Neil Basu, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations, Metropolitan Police Service and Senior Officer-in-Charge of Counter Terrorism Policing, United Kingdom, shared his experiences working at the heart of the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism apparatus a a webinar on 4 March 2021. Jointly organised by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research and the National Security Studies Programme at RSIS, the event brought together academics, professionals and public officials from various domains, including national security and defence.
AC Basu characterised the contemporary pattern of terrorist threats in the UK as a multi-dimensional phenomenon that was still evolving and expanding at an unprecedented pace. Despite legislative and organisational overhauls since 2017, he noted, the police remained in a very difficult “arms race” with terrorist elements owing to the rise of encrypted communication technologies, the increase in random, self-initiated attacks, and a recent, growing trend of right-wing terrorism in the United Kingdom.
Reflecting on his experiences working in the UK counter-terrorism apparatus, AC Basu noted the difficulty of protecting crowded public spaces and rehabilitating self-initiated terrorists. Effective counter-terror efforts required the active support of citizens and increased collaboration with partners across society, he stressed. In addition to crowded public spaces having to be safeguarded, minds also needed safeguards — that is, against subversive influences. This was because factors like poverty, poor health and unemployment left individuals vulnerable to radicalisation.
Looking to the future, AC Basu contended that besides embracing uncertainty, experimentation and flexibility, counter-terrorist agencies would need to invest in solutions that are more threat-agnostic so that systems, teams, and techniques can be nimbly repurposed and deftly redeployed to address new threats in a rapidly changing environment.
The seminar concluded with a lively question-and-answer session, which addressed diverse issues such as engagement with social media companies, targeted public messaging, cost-effective security measures and the rising trend of hostile state-sponsored activity.