On the Response to Terror

I am not going to comment here on Donald “please tell me he doesn’t have the nuclear codes” Trump or the outrageous lies and distortions told in his support by the Alt-Right media in the States.

Instead I want to address the, by contrast, very reasonable response many have to such events as occurred in London last night, and so recently in Manchester too.

It is the response that it is time we did something about these people that hate us. Suggestions include internment without charge (a British Guantanamo?); deportation; removal of citizenship; refusal of entry to people who have fought or trained with Islamists.

I have news. And believe me, I do know what I’m talking about, having worked in National Security litigation.

These powers already exist. And they are already being used.

The British government can already

detain without charge for a limited time;

revoke a British passport, even from a person born in Britain of British parents, and for far less than terrorism (unless it makes the target stateless. This is illegal under international treaty, and the British government will not do it intentionally);

– refuse entry into the country, even to a British citizen;

deport a foreign national;

– impose a TPIM (terrorism prevention and investigation measure) on an individual which bans them from accessing the Internet, meeting or contacting other named people, attending named mosques, even travelling outside a very small area around their home (among other things).

ALL of these powers are used and are effective, but please bear in mind the following before you call for additional powers…


1. Even the Security Services and the anti-terror police are subject to the rule of law. And thank heaven they are. You can’t simply remove someone’s nationality (for example) unless you can show in a court of law that a) there is good evidence to show that the person is a threat and b) that the measure proposed is proportionate to the threat and justified. Yes, this is a pain. But no – it does NOT prevent them from taking urgent action when necessary…

I was directly involved in a case in which certain powers were exercised over a certain person within 24 hours of the Security Service’s decision that it was necessary – during Christmas. Literally. I was in work on Xmas Day with a barrister, and a judge on call, sorting it out. It can and does work.


2. The Security Services and police are not infallible. Mistakes are made. But hindsight is always 20/20. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people “known” to security services. Most are just a name – maybe someone who once met a person being investigated, or attended the same mosque, or visited a particular country. It is financially and practically impossible to surveil ALL of those people all of the time, and most people would agree that it’s not desirable to do so either.


3. Even IF the Security Service knows (and can demonstrate in Court) that a person has travelled to, say, Syria AND while there has fought for or trained with an Islamist terror group, AND is now seeking to return to the UK with the intent to cause Britain harm, they may still decide NOT to bar their entry.

Why?

Well, for operational reasons, they may consider an alternative strategy to be more effective.

To refuse entry would alert that person – and his network – that they are under scrutiny, so may endanger sources and/or shut down a useful route of information. Also, they sometimes decide that it is more effective to let this person in, as it is far easier to keep a close eye on them and potentially intervene if they are here at home than overseas.


4. Except for the individuals caught up in these abominable events, this is NOT a zero sum game. When these things happen, we all want to BLAME someone. Be it a government’s domestic policy, liberal lefties, Islamophobia, foreign policy, Muslims in general or Islam itself. But even if we get everything right and everyone does their jobs perfectly, it is still possible for someone to slip through the net.

Sorry to bring the tone down, but most Tottenham fans would say that Pochettino did a very good job in this past season, despite the fact that he “failed” in all 5 tournaments in which they played.

Can we please be mature enough to recognise that the security services are doing a fantastic job in difficult times, despite the “failures” to stop the attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge?


So what’s my point? It’s simple.

Be wary of people who use the emotional time after a terror attack to propose new, stronger powers for the police or security services. They may mean well, but that is not necessarily constructive or effective.

More resources? Yes. Absolutely. Like the health service and education, there can NEVER be enough money, physical and human resources in this area.

But don’t believe them if they tell you “we let them back in”, “we invited them here to kill us” or any of the other alarmist statements being made.

We really do have among the best, most professional and dedicated police and security set ups in the world. I, for one, am very proud of them and trust them to do their absolute best to keep the average UK citizen safe.

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There is necessarily a balance to be found between respect for human dignity, privacy, freedom to live ordinary lives and even hold unpleasant opinions on the one hand and the imperative of preventing terrorists from carrying out their plans on the other.

Things aren’t perfect, of course, and I reserve the right to be critical of certain people, policies or speeches, but I believe the UK has this difficult and delicate balance more or less right.

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