Following the terrorist attacks that took place on the UK mainland between March and June this year, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd commissioned former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, to provide independent assurance of the internal MI5 and police reviews. Anderson has now published his detailed report.
The UK is facing an intense threat from terrorism: one which is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not witnessed before now. This has been tragically demonstrated in the attacks during 2017, resulting in the senseless loss of 36 lives and injuries to many more. Terrible events like those that occurred in Manchester and central London and the shift in the threat means that we must continually challenge ourselves and adapt what we do.
Investigations into the attacks continue and the Security Service (MI5) is determined to do everything in its power to ensure that, wherever possible, those responsible for such attacks are brought to justice. MI5 and the police service are committed to learning and improving as quickly as possible in order to meet the threat and remain global leaders in countering terrorism.
MI5 and the police commissioned very detailed internal reviews of the attacks and an overarching Operational Improvement Review (OIR). The internal reviews considered what was known before the attacks, how processes operated and the implications for counter-terrorism work in the future. The OIR sought to identify improvements to the counter-terrorism machine and involved the security and intelligence agencies and Government partners.
Together, MI5 and the police service have thwarted 22 plots in the last four years, nine of which have been stopped since March 2017. There are currently well over 500 counter-terrorism investigations ongoing and involving more than 3,000 subjects of interest, along with a growing pool of more than 20,000 individuals who have previously been the subject of terrorism investigations. These investigations cover the full range of terrorist activity, from attack planning through to activity that supports or facilitates terrorism, but a significant proportion involve potential attack planning threats. According to MI5, the tempo is now “more intense than ever”.
Endorsement for MI5 recommendations
As David Anderson QC notes in his report, intelligence is always imperfect and counter-terrorism work requires tough professional judgements. Although the Security Service and the police work tirelessly to keep the country safe, the reality of the terrorist threat means that they will not be able to stop every attack.
Anderson’s thorough document endorses several recommendations that MI5 and the police believe will further strengthen processes in counter-terrorism work. Many of these build upon existing improvements already underway at the time of the attacks.
The main areas of focus are as follows:
*Exploiting data: the OIR recommends steps to further strengthen MI5’s ability to detect engagement in terrorism-related activities, including detecting re-engagement by former subjects of interest in terrorism investigations
*Multi-agency engagement: the OIR recommends going beyond existing relationships to enable the widest range of partners to be engaged in managing the risk of renewed engagement in terrorist-related activity as part of a ‘whole of Government’ counter-terrorism response. This includes a new commitment by MI5 to allow knowledge derived from intelligence to be shared more widely beyond traditional intelligence circles
*Increased role for the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) and MI5 in domestic extremism: the OIR proposes to bring equivalence of processes between the current approach to domestic extremist threats (such as right wing threats) and Islamist terrorism by strengthening threat assessment processes and joint working between Counter-Terrorism Policing and MI5 where there are potential terrorist threats in this area
*Technical changes: the OIR recommends a number of technical changes to improve existing operational counter-terrorism processes. These cover processes such as information management and the handling of intelligence
“Careful and trustworthy”
In his report, David Anderson describes the police service and MI5 reviews as being both “careful and trustworthy” and comments on the review teams’ integrity, frankness and openness to criticism.
Implementing the recommendations included in the post-attack reviews and the OIR is a priority for both MI5 and the police. Together, they’re committed to continuing the open and collaborative approach already shared. Future work will be driven forward by the two organisations while working closely with their partners.
There’s likely to be more scrutiny into the circumstances of these attacks, including public inquests which will examine these matters further. Copies of the reviews have also been provided to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament for its constituent members to consider alongside the content of Anderson’s report.
Andrew Parker, director general of MI5, said: “Throughout its history, MI5 has had to adapt and change to keep pace with a fast-moving world and stay ahead of the country’s adversaries. We’ve done this before and continue to do it today in response to the unprecedented threat from international terrorism. I welcome David Anderson QC’s independent assurance of our reviews and we’re committed to implementing the recommendations identified. As I said in October, we and our partner agencies used the harsh light of hindsight under independent challenge to ensure we squeezed every drop of learning out of these dreadful events. MI5 and our partners continue to bring the full weight of our growing capabilities to counter this new intensity of threat. Our unrelenting focus remains on doing everything in our power each and every day to keep the country safe.”
Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, added: “Our thoughts remain with those who lost their lives, their families and the hundreds of others who were injured in the ghastly attacks in London and Manchester this year. Together, the police and security services have worked hard to identify exactly where we can learn from these events and I’d like to thank David Anderson QC for his independent scrutiny and assurances of our reviews. The UK continues to be internationally recognised as a world leader in counter-terrorism. Policing and our colleagues in the fight against terrorism will continue to learn and improve. We need to make rapid progress in implementing the recommendations, many of which require new technology, better infrastructures and resources at a time when the threat from terrorism poses significant challenges for the police and the security services.”
In conclusion, Commissioner Dick observed: “The growth in the number of dangerous individuals who have been radicalised is a major issue for us. We will be redoubling our efforts in enforcement activity both to disrupt and confront the threat and also safeguard the vulnerable from radicalisation.”