Terror Threats (693_15)

Request

Could you please provide me with details of any terror threats received by the force against its staff and/or police property/properties in 2014 (calendar year)?

Please include the date, a description of the threat, what happened and, where possible, the outcome in terms of arrests etc.

(My colleague Tom Richardson submitted a similar request to this before Christmas but it was deemed too expensive to retrieve the data. Hopefully this simpler request is within the limits of the act. If it isn’t, can you let me know at the earliest possible opportunity so we can discuss how to adapt it suitably?)

Response

We can confirm that some relevant information is held by West Midlands Police. However, we are withholding that information since we consider that the exemptions outlined below apply to it.

REASONS FOR DECISION

The Freedom of Information Act places two responsibilities on public authorities, the first of which is to confirm what information it holds and secondly to then disclose that information, unless exemptions apply.

In this case the information is exempt by virtue of the following exemptions

Section 23 (5) Information supplied by, or concerning, certain security bodies

Section 24 (2) National security

Section 30 (3) Investigations and proceedings conducted by Public Authorities

Section 31 (3) Law Enforcement

Section 40 (5) Personal Information

These exemptions and explanatory notes are shown here:

http://www.west-midlands.police.uk/docs/advice-centre/foi/exemptions.pdf

In line with the above, I am required to complete a Prejudice Test/Public Interest Test (PIT) on disclosure.

Overall Harm for Section 24 and Section 31

The threat of terrorism cannot be ignored.  It should be recognised that the international security landscape is increasingly complex and unpredictable.  The UK faces a sustained threat from violent terrorists and extremists.  Since 2006 the UK Government have published the threat level based upon current intelligence and that threat level has remained at the second highest level ‘severe’, except for two short periods during August 2006 and June and July 2007, when it was raised to the highest threat ‘critical’ and July 2009, when it was reduced to ‘substantial’. The current threat level to the UK is ‘severe’.

To confirm or deny that any of the requested information is held would undermine individual forces policing capabilities which consequently would be detrimental to their ability to deal with the on-going terrorist threat we face. By disclosing the number of terror threats received by a force, the nature of those threats and whether any arrests were made, would allow for a comparison between forces across the country and enable terrorists to build a picture of what resources are in place and where they are deployed. In addition the disclosure of the information, could suggest the level of resourcing a force has, as it may be deduced that a high number of attacks/threats equals a high level of resources. It is felt that the disclosure of this information would prejudice the effectiveness of the national counter terrorism effort and would allow inferences to be drawn about force level counter-terrorism activity and identify vulnerability around the country.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S24

The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent and by disclosing this information the public would be able to see where money is being spent and know that forces are doing as much as they can to combat terrorism.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S24

By conforming or denying that terrorist threats are known about or are under investigation would render security measures less effective which would compromise ongoing or future operations to protect the security and infrastructure of the UK.  The risk of harm to the public would be elevated if areas of the UK which appear vulnerable were identified which would also provide the opportunity for terrorist planning.  Ongoing or future operations to protect the security and infrastructure of the UK would be compromised as terrorists could map the level of counter-terrorist activity across the country, providing them with the knowledge of individual force capability.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S30

Ongoing investigations would be high-profile or national and the public are entitled to know how public funds are spent. By confirming or denying that terrorists are being monitored or terrorist threats are being investigated, would force closure and proceedings to be completed.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S30

By confirming or denying that terrorists are under investigation, the force’s future investigative capabilities would be affected which would hinder the prevention or detection of crime. This would impact on police resources and more crime would be committed, placing individuals at risk.

Factors favouring confirmation or denial for S31

By confirming or denying whether any information is held regarding threats made to the police organisation its staff and/ or property would allow the public to gain a greater understanding of where public funds are being spent. The confirmation or denial that any information is held would also increase the public’s knowledge on the level of threat posed to the Police service, if any at all. Better public awareness may lead to more information from the public as they would be more observant in reporting suspicious activity.

Factors against confirmation or denial for S31

By confirming or denying whether any information is held in respect to threats made to the police organisation and its staff and/ or property law enforcement tactics would be compromised which would hinder the prevention and detection of crime. More crime would be committed and individuals would be placed at risk, which would impact on police resources.

Balance Test

The security of the country is of paramount importance. The police will not divulge any information that would place the safety of an individual at risk or undermine national security. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing, and in this case providing assurance that the police service is appropriately and effectively engaging with the threat posed by terrorist activity, there is a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations and operations in the highly sensitive subject of terrorism.

As much as there is a public interest in knowing that policing activity is appropriate and balanced, in matters of national security, this will be overridden in exceptional circumstances.  Police force’s capabilities of combating terrorism are sensitive issues of intelligence value to the terrorist and therefore it is our opinion that for these issues the balancing test for disclosing the requested information is not made out.

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