When many people talk about the private security sector I think they still have two overriding perceptions: that these companies are involved to a large extent in combat activities abroad, and that many of these companies are mercenary or that, even if under government contract, their activities are verging on mercenary.
The work of Sandline and Executive Outcomes was partly responsible for these perceptions, but the scandal surrounding Blackwater's operations in Iraq reinforced the point.
You will note from this that there is also an overriding assumption that private security companies operate mostly abroad. But I would say, particularly when looking at how to integrate these companies into the Government's counter terrorism response, that looking at their role mostly from the perspective of what they do or can do abroad is limited - albeit important - because all four strands of the Government's counter terrorism strategy need to operate at home and abroad.
What I want to do tonight is look at how the 4 Ps operate both at home and abroad, and where private security companies might contribute. A part of that, of course, is how and to what extent the activities of private security companies should be regulated? The debate about regulation has been around for quite some time. The Government first published a Green Paper on this particular issue in 2002. It has now launched a consultation on this issue, but how do its proposals match up to their future market and potential new roles both at home and abroad?
Secondly there is the question of how PSCs should be integrated into government activity and thinking and how far.
Let me look at the 'Pursue' strand of CONTEST first.
The most obvious example, especially when it comes to private security companies, is where they fit into expeditionary operations; I do not see them becoming involved in the active disruption or pursuit of individuals abroad.
The question that currently plagues many is: what happens after the so-called Iraq 'bubble'? Once coalition forces complete their withdrawal from Iraq much work will still need to be done to build the capacity of the Iraqi Government and its security forces. It is an open question whether the Iraqi Government will decide to make use of foreign private security companies, which do usually bring a wealth of experience given the service backgrounds of many of their personnel, or whether an Iraqi private security sector will develop to which they turn.
HMG will of course continue to maintain a close interest in the capacity of the Iraqi Government and its security forces after its forces - including training and advisory forces - have been scaled down and withdrawn, and it will be interesting to see how, given their limited capacity and overstretch, how they approach this issue with the Iraqi Government. The point is that there will be follow-up work in Iraq even if the market will be more difficult to tap.
Operations in Afghanistan and along the border with Pakistan will, of course, continue for a very long time - some have suggested up to 30 years. So demand for operational protective security functions from both Government and private investors operating in country will continue to exist. Private investors will also continue to use PSCs for strategic risk management - things like risk analysis, crisis management, security reviews and so on.
Can we go beyond this? Already there is a significant degree of overstretch in each of our services; if we continue to transform our armed forces in technological terms, towards high-tech hardware, does that imply a reduction in the overall number of personnel in our services? What then of the need for boots on the ground in stabilisation and counter insurgency operations? I remember years ago, when I was involved in the defence industry, arguments about the future of defence procurement and contracting for capability: will we move down a similar road, to having members of PSCs designated as 'sponsored reserves' and operating alongside our servicemen and women in conflict zones to help overcome overstretch or to meet the lack of an expeditionary civilian capacity from departments like DFID?
In any event, what is clear that a lot of work still needs to be done on the operational and tactical level relationships between PSCs on the one hand and armed forces and other government departments in conflict zones on the other. How should this relationship be formalised - it does need to be - and should there be a legal basis for it?
But what of the future of 'Pursue' activities abroad? I have concentrated so far on ongoing expeditionary operations but one question that all planners in Government should be grappling with is - what form should expeditionary operations take in the future? This is related to a second question: will public opinion accept further expeditionary operations on the scale of Iraq and Afghanistan in the future?
We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where a failing or failed state, like Afghanistan in 2001 and before, becomes a state haven for terrorists - an area where terrorists can acquire strategic reach and plan and implement attacks. Equally, looking at the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan, when I chaired the Security Policy Group for the Conservative Party in 2006 and 2007 we concluded that the use of armed force was of limited utility in bringing about fundamental societal transformation; that is, state building. So the conclusion you reach is that it is far better to focus on other tools, maintaining an armed capability for intervention when needed, that stop a state reaching this stage in the first place. I will look at that more when I come to talk about the 'Prevent' strand shortly.
On both the domestic and international side of 'Pursue', though I do not think PSCs will become involved in the active gathering of intelligence, I wonder if we might see a shift towards PSCs providing intelligence analysis and assessment services or products? Is this a large growth area? It certainly seems one in which PSCs could potentially contribute, particularly when it comes to Open Source Intelligence which still needs to receive greater prominence within government. PSCs would however need to improve their analytical capability, which is weak at present, but the information should be readily available to them - as a limited example, they could draw on their experience of operating with businesses in other countries.
The final area, which I think would fall under 'Pursue', is vetting. Many PSCs provide business intelligence and investigation services such as due diligence, pre-employment screening and so on. I wonder there should be a way to link these checks to the Government's own vetting system?
Let me turn now to look at the 'Prevent' strand of CONTEST.
Abroad, I mentioned that we do not want to find ourselves in a situation where a failing or failed state, like Afghanistan in 2001 and before, becomes a state haven for terrorists from which they can have strategic effect. I also mentioned that armed force was of limited utility in bringing about fundamental societal transformation; that is, state building.
I think we can all agree that it is far better to place emphasis on the preventative role played by the sustained use of adequately funded diplomatic and civilian policies and instruments aimed at long-term reform.
Here we would necessarily draw on the advice of the military, including defence diplomacy and security sector reform work. Do the armed forces have the capacity for this? At the moment they receive a greater number of requests for training, advice and assistance than they can meet. But should the Government enter into partnerships with PSCs to provide this service, drawing on the expertise of their employees as former military personnel et cetera? But I would say the growth area for these companies is likely to be security sector reform and capacity building.
At home, I think the role for private security companies in 'Prevent' is much more limited. But if they were charitable they might use the experience of their employees to set up or sponsor youth engagement programmes?
Let me turn to the 'Protect' strand.
It is no exaggeration to say that, here in the UK, there are some very big gaps in the security of critical national infrastructure sites which cannot be provided for adequately by current policing structures or forces. The Conservative Party is looking at options to address this, including a review and consolidation of specialist policing forces like the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the creation of a police command and related force for 'Protect'. Is this affordable? Already there are a number of private forces protecting things like ports - could this service be extended and at what cost to government and operators or consumers?
Private security companies certainly fulfil similar functions abroad. For example, they advise the oil industry on the protection of sites, people and goods and put together protective service packages. This is certainly important from the point of view of the UK's energy security. But are these services as effective as they could be, and would they be effective at domestic CNI sites? Key to this must be intelligence information and assessment.
It seems to me that, where the UK's national interests are concerned in areas like energy security, if our security forces cannot provide adequate protection for sites and we are able, and go down the route of contracting out this function to private companies, that these companied then need to know the Government's threat and security assessments.
This would mean sharing assessed intelligence - another example of the need to shift from a situation of 'need to know' to 'need to share'. Government and these private companies would also need to work in partnership to determine standards for security of critical sites.
There are two further questions of interest if we look at this option: what should be the relationship between these private forces and the police and other emergency responders; and should they be armed and, if so, what should their standard operating procedures be and how will their use of firearms be monitored?
The final strand to look at is 'Prepare'. At home, if private security companies were to take on roles under 'Protect' as I have just discussed, they would need to be involved in the mechanisms that test and exercise the preparedness and response capabilities of our security forces to terrorism and other civil contingencies.
Abroad, utilising their previous experience and skills, they could text and exercise the preparedness and responses of security forces in countries where the terrorist threat is significant - another example of capacity building.
Let me end by looking at regulatory regime recently proposed by the Foreign Office, on which it is currently having a public consultation. I do not disagree with its premise that self-regulation must be complemented by an international regime and international standards, but I would make two related observations.
First, the focus of the proposed regulatory scheme is international. But, as I have outlined, there are many areas where private security companies might become involved in the future that are actually in the UK.
Secondly, if private security companies do become involved in activities in the UK or undertake more work on behalf of the Government, do we not also need a national regulatory regime?
The Government says in its consultation that it will monitor with the relevant trade association the implementation of an agreed code of conduct. But it is not clear what mechanism it will use to monitor compliance and how active or formal this monitoring will be. I know that the directors of the British Association of Private Security Companies have proposed the establishment of an independent ombudsman within a government department and this is something that seems well worth looking at.
<h2>Integration into Government thinking</h2>
From all this flows a key point: that Private Security Companies need to be integrated into Government thinking - conceptual thinking - from a very early stage. How to achieve this? There are parallels here with how government should engage with the defence industry, and with how industry should configure itself to allow government to engage them.
Government needs to engage in dialogue with these sectors on policy, threat priorities and strategy to allow them to invest their resources appropriately over the long term. These industries need to have the intellectual capacity to engage in this dialogue.
Similarly, they must arrange themselves to allow this engagement. The Security and Resilience Industries Suppliers Council - RISC - is an example of this on the homeland side of things but it did not go far enough. So I welcome that it is now merging with the Defence Manufacturers Association. Many defence technologies are fungible and I would argue that there is a case for having a single agency for defence and security procurement, thus more effectively pulling through into the security sector technologies and systems developed for defence.
Do PSCs have a similar body? Can the British Association of Private Security Companies, which at the moment focuses on regulation and standards, take on this task?
Let me conclude. I have looked at where and how private security companies might contribute to each strand of CONTEST both at home and abroad.
For HMG, I think a question that policy makers need to ask is: how can the Government utilise the work of private security companies to mutual benefit and best effect. There are two related issues here.
First, how does government ensure that the work of private security companies when not under government contract contributes and is complementary to overall policy objectives in tackling terrorism both at home and abroad?
Secondly, are there key gaps in the government's ability and capacity - whether in the armed forces, emergency responders, or intelligence analysis capability - to tackle terrorism at home and abroad? Do they result from a lack of numbers, resources of experience? Are these gaps likely to stay? Can the private sector help address them?
If we look at the potential development of the private security "market", as I have done in the context of the terrorist threat, clearly there is much more work to do on what the relationship between private security companies and government should look like and how it should operate in practice.