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UK.gov wants to ramp up, co-ordinate anti-terror investment

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The UK government's chief scientific advisor painted a depressing picture of an ever-evolving terror threat that had to be be met with an ever agile investment in science and technology for security.

Launching the Home Office's Security and Counter-Terrorism Science and Innovation strategy, Professor Paul Wiles echoed its contents in calling for a more concerted and urgent investment in security technology to protect the UK against terrorists.

"The strategy is not built on the assumption that the threat is static, but that it will continue to change. That's the reality of the threat so we have to have a strategy that is responsive enough," he told a spook industry audience at the Royal United Services Institute in London today.

He said the three years of research the government had already done into security technology could have been done better if it had worked more closely with business and academia: "The government will fail unless you help. Innovation is hardly something for which the civil service is known."

This was part of a four-pronged strategy that would also involve more co-ordination between government departments, doing more to spot new threats and technologies to counter them, and collaborating with allies such as the US and EU.

He could not say how much would be invested, however, until the government had completed its Comprehensive Spending Review.

The UK's security research budget has been £14m a year for the last three years, a sum that funds both academic research as well as product development. Wiles refused to say how much he thought the UK needed, or how much he would like to get the job done.

The US Department of Homeland Security's research budget is around $800m. The security tranche of the European Commission's science funding, in Framework Programme 7, amounts to €1.4bn, and that excludes the security elements that are also being awarded in all other areas of FP7, which has a total budget of €32bn to 2013.

Wiles and representatives of the US and EU research efforts all agreed they should divvy up the anti-terror research burden.

EU principle scientific advisor Khoen Liem said the EU had launched an initiative to co-ordinate research activities between the commission and EU countries such as the UK, Germany, and Sweden, which have significant security programmes of their own.

There was a "fragmentation" that was resulting in incompatible equipment, he said, and a fractured market. Allied countries had to find their specialisms, he said, but added: "Structuring the demand side is the Olympic challenge."

Wiles agreed the possibility of wasteful overlaps in allied research was real. He had been talking with the Department of Homeland Security and EC about how they "share the risk, share the responsibility". But he refused to say what the UK's specialism was.

He did say that the most shining example to come out of the last three years of research was in the realm of chemical detection, but would not elaborate.

Dr Jim DeCorpo, director of the US Department of Homeland Security's Eurasia office, said he had opened a dialogue to co-ordinate efforts with the EU, but said the department already had bilateral agreements with countries including the UK and Sweden. ®

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