Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)

Assistant Commissioner David Veness and Chief Constable Paddy Tomkins

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 want taken.

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 challenge.

  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 months—but of course it is a much broader issue than that—is 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 social agenda.

Lord Avebury: I would be very interested if we could have that.

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 world?

  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 Asia—and one can see it in the Middle East and across the span of the Maghreb—that 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 inter-operability?

  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 together?

  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.


 
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