Sunday, November 11, 2007

Stockwell Report: A Response

The IPCC report is, first of all, a cracking job of work, despite that the Met did its level best to dodge the investigators. They have established a lot of facts, and carried out a mass of interviews, and come up with sensible conclusions; I'd like to recommend again that you read it, as it is likely to be the Rosetta stone of the anti-terrorism state in the late Blair period.

For example, we learn the details of Operation KRATOS and its twin, Operation C. KRATOS and C were plans drawn up to deal with the possibility of a suicide bomber being spotted in London, and that it might be necessary to shoot them. C, hitherto unknown to the public at large, was intended to deal with a bomber spotted at a major public event, when the police response would be largely pre-planned and under central command and control. C foresaw that if some conditions were fulfilled, a designated senior officer (DSO) at Scotland Yard would be able to order a sniper to shoot them.

KRATOS, meanwhile, was intended to deal with the (much more likely) situation in which the suspect was at large in the streets, and therefore that no prior planning would be possible. Quite wisely, the KRATOS procedures put a much greater emphasis on local control. The role of the DSO still existed, as did a set of rules demanding that all intelligence sources must be reviewed, that the police should try to confront the suspect in the open, or at a moment that would keep them away from the public, so that negotiation or a nonlethal weapon could be tried. But the silver commander, the field commander, rather than Scotland Yard was in charge.

Operation THESEUS 2, the operation launched after the discovery of Hussain Osman's gym card, didn't fit either of these very well. The plan Thomas MacDowell prepared fit them even less - it foresaw that the occupants of the flats would be allowed to leave, watched, and approached by police out of sight from the building, which meant it was neither a set piece nor a mobile operation. It was also half a surveillance operation and half an arrest. Cressida Dick, who was bugled out of bed to run a possible KRATOS operation at 0100 that morning, designed a command structure that was half KRATOS, half C.

Had it been a KRATOS, there would have been an operations room at Scotland Yard monitoring the whole operation, with a gold commander in overall charge and a DSO who would be responsible for the decision to authorise lethal force or not, and a firearms specialist as tactical adviser to these. There would have been a silver commander in command on the scene, with his or her own tactical adviser, with direct communications to all the teams involved in the operation and to Scotland Yard, which would also be receiving information from the surveillance team and the arrest team. The silver commander would have been in full charge, with the exception that the DSO only could authorise the use of a gun outside direct self defence.

Had it been a C, the key command would have been at Scotland Yard or perhaps at a forward command post, and the DSO would have been in direct control of the possible shooter. One roughly matches the army's idea of Mission Command - Auftragstaktik for Germans, who invented it - and the other Befehlstaktik, "orders tactics". Mission command implies that orders to subordinate units specify objectives, and that their commanders are given total discretion to achieve them, excepting only any restrictions specified with their objectives. The German army traditionally thought it was appropriate for offensive operations or other manoeuvres when it would be important to be able to respond to opportunities quickly. Befehlstaktik was the opposite - everyone does precisely what they are told and nothing else. This was traditionally thought appropriate for defence up to the moment when a counterattack was launched.

So what did Dick and MacDowell come up with? A weird hybrid of the two. Dick took over as gold commander, but McDowell remained so in form throughout; why? Similarly, the silver commander, DCI "C" and his tactical adviser, TROJAN 80, were co-located with the firearms squad and were in command on the scene; that's what a silver commander means. But the surveillance squad were under the direct control of Scotland Yard, and "C" was never with them. The practical implementation of this was no better - there was direct radio communication from Dick to "C" and from TROJAN 84 in Scotland Yard to TROJAN 80 in "C"'s car, and from "C" to the CO19 men. There was direct radio communication from the surveillance group to Scotland Yard, but not to Cressida Dick, who was meant to be in direct command of them; she got reports from DCI Jon Boutcher, monitoring the radios. "C" was sometimes able to hear the crosstalk on the surveillance group's radio network, but not always, and he had no command authority over them. The Met's planning meant that neither the commander at headquarters, nor the commander in the field, would have full information. Nobody would.

Neither was the commander on the scene ever on the scene; his command element was with the famously late firearms squad, and then behind them. He was reliant on what was heard over the surveillance net, and what came down from headquarters, much of which was information from the surveillance team that had come via the surveillance team leader, Boucher, and Dick. And he had been told to "trust the intelligence"; which he also told the CO19 men. One of the reasons for the choice of the operations room at Scotland Yard was the presence of "other agencies" - that is, the secret services.

Here we hit the damning detail; nobody ever identified Jean Charles de Menezes as the bomber, but this information never reached anyone in a position to act on it. Yes, several of the surveillance officers were at different times of the opinion that he might perhaps be; but no-one who thought so had seen his face. The only member of the surveillance team who did thought he wasn't.

But as the information went up the creaky structure, uncertainty mutated into certainty. Boucher never seems to have told Dick that nobody had identified de Menezes; Dick asked for a judgment in terms of a percentage from the surveillance team, but they thought such a judgment would be meaningless. Even that appears to have been taken as evidence that he might be the man. Let us remember that the surveillance team was meant to watch everyone leaving the block so further cops could stop them all and ask questions; it was because he left the building and the surveillance team didn't identify him as a suspect that he was shot.

The command structure appears to have become a machine generating confirmation bias. Imagine the position in the police car barging towards Stockwell that morning with "C", the CO19 leader and TROJAN 80; as the car lunges over the traffic islands, occasional voices on the surveillance radio are saying "No; I didn't see him..yes, he looks quite like him", and a clear strong voice on the main set is saying "Suspect is getting off a bus; he must not get on the tube". The second voice is the chief commander, and is a sight more certain (she isn't fully informed) and clearer (she has the better bandwidth), and anyway she isn't driving over dogs in south London and therefore sounds a sight calmer and hence more authoritative. TROJAN 80 is talking to TROJAN 84 on his mobile phone and is probably getting the paranoia in the rest of the ops room direct. The Commander is not only senior-ranking, but is also meant to be clued in on all kinds of other secret spook stuff. And you can't ask the surveillance group yourself, or actually see what is going on.

This is what is known as the cross-cockpit gradient; it's not healthy to depend on information that comes from someone who is too authoritative to question, and the same thing applies to information that comes from sources too secret to question. In the end, several of the CO19 men seem to have believed that the KRATOS codeword had been given; they differed on whether it came from "C" or from the DSO and relayed by "C". "C", it turns out, was the mystery "senior colleague", which is interesting because he was a junior colleague.

Sir Ian Blair must go.

Update: Interesting read here.


Simon Fawthrop said...

Thanks for the synopsis, it saves me flogging through it. I surmised some time ago that it would be 3C problem and what you write clearly shows it was. As I have said before, Blair must go because he, ultmately, had to make sure his force was prepared for these scenarios.

Antiquated Tory said...

But magically, it seems not only was it not Sir Ian's fault, it was nobody's fault. It was just one of those things; after all, who could expect procedures to be followed? And there are plenty more foreign handymen to replace de Menzies, whereas how on Earth would the government find another gem like Sir Ian Blair?

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