Almost one month after another radical Islamist terror plot to murder and maim Londoners at Parsons Green, the terrorist threat remains at ‘Severe’; pretty much where it’s been since 9/11 and then 7/7.
Although headline grabbing measures, such as redirecting a tiny number of SAS commandos from Hereford to London has pleased safely-guarded MPs, one of the major threats to us members of the public has been almost entirely ignored: Chemical, Biological and Radiological terrorism (known in security circles as ‘CBRNe’).
Having spent the past two weeks in briefings with law-enforcement and government-types over in New York and Washington, the indicators are alarming.
Frontline investigations by Kurdish researchers report regular use of Mustard Gas by ISIS since December 2014, against Iraq’s army, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and now civilians too.
Chlorine holds were reportedly bolted to rockets near Anbar, Iraq, in 2014. Since, missile-tipped Mustard Gas was deployed outside Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Mosul to terrorise remaining villagers and state soldiers.
On March 9th, 2016, frontline Kurdish researchers reported ISIS’s first direct attack on civilians in Iraq using Chemical weapons in Taza district near Kirkuk. Five months later ISIS fired some 45 mortar bombs (estimates vary) tipped with Mustard Gas at Gwer front, outside the increasingly cosmopolitan Kurdish capital, Erbil.
How can this happen?
Like many countries, it remains a historical fact the Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath government did develop, stockpile and deploy chemical weapons against Kurdish and Shia Muslims during the 1980s and 90s, including infamously at Halabjah. It was just that the UN’s later teams of inspectors were thwarted from locating them.
Now in opposition, and very much radicalised, it is thought that former Ba’ath soldiers, or their offspring, as well as scientists at big research universities, are the ISIS supply chain. (For example, Mosul University’s research lab and team fell under ISIS authority, when it took control of the city in 2014. In fact, many academics defected to ISIS or Al-Nusr before 2014, to wage war against the hated US-backed Shia-dominated Iraq national government.)
Closer to home, in Britain, a comprehensive, but virtually unknown centre for training Britain’s few qualified first responders to CBRNe incidents, exists in the charming rural plains of Wiltshire.
Control of this, albeit, highly professional facility has still not been passed across from the Royal Air Force (the lead agency) to our Army. (A Tory Party promise in the last two defence reviews.) Moreover, very few First Responders (our Police, Fire and Ambulance services) actually receive CBRNe training there, or anywhere.
Financial efficiencies for reducing access to training are vaguely blamed. The same dismal excuse from the weak Tories for chopping 35,000 armed force personnel, 21,000 police officers,10,000 firefighters, 12,000 paramedics, 4,000 border guards and 7,000 prison officers.
Several police officers told me that their twice-yearly ‘officer safety training day’ barely mentioned the possibility of a Chemical or Biological attack.
This is despite the fact that less than a decade ago a Russian national was killed in a London hotel, by a teacup laced with Polonium, a Radiological substance. The subsequent investigation into Alexandr Litvinenko’s demise saw complex decontamination at around 50 London locations including hotels, rooms, toilets, aircraft, etc: areas that had come into contact with the victim and arch-suspect.
Even in London, Manchester, or other major cities, the vast majority of police officers are not in counter-terrorism roles. They therefore cannot usually access specialist training. They are merely advised to apply first aid if one person collapses, use caution for two, call the control room for three…and so on.
Court cases in our own country during the last decade have already shown that Islamist terrorists have sought to attack us with Ricin and Radiological devices.
Lessons from other major cities also haven’t been learnt. The release of Sarin Gas by the twisted, apocalyptic cult, Aum Shinrikyo, in 1995, murdered 12 civilians as well as injuring some 4,000 innocent commuters. American cities themselves were hit by postal system anthrax attacks upon politicians and media organisations shortly after 9/11.
Yet back in Britain, the big fear in security circles is our ludicrously liberal legal framework, which presently enables terrorists to buy a drone, or several, and weaponise them with Chemical or Biological substances. This fear is known by all echelons of government, including in briefings to Home Office ministers, yet still our PM Theresa May, as well as most Westminster MPs to be fair, do nothing to protect us from CBRNe threats.
There are no ideal solutions, and the Goverment here is different to America in that it has no national security strategy (just a hopeless 7-year-long menu of unfulfilled vision statements), nor does it have a specific CBRNe strategy.
But, like in America and Japan, we the people rapidly need information and access to basic identification methods, low-cost and effective HazMat equipment, and clear medical assistance guidance. We urgently need Parliament to restrict and licence drone ownership. We need every single First Responder and armed forces member professionally trained in CBRNe identification and response. For civilian environments, including aviation centres, stadia, hotels, shopping centres and other crowed places.
Moreover, every licenced security professional, corporate security executive, and HR manager, should be able to access CBRNe information and ‘wargaming’ training sessions.
Other countries are moving this way. In fact, ironically, they’ve copied and adapted our old regional and civil defence forums. Yet we’ve lost at least a decade of preparedness. Maybe more.
Lastly, we need a UK Government that funds our national security, and backs our ‘human rights’. Those expected and legally enshrined for the law-abiding majority. Such as, the entitlement to a safe tube journey, as well as a safe home and work environment. By any objective assessment, it certainly isn’t this one.
Richard Bingley is author of several security books including ‘Terrorism: Just the Facts’. He has worked in senior security management roles including at London 2012. @bingleyr