The Private Sector is Vital for UK Counterterrorism Success

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The private sector is not what most people may first think of when it comes to counterterrorism (CT). However, it certainly plays a major role in these efforts. Research has suggested a lot more work is needed within the sector to counter the continued threat that terrorism poses. Greater public-private sector cooperation can enable this to come to fruition. While there has been some improvement in the private sector’s performance in its operations, largely with the help of government-backed schemes, more cooperation is required between private sector bodies and the state to protect and prepare against future threats.

To understand the private sector’s responsibility within the field, it is best to look towards private sector-focused training schemes produced since the turn of the century and the emergence of the modern terrorist threat. Limited material exists on Project Griffin – the national counter-terrorism awareness initiative for businesses produced by NaCTSO – in terms of evaluating its effectiveness, but work is also lacking to merely serve as a descriptive background into the scheme given that a lot of the material has now been redacted. The Project was established in 2004 by the City of London Police with the aim of bringing together the police, private security, and the community to detect, deter and counter terrorist activity. It was also designed to foster security awareness across the capital’s business community through effective and timely information-sharing with law enforcement. Facilitating the sharing of valuable intelligence among police forces was central to the project.

The primary mission was, therefore, to engage with the community and to also ‘detect and deter’ terrorist activity and related crime. While the Project was originally rolled out in London, its initial success encouraged police forces, businesses and security services across the UK and in many other countries including Canada, Singapore, South Africa and Australia to adopt the program. As a result, a large amount of academic research on the project was conducted in Australia, but its lifespan was not long enough to truly see its benefits. Project Griffin in the UK has now been rebranded as Action Counters Terrorism (ACT). The reason for this shift was the number of high casualty attacks that took place in 2017. This sent a message to the CT community that the previous scheme was not doing enough.

Another finding emanating from the research is that the private sector requires training across a large proportion of its workers, not only those in security roles. However, the issue of financial constraints poses significant problems. In addition, there is, at times, a lack of will and impetus to involve private security as fully in an issue as important to national security as terrorism. The privatisation of security is still viewed by many as problematic as private bodies are still not subject to traditional forms of government oversight.

Despite this, governments have continued to legitimise non-public policing. Within the CONTEST strategy – the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy – the private sector already plays a large role. As of 2021, there have been four published versions of CONTEST. One page was dedicated to the role of the private sector in CONTEST 2006 (the first edition of the strategy), and this was merely around industry supporting CT; while in CONTEST 2011 (second edition), many references are made to various industries including travel, financial and Critical National Infrastructure (CNI).

There is a need for further regulation within CT elements of the private sector which, in turn, need to come from the government. The implications on the security industry are more regulation in the form of laws and procedures coming from a newly formed state body. This is further complicated by the difficult nature of private sector CT operations and security itself. When it comes to financing, profits are still regarded as the most important factor, with the costs and benefits of implementing an anti-terrorism program factored heavily into the equation. Whereas public sector policing has more room for manoeuvre in the CT arena due to a more dedicated budget. Another point of contention is that of critical national infrastructure (CNI) – assets that are essential for the functioning of a society and economy – which is largely owned by the private sector (85%). This will hopefully act as a catalyst for change when the severity of a potential attack on this area is realised.

Further research into the current scheme of ACT awareness is deemed by many to be necessary. Due to the scheme now being the current method of delivery for both private and public sectors, this will be the government’s plan for the foreseeable future, and the latest round of investment signals a commitment to the project. It appears that the age of long-form Project Griffin style training is now unlikely in financial terms and in terms of demand. Therefore, any research should now concentrate on the ACT scheme fully to further provide it with recommendations to improve.

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