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Friday 13 October 2006

Future national security arrangements

Annex E: Future national security arrangements in Northern Ireland: paper by the British Government

Building on the useful discussions that have already taken place with the parties on the issue, this paper outlines the arrangements that are being put in place for the handling of national security intelligence in Northern Ireland and the accountability measures that will be in place, once lead responsibility passes to the Security Service in late 2007.

The change will bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK, to provide a consistent and co-ordinated response to the threat from terrorism, including from international terrorist groups such as Al Quaeda.  It also, since national security is an excepted matter, prepares the way for devolution.

The British Government is confident the new arrangements will bring real benefits to both the Security Service and the PSNI .  A key driver behind the practical arrangements currently being devised and tested is the unique interfacein NI between national security and serious/organised crime. The new arrangements preserve and build upon the Patten reforms: that is a fundamental principle of these changes. 

New integrated working arrangements - the first such approach in the UK - will strengthen the PSNI’s criminal intelligence capability.   This is because PSNI officers will be co-located with Security Service personnel and will work in a variety of roles including as intelligence analysts/advisors and for the purpose of translating intelligence into executive action.   These arrangements are designed precisely for the purpose of ensuring that intelligence is shared and properly directed within the PSNI.  Integration of personnel in this way is an essential protection against concerns that some intelligence would not be visible to the PSNI. 

The Security Service has no executive policing responsibilities, even in countering threats to national security.   While the Security Service will provide the strategic direction, the PSNI’s contribution to countering terrorism will remain absolutely central.   In all circumstances, including where the interest is national security related it will be the role of the PSNI to mount executive policing operations, make arrests and take forward prosecutions under the direction of the Public Prosecution Service.

There will be no diminution in police accountability.  The role and responsibilities of the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman vis a vis the Police will not change.  Police officers working with the Security Service in whatever capacity will remain accountable to the Chief Constable and under the oversight of the Police Ombudsman.  The Security Service and the Ombudsman’s office have been working together to agree arrangements for the Ombudsman’s access to sensitive information held by the Service, where this becomes necessary for the discharge of the Ombudsman’s statutory duties.  The Service has already disclosed sensitive information to the Ombudsman’s office in a number of cases.  It is important to ensure that comprehensive accountability mechanisms are in place for all aspects of policing in Northern Ireland, and we will continue to discuss these matters with the parties.

The Government will publish in due course high level versions of the MoUs currently being developed between the Security Service and the PSNI and others, as appropriate

The great majority of national security agents will be run by the PSNI, under the strategic direction of the Service, mirroring the arrangements the Service has with the police in GB.  This makes sense in NI in particular because of the interface between serious crime and national security; the police also have the advantage of local knowledge.  The Security Service will continue to run directly a small number of agents who are authorised to obtain information in the interests of national security as distinct from countering criminality, where the circumstances make that appropriate.  The principles observed by the PSNI and the Security Service in running agents are the same, and are enshrined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

The Policing Board will, as now, have the power to require the Chief Constable to report on any issue pertaining to his functions or those of the police service.  All aspects of policing will continue to be subject to the same scrutiny as now.  To ensure the Chief Constable can be fully accountable for the PSNI’s policing operations, the Security Service will participate in briefings to closed sessions of the Policing Board to provide appropriate intelligence background about national security related policing operations.

On policing that touches on national security the Chief Constable’s main accountability will be to the Secretary of State, as it is now.   The Security Service is fully accountable through existing statutory arrangements and the due processes of Parliament.   In addition, three separate Commissioners oversee different elements of covert work in NI: the Intelligence Services Commissioner; the Interception of Communications Commissioner; and the Surveillance Commissioner. Relevant complaints relating to the actions of the intelligence agencies are investigated by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a panel comprising senior members of the legal profession.  There is also the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee whose remit is to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the security and intelligence agencies and whose reports are placed before Parliament; the Government has already indicated that it is prepared to consider how the Northern Ireland focus of the Committee might be strengthened.

In summary, a whole range of safeguards will continue in place: the Policing Board’s continuing role in ensuring efficient policing; the safeguards embodied in RIPA; the Ombudsman’s role in investigating complaints against police officers; Parliament’s scrutiny of intelligence matters through the Intelligence and Security Committee; the various Commissioners’ oversight of particular types of covert operations; and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s remit to deal with complaints.   Not only are these arrangements comprehensive, they are as transparent as the sensitivity of the issues allows.

Further to reinforce this comprehensive set of safeguards, the Government confirms that it accepts and will ensure that effect is given to the five key principles which the Chief Constable has identified as crucial to the effective operation of the new arrangements, viz:

a.                  All Security Service intelligence relating to terrorism in Northern Ireland will be visible to the PSNI.

b.                  PSNI will be informed of all Security Service counter terrorist investigations and operations relating to Northern Ireland.

c.                  Security Service intelligence will be disseminated within PSNI according to the current PSNI dissemination policy, and using police procedures.

d.                  The great majority of national security CHISs in Northern Ireland will continue to be run by PSNI officers under existing police handling protocols.

e.                  There will be no diminution of the PSNI’s ability to comply with the HRA or the Policing Board’s ability to monitor said compliance.

In that connection, the Government believes that the Policing Board’s Human Rights advisers should have a role in human rights proofing the relevant protocols that will underpin the Chief Constable’s five key principles, and also in confirming that satisfactory arrangements are in place to implement the principles. The detailed operation of this safeguard will require further consideration.

As far as the employment of former police officers by the Security Service under these new arrangements is concerned, there will be no bar on former officers serving in the new organisation, but for operational reasons there will be a need for such individuals to have working experience of the arrangements under which the PSNI currently operate.  The same rigorous vetting procedures will apply to them as they do to all new staff joining the service.

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