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Home Team Speeches

20 March 2012

ISD Heritage Centre 10th Anniversary - Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs

Distinguished Guests
1.            Good morning. I am happy to join you this morning for the 10th Anniversary of the ISD Heritage Centre.
Terrorism threat: 10 years and counting
2.            When the Centre was launched on 20 Mar 2002, the world was still grappling with the shock of the Al-Qaeda attack on 11 Sep 2001 that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and also a section of the Pentagon in Washington DC.  Never before had the world witnessed a terrorist event on such a scale.
3.            “9-11” was significant not only because it changed the face of global terrorism, but also because the resultant security implications and challenges for countries like Singapore. Ten years on, the world is still confronting the terrorism threat, which has evolved over the years.
4.            Al-Qaeda’s brand of mass casualty attacks has become a mainstay in our security planning. Security at airports, seaports and mass rapid transit networks in many major cities have been stepped up, but the reality is that no security regime can be fool-proof unless the entire country is locked down. If we do that then we have also lost In an inter-dependent global world, this is not realistic, much less for a small country that depends on trade like Singapore. To complement these measures, the community’s assistance has been enlisted, to be the “eyes and ears” on the ground. It takes conscious effort and stamina to keep this effort going, but as the foiling of the Times Square attack in New York City in May 2010 illustrated, it is worth the effort because it makes all the difference between life and death.
5.            At the same time, new forms of the terrorism threat have arisen: online radicalisation and self-radicalisation that have led individuals to tie up with terrorist groups or to become lone-wolf terrorists. Meanwhile, new Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist groups have sprung up. Osama bin Laden may be gone, but global jihadist terrorism will continue to persist in the foreseeable future.
6.            In our own regioin, in Southeast Asia, the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and its affiliates continue to be a threat to us. In 2010 and 2011, they had apparently plotted attacks against Singapore and Singapore interests overseas. We are also still faced with the parallel problem of self-radicalisation. At the same time, we must continue to watch for other terrorist entities that may conduct activities in Singapore, regardless of whether the actual target is Singapore or a third country that has a presence here. The recent terrorism-related incidents in Thailand serve as a timely reminder that the terrorism threat stems from multiple sources.
Concurrent Threats to Internal Security
7.            Terrorism may have been the well-reported threat in the past ten years, but the threats of espionage and foreign subversion are just as salient today as during the Cold War.    
Espionage and Foreign Subversion
8.            Singapore lies at the crossroads where the spheres of influence of major powers intersect.  This is a fact that remains true today as it was during the Cold War. At the same time, we are an open society in a highly globalised world with high volumes of trade and travel. While this has enabled us to access new technologies and to be plugged into geopolitical developments, it also makes us an attractive target for espionage and foreign subversion.
9.            The threat of espionage and subversion is not new for Singapore. We have been the target of espionage attacks or subversion attempts by foreign countries, including even friendly nations. During the height of the Cold War, a Singaporean embassy staff member in Moscow was compromised and worked for the Soviet Union against Singapore’s interest. People often associate espionage to the Cold War era, the likes of Kim Philby and the “Cambridge Five”. The fact is, espionage activities continue to thrive even in the post-Cold War. In the 1990s alone, ISD dealt with several cases of espionage. Ironically, almost all of these cases involved friendly nations. The adage that “there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests” rings true.
10.          But what is new today is that technology has been a major game changer: our vulnerability has increased because of our own inter-connectivity, the cache of classified information that can potentially be stolen through electronic media, and our heavy reliance on IT systems for essential services. In short, the threat of cyber espionage has added to our new reality. We have already seen a few attacks and have countered them. We are likely to see more in the future.    
Racial and Religious Extremism
11.          Another major threat to our internal security, peace and stability is racial and religious extremism. In our multi-racial, multi-religious, secular society, race and religion will continue to be salient and significant issues that have the potential to be divisive, even explosive. I spoke about global terrorism earlier. Indeed, the most dangerous threat of terrorism to Singapore is its impact on our communal harmony. A terrorism attack carried out by home-grown terrorists can cause serious and long-lasting damage to the trust between our communities.
12.          Singapore is no stranger to communal violence and riots. Fortunately, communal rifts in the 1960s have healed and we have been enjoying peace and harmony because of the strong social ties that the different communities have painstakingly woven together over the decade. It is tempting to think that the Singaporean identity trumps an individual’s racial and religious identity. But recent incidents involving insensitive and offensive remarks against other religions here, vividly show that the good relations we enjoy cannot be taken for granted.
13.          The new variable in the racial and religious field is cyberspace. The Internet allows irresponsible, offensive and at times seditious comments about other races and religions to be made under the cloak of anonymity. Whether intended as a deliberate attack against another community or not, the end result is equally dangerous. The Internet enables these dangerous remarks to go viral very quickly. This can potentially spiral out of control and rapidly damage inter-communal relations. If transposed into action in the physical world, the consequences can be dire.  
14.          It is precisely because of these concerns that the Government has embarked on programmes to build a network of trust between the different communities. This is an area where Singapore already has a strong foundation, which we must continue to build upon.    
Important Role of the ISD Heritage Centre
15.          Amidst this security landscape, the ISD Heritage Centre plays an essential role. 
16.          The Centre was conceived in the early 1990s, some 10 years before the Centre was officially launched. The Centre was originally conceptualised as an in-house training facility for ISD officers. It contains the richest repository of material on Singapore’s post-war security history --- a history which is an integral part of Singapore’s modern history and the shared legacy of all Singaporeans.
 17.         It showcases the security operations undertaken by ISD through the decades, and the painstaking intelligence work that generations of ISD officers have quietly and determinedly undertaken to keep Singapore safe, secure and sovereign. The case studies also exemplify the core values of ISD, of placing the nation before the self, of placing the team before the individual. These are values that are conveyed to all new ISD officers upon joining service.
18.          Post-9-11, the Centre has also played an important role in reaching out to civil servants, grassroots leaders under the Community Engagement Programme and Inter-Racial and Religious Harmony Circles, and members of the public to raise their security awareness. The Centre has also reached out to staff at our airport, seaports, hotels and car rental companies, as well as taxi drivers --- all partners in our counter-terrorism effort.
19.          Students have also been a key constituent of the Centre. The cases featured in the Centre are a treasure trove of valuable lessons that they can draw on. These lessons include understanding Singapore’s vulnerabilities and fault-lines, being aware of new challenges and looming threats to security. 
20.          The Centre has also supported efforts to nurture the next generation of religious leaders so that they better appreciate the sensitivities and complexities of race and religion in Singapore. Just last month, the centre hosted visits by madrasah students who are preparing for the inter-madrasah forum on “Preserving Peace”. 
 21.         Since its opening in 2002, more than 60,000 visitors have toured the ISD Heritage Centre. In 2011 alone, the Centre hosted more than 10,000 visitors. Meanwhile, another 70,000 people have been engaged in the Centre’s mobile exhibitions held in schools, tertiary institutions, community centres and shopping malls.
22.          Today, the Centre launches its new Counter-Terrorism Gallery. The new gallery houses an even wider array of case studies and exhibits arising from ISD’s counter-terrorism investigations over the past 10 years since the disruption of the Jemaah Islamiyah network in Singapore. The new gallery includes new cases and artefacts that have not been made public till now.
23.          Over the next two years, the ISD Heritage Centre will be working with the Ministry of Education to reach out to all national schools through mobile exhibitions that are more student-centric. The students’ essay competition held in conjunction with today’s event is an example of this approach. I have read some of the essays which the students wrote based on their interviews of people who were affected by the 1964 and 1969 racial riots; their reflections of what transpired during those uncertain and fearful times demonstrate a valuable learning experience. I would like to commend the participants and congratulate the winners of the essay competition.         
24.          Let me also congratulate ISD on the 10th Anniversary of the Heritage Centre!       
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