The UK is facing an intense threat from terrorism, one which is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly and operating at a scale and pace we have not seen before. This has been tragically demonstrated in the attacks this year, resulting in the senseless loss of 36 lives and injuries to many more.
Terrible events like these and the shift in the threat means we must continually challenge ourselves and adapt what we do.
Today, David Anderson QC has published his report on the terrorist attacks of March to June 2017. As we think back to those attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, the victims and their families are foremost in our minds.
Our investigations into the attacks continue and we are determined to do everything in our power to ensure that wherever possible those responsible for the attacks are brought to justice.
MI5 and Police are committed to learn and improve as quickly as possible to meet the threat and remain a global leader in countering terrorism.
As we announced in June this year, MI5 and Police commissioned very detailed internal reviews of the attacks and an overarching Operational Improvement Review (OIR). The internal reviews considered what was known before the attacks, how processes operated and the implications for counter terrorism work in the future. The OIR sought to identify improvements to the counter terrorism machine and involved the security and intelligence agencies and Government partners.
David Anderson QC was asked by the Home Secretary to provide independent assurance of the reviews . He was provided with unfettered access to the intensive work undertaken as we completed the reviews. Today the Home Secretary has informed Parliament that David Anderson QC has completed his work and his conclusions have been published.
MI5 and Police have together thwarted 22 plots in the last four years, 9 of which have been stopped since March 2017. There are currently well over 500 counter terrorism investigations, involving more than 3,000 subjects of interest – along with a growing pool of more than 20,000 individuals who have previously been the subject of terrorism investigations. These investigations cover the full range of terrorist activity, from attack planning to activity that supports or facilitates terrorism – but a significant proportion involve potential attack planning threats. The tempo is more intense than ever.
As David Anderson QC notes, intelligence is always imperfect and counter terrorism work requires tough professional judgements. Although we work tirelessly to keep the country safe the reality of the terrorist threat means that we will not stop every attack.
David Anderson QC’s report endorses several recommendations that MI5 and Police believe will further strengthen processes in counter terrorism work. Many of these build upon existing improvements already underway at the time of the attacks. The main areas of focus are:
- Exploiting data: the OIR recommends steps to strengthen further our ability to detect engagement in terrorism-related activities, including detecting re-engagement by former subjects of interest in terrorism investigations.
- Multi-agency engagement: the OIR recommends going beyond existing relationships to enable the widest range of partners to be engaged in managing the risk of renewed engagement in terrorist-related activity as part of a whole of Government counter terrorism response. This includes specifically a new commitment by MI5 to allow knowledge derived from intelligence to be shared more widely beyond intelligence circles.
- Increased role for the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) and MI5 in domestic extremism: the OIR proposes to bring equivalence of processes between the current approach to domestic extremist threats (such as right wing threats) and Islamist terrorism, by strengthening threat assessment processes and joint working between CT policing and MI5 where there are potential terrorist threats in this area.
- Finally, the OIR recommends a number of technical changes to improve existing operational counter terrorism processes. These cover processes such as information management and the handling of intelligence.
In his report, David Anderson QC describes the Police and MI5 reviews as being “careful and trustworthy” and commented on the review teams’ integrity, frankness and openness to criticism.
Implementing the recommendations included in the post attack reviews and the OIR is a priority for both MI5 and Police. Together, we are committed to continuing the open and collaborative approach we already share. The work will be driven forward by the two organisations while working closely with partners.
There is likely to be more scrutiny into the circumstances of these attacks, including public inquests which will examine these matters further. Copies of the reviews have also been provided to the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, for the Committee to consider alongside David Anderson’s report.
Andrew Parker, the Director General of MI5 said: "Throughout its history MI5 has had to adapt and change to keep pace with a fast-moving world, to stay ahead of the country’s adversaries. We have done this before and continue to do it today, in response to the unprecedented threat from international terrorism.
"I welcome David Anderson QC’s independent assurance of our reviews, and we are committed to implementing the recommendations we identified. As I said in October, we and our partner agencies used the harsh light of hindsight under independent challenge to ensure we squeezed every drop of learning out of these dreadful events.
"MI5 and our partners continue to bring the full weight of our growing capabilities to counter this new intensity of threat. Our unrelenting focus remains on doing everything in our power every day to keep the country safe."
Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service said: "Our thoughts remain with those who lost their lives, their families and the hundreds of others who were injured in the ghastly attacks in London and Manchester this year. Together, police and security services have worked hard to identify exactly where we can learn from these events and I’d like to thank David Anderson QC for his independent scrutiny and assurances of our reviews.
"The UK continues to be internationally recognised as a world leader in counter terrorism.
"Policing and our colleagues in the fight against terrorism will continue to learn and improve. We need to make rapid progress in implementing the recommendations, many of which require new technology, better infrastructures and resources at a time when the threat from terrorism poses significant challenges for police and security services.
"The growth in the number of dangerous individuals who have been radicalised is a major issue for us. We will be redoubling our efforts in enforcement activity both to disrupt and confront the threat and to safeguard the vulnerable from radicalisation."