Institute for Security and Resilience Studies is supported by Ultra Electronics, which is involved in drone technology
A senior academic at University College London has raised questions about a security and defence thinktank set up by Labour’s former home and defence secretary John Reid, with the backing of an arms company involved in developing drone technology used in the US military’s targeted killings.
The Institute for Security and Resilience Studies (ISRS), whose inaugural conference was addressed behind closed doors last month by Tony Blair, has an 11-person “advisory board” which includes figures associated with some of the most controversial foreign policy and security episodes of the post-9/11 international landscape and New Labour’s time in power.
The ISRS names its “founding partners” as EADS UK, the British wing of the pan-European aerospace and defence corporation whose profile has been heightened by the Serious Fraud Office inquiry into whether a subsidiary bribed Saudi officials, and Ultra Electronics, a UK defence and security company which describes itself as a key partner in the US Predator drone programme.
Human Rights groups have become increasingly critical of the use of drones, which Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN says have been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths. Their use to carry out targeted killings presents a challenge to the system of international law that has endured since the second world war, according to the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. It is to set up a dedicated investigations unit in Geneva early next year to examine the legality of drone attacks in cases where civilians are killed in so-called “targeted” counter-terrorism operations.
Philippe Sands QC, professor of law at UCL, said: “It does look like a bit of a throwback to the Bush years. It’s right that UCL should be a broad church, but there must be real openness to a range of views and perspectives, real transparency about funding sources, and real academic activity. Otherwise it will be seen as little more than a front offering a patina of academic respectability to one set of views.”
UCL’s website describes the ISRS as “an incubator for 21st-century approaches to security and resilience.It is a hub for researchers, educators, developers and users of concepts and capabilities, which are vital to the delivery of security and resilience services”.
The 11-person advisory board includes Prof Philip Bobbitt, a director at the US national security council under Bill Clinton and an outspoken advocate for the 2003 invasion of Iraq; Michael Chertoff, a secretary of homeland security under George W Bush; and Prof Pat Troop, a former Health Protection Agency chief executive who was deputy chief medical officer in 2003.
Others board members include Ronnie Flanagan, the former RUC chief constable who is now a strategic adviser to the Abu Dhabi police; Lady Manningham-Buller, the former director general of MI5 between 2002 and 2007; Michael Boyce, the chief of the defence staff, 2001-2003; BT Group chief executive Ian Livingstone; and UCL’s provost, Malcolm Grant.
It is completed by the chairman of Ultra Electronics, Douglas Caster, and Len Tyler, who leads the institute’s promotion of its work on “cyber security and cyber doctrine” and has been head of business development for Cassidian Systems, part of EADS.
The institute’s “director of programmes” is Jamie MacIntosh, a special adviser to Reid during his time as home secretary, who was previously chief of research and assessment at the Defence Academy of the UK. The institute’s directors include its chief executive, Simon Gillespie, a former military adviser to Reid in government, and Rees Aronson, who was seconded by his employers, KPMG, to act as the Labour party’s finance director in the year running up to New Labour’s 2001 general election win.
Accounts filed by ISRS, which was established as a not-for-profit limited company, show that it received close to £288,889 of donations last year (up to 31 March 2011) in what appears to be “seed” money. The institute is due to file new accounts by 31 December.
This summer, as part of a $2m contract, Ultra delivered fuel cells to the US military to enable drones to fly further and faster than those using traditional batteries. Other products include the interface equipment used by drone controllers. In the UK it is involved in the development, with the MoD, of “loitering munitions”, missiles so-called because of their ability to lurk in the sky for hours.
Ultra Electronics said the company was not prepared to discuss its relationship with ISRS, but added: “Companies in the UK don’t fully appreciate the extent of the cyber-security threat and ISRS are working to highlight that, which is something we support as a group.”
A spokesperson for Reid said he was unavailable for interview.
UCL said: “ISRS is an independent institute affiliated to UCL. All UCL affiliated organisations are required to meet the same high academic standards. ISRS brings together practitioners and scholars from many diverse walks of life, all of whom are committed to learning. UCL has many affiliate organisations. What makes ISRS a distinctive and attractive addition is their commitment to pragmatic learning in keeping not only with UCL utilitarian tradition but more importantly contributing in practical ways to the grand challenges UCL sees as a vital contribution from academia to the world.”
The Labour MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, put forward an early day motion calling for the university to reconsider its position in hosting the institute, which he described as being “dominated by arms manufacturers and politicians who promoted the war against Iraq”.