Home Secretary: International action needed to tackle terrorism
Theresa May calls for successful cooperation on national security
I am delighted to be able to be in Washington and speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. For more than half a century this think tank has been at the forefront of international research and analysis, helping decision makers navigate our volatile and unstable world.
In the five years since the start of the conflict in Syria, millions of people have lost their livelihoods, their loved ones, the country they call home. Syria’s neighbours have provided sanctuary to the vast majority of those who have fled the country. But when more than a million people, from Syria and elsewhere, sought to travel to Europe last year the debate changed.
The problems of failed and fragile states, not just in Syria, but across the Middle East and Africa, are no longer confined to those regions. Not only has this created one of the greatest humanitarian challenges in decades, it has also sparked a political crisis within the European Union. It has forced countries to re-examine their approach to migration and border security. And it has made the threat from terrorism more complex than ever before.
According to last year’s Fragile States Index a terrorist or insurgency campaign was being waged in nine out of the top ten failing states. These power vacuums provide a conducive environment for terrorists, organised criminals and insurgent groups. Groups that do not play by international norms or humanitarian laws.
They are able to exploit the lack of effective governance in these countries, unchallenged by corrupt and weak law enforcement agencies. And they are able to manipulate populations resentful of widespread abuse of human rights, promising an alternative to the dysfunction and injustice they already suffer in their daily lives.
Exacerbating this changing picture are the same technologies that we all use, exploited by terrorists and organised criminals. Today there is no need for face-to-face, or even direct contact: a cyber-criminal sitting in Moldova can attack the online bank account of a pensioner in Minneapolis, while a terrorist sympathiser in Raleigh, North Carolina can communicate with Daesh in Raqqa.
In the UK, we’ve seen a 15-year-old boy, inspired by terrorists in Syria, jailed for encouraging violent extremists in Australia to commit a terrorist attack on Anzac Day.
This then is the new reality: a web of global threats that feed off the instability of conflicts overseas, that exploit modern technology, and which – sadly – are all too often supported by misguided individuals at home.
A constantly changing threat
Last week a sickening video was released online by the terrorist group Daesh. That video featured a small child who in full view of an audience was seemingly made to kill others.
You may not have heard about this video. Just as you may not have heard about similar videos with gruesome content often targeted at western leaders including our Prime Minister and your President. But there will be some people from across America who will have watched this video, and been captivated by the twisted message.
Daesh is an organisation that revels in its own depravity. It has killed hostages in the most horrific way possible. It has murdered hundreds of thousands of men, women and children – the vast majority of them the same practicing Muslims it purports to represent.
The threat from terrorism is not new. When I first sat down at my desk, as Home Secretary, nearly six years ago, the main threat was from Al Qaeda. Today, Al Qaeda’s senior leadership may have been weakened, but that threat has not gone away.
Its affiliates in Yemen and in North West Africa remain a serious concern. Al Shabaab in Somalia recently claimed an attack on a plane flying out of Mogadishu airport, while Boko Haram in Nigeria continue to wage a brutal insurgency against the Government.
But the hard truth is Daesh is operating in a way that we have never seen before. At the start of the conflict in Syria and Iraq, some likened this to the Spanish civil war, or fighters that went to Bosnia and Afghanistan. But the reality is we have never seen this number, demographic, or range of ages travelling to take part in a conflict. Nor have we seen this scale of territorial ambition before.
From the UK we believe that around 800 people of interest to the security and intelligence agencies have gone to Syria and Iraq, including women and families. Independent organisations estimate that up to 11,000 foreign fighters have travelled to Syria from the Middle East. To this we can add the thousands from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Russia and the former Soviet Union.
In 2014, in its bid to establish a global Islamic Caliphate, Daesh in Syria and Iraq directed, inspired or enabled around 20 attacks in other countries worldwide. In 2015, there were almost 60 such attacks – from Paris to Sydney– as well as over 200 attacks carried out by Daesh branches including those in Libya and Egypt.
There have been 16 attacks in Europe over the past two years, the majority inspired or directed by Daesh. A number of the terrorists that carried out the attacks in Paris last November received training in Syria. And in Sousse in Tunisia, a young man murdered 38 people at a beach resort, 30 of whom were British holidaymakers. It was an evil and senseless attack, and the largest loss of British life from a terrorist attack since the London bombings in 2005.
The domestic response
In the UK, over the past 18 months, the police and the security and intelligence agencies have disrupted seven terrorist plots to attack the UK – all either linked to or inspired by Daesh and its propaganda.
The number of people arrested for terrorism-related offences has increased by over a third in the last year – a total of 315.
And as the threat has continued to morph and adapt, the strength of our security at home has prompted terrorists to seek out new methodologies, new evasive methods and new spaces in which to carry out their crimes.
And we must, in turn, adapt our response.
In the UK, we recently announced that we will make new funding available to our security and intelligence agencies to provide for an additional 1,900 officers – at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – to better respond to the threat we face from international terrorism, cyber-attacks and other global risks.
To ensure they have the powers they need to do their jobs in a digital age, we are committed to introducing legislation that both protects the security of our nation and the public’s private lives.
Our draft Investigatory Powers Bill brings together all of the powers already available to law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies to obtain communications and data about communications; it introduces a double-lock on the way these powers are authorized – using Secretary of State approval, backed up by the decision of a judge; and it ensures these powers are fit for the digital age.
The Government has now received three Parliamentary committee reports on the draft legislation. We are carefully considering their recommendations. However, I want to make one thing clear on a subject that resonates on both sides of the Atlantic.
The British Government believes encryption plays a valuable role in today’s society. It helps keep people’s personal data and intellectual property safe from theft by cyber criminals. It helps our economy grow and prosper.
But as President Obama has said, we cannot be in a situation where technology is also used by terrorists and criminals to escape justice. The government has a responsibility to protect national security and ensure public safety. Communications service providers have a responsibility to their customers to ensure their privacy. Together we can find a way that achieves both.
But the Investigatory Powers Bill is not the only new legislation we have introduced to keep our citizens safe.
We have introduced a power to temporarily seize passports of those suspected of travelling to engage in terrorism overseas. And we have extended our ability to refuse airlines the authority to carry people to the UK who pose a risk.
This legislation is designed to underpin the delivery of CONTEST, our world leading counter-terrorism strategy. Pursuing terrorists, protecting people and infrastructure and preparing in case of an attack are three pillars of that strategy.
But crucially, it contains a fourth pillar – aimed at preventing people from becoming radicalised in the first place. Because unless we address the circumstances in which radicalisation and terrorism thrives, we will always be fighting a rearguard action against it.
To do this we work with sectors and institutions where people are at risk of radicalisation or where there are opportunities to intervene. We work in prisons, with educational institutions, in communities and online. We support community based initiatives up and down the country that aim to challenge terrorist propaganda and communicate an effective counter-narrative. We work with internet companies to remove terrorist propaganda online. And we have established a programme, Channel, designed to protect and divert vulnerable people who we know are at risk of becoming radicalised.
This work can be controversial, but it’s too important to ignore – and it is vital not only for our national security, but in safeguarding vulnerable people from harm.
Since Channel was rolled out nationally in April 2012, there have been more than 4,000 referrals to the programme. Of those referrals, hundreds have been provided support, by trained intervention providers, to help lead them away from radicalisation.
However, we want to go further than preventing people from becoming terrorists and focus on a broader approach to counter-extremism – both violent and non-violent.
Because where non-violent extremism goes unchallenged, the values that bind our society together fragment. Women’s rights are eroded, intolerance and bigotry become normalised, minorities are targeted and communities become separated from the mainstream. So while by no means all extremism leads to violence, it creates an environment in which those who seek to divide us can flourish.
The fight at home and abroad
As I have said, our approach needs to continually adapt. That is why the British Government is currently reviewing CONTEST - to ensure the highest priorities are given the right resources, that government departments and agencies have a unified approach, and that we ensure we are making an impact on our counter terrorism priorities overseas.
Because this is a fight that cannot just be won at home.
So we must go well beyond traditional counter-terrorism policy. We can no longer afford to see our counter terrorism work at home and our counter terrorism work overseas as two separate entities.
In the UK we are forming a new joint unit for International Counter-Terrorism, which brings together existing expertise in the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
This new joint unit will drive our counter-terrorism agenda abroad, our work with partners such as the Five Eyes, as well as influencing and supporting our work with multilateral organisations such as the EU and the UN.
Because it is no good arresting a person in your own country, if they cannot be brought to justice in theirs … it is no good ensuring world class aviation security at home, if people are not properly screened at airports abroad… and it is no good sharing intelligence with another country, if they cannot act on it effectively… and it is no good fighting terrorism in and from Syria, if we can’t help stabilise that country and its neighbours.
What needs to change
I am in Washington to attend the Five Country Ministerial with my counterparts in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Together, we will expand upon the successful cooperation between our countries on issues of national security which we have built over the past decades.
Faced with the growing threat I have described, we must act with more urgency and with greater joint resolve than we have before.
We must be more open to sharing intelligence with our partners, and more proactive in offering our expertise to help others.
We must counter the twisted narrative peddled by Daesh and show it for what it is – a perversion of Islam built on fear and lies. And we must organise our own efforts more effectively if we are to bring order to those failed states most beset by disorder and disarray.
So at this week’s Five Country Ministerial I will be calling for action on three key fronts, action I believe to be essential if we are to defeat extremism and keep our people safe from terrorism.
Building capacity where it is needed most
We need to work with vulnerable states to improve their ability to respond to the threat from terrorism. This includes providing advice on crisis management to helping them combat the extremist narrative, from improving their investigative capacity to strengthening aviation security.
For example, following the downing of the Russian Metrojet plane last year, we have been working with the Egyptians on improving security at the airport at Sharm Al Sheikh.
In Pakistan and Nigeria, we have well-established programmes to strengthen investigatory and prosecutorial frameworks for dealing with terrorism, underpinned by clear human rights principles. That includes zero tolerance for torture and mistreatment. Not only because that reflects our principles, but because we must reduce opportunities for extremists to feed grievance narratives.
We would like to do more in fragile states, and draw on the expertise of our partners. Because we need to be working together with these countries to prevent atrocities happening - not just reacting in response to them.
Stopping the message of hate from spreading
We also need to do more to stop the message of hate from spreading, and prevent people from becoming radicalised.
I have already mentioned that in the UK we are working with civil society groups who seek to challenge extremist messages and provide credible alternatives.
And I am pleased that last week the UN endorsed the UN Secretary General’s Preventing Violent Extremism Plan, encouraging a whole system approach to counter-terrorism. This is a welcome step and the UK stands ready to support other countries with this work.
Together, with other European Union member states, we continue to build capabilities at the European Internet Referrals Unit at Europol to secure the removal of terrorist propaganda from the internet. The Unit has expanded its language capabilities which now includes Arabic, Russian, German, Dutch, and French. But we need other like-minded groups to come on board and reduce the scope for terrorist groups to spew their hate online.
I would like to see the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – Britain’s Five Eyes Partners - taking the same approach in working with communications service providers to tackle this propaganda. We need other like-minded groups to come on board from all corners of the world to reduce the scope for terrorist groups to spew their hate online and to undermine their twisted narratives.
Working together, creating lasting impact
Finally, and most importantly, we need to bring much greater order and joint resolve to the disparate work taking place internationally, and a comprehensive and coherent response to the common threat.
It is great to see the potential of capacity building initiatives in many countries – whether that’s sharing intelligence between European agencies, training law enforcement in Tunisia, or counter violent extremism projects with civil society groups in Kenya. These measures can have real impact.
But governments and organisations often undertake similar things in the same place with too little join up. Likeminded nations too often work in parallel rather than in partnership. And we need a much better understanding of what really works.
Bodies such as the Global Counter Terrorism Forum and the Radicalisation Awareness Network regularly convene policymakers, practitioners and experts from governments, multilateral organizations and NGOs, to discuss their approaches and share best practice. But we must now focus on practical delivery and translate this expertise into action.
There has been some useful progress in the past year.
In December last year the UN held the first meeting of Security Council finance ministers in its 70-year history. Together with our allies we agreed on new measures to update the UN counter-terrorism sanctions regime to focus on Daesh in order to deny it the access to the resources they need and to identify and exploit the vulnerabilities in their financial network.
In the EU, after many years of negotiations, we reached agreement on the sharing of passenger name records on flights to, from and within Europe, a crucial step in supporting our fight against terrorism. Further measures to raise the deactivation standards for firearms across Europe were agreed at the same meeting.
But across the board there is scope for more action: better information sharing between countries, more active use of passenger data to identify persons of interest, more thorough exchange of terrorist finance information, as well as work to improve protective security and crisis response. For the EU to deliver on the security of its members, it must be a forum for taking action and garnering a collective response.
And then, there is the opportunity we have together, as Five Eyes countries, to garner collective action. We enjoy the deepest, longest lasting security relationship in the world. The innovation of the Five Eyes Ministerial in 2013 provides us with a forum not just to share collective lessons on security and counter terrorism, but to take collective action.
So this evening I have spelt out three of the most important priorities in our efforts: building the capacity of those governments that need support to counter terrorism; preventing the pernicious spread of extremism and ensuring that we, collectively, match international cooperation with coordinated international action that has real, lasting impact on the ground.
Because I am clear that defeating terrorism requires a global response, and we will not succeed by acting in isolation.
This is the challenge of our generation. Extremism is spreading, threatening and taking lives, not just in our countries but in other lands. It thrives in the disorder created by fragile and failing states. It is contributing to, and in some cases exploiting, mass migration. It is turning the benefits of modern technology to its twisted ends.
If we are to deal with this threat effectively, we can no longer look simply for domestic solutions. There must be international cooperation, a common approach, free flows of intelligence and information, and the closing of technological gaps which the extremists exploit.
Together, we can defeat terrorism. We can stop the spread of extremism. We can save lives not only from terrible attacks, but from the damage and destruction which is wrought.
It is a challenge for our generation, and it is a challenge that we must win.