James Brokenshire speech to RUSI on 18 October 2012 regarding Counter Terrorism after the Olympic Games

Security and counter-terrorism minister James Brokenshire – pic: Home Office

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here today.

The delivery of a safe and secure games has undoubtedly been the overriding priority for the counter terrorism community over recent years. And the success of the games marks a tremendous achievement for all those involved in the security effort. But now that this singular challenge is behind us, we have a chance to take stock and to ask what more we can do to ensure the counter terrorism landscape embodies efficiency, effectiveness and the rule of law. So I would like to offer some reflections this morning:

  • on the enduring and evolving threat from terrorism;
  • on the factors that make the threat more complex now than ever;
  • on the changes we are making to deliver justice and security, as we seek to meet these challenges.

Fundamentally, I want to talk about what it will mean to stay ahead of the threat from those who mean us and our values harm. But before I look ahead, I want to briefly look back and reflect on the scale of what we have achieved in this incredible year.

After the games

The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games was the UK’s biggest logistical event ever seen in peace time. The challenge of securing the games was a significant one, not least because of the diversity of threats to their delivery, of which the most significant was international and domestic terrorism.

We made significant investment to ensure that capabilities and plans were in place to prevent these threats from materialising, and to respond if they did.

We drew heavily on the existing arrangements and capabilities – in particular those delivered through CONTEST and resilience work led by the cabinet office. But we also took account of what more we would need to put in place to respond to the specific challenges presented by the games.

The games were without doubt a UK success story. But they were also a security success story. We delivered on time and on budget. We built a strong protective security infrastructure, we delivered an effective policing operation, and we developed proactive intervention strategies to disrupt those who wanted to harm or profit from the games.

We secured the UK’s border and facilitated travel in and out of the country for over 3 million people. We processed over 1 million accreditation and visa applications. And we kept the highest ever concentration of domestic and international protected persons in the UK safe and secure.

We also worked successfully with Muslim communities and mosques in England and Wales to address the tensions that could have resulted from the coincidence of the games with the holy month of Ramadan. We ensured adjustments were made to make the games fully inclusive of Muslim athletes, spectators and volunteers including the staging Iftar events in 17 mosques to break fasts and bring wider communities together.

The knowledge, know-how, skills and experience we have gained through doing this will serve us well as we look to the future.

The evolving threat

But the delivery of a safe and secure games does not mean that the threat from Al Qai’da and associated groups has disappeared – far from it. Indeed, this is a threat that continues to evolve and change.

Since 2001, Al Qa’ida senior leadership has come under severe pressure by the action of coalition forces in Afghanistan, and from US and Pakistani operations in the border areas of Pakistan. Many of the most senior Al Qa’ida leaders have been killed, and the death of Usama bin Laden certainly dealt a blow to the organisation. Al Qa’ida’s ability to plan and carry out terrorist attacks overseas is not what it was.

But jihadism by its very nature is not dependent on specific individuals or complex organisational structures. So the threat from Al Qa’ida and others remains. They retain both the capability and the intent to conduct attacks against the UK and its allies, at home and abroad. And the nature and location of the AQ-inspired threat is now more diverse than ever.

The lesson here is that global events have shaped – and will continue to shape – the threat from terrorism. Terrorists continue to adapt: they are seizing on areas shaken by instability or the collapse of longstanding regimes; they are revising their ideology to fit a world that otherwise refuses to fit their narrative; and they are growing more sophisticated in their efforts to evade our defences.

In a world that is in many ways characterised by change, instability and uncertainty, it is increasingly difficult to stay ahead of that changing threat.

Tackling instability

Terrorists have always taken advantage of ungoverned spaces. Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen have all seen terrorism flourish in the absence of effective governance. Now, Northern Mali is at risk of joining that list. This represents a grave threat to the people of Mali. But it also increases the threat to UK interests in the region and, potentially, the threat to us and our neighbours in Europe.

Since the coup d’état earlier this year, we have seen some tuareg groups forging closer alliances with Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Now, the political turmoil is being compounded by the displacement of people and a food crisis to create a recipe for poverty, human rights abuses and, ultimately, radicalisation. With Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb growing in ability and ambition, a collective failure to act might well manifest in attacks closer to home.

Equally, in North Africa and the Middle East, the overthrow of dictatorships has, in the short term, provided opportunities that terrorists are seeking to exploit. Given greater freedom to operate, they are forging new alliances and taking advantage of unstable and factionalised environments in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. We have previously seen indications that Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb has used the opportunity to procure weapons in Libya and to attempt to conduct attacks in Tunisia. And of course we take very seriously any claims that indicate British nationals among foreign fighters in Syria.

I would, however, challenge those who argue that the Arab Spring has given way to an Arab Winter. The road to democracy has never been an easy one. And in many ways the Arab Spring was a direct response to the kind of rule that provided security only by maintaining a brutal grip over its people.

It takes time to build the institutions of a democracy. And it will take the full support of the international community to stop those who seek to undermine their foundations. But in the absence of territorial integrity, democratic legitimacy and national security, extremists will continue to thrive. So we must harness the power of international and regional institutions. And we must ensure that our international relationships – and those of British industry – remain true to our values and our obligations.

Staying ahead of the threat means working with our allies to reduce the spaces in which extremism can gain a foothold.

Challenging ideology

Extremists are becoming more adept at tailoring their ideologies to reflect popular sentiment. Those using AQ inspired narratives are aligning their messages with support for the Arab uprisings and taking advantage of information technology to expose greater numbers to their ideology. And they are crafting explanations of global events that are not only attractive but which seek to drive a wedge between communities. These narratives can in turn be used by far-right extremists to create fear and further division. We need to remain alert to all of these threats.

More than ever these challenges point to the need for understanding and cooperation. I want to reassert our commitment to work with communities to understand their issues – we should not allow grievances to become a focus for disengagement, but instead we should join together so that those who seek to peddle hatred and divide us do not succeed. Staying ahead of the threat means working with communities to tackle those who peddle division, hate and extremism.

Addressing changing tactics

Terrorists are continually adapting their tactics to outpace our response and deliver the greatest possible impact. In recent years, their changing tactics have allowed them to achieve a devastating effect using relatively unsophisticated means. The experiences in Toulouse and in Norway demonstrate the impact that a lone individual can have if sufficiently motivated, while the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai were characterised by an on-going firearms and explosives attack, and by hostage-taking. So we are improving the way the emergency services work together in response to a major incident.

This is why the home secretary asked the emergency services to set up a new programme of work designed to make further improvements to the joint response to emergencies. The overall aim is to ensure that the blue light services are trained and exercised to work together as effectively as possible in response to a major incident, including fast-moving terrorist scenarios, so that as many lives as possible can be saved. The programme will build upon the work done to date on the joint emergency response to specific risks, including a marauding terrorist firearms attack and incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear substances. Staying ahead of the threat means ensuring our emergency response is capable of dealing with the threat in whatever form it takes.

Understanding capability

Terrorists are sophisticated, opportunistic and constantly probing for vulnerabilities to exploit. Their capabilities are continually evolving, and their sophistication means we are often locked in a race to stay ahead.

We saw this in 2006, when Al-Qa’ida conceived and planned to use liquid explosives to destroy trans-Atlantic airliners. We saw it in 2009, when AQAP sought to bring down a plane over Detroit using a device with low metal content, concealed under an passenger’s clothing. We saw it in 2010, when they concealed devices within computer printers bound from Yemen for the United States And we have seen it this year, when a plot to repeat an ‘underpants bomb’ was narrowly averted.

So we have developed systems that allow us to understand precisely who intends to travel to this country before their departure. And we have strengthened pre-departure checks to identify people and cargo that pose a terrorist threat and stop them flying. We will deny airlines authority to carry to the UK foreign nationals who pose a threat. We are working closely with International partners to raise air cargo security; a cornerstone of this work – the EU air cargo security regime – is now in place. This significantly raises the security bar for all cargo entering the UK. But still they will search for gaps in our coverage.

Like serious criminals, terrorists will continue to make the most of the latest technology, both to disseminate their message and to plan their operations. Extremists are already adept at using the internet to radicalise and communicate; I will not speculate about their long term aspirations in terms of launching cyber attacks. But the government’s national cyber security strategy is designed to address threats in cyberspace, whether they come from terrorists, other states, criminals or others.

Already, we are seeing how terrorists are using technology to try to evade the reach of the police and the security service. Along with organised criminals and paedophile rings, they are taking advantage of new technologies, communicating using internet messaging, phone services and even video games. That’s why we want to legislate – through the communications data bill – to give the police access to the same information for internet communications as they already have for telephones.

Of course we will do so in way that is proportionate and consistent with our obligations under the ECHR. There will be no unfettered access to communications data. And we will remove other statutory powers with weaker safeguards which can currently be used by public authorities to access communications data.

I emphasise proportionality, because in setting out our programme for a future landscape, it is important to stress our commitment to both justice and security. We believe they are mutually reinforcing. And our legislative programme reflects that.

We believe that our institutions must embody the rule of law. So we are addressing a situation where sensitive material cannot be considered by the courts, leaving the public with no independent judgment on very serious allegations about government actions. The justice and security bill will resolve the invidious position in which government finds itself, of having to choose between defending itself in court and settling cases at great cost – and potential risk – to the public.

Staying ahead of the threat means giving the police and their partners the powers to investigate threats, adapt to changing capabilities, and ultimately, keep us all safe. But it also means doing so in a way that delivers both justice and security.

The security legacy

But in a period so defined by the economic situation, we will need to ensure that our collective resources are being used efficiently and to best effect. An effective CT landscape is not just about powers and oversight. It is also about how local communities, emergency services, law enforcement, governments and others work together.

The success of the London 2012 security operation is testament to the collective knowledge and experience of the counter terrorism community in the UK. The police, the armed forces and the security and intelligence agencies all deserve our gratitude for the work they did this summer. But the success of the games was also a result of innovative working with communities, with the private sector and with our overseas partners to deliver a safe and secure games.

In the period following the games, it is crucial that we now start to capitalise on the success of the games, of our CT strategy CONTEST, of UK policing, and of our reputation as an international leader in security.

Our expertise has allowed the UK to demonstrate our agility, flexibility and capability to address unknown threats. And there are opportunities. We have a vibrant security industry that is adapting to the wider export market, and our SMEs are demonstrating innovation and speed of response to technically and operationally challenging problems. We can combine our long standing track record with the legacy and demonstrable solutions that we showcased through the Olympics. We can leverage our world leading strategic know-how and the approaches embodied within CONTEST and brands such as secured by design.

Together these things have led to the UK being recognised across the world as a prime provider of security capability. They are a driver for growth in an increasing worldwide demand for UK government and industry support.

We made a number of commitments earlier this year in the National Security Through Technology white paper, with the aim of maximising the industrial impact of our defence and security expertise and its contribution to the government’s wider economic agenda. We will continue to prioritise the fulfilment of these commitments, including support for security exports and government to government contracting. Investing in the right infrastructure to manage this will be crucial, and we are already exploring the potential benefits of establishing a bespoke security forum to provide coordination and oversight across government.

Departments are coming together to provide the government side of this government/industry partnership – because it is essential that it is a partnership – to secure significant trade opportunities that are becoming available. We are currently developing a security export strategy as well as exploring export opportunities.

I will talk about this work in more detail later in the year. But for now I want to emphasise that timing is crucial: our reputation as a global security leader has never been higher, and approaches from international partners for UK assistance, advice and commercial involvement are increasing.

In the period after the games, staying ahead of the threat means seizing the opportunity to consolidate our learning and to share it with our partners.


I have tried to convey the complexity of the threat and the challenge that we face in responding to it. It is not an easy task. And it is not something that government can do alone.

In order to keep our country safe and secure, we need to acknowledge that the threat is still here. To allow the public to go about their lives without the fear of terrorist action, we need to remain vigilant; we need to remain committed to supporting the work of the police and their partners; we need to work with the international community to tackle conflict and instability; we need to work with communities to address the root cause of extremism; and we need to prepare for the future threat from terrorism, whatever shape it may take.

Those who want to do us harm are waiting for the moment when we take our eye off the ball. The number of terrorism arrests rose from 126 in 2010/11 to 206 in 2011/12. 283 persons have been convicted of a terrorism-related offence since 11 September 2001. The threat remains very real. But that does not mean we cannot stay ahead of it.

The coming period will be embodied by a set of complex challenges for the counter terrorism community. But we have learnt from the experience of the games. We will continue to drive through operational improvements. We will continue to work in partnership with communities and the private sector. We will continue to update our legislative base in line with the threat. And we will continue to consolidate our global reputation for security expertise. Yes, the threat is changing. But I believe we are well placed to meet the challenge that lies ahead.

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