Protecting the national infrastructure: are we sure we have not been distracted?
Chair: Martin Gill
Stephen Lidstone – Security Manager at Shell Russia
Andy Williams – Director and Deputy Chairman at TINYg – Global Terrorism Information Network
Stephen Lidstone notes that his company has been active in monitoring the threat during the crisis, indeed, monitoring change and identifying the issues diligently is a prerequisite for responding effectively, and of course the energy sector is key to the critical national infrastructure, so staying focused is what we would expect. He emphasises though that since principally it is people that cause problems, and there has been less contact between them, and there has been less collections of humans forming a target of terrorists, it has resulted in less malign activity. In response to a question, Stephen emphasised the growing threat of cyber, particularly frauds targeting individuals. That said terrorists have not gone away, they are likely planning now, and they are not all looking for spectacular events, more typical is the low capability terrorist planning attacks using knives and axes rather than guns. As he says most terrorist lack the skills to attack power stations and highly protected targets and so they target people which are easier. The more sophisticated would-be attackers are also likely to be attracting the attention of the State.
Andy Williams does feel that responders have been distracted during Covid-19, albeit not dangerously so. The broader policing and security sector has always to be on an alert footing. A big challenge though has been the constant changes in guidelines and rules that have characterised the pandemic, and, in a different way, the financial impacts on organisations which has necessitated them assessing all expenditure. As Andy emphasises terrorists have not gone away, they are communicating and planning, raising funds through crime, and in the counter terror world the guiding principle is that an attack will happen, not wondering if it will happen. This raises an interesting issue, the concern that the public will have forgotten and not been accustomed to thinking about risks, being alert, looking for dangers etc. They have not had to practice such skills in public for a year or so, so they need to be reminded about what to do, especially in an emergency. Like Stephen Andy feels the prime targets are well protected and so terrorists will turn to targeting humans. You will witness an interesting discussion about the risks of a stolen virus used for malicious ends. As Andy says, the threat of this happening, however remote, can instil fear and can be used by terrorists as a weapon. Similar, drones pose a threat albeit less so, at present at least, in transporting a bomb. In terms of response, we need to learn from others, in this area, anything can happen and we need to be ready when it does, terrorists strike when they are not expected and there is no substitute for being continually on guard.
We learn that every country is different, each has its own risks and abilities to respond, and of course the nature or terrorism differs globally. That said, globally there is a need for people to be reminded of the risks and what to do when an incident does occur; people forget, they have not had to worry about this in the same way during lockdown. The value of an awareness campaign was noted. While attacks against the national infrastructure are a worry, this is precisely why they are less likely to occur; they are well protected and remain so. Instead terrorists will target people and that threat is ever present, co-operation, vigilance and good practice were amongst the key issues guiding a good response before the pandemic and they remain so, we just need to remind people about what to look for and what to do if anything does happen.
6th April 2021