I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.
Last Friday the home secretary Theresa May announced that the UK’s terror threat level has been raised from “substantial” to “severe” in response to conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The new alert level rates the risk of an attack on the UK “highly likely”, although the home secretary said there was no evidence to suggest one was “imminent”.
Severe is the second highest of five possible UK threat levels that indicates the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the UK. The 5 levels of threat are:
low – an attack is unlikely
moderate – an attack is possible but not likely
substantial – an attack is a strong possibility
severe – an attack is highly likely
critical – an attack is expected imminently
The prime minister has said he was concerned that Britons who have travelled to fight with the Islamic State (IS) would be prepared to carry out an attack on UK soil upon their return. However we should also realise that the threat is not only from those that have travelled to the conflict areas but also the sympathisers and supporters who have stayed in the UK.
Terrorist activity, combined with the events in Ukraine, Gaza and Israel, Syria and Iraq, means the world certainly feels less safe than it has done for many years. At a time when we are commemorating the First World War centenary, it is clear that the ‘war to end all wars’, where an estimated 16 million people lost their lives, was not enough to deter future generations from engaging in conflict.
The nature of war has evolved so that it is as much about terrorising innocent civilians as it is about soldiers fighting each other on the field of battle. No more is this evident than in the escalating threat posed by the Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The shocking video that appeared online recently of the American journalist, James Foley, being beheaded by what appears to be a militant with a British accent, along with the events of 7/7 and the brutal killing of Lee Rigby in London, means that the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism are closer to home than some of us care to imagine.
The problem of homegrown extremism is very real and a growing phenomenon. Although the UK Foreign Office has stated that around 400 individuals have left our shores to fight in Syria since the uprising began, Khalid Mahmood MP recently stated that he believes that this figure is much higher and that over 1,500 young British Muslims have gone to wage jihad since 2011. To put this number into perspective, it means that more than twice as many British Muslims have travelled to Syria to fight for extremists, including IS, than are currently serving in the British Armed Forces.
Just as worryingly, some of them are already returning to the UK, desensitised to extreme violence and still fighting for a radical Islamic ideal. Prime minister, David Cameron, has already recognised this and, in reference to IS, recently said, ‘If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.’
Clearly the need for vigilant and professional security is greater than ever and I believe that the government needs to drastically increase its investment in counter terrorism resources, both in the public and private sectors. Meanwhile, it is incumbent upon us all to recognise the threat, take it seriously and do everything possible to minimise the danger to people, property and assets.
I fully appreciate that this is easier said than done and countering such an insidious and covert threat is difficult. However, it seriously concerns me that so many security professionals are unaware of the potential impact of such threats on the organisations that they are charged with protecting.
I’ve found that there is sometimes an unwillingness to look at the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of identifying the reasons that a particular organisation could be a target, where a threat might originate from and what to do about it. It won’t surprise you that those originating from the USA or UK are more likely to be targeted by Islamic extremists such as IS than those in some other parts of the world and while I recognise that this might be an uncomfortable truth, there is little sense in ignoring it. The bottom line is that organisations with security management teams that possess a comprehensive understanding of global and regional threats will undoubtedly be better protected.
When carrying out a risk and threat assessment it is also vital to avoid the ‘silo mentality’ and adopt an inclusive policy of shared thinking, planning and action. By adopting the concept of convergence of security risk, every department – security, IT, finance, facilities management and those responsible for health and safety and reputational risk management – can collaborate in a way that allows knowledge and information to be better understood and acted upon.
We are living in troubled times and it is therefore imperative that organisations fully understand the dangers posed by potential adversaries, understand their motives and implement a more effective risk and threat based approach that utilises both technology and manpower. This will require some organisations to re-examine their existing security strategies but it is only by doing so that they will be in the best possible position to address this clear and present danger.