Madrid. I think it would not be too critical
an observer who would say there appears to be a degree of overlap
here. I would point to the fact that the European police chiefs
have a much broader agendadrugs, illegal trafficking of
human beings and other European cross-border issues of key strategic
importance, as well as terrorismwhereas the Police Working
Group on Terrorism has had this historic focus and has well matured
systems of liaison, but of course there is the opportunity to
work more closely, particularly with drugs liaison arrangements.
Again, at the heart of your point, my Lord Chairman, I think there
is an opportunity to explore a greater integration of the Police
Working Group with the new and developing Europol structures.
Q44Chairman: It would be good for me if you
could put that as a sort of footnote what the police chefs do,
and then the more strategic roles.
Mr Veness: The point that I had not addressed
and that you raised in relation to how it actually deals with
information is that primarily the working group operates on an
intelligence-only basis, so its starting point will be to make
inquiries, which might be quite mundane and routine, but nevertheless
that gets the answer that deals with the imperative of taking
action. Clearly what we are seeking to do is bring together information
that reduces the risk of public harm. That is overwhelmingly what
we are seeking to achieve. In an era when mass casualties would
be the price that would be paid for not getting that right, that
degree of rapid transmission is of course important. If one then
moves into the slower time of using that information for court
proceedings so it becomes evidence, then of course one would revert
to the letters of request procedure by which the European and
other nations will obtain that information more formally, but
it does, of course, bring with it the practical advantage that
you have already identified that the material you are seeking
actually exists in France or Belgium as opposed to a speculative
inquiry by way of letter of request.
Q45Chairman: That is very helpful. It may be
that members want to draw out a little more from that later. In
the meantime, can I move on to my second question, which is about
the European Council underlining the role of the European Police
Chiefs Task Force in co-ordinating responses? Do you share the
view that the role of the European Police Chiefs Task Force in
co-ordinating their operational responses to terrorism is the
best way forward?
Mr Veness: It is, I would suggest, an additional
dimension and an additional network and source of energy which,
if properly channelled, can be a valuable asset. I think the dimension
that the European Police Chiefs Task Force brings is literally
contained within its title, in that it is a senior body, which
seeks to bring together decision-makers, leaders of European services.
Of course, within the United Kingdom, we are not obliged because
we have not got such an individual who could be described as the
UK Police Chief. That role is performed by the Director General
of the National Crime Squad on behalf of us all, but, in order
that we are addressing the counter-terrorism dimension, one of
my colleagues actually acts as the counter-terrorism deputy to
the Director General of the National Crime Squad, so that we ensure
that the United Kingdom has not only National Crime Squad business
but also counter-terrorism as part of the agenda. I think the
role of the Police Chiefs Task Force has clearly been advanced
by events since Madrid because it is at the heart of the recommendations
made by Justice and Home Affairs Council and the European Council.
I think we are seeing a period, particularly under the Dutch Presidency,
where that is being given actual practical vigour and, in our
view, a reasonable and achievable agenda of activities. The Dutch
have delivered what they refer to as COSPOL, the Comprehensive
Operational Strategic Policing Plan, which is to provide an agenda
for the European Police Chiefs Task Force. We certainly, as the
UK, are vigorously supporting the Dutch Presidency. We see one
particular role as sharing with colleagues the benefit of hard-won
experience here within the UK as to how operationally we respond
to either the threat of terrorist incidents or the reality of
terrorist incidents, because, sadly, the experience of dealing
with bombs has been unhappily relatively commonplace here. That
has led to an operation within the United Kingdomand forgive
me for all these labelsthat is known as Operation Rainbow,
and that is a spectrum of operational deployments that we can
achieve. We are seeking to share that learning through the European
Police Chiefs Task Force and the industry and the Dutch Presidency
with our colleagues. I give that as one practical example of where
that is being taken ahead at the strategic level.
Q46Chairman: At the moment, it does not come
under the Council's structures. Do you think it should do?
Mr Veness: I think it is an omission and an
opportunity. It probably is inappropriate for me to comment about
where that would appropriately fit in.
Q47Chairman: Would it be helpful?
Mr Veness: There is a suggestion, given the
seniority of the body, that something akin to the Article 36 strand
of activity within the EU may be appropriate. Then I think there
would be a need to align it with the administrative and strategic
arrangements for Europol itself so that one had a clearer definition.
No doubt that is a key role for Mr de Vries in his role as co-ordinator.
Q48Chairman: We can ask him.
Mr Veness: It is a very real opportunity because
there is a post-Madrid gap in relation to how the European Police
Chiefs Task Force is integrated within the system, and how that
fits together with the Europol activities.
Chairman: That will be a good question
for next week when we go to Brussels and meet Mr de Vries. That
is very helpful.
Q49Earl of Caithness: The National Crime Squad
has supported proposals to have small operational teams involving
other EU countries, which is something that would follow on from
improved Europol intelligence. Do you see this as a sensible way
Mr Veness: I think there are very real practical
benefits to be gained by the concept, but I think the concept
needs to be applied in a way that it adds benefit rather than
in any way it contributes to confusion. Perhaps I can illustrate
that. The way that the joint investigative teams were emerging
in the broader context of organised and serious crime, which is
not terrorism, is that they were looking at longer-term problems
such as illegal immigration, illegal smuggling of human beings
and drugs issues, which were amenable to rather longer-term investment.
In the context of dealing with terrorism incidents, the focus
has actually been on material which is being developed which might
lead to a terrorist bomb or some other form of incident, and there
I think we probably need to think more broadly than Europe. Certainly,
reflecting on the cases that have happened within the United Kingdom,
even in this current year, which have yet to come to trial, although
there was a European footprint, there also was the need to deal
with a great many other jurisdictions much further afield. I think
the joint investigative team idea has many benefits. Another dimension
of it is when an incident occurs, for example the attacks on the
Madrid trains, and the fact that that had immediate application
to a range of other European countries. I think there is an opportunity
to address the interests of those other countries and ensure that
the inquiries are pursued expeditiously, which would be very much
akin to a joint investigative team. What one does not want is
that every time there is a bomb in Europe, 24 other nations all
contribute individuals who may or may not have a role to play.
I think my colleagues would agree we want rather more refined
and bespoke arrangements. There is a third requirement that this
concept could deliver, and again I use Madrid as the example.
As soon as those bombs had happened, there was very clear enthusiasm
on the part of everybody engaged in terrorism in Europe: what
can we do to make the trains safer; how did this happen; where
did they get the explosives; who was involved; and what does it
tell us about European networks active in Europe? All of those
questions need very urgent answers. It is almost not a joint investigative
team but joint investigative communication that we need so that
we have measures in place to ensure that our European colleagues
are very promptly informed of those lessons. We would imagine,
in the context of the counter-terrorism theme, developing this
down those three broad avenues. In short, this is a valuable notion
and one which needs taking ahead in a thoughtful and constructive
Q50Earl of Caithness: Looking ahead and following
up that answer, you have mentioned things like added benefit and
being more closely integrated. Do you see a need for an EU operational
capacity? Are you differentiating between EU information, better
and closer information, and then limited operational teams, or
do you see it more as a big European operational capacity?
Mr Veness: I think if one added a label "European
operational capacity" it is difficult to see what that concept
or function would deliver that could not be achieved by what are
relatively well-established mechanisms of counter-terrorism at
the national level. My doubt would be whether one would always
guarantee that when you went looking for that capability within
a given location, even within Europe, you might find it. Certainly
my personal priority would be to invest more heavily in national
capability rather than to create, as it were, a specific European
operational counter-terrorism capability, which I think would
be difficult to fit in with the way that nationals regard counter-terrorism
as part of their national security jurisdiction, and so there
is not an overwhelming case that it would add benefit.
Q51Earl of Caithness: Changing to a slightly
different tack, on the evidence that ACPO and the Metropolitan
Police gave us, there was this interesting phrase "within
existing national structures and the constraints imposed by the
nature of counter-terrorism intelligence data". What limits
and constraints are you talking about? Can we lift the veil a
little bit on that?
Mr Veness: On re-reading that sentence, I am
conscious that it is not as happily expressed as it might be because
it contains the words "it is difficult to see how co-operation
could be improved on". I can think of a thousand ways to
do that. If it conveys that sense of complacency, I apologise.
That was not the intention. What we were seeking to convey in
relation to existing national structures is precisely the point
that I was alluding to in relation to capacity and capability.
To be candid, there is a wide variation amongst even European
nations in recognising the problem that post-9/11 terrorism confronts.
Sadly, I think the cruel reality that we are seeing is that that
understanding is coming about as a result of dire events rather
than an intellectual process and a commitment to be fully engaged.
I think the reality is that there is nowhere which we can exclude
from the possibility of a terrorism attack being mounted, supported,
recruited, provided with logistics, whatever, within the European
theatre. We need to start with that understanding. I regret to
say that is not yet fully developed. In terms of existing national
structures, that is the point I am referring to: the political
will based upon a clear understanding of the nature of the threat,
a commitment to engage and to commit resources, and a commitment
to address one's legal framework within that context.
Q52Viscount Ullswater: As a supplementary to
that, one of the first criteria that you identified in the role
of the job that you do was that terrorism has now become global
in the 37 months since 9/11. What we have been talking about are
the sorts of European institutions. I wondered if you could just
explain a little bit the role of Interpol and your work with Interpol,
your connection with Interpol, because again you said that if
there was an incident within the European Union, you did not want
24 people all gathering to try and deal with it. I think we have
been told in written evidence that Interpol has what is called
incident response teams, small numbers of people that can go and
co-ordinate responses to events. Could you enlarge?
Mr Veness: On that latter point, it links back
to what I was describing as the breadth of the strategic challenge
all the way from when one has the first nugget of intelligence
about a possible terrorist incident through the incident, if one
is unable to stop it, and then dealing with it afterwards. I think
the contribution of organisations such as Interpol is to bring
together a range of national talents, skills and resources, which
for example allow you to recover from that incident or to address
the immediate crisis. We all ought to be actively supporting and
engaging in that to make sure that that could happen rapidly when
the need arises. Interpol clearly in a more general sense has
the overwhelming advantage that it is the one global policing
organisation. I think the encouraging dimension is the way, particularly
under its present leadership, and indeed the contribution that
has been made in terms of executive support from the United Kingdom,
that Interpol has moved from a position of merely being an information
exchange to developing particular contributions on a thematic
basis. The one I would give by way of example is its work in relation
to forged identity documents and in particular its aspirational
global register in relation to passports and travel documents.
That is immensely helpful. The disadvantage of course is that
if you are moving on a truly global basis, then there may be some
challenges in the extent to which you can be completely candid
in respect of the sharing of intelligence that certain nations
might regard as particularly sensitive. Is there an opportunity
to drive ahead the agenda in relation to the greater role that
Interpol could play? Yes, I think there is.
Q53Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: Could I
ask a question about Europol at this stage? We are obviously very
interested in how the institutional arrangements work. I wondered
what you felt about that. Are you satisfied with the role of Europol
and the role that is played in its fight against terrorism and
what you believe about its powers: does it need more or can it
be effective as it is at the present time?
Mr Veness: I think even the most enthusiastic
supporter would regard Europol as an evolutionary development.
I think that is not being critical; it is being realistic. Seeking
to move within a European policing cohesive body over the period
of its development has inevitably been a challenge. To me, engaged
in operational counter-terrorism within the United Kingdom, the
one great advantage that Europol delivers immediately is that
you have a range of European liaison officers from each of the
constituent EU nations and they are actually there in one corridor
or nearby; there is the ability to deal with a problem that might
arise now with a European liaison officer from the United Kingdom
being able to speak to somebody from Belgium and somebody from
Sweden. Being able to address that issue is a very significant
step forward. When one adds the number of different agencies that
are now represented within Europol, and not only the police, in
all their rich diversity within European states but also customs
and immigration and in some cases security service officers, that
gives a focal point, which I think is a very great operational
asset. There are then the issues of the themes down which Europol
can drive in order to assist. For example, after the Madrid bombs,
it was the United Kingdom that engaged in a debate with Europol
and said it would be a tremendous advantage to get together everybody
who is responsible for transport and security both above ground
and below ground in Europe to share what knowledge we have and
what preventative measures we could take in relation to making
rail transport safer. That was, I think, an excellent initiative
taken by Europol in order to gather that degree of information.
There is then the Counter-Terrorist Task Force, again reinvigorated
after the Madrid bombings and contained in the declaration. We
are vigorous supporters of that. I am proud to say that the United
Kingdom is statistically the greatest contributor of information
on that basis to Europol. The opportunity now falls, with the
additional nations as part of the broader Europe, on development,
training and demonstrating leadership as to how that can be brought
together. I think some very real opportunities have arisen in
terms of timing and the rather sad process of recent historical
events and Europol is poised to make a valuable contribution.
Q54Chairman: Can I go back to something that
you said that I want to draw out. You said something like, "all
Member States feel a real necessity to commit more resources to
this and they all think the same and they feel strongly about
it". That is not entirely my take on this. Are you satisfied
that all Member States, even among the old Member States, are
feeling equally anxious about getting this right?
Mr Veness: No. If I have conveyed that, then
I have misled you.
Q55Chairman: That certainly is not my feeling.
Mr Veness: To be candid, I think the problem
of recognition of what this new dimension of threat means is patchily
understood even within countries. One could say, purely from a
counter-terrorist point of view, that one would hope there was
a greater clarity of understanding of the situation. That was
behind my comment to my Lord, that I think, if one looks at the
record over recent months, indeed the last few years, understanding
has actually arisen, sadly, when there has been a horrible incident
rather than from some intellectual process of logic which has
led people to do what is right, in our view, because that is the
appropriate action. If I conveyed the impression that there is
not scope for development within Europe, my view is very clear
on that: we are nothing like where we need to be.
Chairman: That is enormously helpful because I have
been quite concerned about one particular Member State that I
would have expected to have been very focused on this but is not
at all, to my way of thinking, and I will not name it. I am very
grateful to you for clarifying that point.
Q56Viscount Ullswater: So far we have talked
about structures and co-operation but not to a great extent. Obviously
what those structures do is exchange data. In your very helpful
paper you noticed the difference between the data which is to
be used partly for the judicial process and that which is to be
used for intelligence purposes, and also of course there are the
different legal views within the European Union as to the type
of data that may be regarded as evidence, information and intelligence.
Of course, we have that within our own structure within the United
Kingdom too, just as a footnote. Do these various things hinder
co-operation of data exchange?
Mr Veness: I think the candid answer to that
would be "yes". Clearly, the information that is of
the greatest imperative is that information which can save life
or reduce immediate risk to the public. That probably means that
our greatest investment should be in the intelligence channel,
because that becomes intelligence which becomes information for
action on which we can take practical steps. Of course, in an
ideal world one would always want to move to a position where,
in the vast majority of cases, one was mounting a prosecution
and therefore one had the benefit of evidence which was admissible
under the national rules applicable to that prosecution in order
ideally that that would lead to the conviction of those responsible.
Counter-terrorism, sadly, is a greyer business than that. There
are inevitably going to be occasionsone particularly senses
that with the range of dangers that are now applicable in respect
of new threatswhen you need to move on actionable intelligence,
and if that saves life, that is the outcome and one has reduced
the risk. If one is in a position where it is not possible in
those circumstances to mount a prosecution or indeed the compelling
evidence one would seek to adduce is not available, that seems
to me the right balance of judgment. The net result is that a
terrorist attack has been prevented or disrupted. I think the
key problem we have with the latter it that the issues of different
legal structures are problems in relation to evidential admissibility.
For example, when can a given national organisation begin to conduct
an investigation and when can it mount surveillance? One sees
a whole range of different, as it were, trigger points around
the European Union that certainly, from a UK perspective, we would
regard as difficult.
Q57Viscount Ullswater: Do you feel then that
perhaps there is some need for a common EU concept of admissibility
of evidence and intelligence? Is it something that the European
Union is there for? Is it a concept that the European Union itself
should be doing or is it something that national governments should
undertake on their own account?
Mr Veness: I think inevitably the initiative
and the energy is going to be nationally led because of the understanding
that this is a key element of each country's national security
arrangements. Therefore, the imperative is to ensure that at a
life-saving level, at the intelligence level, there is never the
opportunity whereby a vital piece of information which would have
saved a life in any country is reposing unaddressed and not being
actioned. I think there is some benefit in work like the EU Plan
of Acton, which has helpfully come out of the Madrid tragedy,
and the concentration of effort by Justice and Home Affairs and
the European Council. Achieving a common standard of admissibility
of evidence, given the tension between common law systems, Napoleonic
systems and others across Europe, would be ambitious in relation
to the achievement, and perhaps it is not the absolute imperative
if one is defining this mission as to save life.
Q58Lord Dubs: I want to ask two questions. One
is about information and the second is about intelligence, given
what you have said about the importance of intelligence. This
is about information: do you support the Commission's proposals
for enhancing access to information by law enforcement authorities
and the Swedish proposals for equivalent access to information?
How will these contribute to the counter-terrorism effort?
Mr Veness: Having seen both of those, our sense
is that, yes, of course, this is the right direction of travel.
In many ways, we are not the owner of that debate, which is strategic
and political. We recognise that. We are vigorously engaged in
contributing to the discussion and so both the Commission's proposals
and the Swedish proposals seem to us to be encouraging debate.
Where we would want to add our imperative would be to relate to
the previous issues about ensuring on an intelligence basis that
nothing is being missed in relation to an exchange of a potential
nugget of information that, as I mentioned, could reduce harm.
Q59Lord Dubs: You have almost anticipated my
next question. I think ACPO suggests that police forces should
have access to national security intelligence. Would the intelligence
agencies agree to that? In practical terms, how would you envisage
facilitating the exchange of data between law enforcement and
Mr Veness: That may have arisen from Mr Tomkins.
Mr Tomkins: My Lord, I think we might have framed
our evidence to the Committee rather poorly in this regard because,
of course, we do have access to national security intelligence
through bilateral contacts with the security services, and that
is vertical contact. What we do not have are lateral contacts
between special branches; that is, the security intelligence if
any in the domain of special branches. We work on the basis of
making requests to the Security Service at Thames House and the
reply coming back but we do not necessarily have the means to
interrogate the intelligence already, in our case, in our neighbouring
force, Strathclyde. You may be aware that there is a national
special branch intelligence system but that is something of a
misnomer. It is not actually a national system. It sets national
standards for the management of intelligence by the individual
special branches. Indeed, Her Majesty's Inspectorate in England
and Wales, when they conducted thematic inspections of special
branches in 2003, which they entitled "The Need to Know",
recommended that there be an integrated IT system for special
branches developed to allow this sort of mutual interrogation
because of the mobility of the subjects, of the intelligence,
and so on. Given the nature of human procurement and the development
of these projects, we might need a considerable time span, and
so in Scotland, and we recognise fully this is a virtue of our
scale, we are looking to create a parallel structure to that which
we already have in criminal intelligence, the Scottish Intelligence
Database, for special branches within Scotland, so that we would
have some mutuality of insight within Scotland to address these
issues. I am sorry if that initial evidence was misleading.