2013-11-04 15:34:24 - Lord West Speaks on Snowden at the Security in Challenging Environments Week on "Evolving nature of security threats globally."
My Lords, ladies and gentlemen as a starter to what is clearly going to be a fascinating couple of days I have been asked to talk about the evolving nature of global threats. And I have to say it can seem somewhat depressing, although an innate sense of humour always ensures balance.
Talking of humour reminds me of a colleague who was talking about it’s importance at a conference in Glasgow. “Where would we be without a sense of humour?” he said. And a voice from the back said “Edinburgh“.
But what a confused and chaotic world we are in. Even allowing for successes like averting the attack on Syria by the US<UK<France and others, and the UN agreement about
destruction of Chemical Weapon stocks and an improved dialogue with Iran.
It is surprising, but rather reassuring in terms of our people living their lives, how quickly the general population forget about threats. But the attack on the Nairobi shopping mall was a stark reminder that the threat from Islamist jihadist terrorism remains very real.
We have also become immune to the constant stream of Sunni/Shia sectarian attacks taking place inside Iraq, Pakistan and a number of other countries after the so called Arab Spring. But I will talk more of the implications of the Sunni/Shia schism and it’s effects across the Middle East from Morocco in the West to Pakistan in the East a little later.
We sometimes forget that today in the UK the threat level from International terrorism is Substantial i.e. “An attack is a strong possibility”. Woolwich was a reminder; and only a few days ago a group was rounded up that was allegedly planning a Nairobi style attack in the UK. Over the last few years we were shocked to discover that many of the terrorists were our own nationals even if the impetus and often planning came from cells within failed or failing states. Hence our involvement in Afghanistan and other regions of the world. Security in those areas becomes of crucial importance to our nation.
Of course not all terrorism is international. One must never forget the risks of the home grown variety. Such as Tim McVeigh in the Oklahoma bombings, the later Ohio bombings, Anders Breivik in Norway and right wing extremists in our own country. Indeed we have successfully arrested and prosecuted a number of such groups over the last few years.
And of course in our case Irish terrorism (In Northern Ireland the threat level is severe from Irish terrorists i.e. an attack is highly likely.) And indeed the situation has deteriorated in the last 3 years or so.
In many ways the most dangerous threats, as they remain below the radar of our agencies/special branch and police, are the self starters i.e. those who operate on their own, often radicalized online. Hence the governments interest in trying to control websites that glorify terrorism.
Just as an aside, although the terrorist threats have been severe, they are not an existential threat to our national survival. But with an improvised Nuclear Device or lethal virus, they could be. I also believe there is a possibility of terrorists using a dirty bomb. Hence my push to try and enhance detection of and protection against these threats. I believe this should become a growth area for security. We can talk more on this in questions.
It is in the context of the global terrorist threat that I will mention Snowden and his activities. There is absolutely no doubt that without the work of GCHQ and NSA we would have suffered attacks year on year in this and other countries. To my mind Snowden, who looks a little like a choirboy receiving his Russian award, is a traitor. He has done serious damage to our security and put many good men and women’s lives at risk. He has exposed techniques and capabilities and already terrorists are modifying behaviour to avoid interception of their communications traffic. All of us are at more at risk today because of what he has done.
The claim that he was a whistle-blower protecting our nation’s liberties just doesn’t wash. I can reassure you having been closely involved with the subject for 25 years that the political and judicial scrutiny of our agencies is probably better than any other nation in the world.
But back to evolving security threats and I must mention Cyber attack and Information Assurance. I don’t intend going into this in any depth today but the threat is huge and growing exponentially and can have a direct impact on security operations. Having been seen as an arcane subject until relatively recently, cyber impinges on all aspects of modern life and the attacks are at many levels .
A. There has been state and commercial theft of IP on a vast scale
B. There has been an explosion in major criminal activity making use of cyber techniques
C. There is increasing danger to critical national infrastructure and huge swathes of transport and logistics systems
D. Minor criminal attacks at a personal level with identity theft etc. A huge worry to our public
E. Hackers who cause major damage just for the hell of it
F. And there are also major implications for how our military forces fight
The banking world and stock exchanges having had their fingers burnt have done considerable work to enhance protection and I believe private security firms would be well advised to grow even more expertise in this area. Certainly there is a rapidly growing market for advice. Forensics, and in particular digital data extraction and analysis is another growth area. It is for these reasons I believe personal identity cards will come. But of course they won’t be called that.
So what does our world look like on 29 October 2013?
If anything it is more unstable than ever and 2013/14 will inevitably have some unpleasant surprises for us.
Looking eastwards, the Arab Spring, or perhaps better called the Arab awakening, has impacted to greater or lesser degrees on countries from Morocco to Oman. No one can predict how this revolution will pan out. Who would have guessed that the self immolation of a Tunisian fruit seller could have led to the toppling of regimes, civil wars and new constitutions? It seemed such a wonderful opportunity for liberal ideals, human rights and democracy. But history should have taught us otherwise. It certainly initially caught Al Qaeda on the wrong foot. But they have recovered and are now fully exploiting the opportunities offered by the anarchic situation in a number of countries.
One factor in the rapid changes was the impact and leverage of social media. A number of law enforcement agencies are working on how facebook/twitter/snapchat etc. can be monitored to keep in touch with popular mood and to spot possible resultant actions.
We were of course involved militarily in Libya but unsurprisingly, the country remains in disarray with a large number of weapons freely available, tribal tensions/war-lordism and major tensions between the Eastern and Western parts of the country. Libya badly needs stability to allow it to benefit from its immense oil and gas wealth and our government want to focus on helping them achieve that.
Similarly in Egypt where revolution has followed revolution, there are worrying signs as to which direction the country will take. The clamping down on the Muslim Brotherhood by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will lead to more terrorist attacks by the Brotherhood; and inevitably give al-Qaeda an opportunity to gain more traction within the country with possibly devastating results. Already the economic impact of what has happened is causing great hardship. This could lead to a cycle of civil disorder and clampdown giving terrorists an opportunity to enhance their power base and leading to attacks on western interests and personnel, not least tourists.
The civil war in Syria continues unabated. The cruelty and oppressive actions of the Assad regime have shocked the world. But the opposition consists of a strange mix and includes a growing number of violent Islamic jihadists. Indeed the war in Syria is playing out the Sunni/Shia battle within the Muslim world. With Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait giving considerable actual as well as moral support to the opposition; and Iran, often through Hezbollah, doing the same to the regime. Threat to Christians reflected elsewhere across the region. Dangers of breaking up. Nobody can win militarily.
The same battle is being played out in Iraq where there are growing levels of violence and the prognosis for the future is not good. The impact of Syrian civil war with its Sunni/Shia emphasis and large number of Jihadist fighters. Possible break up of Iraq?
The war in Syria has severe implications across the region not least due to the vast outflow of refugees into Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and particularly Jordan. The entire situation is not only a humanitarian disaster but the whole region is being destabilized. And one must add to the mix the proximity of Israel and the unresolved Palestinian issue.
The only good news is that the US, UK and France didn’t attack, after what would appear to be the regimes use of Chemical weapons, and that subsequently, there was agreement by Syria to destroy all her stocks of chemical weapons. Which is now underway.
Talking of refugees, the lack of opportunity, poverty and instability in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and parts of North Africa exacerbated by the Arab awakening, has added to the flood of migrants across the Mediterranean with consequent threat to stability and security of Europe at large. Hundreds of refugees drowning off Lampadusa have recently highlighted the issue but collectively Europe has been hiding its head in the sand and something needs to be done. It is not easy because several million people would rather live in Europe and many are becoming increasingly desperate. Border security is a growth area.
The Palestinian issue is no nearer resolution and has been a running sore in all our dealings in the Arab world for over 60 years. Settlements on the West Bank and other actions by both parties have made the two state solution seem almost beyond reach and the consequence is a growth in numbers of those seeing terrorism as the only answer.
Moving across to the Gulf Shia/Sunni issues are a key part of the problems in Bahrain but Saudi Arabia with its own sectarian issues in its Eastern provinces will never allow Bahrain to become a Shia ruled state so the current troubles will continue. Iran is of course not Arab but events across the Arab world have impacted on her.
In addition there is the nuclear issue. The growing impact of sanctions has had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy and was a factor in the election of Hassan Rouhani which may mark a change in Iranian willingness to negotiate on the nuclear issue. Certainly dialogue between the US and Iran is a step in the right direction. I don’t believe Iran is able to construct a bomb yet and they seem to have slowed their rush to achieving that aim. But I do not think they have lost the aspiration and I also have little doubt that if we became aware of completion of a viable weapon then the Israelis would attack with catastrophic effect on the region and probably globally.
Moving south to Yemen we see a failing state that has for centuries been joined at the hip with Somalia. Indeed the first time I saw active service was in Aden in 1967 against Somali gun runners some 46 years ago. Nothing changes.
After the invasion of Afghanistan AQ-L was forced into the FATA and since then with pressure from the Pakistani’s and not least hugely successful drone strikes AQ-L has been neutralized. Consequently the organization has splintered with a number of franchises for its devilish work. One of the most dangerous is AQ-AP based in Yemen, since being forced out of Saudi Arabia. It has had an international focus (e.g. underpants bomber and printer bombs) and although its best bomb maker and many of the top leadership have been killed by drone attack, it still remains very dangerous. It also has Al-Shabab as part of the franchise.
Somalia, whilst still a failed state< has seen some improvements with the African Union troops having seriously damaged Al-Shabab and cleared them from Mogadishu and key population centres. But Al-Shabab is still dangerous as the recent attack in Nairobi have shown.
For some years we have been concerned by UK nationals going to Pakistan/Afghanistan and Yemen (apparently one learns the purest Arabic there) to become radicalised and then return to UK as a likely threat or join other terrorist organizations worldwide. We now find Somalia and Syria are high on the list as destinations for trainee jihadists.
As a consequence of activies in Somalia, Kenya now has a higher risk of terrorist activity.
And then of course sweeping westwards across the Sahel we find another region of instability. Events in Mali and the attack on the Algerian Oil installation a year ago focussed our attention but AQ-M has been a growing problem for some years. Encouraged by willingness of some countries to pay ransom demands for hostages. The loss of a secure base in Mali will have damaged them.
However the flow of drugs from South America via the region into Europe plus tobacco/ arms smuggling and kidnap are a heady mix and when one sees that it lies adjacent to a number of troubled states and in the same region as Nigeria with its problems in the North with Boko Haram and in the South with massive corruption, criminal activity and oil theft, the possibilities for mischief are huge.
As if this is not enough of a headache what of Afghanistan and Pakistan?
The US, UK and NATO planned withdrawal is clearly focusing minds on the future landscape within Afghanistan. I certainly have no crystal ball but I am sure it will be a rough ride.
Pakistan is key to the region and I believe the US, UK and other countries have to stay engaged. If it goes wrong it will have more impact on regional and global stability than Afghanistan could ever have done. The fact that there have been two elections with civilian hand over and that the army have been holding back gives some hope for the future but the country faces immense problems and of course is nuclear armed.
I could go on and talk of Korea, Indonesia, the Senkaku Islands the Spratly Islands, the Ayungin Shoal, the Falklands, tensions over the Arctic seabed and polar shipping routes, DRC and central Africa, future of Burma etc. but I hope I have given a flavour of the rather chaotic world we live in.
How does all of this affect this conference?
Well I have been involved, primarily on the government side, with private security companies since the Sandline saga in the late 90’s. Since then private security companies have come of age. In the complex world we live in, national government forces cannot provide the support required to ensure security in all its guises around the world, but in our ever shrinking global village, that security is essential for the conduct of trade, growth of local economies and protection of those conducting those functions.
The protection against piracy is a classic case in point.
It is quite clear that embarking armed security staff on Merchant ships has had a dramatic impact on their security. Indeed the last data I saw showed it to be 100% effective. Add to that the growing success of Operation Ocean Shield and we are seeing a dramatic fall in successful piracy attacks off the Horn of Africa.
The Gulf of Guinea is very different kettle of fish and the International community will have to focus on that area to ensure security of seafarers.
Talking of the Gulf of Guinea leads me inevitably onto the subject of energy and energy security. The issue of energy is high on our national agenda at present with debate over prices and a new nuclear plant being ordered. The US decided to use supplies from West Africa rather than the Middle East to ensure easier supply routes. But now shale gas has changed the equation. The US is now a net exporter of gas and is building up the necessary shipping and shore support infrastructure. The cyber attack on the Aramco company was a wake up call to us all. The action came within an ace of disrupting Oil and gas production. Terrorists will have taken note and we should be ready for such actions in conjunction with physical attacks.
So where do I see key involvement of security companies and what do I think are growth areas?
And I am always mindful of the facts that:
A. the UK is a world leader in terms of security planning, coordination, advice and equipment
B. security is fast matching defence spending in a number of countries so the opportunities for UK Ltd are potentially huge
Clearly there will be continuing involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq but it may become problematic over the next few years. Libya and the Magreb I would see as growth areas. In the Magreb particularly in terms of personal security.
There will continue to be many opportunities in the Gulf, particularly in the energy arena.
Nigeria will be a major growth area where multi-nationals plus smaller enterprises and their personnel will need enhanced security.
If the situation stabilises in Somalia so more opportunities will arise but it will be a very difficult environment. But Kenya/Uganda and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa will need enhanced assistance and should present many opportunities. Indeed, overall Africa is becoming particularly important in terms of investment and natural resources therefore opening up new opportunities.
Pakistan will become more important than Afghanistan as a nation that will need private military companies advice and assistance.
As regards the sea areas off the Horn of Africa the number of pirate attacks are plummeting. This will continue and firms will need to focus in particular on the Gulf of Guinea where the very real risk to shipping and oil/gas infrastructure means it has overtaken the sea areas off the Horn of Africa as the most dangerous in the world. It is of course different in so many ways from the other coast but I know you will be addressing this in detail later in the conference. Another area of interest with risks to shipping and hence scope for growth is the Indonesian archipelago.
So to summarise we are in an increasingly chaotic and dangerous world. The threat from terrorism is, after declining for a few years, on the increase due to the global instability that I have touched on. The disclosure of our capabilities and techniques by Snowden has helped to put us all at greater risk. The threat with potential for most damage, I see as escalation and spread of the Syrian civil war. After that the risk of a war with Iran. But the one prediction I can make is the next crisis will be something that no one has predicted.
As regards the terrorist threat, no country is immune even though some Muslim states think they are. The threats tend to emanate from failed, failing and impoverished states where the rule of law in all its full panoply doesn’t exist. Security Companies have a crucial role in assisting security in all its guises because as the world is becoming more dangerous so the global village is shrinking. We are part of an interlocking network of commerce, trade, ideas, travel and education. Security is a vital precursor of all this.
So I hope I have stimulated some thoughts and am happy to take a few questions before you continue with this fascinating conference.