Surveillance: Opportunities for the private security industry
The challenging and potentially high risk nature of operations to counter terrorism (CT) and organised criminal groups (OCG's) requires the performance of covert actions; in addition to the Security and Intelligence Agencies (SIA’s), the National Crime Agency are international experts in the planning and execution of human intelligence and surveillance operations. The potential addition of CT responsibilities to the NCA is reflective of the continued developmental approach of the present UK government towards Law Enforcement since the Labour government of the early 2000’s, but also the recognition that there is a requirement to continue developing effective operational techniques to counter both terrorists and serious organised criminals. While the UK has over 40 years experience of conducting counter terrorist operations in Northern Ireland, an on-going requirement exists to conduct proactive surveillance operations within the rest of its territories in order to gain intelligence and to support operations against other groups which pose a threat to the security of the nation.
A prudent threat assessment is necessary to manage potentially apocalyptic responses from Governmental and public bodies. While the first published National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA) which was included in the UK National Security Strategy (2010) classified the threat from international terrorism, including terrorism related to Northern Ireland as a Tier one threat in terms of likelihood and impact, it did not differentiate between the different sources of terrorism which may potentially impact upon the UK and its interests. This is important, as differences in the background and the adopted methods of different groups will determine the effectiveness of responses. For example, clear differentiations have existed between the radicalised individuals who have carried out high impact terrorist attacks on members of the UK public in the name of Islam and the historic adoption of strategic attacks upon authoritative and public figures by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Similarly, the impacts of different organised crime groups differ dependent upon a range of factors including the type of crime, the size and locality of a crime group and its ability to negatively influence public officials and services. This unfortunate situation demands an appropriate and pragmatic approach to ensure that UK security is sustained. The growing recognition that there is a need for national agencies and public services to increasingly collaborate, not only in response to potential crossovers between organised crime and terrorism, but also to operate in an increasingly challenging public and financial climate, is initially reflected by the common adoption of strategic framework components in both the National Strategic Assessments for Counter Terrorism and Serious and Organised Crime. Recent global interventions are illustrative of the necessity for early and on-going communications to take place between different bodies, particularly in recognition of the increasing evidence of the crime: terrorism nexus.
The crime: terror paradigm has its foundations in a number of key areas; shared access to specialised services (e.g. counterfeiting), access to specialised knowledge (e.g. cyber crime), operational support (e.g. trafficking and smuggling networks) and the financial gain offered by criminal acts (e.g. narcotics). These organised criminal and terrorist hybrid groups may grow in different ways; organised crime groups (OCGs) may adopt extreme and violent approaches, prior to seeking political recognition, or they may form from terrorist groups that adopt a political facade in order to hide criminal activities. Prior to the recent day threats from Islamic extremist groups, paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have historically threatened the security and stability of the UK. While Loyalist paramilitary groups were engaged in criminal activities from as early as the 1970s in order to finance terrorist activities members of both Loyalist and Republican groups may have increasingly engaged in organised crime for individual financial gain. In addition to interactions with criminal elements, evidence exists that terrorists such as dissidents in Northern Ireland are increasingly employing tactics used by other extremist factions as observed on the battlefields of the Middle East, having viewed instructional footage provided by jihadists on the internet, a vast number of examples exist to demonstrate that the complex links between organised crime and terrorism become particularly prominent during times of armed conflict. The fact that parties on all sides of the political divide of the troubles experienced in Northern Ireland have been linked to both terrorism and serious crime is not isolated in terms of the potential impacts of the relationship upon UK security. Insecurity, organised crime and opium trafficking has also required focused contributions from military, intelligence, law enforcement and diplomatic parties in Afghanistan. Furthermore, more recent developments in Syria have highlighted the potential risks of interaction between criminals and terrorists; this is of particular importance to UK security given the increasing volume of British citizens that have gained battlefield experience in the region in support of conflicting groups. It is recognised that individuals with criminal intent can gain both experience of aggressive actions and potential access to weapons, which may be used to cause harm to the UK. The compounding factors observed through the relationship between organised crime and terrorism are concerning; the increased availability of resources to commit crimes and terrorist action and the opportunities of financial gain for personal benefit and to facilitate terrorism will continue to motivate subjects from both groups to interact. The level of threat to the security and stability of the UK will remain high while groups and individuals are increasingly exposed to each other, communicate and collaborate. It is therefore imperative that the UK national security infrastructure considers how it may be able to effectively counter the threats from both terrorist and criminal groups in a period of increased public scrutiny and financial challenges. Agencies and services charged with responsibility for the security of the UK must be empowered with robust and effective capabilities and procedures in order to fulfill their different roles; it would be right to initially consider the legal parameters within which agencies charged with national security operate and how the UK has previously responded to this threat prior to considering developments.
Legal approval for Law Enforcement led surveillance operations in the UK will only be granted if viewed to be a necessary and proportionate course of action; the covert gain of private information, to be used as intelligence and evidence for a specific operation may be classified as directed surveillance. Such physical surveillance requires highly trained individuals, capable of making dynamic risk assessments in potentially volatile situations; the skills sets and adopted approaches may differ dependent upon a target subject. Such operations are conducted by the security services, police forces, the National Crime Agency and military units to counter threats to national security from both terrorists and serious criminals. The UK military has a wealth of experience of conducting covert operations in Northern Ireland. Covert units including the Special Reconnaissance Regiment and its predecessor have gained a wealth of experience in conducting surveillance operations, which have empowered it to perform similar roles in other territories. Rather than a capability challenge in terms of skills, the present challenge given the high volume of threats / subjects within the UK, is the number of surveillance operators.
Given the staffing and financial budgetary challenges faced by organisations, agencies and services tasked to conduct surveillance operations, the opportunity may presently exist for privately owned security and surveillance operators to provide their services to operations to protect the United Kingdom, through conducting surveillance operations on individuals known to be within the UK. While beyond the scope of this article, there is a clear offering from private businesses to the public sector, if operations are appropriately risk managed in terms of threats to the public, the target and the operators. The private security industry after all has many highly trained, experienced, previously security cleared and highly motivated individuals ready to operate.