Using international partnerships to tackle the threat of global terrorism

Securing Asia 2013: James Brokenshire’s Special Address

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP


Good morning ladies and gentleman. I had the considerable pleasure to address the inaugural Securing Asia conference last year, and I’m grateful to have been invited back to speak again this year.

The UK has a close, historical bond with Asia. We continue to build on this for our mutual benefit. As Asia’s economic star continues to rise, this brings both opportunities and challenges. We can, and should, work together to respond to both, and this is what I want to explore today. In particular, I want to focus on how international collaboration and the sharing of expertise can help to tackle the threat posed by terrorism.

So what is the nature of this threat and where does it come from?

Al Qaida is, of course, a significant source. While its senior leadership has undoubtedly been suppressed by counter-terrorist activity in the FATA, we believe Al Qaida still possesses the capability and intent to recruit and train fighters for launching attacks against the UK. This is concerning given that we continue to see UK-linked individuals attempting to travel overseas to receive such training. While there they are exposed to yet further radicalisation, as well as being afforded the opportunity to develop attack planning skills, contacts and experience for use upon their return to the UK. And a recent example of this was a foiled bomb plot against crowded places in Birmingham in 2011.

UK-linked fighters travelling overseas to engage directly in jihad - whether to the FATA, Somalia, Yemen or, most recently, Syria – is similarly of concern in terms of the experience and ideologies that comes back to the UK as a result.

The adoption of AQ ideology by other extremist groups is also a worrying development. AQ affiliates have risen in prominence in countries where there are large ungoverned spaces and destabilised governments.

These affiliates, some of which are now operating semi-autonomously from the Al Qaida Senior Leadership, have largely become self sustaining. Many have access to significant caches of weapons and are self funding, using methods such as Kidnap for Ransom to fund their activities. That’s why the recent unequivocal rejection of payment of ransoms by G8 leaders is important.   We believe these affiliates have varying degrees of attack planning capability; reflected in the targets they have chosen or aspired to attack. Some groups, such as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb have retained a regional focus; whilst others, such as Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, pose a more direct threat to the UK mainland. This group in particular has shown itself, through a number of plots against the international aviation sector, to be highly capable and operationally active. They also have a significant media and propaganda presence, and are responsible for the production of Inspire, an AQ English language magazine.

The presence of online radicalisation and media propaganda, such as Inspire, represents considerable and evolving challenges for our security services. The availability of online materials affords extremist groups, such as Al Qaida and its affiliates, greater access than ever before to vulnerable individuals in country and provides a wide reaching platform for their extremist messages.

Indeed, recent attacks in this country have demonstrated the growing influence of ‘home grown’ extremism, not least with the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich last month.

Of course, these are challenges which face all of us, not just the UK. Many countries in Asia are at the very front line of terrorism, and are making enormous sacrifices as a result.

Pakistan is a key example. Nearly 40,000 Pakistani civilians have died in terrorist attacks since 2001. We value our partnership with Pakistan in the fight against terrorism, and are unswerving in our support for its democratic development. The elections on 11 May were a crucial milestone in Pakistan’s history: some 50 million people to the ballot box and made a proud statement about the future they want for their country.

In Afghanistan, polls will also open in April next year in presidential and provincial council elections. It is vital that these elections are credible, inclusive and transparent. Britain will work hard, with our international partners, to support the Afghan authorities to ensure that this is the case. This is essential if we are to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations and the events overnight bring that into stark focus.

But what can we do to meet the threat from terrorism?

First and foremost, in the UK our focus is on implementing our revised counter-terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST, and the strategies that sit under its four pillars: Pursue; Prevent; Protect; and Prepare. This provides the legal and strategic framework for the Government’s counter terrorism activity both home and abroad. CONTEST seeks both to reduce the threat of terrorism to the UK, and to reduce our vulnerability to attack.

But we cannot do this in isolation. With the increasing attractiveness of international civil aviation as a target; with terrorists becoming ever more creative in their attempts to circumvent our security measures; and with the additional challenges presented by developments in the way we communicate, success is more than ever dependent on collaboration with like-minded partners overseas. It also relies on close working with the private sector, and the capabilities and technologies they provide.

While there is not time to discuss the detail of our activity under CONTEST in this forum, it might be helpful to give you one or two examples of some of the things we are doing.

We have recently established an Extremist Task Force, chaired by the Prime Minister, to explore how we might work with communities to isolate extremist voices from the moderate majority. This builds on work already being carried out under our Prevent strategy, and will allow the Government to collectively look at how we confront extremism in the broadest sense.

We have implemented a number of measures to allow us to better identify individuals who pose a terrorist threat and prevent their travel to and from the UK. The introduction of the Passenger Name Records Scheme has allowed law enforcement to detect suspicious behaviour and patterns of travel on the part of those involved in serious crime and terrorism. International collaboration in this area is a priority for the UK.   We are keen supporters, for example, of the recently implemented EU Cargo regime, which ensures improved security screening of all cargo prior to loading onto EU-bound aircraft.

The UK’s Security Service and the police are becoming increasingly occupied with cyber issues. Cyber is a key theme in our strategy to combat organised crime and also features in our Prevent strategy under CONTEST. We are taking a number of internet-specific measures to tackle the threat of radicalisation online, such as removing unlawful content from the internet and ensuring that people accessing the internet from schools and libraries are better protected.

Cyber crime does not recognise international boundaries. For many countries in Asia and elsewhere, a rapidly developing digital infrastructure means that safeguards often fail to keep pace with the potential for misuse.   Working closely with these countries to share UK expertise and help build their cyber security capability is clearly of mutual benefit. We have had a number of discussions recently with Malaysia to this end, to give one example, and are hopeful that these will lead to greater collaboration between our two nations.

The UK has been a significant target for terrorist activity for many years, and our law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies have developed considerable experience and expertise in responding to this threat. Last year this expertise was very evident in the successful security operation that we ran in support of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

London 2012 captured the attention of the world. The success of the Games I believe is testament to the meticulous planning of the many organisations involved: this was the biggest ever peace-time logistical exercise that the UK has seen.

The safety and security operation alone engaged over 50,000 people across Government, police, military, border security, private security, volunteers, and the London 2012 organising committee. 14,000 athletes, 11 million tickets sold, 150 visiting Heads of State, half a million extra transport journeys per day – the challenge was enormous.

Terrorism was the greatest security threat to our Games, and we planned accordingly. Our approach was intelligence-led and risk based, giving us the flexibility to respond to changes and scale our activity in response to changes in the threat level.

Our focus included designing security into Games venues and supporting infrastructure; securing UK borders and transport networks; proactive use of intelligence to identify and respond to emerging threats; and preparing effective responses to mitigate the impact of any disruptions to the Games.

We designed an accreditation system which conducted over 1 million accurate background checks, and we built a sophisticated cyber security wall around the Games, ensuring sufficient resilience and fast responses to attempted breaches.

To secure the Games we drew heavily on existing UK arrangements and capabilities, in particular those delivered through CONTEST. We invested in ensuring that we had the right operational plans and capabilities in place, including through repeated testing and exercising. And we delivered what we promised: reassuringly visible, proportionate and effective security.

We have learnt a great deal from this experience, building on UK counter-terrorism, policing and security capabilities that were already held in high regard. Importantly, the key features of our approach to Games security are widely applicable, not just to major events like the Olympics, but to other high volume programmes such as major civic builds – a new airport, say – or development programmes.

We believe the experience we have gained is translatable, scalable and repeatable. We have a lot to offer, and we are keen to share our expertise. And I am pleased to say that we are already doing so with a number of our international partners across Asia and beyond.

The Games were also a global showcase for the capabilities of the UK security industry, one of the most diverse and technically advanced industries in the world. Exporting the knowledge and experience of the UK security industry internationally is a priority for us, bringing clear political, operational and economic benefits both to the UK and to our partners.

Asia is developing politically and democratically, which brings opportunities for deeper collaboration to increase security and counter terrorism. It is also developing economically, which brings opportunities for trade in support of these objectives.

The Asian region has emerged from the global financial crisis with its standing strengthened. High degrees of integration into global trading and financial systems, together with growing internal momentum, mean that it is expected to become the largest economic region in the world within two decades.

I had the pleasure of leading a security focused trade mission to India earlier this year for example: trade between our countries is on track to double by 2015, and more Indian investment comes to the UK than to the rest of the EU combined.

The UK security industry is already supporting CONTEST objectives both domestically and overseas, and helping to develop security and counter-terrorism capabilities around the world.

Last year we set out in our White Paper, National Security through Technology, how we plan to build on this. Implementation of the paper’s recommendations continues at pace.

The Home Office has already significantly increased resources for security industry engagement. We have a dedicated and expanding Security Industry Engagement Team within the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) working closely with UKTI and others.

And I am delighted to say that yesterday we welcomed a new Senior Responsible Officer to oversee this work. Stephen Phipson, formerly of Smiths Detections and Stadium Group, brings with him a wealth of industry experience, knowledge and know-how which will be invaluable to this agenda. He will provide drive, focus and the basis for ever greater coordination across Government in this new role. This is a significant appointment and I very much look forward to working with Stephen in progressing this important work.

I have covered quite a lot of ground today but, in conclusion, I would like you to take away two main themes.

First, that it is only through working together that we can counter common threats.

And second, that the UK – and by that I mean the UK Government and its agencies, as well as the UK security industry – has considerable experience to share. I hope that you will use the opportunities provided by this conference to establish or build on existing links and to find out more.

Published 25 June 2013
Last updated 25 June 2013 + show all updates
  1. Changed from transcript as this speech is CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
  2. First published.