Peter Webster – Second guessing the terrorists keeps getting harder

Peter Webster - Chief Executive of Corps Security
Peter Webster – Chief Executive of Corps Security

Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, a regular blogger, discusses terror attacks in his latest blog. He writes: “We live in a world that has become accustomed to terrorist atrocities. The recent incident in Nice, where 84 people were killed, represented a shocking new level of violence. Just days later in Munich, an 18 year old male opened fire on shoppers and restaurant diners and killed 10 of them. These events highlight a growing and disturbing trend, whereby rather than working as part of a group or cell, radicalised individuals or ‘lone wolves’ are able to fly under the radar of the security services due their willingness and determination to act alone.

“Although there is clearly a rise in this type of activity, lone attackers operating under a model of leaderless resistance is nothing new and spans the political and religious spectrum. For example, anti-Islamist Anders Breivik set off a car bomb in Oslo and then journeyed to the island of Utoya to massacre scores of youths attending a summer camp, killing 77 people in all.

“There have also been lone wolf plots and attacks by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other ‘single issue’ extremists. In fact, a recent study led by the Royal United Services Institute found that when it comes to attacks by lone wolves without guidance from an outside group, the extreme right is behind as many events as Islamic extremists.

“It is all too easy to dismiss lone wolves as just seriously disturbed individuals who are mad, bad or both. While they hold views that go against the vast majority of others in civilised society, these people are what the security services refer to as ‘clean skins’ – a term used to describe those who have a spotless criminal record, a history that doesn’t arouse suspicion and no connection with the security services. With this type of background it is incredibly difficult to identify and monitor lone wolves. The problem is compounded by the fact that they often have no communication with others.

“Unfortunately, working alone also makes it far more likely for those with malicious intent to succeed in their endeavours, and the methods they use to carry out atrocities are usually basic but deadly. As the Nice attack demonstrated, bombs and guns are not always necessary – carnage can be caused just as easily through items that are around us every day.

“Although the proliferation of lone wolves poses an insidious and covert threat, in my view it makes it all the more vital that security professionals work with the wider security services and the general public in a comprehensive effort to increase vigilance and identify suspicious behaviour. It is incumbent upon us all to recognise the threat, take it seriously and do everything possible to minimise the danger to people, property and assets.

“Security professionals must be on high alert to the potential impact of threats on the organisations that they are tasked to protect. Knowledge, information and intelligence must guide and shape this approach, especially in terms of risk and threat assessments, and determining security policy and strategy.

“Every situation is unique and a security strategy necessitates the integration of a range of measures including manned guarding, CCTV, access control, lighting and remote monitoring. It may also be necessary to deliver on-site training to enhance an organisation’s existing security measures. This will help personnel identify and respond to potential threats and give them confidence in the organisation’s ability to keep them safe.

“When it comes to manned guarding, companies that specialise in protecting certain types of environments possess unique knowledge of the threats posed to specific kinds of establishments. A specialist provider will be able to deploy individuals who have been given skills that enable them to perform their roles to the highest standard. This includes, for example, Operation Fairway based training relating to the identification of suspicious behaviour, guiding the public to safety in the event of an attack, how to carry out sensitive questioning and hostile reconnaissance recognition.

“In order to stand the best chance of spotting lone wolves, the public must also do its bit by reporting any suspicious behaviour. Put simply, terrorists operating under this model are far more likely to be seen by ordinary citizens with good situational awareness than they are by an individual counterterrorism agent.

“Also, in the event of a terrorist attack, minimising the level of damage is paramount and at the end of last year the National Police Chiefs’ Council produced a four minute video titled Stay Safe: Firearms and Weapons Attack, which outlined its ‘run, hide, tell’ policy.

“Summing up my own views on this particular subject, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Neil Basu, said at the time of the video’s launch, ‘With the threat level remaining at a high level, the police and security service continue to operate at a heightened state of readiness – we are working on hundreds of investigations and making an arrest a day. However, it is only with the ongoing support of communities that we can defeat terrorism – you are our eyes and ears so please be alert, but not alarmed.’

“We are living in troubled times and it appears that the apparent proliferation and success of lone wolf attacks represents a frightening new development in terrorist activity. It is therefore imperative that individuals and organisations fully understand the dangers posed by potential adversaries, understand their motives and take appropriate action. It is only by doing so that we will all be in the best possible position to address this clear and present danger and ensure that the terrorists don’t ‘win’ the wider battle to disrupt our way of life”.

Corps Security Website