Metropolitan Police, Commissioner, Cressida Dick CBE, QPM
Extracts from the Cressida Dick’s Mansion House speech in 2017 on the police role in national security:
Since March this year, the tempo of terrorist attacks has changed. What we are seeing is now being described by the experts as a “shift” in threat, not a spike. We are still at a SEVERE threat level (meaning an attack is highly likely) in relation to international terrorism. But undoubtedly, the rhythm of work is very much increased for the counter terrorist professionals.
Since spring this year, we have suffered the ghastly attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Borough Market and Finsbury Park. 17 weeks of carnage when 36 people have been killed, more than 200 injured and countless others had their lives turned upside down. In addition, six attack planning plots were thwarted in the last four months alone, and we can expect that figure to rise.
It is well known that the police and MI5 have over 500 investigations into 3,000 individuals across the UK, assessed as posing the biggest threats. There are some 20,000 other former subjects whose risk remains subject to review. I anticipate these numbers will grow.
International terrorist organisations such as Daesh and Al Qaeda have global and strategic objectives. In the modern globalised world, they exploit technology and the relative ease of international travel to promote that ideology and to project threat across borders. The division between the threat overseas and at home is decreasing and we cannot address the domestic symptoms of the problem in isolation from the international drivers. That said, they manifest differently, not least because we have some very strong measures in place here; for example, our restrictions on firearms and our borders.
What we have seen in recent months are individuals mostly acting in small groups or apparently alone. Most have a primarily domestic focus – they are “homegrown”. Many have favoured low-tech and relatively unsophisticated methodologies. These less sophisticated attacks can mature faster, making detection harder. The bulk of this domestic threat seems to be from those who are inspired by overseas networks, though there have undoubtedly been some who have been more directly enabled by them also, and we should not assume that attempts by senior leaderships of overseas groups to direct more or less sophisticated UK attacks have gone away.
Similarly, in the virtual world we have to tackle the “enablers,” working with the CSPs to contest the narrative of Jihad and prevent it radicalising the vulnerable, and thereby protect and defend our society’s values. Since 2010, 270,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material have been removed by social media providers, following referrals from the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit.
Extreme right wing:
We should not forget the threat posed by other violent extremists, particularly the extreme right wing and those motivated by racist hatred, so vividly shown in the appalling events at Finsbury Park. We are dealing here with fewer individuals, less coordinated or organised.
But every year we see some with lethal intent brought to justice. As I speak, there are 14 Domestic Extremist individuals in custody, who had lethal capability and intent.
Role of police:
In confronting these threats the police have a multiplicity of roles. We have all seen much of the police response to tragic attacks. The armed officers neutralising the threats and saving countless lives; the unarmed taking on attackers, protecting the public and getting them to safety; the hundreds at Borough Market – Met, City of London and BTP – using emergency life-saving skills and working with the other emergency services; and then the sad task of securing crime scenes and painstakingly examining every inch for evidence. This preparedness comes from years of investment, of training and exercising.
At London Bridge and Borough Market alone, over 1,000 officers were present that night – securing the scene, preserving evidence, protecting and reassuring the public. Over the following week, more than 900 officers, forensics experts and other technical staff, working alongside local people and partners, were deployed to the investigation to identify the deceased and injured, work closely with their families, to secure digital and forensic evidence, subsequently to arrest associates in armed operations and to begin to trace all relevant witnesses. All done at pace, together with our friends in MI5, in order to support victims as best we can, to ensure there is no lingering threat, no one else involved and to begin to establish for the coroner what has happened.
Contest and the four Ps:
That great work of being prepared sits under the Prepare strand of this country’s CONTEST strategy. For us it is built on years of learning, from our own and others’ experience.
CONTEST has been a powerful strategy for nearly 15 years, surviving multiple governments. It has provided all engaged in countering terrorism – in the government and well beyond – a common language and understanding of the threat, the ability to develop capabilities effectively across many complex systems, the ability to flex and surge according to need across a multiplicity of agencies, organisations and departments.
And I really can’t emphasise enough the number of partners involved – from the military and the FCO, to the CPS, prisons, local authorities, and education.
Clearly, in the light of this latest shift in threat, in view of the terrible attacks, there is a need to review the strategy again, and as a country we will need to step change in many areas. This is what those who work in countering terrorism have always done – the threat changes, it morphs, we must adapt with it.
The police are the one agency which contribute really substantially to all four CONTEST strands. We are also uniquely the service which works primarily very publicly, with huge transparency, but also have a large arm that can and frequently does work in the secret domain.
Our people who, day-in, day-out, build and piece together intelligence, bring violent extremists to justice, trace their finances or otherwise disrupt them are highly vetted and work routinely with secret intelligence. The relationship between our three intelligence agencies – MI5, MI6, and GCHQ – is closer than any other set of agencies in the world. In turn, the relationship between the police and the agencies – primarily, but by no means exclusively, MI5 – is unique. These dedicated officers, staff and civil servants working in the shadows deserve our thanks as much as our more high-profile teams.
The counter terrorist police network works pretty much seamlessly and interoperably across police force boundaries across the UK, hand in glove with MI5 and very closely with the government and overseas police partners across the world. This means that information being discussed on a street in London about, say, a threat in Belgium, could be passed to colleagues there in seconds or minutes. Intelligence sourced from Raqqa or Kabul or Peshawar can be considered, if relevant, by police colleagues anywhere in the UK similarly quickly.
Our collective PURSUE capability is formidable. It has been immensely successful. It is supported by strong legislation and, since the Investigatory Powers Act, real legal clarity about the basis for our intrusive work together with strong accountability and oversight.
But, the challenges are great. Increasingly, encryption frustrates our investigations every day. As Jonathan Evans, former DG of MI5, said, “knowing who someone is, is not the same as knowing what they are going to do”. We have had unprecedented numbers of UK citizens travelling to these conflicts in largely ungoverned spaces. Progress on the ground in Syria and Iraq does not necessarily translate into a reduction in threat here. And we have large numbers of apparently volatile individuals in the UK, some of whom become determined to die, who may have been inspired largely through the web and decided on methodology learned from there too.
The modern threat, more than ever, includes the encouraging of others to commit atrocious acts.
That virus can infect communities and is spreading faster and more easily due to the internet. We need to get explicit content taken down as quickly as possible.
A word about PROTECT. We have a number of resources of our own: highly trained protection officers, police patrols, armed officers, various forms of technology, barriers such as you now see on London’s bridges and so forth, protecting crowded places, events, iconic sites and the critical national infrastructure.
We work closely with the other agencies at the border to try to ensure that they are as secure as possible, both in relation to people and, for example, firearms. Equally important is our role in providing advice and relevant information to communities, religious establishments, the public sector and business, so that people can make good, risk-based decisions about how to keep themselves and their buildings safe.
We do this through a network of dedicated specialists, through public information and social media and highly successful training materials and exercises. In this, we rely hugely on the business community, and this is an opportunity to thank you – you are our eyes and ears, you work brilliantly across your own networks and, as the threat has grown, the business community has become an ever stronger partner for us.
A special thank you to the security industry – who haven’t always had plaudits! – but with 100,000 employees in London, three times more than I have police officers, your role is fundamental.
Finally, PREVENT, this has always been the hardest P. How do you stop vulnerable people being radicalised? How do you counter a pernicious narrative of hatred in the internet age? Much has been said in recent months about PREVENT as a brand…
What I can say is that I have seen huge numbers of successful interventions by PREVENT professionals that have undoubtedly turned people away from extremism.
In 2015-2016 PREVENT stopped more than 50 individuals travelling to Syria. I have seen the duty on those in schools and elsewhere to recognise signs and report concerns, controversial though it has been, to have resulted in effective safeguarding of young people and the vulnerable. It’s also worth noting that PREVENT works extensively against right-wing extremism – 10 per cent of referrals and nearly a third of interventions are with people who hold right-wing ideology.
All of our police work in countering terrorism is founded on our core principles and ethos. Of policing by consent. As Sir Robert Peel said, “the police are the public, and the public are the police”. All police work in the UK depends crucially on the support of people in our communities.
It is they who give us information, who allow us to set up observation points, who are witnesses, who give us our legitimacy, who pay for the service we provide. Without community support we are nothing and this applies in counter terrorism as much as anywhere else.
We have invested in local policing – in neighbourhood officers, those dedicated to particular wards, those working in schools – building confidence and solving problems.
I am convinced this work is a vital part of our counter terrorist effort. These neighbourhood officers are the staff most likely to be approached with information or for advice. These are the staff most likely to spot the signs of radicalisation. The relationship between local policing, schools and councils underpins the safeguarding work we collectively do to protect the vulnerable – including the very young, people with mental health problems or those who have lost their way and lack support in their lives.
“Communities defeat terrorism” and we need to be in our communities.
In recent times we have received ever more calls to the anti-terrorist hotline. We regularly receive information from family members, friends, schools and religious institutions about people they are worried about – whose behaviour is changing, who may be being radicalised. We have more people from all communities standing up and condemning terrorism.
But it is manifestly not enough. The threats we face are not unique to the UK – much of the world is facing similar challenges. Yet we must not deny the scale of this challenge. It comes at a time of international and political uncertainty. In the police we have some huge retrospective investigations and reviews to service, changing demographics (a larger and younger population) and rising demands in other crime areas, such as sexual offences and violent crime and in the emergency response service.
In addition, as the Mayor has pointed out yesterday, in the Met we are facing financial pressures. Hence, we in the police service welcome the Government’s announcement of reviews of counter terrorism, anti-extremism and integration strategies. The Casey report shone a worrying light on the degree of isolation and segregation that exists in some of our communities, and some of our Muslim communities specifically.
We will need a step change in government, agency and police efforts. A step change in communities in their efforts to protect and prevent. And even more help from the business community.
The role of business:
Just as the shift in threat means more is required of us, we need more from you – our partners. Business has considerable influence to help us tackle the threat that we collectively face. So I am asking that you continue to support us, to back us. Business and industry has been an increasingly strong partner as the threat has grown. I hope that will continue.
The police and agencies cannot prevent terrorism alone and we will be looking to the private sector to take more responsibility for protecting the public who use their services. The training of 23,000 UK travel industry workers in CT awareness is just one example of the commitment of British business to work with us.
We ask that you continue to prioritise and enhance protective security at your buildings to make them robust and “secure by design”, work with us to train your staff to know what to do to manage an incident, and ensure you have clear venue emergency plans. In particular, small businesses. We want to plan for incidents in more detail with you, and share information even more rapidly in the aftermath of an attack. But we also ask that you work with each other, sharing information to better understand the various CT threats.
Sharing is crucial – be it the reporting of cyber attacks or more general information – not just in the aftermath of an incident, but all the time. The joint money laundering intelligence taskforce was a great help in response to recent CT incidents. And business and the financial sector can and do help enormously in our work against criminal and terrorist financing.
I ask you all – please be an advocate for us and the work we do.
I am so completely confident that together we will rise to meet the challenge of the current threat.
From the Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick’s speech made early this year at Mansion House.