Home Secretary Sajid Javid unveiled the government’s updated counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) on June 4th, just one day after the first anniversary of the London Bridge attacks.
In a speech prior to the unveiling of the new strategy, Javid said that updating and reviewing the current approach to CONTEST was necessary “to ensure that our response to terrorism is second to none and that we are doing everything within our power to prevent terror on our streets.”
Beyond this, he made it clear that the face and nature of terrorism have changed over the last six years and the new strategy would reflect this.
Terrorism is no longer limited to those pursuing extreme religious beliefs. As was shown by the attack in Finsbury Park and the murder of Jo Cox, far right extremism is without a doubt on the rise.
The document itself describes in great detail various Islamist and right-wing ideologies, how they plan to implement the new strategy, and the British response to terrorism.
What is most interesting though is the new pieces of information that can be gleaned from this document about how counter-terrorism policing works in the UK.
Intelligence Sharing and Liaison
One thing that the strategy makes plain to the world is that there have been failings in the channels of communication between the security services, counter-terror policing, and local police services.
Currently, the domestic security services (MI5) and counter-terrorism policing are conducting over 500 live investigations that involve 3,000 individuals. These investigations run 24/7 and the constant surveillance requires 18-20 officers to investigate just one of these persons of interest.
This doesn’t even begin to cover the periphery of people who are of interest to the services but aren’t being investigated. During Operation Crevice in 2004, it was estimated that tens of thousands of people were potential sources of terrorism to MI5, which is how multiple people slipped through the cracks to go on and commit the 7/7 bombings in London.
The updated strategy places emphasis on the necessity for greater and far broader sharing of intelligence at a national and local level. The disconnect between local police forces and the national police and security services have led to failures and difficulties in effectively monitoring the rapid rate with which radicalisation occurs.
By opening up intelligence sharing to the local police forces, the hope is that local authorities can intervene and monitor a situation far greater than national authorities can. This falls within the controversial Prevent level of UK counter-terrorism strategy as it allows the relevant authorities to intervene at earlier stages of radicalisation
Prior to this, the security services could only act when a plan to commit a terror attack was put into motion.
Private Sector Interaction
The new strategy also introduces greater interaction between the services and the private sector - whilst the extent to which the two will interact is only briefly touched upon it paves the way for further integration of private sector security into the national security infrastructure.
The effect of the Manchester bombing is obvious within this section as the government plans to work with industry to improve security at venues in the UK, as well as be made aware of when somebody makes a suspicious purchase.
These suspicious purchases could include stockpiling chemicals to make bombs, or even acting suspiciously when hiring a vehicle. As the methods of committing acts of terror have evolved over the years to have more emphasis on lone-wolf style attacks rather than members of a group committing an attack, the way these lone wolves are monitored has also had to evolve.
The most notable aspect of this section of the document is that there will be greater efforts made to prevent the spread of extremist propaganda online and to uncover the ways that they communicate.
This will be achieved through collaboration with internet providers to identify when terrorist content has been uploaded and to have it removed before it can spread and become accessible.
It will undoubtedly raise questions about how they plan to do this without breaching the digital privacy of people who could not be considered persons of interest, as well as what constitutes extremist content.
Potentially, this could also see terrorists moving their content from the internet and onto the dark web where it far more difficult to effectively monitor what is occurring. Concerning the general public’s access to extremist material this would be greatly reduced but for the services trying to keep track of the developments of attacks, it presents obvious difficulties.