Project Griffin training at Wood Street Police Station, 6 October 2011.
Project Griffin was formed in 2004 with constituents from the London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service, City of London Police, Coorporation of London and private security firms deployed in the City. Originally conceived by the City of London Police, it is now a national partnership and has been successfully exported to other countries.
Like many partnerships, it requires one party to be the leading initiator in the process, and in this case it is the City of London Police. Training days are held monthly at Wood Street Police Station. I attended as an observer, on behalf of the NUJ, and as a possible contributor to the training process.
The day began with an introduction to Project Griffin, and it wasn’t long before photography was mentioned, about 15 minutes into the session, and that came with the expression ‘Hostile Reconnaissance or innocent tourism?’ A Special Branch officer gave an overview of the terrorist threat, from both domestic and international organizations as well individuals acting alone. The classification and assessment of the threat levels and the current threat level was addressed. The use of hostile reconnaissance as an important part of planning in a terrorist action was discussed.
In the event of an incident, the role of the security forces as support for the police was raised. This included deployment of security personnel to staff secondary cordons around an incident site, as directed by a police officer. The emphasis was on close working and cooperation with the police at all times. An officer from the Bomb Squad revealed the different types of explosives, their constituent parts, how they may be detonated and the resultant damage. A firearms and weapons officer revealed tactics on how to avoid and minimize injury in a weapons attack.
The last briefing was from an officer from Operation Fairway, an intelligence gathering operation co-ordinated by detectives based within the Counter Terrorism Command unit at New Scotland Yard. The operation’s remit is to detect, deter or disrupt terrorist activity. This involves enlisting additional ‘eyes and ears’ in support of the central government’s attempts to counter the threat, and Project Griffin dovetails neatly with this operation.
Hostile reconnaissance was covered in depth by Operation Fairway, and various types of reconnaissance were revealed. Despite the fact that the officer re-iterated that not all photography is hostile reconnaissance, it is one of the most manifest examples. It is hard not to think that guards leaving the training day will view photographers as potentially more suspicious than any other activity. However if the photographer is paying particular attention to control and security systems, ingress and egress routes, then it is said that a security guard ought to be suspicious, (unless the photographer has been commissioned by a company that supplies security systems).
Other possible indicators of hostile reconnaissance are said to include:
- Making notes (something which photographers may do to record the position of the sun at a particular time of day),
- Observation of security processes, entry points, perimeter barriers and reaction drills (though a photographer may be observing when a building is at its busiest to capture the buzz around the building)
- Repeated walk-bys (again a possible research method used by a photographer to assess how the light falls most favourably on the structure)
The typical response from many photographers when challenged taking photographs is to mention Google Earth and the visual information in that data bank. It was also acknowledged that photography is not the only tactic used in hostile reconnaissance. Furthermore, someone taking photographs is not necessarily to be viewed as suspicious.
It is in this area that leads to some serious misunderstandings between photographers and security guards. It was emphasized that someone who is taking photographs is generally not suspicious, and certainly someone who is co-operative should not be considered as such. Guards were reminded that they had no power to demand deletion of images (if evidence of hostile reconnaissance is required, then this evidence would be vital), nor do they have the power to seize equipment.
Though there is no law preventing photography, once a photographer questions the guards’ insistence that ‘photography is not permitted’, the suspicion of the guard is alerted. Common sense and discretion become rare, and very soon, terrorism and ‘the current climate’ is mentioned as the reason why photography is prohibited. The prohibition on photography becomes more confused and muddled, as happened in Braehead shopping mall last month.
It would also be useful to convince security personnel to treat photographers less suspiciously and with more civility. There is good reason for photographers to do the same.
It seems that nowhere within the training currently are security guards told to stop or report all photography, and yet this continues to happen regularly, perhaps fueled in part by advertising like this?
The recent ‘Stand you Ground’ film highlights the problems photographers often face from security guards.
Note: The BISA (British Security Industry Association) have recently released new guidance in conjunction with the home office on photography & hostile reconnaissance, it can be downloaded here.