DSEi makes me feel cheated

DSEi makes me feel cheated

DSEi makes me feel cheated

By Philip Ingram MBE

An audio/Podcast version of this Blog can be accessed here:

It is September 11th and I am at DSEi in London, however, another 11thSeptember and I’m in another conflict zone, this time on a reconnaissance a few weeks before deploying for over half a year. Sitting on the back of a Chinook helicopter flying into see the Italian Brigade in Multi-National Division South East (MDN SE) area of responsibility in SE Iraq. It is 2005.

There is a very distinctive feeling when the forward movement of the Chinook transitions into a hover for landing, the engine note, pitch of the rotor blades all signal a coming to the objective, the smell of burnt aviation fuel, the heat from the desert sands the quick check, rifle, helmet, day sack all secure, ready for another interesting and vital day of learning the operational area.

Then, from nowhere, a shiver, right down my spine, the hairs on the back of my neck stood out, I had one thought, phone back to Basra, the location for the Headquarters of MND (SE), phone quickly, something has happened. What a weird yet powerful feeling, I remember thinking, but I had to do it. Excusing myself to the general and chief of staff I followed the crew to the operations room to get to a phone.

Answered on its second ring, strange Andy, the officer I was replacing, was never in his office as his, my, daily routine was too busy. “Andy, this is a bit strange, but I have just had the urge to phone you, what has happened?” His reply was brief, “I can’t tell you Phil!” It was then I knew, my second day in Iraq, that it was serious.

“I’m with the new GOC and have just left him to make this phone call, I can’t tell him I’m not allowed to know, what the fuck has happened Andy!”  My tone made it very clear that he was going to have to answer, “Its Matt, he’s dead, there has been an IED, multiple casualties, the incident is still ongoing but Matt is dead,” my heart sank, my old company second in command, my Human Intelligence Officer, who I was looking forward to working with again, my mate, who was due to meet me early that evening had just been killed in a roadside bomb in Basra.

Fourteen years later to the day, and I am at the huge defence and security exhibition, DSEi, in London. Armoured vehicles, weapon systems, helicopters, warships, missiles and so many situational awareness capabilities are on display and I feel cheated.

Matt was traveling out of Basra in one of the British Army’s Snatch Landrover’s, lightly armoured, only good to protect against limited small arms fire, no good against sophisticated improvised explosive devices, designed to penetrate armour through the use of an explosively formed projectile, he was traveling because his helicopter had broken down twice and he had operational meetings to prepare for and he wanted to “get his shit together” for briefing me, his diligence was one of his strengths.

At subsequent inquests, the Snatch Landrover came in for huge criticism and blame for so many of the losses and injuries suffered in Iraq and subsequently in the early days of Afghanistan. I have no doubt they were partially to blame as their protection was inadequate for the threat.

However, if you are only relying on the armour of a vehicle for protection, then you have failed. Protection starts with the intelligence process, identifying threats from groups, on routes, to convoys. Identifying what weapons may be used and against what targets so modes of transport like “air movement only” or “Tracked vehicle escort required,” putting routes out of bounds until checked by search teams, all part of what should and must be a layered protection framework.

My first week of my full deployment in Iraq saw the operation to arrest the team that had carried out the attack on Matt’s convoy planned and executed, we got them, we disrupted an active cell, targeting British soldiers in Iraq but instead of being pleased with a successful operation, I was disturbed, very, very disturbed.

The targeting pack that was put together for the arrest operation, contained all of the relevant intelligence with associated reports, those reports were numerous, but the disturbing fact came from many that were pre 11 Sep.

With the focus provided by the incident, it was easy to see in the weeks leading up to the attack, a pattern of activity with a certain group, they had got IEDs, that pattern was around one or two locations, we had information where they were, that pattern showed their intent to attack a convoy on the route out of Basra, we had information about what they intended to do, that pattern showed the likely routes they were targeting, the road Matt used was the most likely, that pattern gave indications in the days just before 11thSeptember they were ready to carry out the attack.

We could see all of this because we had a fixed point, the attack, to work back from and piece together what happened. The information had been with the thousands and thousands of reports that were unintentionally buried in the volume of information that was coming into the intelligence cell.

It was buried as there were no tools to help the human analyst look for the very subtle patterns, that in dealing with an insurgency are vital indicators, those patterns only stood out with hindsight.

The trouble is hindsight is history and we were J2, the intelligence organisation, charged with predicting what was going to happen, to see into the future, to provide, amongst other things, that vital layer of protection outside the armour of vulnerable, lightly armoured vehicles.

The analysts were working to breaking point and beyond trying to deal with it. For every successful attack they had predicted and stopped 5, 10, 15 other attacks, the analysis were doing an amazing job under impossible circumstances.

I had a top “Tour De France” team trying to compete with a child’s bicycles and on the most part they remained competitive, a measure of the team’s human ability, but from time to time something fell off and when that happened people died and were maimed.

I didn’t have coherent databases, I didn’t have linked pattern analysis tools, I didn’t have the basic tools that enabled an intelligence operation, reliant on spotting subtleties, reliant on quickly identifying patterns, reliant on the ability to process multiple sources of information and enable the analysts to handle the volume of information, I didn’t have the tools that had existed in Northern Ireland from the early 1980, that had helped the security forces predict terrorist activity with real accuracy and disrupt them successfully, in 2005 I didn’t have those tools on operations where lives were being lost.

As I left Iraq in 2006 after a harrowing tour, with too many incidents my intelligence team had failed to predict, failed through no fault of their effort, diligence or training, failed because we were in an international race with a child’s bike level of equipment – I wrote to the Permanent Joint Headquarters in my post operational report that, “The lack of an integrated intelligence database and associated analysis tools has resulted in the deaths and injury of British and Allied service personnel and Iraqi Civilians.”  I confirmed by phone the report had been received and read and the only comment back was “Phil, you are right.”

So, as I look at all of the analysis tools available at DSEI and talk their history through with the companies displaying them, knowing we had similar capabilities in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s I feel cheated. I feel cheated for Matt, for Cpl C and the 2 Fusiliers seriously injured in the attack, for the medic who attended them, Fusilier S who I wrote up for the George Medal for is efforts that day, it was a serious incident, he got the award but is now suffering after leaving the Army, for every one of the 13 others killed and 40+ physically injured on my tour I feel cheated, they were cheated.RIP Matt.

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

It should have been a strategic gift, an assassination attempt using an agent that as we have heard from Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the MoD, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), said was a military-grade novichok nerve agent, which could probably be deployed only by a nation-state. Instead, we are being led a merry dance in information terms regarding the burden of proof and apportionment of blame.

The Russians, who I more firmly than ever assess were behind this attack have a doctrine of маскировка (maskirovka), literally masking. This was defined in the International Dictionary of Intelligence from 1990 as the Russian military intelligence (GRU) term for deception and if we are ever seeing a deception operation in play today just look at all of the Russian statements around every reason why everyone else was to blame for the Salisbury attack.

Looking at what we the public know and the thinking behind it means there can be only one guilty party. That guilt is based on an intelligence assessment and intelligence is not an exact science.  In fact, to make an intelligence call, very often you are working only on a balance of probabilities rather than what a court of law would require with a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ call.  Intelligence does not, and rarely is as certain.  That is why it is a professional business and why, when amateurs or politicians, such as happened in the ‘dodgy dossier’ case for the Iraq war, think they can amend carefully worded assessments, they get it wrong in a spectacular way.  We have not seen and won’t see the publication of a political interpretation of the intelligence, we have seen a political statement of what the agencies assess.

Intelligence looks at two things, capability and intent, and Gary Aitkenhead, a MoD employee, has clearly outlined the capability side of the argument.  Often scientific analysis can identify not just the lab was an unusual substance is made but the individual who made it; that is clearly not the case with this novichok compound. However, it is not the remit of DSTL to comment on intent.

The theories I outlined in my blogs here: https://greyharemedia.com/sergei-skripal-assassination/ and here: https://greyharemedia.com/sergei-and-yulia-skripal-assassination-attempt-further-comment/  continue to hold accuracy and I continue to believe that on the balance of probabilities, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin ordered this assassination attempt using novichok. He did it for a number of reasons including sending a powerful message to anyone who opposes him and remember this happened 14 days before the Russian Presidential election and to stick a proverbial 2 fingers up at the West, he wanted the world to know it was probably him hence the choice of a novichok agent, as he would have known it would be traced back to him. This was a political attack rather than an assassination attempt; the means required the assassination attempt.

So why do I call this a British Military failure? Earlier this year Robert Hannigan, the ex-director of GCHQ, said of the Russian threat in an interview, ‘We didn’t see Russian use of disinformation coming‘.  Combine this with the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Gordon Messenger telling The Times that the need to win the information war concerns him more than the latest model of tank, fast jet or warship.

He said, hardware still has a role but wants to see an evolution in the military mindset about the importance of using data to help defeat and destroy an enemy. “We have to wake up to the idea that our ability to turn data into information advantage, our ability to respond faster through cleverer decision-making which is enabled by the flow of information, is actually frankly as important if not even more important than whether our tanks out-range an anti-tank missile.”

These statements clearly demonstrate a naivety with the UK’s senior defence decision makers and a failure to remember what they have been expensively taught at military staff colleges. General Messenger will be staff college trained and educated as a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies, an elite course tailored for those heading to the top, both courses will have taught the importance of маскировка (maskirovka) and its use by the Russians as well as its historical underpinning by the ancient Chinese General and Philosopher Sun Tzu in the 6thCentury. The military mindset should be there already.

How can defence have forgotten what is taught and allowed Gary Aitkenhead to give a very public interview where only the most naïve wouldn’t have realised the potential implications and the information operations gift it would give Russia? Yet it happened in a vacuum of zero MoD pre and post-interview messaging to reinforce the MoD’s part in the wider government intelligence assessment process.

This is a basic tactic that the MoD should have deployed yet instead we have silence. That silence is tantamount to providing an advantage to another state to cause harm to the UK. It has and will continue to embolden the Russian маскировка (maskirovka) campaign and cause the UK political damage domestically through naïve anti-government groups and internationally to those who want to keep Russia onside for a bit at least.

In law, often doing nothing is as much a crime as committing the criminal act if it is known about. Here we have the MoD knowing a statement from a MoD official, will likely cause national harm, yet it does nothing. That is the failure and that failure needs to be held to account. We don’t need an enemy with capability anymore, intent is good enough, we give them the capability.

It is akin to the MoD making IEDs for terrorists to use, it is wrong and has to stop. So, either CDS has failed or he has been ordered by his political master not to do anything, one or other must account for damaging the nation.

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Offficer who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

Skripal poisoning, it was on the door

Skripal poisoning, it was on the door

Skripal poisoning, it was on the door

When Teresa May said in Parliament, “It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.”  Fingers were pointed at Russia as they have a history of using novel methods to assassinate people, Alexander Litvinenko is a case in point, it sends a message.

There is a lot of speculation about the exact nature of Novichok (новичок, “newcomer” or “newbie”) nerve agents.  Nerve agents are organophosphate based poisons designed to stop the enzyme acetylcholinesterase from working. It is the ‘off’ switch for a nerve and if you can’t turn a nerve off, your body loses control of all functions.

Novichock’s are very persistent agents, undetectable using standard equipment and they give off little or no vapour, so are designed to be absorbed through the skin.  Easy for an assassin to apply, virtually impossible for the authorities to detect.

What has yet to be confirmed by the police is exactly where the Skripal’s or Det Sgt Bailey were contaminated and how long it took from contamination to collapse. Nerve agents are extremely toxic and the absorption of a minute quantity, less than a grain of sugar’s worth, could prove lethal.

They can be applied to any surface by rubbing it with anything contaminated and an assassin would choose a surface they knew the victim would touch, like a door handle.  That would require some prior knowledge of the victim’s behaviour, so the Skripal’s were probably watched.

Once contaminated, cross-contamination is easy, holding hands or lifting a contaminated object such as a drinks menu would be enough. An assassin could transport their lethal cargo in a sealed small container with pre-contaminated wipes or a pre-made-up liquid or gel.

Nerve agents are designed to incapacitate quickly. The time from contamination to showing symptoms depends on many factors including, how much has got on the skin, its absorption rate through the skin and the size of the victim.  Large doses could be lethal in minutes, smaller doses may take a few hours.

The shocking contamination of three children through touching bread given by Sergei Skripal to feed the ducks shows just how easy it is to get contaminated and how minute an exposure is needed to cause symptoms. It also tells that Sergi Skripals’ hands were contaminated.

This was first exposed by @SelbyMirror in the Sunday Mirror on 25th March where I provided comment. Its a pity his insghts were not acted on on Sunday!

We need to know where the assassin and the container they transported the agent to the Skripal’s is now?

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Offficer who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

My Interview with Andrew Graham from Combat Stress for the UK Security Expo

My Interview with Andrew Graham from Combat Stress for the UK Security Expo

My Interview with Andrew Graham from Combat Stress for the UK Security Expo

Combat Stress is very much looking forward to our relationship with the UK Security Expo as we recognise the importance of the security industry to many veterans. We want to understand more about it and let the industry know more about us and how we can help.

Combat Stress was formed in 1919 by a group of women who felt that closing existing military hospitals and simply launching the patients on a society coming to terms with its post-war self, shouldn’t happen.

There were many former servicemen with obvious physical wounds and many more with the hidden wounds of battle shock, shellshock and many of the conditions we are now becoming more familiar with. Combat Stress has been here for almost a century and has changed a lot over the years, as has society’s understanding and tolerance of mental health issues.

As a society, we are more empathetic to the idea that sustained periods of stress or significant events of trauma have an effect on the mind.  This, of course, doesn’t have to be combat, it could be continued, sustained stress or pressure over a long term, or something which happens to you while you’re not on operations.

The Ministry of Defence is better today at taking steps to understand mental health issues caused by service.  It is a difficult thing to deal with and part of the issue very often is that even after the immediate protocols have been followed with an individual and you think the issues have been dealt with, it can come back a number of years later.

Our charity routinely finds that on average veterans wait 12 years after leaving the military before coming to us for help.  The services are generally an environment where they keep their feelings suppressed and it is often when service leavers get out in the civilian world that symptoms start to appear.  It is vitally important that everyone realises that an illness of the mind is not something to be held against you but a real condition, many of us will experience a mental health problem and it is treatable!

Through Contact, a military mental health coalition, we are working with other charities and the NHS. We had almost 2,500 new referrals last year and the NHS probably had 20,000 ex-servicemen come into care in some way; we could be dismissed as a drop in the bucket, but for the veterans who come to us for support, what we provide matters hugely. There may be very good reasons why they came to us instead of the NHS and it could be as simple as they feel safer as our touchpoints are seen as relating back to their military service.

A great help has been the emphasis Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have placed on encouraging the country to talk more openly about mental health issues. Through their Royal Foundation, they are showing how the stigma of saying, ‘I need some help’ is reducing.   Our own data shows that we are finding young men and women are coming to us much earlier, which is better for them and their families.

A lot of former service personnel go out into the wider security industry when they leave the service because it feels comfortable for them and the security industry recognises the wider skills and work ethic that they bring. Those skills can be a huge advantage.

We recognise some of the pressures former service personnel face and being a mental health charity that is what we focus on. However, we also recognise what an asset veterans are to the workplace and we want employers to recognise the wealth of skills and experience veterans can offer.  Every year we run a free conference in the City of London called “The Military Mind,” which gives employers an insight into veterans’ mental health needs and how with the right support they can be valuable employees.

With the UK Security Expo, I want to further the message that servicemen and women are remarkable people. It’s vital that we improve awareness of mental health to encourage veterans to come forward for help. Left untreated mental health conditions can become debilitating, yet many people delay seeking treatment due to the stigma. Combat Stress is here to help veterans overcome mental health problems and lead full and liberated lives. We welcome employers working with us to increase awareness.

Many aspects of the security industry operate under high pressure. Whilst the industry employs a lot of former service personnel, even those who didn’t serve in the military will have stresses and strains that affect how they behave, either now or in the future. Our experience of helping former service personnel could assist employers more widely.

I would encourage people to pay attention to the real contribution former service people can make, not just by virtue of their skills, but by the way in which they think, act, and behave.  Recognise that we all, whether we have served or not, could suffer some form of mental illness and we must continue to work hard to dispel myths around mental illness and any associated stigma. You may feel like supporting a charity like ours and we would appreciate that.

Visit the UK Security Expo 2018 and get access to so much high-quality free content by clicking here: www.uksecurityexpo.com/freepasses

The role of the Chief Security Officer

The role of the Chief Security Officer

The role of the Chief Security Officer (CSO) has not really changed. “Secure the perimeter” has always been the mantra and historically it was to protect the organisation from physical threats.  Philip Ingram a freelance security and intelligence journalist looks at how roles may be developing.

Moats and battlements have been replaced with fences, lookouts with CCTV and drawbridges with card access doors.  Communications have been protected using encryption to hide the message rather than protecting it as it travels, but this is nothing new.  Around 100 BC, Julius Caesar used encryption to convey secret messages to his army generals at the war front.

With the advent of the Internet and electronic communications the “perimeter,” is, in a sense, boundless.  A centralised headquarters building can have fences, locks, PID systems, CCTV, access control and more in place to ensure corporate intellectual property, business secrets and its people are all protected and kept safe. However, monitoring an outstation remotely means that perimeter is only as secure as the outstation and the communication means to and from it.  No longer can security be considered as a “premises-based” operation.

According to a study done by Tyco and reported in a blog on their site, in this new world, the role of the traditional CSO and his or her team remains crucial, no matter where security headquarters are located. There is not, and likely never will be, any substitute for physically interceding between a perpetrator and his intended target in a timely manner. However, with new definitions of security, that role is now joined by a host of others, with, in many organisations, professionals from IT, HR, Legal, Logistics and other departments in security related roles.”

So, with the CSO’s role taking in many more disciplines, the role is much more of a multi-disciplinary team leader with many of the team being unfamiliar with the security and not under the direct responsibility of the security director.  This raises an issue of responsibility?  Where, in today’s multi-connected world, should the responsibility for security lie?

The Tyco study, reinforced by what Philip Ingram is seeing across the industry, suggests that this convergence is creating a window of opportunity for the CSO to expand his or her role, responsibilities and therefor importance within a company.

The opportunity comes back to where responsibility lies.  Security is a discipline to mitigate business risk and if that risk has been delegated to the CSO then he or she is perfectly right in asking for an expansion of their role.  However, if the risk lies elsewhere then the responsibility for directing a multidisciplinary team lies with the “owner” of the risk.

Traditionally a CSO has been an expert in his or her field, leading by dint of superior knowledge and that is why many enterprise level companies have separate roles for physical security and for IT security.  With the advent of a requirement for multidisciplinary teams then the expertise will be provided one level down or by external contractors.

The CSO should not try to become the expert in all disciplines by him or herself, rather they need to understand the language and nuances of each area and “translate” them into one focused output aimed at dealing with the issue of risk reduction or mitigation.  In addition, the CSO does not need to know how to install and operate security equipment or software but rather have a general understanding of how they work, their strengths and limitations and how to create a complimentary suite of capabilities.

Critical to the development of this role is therefore understanding who owns the risk, what resources are available and who has responsibility for them and then last but most important is training.  It is one of the roles of the many professional organisations and bodies to ensure that training standards are properly defined and that training providers give the correct quality of support to their members.

The biggest plus in the development and expansion of the role is that a wider cross section of any company will be exposed to security before it becomes an issue, and greater collective understanding can only help with overall standards.