Security Forward-Risk and Intelligence Forum’s quarterly meeting was held on 22 March at The Honourable Artillery Company headquarters in the City of London, a year to the day since the Westminster Attack.
Our first speaker was our own ‘Speaker in Residence’ and Senior Adviser, Lt Col Crispin Black MBE MPhil, who changed his original presentation in order to respond to the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. The title of his talk was "Has The Russian Bear Gone Mad? The Implications For The West Of The Russian Nerve Agent Attack In Salisbury." Crispin visited Salisbury the day before our meeting to gauge the mood. The most important point that he made was that we cannot yet be sure that the attack was indeed ordered by President Putin as the British Foreign Secretary confidently stated.
The chemistry of nerve agents is not that complex (the sarin gas used in the Tokyo metro attacks of 1995 was home-made) and it may be difficult even for the experts at Porton Down to be sure of the agent’s provenance at this stage. The most likely alternative theory is that Russian Intelligence or perhaps the Russian Mafia was behind the attack. We shall see. The Russians have denied everything, of course. In the end it probably doesn’t matter to them what the precise truth is. Putin and his cronies enjoy sowing chaos and distrust across the Western world for its own sake.
Crispin cautioned that in dealing with Russia we should not assume that either the people or the so-called elite see the world in the same way that we do. He was not confident, given the power and influence of Russian money in the UK and elsewhere, that effective action against the Russian State would be possible by HMG. Nor was he confident that concerted international action against Putin would come about; perhaps he was too pessimistic. On Monday 26 March, the EU announced the expulsion of a large number of suspected Russian spies from a broad range of countries. The USA has acted with especial vigour with more than 60 Russian ‘diplomats’ expelled and the Russian Consulate in Seattle (suspected of hosting intelligence operations against Boeing’s nearby HQ) shut down. There was a lively but unresolved debate following Crispin’s presentation which led us into the coffee break.
Our second speaker was Chris Phillips, Managing Director of Ippso Ltd and a former Police Officer specialising in Counter Terrorism. Chris is a consultant, speaker, and recognised Counter Terrorism and security expert. He is widely acknowledged as an expert in Counter Terrorism and Security on National and World media. The title of his presentation was "What Can A Business Practically Do About The Terrorism Threat". Chris described some of his recent work on crisis management and gave us some anecdotes drawn from his own experience. He gave enormously practical advice, for example, most casualties in a bombing have been hit by flying glass, so the introduction of protective glazing could dramatically cut down on injuries. Following the talk there was an excellent question and answer session in which our very knowledgeable participants were able to share their own experiences with the group.
As usual, we then held our ‘Sharing Your Current In-Tray’ session in which participants highlighted their current ‘hot issues’ and debated future topics that we should cover. This was very valuable session and allowed the group to identify future threats and concerns and share intelligence. We then moved to the HAC Museum room for cocktails. Crispin's choice was a Ben Hur, celebrating the Cold War, dirty deeds, and vodka - two shots of vodka, dash of campari, topped with a maraschino cherry.
Our final speaker was Jeremy Jones, who is a Member of The Anglo-Omani Society with our Programme Chairman, Keith Holland. Jeremy runs a consultancy based in Oxford and has worked for the Omani Government since the 1980s. He is a Senior Associate Member at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and was a Research Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School 2004-2007. He has written numerous books on Oman and he talked to us about his book "A History Of Modern Oman". A signed copy was given to all those present. We were also lucky to have an ex British Ambassador to Oman in the audience, namely Robert Alston, and he and Jeremy provided a dynamic and fascinating ‘double act’ in responding to the many questions from the audience. Their combined knowledge and experience was most illuminating. Following dinner there was the opportunity for the usual sharing of cards and networking which will allow our Members to share best practice with each other.
Our Summer Meeting will take place on 11 July 2018.