Photography?s role in ?hostile reconnaissance? is highlighted in anti-terror training sessions which are set to be extended to police forces nationwide. Chris Cheesman reports from Gatwick Airport…
?Anyone can be a terrorist? forget the image you may have,? declared Detective Sergeant Nev Hay, a specialist firearms officer at the Counter Terrorism Intelligence Unit (CTIU).
Hay was welcoming around 35 people to a Project Griffin Awareness Day, a police-led initiative that calls on security guards and others to report people behaving suspiciously, to help fight terrorism and crime.
The Special Branch officer?s words would later take on an air of tragic poignancy, coming just hours before a terrorist slaughtered scores of people in Norway, the story dominating the world?s news on the evening of 22 July 2011.
When first introduced by City of London Police seven years ago Project Griffin?s remit was ?to advise and familiarise managers, security officers and employees of large public and private sector organisations? on security, counter-terrorism and crime prevention issues?.
In short, it aims to gather and share intelligence and information and provide police with ?more eyes and ears on the ground?, explained Hay.
The courses are police funded and attendance is voluntary. Gatwick Airport adopted the scheme in 2008 and runs an awareness day every other month.
The audience at this particular session – hosted by Sussex Police – primarily comprised airport employees, such as immigration staff and shop workers.
The rest were Gatwick-based private security guards, seated – school classroom-like – in a featureless conference room on the ground floor of a hotel close to the airport.
Joining them as a ?guest? was Amateur Photographer (AP)?s news editor Chris Cheesman, there on the exclusive invitation of Superintendent Brian Bracher, Gatwick Airport Operations commander, a keen photographer and reader of the magazine.
Why it matters to photographers
As it turned out, AP?s attendance was a timely one. Though Project Griffin has already been adopted by more than 20 UK police forces, that figure may soon double as the scheme is extended to all forces.
Here?s why Project Griffin ? and projects like it ? matter to photographers.
A key plank of the UK?s national counter-terrorism strategy is the reporting of ‘hostile reconnaissance’.
Crucially, as far as amateur and professional photographers are concerned, this is based on the rationale that terrorists can use photography when planning an attack.
Innocent photographers have been caught in the front line of anti-terror policy for years.
Despite years of campaigning, photographers continue to clash with security personel, in publicly accessible areas such as shopping centres.
Campaigners – including Amateur Photographer – recently brought the issue to Westminster, in talks with counter-terrorism officials following the Government?s recent counter-terrorism policy overhaul.
Among the Project Griffin players is DC Ben Sendall, an intelligence officer at CTIU, who presents a slide showing the group how a mobile phone can be used to photograph a building.
?All terrorist attacks will be preceded by a period of hostile reconnaissance? We need to deal with terrorists at the planning stage,? he said, explaining that the UK?s ?iconic targets? and infrastructure are at the forefront of a terrorist?s thinking.
He drew on the example of a man he said was suspected of conducting a recce in shopping areas around Bristol and Bath. ?It?s not about being a card-carrying member of al-Qaeda,? he explained.
‘Engage in conversation’
Hostile reconnaissance forms part of Operation Lightning which is, in turn, part of Operation Fairway – an umbrella name for the UK?s anti-terror operations.
?Any time that a police officer deals with hostile reconnaissance, this gets fed into the Operation Fairway office at New Scotland Yard,? said DC John ?Fish? Eley, another Project Griffin trainer.
The police database records ?suspicious sightings? at ?crowded or vulnerable? places around the UK.
Eley talks the audience through an al-Qaeda training video that shows how filming was used to record ?traffic flow? before an attack on two hotels in Baghdad in 2005.
In another example, he said filming was used in a plot to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, Australia in 2000.
?The more intelligence they can gather the more chance [there is] of an attack being a success,? said Eley, who told the group they should observe and question suspicious behaviour. ?Engage the individual in conversation ? assess their response.?
Evidence of potential hostile reconnaissance, he said, can include [still] cameras, video cameras, plans, sketches and maps, the possession of which should be assessed in the context of any suspect behaviour already noted.
?If you are not happy we [the police] must be informed.?
Eley told the audience they should ?be courteous? when approaching someone, before assessing suspicious signs such as a rehearsed response to questioning, sweating, or pauses in the person?s answers.
‘Remain alert, not alarmed’
Project Griffin?s trainers – who work with the MI5 and MI6 Security Services ? say they want to drive home the message that ?if you feel something is wrong, you are normally right?.
Hay recounted the experience of a previous attendee who asked whether he should have reported a person he saw ?filming? inside Bluewater shopping centre in Kent. ?You need to report this,? the Gatwick group was told.
The message is loud and clear: ?Remain alert, not alarmed. Never be complacent.?
The Gatwick group was given a detailed history of terrorism tactics before they were subjected to a series of graphic videos, depicting actual terrorist atrocities.
And, if the audience were not already jumpy, they may have had plenty of reason to be when Sergeant Tony Hendon calmly unwrapped a surface-to-air missile from its protective bag.
Hendon showed how it could be launched from a man?s shoulder, before treating the group to a history of such projectiles – confusingly dubbed MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defence Systems).
Participants were assured that the risk of one of these being launched at a plane is ?low?, but the group was advised to report any suspicious activity around the airport as it could signal hostile reconnaissance.
Further reassurance was delivered when Hendon explained that Gatwick?s resident band of plane spotters are the airport?s ?greatest assets?.
He said these enthusiasts have the potential to provide security officials with details of any strangers seen wandering around the airport?s perimeter. ?They know who the real spotters are and who aren?t?.
In a video summarising the day, photography?s apparent role in terrorism planning was further emphasised.
The short movie told the fictional tale of a terrorist ?scoping? a shopping centre, using an SLR to take pictures inside and outside the building.
A police officer is seen quizzing the man ? who claims he is a student taking pictures for a project ? before filing his report back at the station.
Later the officer tells a colleague: ?It was just a feeling, nothing concrete. Even if nothing comes of it, I know I have filed my report. I did my job.?
Later, it emerges that the man seen taking pictures played a key role in the planning of this made-up plot.
This final message was doubtlessly ringing in the ears of each attendee as they headed for the door at the end of their training day, as were DS Hay?s parting words: ?Your [Project Griffin] certificates and badges are outside… spread the word.?
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