UK: Metropolitan Police Special Branch (MPSB) to be amalgamated with the Anti-Terrorism Branch to form new Counter-Terrorist Branch
On 8 September Scotland Yard briefed journalists (see, Guardian, Times and Daily Telegraph, 9.9.05) on a planned merger of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch (MPSB, SO12) and the Anti-Terrorist Branch (SO13). The MPSB carries out a national role within the Special Branch as well as one covering London - it is the original Special Branch founded in 1883 to counter Fenian bombings and was then called the Special Irish Branch. "Scotland Yard" is the term used when referring to national functions as distinct from the Metropolitan Police force which deals with policing in the capital. Special Branches' outside London will continue their work in the other 50 police forces in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Special Branch, currently with around 600 officers, and the Anti-Terrorist Branch (ATS), with around 800 officers, will when merged also be given a an additional 500 posts bringing the combined strength to around 2,000 with the provisional title of the Counter-Terrorist Command. The Special Branch will continue its role of intelligence-gathering (both in London and nation-wide), while the ATS will carry on with the investigative side of countering terrorism.
The Special Branch's role in intelligence-gathering on terrorism is effectively run by MI5 (the UK's internal Security Service) - see Statewatch's Special Report in sources. With the demise of the Cold War from 1989 MI5 successfully campaigned to take over the lead role for counter-terrorism inside the UK from the Special Branch in 1992.
Currently the MPSB's role are set out as:
- gathering intelligence and conducting intelligence operations against "terrorists and political extremists"
- providing armed personal protection to government Ministers etc
- conducting surveillance at ports in the London area
- and to assist other government agencies to counter threats to the security of the UK from:
"- public disorder,
- the proliferation of WMD,
- espionage by foreign powers,
- subversion of the democratic process,
- terrorism by Irish or international groups
- sabotage of the infrastructure of the UK"
The press briefing on 8 September also said that one of the Special Branch's functions to provide protection to government Ministers (A Squad) will be merged with the unit that protects the Royal family and diplomats.
Historically the primary roles of the Special Branch have been national security (including terrorism and subversion) and the maintenance of public order. When the MPSB is merged to form the Counter-Terrorist Command it is not clear who will carry out the latter role - covering political and trade union activity including demonstrations (both within the UK and across the EU). The Guidelines for the Special Branch were revised in 2004 and under the heading of "Counter Extremism" the Special Branch gathers "intelligence on those threats to public order" motivated by "political conviction" (and "racial hatred").
Under the same "Counter Extremism" heading the Guidelines says that the Special Branch:
"gather intelligence on political and animal rights extremist activity, anti-globalisation and environmental extremism and seek to prevent criminal acts on persons and property targeted by such extremists"
1. Special Branch Guidelines (1984, 1995 and 2004)
2. See Special Statewatch report: Special Branch more than doubles in size, September 2003 (pdf)
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