Back in August last year, we were puzzled by the National Risk Register, which supposedly reflects the Government's strategic planning underpinning our national security.
This National Risk Register seemed to magically reduce the risk of nuclear war to zero, and decided that the risk of pandemic flu was at least as likely as that of severe weather. It did not foresee the meltdown of the banking system on its risk "horizon".
Now, almost a year after he announced it, Gordon Brown has appointed a team of experts to his National Security Forum. We wondered at the time if this would follow the United States National Security Council of advisors to the President, which has been in operation since 1947, and which has a substantial staff and budget, and a roster of hundreds of experts.
National Security Forum
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): On 19 March 2008, I informed the House about the United Kingdom's first National Security Strategy. In that statement I announced my intention to form a National Security Forum. I can now inform the House about the Forum, its objectives and its membership.
The list below, does not include any experts on pandemic diseases e.g. avian flu, or biotechnology and genetic engineering, or financial markets, or cyber security.
There are world class British experts available, in all of these missing areas of expertise, which present a much greater threat to our national security than Islamic, or Irish terrorism etc.
The purpose of the Forum is to harness a wide range of expertise and experience from outside Government to provide independent advice on a wide variety of national security issues to the Government and the Committee on National Security, International Relations and Development (NSID). It will have an important role in contributing to the annual updates of the National Security Strategy, the first of which shall be published before the summer recess.
So that the Forum can begin work immediately, the Government are initially establishing an interim National Security Forum. This interim advisory body will have a life of no more than 24 months from its first meeting and will be supported by staff drawn from the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office. The permanent Forum will be recruited by open competition in 2010.
The first meeting of the Forum, to be held in Downing Street today, will be chaired by Lord West of Spithead. Serving alongside Lord West I have appointed as members of the Forum:
Professor Michael Clarke CBE
Director of the Royal United Services Institute RUSI think tank.
Ex Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke CBE
Formerly in charge of the Metropolitan Police Service's Counter-Terrorism Command
Sir Ronnie Flanagan GBE
Former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
Professor Julia King CBE
Hurrah ! An eminent Materials Scientist and Engineer.
Is she the token scientist or engineer, and token woman, on this Forum ?
Sir David Manning KCMG
A diplomatic eminence grise advising on Foreign Policy.
Sir David Pepper KCMG
Recently retired head of the Government Communications Headquarters GCHQ
Sir Michael Rake
Chairman of BT Group plc
9 Mar 2009 : Column 4WS
Professor Ziauddin Sardar
An Islamic scholar and futurist
Professor Amartya Sen
A Hindu scholar and Nobel Prize winner for Economics.
General Sir Rupert Smith KCB, DSO, OBE, QGM
Retired senior British Army general, with experience of UN and NATO peacekeeping operations in former Yugoslavia.
Dame Juliet Wheldon DCB, QC
Former Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Service
Another woman on the list, but 2 out of 12 is still very much an "old boys club".
This group of distinguished people is drawn from the fields of diplomacy, counter-terrorism, the police, the military, science, business, economics and law.
At today's meeting, the Forum will concentrate on two main issues: the national security implications of the economic downturn and the national security implications of competition for energy supply.
NSID--formed in 2007 and comprising heads of security services, the police, the armed forces and others, as well as the relevant Cabinet Ministers--considers and articulates national security priorities. NSID will commission advice from the National Security Forum when it meets. It is intended that the Forum will meet approximately six times a year.
Although the detailed work of the Forum will constitute advice to Ministers and as such will be confidential, the Government will report annually on its activity.
Giving notice that they will seek to apply the various Freedom of Information Act Exemptions
As well as informing National Security Strategy updates, it is likely that, in the future, the Forum may discuss other cross-cutting national security issues, including the UK's approach to cyber security. Cyber security interfaces with almost all of the challenges highlighted in the National Security Strategy, and as such is the focus of a current cross-Departmental project led by the Cabinet Office.
How exactly does the membership of this forum have sufficient expertise in this area ?
Sir David Pepper KCMG may have been head of GCHQ, but that does not make him an expert on "cyber security". Presumably he banged the drum about this when in charge of GCHQ and its Information Assurance arm the Communications Electronics Security Group - CESG, but pretty obviously the rest of Whitehall , including the Ministry of Defence, the Cabinet Office, HMRC etc. managed to ignore his agencies' "cyber security" advice, leading to the massive data and privacy scandals, revealed in the last year or so, and to the previous disasters and near misses, which have not been so widely publicised.
Similarly, Sir Michael Rake may be head of British Telecom plc., but his background is from accountants / management consultants KPMG, not in anything technical.
Like the Strategy itself, the National Security Forum is part of our unwavering commitment to the safety of all British people.
Where is the unwavering commitment to our Freedom and Liberty, which must not be sacrificed to a bureaucratic / political backside covering "safety first" jobsworth culture ?