Global Counter-Terrorism: How US allies are coping with terror – United Kingdom

Global Counter-Terrorism: How US allies are coping with terror – United Kingdom

No single approach to counter-terrorism is a silver bullet. As such, each country facing terrorism must take into account the specific variables attributable to their individual country. These variables include the kind of threat they face from the context of threat level, as well as, the nature of the threat (whether domestic or international). Every terrorist threat is different; as an example, one wouldn’t use a military strategy in developed public areas such as Dublin against the Irish Republican Army, or in Barcelona against Basque Homeland and Liberty (ETA). Likewise, one wouldn’t use a purely law enforcement strategy against al-Qaeda. The trick then is to balance strategy through skillful use of intelligence, taking into account all of the variables at a states’ disposal. It is with this in mind that one examines the efficacy of both approaches as it pertains to the U.K., France, Canada, and Australia. In each national case study, the variables on the ground in terms of geography, population, and cultural makeup are different. As such, one would expect that the tactics that each government takes into account in their counter-terrorism strategy would be uniquely adjusted to the different challenges that these governments face. This article will address some fundamental issues regarding counter-terrorism mitigation within several US allies, beginning with the United Kingdom, and moving on to Canada, France and Australia in a later article.

To summarize, countries like the UK, France, Australia, and Canada collect intelligence “not simply to inform policy makers, but [it] is viewed as a weapon that law enforcement agencies, private industry, and public officials can use to thwart imminent and latent terrorist attacks” (RAND, p.27). As mentioned before each of these countries faces a different yet similar challenge.  This is in large part due to the fact that terrorist groups tend to view different countries as targets for different operations. A good example of this would be the fact that in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France the nature of the threat is “substantial” from international terrorist groups, while in Canada the threat is not an attack from these international and residual groups, but the use of the country as a center for fundraising, recruiting and as a “sanctuary for international terrorists” (p.29).

Counter-terrorism within the United Kingdom:

The UK, through their internal intelligence agency MI5, has a broad scope of responsibility. This scope includes the monitoring of “Irish terrorists in the UK” and the tracking and assessment of “other terrorists deemed a threat to British national security”. MI5 seeks to accomplish their mission by emphasizing information gathering techniques such as eaves-dropping/wiretapping and human intelligence (HUMINT) (p.34).  MI5 is one of three agencies that aid in the prevention of terrorism in the UK, the other two being the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS is also known as MI6) and the Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ. All three of these agencies work in combination on Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the “main instrument for advising on priorities for intelligence gathering and for assessing its results (p.34). This is different from the United States’ approach to terrorism in that “in contrast to the United States, British polic[ies] have viewed the protections of domestic assets as a key responsibility of the state” (p.35). MI5 is similar to the DST, CSIS, and ASIO in that while “MI5 is mandated to conduct surveillance operations; it has no independent arrest powers. As such, in order to seek the arrest of what MI5 perceives as a threat to the homeland the organization coordinates with Special Branches (SBs) located throughout the country.

SBs are “described as an “executive partner” of the security service that provides a “major extension [to MI5] in terms of intelligence collection capability. (p.36). MI5 and GCHQ report to the home secretary while MI6 reports to the foreign secretary; All three committees’ intelligence are used in the creation of reports that are published in two forms. One is a redacted form for public consumption while the other is a complete copy with contents only seen by three entities: the intelligence community, the Prime Minister and the “ring of secrecy” consisting of nine cross-party members of parliament”.

The UK faces terrorist groups from many national backgrounds, including “…Sri Lanka, India, Turkey, and the Middle East” (p.32). These groups typically use the UK as a means “to fund-raise and recruit, but few if any, appear, to be planning within the United Kingdom itself” (p.32). As a result the UK takes detailed internal measures through MI5 and GCHQ in order to protect the homeland, and through MI6 gather extensive information internationally. They prevent attacks by appropriately utilizing their intelligence-gathering corpus to find, track and mitigate threats.

[Editor’s Note: See Jake’s next post (available August 3, 2011) for more counter-terrorism methodology from Canada, France and Australia]


Chalk, P., & Rosenau, W. (2004). Confronting the “Enemy Within”: What Can the United States Learn About Counterterrorism and Intelligence from Other Democracies? RAND Corporation. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation.


About jakeeyremdy

A recent graduate from Norwich University with his Master of Arts in Diplomacy, Jake discusses a wide variety of topics centrally related to international diplomacy, international law, international terrorism studies, and other such topics

3 Responses to “Global Counter-Terrorism: How US allies are coping with terror – United Kingdom”

  1. Hi Jake. After 9-11 there was a great deal of debate as to whether or not an MI-5 model should be implemented here in the U.S. to handle domestic intelligence gathering. I tend to disagree and believe the American people would not support the idea. Great Britain has a parliamentary democracy which allows MI-5 to operate with fewer constraints as opposed to our Congressional and Presidential system, and strong sense of Federalism, not to mention our Constitution that clearly protects citizens from rampant government intrusion.

    Tom Masse (2003) provides perhaps the biggest challenge of creating a new domestic intelligence agency by explaining that the British model relating to domestic intelligence allows MI-5 to exercise prior restraint as it pertains to publishing any material (intelligence) that may be injurious to national security, while the U.S. has found the doctrine of prior restraint as unconstitutional and not in sync with the First Amendment (p. 10). Further more as Masse elaborates, the citizens of the U.S. have a different level of tolerance when it comes to government intrusion, and any new found balance between domestic security and freedom may have changed after 9-11, but the duration of this tolerance for enhanced security and surveillance will likely be impacted by either the presence or absence of any future attacks inside the U.S. (p. 10).

    Would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Have a great day, and take care.

  2. David,
    Thank you for your comments. There is a certain amount of truth to what you indicate. For example, I do think that you are correct about some portion of the American people being suspicious/unwelcoming of a domestic intelligence agency. Additionally, they might find it not in line with what U.S. Federalism. However, at the same time I also think that the concept of a domestic intelligence agency in the United States is not with out its merits at some level.

    An agency like the MI5 ( or the CSIS as will later be talked about) while not with out its own flaws, has some value too. For starters, as mentioned above, domestic intelligence agencies have no power to arrest an individual, just to gather domestic intelligence that relates to the national security of the United States. When one considers that the Patriot Act seems to already grant the American government a wide variety of authority as it pertains to intelligence gathering domestically, and that in the past the Bush Administration has used this power against American citizens via phone tapping, one can not say that domestic intelligence gathering is not already currently in play covertly, or was at one time. An official American version of MI5 would simply take the idea out of the shadows.

    Secondly, results by various studies including the RAND report I mention in the article indicate that these domestic intelligence agencies are very good at gathering intelligence via HUMINT in their countries Diasporas; that they can network better with the leaders of these Diasporas precisely because they do not possess that arresting authority. Diasporas are groups of transplanted people from one country, who live in another. For example, the Canadian population has a Diaspora of Tamils, through which the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam seek funding amongst other things (the LTTE is a nationalist terrorist group out of Sri Lanka). Depending on the activity of the Diaspora it can fuel or repress a terrorist organization. Gathering domestic intelligence for the country’s national security is their only job, and ergo they are able to do a very good job focusing solely upon that task. Australia, as an example through the ASIO “moved to provide greater clarity about the legality, propriety and effectiveness of the agency’s work” after the 2002 Bali bombings in an effort to “offset the veil of secrecy” (p.61) that surrounded the agencies work and found out that after the attack that “communities around Australia provided more than 5,000 voluntary submissions to the ASIO in 2002” (Chalk and Rosenau, p.61) .

    Given that example, it might seem possible that a domestic intelligence agency if clearly communicated the American public in a similar manner might not only be feasible but also might be a help to the authorities. Indeed it could potentially provide assistance to the FBI and other government agencies in their mission under the right policies. This is not to say that everything a domestic intelligence agency does is correct, or that it wouldn’t need oversight, just that it could be of some assistance.


  1. Global Counter-Terrorism: How US allies are coping with terror – France, Canada, and Australia | - 2011.08.03

    […] This is the second and final segment of a previous post. To see the original, click here: […]

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