New security fears as Heathrow checks miss terror suspects
• Inexperienced airport staff 'missed five alerts in one day'
• Fears come after fiasco over G4S Olympic stewarding
Inexperienced new recruits, deployed to shorten queues, are repeatedly 'missing' passengers who may need to be referred to counterterrorism officers. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA
Terror suspects on the Home Office watch list are entering the UK in the runup to the Olympics without the necessary security checks, according to frontline officials at Heathrow.
One senior border officer told the Observer that inexperienced new recruits, deployed to shorten queues after complaints over lengthy waiting times, are repeatedly "missing" passengers of interest who should be referred to counterterrorism officers when they reach passport control.
The official said he was personally aware that three terror suspects – all of whose names are registered on the Home Office suspect index system – had been waved through by staff on his shifts since the start of July. Border officials should immediately notify counterterrorism police or MI5 if they suspect that "SX travellers" are attempting to enter the UK. Another colleague alleged that five suspects were "missed" in one day earlier this month.
"It's all new faces," said the senior official. "The rest of the staff, I have no idea where they have come from, how long they are here for, what their background is. These are people who have been forced by their own department to come here."
The crisis comes days after G4S, the world's biggest security firm, announced it could not provide enough security guards for the London Olympics, forcing the government to call up 3,500 troops to meet the shortfall. Last month John Evans, head of MI5, said the Games offered an "attractive target for our enemies, and they will be at the centre of the world's attention".
The intelligence and security committee also warned that the Olympics had diverted MI5, MI6 and GCHQ from other potential threats to Britain, citing the "vulnerability of the UK at this critical period". It identified potential sources of threat including al-Qaida and its affiliates planning an attack on the Games or participants, especially US or Israeli nationals, and also the possible threat from republican dissident terrorist groups.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the UK Border Agency official said: "How many other misses have occurred? The missing of counterterrorism 'hits' is a huge thing, but new recruits are not getting enough time to be taught.
"It is vital these people do not get in without being noted and that the information is passed to the police or security services. Once they're in, you've no idea where they might be going."
Many of those drafted in to help cope with border staffing shortages before the Olympics are individuals who have been working elsewhere in the Home Office and have received only basic training to work on airport passport desks. Some have had only a day's training instead of the standard six to eight weeks.
The revelations of lax practice are particularly alarming, coming ahead of pre-Olympic week during which the vast majority of athletes, media and officials will arrive. On 25 July – the day when traffic through Heathrow airport is expected to be most intense – the staffing roster shows, according to union sources, that more than half the employees on duty are from relief staff.
It is understood that counterterrorism police at Heathrow are urgently seeking a meeting with senior UKBA management over the missed alerts. Mark Reckless MP, a Tory member of the home affairs select committee, said: "I know the home secretary would be extremely concerned if the warning index checks were being missed."
Chris Hobbs, a retired police officer who spent more than a third of his service working at Heathrow, Gatwick and in Jamaican airports, said: "Missing passengers who were the subject of security alerts was an extremely rare occurrence. The fact that it appears to be becoming a regular event shows that border controls have all but imploded."
Underlining the inexperience of some of the officials now manning UK borders, a UKBA document recently distributed to staff reassured new recruits that if they did make a mistake their lack of training would be considered.
The document states: "In the event of making a mistake the full circumstances will be carefully considered, including the extent of your training and experience."
Paul O'Connor, Home Office national manager for the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: "Theresa May said she would not compromise border security but you need properly staffed control points with fully trained border officers. They are playing fast and loose with border control."
Last Thursday, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, John Vine, said following an inspection of Heathrow's Terminals 3 and 4, temporary staff were found to process passengers slower and ask fewer "probing" questions, satisfying neither the need to deal with lengthy queues or security concerns.
A border force spokesman said: "All staff being deployed will have the necessary security clearance and will have received the training required to operate effectively. Contingency staff will only be carrying out tasks for which they have been fully trained.
"Contingency staff will operate individually, but are supported by experienced border force officers at all times. If they have any concerns or questions they are told to escalate those concerns immediately."
G4S boss discovered Olympic security guard shortfall only a few days ago
Nick Buckles says company will lose up to £50m on Olympic contract because of failure to provide enough guards
Nick Buckles of G4S, who said he could not confirm all the company's London 2012 Olympic security guards would speak English. Photograph: Newscast/Alamy
The chief executive of the security firm G4S has admitted he only discovered that his company would be unable to provide adequate numbers of security guards for the Olympics "eight or nine days ago".
Nick Buckles said G4S would lose £30m-£50m on its Olympic contract because of its failure, which will require 3,500 troops to be used to fill gaps in security.
The chief executive also told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme he could not confirm that all G4S guards were fluent in English.
"That is a difficult question to answer. They all have a right to work in the UK and have been vetted to very high standards. I cannot say categorically as I sit here today [that all the guards speak English]," he said.
Buckles said there were roles in which fluency in English was not a necessity. "I'm saying there probably are roles within the security structure where there is not a direct communication with the public," he said.
Buckles later clarified his replies by saying that all Olympic security guards must be proficient in English to receive their Security Industry Association licence.
The chief executive added: "The workforce that we are recruiting for the Games come from different backgrounds. Some are in current employment so clearly they are not going to be available for training until quite close to the Games and others are students that clearly aren't available until closer to the Games."
Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs committee, which has summoned Buckles to appear before them next week to account for the Olympic security fiasco, said the problems raised questions as to whether the staff G4S had managed to recruit were up to the job.
"We do need to examine what is the workforce that is in place at the moment. Have they been properly trained? Are they going to be able to communicate with those that arrive at the Games and are they qualified to do what they are supposed to do?" the MP told BBC News.
Vaz added that the situation raised questions over the firm's government contracts.
"This is not a dodgy builders' firm. This is the biggest security firm in the world. They have hundreds of millions of pounds of contracts to deal with policing, prisons, detention centres, which the Home Office has given them. The worry for me is the long term," he said.
The security firm had been committed to supply 13,700 guards as demanded in its contract, worth £284m, which it now says it is unlikely to be able to fulfil. Overall, the 23,700-strong security force for the Games will include a mix of military, private security guards and at least 3,000 unpaid volunteers. Buckles said it would cost G4S between £314m and £324m to fulfil its contract and pay penalties.
Contingency plans have also been drawn up for police officers to secure venues in the days leading up to the start of the Games because of G4S's recruitment shortage. The original plan was for specialist police teams to search the venues before lockdown was carried out by either G4S or the military.
But plans are now being made for the potential need to deploy hundreds of officers to control what goes into the arenas until the extra military personnel arrive.
Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, head of Scotland Yard's security operation, said: "Delivering a safe and secure Games is a priority but we will not compromise on keeping the streets and our local communities safe."
The home secretary, Theresa May, had been pressing G4S to provide assurances over its commitments, but patience in Whitehall ran out last weekend and talks began to establish whether the Ministry of Defence could fill the gap.
As May came under sustained opposition attack in parliament this week, she repeatedly refused to spell out what penalties G4S would face, insisting that the contract was with Locog and not the Home Office.
The depth of the crisis over G4S's Olympic security preparations became increasingly clear on Thursday as recruits revealed to the Guardian details of a "totally chaotic" selection process and police joined the military in bracing themselves to fill the void left by the private security contractor.
Opposition politicians have called for a pause in the award of any more government contracts to G4S, and there had been speculation in recent days that it would face financial penalties amounting to tens of thousands of pounds per venue per day for failing to deliver sufficient staff.
Locog, which has also been summoned to appear before the home affairs select committee along with the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, admitted in December it had wildly underestimated the number of staff required to deliver security at 34 Olympic venues in London and around the country.
Olympic security farce: Now MI5 sacks systems experts after anti-terror supercomputer collapse
- £1m device for tracking suspects will not be ready in time for the Games
A supercomputer that was supposed to help Britain’s security service track terror suspects will not be ready in time for the Olympics.
MI5 has sacked a firm of IT consultants after the company failed to meet deadlines to implement the new intelligence-checking system.
The computer system is designed to help MI5 officers carry out secret searches on suspects, including those who may pose a threat at the Olympics.
Posing a threat: The computer system is designed to help officers at MI5 (pictured) carry out secret searches on suspects
But spy chiefs have admitted that the software will not be ready in time to be safely trialled before the start of the Games later this month.
The new ‘electronic records management’ system will bring together all MI5 intelligence material, so officers can carry out complete searches of old and current records.
For example, it would alert officers more quickly to archived intelligence on a terror suspect who had been dormant or lying low for a number of years.
The IT failure comes days after the Government announced that private security firm G4S had failed to hire enough guards for the Olympics. Ministers have been forced to call upon the Army to make up the shortfall.
One security source said of the MI5 IT project: ‘Of course it would be better if this was up and running in time for the Olympics as it allows officers to search all their systems in one quick check. In a fast-moving investigation, with finite resources, delay can mean the difference between success and failure.’
The new search facility is understood to work in a similar way to the high-tech computers used in the BBC TV series Spooks, where spies match pictures, names and mobile phone numbers to identify suspects from their records.
Last night, security sources declined to name the company at the centre of the IT controversy. Nor would they say exactly why the firm had its contract terminated.
But it is understood that the project, which is estimated to have already cost up to £1 million, has been plagued by technical and commercial difficulties.
Computer crisis: Spy chiefs have admitted that the software will not be ready in time to be safely trialled before the start of the Games
The decision to postpone implementation until after the Olympics leaves the taxpayer out of pocket while MI5 must find a replacement contractor.
It has emerged that Jonathan Evans, director-general of the security service, has voiced concerns about a number of costly IT security contracts, including the one that has been terminated.
In a report published on Thursday by MPs from the Intelligence and Security Committee, Mr Evans is quoted as saying: ‘I think it would be a fair criticism to say that we have had some cases where [our use of consultants and contractors] hasn’t been as controlled as it should, [but now] we have got a proper focus . . .
‘Post-Olympics, we intend to reduce [the] number of organisations and individuals we deal with and to manage those relationships more aggressively than we have done.’
A Whitehall security source said that the decision to postpone introducing the system until after the Olympics was ‘taken some time ago’ on the grounds that it would be too risky to introduce new software just before the Olympics.
He said that while the delay would affect the service’s capability ‘nobody was saying we desperately need the new system immediately now’.
It has also emerged that almost 500 officers from across MI5, MI6 and GCHQ have left the secret services in the past year at a cost of £47 million to the taxpayer. Many of the senior staff have been paid six-figure sums to take early retirement while others have been given big redundancy payoffs.
The figures, in the report by the Intelligence and Security Committee, are:
The 24 MI6 staff were paid a total of £4 million to leave the service as part of a drive to remove some of the most expensive spies from the payroll.
- MI5: 216 staff each costing an average of £93,000.
- GCHQ: 255 staff at an average cost of £90,000.
- MI6: 24 staff at an average cost of £166,000.
At the Government’s secret listening post, GCHQ, 255 staff left under the Approved Early Retirement terms in 2010/11. The cost to the taxpayer of these exit packages was £23 million.
But the director of GCHQ, Iain Lobban, told MPs he had been forced to offer early retirement to reduce staff numbers and stay within budget.
He said: ‘We lost a number of more senior members of staff . . . As I shook hands with each of them, I felt a degree of regret, but we needed to get our figures down in order to hit our own Spending Review commitments.’
In the security service, 216 staff left under the service’s Living Within Our Means (LWOM) scheme in 2010/11. Of these, 103 staff left voluntarily and the remaining 113 were redundancies. The cost to the taxpayer was £20 million.
Jonathan Evans told the committee that part of the reason for the redundancy programme was to ‘[change] the staff mix’, and that ‘in this sort of world where technologies come and go in a fortnight, some of the staff that we had . . . weren’t really the right people’.
The MPs also said that all three agencies were struggling to retain staff as the private sector continued to offer Government-trained spies and cyber experts much bigger pay packets.
Trials delayed as police are sent to London
Before the GS4 security fiasco, about 12,000 officers were due to be on duty at Olympic venues on peak days
Criminal trials are being delayed until after the Olympics because of the crisis over security.
Police officers due to testify at hearings across the country are instead being called on to assist at the Games.
It was not clear last night how many cases will be affected, but the figure may run into the hundreds.
On average, about 40,000 criminal cases are heard in England and Wales every week.
There is also concern that defendants will be kept in custody for longer than usual, at a cost to taxpayers of more than £100 a night.
District judge Graham Wilkinson, who was last week trying to arrange a trial date for an assault case in Wolverhampton, said in court: ‘We can have no police officer cases during the Olympics.’
Before the GS4 security fiasco, about 12,000 officers were due to be on duty at Olympic venues on peak days.
But hundreds more are now required to do the work of private guards in a further blow to the already over-stretched criminal justice system.
Adding to the sense of justice being put on hold, courts in and around London will close during the two-week Games because of the transport chaos.
The Old Bailey will lose half of its 18 courts, and some judges are understood to have been urged to go on holiday.
Competitors told Olympic Park isn't ready just TWO WEEKS before opening ceremony
Athletes have begun arriving in the UK ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games but the main park is still a construction site with less than two weeks to go until the opening ceremony.
More than 40 team bosses met on Friday at Athletes' Village, one of the seven venues located within the Olympic park, but were shocked to discover that it is not finished.
National teams have been told to stay away from the park, in East London, until July 23.
Embarrassing: Athletes have been told the Olympic Park is not yet ready
It is believed the bad weather and recent security issues may have caused the delays.
But Locog, the London Organising Committee, has said work was on schedule.
A member of one of the national teams told The Sunday Telegraph: 'We were told the Olympic Park won’t open until the 23rd.
'This is a week later than what we expected.
'We were assured they are relatively minor but it has come as a surprise because we had been told for some months now that the park was on time and ready, and it isn’t.’
Soldiering On: Troops arrive at the Olympic Park after private security contractor G4S failed to recruit enough staff
The park will host sports including athletics, swimming, hockey and cycling.
Athletes have been told their training programmes will not be disrupted.
The latest embarrassment comes after the Olympic security staff G4S's boss, Nick Buckles, was forced to apologise for failing to recruit enough staff.
He also did not know whether all security guards the company had recruited could speak fluent English.
The company now stands at losing up to £50 million on its £284 million contract with the Games organisers, Locog, as a result of the fiasco.
The company said it 'deeply regrets' the problems which have meant 3,500 troops being drafted in at the 11th hour to make up a shortfall in security guards.
Military fills gap in London Olympic security
the British government is putting 3,500 extra troops on standby to fill the security gap for the London Olympics, which begin July 27th. (Andrew Winning/Reuters)
The boss of British security group G4S said Saturday he was sorry that his company had bungled the contract to help protect the 2012 Olympic Games, a humbling televised apology that followed days of ugly news about his firm's failures.
Nick Buckles spoke to the BBC as British newspapers were filled with accounts of chaotic recruitment, sloppy security, and even an allegation that some G4S staffers weren't fluent in English. The firm has not been able to provide enough guards, and some 3,500 British troops are being called in to help fill the gap in security and police have been put on notice that they may need to help fill the breach.
"We're deeply disappointed and we certainly are very sorry for what's happened over the last week or two," the chief executive said. "It's a very complex process. No one's ever undertaken to recruit 10,000 fully-trained security staff for such a lengthy period of time."
In December G4S PLC promised to provide that number of people to help keep the games safe, although in reality far more than 10,000 people need to be recruited in order to compensate for attrition, sickness, and absenteeism. Buckles said that the operation was a "mammoth undertaking" involving a complex recruitment operation in five or six different stages, adding that, as of Saturday, some 4,000 people were on the ground and that about 9,000 people were still in the pipeline — which still leaves a significant shortfall.
Buckles added that he only became aware of the problem eight or nine days ago.
His comments came as the British unearthed one episode after another of apparent incompetence at the Crawley, England-based company.
The Daily Mirror tabloid quoted Sarah Hubble, whom it described as a former G4S recruiter, as saying that background checks were skipped to meet targets and that sensitive recruitment material was left lying around the company's offices. Its right-leaning rival, The Sun, quoted an unnamed former police officer as saying that some security guards couldn't speak English.
In earlier comments to BBC radio, Buckles couldn't guarantee that all his staffers spoke fluent English, saying it was a "difficult question to answer."
"I am pretty sure that they can, but I can't say categorically as I sit here today," he said.
Buckles has said his company would foot the bill for the last-minute military deployment, putting the loss on his company's $442 million US contract at up to $78 million.The costs aren't just financial — they also are a hit to its reputation.
G4S manages prisons, transports cash, and installs surveillance systems across the in some 125 countries. Its inability to get enough people to secure the world's biggest sporting event has left some observers wondering at the wisdom of doing business with the company elsewhere.
"This is not a dodgy builders' firm," said opposition lawmaker Keith Vaz, whose committee plans to quiz Buckles on his failure before Parliament next week. "This is the biggest security firm in the world. They have hundreds of millions of pounds of contracts to deal with policing, prisons, detention centers, which [Britain's] Home Office has given them. The worry for me is the long term," he told the BBC.