Innovation UK > News > Innovation UK Vol6-1 > A scientific approach to security

Logo of website section A scientific approach to security

A scientific approach to security

The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism works to prevent the horrors of a terrorist attack becoming a reality - and science and technology has a leading role to play

The UK and our interests overseas face a significant threat from international terrorism. While terrorism is not new, the current threat is different from those we have faced before in its scope, capability and ambition. Contemporary international terrorist organisations have an international cause, plan and conduct attacks in and from a range of countries and aim to inflict significant civilian casualties. Many seek to recruit people in this country and some organisations aspire to use unconventional methods, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.

The threat to the UK from international terrorism was raised from substantial to severe in late January 2010. However, Home Secretary Alan Johnson stressed that although the threat had increased, there was no intelligence to suggest an attack was imminent. "We still face a real and serious threat to the UK from international terrorism,? he said. ?We have a very adept and very focused counter-terrorism facility in this country and people should be reassured by that."

The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) was set up as part of the Home Office in March 2007. It supports the development, direction, implementation and governance of the UK?s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, known as CONTEST.

The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism is working to prevent people becoming targets of terrorist attacks

This is recognised as one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging approaches to tackling terrorism in the world. Since 11 September 2001, over 200 people have been convicted of a terrorist or a terrorist-related offence and over a dozen terrorist plots were successfully disrupted by our police and security and intelligence agencies.

CONTEST is based on four work streams, each with a clear objective:

  • Pursue: to stop terrorist attacks.
  • Prevent: to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism.
  • Protect: to strengthen our protection against a terrorist attack.
  • Prepare: where an attack cannot be stopped, to mitigate its impact.

Work on Pursue and Prevent reduces the threat from terrorism, while work on Protect and Prepare reduces the UK?s vulnerability to attack. Together, they reduce the overall risk from international terrorism. The strategy also emphasises a number of priorities common to all the four main work streams: one of these is science and technology. While technology has provided powerful new tools, techniques and tactics in support of the terrorist agenda, it is also a key element in the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism response. Success in delivering relevant science, innovation and technology is vital to the delivery of CONTEST. Science and technology impacts every area of the strategy. Our continued ability to prevent radicalisation, protect essential services and our infrastructure, prepare for an attack, and identify and convict people engaged in terrorism all depend on developments in the physical and social sciences.

Science and Technology Strategy

Because of the key role science and technology plays in counter-terrorism, the three-year Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy for Countering International Terrorism was published in August 2009. Its aim is to: ?use innovation, science and technology to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from international terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence?. The strategy has three principal objectives: to use horizon scanning to understand future scientific and technical threats and opportunities and inform our decision-making on counter-terrorism; to ensure the development and delivery of effective counter-terrorism solutions by identifying and sharing priority science and technology requirements; and to enhance international collaboration on counter-terrorism-related science and technology.

It reflects the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism recognition that modern technologies, which facilitate terrorist propaganda, communications and operations, are an important long-term strategic driver of the terrorist threat and places greater emphasis on identifying science and technology requirements from across government, the police service and wider law enforcement to ensure that the right solutions are developed to counter the challenges we face. The S&T strategy identifies some of the key counter-terrorism challenges that we need to address in the next few years and where science and technology are likely to be vital. Current challenges include reducing the vulnerability of crowded places, protecting against cyber terrorism, understanding the causes of radicalisation and identifying and detecting explosives.

The strategy also seeks greater partnership and engagement with industry and academia and commits the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism to more openness and transparency on science, technology and counter-terrorism. To achieve this aim, the first in a series of brochures, titled Ideas and Innovation, was published alongside the S&T Strategy, which set out for the first time how industry and academia could engage with government and deliver scientific and technological solutions to the counter-terrorism challenges we face. The second brochure focuses on the behavioural science aspects of counter-terrorism. There is already a great deal of work underway in government, industry and academia to find effective solutions to these challenges, but we need new ideas and fresh thinking to drive forward our progress.

Security Minister Lord West said at the launch of the S&T Strategy, ?We need to match products and ideas with problems, which is why we are actively inviting people to contact us with solutions. This government can then provide the funding and support necessary to carry these forward.?


In April 2009, the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism initiated the INSTINCT programme. INSTINCT (INnovative Science and Technology IN Counter-Terrorism) seeks innovative solutions to support the S&T Strategy (see Its aim is to enable government to make the most of innovative projects and ideas in counter-terrorism by providing a greater understanding of the innovation community, smarter influence over external innovation and better co-ordination of investments in new ideas and solutions.

This involves funding projects with a higher technical risk than would normally be accepted in an effort to rapidly identify productive lines of work, therefore improving government?s ability to move at pace and intelligently manage risk. INSTINCT is led by a cross-government team anchored within the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. Team members come from more than a dozen different government departments and agencies, some of whom have contributed from their own research budgets to supplement the core Office for Security and Counter-Terrorismfunding. INSTINCT aims to build its engagement programme using the best approaches from across government, using existing engagements and mechanisms augmented by bespoke events.

Intent in Crowded Places

In June 2009, INSTINCT held an industry engagement event that focused on ?Intent in Crowded Places?, held in collaboration with MOD?s Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) in Harwell, Oxfordshire. The CDE is the first point of contact for anyone with a disruptive technology, new process or innovation that has a potential defence application. This event was the first time the CDE had been used to address a non-MOD counter-terrorism challenge.

Attendance was high, with 82 organisations registering. Briefings were given by representatives of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, the National Counter-Terrorism Security Office and the British Transport Police. Following the event, a call for proposals was promoted through the CDE, in collaboration with the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI), using the CDE web portal.

The call yielded 55 bids from across industry and academia, of which 66% had an SME component, 30% had a major company component, 38% had an academic component and 23% were from consortia. Six proposals were funded after assessment by a cross-government panel.

Technology Demonstrator

Another major engagement in 2009 was the INSTINCT Technology Demonstrator which allowed the demonstration and evaluation of novel tools and technologies to model and predict crowd behaviour in both a physical and a virtual environment. Crowded places are obvious targets for terrorists. Securing these locations presents significant challenges: they are often noisy and chaotic, with many ways in and out. We need to make it more difficult to attack crowded places while allowing the public to go about their everyday lives.

INSTINCT engaged Detica/BAE Systems as a prime contractor to rapidly implement a programme to evaluate innovative technologies that may be used to counter terrorism, assess whether the technology demonstrator event approach is a successful way to engage industry and trial technologies, allow technology suppliers to engage with government stakeholders and potential buyers within industry and provide an assessment of the value of synthetic environments in predicting crowd behaviour. Detica engaged with the innovation community, focusing in particular on universities and small and medium-sized enterprises, via the trusted partners Orbis IP, Secure Futures and Global Security Challenge. The demonstrators who were selected to participate by an expert panel showed the wide range of technical approaches and achievements in this area and gave an idea of the current state of art and the future trends in this domain.

To understand the performance of these technologies, they were recently tested in real-world situations to see how they would respond. The results are still being analysed, but, when complete, they will allow us to further improve not only these specific technologies, but also the security of our crowded places across the country. Through activities like these, INSTINCT has engaged widely and successfully across government, industry and academia, and sponsored a range of research to explore some challenging technical issues in the CONTEST domain.

Other Engagement

The government has a long track record of working with the science and technology industry across the military, security and intelligence markets. The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorismworks with industry through a variety of routes including trade associations, exhibitions, industry primes and the Technology Strategy Board. In counter-terrorism, our main route to industry is through the UK Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers? Community (RISC). RISC is an alliance of suppliers, trade associations and academics, representing over 2,000 companies ranging from prime contractors and global leaders through to small and medium enterprises and start-ups. The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism will continue to work with industry and academia through other routes. These will include industry liaison, responding to enquiries, networking at conferences, exhibitions and events and through exploring opportunities in existing science and technology projects.

The UK?s universities are renowned for world-class research and innovation, so have an important role to play in developing the technological innovation we need to protect the UK. We are actively seeking innovation from universities and encouraging dialogue so that we learn about relevant research, innovations and technologies. Some innovations will come from breaking new ground, while others will come from applying existing technologies to new situations, new environments or new purposes. If you are in industry or academia and have a good idea with the potential to support our security and counter-terrorism work, we want to hear from you. If you are unsure about which is the best department or body for you to contact in the first instance, please get in touch with the Science and Technology Unit in the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (contact details on page 20). We will be happy to advise you.

The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism is working to prevent people becoming targets of terrorist attacks

Science and Technology Unit, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism
Home Office, 6th Floor, Peel Building, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF

Added the 15 April 2010 in category Innovation UK Vol6-1

social bookmarking

  • (subscribe feed): Aerospace e Defence, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, OSCT, CONTEST in Facebook
  • (subscribe feed): Aerospace e Defence, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, OSCT, CONTEST in Twitter
  • (subscribe feed): Aerospace e Defence, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, OSCT, CONTEST in Ok Notizie
  • (subscribe feed): Aerospace e Defence, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, OSCT, CONTEST in Diggita
  • (subscribe feed): Aerospace e Defence, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, OSCT, CONTEST in Segnalo
  • (subscribe feed): Aerospace e Defence, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, OSCT, CONTEST in Technorati
  • (subscribe feed): A scientific approach to security in Google Bookmarks
  • (subscribe feed): A scientific approach to security in Windows Live Space
  • (subscribe feed): A scientific approach to security in Netscape
  • (subscribe feed): A scientific approach to security in Yahoo! My Web
  • (subscribe feed): A scientific approach to security in
Tags: Aerospace & Defence, Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, OSCT, CONTEST