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Reinforcing the need to introduce identity cards, the use of the Internet in propagating extremism and the need to counter financial support for terrorism were some of the key points of a speech delivered by Chancellor Gordon Brown at the Royal United Services Institute today.
In a talk, entitled ‘Securing our future’, the Chancellor outlined his vision of where and how Britain would be safeguarded over the next five years.
One of the most controversial plans the government has for Homeland Security is the introduction of identity cards. The Chancellor outlined the problems faced by identity fraud, claiming it costs the Home Office £1.7 billion a year. He also noted that one in four criminals use false identities and that one in five companies could be affected by this problem.
One of the central features of terrorists’ activity is their use of multiple identities. Brown said: 'Over the last few years, the major terrorist suspects arrested typically had up to 50 identities each.'
The introduction of identity cards, he said, is endorsed by Security Service Director General Eliza Manningham-Buller and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. They have said that a national biometric scheme would help them do their job by making reliance on multiple identities very difficult.
Brown said: “If people cannot easily operate under multiple identities, we can potentially disrupt the modus operandi of terrorists or criminals that rely on multiple or false identities.”
The Chancellor attempted to alleviate concerns about privacy and data security, saying that a national identity register already exists in the form of individuals holding birth certificates, passports, national insurance numbers and the like and that a new scheme would merely represent the latest and most secure means to protect identities.
Finance and terrorism
The Chancellor stressed the need to fight financial support for terrorism. He said: “We have a situation today where money is raised in one country, used for training in the second, for procurement in a third and terrorist acts in a fourth.”
He gave an example of where UK members of an Al-Qa’ida-linked Libyan Islamic group had had their assets frozen. The group were channelling documents and money from Britain to support training and attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere using a front network of a charity and four UK property companies.
Since 2001, the UK government has frozen terrorist assets worth nearly £80million, including from over 100 organizations with links to Al-Qa’ida.
To combat this, the Chancellor announced new measures to regulate wire transfers and charities from being abused and that Britain is seeking the chair of the worldwide Financial Action Taskforce.
Brown reiterated the need for Britain to protect its borders, noting the increase in personnel dedicated to stopping illegal immigration. He noted that Project Semaphore, which was launched in 2005, had electronically checked the details of some six million passengers, leading to the arrest of 140 suspects.
To help the fight against illegal immigration, the UK will move to a more integrated border security system, linking biometric passports and visas with electronic checks on entry and exit, to help track and intercept criminals and terrorists and further stop illegal immigration.
A common theme through the Chancellor’s speech was the use, by extremists, of the Internet to spread their ideas. He noted that groups can work remotely from each other, thereby helping to avoid detection and that videos, messages and speeches can easily be accessed from across the globe.
Due to the inability for any government to fully censor the Internet, Brown noted that the way to counter this spread of extremism was to engage in a war of ‘hearts and minds.’ He noted that during the Cold War, the West not only fought the Soviet Union by using weapons or intelligence, but through the use of culture and language.
He believed that the same ideas should be used to fight the current threat and that it is only by argument debate that the West, will in the long term, expose and defeat the extremists. He said: ‘We will have to argue not just against terrorist and terrorists but openly argue against the violent perversion of a peaceful religious faith.’
Tackling the problem
Brown highlighted that since September 11, 2001, across the country, an extra 16,000 police officers have been recruited, while another 6,000 have been employed by London’s Metropolitan Police.
By 2008, a further £75 million would be allocated to the Met’s counter-terrorist capability and a further £135 million investigated in regional intelligence and investigation. Also, by that time, the Security Service will have doubled in terms of personnel. In total, there will be an investment of £2 billion a year, double what is presently spent.
A forthcoming Spending Review will examine future security needs for intelligence gathering and policing. This will include technologies for detecting explosives in crowded places and the possibility of single security budget.
He also outlined the need for greater accountability, including the appointment of committees with investigative powers.
It is possible, that should the government get its way on its plans to hold suspects for longer than the 28 days agreed upon last year, these committees could be used to ensure the rights of suspects.
The Chancellor explained the problems faced in modern policing, where computers can take days to be decrypted, where international co-operation can be needed on terrorism investigations and where DNA evidence can take time to collect and then process.
Therefore, he believed that pre-emptive action is warranted in such cases where wholesale loss of life is expected. In such cases, the police need to take action and intervene early. But, he noted, this carries serious implications and the police need to be scrupulous in collecting the necessary evidence to prosecute.
In such cases that require twenty-eight days or more to hold suspects, Brown outlined the possibility of having a senior judge approve continued detection every seven days and there be a right to appeal to high court. He also noted that an independent reviewer could also have the power to look at and report on cases that go beyond twenty-eight days without charges.
The Chancellor concluded by suggesting there had been significant success in combating terrorism in the UK since the events of July 2005, but that this needs to be built upon and that the roots of terrorism, the extremism which justifies it and the grievances that give it an audience also need to be tackled.
Doing this would require tackling inequalities in society, giving young Muslims a greater say in the debate on security, promoting the idea of ‘Britishness’ and demonstrating the value of the emergency services and the military and all those who have fought for this country over the past 100 years.
Supporting this would be the introduction of a National Veterans Days and an expansion of cadet forces, especially in state schools.
Brown said: ‘By being tough on security, with strengthened resources and powers and touch on accountability, with safeguards for individuals and oversight through Parliament, we can make Britain safer and more secure while affirming our very British commitment to the liberties of the individual and showing we will never sacrifice the very values terrorism wishes to destroy.’
By Chris Pope, Rebecca Cox and Garry Hindle of the Homeland Security and Resilience Department