Security Forward Workshop and Dinner - 27 July 2021 - The Old Bailey

Tuesday, 27 July 2021
By Peter Fraser-Hopewell CMG MBE

Tuesday 27 July saw Security Forward Risk & Intelligence Forum meet face-to-face at the Old Bailey. This was our first physical meeting since February 2020. The meeting was chaired by co-programme chairman Peter Fraser-Hopewell CMG MBE.

Our guest speaker was Ed Butler CBE DSO, Chief Resilience Officer at Pool Re. Ed has been with Pool Re for number of years and prior to that he had a distinguished military career including Command of a Special Forces Regiment and Commander 16 Air Assault Brigade - taking him to many operational theatres in a variety of leadership roles.

Ed’s talk was fascinating with insights into the challenges of countering, and insuring, current terrorist threats whilst analysing emerging ones which may, or soon will, challenge us. Ed also drew upon his considerable operational experience in the Middle East and Afghanistan to give some interesting thoughts on issues emerging in those areas. Some key points were:

  • Pool Re emerging from the requirement to insure large city buildings and institutions against attacks by the PIRA as they brought their campaign to the UK mainland - a recognition that the government had to underwrite potential losses to counter PIRA’s economic attack strand to their military campaign.
  • Initially thought of as temporary but a recognition that terrorism, and the threat it presents to businesses, has not ended with the PIRA ceasefire with multiple emerging threats to people and infrastructure now and in the foreseeable future.
  • Whilst Pool Re is there to cover against terrorism there has been some discussion at government level about widening cover (for example the current covid-19 pandemic) whilst initially attractive there are good reasons to leave areas such as this under complete government control.
  • Afghanistan is, sadly, not a positive outlook (as we see on the news recently). It is likely that the Taliban (perhaps a Taliban light compared with the past) will prevail and the West does not seem to have the appetite to remain. Afghan forces (seen as less corrupt than the police) are well equipped and well trained but seem to lack a culture of regimental pride and loyalty - you fight for your Regiment and friends with little real attachment to the government. This could be the result of training and development along US lines using contractors with little emphasis on subunit and unit cohesion and loyalty.
  • A possible outcome would be a Taliban government which, provided they were not too strict and did not support other terrorist groups, would be accepted by the West with some aid continuing.
  • In the Middle East concerns over large numbers of Daesh held in prison camps (a number of them from the West) with no real hope. This includes women and children. If this strategic issue is not addressed by interested parties it is a potential ticking time bomb. Not just the current fighters but how radicalised will the children in camps be. One nettle few Western governments seem reluctant to grasp is the return of their nations - male, female and children prisoners. This is not a “vote winner” and do we know if a de radicalisation programme really works - recent UK experience would say no, so the issue remains. To quote General Report Smith (UK) - "everyone can see the dog mess, everyone can smell the dog mess, but no one wants to pick it up".

There was usual spirited discussion following Ed's talk and it was great to be see faces around the table with a good “to and fro” discussion.

Crispin Black gave a downbeat presentation titled "Better To Be A Dog In A Time Of Tranquility Than A Human In A Time Of Chaos. What Next?" on the immediate future, assuming that the virus has been more or less tamed by an array of clever vaccines. The surveillance state is on the march under the cover of the pandemic. Some unhealthy habits have been imported from China and the old East Germany. Information held by the state and other collectors in a number of Western countries is on the brink of being used openly and without shame for political purposes. The United States Armed Forces and Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, for instance, both now carry out extensive trawls of social media prior to commissioning officers – a sensible precaution in one sense but open to abuse by the unscrupulous. Juvenal’s great question, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” is back in spades. In the US in particular there is a growing belief in some official circles that to be a supporter of former President Trump is to be a political extremist.

In the background “Wokeness”, shorthand for a set of aggressive and intolerant minority beliefs from which there can be no dissent, is being weaponised in the media, on campus and in commercial firms - as a means of exclusion and social control. It seems highly unlikely that the current political battles on the other side of the Atlantic can be settled through a deeply flawed electoral system – and this will impact on the West as a whole in coming years, not least in its competition with China.

We are also in uncharted waters economically with the possibility of high inflation in both the US and Europe – inflation erodes both national and personal debt (no bad thing as we are so heavily indebted) but it also nearly always erodes living standards. The public sector is usually protected (as it has been during lockdown) but the private sector will take a hit (as it has during lockdown). Throw into the mix higher interest rates and the public mood could become volatile.

Not helped by the lurid language now habitual in Western politicians of all stripes. Escalation in political rhetoric by the likes of Robespierre was one of the reasons the French Revolution spiralled out of control – producing both the Terror (September 1793 – July 1794 – 40,000 executed or murdered) and the subsequent excesses of the French Revolutionary wars. Not helped by climate change. The recent sobering scenes from Germany drove home how quickly Mother Nature can cause death and chaos even in the idyllic Rhine Valley. Not helped by the politicisation of just about everything from views on climate change, to mask wearing, to attitudes about the origin of the virus that has tormented us over the last 18 months. Evidence based argument seems to be going out of fashion. Compromise and respecting the views of others (even if you think they are nuts to hold them) are in decline.

… but the general view was that Crispin was a little pessimistic and possibly prone to lockdown-induced-grumpy-old-man-syndrome for which there is a tried and tested cure agreed by all experts – a glass of champagne. After the talk, and before our glass of champagne, we were treated to a Tour of the Old Bailey led by Alderman & Sheriff Professor Michael Mainelli. This fascinating and informative tour ranged from the Grand Hall, to Court Number One, and the cells - you couldn’t help but think about those who had left their cell to go “up” to the courtroom to hear their fate. After the tour we had a superb dinner in the Grand Hall. What a delight to be amongst friends exchanging different views.

Looking to the future we will have format based on a 3 month cycle. Month one (September) a virtual meeting (what’s in your in tray). Month two (October) a virtual meeting with speaker. Month three (November) a face-to-face meeting including dinner with a speaker and Crispin’s talk; probably starting around 16:00. We are also examining fees for Security Forward members to build in more flexibility and some additional benefits - more to follow on this.