Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
Assistant Commissioner David Veness and Chief Constable
27 OCTOBER 2004
Q60Chairman: Could I explore and draw out the
question that we had last week but I think pertains to this as
well and that is the difference between intelligence and information.
Is either of you able to elaborate?
Mr Veness: Information is broad knowledge. In
my view, particularly in the counter-terrorism context, intelligence
is information which has gone through a process, an assessment
and a judgment, and to which a value has been added, so it has
an authority, it has a provenance, or it has a grading which takes
it beyond mere news, as it were, if you can ally information with
news on that basis. What I am looking for from intelligence is
something about which I can form a view as to its value and what
action can then be taken on the basis of it.
Q61Chairman: Would you understand that all your
EU partners share that view? Essentially, are we talking exactly
the same language but do we all understand what we mean by that?
Mr Veness: The candid answer is clearly "no".
Q62Viscount Ullswater: Could I ask a supplementary
of Mr Tomkins? Did I get it wrong or are you saying that individual
police forces' intelligence units cannot talk to each other on
an IT basis?
Mr Tomkins: They cannot interrogate national
security intelligence on an IT basis bilaterally between police
forces. That is conducted through the Security Service, so the
Security Service owns the intelligence and makes decisions on
the nature of that intelligence and as to the propriety of sharing
it with a particular special branch because of the actions they
Lord Dubs: Does that mean that if you want to get
some intelligence which special branch in London has, you have
to go to MI5 first to get it?
Q63Chairman: Are you able to answer that?
Mr Veness: I think there is an issue around
it. Special Branch acts in partnership with the Security Service
in order to provide the counter-terrorist intelligence structures.
I think one cannot look at this in purely police terms because
that is only a part of the picture as to the way the United Kingdom
addresses counter-terrorist intelligence. From my point of view,
and I know it is true of Mr Tomkins and other police chiefs, we
want the best possible intelligence hub that is going to be the
most effective for the United Kingdom, and that clearly cannot
be delivered by police forces; it must be delivered by a Security
Service working in conjunction with other agencies which have
the ability to reach and to receive material through liaison with
international partners across the globe. In many ways, we act
together with the Security Service in order to deliver counter-terrorism
intelligence. On your specific point about whether we would expect
to have unlimited access to that material, the answer is: no,
because clearly the owners have got to respect the ability to
get more information tomorrow and that relies on a very high degree
of confidentiality. What I do expect is that the security services
will work together in a confidential, effective and efficient
way with the police forces around the United Kingdom. I think
that is very close to being a UK success story, particularly when
contrasted with a great many European jurisdictions. It would
be a terrible shame if it was not because all of the experiences
we have had of terrorism over the years have, in my view, produced
a very effective and close partnership across the boundaries of
security service work and police work.
Q64Lord Avebury: It strikes me that before you
start talking about exchange of intelligence between Member States,
you do need to tackle what you hinted at: we do not have a common
definition of intelligence. Should it not be a priority to try
and get to the point where we know what each other means when
we talk about intelligence and then we write down a definition
which everybody then adopts?
Mr Veness: Yes, I think in practical terms what
it means is passing of information today. The working assumption
would be that which is actionable and useful in respect of countering
terrorism but which is not going to be evidential could be categorised
as intelligence. I agree with you that it would be neat to have
an agreed form of words that was broadly understood across Europe,
but does this act as a block this morning to people talking on
an intelligence-only basis? I think probably not. The real problem
is when one translates that information into evidence that one
trusts is going to be admissible. I think that is probably a broader
Q65Lord Avebury: Apart from the earlier definition
you gave of what intelligence means, information that has been
analysed and assessed so that people can draw conclusions from
it, there is this other characteristic that it is not information
which is going to be used in a court of law. That is another limiting
condition which you apply to the definition of intelligence. With
that definition, do you think there is a need to expand the exchange
of intelligence between EU Member States?
Mr Veness: I think unequivocally there is. If
the harm that we are seeking to prevent could be the mass murder
of citizens within any European country, then if we were in any
way complacent about the vigour or effectiveness with which intelligence
is shared between nations, we would indeed be remiss. Yes, we
must go on looking vigorously each day not only for the intelligence
being available but that it is gathered. That comes back to the
point in relation to capability and capacity. My priority investment
would be in ensuring that when we ask a particular nation whether
they have that intelligence, then they actually engage in a process
which will ensure that it is available.
Q66Lord Avebury: Assuming it was available,
what do you think are the main blockages and can you relate those
to the Commission's proposals?
Mr Veness: I think the Commission's proposals
would be a step forward in relation to liberating those issues,
and indeed in the Swedish proposal I think they would probably
operate rather more at the level where information is going to
be shared in an overt sense, particularly for it to be taken forward
to a court of law rather than acting as a blockage at the actionable
intelligence end of the spectrum.
Q67Lord Avebury: Could I ask you a question
about what you said right at the start on progress not having
been achieved in relation to the growth of support networks? You
said, and I am not sure I have got your exact words, that radicalism
contains extremism; in other words, there is a penumbra which
may be very large in terms of its numbers and its spread and within
which the kinds of behaviour we are looking at mature and are
fostered. Do you think that the intelligence agencies are sufficiently
conscious of this in the sense that they look at the intellectual
and ideological background in which terrorism occurs? Do you,
for instance, read the works of people like Qutb and Maududi and
do other people in European countries research these ideological
grandfathers of terrorism?
Mr Veness: Perhaps I could re-state what I was
seeking to convey, my Lord. What I was suggesting is that one
of the areas I would regard as somewhere we have not made sufficient
progress in the last 37 monthsbut of course it is a much
broader issue than thatis on the issues that cause the
tensions that lead to radicalisation. I am not suggesting radicalisation
is the problem but when radicalisation spawns extremism and extremism
spawns violence which impacts upon innocent lives, I think that
is the nub of the issue. In our judgment, what I can describe
perhaps inelegantly as the support base is growing rather than
diminishing because the causes of tension, not only in the sense
of terrorism in its classical sense but the geographic, political
and other issues which many will dub the root cause issues, are
growing rather than diminishing. That is why I am suggesting that
extremism is an absolutely key issue and one where I would suggest
there is the opportunity for regions, in the sense of European
and other regions, to contribute energy as well as what is done
at the national level.
Q68Lord Avebury: My question really was a more
factual one than that as to whether or not you considered that
on a European scale we need to collaborate in researching the
ideological basis within which terrorism develops?
Mr Veness: Absolutely, and indeed there is some
UK activity. I could point you towards where we are seeking, through
the various mechanisms that I have described, to put extremism
on the agenda so that we are addressing what I inelegantly described
as the root causes, but I am using that in a generic sense. If
we only address the consequences of terrorism, if we only deal
with the bomb stage, we are going to find this problem getting
larger over the years rather than diminishing, whereas I think
we have a clear duty to seek to address this. It cannot only be
a police and security service endeavour; this is a much broader
Lord Avebury: I would be very interested if we could
Chairman: That would be very helpful.
Q69Earl of Caithness: I would like to follow
up and take this a bit wider and ask the Assistant Commissioner
if he could give his views on the global nature of this. We have
been talking about Europe but you said right at the beginning
that this is a global matter. How do you see not just the UK relating
to the rest of the world but Europe relating to the rest of the
Mr Veness: Perhaps I could just explain what
was behind my comments very briefly. I take the point completely
that terrorism has been manifest in a range of locations across
the planet for a great many years, notably with the current episode
of terrorism from the end of the 1960s but there was a series
of earlier phases. What is different, in our judgment, in relation
to this dimension of international terrorism is that there is
very obviously a cohesion which may not be tight but nevertheless
a linkage in some form or another that has occurred, which has
brought about an agenda which is unequivocally to cause the death
of a great many people with, to some extent, dotted line linkages
between those groupings. The most obvious cohesive factor would
be the individuals who travelled to the borderlands of Pakistan
and Afghanistan and went through training from a period in the
mid-1960s up to October 2002 when Coalition action made that less
likely in Afghanistan. What are dubbed the Afghan alumni then
travelled to various corners of the globe to perpetuate the agenda
and to take forward the methodology they had learnt in those camps.
That is probably the easiest example. I think we have a dimension
of global impact that one can see in Indonesia, in Malaysia and
throughout south-east Asiaand one can see it in the Middle
East and across the span of the Maghrebthat represents
a changed dimension of the threat of international terrorism.
I think that is what I would describe as the new threshold, the
novel dimension. Clearly, given that new challenge, there is an
opportunity for regional institutions to make a vigorous contribution.
If you do that with upwards of 200 nation states, it is going
to be difficult to bring all that about, and I am in no way detracting
from some of the excellent work that the United Nations has done,
notably in Security Council resolutions, in respect of terrorist
financing. I think there is a regional contribution that can be
made which fits into that global challenge, if that is not a rather
pretentious way of describing it.
Q70Earl of Caithness: Can I get your comment
on how those regional groups are now interlinking with regard
to information and intelligence?
Mr Veness: Given that those bodies tend to be
a support mechanism to national endeavours, I think the honest
answer to that would be in a limited way at the moment. Where
I think perhaps a more constructive and immediate contribution
could be made would be back to the points of political will,
commitment, problem understanding and developing capacity and
capability. I think if one looks at the examples, notably in South
East Asia, where there are things which have occurred in the last
37 months, development of regional training centres, development
of expertise in dealing with bomb scenes that was not present
and all that had been addressed on a regional basis, I would point
to the practical contributions that could be made, perhaps in
a less complex environment than information sharing.
Q71Lord Avebury: I was going to ask on another
matter, in relation to what ACPOS said about the inter-operability
of EU databases, they see that as being a "mammoth task",
by which I assume they mean it is not a practical proposal by
the Commission. Both the National Crime Squad and NCIS see that
there is a case for a centralised EU database for law enforcement
purposes. Would you go along with that as an alternative, perhaps,
to the inter-operability proposals and, if so, do you think there
are intrinsic limits to the extent to which there can be inter-operability
between the different agencies?
Mr Tomkins: Yes, my Lord, I think our scepticism
was borne of our practical experience in Scotland and trying to
get inter-operability on criminal intelligence between eight police
forces, most of them quite small police forces, and therefore
with small databases because of legacy systems and the nature
of legacy systems that we have referred to in earlier evidence.
Our experience was that we needed effectively to install a clean
system, a new database, which would then operate on common shared
protocols. If we extrapolate that to the position in England and
Wales, where of course there are 43 forces which do not have a
shared database, they do not have an equivalent to the Scottish
intelligence database, and are reliant to some degree on bilateral
arrangements with surrounding forces, groups of forces and so
on, and then we extrapolate again to the complexity of the EU
as a whole and the nature of legacy systems and the diversity
of input criteria and so on, then I think that really informs
our scepticism about being able to realise inter-operability protocols/criteria
within the short term. I think, therefore, from our limited experience,
we would say that it would probably be best to create a new database
which would focus initially on the sharing of non contentious/non
sensitive intelligence information such as identity records, finger
prints and so on which could be accessed by constituent members
of that database.
Q72Lord Avebury: In some of the Scottish police
forces, is there not a trend towards using open source operating
systems and software? Would that help in maximising the ease of
Mr Tomkins: My Lord, if I understand you correctly,
you mean open source intelligence?
Q73Lord Avebury: No.
Mr Tomkins: Open sourced systems, web based
system, yes, indeed, as long as the appropriate security
Q74Lord Avebury: classification is adopted.
Linux is its main operating system.
Mr Tomkins: Yes, but not for the Scottish intelligence
database, it is a web browser based approach. I am going beyond
my field of professional competence here, my Lord. My understanding
is that the nature of the security operations for browser based
type structures is becoming much more reliable and that might
represent a more accessible and cheaper way forward and therefore
a more timely way forward.
Q75Lord Avebury: Can I ask both of you, do you
think that the development of a common EU framework of data protection
for the Third Pillar would be a good idea?
Mr Veness: Yes. Clearly it has advantages because
one of the issues, particularly in relation to both intelligence
and evidence runs into different interpretations of data protection
criteria across the European structures. I think, again, my Lord,
the issue would be achievability at the political level.
Q76Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I would
like to explore a little bit about the G5 group which ACPOS has
said is beneficial, I believe, and the Metropolitan Police/ACPO
said that it does not undermine wider EU initiatives. I wonder
if you could expand on this?
Mr Veness: I think G5 has got a valuable role
to play. As you know it was here earlier in the summer, we were
hosting the meetings. I had the opportunity to contribute at the
working level with various operators from G5 which I think proved
to be timely because literally we were in the weeks after March
11 and Madrid, and then also the Home Secretary generously invited
the Director-General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service,
the Director-General of the Security Service and myself representing
ACPO to be part of the G5 deliberations when they met at the ministerial
level. I was struck by the fact that here were five nations who
were very seized of the problem, who had significant resources
to contribute, and in many ways were inclined to act almost as
a dynamo or focus of activity that it would be difficult to achieve
in the broader, particularly now, 25 Member context. I presume
it can never be perfect because there will be other countries
who think there ought to be six or seven, and there are good cases
to be made on that basis. My impression was that the ministers
were keenly appreciative of wanting to be, as it were, a vanguard
rather than a diversion. I sensed that there was a constructive
role, particularly because of the timeliness of the fact that
the action plan was now manifest, and here was something where
a group of nations who were committed to driving that could achieve,
I think, a valuable bringing together of various EU initiatives
which, if we are honest, have been a bit spread about over recent
times and to give some sense of direction.
Mr Tomkins: I think it would be hard to add
to Mr Veness's eloquence on the subject other than to say from
our perspective, really as has been said, it brings together the
Member States with the core expertise in this field and it represents
an engine for championing attention to the issue, as your Lordships
have mentioned during the evidence to date.
Q77Earl of Listowel: What contribution has the
appointment of the EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator made? How
do you think his role should develop now?
Mr Veness: Clearly it is in its early stages,
an appointment made immediately after the Madrid events. Our view
is that there is a very real opportunity and seen purely from
a practical counter-terrorist point of view that opportunity would
be to make sure that the various components of the EU machine
are working together as effectively as they might and with a clear
sense of direction and producing useful products and outcomes.
I think the reality is that the energies of the EU in relation
to counter-terrorism, and in the context of broader law enforcement
issues, have produced a slightly untidy picture. We have a range
of committees which have terrorism within their name. Also, we
have a range of committees, initiatives and bodies which have
some form of terrorism as part of what they do, either in the
context of immigration or data protection. I sense that there
is a very busy week for an EU co-ordinator in concentrating on
that activity and bringing it together for useful benefit. To
be frank, it is not for me to comment on Mr de Vries' working
week but it seems in terms of EU practical counter-terrorism it
should be very much focused on the internal workings of the EU
and should not be adding a dimension of external representation
because that is a function of the ministers of interior of Europe
and should not be assuming what some might misinterpret as an
ambassadorial role, again, I think that is the role of the ministers
of interior. I think there is a real job to be done. In purely
practical terms, the description that was provided immediately
after March was a mite generic and I think there will be great
benefit in tying down those terms of reference with a greater
degree of precision.
Q78Earl of Listowel: Are you suggesting then
that his role should be to identify best practices, common standards
and to put those forward as being helpful to making it all gel
Mr Veness: Precisely, my Lord, and I would add
an audit of where counter terrorism is addressed within the various
structures of the EU and ensuring that there was not duplication
and there was a clear focus and direction to the way that the
EU was supporting nationally delivered counter terrorism effort.
Q79Earl of Listowel: That is very helpful indeed.
If I might just come on and ask you about a particular point,
that is how Eurojust fits into the picture you have been describing?
A particular point we are taking up is that we have been learning
that Eurojust's national representatives do not have the powers
that one would really wish them to have. For instance, the legislative
framework on which they are supposed to be operating, it has not
been fully pushed through in all European states. Perhaps you
could say a bit about that in relation to the coordinator's work?
Mr Veness: Yes, indeed. Clearly, Eurojust is
operating in almost the most difficult end of this particular
business, because it is seeking to grapple with the fact that
for a whole range of other reasons 25 different legal systems
are in play which were not created with counter terrorism cases
in mind. I do not under-estimate the nature of the challenge.
We welcome the fact that Eurojust like Europol, as it evolves,
has begun to demonstrate that you can add value at the European
level provided you define the contribution you are making and
it is practicable, it is reasonable and is welcomed by the Member
States. The very obvious gap was when you moved to translate that
into court cases, where was not that same degree even of embryonic
cohesion and, indeed, there was a greater opportunity for tension
because of the differences between legal systems. I think the
idea of Eurojust is extremely desirable, I think it is probably
still in its network stage. It describes itself as a network and
I think that is precisely where it is at the moment. There are
other groupings that are dealing with information exchange amongst
lawyers that are valuable. From our point of view, dealing with
practical counter terrorism, it will be supporting prosecutors
in relation to drawing together admissible evidence and the transmission
of that evidence across European borders.