There are those set on destroying our values, radicalising our young people and killing indiscriminately across the globe. Out of such adversity, though, comes an opportunity for the Government to provide real leadership, and absolutely grasp the fact that our certainty must outpace that of our adversaries. John Hayes explains why we must all be sure that our confidence to triumph over the terrorists always outshines the latter’s own dark dreams and deadly intent.
The title of this article is taken from Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. It’s perhaps his best known and most contentious observation: “What is reasonable is real, and what is real is reasonable.” The remark is somewhat contentious, principally because some believe that Hegel was making a normative claim for what is actual: that what is real must be right, but of course that isn’t the case.
Rather, Hegel was arguing that, ultimately, philosophy must be a rational enterprise concerned with understanding the world as it actually is. What was true of Hegel’s philosophy, then, is equally true of public policy today, particularly in relation to the fundamental issue of security.
It’s all-too-tempting to view the threat we face as being abstract and theoretical, and to believe that we’ve always faced threats, and that the threats we now confront are essentially the same as those present in the past. This is all-too-tempting because – as TS Eliot wrote so eloquently in his four quartets – humankind cannot bear very much reality.
The threat we face today is changing, ferocious and flexible. That threat is evolving rapidly. Responding to it is a testing challenge. That requires us to review, revise and rejuvenate what we do and how we do it. Most of all, we must look at what we need to do now and what’s to be done next.
The Investigatory Powers Bill, published in draft form last November, is crucial to these efforts. Our approach brings together work at home to build cohesive communities and root out extremism by way of co-operation and dialogue with nations worldwide.
Success requires realism
The terrorist threat we face here in the UK is unprecedented and growing. That’s not only my view. Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, has stated: “The threat we’re facing today is on a scale and at a tempo that I’ve never seen before in my career.”
In the 12 months to September last year, our police and Security Services arrested 315 individuals for terrorism-related offences. That’s an increase of one third on the previous year, and up from a total of 121 five years ago.
We’ve stopped at least seven different attempts to attack the UK in the last 18 months alone. There have been 16 attacks in Europe over the past two years, most of them inspired – or otherwise directed – by ISIL.
The terrorist threat is no longer confined to Europe, or even just to the West. It’s more sophisticated and more widely distributed. It could be a marauding terrorist firearms attack, as we saw in Paris. It might be an attack on the transport network, as we witnessed on the Russian MetroJet flight from Sharm El Sheikh, or the attempted attack on the train travelling from Brussels to Paris.
It could be a co-ordinated attack on a tourist site, as was the case at Sousse in Tunisia, or more recently at Bamako in Mali. Or it might be a knife attack, as we witnessed in Marseilles.
The diversity of the threat, as well as its volume, is a serious challenge to us here in the UK and, indeed, our allies around the world.
The essential change in terrorism is the increasing adaptability of terrorists, and of ISIL in particular. It uses new technology and new methods. It’s adaptable, and it revels in its own depravity. It has murdered hundreds of thousands of men, women and children – the majority of them practising Muslims, the very people for whom it claims to speak.
It operates in a way we’ve never seen before. We have never seen this number, demographic or range of ages of people travelling to take part in conflict. ISIL is responsible, either directly or indirectly, for many of the attacks and attempted attacks I’ve already mentioned.
Far from being isolated in Syria and Iraq, its influence is spreading to groups worldwide in Libya, West Africa, Afghanistan and beyond.
Real and present danger
The other thing is that ISIL isn’t the only threat we face. Al Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose a very real and present danger. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took credit for the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January last year, during which 12 people died. It holds territory in ungoverned spaces within the Middle East.
The Al-Nusrah Front, its affiliate in Syria, has combined success on the battlefield with an effective online media campaign and a presence on the ground in that country. AQ-M, its Africa-based affiliate, recently claimed responsibility for the attack on a Radisson Hotel in Mali last November, during which 21 guests were killed as a result.
The threat is growing. It’s now more complex and diverse. It’s for this very reason that we should heed Hegel’s warning – to understand the world as it really is. If we’re to succeed in our security endeavours, we need to confront that reality. Facing up to reality means disrupting terrorist attacks and those who help to support them, and we have.
We’ve proscribed terrorist groups – 15, including 11 linked to Syria and Iraq. We have revoked British citizenship from individuals. Since May 2010, we’ve excluded over 100 hate preachers. In 2014, we withdrew or refused a British Passport 24 times under the Royal Prerogative. Last year, we extended Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures to include relocation powers, allowing the police service to manage the risk from individuals we cannot either prosecute or deport.
Facing reality also means being prepared to respond to attacks in the national interest. As part of the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review, we’ve done just that. We will continue to invest in capabilities to protect ourselves against terrorist attack. We’ll invest £1.9 billion over the next five years in protecting the UK from cyber-based threats.
Facing reality means reviewing, in light of the attacks in Paris last year, our ongoing response to a marauding firearms attack perpetrated by terrorists. Those attacks highlighted the challenges any country would face in managing multiple and concurrent incidents. Since then, working with other nations, we’ve pressed for stronger protective security, crisis response and border management to halt the movement of people and weapons, increase information sharing, improve controls on firearms and enhance overall levels of aviation security.
Investigatory Powers Bill
Facing reality also means ensuring that the police and the Security Services in the UK have the legislation they need to keep us safe.
Having passed the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, we published the draft Investigatory Powers Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. Communications and modern technology are very much at the heart of the threat we face, and thus at the very epicentre of our response.
The web enables individuals the world over to communicate quickly and easily, often using encryption. It works across borders and jurisdictions, as do the extremists who make use of it. Of course, its global nature renders regulation problematic.
Crucially, terrorists in Syria and Iraq can employ the web to reach out, using online communications to direct, enable and inspire individuals the world over to contemplate attempting, at least, callous acts of murder.
Communications data matters – that is the who, where, when and how of a communication, but not its content. It’s a vital tool for investigating crime and protecting the public. It has been used by every major Security Service counter-terrorism investigation over the last year. Indeed, it’s employed in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations handled by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Law enforcement capabilities are degrading due to rapid technological change, and because more and more communications are taking place online. So, while this is important for our counter-terrorism efforts, that’s by no means the only reason it’s important and it’s by no means the only reason why this Government is bringing forward legislation.
Need for access
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, has stated that communications data is regularly used to tackle criminals whose activities affect the wider community, such as repeat burglars, robbers and drug dealers. The police service needs access to this information in order to keep up with the criminals who bring so much harm to victims and our society in general.
However, it’s vital that we appreciate why this legislation is itself important, and in particular how far we’ve come in terms of ensuring that we have a legal regime in place serving the interests of both privacy and security.
We’ve provided more information than ever before about some of the most sensitive powers available to the security and intelligence agencies, including the use of bulk personal datasets and the acquisition of bulk communications data designed to thwart potential terrorist attacks.
The draft Bill puts these capabilities on a clear statutory footing and makes them subject to robust and world-leading safeguards. We’re fully committed to ensuring that the Bill receives maximum scrutiny. The draft Bill goes further than the current oversight regime. A ‘double lock’ on ministerial authorisation of intercept warrants means that both Judges and Parliamentary ministers alike will consider the evidence supporting such warrants.
Trust is really the golden thread running through the viability of the new legislation, which is why necessity and proportionality are the very lodestars of the draft Bill.
The Prevent Agenda
We cannot confront the reality of the threat we face without confronting the poisonous ideologies and extremist messages underpinning it. We’ve seen time and time again in cases of young people radicalised here in the UK that the situation is also more insidious now than ever before. It’s easy to assume the threat’s elsewhere, but in fact the threat is here and the threat is very much now.
ISIL’s propaganda combines extreme violence and extremist messages with modern technology, using social media to reach out to the young and the vulnerable the world over. From their bedrooms they can access images of murder and brutality in tandem with messages of death and destruction. The Police Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit is currently removing 100 pieces of ISIL or Syria-related content every day.
To appreciate the impact of ISIL’s propaganda, take the case of a 14 year-old boy who, from his own bedroom, plotted an attack on a parade in Melbourne. That plot, developed over the Internet, sought to behead police officers. The child was recruited online by a known ISIL activist. He himself had reached out online to a 16 year-old girl who was found to possess extremist literature, bomb-making instructions and violent imagery.
Had we not detected that young man’s plot, many would have been killed. Cases such as this demonstrate ISIL’s insidious, sinister and seductive appeal, its ability to inspire – as well as direct – attacks and the extraordinary difficulty in unearthing what’s being planned.
Through our Prevent strategy, we’ve built a unique model of partnership between Government, civil society and industry. It supports people who may be vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. It works with sectors where radicalisation may be a risk.
Last year, we supported 130 community projects, reaching over 25,000 participants. Over half of these were delivered in schools, aimed at increasing young people’s resilience to terrorist and extremist ideologies.
Since April 2015, we’ve engaged in Prevent with over 285 mosques, 200 community organisations, 100 faith organisations, 800 schools and colleges and 40 universities. The Prevent duty has cemented all of that work.
Much has also been made of Channel, our programme designed to support those at risk of radicalisation. Contrary to what some have alleged, this is a voluntary programme and, to date, hundreds of people have been provided with positive support. Most of those who participate in Channel leave with no further concerns about their vulnerability of being drawn into acts of terrorism.
Let me be clear. Prevent is about countering radicalisation. Prevent is about safeguarding. The most significant threat is currently posed by Islamist terrorist organisations such as ISIL. They’re trying specifically to incite and recruit people of a Muslim background, partly by distorting religion for their own ends. Clearly, we need to respond to that.
We must protect those most at risk of radicalisation, but let me be equally clear that Prevent covers all forms of such activity, whatever its source. This is about safeguarding and protecting the common good.
We’re working to defeat ISIL on all fronts.
John Hayes is Minister of State for Security at the Home Office