Tuesday 20 August 2019

We need to sharpen up our security measures for Ireland - and quickly

French police secure a perimeter in Paris. Thousands of troops have been deployed around the city following the deadly terrorist attacks
French police secure a perimeter in Paris. Thousands of troops have been deployed around the city following the deadly terrorist attacks

Michael C Murphy

In the last few days a video has been produced, purportedly from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which includes Ireland as a member of the 'Coalition of Devils' and thus one of ISIL's potential targets. Of course, it would have been very naïve indeed to think that Ireland would not be included as a potential target - if, for no other reason than our lax attitude towards security and defence is well known. This raises the question as to how prepared we are to pre-empt a potential attack.

One of the intentions of Islamic State is to draw western military ground forces into the conflict in Syria/Iraq. It has been known for some time that the terrorist group intended to place terrorist cells within Europe. In their ideal situation western ground forces would be fighting abroad while troop homelands would be hit by attacks from ISIL-planted cells. It is no secret that ISIL has used their imposed migrant crisis to infiltrate members into Europe. A recent think-tank report suggests that the presence of at least one battle-hardened jihadist in a terror cell increases the chance of a successful attack by at least 40pc. The recent attack in Paris seems to confirm that analysis.

The security of the Irish state and the protection of the Irish people is the primary responsibility of the Government. Ultimate responsibility rests with An Taoiseach. It is his responsibility to ensure that the security structures in place are fit for purpose, and it cannot be deflected elsewhere.

Government ministers advise us that there is no evidence of a trans-national terrorist threat within the state. An intelligence adage springs to mind that 'absence of evidence' is not the same as 'evidence of absence'. What this implies is that one should be careful when stating that there is no evidence unless convinced that the structures in place are sufficient to find the evidence. The state's current security structures should not make our ministers so confident.

The cornerstone of any counter-terrorist strategy is intelligence. Good intelligence forewarns and is imperative, especially where other state assets may be weak or unprepared. Most terrorist outrages do not come without some form of warning. Official inquiries following terrorist outrages invariably highlight that the security architectures that were in place were not fit for purpose and that intelligence silos existed which resulted in a lack of information sharing. In the media the Government places great emphasis on the importance of intelligence sharing with foreign agencies; however, it neglects to put in place statutory intelligence sharing structures on the domestic front.


Today, the normal public response by government ministers to terrorist outrages is to reassure the worrying public that the National Security Committee (NSC) has met and that the situation is being kept under constant review. However, the NSC does not discuss operational matters and is not an intelligence fusion centre, it does not include all relevant agencies, and does not have intelligence working groups. It is merely an advice centre which is not in a position to accurately provide an integrated intelligence picture. It is a reactive, rather than a proactive, body.

In accordance with the An Garda Síochána Act 2005, one of the functions of the force is to provide policing and security services with the objective of protecting the security of the State. The Garda Commissioner is responsible for advising the government on matters of State security. An Garda Síochána is one of only two police services in Europe with the dual functions of policing and security. Elsewhere, state security is handled by civilian intelligence agencies. One of the reasons for this is that no single agency head could possibly perform both policing and security functions effectively.

For example, in the areas inspected by the Garda Inspectorate 2014 it determined that Garda management was poor and concluded that the top priority of the Gardaí should be crime prevention. The Garda State security intelligence function has not been investigated by an outside public body and is excluded from the powers of the new Policing Authority, and from investigation by GSOC. If Garda management is poor in the public areas inspected it is unlikely to be otherwise in those areas protected behind 'smoke and mirrors'.

Military intelligence is the second arm of the state intelligence structure and has both home and overseas functions. But Irish military intelligence is unique among most modern militaries in not having a professional separate intelligence corps - the recent Defence White Paper failed to address this deficiency.

Accordingly it is dependent on the wider military structures for support. From my own experience, that is a hard-fought and often lost battle.

Intelligence professionalism cannot be achieved overnight and requires constant training, development of analytical expertise, and longevity in appointment. However, it is not unusual to find individuals placed into key intelligence appointments without the necessary training or prior intelligence background. Meanwhile, others with important intelligence expertise and unique skills must leave military intelligence to enhance their wider military promotional prospects.

The government's intelligence architecture is not fit for purpose to address the modern threats confronting this State. These include trans-national terrorism, cyber defence and counter-espionage. The intelligence architecture requires a major overhaul including the establishment of a civilian intelligence agency. When a business or state reacts in a crisis its decision-making options are reduced, the solution is usually more expensive, and rarely does it provide the options to consider second or third-order consequences.

Putting the right structures in place takes some time. Following an attack is too late, because the terrorists will have the upper hand and the state will be playing catch-up on them.

Michael C Murphy is a former senior military intelligence officer

Irish Independent

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