Project Griffin Training Day October 2011
Project Griffin was formed in 2004 with constituents from the London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service, City of London Police, Corporation 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 London Photographers Branch 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 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 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 may 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)
- use of multiple sets of clothing
- type of equipment being used (eg covert filming using small device such as mobile phone)
- reaction when questioned (though the guard’s initial approach will tend to inform and influence this reaction)
- what images they are taking (though how this can be determined without looking through the images on playback is uncertain. In my experience guards usually stand aggressively in front of the lens, attempting to restrict further photography). Perhaps it may be more useful if the guard stood behind the photographer to see his or her perspective.
- Are the images to be found elsewhere? (ie are they easily available on Google Earth)
Any reports of hostile reconnaissance are investigated by Special Branch.
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 acknowledged that activists will probably use Google Earth to gather relevant data, and this is often followed up by a visit to the location.
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 in October.
The City of London is considered a ‘target-rich environment’ for many reasons. Any attack would be a ‘headline –grabbing’ event. Over 300,000 commuters travel to the City each day and the City is the financial engine room of Europe. It is also a tourist rich destination, with a tangible history of some 2000 years and will attract tourists and commuters alike.
The session was informative, and I was grateful to be invited to attend. I will also have the opportunity to participate in the training, giving the security industry an insight into photographers working methods when they photograph buildings, demonstrating that a photographer’s scrutiny of a building is for honest and straightforward purposes.
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.
In the meantime the Home Office has produced guidelines for the security industry on how to approach photographers working in public.