Can we ever be safe in public spaces?

terror attacksIt is a primary function of the governments of the world to ensure the protection of its’ citizens, infrastructure and institutions against threats such as terrorism.

The recent events in Paris and the atrocity in Brussels highlight the need for governments to provide protection for their citizens.

The events of 23rd March 2016 in Brussels – the heart of Europe – may indicate a catastrophic failure of the Belgian government.  Political commentators globally have expressed this view.  It is interesting to note that more Belgian Jihadists have travelled from Belgium to fight for ISIS, otherwise known as Daesh Islamic State in Syria, than from any other European state.

The current global situation is complex and therefore generates many questions such as:

  • How does a country protect its citizens?
  • Is security improved if more financial resources are allocated?
  • Is security improved by the development of national, regional and local policies and infrastructure?
  • Is security improved by intelligence and information sharing and gathering?
  • Are citizens prepared to sacrifice freedoms and civil rights for increased personal security?

It is fact that in the UK we have stopped one major terrorist atrocity every six weeks over the last two years. So how have we achieved this?

The answer is in the detail.  Our internal and external intelligence services MI5 and MI6 supported by the special operations units of the Metropolitan Police are the best in the world.  Then of course there is the work of GCHQ.  It is no secret that on a regular basis in this country, telephone lines are tapped, e-mails are monitored, internet chatter and the dark web are positively monitored.

This has been to the benefit of all UK citizens, including the left wing activists, who despite their rhetoric would not want to live in a country that is ruled by the terrorists they seek to protect.

In the UK we have been lucky but this cannot always be the case. In the times of fiscal restraint the brave people that protect us can have their effectiveness reduced due to the lack of resource.  With a reduction in resource comes an increased risk.

Is there any such thing as security?

I would say no there is not.  There is only a measured response to a specific risk.

Effective security starts away from the primary target.  It is layered – the more layers the greater reduction in risk.

For example, the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square is now surrounded by concrete blocks. These are designed to stop a vehicle based suicide bomber.  The primary target is protected, but what about the public, the cyclists, taxis and buses outside this ring of concrete, when the vehicle explodes?

It is inevitable that the best intelligence in the world would not stop a “lone wolf” terrorist not on the radar.   You cannot stop a lone wolf suicide bomber. To some extent, however, you can control where the atrocity takes place.

On a positive note, we are the only country in the European Union that has maintained it’s borders.  I for one, welcome the fact that we are not part of the EU Schengen free travel area, likened by the former Home Secretary Michael Howard to hanging out a ‘welcome sign’ to terrorists.

It is a fact that in the last year, 75 million EU citizens have returned from other continents without being subjected to anti terror checks. Jihadists are free to enter Europe unhindered because of ridiculous open border rules. It has been revealed that approximately 5000 EU citizens have been to IS war zones such as Iraq, Libya and Syria.  As EU citizens with EU passports, they are not checked against suspected terrorist watch lists. This makes it much easier for terrorists with their EU passports to return after fighting. Even if upon return they are flagged up on immigration screens, the European Court has ruled that as EU citizens they cannot be automatically denied entry.

This ruling has been declared dangerous by the world’s leading security experts.  Eurocrats in the European Parliament vowed to change this ruling “without undue delay”.  Approximately 18 months later the situation remains unchanged.

It is a fact that in the UK you are more likely to be hit by lightening than killed by terrorists. However, we must as a society, remain united in defeating the evil that threatens our way of life. This is a problem that transcends religion, race and borders.

The best way of doing this is to carry on our daily lives in the normal way but with extra vigilance.  In conclusion, on a daily basis, we, the public, must make our own risk assessment as to the places we visit and the risks we take.