Undichte Stellen in der Terrorismusbekämpfung
Selten hat eine Veranstaltung von Policy Exchange so hohe Wellen geschlagen wie der gestrige Vortrag des Chefs der Abteilung Terrorismusbekämpfung von New Scotland Yard, Peter Clarke. Seine Anschuldigungen, dass sensible Informationen aus der Terrorbekämpfung durch undichte Stellen im Polizeiapparat an die Öffentlichkeit gelangt sind, wurde heute in einem Schlagabtausch zwischen Premierminister Blair und Oppositionsführer Cameron im britischen Parlament debattiert (Video). Über die Rede wurde zudem im Daily Telegraph, in der Londoner Times sowie in der New York Times berichtet (ein Ausschnitt kann bei der BBC online gesehen werden).
Da das Thema so wichtig ist, werde ich den Text der Rede nachfolgend vollständig dokumentieren (und zwar als besonderer Service für die Achse-Leser webexklusiv, d.h. noch vor der offiziellen Publikation auf der Policy Exchange-Website).
Learning From Experience – Counter Terrorism in the UK since 9/11
The Colin Cramphorn Memorial Lecture
24th April 2007
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke
Counter Terrorism Command – New Scotland Yard
I cannot begin to describe how great a privilege it is, indeed an honour, to be invited to deliver this, the first Colin Cramphorn Memorial Lecture. I was delighted when Dean asked me, but only later realised the enormity of the task. The challenge of putting together some thoughts that could in any way do justice to Colin’s memory was daunting. Colin, as everyone who knew him can testify, was a man of enormous knowledge of his chosen profession. But it was not simply a bookish knowledge. He had an instinctive feel for policing. He understood police officers, their thoughts, their hopes and fears. But he also understood communities. He knew what people wanted and expected from their police service. He was always able to see policing in a broader context, to understand the links and dependencies between the act of policing, if I can put it like that, and the communities and institutions that we as police officers serve. He knew that the relationship between the police and citizens is delicate, indeed often fragile. He also knew that maintaining that relationship depends not only on what happens on the street. He realised that if the public are to have confidence, it is vital that policing is properly understood by those who represent the interests of citizens at both local and national level, by local and central government, by the judicial system, and of course by the media. This often feels like a complex web of sometimes competing interests, and it is that very complexity that Colin understood so well.
In a sense Colin has chosen my subject for me this evening. He knew that when dealing with terrorism, almost above all other areas of policing, we have to learn from experience. By its very nature it is political – in origins and impact. The police response to terrorism can, and sometimes does have a severe impact on communities. And as we have seen over the past few years, we are often working at the very limits of our capacity and capabilities. Our success or failure sometimes rests in the hands of other agencies, or indeed overseas. And of course, we are wrestling with all of this at a time when the threat appears to be increasing in both scale and intensity.
My ambition tonight is to set out my personal view of developments in counter terrorism in the United Kingdom since September 2001. And perhaps unsurprisingly it will be from the perspective of a law enforcement practitioner.
First I would like to reflect on what has actually happened in the UK since 9/11. What is the scale and reality of the threat? How is it different from the threat that we faced for many years from Irish terrorism – and if it is different, why is that important? Second, what has British policing done to respond? Third, I shall try to describe some of the broader context in which we operate. What has been happening in the law, in politics, in the media and in the communities we police? What impact has this had on our ability to protect the public?
So what has happened since 9/11? I think it is no exaggeration to say that there has been a complete change in our understanding of the terrorist threat. For 30 years or more we had been facing a deadly campaign of terrorism conducted by utterly ruthless people intent on wreaking death and destruction. But it was different to that which we now face.
Colleagues from around the world often say to me that the long experience that we have in the United Kingdom of combating a terrorist threat must have stood us in good stead. That the experience gained during some 30 years of an Irish terrorist campaign would have equipped us for the new challenges presented by Al Qaeda and its associated groups. To an extent that is true – but only to an extent. The fact is that the Irish campaign actually operated within a set of parameters that helped shaped our response to it.
It was essentially a domestic campaign using conventional weaponry, carried out by terrorists in tightly knit networks who were desperate to avoid capture and certainly had no wish to die. The use of warnings restricted the scale of the carnage, dreadful though it was. The warnings were cynical and often misleading, but by restricting casualties, were a factor in enabling the political process to move forward, however haltingly.
I believe that if you take the reverse of many of these characteristics, you are not far away from describing the threat we face today. It is global in origin, reach and ambition. The networks are large, fluid, mobile and incredibly resilient. We have seen how Al Qaeda has been able to survive a prolonged multi-national assault on its structures, personnel and logistics. It has certainly retained its ability to deliver centrally directed attacks here in the UK. In case after case, the hand of core Al Qaeda can be clearly seen. Arrested leaders or key players are quickly replaced, and disrupted networks will re-form quickly. Suicide has been a frequent feature of attack planning and delivery – a stark contrast with the Irish determination to avoid capture. There is no evidence of looking to restrict casualties. There are no warnings given and the evidence suggests that on the contrary, the intention is frequently to kill as many people as possible. We have seen both conventional and unconventional weaponry, and to date, although perhaps this is not for me to judge, there has not been an obvious political agenda around which meaningful negotiations can be built.
But it is important to understand that this analysis of the changing nature of terrorism did not come to us in a flash of inspiration on 12th September 2001. It came about as a result of us doing exactly what the title of this lecture suggests we should do – Learn from Experience.
I came into my current role in counter terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11, in the early part of 2002. At that time we were still struggling to understand the precise nature of the threat in the UK. Was it real? Was there any intention to attack us here? During the 1990s many people believed that the extremists and dissidents from overseas regimes who were active in the UK were, if anything, pursuing agendas against foreign governments, and posed little or no threat to the UK. Certainly, in 2002 the perception was that if there was a threat to the UK, its origins were overseas. The spectre of a home grown terrorist threat was not yet with us.
During that year, 2002, we focussed on groups of North Africans, mainly Algerians, to find out whether they were engaged solely in support, fund raising and the like, or whether they posed a real threat to the UK itself. We followed a trail of petty fraud and false identity documents across the country. Eventually that trail took us to Thetford, where in the unlikely surroundings of rural Norfolk we found the first real indication since 9/11 of operational terrorist activity here in the UK – recipes for ricin and other poisons. That led us eventually to Wood Green and the chemicals, the Finsbury Park Mosque, and of course the terrible murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake in Manchester in January 2003.
That case taught us many things, not least about our ability to operate across borders, both within the UK and overseas. It showed us the difficulties that international terrorist conspiracies pose for our domestic judicial system. For the police, it also marked the beginning of our understanding of the impact that the emerging distrust of intelligence in early 2003 would have on our relationship with the media and therefore the public. This was the first time, in my experience, that the police service had been accused of exaggerating the threat posed by terrorists in order, it was alleged, to help the government justify its foreign policy.
But 2003 was notable not only for the scepticism with which some commentators described the terrorist threat. What 2003 also brought was the realisation that British citizens had been trained and recruited as terrorists. In April Asif Hanif from Hounslow and Omar Sharif from Derby launched a suicide bomb attack on a beach front bar in Tel Aviv. That same year, Sajid Badat was arrested in Gloucester, still in possession of the component parts of his shoebomb from when he had been planning, with Richard Reid, to bring down airliners in 2001. These and others had been recruited to the jihadi cause, but there was still no indication that there were plans for British citizens to mount attacks here in the UK. By and large, in 2003 the UK was a net exporter of terrorism.
That of course all changed in early 2004 when we investigated the alleged ‘Fertiliser’ plot. The jury in this case are still considering their verdicts, and so I must be careful. Later that year, a convert to Islam, Dhiren Barot, was arrested for planning attacks both in the US and here in the UK. In both cases there are current judicial proceedings, but I am able to say that these investigations marked the beginning of a trend that has now been repeated on several other occasions – groups of British citizens travelling to Pakistan to receive training and instructions, then returning to the UK and building up their networks here as they allegedly move towards launching attacks. This of course is the pattern we saw with the July 2005 attacks here in London, and as other cases reach the Courts, a similar profile of the networks we are facing will emerge.
In terms of the broad development of the threat, it is frustrating that I cannot describe in more detail much of what we have discovered during the course of investigations, but suffice it to say that the alleged plot to bring down airliners last year was yet another step in what seems an inexorable trend towards more ambitious and more destructive attack planning.
So what impact has all this had on our response from a law enforcement perspective? The simple answer is that it has changed everything. That is not to say that we have forgotten the lessons of dealing with 30 years of Irish terrorism – far from it. But the change in the nature of the threat has meant that in turn we have had to change the way in which we do business.
No longer can the police service feed off the crumbs falling from the end of the intelligence table. In the past a case would sometimes come to the police after there had been a great deal of investigation by the intelligence agencies. Sometimes we would have little insight into what lay behind the case, and this was often deliberately the case – to protect the evidential investigators from knowledge that could lead them into difficulties when giving their evidence in court. This is no longer acceptable for very sound legal reasons, but it is also not acceptable in terms of public safety. We can no longer wait until the terrorist is at or near the point of attack before intervening. It might give us the strongest evidence to do so –to capture the terrorist with the gun or the bomb. But the risk to the public, in the age of suicide bombers and no notice attacks, is simply too great. So what we have done is to develop a new way of working. The police and Security Service now work together in every case from a much earlier stage than would ever have happened in the past. The intelligence that is gathered and assessed by the Security Service is in large part the lifeblood of counter terrorism in the UK. Exploiting it is a shared endeavour. Setting joint objectives and agreeing investigative strategies is not exceptional. It has become the daily routine.
So how does this work? Well, in every case we strike a conscious balance between developing evidence and public safety. We cannot take risks with public safety, and so sometimes, if we cannot be sure how far advanced an attack plan is, or if however hard we investigate we cannot bottom out the intelligence, we have to intervene. Sometimes this inevitably means that there will not be enough evidence to prosecute, and then we face the criticism that we are being indiscriminate in our activities. The operation in Forest Gate in June 2006 is often held up as an example of this. If anyone seriously believes that we, and here I mean the police, would embark on an operation such as that lightly, or not genuinely believing it to be necessary, they are quite simply wrong. Sadly, I can’t go into the full background of the case, but if anyone is interested I would refer them to the Independent Police Complaint’s Commission Report. The Commission came to the clear conclusion, having seen the intelligence, that the operation was necessary and proportionate.
The point of all this is that we have got to give ourselves the best possible chance to intervene before the public can come to harm. This means we have to be able to attack terrorist finances, their logistics, their hostile reconnaissance, their planning at every stage. To achieve this, we need to work with the Security Service in a way that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.
There can be no doubt that the most important change in counter terrorism in the UK in recent years has been the development of the relationship between the police and the security service. In my role as National Co-ordinator of Terrorist Investigations I act as the bridge between the world of intelligence and the world of law enforcement. In fact the metaphor is probably obsolete – it would now be more accurate to describe it not as a bridge but a very wide two way street, and my job is to make sure the traffic flows freely. It is no exaggeration to say that the joint working between the police and MI5 has become recognised as a beacon of good practice. Colleagues from across the globe, in law enforcement and intelligence, look to the UK as a model, and many of them are, quite frankly, envious. That is why it is sometimes frustrating to hear and read the same tired old comments about MI5 and the police not working together. That is out of date. It is wrong, and is a lie that deserves to be well and truly nailed.
So what has the British police service done to respond to the escalation in terrorist activity? Are we relying on our traditional county, municipal and other structures to give us the global reach we need? The answer, I hope you are reassured to hear is ‘No’. But I have to say that my personal view is that we are still very much in a transitional phase. British policing has always drawn its strengths from its local roots and links into communities, and this of course must be preserved. In the past, when terrorist activity was taking place outside London, what tended to happen is that the Metropolitan Police would gird up its loins and become an expeditionary force. The simple fact is that there was no unit, on the UK mainland, dedicated to the investigation of terrorism outside London. This worked well enough until, I would say, about 2002 when during the ricin investigation we found ourselves spread across the UK. Then over the ensuing years the footprint of terrorism in the UK spread ever wider, and it was simply unsustainable, either in terms of scale or geography for the Metropolitan Police to continue in its traditional role.
The recent creation of regional Counter Terrorism Units is a major step forward, and will definitely increase our ability to respond to the intelligence generated by the Security Service, and to investigate acts of terrorism. Colin Cramphorn was one of the first to see what would be needed in the future, and the nascent Counter Terrorist Unit in West Yorkshire is testimony to his vision.
One of the challenges for counter terrorist policing is to give ourselves the ability to operate internationally (for every case takes us across the world), but at the same time not lose our local connections within communities. This is not going to be easy. We must increase the flow of intelligence coming from communities. Almost all of our prosecutions have their origins in intelligence that came from overseas, the intelligence agencies or from technical means. Few have yet originated from what is sometimes called ‘community intelligence.’ This is something we are working hard to change. In London for instance, most Boroughs now have dedicated counter terrorism intelligence officers, working hand in glove with local police. I welcome the creation of the regional units, but I do sometimes wonder whether we have been quite bold enough. Did we, in our first move into developing the necessary capacity, achieve the clarity around governance and accountability that will surely be needed in the future? Time will tell, but I am certain we are headed in the right direction.
I think what all this amounts to is that through learning from the experiences of the past few years, we have developed a new concept of operations. We have moved away from intervening when the evidence for prosecution became available, to intervening when the risk to the public became unacceptable. You could call this a ‘Risk Management’ model of counter terrorism. If that sounds like ‘consultant speak’, I apologise. Let me immediately revert to English. What I am saying is that public safety will take precedence over evidence gathering, at all stages of an investigation.
I can illustrate this model in operation with the two cases I mentioned earlier from 2004. In the first, Operation Crevice, it was clear to us, bearing in mind the criticism we had received in 2003 for allegedly exaggerating the threat, and the impact this was having on our relationships with Muslim communities, that we needed to gather as much evidence as possible before making arrests. Not to do so would invite inevitable criticism and the subsequent distrust this would generate could have had an impact on our ability to conduct such operations in the future. In order to be as sure as we could that there was no imminent threat to the public, we and the Security Service mounted a surveillance operation that was unprecedented in its scale. This was a classic case, if you like, of ‘running a case long’.
By contrast, the case of Dhiren Barot later that year was one where we simply couldn’t control the risk. The intelligence rightly told us that he was involved in attack planning, but we did not know how far advanced he was. We did not know whether he posed an imminent threat or not. Surveillance could not give us the answers we needed, and so the decision was made that we had to arrest him straightaway. It is no exaggeration to say that at the time of the arrest there was not one shred of admissible evidence against Barot. The arrest was perfectly lawful - there were more than sufficient grounds, but in terms of evidence to put before a court, there was nothing. There then began the race against time to retrieve evidence from the mass of computers and other IT equipment that we seized. It was only at the very end of the permitted period of detention that sufficient evidence was found to justify charges. I know that some in the media were sharpening their pencils, and that if we had been unable to bring charges in that case, there would have been a wave of criticism about the arrests. Barot himself of course eventually pleaded guilty last year and received a 40 year sentence.
One of the difficulties of course is that when we do intervene and charges are not brought, the prevailing scepticism, indeed suspicion of anything that is described as intelligence is such that it has been rare to receive the benefit of the doubt from either communities or the media. And this is crucial. I think it is no exaggeration to say that the lack of public trust in intelligence is in danger of infecting the relationship between the police and the communities we serve. Trust and consent are two concepts that lie at the heart of the relationship between the British police and the public. We must maintain that trust. But how to do so? I have no doubt that the operational and political independence of the police is the key to this. The communities must believe, and it must be reality, that the police stand aside from politics in the exercise of their powers. That is why the allegations of political partiality that seem to have been made so lightly in recent times are so damaging. They undermine the relationship between police and public. They undoubtedly inhibit the flow of intelligence, and in doing so actually increase the risk to the public.
This whole question of trust in intelligence is enormously important. Obviously, there is much that must remain secret, for obvious reasons. The difficulty is that when an event like the operation in Forest Gate last year occurs, distrust of the intelligence has led to demands for it to be scrutinised by community representatives, not only after an operation, but even before it. I am the first to agree that we must find ways to increase confidence in police activity, but we must be careful not to raise unrealistic expectations with the community. In some areas of crime it has been possible to share intelligence with independent observers and advisory groups. But terrorist intelligence is very different. The sources, methods and equities are such that it is often not in the gift of the police service to share it, even if we wished to. We must find a way to make progress, so that confidence can be built, but I do not predict that it will be easy.
The next area I wanted to look at tonight was what could be called the operating context – those things that we have to take into account when conducting operations, but over which we might have more or less influence.
The legal context is obviously critical for us, as it governs so much of what we do. Legislation that is specifically designed to counter the modern terrorist threat has proved to be highly controversial - and so it should be. Some of the legislation we now have is very powerful. That places a responsibility on the police to use it wisely, with discrimination, and in a way that will withstand the closest scrutiny. This is essential if the public are to have confidence in what we are doing.
My personal view is that we now have a strong body of counter terrorist legislation that by and large meets our needs in investigating these crimes and bringing prosecutions. Prosecution through the courts, using judicial process that is recognised and understood by the public, is of course is by far the preferred method of dealing with terrorism. The government have responded to reasoned cases put forward for change, to bring aspects of modern terrorism and support activity within the remit of the criminal law. The new offence of ‘Acts Preparatory to Terrorism’ is a good example. It closed a gap in our defences, and I’m sure will prove its worth in several forthcoming trials. Prior to its introduction, the law was inadequate. The Common Law of England was not designed to defend us against people who wish to poison or irradiate the public. So we had the somewhat bizarre spectacle of Kamel Bourgass, in the so called ricin case, standing trial for a conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. There was no other offence that could properly reflect his behaviour and give the courts adequate sentencing power. I shall repeat what I have said before, that shoe-horning 21st century terrorism into 19th century criminal law cannot be the best way to protect the public. I hope we have seen the last of this somewhat quaint offence, described by one eminent lawyer as a ‘rag bag of odds and ends’ being used in terrorist cases.
And yet there are still those who argue that we do not need specialist terrorist legislation, that the ordinary criminal law is sufficient. Well, if that were the case, how would we deal with those who undertake terrorist training? Or encourage others to do so? Or who set out to influence youngsters and draw them into terrorism? Or who reconnoitre targets? Or who collect information for others to mount attacks? Or who know that terrorists are going to mount an attack but fail to notify the authorities? It cannot be in the public interest for these things not to fall within the ambit of the law. Parliament has decided that there should be specific offences to deal with these activities, and that must be right.
But it is not only specific offences that are important – the surrounding legal framework that enables us to investigate and prosecute modern terrorism has to be in place. And developing this framework has at times been controversial, to say the least.
Take the provisions for increasing the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 28 days before a suspect must be either charged or released. I shall dwell for a few moments on this episode, because it is important in several ways. The police service was asked in 2005 to put forward suggestions to update and improve counter terrorist legislation – a perfectly normal consultative process. Among a range of other measures, we made a case for extending the period of pre-charge detention beyond the then allowable 14 days, because the trends that had led to the increase from 7 to 14 days the previous year were continuing, and if anything accelerating. When asked by how much the period of detention should be increased, we suggested a maximum of 90 days, subject to judicial oversight. We were asking not for a police power, but for a power to be vested in the courts on application from the police or the Crown Prosecution Service.
As we all know, the ensuing debate, both in Parliament and elsewhere was a little lively. I know there have been concerns expressed about the role of the police service in that debate, and whether we overstepped the mark in terms of political neutrality – but I find this slightly puzzling. If we are asked for our professional opinion, and we express it, and the Government brings forward legislation, are we supposed to be silent the moment a draft Bill is published? We were accused of being politically partial, but I reject that. I think what happened was that there was a breakdown of the cross-party consensus that has generally prevailed in matters of counter terrorism. The result of that breakdown was that it became impossible for us to express our professional opinion without being open to the allegation of political partiality. This must be unhealthy. Counter terrorism is political, of course it is, and properly so. The problems start when the subject becomes politicised, and that is what has happened. It is now difficult for the police service to express its professional opinion on the subject without being accused of falling one side or other of a political divide.
The political impartiality of the police service, inextricably linked as it is to our operational independence, is of course one of the bedrocks of British policing. This is nothing new, and no-one was more aware of this than Colin Cramphorn. He completely understood the need to recognise, indeed acknowledge the politics of any situation, but at the same time to remain resolutely independent. My point is that this implacable independence is more important than ever when we are dealing with terrorism. The subject is inevitably linked to politics at every level – local, national and international. As police officers our role must be to acknowledge the sensitivities that this brings with it, but not allow it to govern our operational decision making.
The allegation that the police have lost their political impartiality is easy to make, and profound in its impact. As I said a few moments ago, the trust that exists between police and public is critical to all we do, and is absolutely vital in counter terrorism. It fundamentally affects the level of support, and of course intelligence that we receive from communities. My plea therefore, is that before anyone makes the allegation that the police are not acting or speaking with political impartiality, they think carefully about the potential impact of their words.
The current terrorist threat is of such a scale and intractability that we must not only defeat the men (for it is predominantly men) who plot and carry out appalling acts of violence. We must also find a way of defeating the ideas that drive them. The corrosive ideologies that are used to justify terrorism must be confronted. The fact is that there are, in the United Kingdom, many young men who are vulnerable to being drawn into extremism and violence. The influence of the so called preachers of hate and their fellow travellers is pernicious. Of all the things I have seen over the past few years, one of the most worrying has been the speed and apparent ease with which young men can be turned into suicidal terrorists, prepared to kill themselves and hundreds of others - indoctrinated to believe that there are no such things as innocent victims.
We must find a way to address this, and one of the things I think we need to work harder at is diversion – how to turn people away from the extremists. I can think of a case, and it is not unique, where worried
parents came to the police, concerned that their teenage son was falling prey to the influence of extremists. Now if parents come to us and say they are worried about their children getting involved in drugs, for instance, there are ways of dealing with the problem without the youngster becoming criminalised. There are rehabilitation and diversion schemes. There is not enough of this in the field of radicalisation and extremism. I have discussed this with colleagues, both in law enforcement and in government, in Muslim countries, and they are surprised that we do not do more to counter the extremists. To support Imams who can, with authority, denounce the twisted version of Islam put forward by the extremists. We must find a way of undermining the ideology that drives extremism. But obviously this is not something that can come from the police service alone. It needs wider commitment and support if it is to be credible and effective.
I hope a theme that emerges from my remarks tonight, is the absolute need for public understanding and support for our counter terrorist policies. And I don’t just mean police efforts here, but the whole cross-Government effort. Public understanding is an area where, collectively, I think we have much to do. I have already mentioned the breakdown in trust that affects the public’s willingness to accept intelligence assessments.
But if the public are sceptical about intelligence, what other sources of information do they have? There are more than 100 people awaiting trial in terrorism cases in the UK. That should, one would think, be the source of a wealth of information, cleansed through the integrity of the criminal justice system, publicly tested through the process of cross-examination, and validated or otherwise by the verdict of the jury. Well, so far terrorist trials have not been as informative as we might wish, for a number of reasons. First, it is taking anything up to two years, and in some cases more, for cases to reach the courts. During that time little can be said about what the investigation has uncovered. Then there is the issue of evidence that emerges in one case potentially prejudicing jurors in another. Because of the fact that terrorist cells and networks are inevitably linked, this has meant that over the past 5 years I can hardly remember a time when there were not Court Orders in place restricting what could be published about terrorist cases. It was three years before we could tell the public what we found in the Finsbury Park Mosque. For well over a year the public did not know that Kamel Bourgass had been convicted of murdering DC Stephen Oake. And there are other examples – but as if to illustrate my point, I can’t tell you about them.
I understand why we need to protect juries from prejudicial material, but I wonder, in the era of global communications, whether it is sensible for us to pretend that potential jurors will not have access to the internet. Last summer the New York Times published a very full account of the airlines plot on their website, but the article was blocked to UK users of the internet, with ‘legal reasons’ being cited. Even I, with my feeble IT literacy, was able to find the piece within a couple of minutes. I understand the difficulties in all this, but I just wonder if we could be bolder and, dare I say it, trust juries to distinguish the prejudicial from the probative. That is why, last summer, in respect of the so called airline plot I went further than ever before, in setting out at least some of the evidence that we will eventually produce at the trial. I felt it was important for the public to understand that the allegations were supported by tangible evidence, that the plot was real. Is it not important for government, business, community leaders and the wider public to be able to consider, in an informed way, what the impact of such an attack would be if it had actually happened? Should we not be considering the political and economic consequences, or the potentially devastating impact on community cohesion? Apart from anything else, I honestly believe that the public are entitled to know why airport security is becoming ever more intrusive and inconvenient. I have to say I was relieved last autumn when, following Dhiren Barot’s plea of guilty, reporting restrictions were lifted and the public were able to be told what he had been planning. This was an important step forward and I applaud the media organisations that took a robust stance in successfully challenging the restrictions.
The relationship between the police and the media could be the subject of an entire lecture in itself, but tonight I would like to focus on two particular issues. First, the media strategy we developed in response to the attacks in London in July 2005 and secondly, the impact of leaks.
To start with July 2005. I remember back in 1993, I was Lord Condon’s staff officer when the Bishopsgate Bomb exploded. In an aside he said to me something that I have never forgotten, and that in fact has stood me in good stead ever since. He said something along the lines of “Peter, the reporting of this will unfold like this. Day One will be ‘Gawd blimey it’s the Blitz!’. Day Two will be ‘What happened and who did it?’ and Day Three will be ‘Who’s to blame?’.” With slight variations, this has been proved to be pretty accurate time and again. July 2005 was no exception. Immediately after the attack, my uniformed colleagues took the lead in describing the search and rescue efforts. Describing to the public the enormity of what had happened and looking to reassure them that everything that could possibly be done, was being done. This phase passed quite quickly as the investigation firstly revealed that these had been suicide attacks, and secondly took us towards Leeds.
One of the first things to do was to speak to Colin Cramphorn. He was now facing one of the most difficult challenges with which any Chief Constable could be confronted. The implications of the emerging truth that the first suicide bombers to attack and commit mass murder in the UK came from communities in his Force area were immense. I can tell you that when the time came for me to pick up the phone and discuss how we were going to handle this, I was mightily relieved that it was Colin at the other end. We were immediately able to agree that any media work on issues of community reassurance and local contact were unequivocally his responsibility as the Chief Constable. He suggested that he and his colleagues would not comment on the investigation and what it was revealing he would leave that to me. This was a bold suggestion, because by then my officers from the Met were in West Yorkshire in large numbers, examining the bomb factory, executing search warrants, interviewing potential witnesses. The world’s media were in West Yorkshire in strength, and there was an insatiable thirst for information about the investigation. But Colin was immediately able to see the long term value of this division of responsibility in avoiding mixed messages, and retaining the essential links between local police and the communities they serve. It is a model we have used on many other occasions, and it has stood the test of time.
What it also meant was that for better or worse I became the ‘face of the investigation.’ As an investigator, I saw my role as explaining to the public what had happened. Not speculating, but describing the facts as I knew them, but only when we knew them to provable standards. It was important for the public to have a consistently reliable, and one hopes reassuring, source of reliable information. There was of course a mass of speculation, with strap lines carrying all sorts of bizarre rumours and theories. I set a rule that we would not respond to speculation, unless there was an overriding public interest in doing so. I believed that our strategy should be driven by the needs of the investigation, and not by the wishes of the media. That we would not make public appeals unless the investigation demanded it, and we would not release visual material unless it supported the investigation to do so. Thus it is that we have hundreds, if not thousands of images from CCTV systems and elsewhere that we have not released.
Sticking to the rule that we would only release information when we knew for an absolute certainty that it was true to evidential standards did carry with it some problems as it meant that at times the media were ahead of us in releasing information. I think that was a price worth paying, in order to retain our credibility as a source of accurate information. But this takes me on to a subject that gives me great concern, and it is that of leaks.
The simple fact is that it is incredibly difficult to keep information confidential. The circle of knowledge, even on the most sensitive of operations, inevitably becomes wider than one would wish, particularly when those operations are protracted for the reasons I explained earlier. But let me make it absolutely clear what I am talking about. I am not referring to the normal day to day discourse that occurs between journalists and their contacts. What I am talking about is the deliberate leaking of highly sensitive operational intelligence, often classified, and the unauthorised release of which can be a criminal offence. I make no allegations about the source of leaks or about individual cases. What is clear is that there are a number, a small number I am sure, of misguided individuals who betray confidences. Perhaps they look to curry favour with certain journalists, or to squeeze out some short term presentational advantage – I do not know what motivates them. The people who do this either do not know or do not care what damage they do. If they do know, then they are beneath contempt. If they do not know, then let me tell them. They compromise investigations. They reveal sources of life saving intelligence. In the worst cases they put lives at risk. I wonder if they simply do not care.
The recent investigation in Birmingham into an allegation that a British serviceman had been targeted by a terrorist network is but one example of this. On the morning of the arrests, almost before the detainees had arrived at the police stations to which they were being taken for questioning, it was clear that key details of the investigation and the evidence had been leaked. This damaged the interview strategy of the investigators, and undoubtedly raised community tensions. I have no idea where the leaks came from, but whoever was responsible should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. There are many other examples that I shall not itemise, for fear of giving credence to those very leaks.
So, to take stock and attempt to summarise where we are nearly six years after the attacks of September 2001. From a police perspective, and I emphasise that this is from a police perspective – what has been achieved and what remains to be done?
Well, the process of investigation has certainly improved our knowledge of the threat we face. At the strategic level we can be in no doubt that the threat is deadly, enduring and to a significant extent targeted at the United Kingdom. Within the country we have people who are sympathetic to the terrorist cause, and prepared to carry out attacks against their fellow citizens. Working closely with the Security Service, a number of attacks have been prevented, and over 100 people are now waiting trial on terrorist related charges. Nevertheless, we suffered the appalling attacks of July 2005, and the only sensible assumption is that we shall be attacked again.
This is a depressing prospect, but is no more than a realistic assessment of the complexity of the threat we face. We are not looking at discrete terrorist cells that can be investigated, isolated and dismantled. We are seeing networks within networks, connections within connections, and links between individuals that cross local, national and international boundaries.
In response to this, British policing has changed its approach to terrorist investigation, and built both capacity and capability in the regions. This is a huge step forward. But there is still much to do. We need to redouble our efforts in working with the various Muslim communities. Last week’s Gallup Poll showing that Muslims in London had higher levels of confidence in the police than the wider population was reassuring, and confirms what we all know and have been saying for years – that the vast majority of Muslims totally reject extremism and violence. But we must not be complacent. The extremists have a momentum that must be stopped.
On the international stage, the levels of co-operation are unprecedented, and some of our most important operations have depended upon multi-national co-operation in agreeing the timing of arrests in different jurisdictions, and the like. An interesting and important task for the future will be to clarify the appropriate roles for bilateral and multilateral linkages.
Perhaps most importantly, I honestly believe that the safety of the British public will be secured as much by improving their understanding of the challenges we face, as by any individual policy initiative or piece of legislation. We must build, and where necessary rebuild, trust. We must certainly be resolute, as our opponents will exploit any weakness. Indeed their strategy is built around exploiting what they perceive to be the vulnerabilities of free societies. Colin Cramphorn was a master at understanding the complexities of policing, and never more so than in the field of counter terrorism where he had so much experience and foresight. Above all, Colin was someone who was prepared to learn from experience. I would therefore like to thank the Policy Exchange for giving me the opportunity to dedicate this lecture to the memory of Colin Cramphorn.