Technological advances and the leaks by Edward Snowden have meant that the ability of British intelligence officers to effectively monitor jihadist suspects is at a ten year low, according to Britain’s most senior anti-terrorism policeman. He described his officers at Scotland Yard as operating on a “shaky platform” against an increasingly complex and volatile terrorist threat, the Times has reported.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told the Times: “Since the Snowden episode and with technology developments our intelligence picture is less good than it was — both domestic and international — and that makes operations harder to run.”
His comments came during a discussion on the re-introduction of measures allowing police to send suspects into “internal exile”, by ordering people to move away from their neighbourhoods. The power to do so had been dropped in 2011 at the same time as Control Orders for terror suspects were scrapped, but the government decided to back track on the measure as jihadists in Syria and Iraq stream back to the UK.
Home Secretary Theresa May is set to announce the reintroduction of the powers next week. She had faced opposition by the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg, who argued that increasing powers for police to limit suspects’ movements within their home areas would be the better course of action.
However, Clegg backed down when David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, deemed the proposal to be flawed. Mr Cameron also had to give way on counterterrorist moves recently, by dropping his proposal to strip jihadists of their passports, in what was seen as a tit-for-tat negotiation between the coalition partners.
Mr Rowley spoke in favour of the reintroduction of relocation powers, saying that moving suspected terrorists away from their friends and associates helped to disrupt terrorist plots. “If you have significant information that somebody is a terrorist risk and despite all your best efforts you cannot build a case to put them in prison — really the state has two choices: either to say we’ll accept that risk or put in measures where you have some controls around people.
“It’s a political decision, but our experience is that for people in many of the situations we deal with the ability to relocate would make a big difference,” he said.
He asserted that: “We are less capable and have more blind spots than we had five years ago,” thanks to technological advances introduced by Apple and Google that allow people to encrypt information on devices, making it almost impossible to track terrorist and criminal communications.
“We don’t want to do surveillance on everybody — we haven’t got the time for or the interest in doing that — but we ought to be able to chase anybody effectively, if there is a good case for doing so. That is getting harder and harder to do.”
Mr Rowley argued that companies had a “corporate social responsibility” to scan communications for markers such as interest in beheadings, in the same way as they do in order to tailor advertising to internet users. “If they can spot if someone is interested in buying a pair of jeans, surely they can spot if someone is interested in beheadings. There must be scope for a more pro-active duty on the technology sector,” he said.
Mr Rowley’s comments came as it emerged that three Muslim youths had planned to behead a member of the public on Remembrance Sunday. Breitbart London reported this morning how the trio had been laughing in court yesterday as the charges against them were read out.