Brexit and the Irish Border: A Catalyst to a new Irish Troubles and the Rise of Saoradh

irish border

How the Irish border between the six counties of the North of Ireland and the twenty-six counties of the Irish republic will operate post-Brexit is not just a sticking point in the current Brexit negotiations, it is an issue, which if not resolved, could be the catalyst to a rise in sectarian violence between republicans and loyalists in the North resulting in new Irish Troubles.

saoradh

This observation is not one of being alarmist, there is already a rising undercurrent of discontent in the North. This is exemplified in the rise of a relatively new Irish republican party, Saoradh. Formed in September 2016and backed by New IRA (NIRA) prisoners held in Mughaberry and Portlaoise prisons Saoradh held its first ard fheis in Newry that month. Those who gathered at this first ard fheis (and who subsequently became Saoradh’s member’s and supporters) included those who were associated with the Republican Network for Unity, 32 County Sovereignty Movement (closely aligned with the former Real IRA) and the 1916 societies. Saoradh supporters include notorious members of the IRA in its various forms such as Colin and Paul Duffy. Messages of support were read out from the founder of the Provisional IRA, Billy McKee and Saoradh’s first chairman, David Jordan from Tyrone, was a republican dissident and former prisoner.

Saoradh claims to be solely a revolutionary republican party with no connection to republican paramilitary groups, stating its main aim is to introduce a socialist agenda to support the working class by creating an Irish Socialist Republic, not just in the North but in the whole of Ireland. The party’s main issues include:
1. The end of British imperialist rule in the North;
2. The end of power sharing at Stormont and an end to the Good Friday Agreement;
3. The end of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that the party refers to as the Royal Ulster Constabulary/PSNI.

david jordan

In essence Saoradh supports armed conflict in the North and refers to republican paramilitary prisoners as prisoners of war. David Jordan was charged with the attempted murder of a PSNI officer in Castlederg, Tyrone in 2008, with those charges being dropped by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in October 2016.

While the language Saoradh uses is similar to that used by Sinn Fein during the Troubles, the party is highly critical of Sinn Fein, seeing them as having sold out the republican cause by participating in political institutions such as the Assembly at Stormont (albeit Sinn Fein still maintain an abstentionist stance with Westminster). Saoradh sees the Stormont Assembly as a ‘partitionist assembly’ and does not recognise it, even though the current impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP has resulted in the Assembly being suspended since 2017!

bogside riotssaoradh march

 

While no doubt many will see Saoradh as a minor party of little significance, support for the party was seen in the Bogside riots in July 2018, activity in the Creggan, Derry in April 2018 that led to arrests and also in April 2018 Saoradh organised in Belfast an ‘unfinished revolution’ march where many were dressed in republican paramilitary dress.

Returning to Brexit and the Irish border, Saoradh’s leaders told researchers from Queen’s and Ulster University that Brexit was, ‘manna from heaven from our perspective’. Another of Saoradh’s leaders, Patrick Courty, told its supporters at an Easter Rising commemoration in 2018:

‘Brexit has the potential to break up the British state … with the inevitable infrastructure of a hard border imminent, this will drive home to the Irish people the partition of our country … and as history teaches us it wild inevitably stoke the fires of resistance against British rule in Ireland.’

DUPKaren Bradley

The warning signs are there and although the focus here has been on dissident republicanism, should Saoradh influence republican based violence, such violence will be swiftly reciprocated by Loyalist paramilitary violence. The UK government should be awake to this development as it is too important to marginalise as irrelevant or worse, ignore it. As seen in the UK government’s position regarding the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations the signs are not good. A consequence of not having an overall majority in the House of Commons is the UK government in being a minority government it is being held to ransom on this issue by the DUP MP’s in Westminster. The perspective the current UK government’s view has on the North of Ireland is not perceived by its population and some of Britain’s population as being positive and concerned with the issues affecting the Province. This is not helped with the appointment of Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who on appointment admitted to only having limited knowledge of the North. This ministerial position should be reviewed by the current Prime Minister who should now look for someone who has a good knowledge of Irish history, Northern Irish politics and social issues. This is a country that is suffering the most in the UK especially in the western counties of Derry and Tyrone where there is widespread poverty, high unemployment, poorer standards of social housing and healthcare as well as a lack of investment in the area regarding both its infrastructure and in encouraging new business. A Northern Ireland minister who is aware of these issues could do more to assist in these areas as well as work on breaking the impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP in the Assembly at Stormont so elected representatives can pass legislation and work towards improving the lives of all Northern Irish people. If this is not done then it simply plays into the hands of the paramilitaries on both sides and their political parties like Saoradh who will spark more widespread paramilitary violence once more.

Irsih Troubles figures

The lessons of the 1960’s must be learnt to stop the rise of extremist groups and paramilitary support in the North as ambivalence towards the North of Ireland in Westminster could result in the country suffering another period of violence.

My terrorism book cover

Some of these issues are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018 by Routledge

Radio Interview Reviewing My Book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’

 

My terrorism book cover

Just after 12 noon (BST) tomorrow (22nd August 2018) I will be on City Talk with Mick Coyle discussing my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ and issues that come out of the book as well as a little on my career to date. I have added a link if you want to listen. I am sure Everton will also get a mention!

Me at City Talk

 (Me and Mick reviewing the newspapers on City Talk)

 

Are ‘Troubles’ bubbling under the surface in the North of Ireland?

North of Ireland Map

While UK mainstream media understandably focuses on issues related to Brexit, anti-Semitism rows in the Labour Party, knife crime in London, issues related to US president Trump and even the recent heatwave (which more recently has only been in the southeast of England), in 2018 there have been a number of disturbing incidents occurring in six UK counties. Those are the six counties that make up the north of Ireland. It is disconcerting how these incidents tend to get very little mainstream media coverage on the British side of the Irish Sea.

ira flagloyalists

A brief overview of some of the recent incidents  includes:

  1. Raymond Johnson murdered when he was shot at his home in west Belfast in front of his children in February 2018, allegedly by dissident republicans;
  2. A 60% rise in punishment beatings/shootings in the North by dissident republicans and loyalist groups where 101 punishment beatings/shootings took place in 2017 alone;
  3. Three suspected dissident republicans arrested for bomb making in Strabane, County Tyrone in April 2018;
  4. Attempted murder of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers in December 2017;
  5. Petrol bombing of PSNI officers in Derry, April 2018;
  6. Explosive devices being thrown at former Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams home in Andersontown, west Belfast in July 2018 (admittedly because Adams such a high profile figure this did get reported in Britain). This could have been committed by either loyalist or dissident republicans who see Sinn Fein and PIRA having sold out to the cause with the Good Friday Agreement;
  7. Large scale disorder in the Bogside district of Derry in July 2018 (during the period of the Orange Order’s 12th July marches).

ronan-kerrMI5 bombing belfast

The current terrorist threat in the north of Ireland is severe, but not from Islamist or far-right terrorist activity, but from dissident republican and loyalist groups, with that threat from Irish related terrorist activity being moderate in Britain. This activity is not recent, 2009 saw the then Real IRA shoot and murder British soldiers at Massereene Barracks in County Antrim, the murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr in Omagh 2011, car bomb outside MI5 offices in Belfast, mortar bombing of Strand PSNI station Derry, murder of prison officer David Black, and this is not an exhaustive list of terrorist activity that has occurred in the North since 2009.

orange-bonfire

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) yet there is a danger of dissident republican and loyalist groups increasing use of violence destroying all the good work that has happened since the GFA. When incidents have occurred it is heartening that people have come out and protested against the violence under ‘not in my name, as seen when Ronan Kerr was murdered and more recently after the disorder in Derry. It will need political leadership as well as communities wanting real change. In April I was canvassing for the SDLP candidate Daniel McCrossan during the West Tyrone byelection and it was interesting to canvass certain parts of the constituency where old views, beliefs and the sectarian divide are so strong it appears progress post GFA is struggling to happen in parts of the North. When canvassing I saw fresh IRA graffiti and being told in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome in certain areas because its ‘Sinn Fein’ country. On the other side of the divide it is becoming more disconcerting when Irish tricolours and images of politicians from Sinn Fein, SDLP and other non-Unionist parties are placed on the large bonfires built for the 11th July. This could be construed as condoning loyalist violence and hatred of nationalist and republicans or anyone at all who is not from the protestant community or unionist politics, but this is claimed by some as part of the protestant heritage and culture!

IRA unfinished revolution derrystormontLoyalist mural Derry west bank

It is time for the DUP and Sinn Fein to compromise and come to some agreement in order to have the NI Assembly up and running at Stormont. In doing so it will allow a new, younger generation of Northern Irish politician like Daniel McCrossan and others to work on improving the infrastructure of the country, improving housing, education and health care, encourage business investment thereby enhancing employment prospects and importantly focus on getting the border issue between the North and the Irish Republic post Brexit sorted to the benefit of both countries (and ultimately the whole of the UK). This is what is wanted in the North, not bickering over the names of parks or continually remembering and honouring Irish terrorists by attending events held in their honour. All this does is keep the North in the politics and culture of the past, including the recent past. To help bring about change it is imperative there is a serious period of reconciliation between the two communities so the North can move on and progress to the benefit of all. If this does not happen then the divide will continually exist in the North with the maintenance of bitterness and hatred with a minority. which is such a contrast to the Irish Republic. As such it would not take much to ignite sectarian violence on a larger scale than what we are witnessing today, but as stated above it is not on the scale as seen during the Troubles, but the increase is gradual.

The Irish tricolour flag and blue sky.

There is an irony in the Irish tricolour flag as the green represents the ancient Gaels, orange to represent the northern followers of William of Orange, and white to symbolise a peace between them. let’s hope this happens with all sooner rather than later.

My terrorism book cover

I cover the situation in the North of Ireland in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published in March 2018 by Routledge

 

Tommy Robinson is Innocent and Not a Nazi?

 

tommy robinson 1

In my blog ‘Tommy Robinson is Innocent?’, posted 22nd July 2018, I discussed issues related to freedom of expression and suggested that Tommy Robinson is not committing hate crime. I based this premise on the fact Robinson does not vilify or blame Islam per se or all Muslims for various crimes and terrorist activity. I suggested that provided he remains within the legal parameters of freedom of expression, he be allowed to continue with his social media profile as well as maintain his website.

tommy robinson 2

Even though many find Robinson’s views and commentary offensive, anything that is offensive, provided it does not glorify or promote violence, can come within what is permitted under freedom of expression. Antifa groups should also come under scrutiny for what they promote, in what they say and in how they conduct themselves at public assemblies. Yesterday (1st August 2018) they gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London chanting that Robinson is ‘Nazi scum’. I disagree with that as Robinson never has nor does advocate national socialism, he is expressing comments on some Muslims and some aspects of Islam that many will find offensive, heretical and provocative. This does not make Robinson an Nazi!

national action at Liverpool

However, I agree it is the neo-Nazis are the main problem in relation to the far-right and they both glorify and provoke violence against non-whites, Slavs, Gypsies, Jews, gay and lesbian people and the state. Already the UK has seen one MP, Jo Cox assassinated by Mair a man influenced by the national socialist narrative in 2016 and an plan to kill another UK MP, Rosie Cooper and the police officer investigating him by National Action member, Jack Renshaw who pleaded guilty to this charge in June 2018. This is addition to many assaults on those the neo-Nazi’s see as targets due to their difference and damage to property.

System Resistance Network

Resistance System Network is the latest UK neo-Nazi group to morph out of the proscribed far-right terroirs group, National Action, where Alex Davies, the founder of National Action, clearly has his fingerprints and DNA all over the group’s activities.

Royal Court of Justice

Yesterday the UK’s Court of Appeal released Robinson on bail from prison where Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett ruled that Robinson’s article 6 ECHR right to a fair trial was violated and that his case is to be reheard. Where Robinson overstepped the mark was the cases he was alleged to be reporting had reporting restrictions placed upon them, and breaching that restriction can be held as contempt of court.

Let due process take its course and apply the rule of law (Lord Burnett applied the rule of law in finding the court that sentenced Robinson had erred in law), which is what differentiates a tolerant liberal democracy from a totalitarian state. I reiterate once more, restricting freedom of expression because it is offensive, heretical, unwelcome, irritating or provocative is a move to towards a totalitarian state and we should uphold the decisions in the UK’s High Court in Redmond Bate and the European Court of Human Rights in Handyside v UK.

My terrorism book cover

I cover many of these issues in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy‘ that was published in March 2018 by Routledge.

Post Brexit will it be the UK or the EU’s security that will be the weaker?

barnier

In June 2018 Brexit negotiations were seeming to make slow progress and at an address to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier threw a cat among the pigeons  by stating post Brexit the UK will be locked out of the EU’s policing and security databases, lose access to the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) and no longer have a role in managing agencies such as Europol and Eurojust. Barnier added that security cooperation is based on trust, a trust that is founded on an ecosystem and that cooperation between the UK and EU on crime and security would be conditional on the UK remaining subject to the European Court of Human Rights. In relation to the latter, Barnier should have no concerns as there are no moves in the short term for the UK to leave the Council of Europe and thereby withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, a document that in 1953 was written primarily by British lawyers!

If Barnier’s threat come to fruition what the UK will lose includes:

  1. Access to the Prum Treaty on the exchange of DNA profiles;
  2. Access to the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II);
  3. Europol’s other databases related to terrorist and criminal activity;
  4. Use of the EAW.

At the EU Summit in Brussels on the 29th June 2018 the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May warned the EU that should the UK be frozen out of cooperation on security and criminal activity related to serious crime this would put not just the UK but citizens in the other 27 EU Member States at risk. This raises the question if the UK is denied access to important databases will it compromise UK security? In essence I do not think it will, but it could slow down progress in investigations into terrorism and serious crime.

map of europe

Firstly I think it is totally wrong of Barnier and his team to even to contemplate having the issue of cooperation related to terrorism and security on Brexit negotiations’ agenda. The key issues in those negotiations should focus on freedom of movement of trade and persons, trade and customs tariffs and so on, not security. Of course by leaving the EU both the UK and the EU should have separate negotiations on issues related to cooperation on terrorism and serious crime, but one where negotiations are carried out with a great desire  to reach an agreement without any politicking that benefits citizens in the whole of Europe, not just those in the EU. There appears to be an arrogance with the EU in thinking of itself as Europe, but there are many European nations that are not in the EU and have no intention of doing so. Of course post Brexit the UK will be come a third country (that is one not in the EU), but please note that also post Brexit the UK will still be a European state! As such intelligence sharing and cooperation between the UK and EU Member States will still be important. Terrorists and criminals to not take into account national state borders when carrying out their activity. Both terrorist acts and serious crime like the trafficking of persons, drugs and firearms have a devastating affect on its victims. In short this is simply about nothing more than keep all European citizens safe be they in or out of the EU.

In saying this the non-EU states of Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland have limited access to EU terrorism and criminal databases through the Schengen Aquis, so why can’t the UK have the same access? It might be the EU is taking  a hard line stance against the UK because the UK does not want the Court of Justice of the European Union to have any form of governance over UK law. It could also be because post-Lisbon Treaty 2009 no EU Member State has wanted to leave the EU with its many unelected bureaucratic bodies (hence the democratic deficit that has been seen with the EU). As such it can be argued that the likes of Barnier is using Brexit and its hard line stance with the UK as a lesson to other EU Member States should they wish to leave the EU in the future. At the time of writing my recent travels has revealed how widespread is the desire of many citizens in EU Member States for their home state to leave the EU. In part this could be down to how the EU has developed from the European Economic Community based solely on trade to a quasi-federalist state post Treaty of Union and Treaty of Lisbon.

If asked I see the hard line Barnier is adopting would more detrimental to the EU and the citizens in its remaining Member States than the UK. The UK has what is termed a ‘gold standard’ in relation to intelligence gathering and sharing among its security services and the police and it is a model that is constantly developing and improving. GCHQ’s Director, Jeremy Fielding recently came out saying that in 2017 GCHQ and the UK played a critical role in foiling a least four attacks on mainland Europe. Fielding’s statement came out following Barnier’s threats and it is very rare for a security service director or senior police officers to feel the need to come out and get involved in a political issue. The UK’s intelligence model is one that other EU Member States want to emulate. Also the UK is part of the Five Eyes, which is an intelligence sharing agreement between the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and as such currently vital intelligence can be rapidly fed in to the EU systems by the UK, something the EU would lose if Barnier’s threats are realised. The EU should be grateful to the UK as Europol’s former director, Sir Rob Wainwright, who left the post earlier this year, shook up Europol by introducing and improving its intelligence and cooperation structures, all based on the UK’s model. He is currently assisting the UK’s Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee on the status of Brexit negotiations on security and the options available for future policing and security cooperation between the UK and the EU.  In relation to EAW’s, there is a possibility that the UK and the EU can negotiate a similar extradition procedure that is as rapid as the EAW because the use of EAW’s has been a two-way process as just as many EAW’s have been carried out by UK policing agencies on behalf of Member States as the UK has made requests. I am confident that as such the UK and the EU can agree on a form of swift extradition. This is important as many EU Member States’ constitutions prohibit extradition of its citizens to third countries, for example Germany.

While in my opinion it is wrong for the EU to use security and serious crime as a political football I am confident pressure will be put on the EU by the Member States and its security services and policing agencies to maintain close cooperation with the UK. As I said the UK is not leaving Europe, it is leaving the EU and the EU is not Europe. Should the EU maintain a hard line on these issues I think the biggest loser with be the citizens of the remaining 27 member States.

Sputnik logo

I discuss these issues in greater detail in my interview with Radio Sputnik

 

Does the UK need to introduce more anti-terrorism powers to its police and security services?

CONTEST 1

 

On the 22nd April a 120 page draft report of the UK Government’s new terror strategy was passed onto journalists at the Sunday Times that in essence contains proposed amendments to the UK’s anti-terrorism policy CONTEST and a proposed counter-terrorism Bill.

 

In relation to the Bill, the proposals revealed include:

 

1.       People convicted of terrorism offences receive longer sentences;

2.       Police and security services to be given the power to warn government departments, Scottish and Welsh politicians and local authorities of individuals they consider suspicious, even before they have been placed on the MI5 watch list.

 

Other proposals include:

 

1.       Increased security at sporting events and concerts;

2.       Focus on detecting ‘British jihadi’ trying to get work at airports;

3.       Improve the detections of terrorist activity involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive material.

 

In relation to the Prevent strand of CONTEST, which is the pre-criminal strategy to help those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism, the proposals call for more focus on communities where the threat form terrorism and radicalisation is the highest. The report says the existing Prevent strategy has been divisive, with the UK’s Muslim community saying they have been unfairly singled out.

MI5 logo

 

The potential problems the UK government face in successfully introducing these proposals includes giving the police and security services the power to warn other government departments of individuals they consider suspicious. In May 2017 it was reported that over 3,500 potential terrorists are being monitored. It will be interesting when the details are published how the UK Government is going to support the police and the security services in carrying out this task. It is proposed to increase the number of staff in the security services by 1,900 by 2020. When this was first proposed, this was to help the services deal with their current workload. Since 2010 the austerity cuts on the police has seen the number of officers in England and Wales reduced by 21,000. The policing role that has suffered the most from these cuts is neighbourhood policing (community policing), which is a key role in acting as a conduit between the public and the police, and that includes receiving information and intelligence from the community. While there has been no reduction in counter-terrorism policing, there has not been an increase in its resources either as their workload increases. Although 13 major terrorist attacks were prevented in the UK since March 2017, as seen in the 2017 attacks that were successful, it is difficult to monitor all the intelligence systems, so to meet these proposals there will have to be an increase in police staffing and funding.

prevent logo

 

The second issue worth considering is the focusing on communities where the threat of terrorism and radicalisation is highest. Although the report acknowledges the existing Prevent strategy has been divisive, something I have pointed out in the past, this is because when it was introduced, it focused solely on the violent Islamist narrative. Since 2011, the strategy considers all forms of extremism, a message that has not successfully been communicated by the Home Office. Here is the issue regarding this proposal, who are these communities? If the language used over the last few months by the current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, is taken into consideration it appears the communities she is referring to are the Muslim communities. Figures released by the Home Office in March 2018 reveal that out of the 6,093 referred to prevent over a third of those referrals were as a result of far right concerns. Let us not forget that the UK has witnessed a number of attacks carried out under the influence of the far right narrative that have resulted in murder, including the assassination of a British MP in June 2016 by Thomas Mair (something the Islamists have not carried out). Which communities will be monitored in relation to far right terrorism?

 

UK police and security services already have some of the widest powers under terrorism related legislation among the Western states, so it is questionable if further powers are needed. In relation to Prevent, it does need re-marketing. While not perfect, the strategy does have many successes and is a vital strand of CONTEST that requires as much support as possible both in resources and marketing. I know that the Home Office is looking to introduce a separate Prevent website that is more user friendly and interactive. With all the recent good work done in Prevent, it is important that these proposals do not return to focusing solely on the UK’s Muslim communities thereby making them suspect communities. All forms of extremism are potentially dangerous and the community that should work together is the whole of UK society, not just one or two minority communities.

Sputnik logo

 

I discussed this in more details on my interview with Sputnik Radio, which you can listen to on the link

 

Terrorist Incident in Trebes France

Trebes

In relation to Islamist inspired terrorist attacks it has been relatively quiet in Europe over the past few months but once more France has suffered another tragic attack where it is reported that three people have been killed.

The gunman, who has not been named but is believed to be a Moroccan, has been shot and killed by the French police. The incident started in Carcassone where the gunman hijacked a car killing the passenger and injuring the driver. En route to the supermarket in Trebes he shot a wounded a police officer who was jogging. Reported to be heavily armed, the gunman entered the supermarket in Trebes taking staff and shoppers hostage.

salah abdeslam

It is reported that the gunman had pledged allegiance to Islamic State and demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam who was involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks and who was recently convicted of terrorist offences linked to those attacks. Although more information has yet to be released, it does appear that once more we have witnessed another tragic act of terrorism committed by a person who has been inspired by the Islamist narrative of the group Islamic State rather than acting under direct orders of the group. While Islamic State have lost control of key territory in Syria/Iraq and Libya, this incident reveals how potent the narrative of Islamic State still is in influencing the vulnerable and inspiring people to carry out acts of violence in the group’s name. Their media activities via electronic communications has not decreased and this attack should put us all on notice of the potential threat Islamist groups still pose to Western states’ security.

ACT Campaign

We can all play our part by passing information of activity we think is suspicious to the police and in the UK this is part of the current ACT  Campaign Action Counters Terrorism) where if you are suspicious where you can either call 0800 789 321 or compete an online form.

radio scotland logo

I will be discussing this incident in more detail on BBC Radio Scotland just after 6pm (GMT) today.

UK Cybersecurity: Claims that a major cyber attack is due

national cyber security centre logoMinistry-Of-DefenceLogo

 

 

 

 

 

The head of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin has said that so far the UK has been lucky to avoid a ‘category one’ cyber attack targeting the UK’s infrastructure. This can range from UK defence systems, energy companies and financial institutions (both public and private). Martin’s warning follows on from the UK’s Chief of General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter who echoes similar concerns, in particular that posed by recent Russian activity, both militarily and in cyber space.

trident submarine

In January 2018 these concerns have been made public by a number of authorities including the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) where in early January at RUSI Dr Beyza Unal and Dr Patricia Lewis presented a paper examining the threats and vulnerabilities of cyber security, especially in relation to nuclear weapons systems. They presented the consequences a cyber attack would have, including the problems it would pose to the UK’s Trident missile system. Essential in helping to prevent a cyber attack is in having constant risk assessments to monitor potential weak areas and to have analogue systems replaced by digital ones.

Key to protecting the UK’s cyber systems is the role GCHQ and the Ministry of Defence play and that includes adopting a cyber offensive approach. We all rely on cyber related equipment, none more so than the public sector and major private businesses and institutions. So it is essential that these concerns are acted upon (and financed properly), as going public with these concerns are not to be taken lightly.

BBC Radio Merseyside logo

Here is a link to my interview with BBC Radio Merseyside on this topic that is 39 minutes 27 seconds in

David Anderson QC Report into Manchester Bombing and other Terrorist Incidents 2017: What have we learnt?

david anderson 1

On Tuesday 5th December the UK’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd gave details from the report into the terrorist incidents the UK have suffered in 2017 conducted by the UK’s former independent reviewer for terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC. The report examined if the UK’s Security Service (MI5) and counter-terrorism police could have done more to prevent the attacks from happening and if any blame could laid at their door.
In essence David Anderson found no great culpability on the actions by either MI5 or the police. He did find the following:

westminster atatck 1

Khalid Masood (Westminster Bridge attack March 2017) – he was an MI5 subject of interest between Feb to Oct 2012and between 2012 – 2016 he was linked intermittently to Al Muhajiroun (a Salafist jihadist group linked to international terrorism that is proscribed in the UK). There was no intelligence indicating that he was planning an attack;

manchester arena attackabedi

Salmen Abedi (Manchester Arena bombing May 2017) – he had a criminal record limited to theft related offences. He became a subject of interest for one day in Oct 2015 due to contacts he had with an Islamic state figure in Libya. In May Abedi was identified a person who needed further consideration with a meeting to consider him planned for the 3st May, nine days after the bombing. When Abedi returned to the UK from a trip to Libya on the 18th May he had not been flagged so no port stop under Schedule 7 Terrorism Act 2000 was carried out on his return. This is led to David Anderson saying that with hindsight the intelligence MI5 had on Abedi could, ‘…have been highly relevant to the planned attack’ but at the time it was received the intelligence was not fully appreciated by MI5 with David Anderson adding that if the ‘cards had fallen differently’ the attack could have been avoided;

BRITAIN-ATTACKSKhareem Butt

Khuram Butt (London Bridge and Borough Market attack, June 2017) – he was known and was a principal subject in an MI5 investigation, Operation Hawthorn. He was known to be active in recruiting people to Islamic State (IS) and planning trips to IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate that existed in Syria. In mid-2015 intelligence was received that Butt aspired to carry out an attack in the UK but following risk assessments carried out, by Sept 2015 Butt was considered to have a strong intent but a weak capability to carry out the attack;

Finsbury Park attackDarren-Osborne4

Darren Osbourne (Finsbury Park attack July 2017) – there was no intelligence held by either MI5 or the police that he was going to commit the attack.

Could more have been done?

Certainly in relation Abedi, if there were a handful of investigations ongoing in the UK then maybe there could be a greater degree of culpability on the part of MI5 and the police but this is not the case, something that David Anderson recognised. Currently in the UK there are approximately 500 ongoing investigations into 3,000 individuals, with 20,000 individuals in the intelligence system graded of serious concern. This is not counting individuals who are on a system but who have been assessed as a low threat. These figures alone reveal the enormity of the task facing the UK’s security services and police in preventing terrorist attacks from happening. As there is only limited resources in both staffing levels and equipment priority has to be given to what the analysis of the vast intelligence/information received that reveals where the greatest risk lies.
Following the 2005 London attack the key lesson learned was that intelligence must be shared between the security services and the police and the UK has developed a model of intelligence analysis with the introduction of bodies like the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) where the intelligence is forwarded onto the relevant agency with the greatest capability for dealing with specific issues. It is model that has served the UK well in recent years as between 2005 and 2017 the only other main attack we witnessed was the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013 and is model other states have wanted to emulate.
Of course some will say why has the UK sustained five major attacks (the attack in Parsons Green in September 2017 does not appear to have been part of the remit in David Anderson’s investigation)? The Manchester bombing was the most sophisticated attack that involved more individuals that just Abedi. One could arguably say the same for Parsons Green in relation to the bomb that fortunately failed to detonate fully on the Tube train, but lack of knowledge and inexperience existed in that attack. The other three were low level attacks carried out by driving vehicles into people and stabbing victims with knives. These are relatively easy to prepare and carry out, something we have tragically witnessed in other European states. Since March 2017 the UK’s security services and police have prevented nine attacks from taking place, twenty-two since the killing of Lee Rigby. At the time Amber Rudd was informing the UK Parliament on the findings in the Anderson report news also broke related to terrorism arrests. Two men, Rahman from London and Imran from Birmingham were appearing in court on the 6th Dec for allegedly plotting to kill the UK Prime Minister, both men were arrested on the 29th November 2017. Rashid from Lancashire (northwest England) who was arrested on the 22nd November 2017 was charged with offences of preparing acts of terrorism, will be appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London today.
Preventing terrorist attacks is a difficult task, but in the current climate it is virtually impossible to prevent all attacks from occurring. One should focus on what the UK security services and the police have achieved. Lessons will be learnt and it maybe that intelligence form other police sources could be shared such as neighbourhood officers who may have that vital piece of intelligence on individuals who may have been downgraded as a low priority that would make those countering terrorism look at them again.

I discuss this in more details in my interview with BBC Radio Wales (1 hour 10 minutes 33 seconds in) and on BBC North West Tonight (TV)

President Trump’s Response to New York Terror Attack Reveals Naivety, Inaccuracy and Contradiction

donald trumpSaipov

At a US Cabinet meeting press conference following the New York terror attack, answering journalists’ question, US President Donald Trump gave answers that, if not resulting in further disbelief, to those getting used to Trump’s style of responses will at least raise an eyebrow.

Trump Tweet

One issue was President Trump’s tweet on the 2nd November 2017 that the terrorist Saipov should get the death penalty. Firstly the issue is still sub judice and due process still has to take its course as it is currently alleged that Saipov has committed these offences, he has not pleaded or been found guiltily of murdering the eight victims. Also it will be difficult for Saipov to receive the death penalty as New York state no longer have the death penalty. This is an important extradition issue especially with European countries as it allows for easier extradition as seen with the example of Abu Hamza from the UK.

GTMO

Apart from showing his lack of knowledge of NY state law, President Trump also showed his lack of legal knowledge and understanding of why prisoners have been detained at Guantanamo Bay (GTMO). When asked, President Trump replied that he would consider sending Saipov to GTMO. Legally this may be difficult as GTMO detetnion centre was created to detain suspected Islamists linked to Al Qaeda who were arrested in Afghanistan. In essence, GTMO was created as a military detention centre so prisoners could be detained under US military law. If GTMO detainees were transported to the US then US criminal law would apply, something President GW Bush wanted to avoid when establishing the camp. Amnesty International has considered GTMO as a major breach of human rights. President Obama promised to close GTMO. Although he did not achieve this during his presidency, GTMO detainees were reduced from 245 to 41. The issue President Trump has overlooked regarding Saipov is he killed and injured the victims on US soil and as such he will face trial for murder and attempt murder under US criminal law where no doubt terrorism will be a sentencing factor. As such, if Saipov pleads or is found guilty it is likely he will receive a long prison sentence.

US-America-Diversity-Visa-Lottery-2017

President Trump also said the Diversity Immigrant Visa Programme that was introduced via a Bill passed in 1990 with the Immigration Act (also referred to as the diversity lottery programme) as ineffective. The programme is run by the US State Department where individuals who are determined to have a low enough level of immigration requirements to the US can apply. Under the Act countries that have more than 50,000 of their citizens immigrate to the US in the previous five years are ineligible. This could explain why Saipov was allowed to enter the US in 2010 from Uzbekistan. To be successful, individual applicants must have at least a high school education or equivalent and two years of experience working a job that requires at least two years of training or experience within five years of the application. The programme has not been without its political detractors. President Trump wants to end this programme and replace it with a merit based immigration programme as he wants to keep the US safe, something he does not see the current programme doing, He made it clear, ‘…we do not want lotteries’. Adding to this he was clear that also does not want chain immigration where someone entering the US on the current programme can bring in members of their family. On a final question President Trump said members of Saipov’s family could also be a threat to US security.

There s no doubting that to date President Trump’s tenure in the post has been different to his predecessors. He is quick to offer his opinion, especially via the 140 character limiting Twitter. While many may see his as a refreshing change, he does speak first without considering the consequences his comments have both in the US and aboard.

I am no apologist for any group and I understand and agree with the issues he raised regarding the Diversity Immigration Visa Programme. As with other states like Canada and Australia for example, a merit based immigration system is more effective in relation to vetting procedures and is preferable to a lottery based system as that in the Diversity Programme. It is understandable why states would want potential immigrants to be educated to a high standard with skills and knowledge that would enhance their state alongside an ability to speak the main language of that state.

This particular press conference once more provided groups like Islamic Sate with further ammunition to feed its propaganda machine that is influencing individuals as well as having the potential to alienate certain communities that make up the US population, along with states outside the US. For me President Trump could clothe his open, forthright opinions in more acceptable political/diplomatic style of rhetoric. Regarding the possible sentencing, he could have said that he has faith in the due process of the US criminal justice system to deal appropriately with Saipov. In relation to the Diversity Immigration Visa Programme, he could have said that it will be reviewed, adding it is important that a merit system be encouraged. Regarding Saipov’s family being a threat, the answer should have been that presently there is nothing to suggest that. One cannot and should not judge a whole family based on the actions of one of its members.

prevent logo

One problem the US appears to have in dealing with individuals influenced by extremist narrative who end up carrying out terrorist attacks is the inability of the federal government to introduce a Prevent strategy that is uniform across the 50 states like that in the UK or the federal state of Australia. One of the difficulties in achieving this is the historical and political issues where the 50 states resent increasing  interference from a Washington DC based federal government. These issues have been present for many years in the US where one could argue it was one of the issues behind the 1860’s civil war. Another example was a century later in the 1960’s with southern states and the civil rights movement exemplified by Alabama governor George Wallace’s stance by trying to prohibit a black student from enrolling at Alabama State University in 1963 resulting in the Kennedy administration to take action against Governor Wallace. If the US could reach an agreement to develop and introduce a Prevent strategy it would help those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism, especially through the influence of extremists’ narrative. I accept that the UK’s Prevent strategy has some flaws, but overall it is a successful policy that has helped many individuals at a pre-criminal stage. Perhaps the US should consider introducing such a strategy as it is far more effective than simply having nothing concrete in place. Rather than making wide sweeping statements regarding certain faiths, communities and complaining of narratives that influence people to commit acts of terror, in addition to investigating terrorism action having a Prevent strategy in place would assist some individuals before hey become too imbued with an ideology that leads the to carry out terrorist acts.