Published: 05 April 2017
Your Excellency Marc Abensour, Ambassador of France to Singapore,
President of Milipol,
1. Good morning, and thank you for inviting me here to this conference.
2. Let me first start out by saying a little bit about our relationship with France. Singapore and France share a very strong relationship. Just last week, we had the honour of hosting His Excellency, the President of France to a State Visit. A key part of that relationship has been the close linkages and partnership in the areas of security and law enforcement.
3. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) works closely with the French Ministry of Interior, and we work on areas such as counter-terrorism, transnational crime and so on. In April last year, we signed a 3-year agreement, a Strategic Cooperation Plan to talk about security cooperation. Our aim is to have even closer cooperation in the future.
Milipol Asia Pacific 2017
4. Turning to this conference, if you look around, over the years, it brings together Government officials, private sector, who are together today to engage in one of the most serious challenges facing the world and in this region. Security challenges have come from religious extremism, in the real world and in the virtual world.
5. So let me structure my speech in three ways. First, the threat of terrorism. Second, the changing nature of terror attacks and third, the implications, including the security implications and the use of technology.
What ISIS wants to do
6. I think the issue of terrorism, particularly religious extremism, is probably the single most defining challenge in the current environment. How do we meet it? I think it requires us to look at what is it that organisations like ISIS want and what sort of dangers it poses.
7. ISIS seeks to establish a world Caliphate, ruled by a supreme leader and governed by Islamic laws. At its height, it declared provinces in nine countries, controlled territories and large amounts of money. Although it is somewhat displaced in the Middle East, the threat is still there. And as I have said elsewhere, it's like you take a globule of mercury, you pound it very hard, it just distributes itself to a variety of places.
Threat in Southeast Asia
8. One place that has been of considerable interest to ISIS is obviously Southeast Asia, with the world's largest Muslim population. They have hoped to reach out and they have made clear what they want.
9. For example in Malaysia, January last year, Malaysia arrested a number of ISIS supporters. Through the year, Malaysia has continued to arrest ISIS supporters. Shortly after the arrest in January 2016, they issued a threat. A clear and open threat: "If you catch us, we will only increase in number, but if you let us be, we will be closer to our goal of bringing back the rule of the Khalifah. We will never bow down to the democratic system of governance as we will only follow Allah's rule."
10. So in their worldview, Malaysia, Indonesia and obviously Singapore, which is in the middle of it, Southern Philippines, as part of a larger caliphate ruled by a caliph, it cannot be by a system of governance, governed by anything other than the rule of God. So there cannot be elections, there cannot be a democratic system. If you have instability along these lines, in this region, it leads up to the rest of Southeast Asia and all the way to China, and of course South Asia. So it's a pan-Asian problem, and given the connectivity, no region is really very far from any other region. Then that is an issue for the rest of the world as well, with a strong centre here.
11. This movement has a number of catalysts right now. As many as a thousand fighters from this region have travelled to Syria and Iraq. Not all of them have been killed and as the fight winds down in that region, they will return. They are in fact organised into a Malay Archipelago Unit in Syria and Iraq, called "Katibah Nusantara", and they are actively reaching out to the Malay-speaking population in this region. They are using propaganda videos and newspapers in Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malayu to entice and recruit new members. If you have watched the videos, they are very powerful.
12. The threat to Southeast Asia was put in these terms, by the advisor to the Royal Malaysia Police. He said the area controlled by ISIS is shrinking and they will therefore essentially have to spread out and go to other areas and Southeast Asia is a key region. The people who come back will be hardened ideologues, hardened fighters and willing to give up their lives.
13. The next slide shows you the number of attacks that have taken place in Southeast Asia in recent years. The potential locus of the threat could move to Southern Philippines, which is becoming an area that is difficult to control, despite the best efforts of the government. That is an area that can serve as a sanctuary for the returning fighters from the Middle East. It can be a place where would-be terrorists, and those who are radicalised from this region, can go to get trained. Arms seem to move fairly easily into that region, and from there as a base, they can spread out again to attack this region. So, newly radicalised, would-be fighters, battle-hardened, veterans from the Middle East, and people who are released from prisons, who have not yet been rehabilitated, can all gravitate there. At the right time and opportunity, they may well attack.
14. So that is the sort of picture we are having. And as I emphasized, if you look at the map today, this region is not very far from any other region so it doesn't take very long to get anywhere else. It's not a local problem, it's not a regional problem. It's a problem for all of us. The same goes for such situations in many other regions.
15. Next, I want to touch on the changing nature of terror attacks. If you look at what ISIS has said, not everyone has access to rifles, but today, anything can become a weapon - your car, take someone and throw him over the parapet, use a knife, use a stone to kill him, that has been the kind of invitation that has been issued. You see the date when the invitation was issued, and you see the nature of the attacks since that date. You've had Nice, you've had the Berlin attack using the vehicle, you've had knife attacks, you've had the recent Westminister attack, similar modus operandi, a car followed by a knife. How do security agencies deal with that kind of attacks? Assault by weapons, rifles we can identify.
16. We picked up a young man who wanted to take a knife and kill our President and Prime minister. Fortunately, we understood what he wanted to do and picked him up. Our legislation allows us to do so, which is one of the advantages we have in Singapore. We can move in very early and we can detain people. Beyond lone wolf threats, using cars and knives and everyday items, there are also well-coordinated attacks that we have seen in Paris, Berlin and Brussels. Through linkages and social media, and shifting to soft targets – nightclubs, stadiums, concert theaters and shopping malls, public gatherings – you cannot turn the entire city into a garrison. Then, the other aspect of their modus operandi is that terrorists are no longer interested in taking hostages. They want to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and then keep a small number, for reasons of publicity, and getting international attention. So essentially, the implications are, a terror attack can take place any time, any place, and they can attack and impact on anyone. With a possibility of a loss of lives, within a short period of time, with little or no warning. That is the nature of the threat.
17. I must emphasise that in the end, I do not think that terrorists will win, because I think the nature of human beings is that we look for progress and I do not believe that any culture, or system, or people or civilization can be held back. I think progress is inevitable, a better life is inevitable, but I think along the way we will face some pressures, and that is what this is about. How long it is going to be, how bloody it is going to be, we do not know, but it promises to be life threatening. This is why in Singapore we have been emphasising to our people it is no longer a question of whether an attack will take place, but when and how. It is not a question of "if". So how do we respond? How does the Singapore government respond, how have we responded? Everyone will have their own strategy. In Singapore we have a comprehensive national counter-terrorism strategy, based on five different building blocks. First, international and intelligence cooperation. Second, countering the extremist ideology, because if the response is purely kinetic, it's not going to go anywhere. You've got to counter the ideology. Third, security protection to protect buildings, events and targets, deploying Police cameras. Yesterday, we passed a legislation in Parliament, which allows the Commissioner of Police in Singapore to direct hardening of buildings. It gives the Commissioner of Police the power to direct event organisers to take extra security measures. The hard-edge of the response has got to be the security response. The Emergency Response Troops, we put them on motorbikes and on other things, they understand the local context in different parts in Singapore. The rule of thumb is they have got to be at the location of attack within a matter of minutes, and be able to engage with the attackers immediately and effectively. That is the KPI. That is what they have been trained to do.
18. We conduct exercises along those lines. Of course there are gaps and we are fixing those gaps. Finally, and critically, this is not just for Government to do. It has to be something that should be done in partnership with the entire population because now ownership for the response has got to be both the Government and the people. Not just on how we respond when we are faced with an attack but we will have to know how they will protect themselves, how will they help themselves, how will they give first aid to someone else when it is safe to do so. But also, the day after an attack, how do we respond? Do we respond with our heads held high, with confidence, and say we are Singaporeans, just like the Parisians and Londoners did. Or are we cowed by the attacks? If we respond with confidence without pointing fingers at any particular community or race or religion then the terrorists would have lost and we would have won. So the psychological resilience has to be built in. It is a key part.
19. Today, I want to focus on what are the options. How we are focusing on operations technology to address counter terrorism issues. Technology today is going to play a very critical role in our counter terrorism efforts and in my ministry (MHA), we seek to invest in equipment and technology to support the desired operational outcomes.
20. So some of the critical things you are asking, we do not have the answers for. We look at the future, and ask how can we be more proactive in making big innovation plans for the future. What can we do to make breakthrough technologies? How does that help to support our counter terrorism efforts? And looking outside, how can we establish more collaborative partnerships with other Government agencies in countries with similar outlooks. What can we do with the private sector and industry to foster the development of new technology and to enable ourselves to better meet the challenges? Combining this, how can we develop a pool of officers to embrace and be savvy in developing the latest technological solutions to fight this threat. It is going to require a fundamental change in the way security agencies think and operate because they have to keep trying to stay ahead of the terrorists.
21. Technology can be used in many sectors. Let me just give a few specific examples. For example, we look at sensors, massive deployment of sensors, and analytics. For example, we have deployed cameras at the void decks of all our public housing blocks, we have about 10, 000 for now. We are now rolling out phase 2 which is in all the areas where people come together. Beyond the coverage end to end, on expressways, roads and other areas where cars park, having thousands and thousands of cameras is one thing but making them smart, making them fused, bringing the data together and having the artificial intelligence to analyse and in fact, predict behaviour. Not just wait for something to happen, but predict when a certain pattern develops, as to what's going to happen. That's going to be critical, unusual activity to be flagged out in real time, facial recognition, a whole variety of technologies.
22. Then, if an incident does take place – command, control, communications – we need to use all the sensors, track the available information, make sense of it, generate the best picture for the command centre and empower the ground commanders to immediately respond. This will involve all of this and building capacity and capability, data analytics, big data to both predict and react.
23. We are seeing the move much more into using robots, or autonomous machines, to support our officers. To do some of the more routine tasks, some of the more dangerous tasks, some of the tasks that we do not need officers to do. Also in the context of manpower, to augment and support the limited pool of officers that any Ministry of Interior will have, in the kind of context and challenges that we all face. One simple example is, well, I think many of us are now looking at exoskeletons of firefighters, people who are involved in rescue work, use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to complement the existing sensors, drones, and to build the capability to counter drones as well, since they are so easily available for the other side.
24. And then you have cybercrime, cyber security. That is critical. Today we are talking about moving into smart city. Many cities are moving in that direction. The future is of strong, vibrant cities which interact with each other. Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Paris, London, New York, Doha, cities in-between. And cities will become more and more dependent on computers, infocomms, technology, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. The transport, communications, your work environment, all of that is now at risk. So we started identifying what are the critical infrastructure. Each time you identify critical infrastructure, you then realise something else that supports the critical infrastructure is also critical. Really, you have to bullet proof the entire system, which is a massive undertaking. But you do not do it. And today, we have to be very candid about it. It is not just terrorists who might target these. It might seem to countries as a legitimate attack option. So you have state agencies which are actively looking at interrupting and destroying someone else's ICT network, and you have got to protect against that too.
Crowdsourcing – MyResponder App
25. We also have to look at crowdsourcing, enterprise solutions. We have started that for some years. One example is the MyResponder app. It allows an alert to be sent to nearby responders within a selected radius. Those who volunteer for this app will be able to perform first aid (CPR). It works successfully. When we send out the alert, those who have been trained to provide first aid, to do CPR and so on, will be alerted to come and save the person. My ministry gives out awards to people who do so. Last year, a lady, who was a volunteer and had been trained, saw a man suffering a heart seizure and saved his life. Our taxi drivers also carry around equipment. Those who volunteer under this app, if a car is on fire, they take out the extinguisher. So it's building on, bringing in people to work with us.
26. Second example, something that Police have been doing, they have got the iWitness app, which allows the public to quickly report criminal activity to the Police. The vast majority of our crimes get solved with the public's help, more than 70%. The public are very active participants in Singapore in this way. A recent survey showed that the public's confidence in the Police is such that between 88% to 90% have confidence and faith in the Police force. 93% of Singaporeans, male and female, feel comfortable and confident walking alone at night on the streets, and that is a very high degree of confidence. And they feel comfortable, confident, first when they report to the Police and second, they have faith that when reported, the matter will be pursued. And the Police app allows you to just point, shoot and send.
27. Last September, we introduced the new SGSecure app that brings these various apps together, in the context of the terrorism threat. The App can send alerts to the public on security-related incidents. About 380,000 mobile handsets in Singapore have the SGSecure app, since the last six months. This particular application, if you are caught in an attack, it allows you to take a photograph, automatically shows where you are and allows you to send it to the agency. It is very simple, very easy to use, and it allows you to choose whether to send it to the Police, or the Civil Defence Force. It will allow you to also download what you ought to be doing and how you can help others. For example CPR.
28. I was very heartened by an incident last Sunday. Someone left a bag in an MRT station, in Hougang. The camera picked up the gentleman leaving it behind and walking off. The immediate response was to close the station down. There were questions as to whether we overreacted. But if it were really a bomb, then the question will be why we didn't, so closing it was the right thing to do.
29. A member of public, Mr Lau, aged 69, got the alert from the SGSecure app, urging people to stay away from Hougang MRT station. He lives next to the station and he got a shock. And I quote, "I genuinely thought there had been an attack. I dared to go over to take a look only after my daughter's SGSecure app said that it was safe". So it is working. It's gotten into the public consciousness, they understand how it works. There is a general sensitization to this idea. You know, as long as we do not get an attack, of course, many Singaporeans believe that there would not be an attack, and long may it remain that way. But it is our duty to go and send the message across, and we intend to go to every single household in Singapore, bring the message across. We have covered about 60,000 households since we started. Within the next few years, we would have covered every household in Singapore. Everyone would have seen this app, everyone would have heard of SGSecure, everyone would have been told what is it that they can do to come in and be part of the system and many will volunteer.
Public-private sector collaboration
30. Now, this brings me to public-private sector collaboration. Our Government has announced spending of almost $19 billion dollars, about USD 13 billion, by 2020. That is the kind of money that the Singapore Government, for our needs, is putting aside for research and technology. A fair bit of it would involve collaboration on ICTs, smart city, security, and how do we prepare, how do we harden, how do we predict. All the kinds of things I've been talking about costs money, so we have set aside the money to actually get on with it. There are four domains we are looking at – (a) advanced manufacturing and engineering, (b) health and biomedical sciences, (c) services and digital economy, (d) Urban solutions and sustainability. My ministry has worked with the industry to develop what we call a Strategic Partnership for Innovation Framework. That allows my ministry to engage industry players with a good track record, to develop technology solutions to support my ministry's work. This collaboration goes two ways. Public sector officials have to be constantly attuned to the developments in industry, the developments in, if I may call it, the terror environment, and also the latest technological solutions available. At the same time, private sector will have to keep abreast of both the needs of the public sector and the needs the evolving environment has created. So a good grounded understanding of security challenges, familiarity with the tactics of terrorist and their organisations, clear insights into the solutions that are needed to address these threats. That is the way we can build a very strong public-private ecosystem. The public sector recognises, at least in Singapore, that the best brains in this field are not necessarily in the public sector. We recognise and understand that, and we will work with the private sector, because this is a fight that we are all engaged in.
31. I hope that Milipol Asia Pacific will serve as a leading platform for dialogue between public and private sectors, that we will be productive in building collaborations, sharing insights and ideas. I wish you a meaningful and successful conference. Thank you.