About Charlie Edwards

Charlie Edwards is Director of National Security and Resilience Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. Prior to RUSI he was a Research Leader at the RAND Corporation focusing on Defence and Security where he conducted research and analysis on a broad range of subject areas including: the evaluation and implementation of counter-violent extremism programmes in Europe and Africa, UK cyber strategy, European emergency management, and the role of the internet in the process of radicalisation. He has undertaken fieldwork in Iraq, Somalia, and the wider Horn of Africa region.

The case for (continuing) counter-narcotics work in Afghanistan

There’s a bit of a debate currently about whether the Coalition in Afghanistan should continue to invest in counter-narcotics work in the country. The problem – as articulated by people on the ground is that much of the work has failed. Opium production is up, American troops are no longer allowed to set foot in poppy fields let alone burn them and in a year’s time drugs won’t be high on the Afghan Government’s to do list – if it’s on it at all.  What we do next matters because it is liable to have an impact in the UK… below is a short piece I did for RUSI. Continue reading

#NSA: Issues for Congress 16th January 2001

From a Congressional Research Service Report for Congress published pre 9/11.

NSA: Issues for Congress: by Richard A. Best, Jr

On reaching that watershed moment:

The National Security Agency (NSA), one of the largest components of the U.S. Intelligence Community, has reached a major watershed in its history. Responsible for obtaining intelligence from international communications, NSA’s efforts are being challenged by the multiplicity of new types of communications links, by the widespread availability of low-cost encryption systems, and by changes in the international environment in which dangerous security threats can come from small, but well organized, terrorist groups as well as hostile nation states.

On the scale of the problem: finding a needle in a haystack:

These links are not necessarily easy targets given the great expansion in international telephone service that has grown by approximately 18% annually since 1992. Intelligence agencies are faced with profound “needle- in-a-haystack” challenges; it being estimated that in 1997 there were some 82 billion minutes of telephone service worldwide.

On new technologies:

Fiber optics can carry far more circuits with greater clarity and through longer distances and provides the greater bandwidth necessary for transmitting the enormous quantities of data commonplace in the Internet age. Inevitably, fiber optic transmission present major challenges to electronic surveillance efforts as their contents cannot be readily intercepted, at least without direct access to the cables themselves.

On having to use communications data because they can’t break codes:

In some cases, NSA must resort to analyses of traffic patterns–who is communicating with whom, when, and how often–to provide information that may not be obtainable through breaking of codes and reading of plaintext.

On oversight and accountability

NSA and counterpart agencies in a number of other countries, especially Great Britain, have come under much criticism in the European Parliament for allegedly monitoring private communications of non-U.S. businessmen in a coordinated electronic surveillance effort known as Echelon in order to support domestic corporations. Some critics go further and charge that NSA’s activities represent a constant threat to civil liberties of foreigners and U.S persons as well. Though NSA has reassured congressional oversight committees that the Agency complies strictly with U.S. law, these controversies will undoubtedly continue.

You don’t need Snowden when you have the CRS.

Introducing the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund

There’s some interesting stuff in the latest Spending Round, including the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund which looks rather interesting (not least because the numbers don’t seem to add up and I  have no idea where the other £217 million comes from). That said…

The Government will provide more than £1 billion in 2015-16 for a new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). This builds on the success of the Conflict Pool by bringing together existing UK capabilities and resources from across government (including conflict resources worth £683 million in 2014-15) and £100 million of new funding.

The CSSF will fund a broader range of activity to help prevent conflict that affects vulnerable people in the world’s poorest countries, and tackle threats to UK interests from instability overseas. This will include actions the UK delivers directly or through third parties and its contribution to multilateral interventions overseas to help prevent conflict and instability, and support post-conflict stabilisation.

These resources will be used more strategically to deliver better outcomes. Priorities for the Fund will be set by the Government’s National Security Council to ensure a strengthened cross-departmental approach that draws on the most effective combination of defence, diplomacy, development assistance, security and intelligence. This will include funding to ensure the UK can respond quickly to crises. It will also ensure longer term conflict prevention work to tackle the root causes of conflict abroad, such as providing military training and capacity building, human rights training, security and justice sector reform, and facilitating political reconciliation and peace processes.

Interesting because the NSC will now set priorties for the fund rather than the three departments did for the conflict pool (you can read their latest guidance here). Will the Home Office and Intelligence Agencies now have seats at the table – with the MoD, FCO and DFID. And what does this mean for DFID in particular? Other GD folk are much better informed on whats happening at 22 Whitehall but I can’t help feeling that DFID is increasingly part of the national security debate – even if some insiders would rather remain at arms length. This can only be a good thing. There are clear benefits to both the UK and priority countries to have access to DFID’s skills, expertise, and presence in countering terrorism and violent extremism as well as tackling organised crime.  The security and development nexus has always been a sore point and the cause of plenty of arguments between sides – the European Commission, as I type,  is having similar issues – perhaps we have reached a moment when things will really change – for the better.

No hero

From today’s FT:

Having violated his secrecy contracts, Mr Snowden has broken serious laws and should face the music. What he disclosed to The Guardian and Washington Post highlights the breadth of the US National Security Agency’s eavesdropping operation. But he did not uncover any breach of US law. Nor do the contents of the leaks invalidate what the NSA is trying to do. There is much scope to tighten its accountability – not least by cutting down on the number of private contractors with access to highly classified information.

Comparisons to Daniel Ellsberg the celebrated leaker of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, are particularly inapt. Mr Ellsberg first approached elected senators in the hope they would publicise the papers to discredit US conduct in the Vietnam war. When that failed, he leaked to the media. Mr Snowden made no such attempt. More importantly, Mr Ellsberg willingly submitted to US authorities and courted prosecution so he could defend his civil disobedience on home soil. It was declared a mistrial and he went free. In contrast, Mr Snowden had fled to Hong Kong before his NSA leaks were published. Hong Kong happens to be a part of the sovereign territory of China, the world’s largest (and most cyber-active) autocracy. Mr Snowden’s current host is Russia. His next stop is likely to be Cuba.

Too much secrecy can lead to the leaking of information. As government secrecy has grown and has come to involve more people, the opportunities to leak from within expand; and with increased leaking, governments attempt to shore up secrecy. This is particularly important because as classifying secrets becomes more layered and complex, so the potential for leaks grows as well. Secrets become vulnerable to betrayal, which in turn promotes greater disrespect for the system itself. Ultimately leaking appears to reward those people whose motivations may be the most dubious – not those interested in a more sustained and consistent approach to promoting greater openness.

The Home Secretary’s foreign policy

Earlier this year the British Home Secretary made an unfamiliar journey to Afghanistan. Theresa May’s visit to Kabul focused on the future of terrorism and counter narcotics. A broad range of scenarios on the future of terrorism were presented and debated but the strategy for managing heroin, Afghanistan’s main export to the UK, was disarmingly ambiguous.

As the British begin to pack up in Afghanistan, some worry that the country will, once again, become a safe haven for international terrorists. Politicians have voiced their concerns about the international implications of a deteriorating security situation while officials wonder how Britain will be able to reduce the 20 tonnes or so of heroin imported annually to the UK.  The Home Secretary’s response to what she was told was brief but to the point: failing to prevent the crisis overseas has major implications for domestic policy.

It is easy to understand why. Globalisation has increasingly blurred the traditional boundaries of domestic and international policy. Take Syria – while the Foreign Secretary criss-crosses continents cajoling governments to take the necessary steps to help end the violence in the country – the Home Secretary faces the prospect of hundreds of Britons who are fighting in Syria returning home battle-hardened. This is a conflict with a potentially nasty sting in its tail for the UK – whether we do something or not.

Successive British Governments have responded to the blurring of domestic and international boundaries by ensuring departments and agencies work closely together at home and abroad. Diplomats in British Embassies have been joined by their colleagues from across Government including the Home Office, Border Agency, Security Service and Serious and Organised Crime Agency. Civil servants who thought they would spend their working lives in Croydon now find themselves operating in Dubai as key players in British diplomacy overseas. There are three reasons for why this trend is set to continue.

The first reason is that tackling threats upstream makes sense. The British Government has pledged to invest in people and resources to enable it to do more overseas. Often this means pursuing terrorists and organised crime groups in ungoverned spaces, where the remit of the host government does not extend outside of the capital city. In order to tackle organised crime in Latin America and West Africa (the latter an increasingly important hub for cocaine and heroin trafficking to Europe) teams must be deployed from land and sea to seize illicit material and arrest criminals – the frontline changes daily and requires a flexible response.

Some of the most complex cyber crime cases involve British police officers operating overseas in cooperation with law enforcement organisations against highly skilled and professional criminals in Russia. Sending more civil servants, intelligence officials and police officers overseas to target individuals may seem an expensive effort but when the internet, for example, is worth £100bn to the British economy, targeting criminals abroad becomes central to ensuring the British public are confident when conducting business online.

Intervention is only part of the answer. The second reason for why the Home Office is looking overseas is to play a supporting role in tackling the drivers of conflict –such as widespread corruption – which is critical to the stability of developing countries. Last month, for example, the Head of Security at Ghana’s international airport was charged in the United States with conspiring to smuggle Afghan heroin to New York. And this is not the first time that a high-profile Ghanaian has been arrested on drug-trafficking charges. A member of the Ghanaian parliament is also serving a jail sentence in for drug trafficking. Such widespread corruption has led to UKAid to fund the British police and SOCA to stop foreign or UK criminals from benefitting from corrupt practices in developing countries. A new taskforce of UK legal and investigative experts is also being developed to help recover stolen assets across the Middle East.

A third reason is arguably the most important. Pursuing individuals overseas, seizing illicit material, and providing resources to combat the drivers of conflict produce short term victories but rarely lead to strategic success. The final piece of our efforts overseas is to ensure governments have the capacity to carry out such tasks for themselves. Building strong, legitimate institutions capable of responding to the myriad of threats and challenges requires a range of skills and expertise and the UK is rightly recognised as a leader in this field. There is logic in using UK police officers, for example, rather than the military to help build a robust, democratic police service in countries like Kosovo. Knowing what governance structures and processes to put in place and sustain them is crucial if such governments are transparent and accountable to the people they serve.

Globalisation has expanded our interests overseas. It has created new opportunities and dangers. In protecting the country from terrorists, organised criminals and illegal immigrants the Home Office now finds itself operating in unfamiliar territories. In an age where borders and boundaries no longer exist and are meaningless to those who wish to harm us, the Home Secretary’s foreign policy priorities matter more than ever.

Monday’s* Map: A String of Chinese Pearls


From The Economist:

“China’s port strategy is mainly motivated by commercial impulses. It is natural that a country of its clout has a global shipping and ports industry. But it could become a flashpoint for diplomatic tensions. That is the pessimistic view. The optimistic one is that the more it invests, the more incentive China has to rub along better with its trading partners.”

*I am a day late…

Is Britain the organised crime capital of Europe?

Last summer Philip Stephens, the FT’s chief political commentator,  wrote the following

The High Court is witnessing an expensive legal battle between Oleg Deripaska and Michael Cherney. The two made fortunes in the wild west privatisation scramble after the fall of the Soviet Union. We have heard lurid tales of organised crime and extortion. Mr Cherney says Mr Deripaska owes him hundreds of millions of dollars. An estimated 60 per cent-plus of the case load of the High Court’s commercial division now comes from Russia and eastern Europe.

His point, and one made by many others in Westminster and Whitehall, is that ‘the capital is a constant reminder of how unequally the bounty of globalisation has been shared’. As London became the financial hub of the world so too did the city attract those from the shadows of globalisation. And boy, did they come… by the Home Office’s reckoning there are 38,000 individuals (across 6,000 groups) involved in organised crime that impacts on the UK.

With that in mind 2013 is the year the Government must act. The Home Secretary gets this. Home Officials talk about a new found determination to tackle organised crime. There are plenty of reasons why. Following the sucess of the Olympics, there is a quiet confidence among officials that while terroism remains a real and present  danger, assurance levels have never been higher. It means the Home Office can address a portfolio of risks – rather than focus solely on a single threat to the UK.

The following is from a piece I wrote for the RUSI website:

EUROPOL, a European Union Agency run by a Briton and heavily reliant on British intelligence, has published its annual Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA). The assessment highlights the scale of the threat from organised crime to individuals, communities and businesses across Europe. Of particular concern to EUROPOL are ‘facilitated illegal immigration, trafficking in human beings, synthetic drugs and poly-drug trafficking, Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud, the production and distribution of counterfeited goods, cybercrime and money laundering.’ These crimes, in EUROPOL’s view, require concerted action by EU member states – not least by the British Government.

You can read the rest of the article here