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.

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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

 

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.

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

Mubashir Jamil from Luton Convicted for Preparing Acts of Terrorism

Mubashir jamil

Mubashir from Luton, Bedfordshire, has been convicted today (19th Oct) at London’s Central Criminal Court (Old Baily) for preparing acts of terrorism after chatting to a covert police officer.

He intended to join Islamic state and was arrested a few days before he planned to fly out to Turkey. He also considered carrying outa suicide bomb attack. Commander Hayden, head of SO15 (Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit), said Jamil had been inspired by the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium.

Detective Superintendent Channer said how important it is to identify and weed out individuals with extreme views of any kind. In doing so he mentioned Luton, acknowledging that it is a ‘fantastic town’ with great diversity but there is suspected in some quarters that this comment was derogatory towards Luton. This may be harsh and D/Supt Channer is right, all forms of extremism must be weeded out.

I will be discussing these issues along with extremism/radicalisation on BBC Three Counties Radio just after 7am (BST) tomorrow (20th Oct)

UK’s MI5 Director Warns UK is Facing Intense Terror Threat

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MI5’s Director, Andrew Parker has warned the UK’s security services are facing an intense challenge from terrorism. He said the tempo of counter-terrorism operations was the highest he has seen in his service with MI5, currently running at 500 live operations involving 3,000 individuals. Even though seven major attacks have been prevented in the last seven months in 2017, the UK has suffered five attacks, four in London, one in Manchester with four inspired the Islamist narrative, one allegedly by the far right narrative.

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The threat comes from individuals who have returned to the UK after having fought with Islamic State (IS) in Syria/Iraq and IS’ use of electronic communications and propaganda to recruit/inspire individuals to carry out attacks (mainly low level using vehicles and sharply bladed instruments). Following the loss of control of Raqqa this week, although IS no longer controls major/important geographical locations, their narrative is still alive and influencing individuals. Due to the overwhelming forces fighting them, it is likely IS could see they would lose the territory they controlled and have made preparations to carry out their fight by use of guerrilla warfare in Syria/Iraq, placed sleeper cells in western states containing individuals who have fought and been trained in Syria/Iraq and continue to use their effective communications system to recruit/influence new followers. This in itself will pose a threat to many states’ national security in the next few years.

national action logo1national action at Liverpool

 

Regarding the UK, Andrew parker did not mention the terrorist threat the UK faces from the extreme far right. Since the group National Action were proscribed as a terrorist group in December 2016 there have been a number of arrests linked to the group. This includes the arrests on the 27th September 2017 where eleven suspected members of National Action were arrested with six of them suspected of preparing acts of terrorism.

severe threat level

 

This explains why the UK’s threat level is still at severe (an attack is highly likely). Questions will continue to be asked as to how attacks still occur, but as Andrew Parker said, seven serious attacks were prevented in 2017 alone. The UK’s counter-terrorism model of security where the security services work alongside the police supported by units like the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) is still effective. Those assessed as a risk will be investigated, but those who are not on any intelligence system or who is perceived as a peripheral figure still pose a threat. It is impossible to mount 24 hour, seven days a week surveillance on all those in the intelligence systems. It is logical that resources are focused on the greatest risk and as such I see the UK’s threat level remaining at sever for the near future.

 

I discussed this on BBC Radio Scotland at 6.50am this morning and will be again for BBC Radio WM between 9.05-9.20am (BST) today.

 

Parson Green Terrorist Attack: Two persons arrested

Parsons Green

Two suspects have been arrested in the investigation into the Parsons Green terrorist attack, one an 18 year old arrested at the Port of Dover, the second a 21 year old arrested in Hounslow, London. This shows how intensive the investigation has been carried out since the incident last Friday morning.

The arrests do not mean the investigation is effectively over, the two arrested are simply suspected to have had an involvement in the planting of the bomb on the London Underground train under section 41 Terrorism Act 2000. At this stage this means the police have obtained information and evidence to suspect that the wo have an involvement in the attack, not that they have committed offences. That can only be confirmed if  sufficient evidence to charge the two is obtained they are either found or plead guilty in a subsequent trial that may follow.

The two are most likely to be detained in police custody under Schedule 8 Terrorism Act 2000 that provides the conditions of the suspects’ detention rather than section 37 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that provides the conditions for police detention of suspects in non-terrorist related offences. One of the main differences is the length of time a person can be detained in police custody prior to charge and grounds that must be met in relation to authorising police detention. During their detention, while the suspects will be interviewed by the police,  various enquiries related to the investigation will be continuing as well as examination of any forensic evidence and analysis of intelligence.

Currently the terror threat level in the UK remains critical, which means an attack is imminent. Whether this is based on Islamic State’s claim that further devices have not been found or if it is as a result of the ongoing investigations remains to be seen.

I will be discussing the developments into the Parsons Green terrorist attack on Sky News just after 12.30 BST today.

 

British soldiers suspected of being members of banned far right group

national action logo1national action at Liverpool

 

It has been reported that four British Army solders have been arrested for allegedly plotting a terror attack and being members of a proscribed far right group, National Action. In December 2016 National Action became the first far right group to be proscribed among western states. By being proscribed, National Action is now a terrorist group in the UK.

Over the last few years there has been a rise in far right activity, not just in the UK but globally. In the US we have witnessed the rise in far right group activity leading to violent clashes such as that seen recently in Charlottesville where a car was driven into a crowd killing one person and injuring nineteen others. Whether this has been in response to Islamist groups’ activity is questionable. Far right groups have been active in western states over many years, it might just be that in the current climate where many have concerns of recent actions carried out by Islamist  groups that pose threats to personal safety in day-to-day activities far right groups feel more comfortable in being more able to express their ideology. Added to this we have seen a rise in the popularity of nationalist political parties. This was seen in the 2016 Dutch elections with Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom who secured a significant rise in votes and seats in the Dutch Parliament and Marine le Pen, the leader of the National Front party in France who ran second to Macron in the 2016 French presidential elections. It could be argued that the popularity of the likes of Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, who was one of the most strident in encouraging the UK electorate to vote leave in the 2016 EU referendum  with his message related to immigration and the slogan ‘We want our country back’ . It could be argued these political events along with Donald Trump winning the US 2015 presidential election with his xenophobic messages in the ‘Make American Great Again’ slogan have created a  safer environment where far right groups feel able to be more open and vocal in their message.

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The threat and danger to life far right groups pose should not be underestimated. Recent examples in the UK include  Zak Davies who was radicalised online and a member of National Action was convicted of attempt murder in June 2015 when he tried to behead his victim, a Sikh, who Davies thought was a Muslim. In November 2016 Thomas Mair who was also radicalised to the far right narrative was convicted  of murder after killing a UK Member of Parliament, Jo Cox in June 2016. In June 2017 Darren Osbourne is allegedly suspected of being influenced by far right ideology when he allegedly drove a vehicle into worshippers who were leaving Finsbury Park Mosque in London, injuring eleven people.

As Islamist terror activity has been prominent both in actual attacks and in the media, it is understandable that other forms of extremism seem to have either been ignored or not recognised by many people. This is why working to help achieve the aims of the Prevent strategy is important. It is better to help people at a pre-criminal stage who are attracted by an extremist narrative and as such are being drawn towards terrorism. It is not perfect, but it is the best we have got. All forms of extremism, even non-violent extremism that glories violence are dangerous and must be differentiated from activism. For a more detailed analysis of this issue see my article in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism ‘Prevent Strategies: The Problems Associated in Defining Extremism: The Case of the United Kingdom’.