Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1160 - 1179)

TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002

ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER DAVID VENESS, CBE, AND DEPUTY CHIEF CONSTABLE ALAN GOLDSMITH

Jim Knight

  1160. From what you said about the Cleveland experience, does that imply some sympathy towards the notion of a regional co-ordination?
  (Mr Goldsmith) Not necessarily. Regions can perhaps be too large, one would argue. What is important is that the local authority have one clear voice for an area.

  1161. Even if it is a monkey?
  (Mr Goldsmith) Sorry? I would not seek to comment upon the choice of the democracy.

Chairman

  1162. No, or an ex-policeman, I may say.
  (Mr Goldsmith) The point is, from a Police Service point of view, for Cleveland Police to have one unit to work with, particularly in an area with a high concentration of petrochemical industries, clearly makes it far easier than to have four unitary organisations with which to deal. If that sort of model were applied nationally it would certainly make our life a lot easier.

  1163. One of the advantages of having the Defence Committee looking at this is that we carry less baggage in embarking on an inquiry which is looking at a set of potentially conflictual structures. One of the things I am giving a great deal of thought to is whether there would be, at local level, sufficient expertise to deal with the range of threats to which we are now going to be exposed. They might be fine dealing with floods, but we are now talking, later in our questions, about something far more serious. I wonder whether you think there is any possibility of expertise being more centralised, and in the event of a crisis, a crisis team then moving into an area, not necessarily to supplant that local or regional expertise, but to assist it. Can you stand apart from the organisational differences that there might be, and see whether there are any examples of pursuing this somewhat further?
  (Mr Goldsmith) That does happen in practice already, Chairman. For a number of years we have had arrangements with what we term a major disaster advisory team. This is a group of individual police officers who have been through major disasters, perhaps recovering bodies, perhaps dealing with identification matters, who are available on a 24-hours-a-day basis to be called out to go and respond to a police force that might need them. As an example, with the Dunkeswick air crash outside Leeds about three or four years ago, North Yorkshire Police had not dealt with any, or certainly not many, aircraft crashes. They called the major disaster advisory team. The accident happened at about half past six one evening. By half past six the next morning officers were there, some officers from the Metropolitan Police dealt with body recovery which is a particularly difficult and challenging job and were there to give advice, in the same way the National Co-ordinator goes to Chief Constable to give him or her advice on certain situations. So the major disaster advisory team does work.

  1164. Is that concept worth broadening to include other areas of expertise? I can imagine the advantage of some policemen coming in to assist local police officers. I was thinking more broadly of a whole range of expertise which would be beyond the competence even of the Police Service or Fire Service, actually for giving them nuclear, chemical, biological warfare advice.
  (Mr Goldsmith) Certainly I can say that the Police Service has found benefits from having expertise available. There are, I am aware, in terms of chemical incidents, a number of national arrangements which the Fire Service can call upon. When we then move on to contamination, be it chemical, biological or radiological, then there are other issues. Again, there are experts available who can be called in, and forces do have arrangements for that. Also, from a provincial force point of view, we would call in Scotland Yard, in terms of anti-terrorism, for their expertise.

Syd Rapson

  1165. Mr Veness, the briefing we had at New Scotland Yard was very useful and without patronising you to any great extent it gave me a feeling of security following what you told us more than probably any other possible interview, so thank you for that. I can rest easy. We have read in the press that following 11 September the Anti-Terrorist Branch, or SO13 as it is now better known, doubled in size and the Met, which looks after it, got £22 million extra from the Government, whether that is true or not I will leave it up to you to tell me. What reinforcements of the national counter-terrorism capability have been put in place since the events of 11 September following that infusion or injection of extra resources?
  (Mr Veness) Thank you for your comment. I think we all recognise that although much has been done there is an absolutely enormous amount left to be done. Whilst we recognise what is in place we are very keen there should be yet more in place. The examples you have given I think are the most compelling. It was true to say that up to the period of the end of the last financial year a sum of money which was £22 million was granted to the Met for all of the extra endeavours in which we had engaged since 11 September. That covered the whole range of policing activity, of which probably the most expensive was the overt highly visible presence which was necessary in order to restore confidence and stability. We did have the reality of self-evacuation of high rise buildings in the Central London area on 11 September itself. There were issues around public reassurance which were very real. As regards the Anti-Terrorist Branch, we were able to double its strength. It is just around a hundred officers in order to do a wide range of tasks. We did that through the support of chief constables around the country, support from the National Crime Squad and, indeed, by taking officers off other duties within the Metropolitan Police. For me the critical challenge is to sustain that increase as a permanent feature because there is, in our view, an unequivocal need when we look at the threat that at least a double sized Anti-Terrorist Branch, SO13, is in place. We have made a bid to Government for not only the next financial year but for the remainder of the three year financial cycle, of which 2002 will be the first. Certainly the announcement which was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, followed up by the announcement of the Home Secretary, gives us very considerable grounds of confidence for believing the allocation within this financial year will indeed allow us to sustain that doubling of the Anti-Terrorist Branch on a permanent basis because inevitably, however generous chief officers are, heads of National Crime Squads around the country, there must come a time when they have got other things to do with those officers. It is an unprofessional way to run a very important part of the police service by operating on loan, we need to move to permanence. A similar augmentation will be possible on exactly the same financial basis that I have discussed as a result of the allocation that has been made by the Home Secretary in respect of Special Branch activity because—and it links to an earlier question by the Chairman—it is enormously important that the UK invests in stopping terrorism. By far the best outcome is to stop the terrorist using the gun and the bomb. If we get to the position where that is a very real threat we have then to invest heavily in overt high visibility uniform of one form or another policing which is otherwise engaged in duties which the public expect it to perform in terms of burglary, street crime, etc.. The professional approach is to do precisely what I hope we are now resourced in the long term to achieve.

  1166. Thank you for that. I realise that the September issue changed everything for us all.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  1167. The procedures you must have looked at for counter-terrorism must have changed dramatically.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  1168. I realise you put officers around to give confidence to the public but have the procedures on counter-terrorism changed dramatically since 11 September for you? Have you had to change the whole structure and relationship with others, Special Branch, etc.?
  (Mr Veness) Yes. Primarily it is a question of a fundamental change of focus in relation to clearly the significance that international terrorism now represents. I do not think it is an over-statement to say that given the global reach of this threat of terrorism, its impact, the intractability of its source and its origins that we now face a challenge which requires not only a policing, law enforcement and security and intelligence response but political will, diplomatic endeavour, attack upon terrorist finances and, as we have seen, military valour in order to combat this scale. The scale and the focus has altered fundamentally. Also, we have got aspects of terrorist methodology which are radically new in a Western, certainly in a UK, context: suicide terrorism, the intention to inflict mass casualties, simultaneous concurrent events almost on the same day and very clear evidence of long term terrorist preparation and planning. All of that in counter-terrorism terms requires us to invest much more significantly at the intelligence end of the business. As I mentioned, in order to preserve the public from harm we need to stop the terrorists before they have the opportunity to mount their operations. It is too late when we are guarding on an unspecified way on the street. The focus, the shift in terms of what you are describing has been to a much greater emphasis on intelligence led interdiction before the event. Now I would not describe that we are yet in a position where that could be regarded as developed anything like to the scale that we would wish. It is almost eight months on. There has been a tremendous amount of endeavour to refocus on this new target but there is much work still to be done.

  1169. Of course a lot of that will be not seen by the public. The more successful you are the least we hear about it which is good I suppose.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  1170. People will not see value for money unless something happens but you are doing it on a daily basis. Could I move on. We had a session last week on the American postal service about anthrax in letters and it was quite alarming, the cost of trying to sanitise the mail.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  1171. It is absolutely frightening what that means for us. In what ways since the anthrax attacks have they changed the requirement to look at chemical and biological threat? We had an understanding before of what we were looking at with chemical, biological and nuclear possibilities but anthrax from an internal American criminal source maybe has thrown everything up in the air again. How much has that anthrax diversion changed your attitude towards chemical and biological protection?
  (Mr Veness) Very significantly indeed. Although it would be perhaps encouraging to regard it as a diversion I think we actually have to regard it as the mainstream of the problem. If we look at what occurred post 11 September in the States, we had those dimensions that I have described—the macro casualty, the suicide, the no notice—but in the period clearly as you are identifying, Sir, in the autumn of 2001, and differently in a dramatic way I think between Europe and the United States, they had the reality and real deaths and real casualties and that we learn, and clearly it is to be expected, has a dramatic impact in terms of the demand for security, how one handles mail screening, all of those issues in terms of response. The development within the UK began in 1991 post Gulf War but it did not make perhaps the progress that we would have wished, it moved on again with Aum Shinrikyo and Tokyo in the mid 1990s but it is without a doubt these events which have mainstreamed this activity. I use that description because I think we have yet to determine, although we have very close contacts with our US colleagues as to what the origins of that precise series of events was. The lesson I think which will not have been missed by terrorists anywhere is what can be achieved by dint of public impact by this form of attack. Nobody will have failed to observe what that means in terms of public concern. We had that here in Europe even without real casualties, thank heavens. We have had some taste of that. I think the issue of chem-bio is now absolutely critical in the heart of counter-terrorist response. I think if we look at the UK position it is important to differentiate between the four letters. On chemical I think we have made good progress and the ability of the UK to respond to a chemical incident is at least effective. Biological, real challenges, and one looks at some of the emerging material from recoveries in Afghanistan and that adds to one's concern in relation to the intentions, and that is why I think it is directly relevant to the main international terrorist threat. Again, there is much work which needs to be done in the development of biological response. For example, the one bit of kit that every counter-terrorist would desire is an effective street level totally reliable bio detector, now at the moment that is not there. When we get into radiological, the dirty bomb or the nuclear then the challenges become even greater in terms of interdiction and the consequence management. We are very clear. We have spoken very closely with the Americans on this. We have had teams on the ground in order to learn the lessons, of which there are many, and we have instigated within the Europol mechanism a process by which we got all of the European nations, it was Europol who generously did that, in order to learn the lessons from each of the 15 EU nations and indeed one or two candidate states about the way that Europe had responded to those issues in autumn of last year. It is difficult to over-estimate the scale of the challenge or indeed to under-estimate what we need to do on a whole raft of issues in order to deal with those matters before they occur and then to address the consequences. It is very close to the top of the agenda.

  1172. The foot and mouth crisis, probably you were not directly involved but you were bound to be watching things. Were there lessons learned from the foot and mouth disease which have been beneficial to your biological attack sequences, and probably I will throw in the fuel crisis when we had a number of problems, not least organisation and communication? Have both those issues affected your planning?
  (Mr Veness) They have indeed. We were learning the lessons from Mr Goldsmith's side of the house so perhaps it is for him to comment.
  (Mr Goldsmith) Yes. The important issues around both foot and mouth and fuel were the need to have national arrangements which would ensure we could act corporately across the country. They are examples of critical disruptions which I think we have to plan in order to deal with. It is about ensuring that there is mutual aid there, that we have good lines of communication, that we use technology such as e-mail, a simple example, the internet, to ensure that information is spread around. In terms of the chemistry behind foot and mouth going across to anthrax, I am not aware of any issues where there has been a read across, there is more about organisation and structure.

Jim Knight

  1173. Mr Veness, you have talked a little bit about European co-ordination. I am looking at a January report that credits you with taking a lead on behalf of British police in forming a European anti-terrorist task force. You have talked a little bit about the national co-ordination and the relationship with the United States but I would be interested to know how those negotiations are going and what the impact of that increased security and police co-operation across Europe is for our own security?
  (Mr Veness) Yes, indeed. The key links in terms of adding to the United Kingdom security are international and given that we face now a truly global threat we need to look with ever greater vigour at how we can reinforce those. In the UK context close to the top of any list would be our links with the United States. We describe those links in law enforcement terms as seamless. We were on the ground very, very quickly after the incidents in New York and I would like to think the British law enforcement contribution to assist our colleagues both in the New York Police Department and the FBI was at least as good as any other nation. There were some who were kind enough to say it was at least as good as any other country. That needs to be sustained in the long term. Just to give a sense of proportion around that. Our support to the FBI investigation currently is the largest contribution that UK law enforcement has ever made to a non- British crime, that is in our view entirely right and will continue to be the position. Those links are very firm and are essential. Of course they do not only play out in the US/UK context, they play out in a large number of venues where we have common interest elsewhere. The European dimension is absolutely critical if only because of the movement of potential terrorists from East and Central Europe into Western Europe, the move through the Balkans and the move from the Middle East, so that is a key arena. Europol has a raised prominence in this agenda and that was a political decision of the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 20 December last year which allocated additional responsibilities to Europol. We are very keen to support those endeavours. Clearly they need to be taken ahead in a way that is complementary to what already exists in terms of security and intelligence linkages across Europe because this is not a green field, this is an area in which a great many European countries, back to the days of the Red Army faction, Red Brigade and indeed activities where we had seen other terrorism which affects the United Kingdom manifest on the European mainland, the need to have structures which are relatively well developed. If I can just contrast that. The reason for which Europol was created, which was primarily organised crime, those structures were much less obvious a few years ago than they are in respect of European counter-terrorism so we need to build on what has been achieved already. There are options. I do not sit here in front of you this afternoon with a European task force at a full state of creation. It will need a few years more to achieve that. That generic label describes a manner of working in which we are freely exchanging intelligence and information at the stage before groups have managed to establish their footprint. If they are, as they all are, operating internationally—there is no such thing as a nationally focused terrorist group in this context; by some means of logistic support, either it is people, it is kit, it is accommodation, it is storage, it is logistics, it is finance or it is accommodation—we will be crossing borders. We have to operate in that reality. What we are looking to achieve is the opportunity to recognise those cross border dimensions at an early stage, to link the endeavours of law enforcement and equally importantly to link those with the endeavours of the prosecuting authorities. Our support is both to Europol as the policing organisation and Eurojust as the linkages between magistrates and judges in order that we can achieve more cohesive impact in a European sense. That will not be achieved overnight. We have got significant differences in legal codes. Criminal law is the most chauvinist beast I know in respect of its defence of jurisdiction. We have to move ahead on that. It is vital that we develop that agenda and there is an increasing energy for that in a pan- European sense.

  1174. Just very quickly. Does further enlargement of the European Union and an extension of the border and free movement within that border cause you any concern in that context?
  (Mr Veness) No. It is essential and in many ways it is beneficial. Recently, as an example, today, there has been a conviction in a London court for arms which emanate from Slovakia. Our need to be aware and to be key working alongside the arms market that regrettably is to be found in the Balkans and parts of Central and Eastern Europe is absolutely critical. Inclusion within Europol, Eurojust are endeavours I would regard as a plus.

Chairman

  1175. I was thinking, we need to publish a glossary of acronyms, anybody watching or listening must be confused.
  (Mr Veness) My apologies.

  Chairman: No. It is not your fault, it is the field we are all working in.

Mr Cran

  1176. Still on the subject of intelligence gathering, in my sheet of papers my attention was drawn to a quote from Sir John Stevens, who is of course the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who said ". . . 11 September terror attacks were a `wake up call'." Then he went on to say "British police had not been warned that suspected shoe bomber Richard Reid was a potential security risk". Of course that raises questions that you have been talking to Mr Knight about, about how the whole jigsaw fits together.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.

  1177. You were talking to Mr Knight about the international aspect of it. I think I am rather keen on knowing the domestic arrangements and particularly how well the relationship functions between the Security Service, which of course is the lead role in the gathering of intelligence in terms of terrorism, and the Anti-Terrorism National Co-ordinator who I think works for you?
  (Mr Veness) Yes, he does.

  1178. He does. How does that relationship work?
  (Mr Veness) The anti-Terrorism National Co-ordinator is my deputy so we work very closely together. It is, I hope, an encouraging picture and I think by any international comparator the co-ordination that has been achieved between intelligence agencies and operating and prosecuting agencies within the UK is as good an example as I see anywhere internationally. It would be very disappointing if it was not because we have gone through a great many years of hard knocks in which that position was not always prevalent in order to get to the position we occupy. It is unequivocally right that the Security Service are the lead for the collection and analysis of intelligence but they are an agency which is very properly focused on intelligence and security and they do not have executive powers. That is why I think it works in a complementary sense because in order that we can move from intelligence, which is only valuable if it is there to protect the public, to operations if it can be used in an operational sense in order to impact upon terrorists. That is where we get the partnership between the Security Service operating invariably through the Special Branch, because that is the secure window, if I can put it in that way, which allows essential intelligence which is going to be valuable for protecting the public the next time and the next time in a way that we can then process it into a police operation and ideally take it before the courts. It comes back to that comment that I made about the golden thread, that is what we are seeking to achieve, that we can acquire through the agencies, through the good work of the Security Service and indeed their sister agencies, information which is vital to reducing the risk and impact of terrorism to make it work operationally in a way that means we do not lose the intelligence and ideally—and this is the most difficult bit—to take that then before the courts in a way that allows the prosecution to be affected. That is what we are seeking to achieve. To be frank I think the British model stands comparison with any other jurisdiction to my mind.

  1179. Would you agree with me that the great problem, however, about all structures is the further away you get from, let us say, 11 September the efficiency of them might decrease, might it not, because the big threat has gone away, the new threat is not seen and so on? You know what I am saying.
  (Mr Veness) Yes.


 
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