Shaun Greenough is the Case Strategy and Mentor Supervisor at The Unity Initiative (TUI), a specialist intervention consultancy based in the United Kingdom that focuses on rehabilitating individuals convicted of terrorist offenses; training prison, probation, and police staff; tackling absolutist mindsets in the wider community; and advising governments on counterterrorism strategies. Prior to joining TUI, Greenough served in a variety of counterterrorism roles and managing operational and intelligence aspects of the investigation into the 2006 transatlantic airline plot for the Thames Valley Police Special Branch. When this unit was subsumed into the Southeast Counter-Terrorism Unit in 2009, Greenough managed intelligence gathering and was involved in efforts to protect the 2012 Summer Olympics. In 2013, after 30 years of service as a police officer, he began working on the Prevent pillar of the U.K. counterterrorism strategy, including between 2017 and 2018 as a regional manager of Prevent referrals in the Southeast region. Earlier in his career, Greenough was involved in several police investigations of the IRA.
Editor’s note: Paul Cruickshank advises TUI on counterterrorism issues.
CTC: You recently left government to begin work with TUI, a specialist intervention consultancy founded by Muslims that focuses on rehabilitating individuals convicted of terrorist offenses; training prison, probation, and police staff; tackling absolutist mindsets in the wider community; and advising governments on countering-extremism strategies. We previously featured the insights of both Usman Raja and Angela Misra, the husband-and-wife team who founded the organization, in this monthly interview feature.1 What led you to make the switch?
Greenough: I got to know Usman and Angela back in 2013. I was at the time working on Channel cases within the Southeast Counter-Terrorism Unit and part of my role then was to commission interventions, and I got to know them through commissioning them to take on intervention cases for us. What struck me with Usman and Angela was that the way they approached things was very different, and it involved not just trying to change a bit of view point here or a bit of a view point there. The work they did was much more holistic in that it looked to totally strip back people’s understanding of faith and then rebuild it in a much more holistic kind of way in terms of how they fit in in the wider community, [with] respect for everybody. TUI is focused on providing mentoring for individuals to give them a better perspective of how they fit into the wider community and give them a better ability to become a fully integrated member of wider society. I was extremely impressed with the deeper, holistic way that they worked. By approaching it in this way, it seemed to me, they had a better chance of having a sustained result.
Some of the cases that I got them into were some of the more difficult and slightly more complex cases that were slightly more long-term and needed much deeper work. I was impressed with what they were able to do, and they had an impressive ability to easily resonate and interact with people. TUI has worked with difficult individuals with deep-seated extremist worldviews who have been involved in extremist groups such as al-Muhajiroun.
Fast forward to 2018 and I’d reached a point where I thought that I might move on from the police side of things. Usman asked me if I fancied a change and work for them. I thought he was joking at first, but it became evident that he wasn’t. I decided that I’d make the jump and get a different perspective on everything.
Since joining TUI, I’ve been trying to get new jobs off the ground, where they’ve been referred to us. The work is actually very similar. I’m interfacing with police forces and engaging with our mentors on the same kind of issues I was working on within the Southeast Counter-Terrorism Unit. It’s dealing with the same people and the same agencies, but it’s just from a slightly different perspective and a different link in the chain from where I was before. TUI works independently, but alongside some of the other agencies involved.
The role I play is the jigsaw; I do a lot of the interacting with the agencies who may be stakeholders in the case. For example, we’ve got a lot of cases where probation service is involved, so I’ll be liaising with probation, I’ll be going to new case review meetings, I’ll be helping get new cases off the ground and working with the new voluntary strand cases, looking at how we get those cases off the ground. I work behind the scenes coordinating things, going to the case review meetings, and helping support TUI’s team of mentors with any issues as well.
CTC: From your perspective, why has TUI been so successful in rehabilitating individuals?
Greenough: In a nutshell, it revolves around having individuals who are fully committed to making a difference with this type of work. When you put the amount of work in that Angela and Usman do, you couldn’t do that unless you were fully committed to what you were doing and fully believed in it. They’re fully committed to what they’re doing, they know what they’re doing works, they can have a real impact on people’s lives, but also by doing this work, they—and we as a group—are building a more inclusive and safer society for all of us. They have a lot of credibility due to their work in the wider community over many years; this means that they are respected by everyone, even some of the extremists.
I’m committed to try and help them sort of take it all forward. We’re now building a new community strand, which requires a slightly different perspective and can be slightly more tricky in terms of getting it off the ground, and I think there is room for more work in prisons. The community strand involves working with individuals on a voluntary basis. Some of these people have been in trouble with the authorities for various reasons.
It’s a growing field of work. They’ve become extremely skilled in what they’re doing. They’ve got some really good people working for them now as mentors. And they’ve got some very significant cases ongoing, so it’s about trying to continue with this work and continuing to try to grow it.
CTC: More recently, you worked as a referrals manager for the Preventa dimension of U.K. counterterrorism efforts in the southeast of England. What did this entail?
Greenough: We basically had every single referral to Prevent for the whole of the southeast of England, excluding London (or in other words, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Hampshire, and Thames Valley), coming through our department. So, every referral from every source—whether it was a counterterrorism hotline referral, whether it was a referral from social services, whether it was a referral from the school, or whether it was a member of the public ringing in about somebody—every single one of those referrals that came from the southeast came through our department.
Our role was to assess the referrals. That involved having a look at them and asking, firstly, “does this amount to a Prevent concern?” because sometimes you would get things put through which were concerns about other matters. Secondly, we would ask ourselves “is it proportionate to deal with it in this way?” As part of this process, we would liaise with all the other agencies involved in making initial inquiries in a particular case. Once we got access to some initial inquiries around a particular referral, we would then package it up and get it out to the Prevent team based in the local area in question.
Once we got our initial assessment to the teams on the ground, they would potentially take a further look at it and potentially carry out further inquiries with other agencies. If the view was that the case needed to go to Channel,b we’d then help set it up to go to the Channel panels.c The local Prevent team on the ground would then be involved in working directly with the Channel panels. The Channel panels are now all local authority-led.
We would then be working alongside other stakeholders as part of a multi-agency panel. And you would try to come up with a multi-agency solution for that particular case, depending on what the specific issues were.
CTC: So, all this gives police eyes into the process from the beginning of any case that rises to the level of a counterterrorism concern.
Greenough: Yes. Because my office in the Southeast Counter-Terrorism Unit is involved from the get-go, and then the police are an intrinsic partner at the table in the Channel panels.
CTC: The U.K. government recently announced an independent review of Prevent.2 Critics have, for years, alleged that the program is ineffective and discriminatory toward Muslims and therefore counterproductive.3 It came under an especially strong critical spotlightd when it emerged that Ahmed Hassan, an 18-year-old Iraqi child asylum seeker had been referred to a Channel panel before he attempted to bomb a London Underground train at Parson’s Green tube stop in 2017.e Another case that has been highlighted is that of 2018 Oxford Street attack plotter Lewis Ludlow4 who was advised by a terror contact to “fake it” with those he was engaging with in Prevent.f In an interview last month, U.K. Security Minister Ben Wallace defended the Prevent program by stating that 500 people “who could have caused harm on our streets” had been through the Channel process in the past two years that “we are no longer worried about.”5 What’s your view of the strengths and weaknesses of Prevent?
Greenough: It’s obviously a complex issue. Yes, there are a few cases like the two you mentioned. But you’ve got hundreds of cases which have successfully been put through the program, some of whom were individuals who quite possibly could have gone on to get involved in terrorism. I’ve seen many very successful outcomes with Channel. Because of the nature of what we’re dealing with, you will get a few cases which don’t go the way that you would have wanted, but we will always learn from those cases.
And, more fundamentally, what would the alternative be if we were not trying to do this? And is it not better to try to turn people away from becoming involved in violent extremism/terrorism? In my view, it’s far better to try and intervene, engage, and try to turn potential violent extremists away from carrying out attacks than not doing anything and just dealing with them once they’ve committed an offense. I think Prevent is an extremely worthwhile element of counterterrorism policing, which complements all the other elements. It’s become fashionable to knock Prevent, but critics rarely come up with any viable alternative.
It is often portrayed in the media that there is deep opposition among Muslim communities for Prevent, but the reality on the ground is different. That notion of wide hostility has been propagated by certain groups, which are very anti-Prevent like CAGE, who make a lot of noise, but these groups are not reflective of the community as a whole. When our Prevent officers worked in the community, very rarely were doors closed on us.
With regard to the Lewis Ludlow case, he did indeed have a history of engagement with Prevent whilst building up towards his attack plotting, and this is one of the challenges—trying to assess whether an individual is just telling you what they think you want to hear or whether they are still an extremist. In his case, because of ongoing concerns, staff from our counterterrorism unit were able to identify this, and he was subsequently arrested by staff from our unit and prosecuted and convicted.
CTC: Do you think Prevent has saved lives?
Greenough: It’s always difficult to know because you can’t predict what may or may not have happened, but in some of the cases we [the Southeast Counter-Terrorism Unit] have been involved in, you had individuals who were involved with groups like the Islamist extremist group al-Muhajiroun and the right-wing extremist group National Action, for example, who’ve been on a pathway potentially towards violence who we’ve managed to pull off of that pathway and change their point of view.
CTC: Where can improvements be made?
Greenough: There’s always room for improvement, including when it comes to winning the trust of all segments of society. It’s important that everybody carries on looking for ways for better understanding of what we’re dealing with, working together in an even more integrated way with other agencies. Prevent is not just about policing. You’ve got lots of agencies—from local authorities, social services, probation, as well as the police—all working together.
CTC: Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, now the U.K. National Lead for Counter Terrorism Policing, told this publication a year ago that he thought Prevent should be taken completely outside central government and that it should be a community-led and grassroots-up process.g What’s your view?
Greenough: In an ideal world, maybe it would be. But I think we’ve probably got a long way to go before that could be the emphasis of it all. There’s a growing emphasis on Prevent being a safeguarding rather than policing effort. The notion that we are safeguarding vulnerable individuals from being drawn into something in the same way as you might be talking about a young person being drawn into involvement with gangs, drugs, and sexual grooming. I think the direction of travel is for Prevent activities to be mainstreamed into other safeguarding activities, which local authorities do already, and for local authorities to take on a greater role.
CTC: Turning to the challenge posed by extreme right-wing radicalization, which the Prevent program also works to tackle. Following the murder of British MP Jo Cox in 2016 and a terrorist attack targeting Muslims near Finsbury Park mosque in 2017, the threat posed by far-right extremists has received growing attention in the U.K. And the number of Prevent referrals related to right-wing extremism has been increasing.h What is the nature of the challenge the U.K. is facing?
Greenough: It is a growing area of work. When I was working in Prevent, we were seeing a growing proportion of our referrals as right-wing related. It’s a very complex landscape, which morphs and changes almost on a monthly basis with a wide spectrum of groups involved and different groups constantly coming into the picture. One such group, National Action, has now been banned in the U.K. Another group of concern is the System Resistance Network,6 which has been showing up online and gathering a bit of pace.
The landscape in the U.K. is influenced by right-wing extremists in Europe, where they have a growing extremism scene. You’ve got a big right-wing music scene in Europe that reaches across a lot of people. A lot of people involved in these activities in the U.K. follow the extreme-right scene in the United States, and you get quite a few cases in which people are interacting with people in the United States and following online blogs and following discussions on internet sites, including Stormfront.i
One of the projects I’m working on in TUI is setting up their Right-Wing Division. With their credibility and experience, I believe they will become a market leader in tackling XRW [right-wing extremism] in a short space of time.
CTC: And just like with Islamist extremism, this is all being fueled by social media, by this radical virtual echo chamber.
Greenough: Yes. The role social media plays in far-right extremism is very large. A lot of youngsters in particular don’t get it that once they start liking something on Twitter or Facebook or wherever, they then get bombarded with other similar material.
Then there are interesting dynamics with social media in terms of who’s putting a lot of this stuff out there and what their ulterior motive is. There’s an interesting phenomenon with Twitter regarding where some of those accounts are actually hosted. You’ve got accounts with individuals who purport to be an individual from America who are retweeting and liking something that somebody might have said, but if you actually have a look at where that account is, you find it’s not in America at all, but it’s hosted somewhere like Russia. Russia has been working on the power of using social media for anything they possibly can to kind of cause social unrest in Western countries, including the United States. They’ve become very, very proficient at using social media to their own advantage. How much of an impact it’s having in aggravating the problem of right-wing extremism in the U.K. is still being analyzed, but there’s no doubt it’s having an impact.
TUI is also looking to move into this field of work. We are currently recruiting and training mentors to work with XRW cases. Potentially, this is a growing area of work that is just as important as the Islamist extremism work.
CTC: You managed aspects of the investigation into the 2006 al-Qa`ida plot to blow up multiple transatlantic airliners departing from Heathrow. It remains the most serious terrorist plot thwarted since 9/11. How big and challenging an investigation was it?
Greenough: It was the biggest counterterrorism police investigation we had ever had in the U.K. At the time, I was working for what was then the Thames Valley Police Special Branch, and I helped manage the intel and ops side of the investigation into the airline plot locally.
What made it so complex was that you had quite a large number of individuals involved in the plot, with many of the suspects spread out in the area northeast of central London, but also some in our area to the west and northwest of the capital. That made it difficult to coordinate because this was before the days of an integrated national counterterrorism police network. The Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command was looking after the overall investigation, but we had a corner of the job, which revolved around a number of individuals who lived in our police area including one of the key suspected plotters who lived in the High Wycombe area. In regards to those individuals, there was a requirement for a lot of work around intelligence gathering and tying in with all the agencies involved. We had to mount and coordinate a massive effort to cover the individuals who lived in our area and feed back to the overall effort. For a number of individuals on our end, this involved a 24-hour surveillance effort for a sustained period of time; we’re talking beyond weeks.
It was extremely taxing, keeping it all going. We had to get a lot of help from all over the country in terms of resources to be able to fulfill what was needed. We were dealing with the absolute highest stakes. We were all acutely aware you couldn’t afford to get anything wrong. And the pressure was on all the time. We were having to have three meetings a day, quick 20-minute meetings, just to keep on top of what we’d got done, what we’d been tasked [with], and what remained to be done. And as I said, this went on for some period of time. So, the amount of effort that our staff put in was absolutely phenomenal with some people having to work 24 hours straight on numerous occasions to get bits of work done.
When everything came to a head, we had to deploy all our resources very rapidly because there were some events worldwide which led to it becoming necessary to arrest some of the individuals very quickly,j with a couple hours’ notice to tie in with other events which were happening worldwide and nationally. It was a very hectic job from start to finish.
CTC: When you’re talking about 24-hour surveillance, what is the manpower required to monitor a single suspect?
Greenough: To mount full 24-hour surveillance of just one suspect, you could be talking three teams of people, each covering one shift for mobile surveillance, and at least three static surveillance teams with each covering a shift, because you may have more than one sort of static view on it. You might have two or three teams just doing static surveillance to enable your mobile surveillance to be able to then do their job. So, you’re talking a vast amount of manpower, depending on how many vehicles and all the other bits of kit you’ve deployed on your mobile surveillance. You could be talking up to 20 people just doing the surveillance on one shift.
CTC: And when you’re dealing with a period that stretches for a significant period of time like for the transatlantic airline plot, it’s difficult to sustain that level of effort for any police service.
Greenough: Yeah, it’s extremely difficult to sustain that level of effort because what you’ve got to remember is all those people working on that type of operation. Because of the size of it, you’re talking about bringing in staff from all over the country to help. All those people have got to be put up somewhere. They’re all going to need X, Y, Z. You’re going to need the capability to brief them all, debrief them all. It’s a phenomenal effort.
CTC: You had a managerial role when it came to overseeing the operations and intelligence side of investigating the transatlantic airlines plot. What insights can you share about getting the most from your team in such a high-stakes investigation?
Greenough: Keeping those regular meetings going was critical to making sure everybody knew what their job was. In the early part of it, what became obvious very quickly is we consumed a lot of our key individuals up quite quickly and then had to pull them out of what we’d got them doing to get other people who had come in from other parts of the country to do those roles. This was necessary in order to free our people up to best use their skills and local knowledge. When you’ve got a really big job on like that, it’s important that everybody knows their role, that they’re trained to a high standard, and that you can put your trust in them. Because when you get a job of that size, you have to delegate work out. You have got to be able to trust your staff to do the job properly and then make sure that you’re on top of everything and that everything is being coordinated. I was blessed with some very good people who were very good at their jobs, who got stuff done in a very professional manner.
Training for big jobs like that is key so that people understand what they’re doing and that everything ties together naturally. Training and exercising are always important to make sure that if anything happens at any given time, people understand what their roles are. But you also need flexibility so that if something doesn’t quite fit into what you’ve trained for, you’re flexible enough to think of a solution and find a work-around. You’ve got to be able to think laterally and be flexible, and sometimes you have to take a step back, take a deep breath to try to see the bigger picture, and then step forward again and potentially reorganize things to make sure everything’s working efficiently.
It’s also important not to lose focus when there is not a big investigation ongoing. People working in counterterrorism always need to be at the top of their game because any job which doesn’t look like much on the face of it can turn into something significant. This makes it absolutely critical that people are switched on and [at] the top of their game all the time.
CTC: From your vantage point, how has the nature of the jihadi terrorist threat in the U.K. evolved since the transatlantic airline plot?
Greenough: The threat landscape has changed significantly. Back then, it was almost all AQ-directed or -inspired plots, which frequently had a level of complication involving cells plotting towards committing some sort of fairly large and impactful attack. It’s now almost the polar opposite where you’ve got groups like ISIL instigating the most basic kind of attack, where they’re encouraging people just to take a knife and go out to some crowded place and attack people in the simplest possible way. That’s extremely difficult to interdict because you potentially need very little organization or equipment or plotting. Even if the individual concerned is somewhere on the radar already, figuring out when a particular person is going to move from radical thought to radical action can be very difficult.
When it comes to lone-actor cases, there are often very complex factors involved. Frequently, there are layers of different issues, including mental health issues and behavioral and learning difficulties. Trying to assess and predict what they may or may not do is very difficult, and just because you assess somebody this month does not present a risk, does not mean that in 12 months’ time that something will not change in the complex mix of issues with them that makes things very different. CTC
[a] Editor’s note: Prevent is one of the pillars of the United Kingdom’s counterterrorism strategy (CONTEST). It aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. The three other pillars of CONTEST are Pursue (to stop terrorist attacks), Protect (to strengthen protection against terrorist attack), and Prepare (to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack). “Counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST) 2018,” U.K. Home Office, August 20, 2018.
[b] Editor’s note: Channel is the most intensive layer of Prevent. It involves individuals assessed to be vulnerable to radicalization in a way that makes them a potential counterterrorism concern. See “CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism June 2018 Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department by Command of Her Majesty,” June 2018, p. 26.
[c ]Editor’s note: According to the U.K. government, “for those referrals where the police assess that there is a risk of radicalisation, a Channel panel—which is chaired by the local authority and made up of representatives from different safeguarding areas including health, education and the police—will meet to discuss each case and carefully assess the extent of the potential vulnerability of the individual. … Participation in Channel is entirely voluntary.” “CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism June 2018 Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department by Command of Her Majesty,” June 2018, pp. 38-39.
[d] Editor’s note: The U.K. parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee stated, “the litany of errors that resulted in HASSAN’s attack planning passing unnoticed, despite his being an active Channel case, highlight deep-rooted issues in the administration of the Prevent strand of CONTEST.” “The 2017 Attacks: What needs to change?” Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, November 22, 2018, pp. 3-4.
[e] Editor’s note: According to The Financial Times, “Ahmed Hassan, an 18-year-old Iraqi who had arrived in the UK two years before as a child asylum seeker … told immigration officials processing his asylum application that he had been groomed by Isis and ‘trained to kill,’ so he was referred to his local Prevent team in Surrey … [and was eventually] referred to the Channel process but Surrey County Council, which was managing him, did not convene a panel for six months, during which time Hassan’s mental health deteriorated. His foster carers reported that he was going missing, but this was not considered noteworthy by the police who were reporting to Channel. Ten days before the attack, the panel met and discussed closing Hassan’s case.” Helen Warrell, “Inside Prevent, the UK’s controversial anti-terrorism programme,” Financial Times, January 24, 2019.
[f] Editor’s note: According to The Financial Times, “The prosecution revealed that one of Ludlow’s terror contacts advised him to ‘be polite’ with Prevent personnel, telling him: ‘Even if u don’t believe it, fake it.’ Ludlow, a former postman, was later found to have scoped out sites for an attack on Oxford Street just hours after a session with his Prevent mentor.” Warrell.
[g] Editor’s note: Then Deputy Assistant Commissioner Basu stated, “Prevent, at the moment, is owned by the government, but I think it should be outside central government altogether. I think people who are running their local communities should be taking the lead. … Communities should be talking about protecting themselves from the grassroots up. When you see Prevent working on the ground brilliantly, that’s where it’s working, and largely unsung and un-talked about. Substantial community resilience is produced by that sort of work.” Raffaello Pantucci, “A View from the CT Foxhole: Neil Basu, Senior National Coordinator for Counterterrorism Policing in the United Kingdom,” CTC Sentinel 11:2 (2018).
[h] Editor’s note: See Graham Macklin, “The Evolution of Extreme-Right Terrorism and Efforts to Counter It in the United Kingdom,” CTC Sentinel 12:1 (2019). According to Macklin, “Statistics for the year to March 2018, the latest for which there are figures, show that out of a record 7,318 Prevent referrals, 1,321 (18%) related to right-wing extremism. This represents a 36% increase compared to the previous year-long period. By contrast, Islamist referrals decreased 14% between the two periods.”
[i] Editor’s note: According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Stormfront was “created by former Alabama Klan boss and long-time white supremacist Don Black in 1995 … [and] was the first major hate site on the Internet.” Southern Poverty Law Center Profile of Stormfront.
[j] Editor’s note: It has been widely reported that the arrest of the suspected coordinator of the plot in Pakistan forced British police to make arrests sooner than had been anticipated. Don Van Natta, Jr., Elaine Sciolino, and Stephen Grey, “Details Emerge in British Terror Case,” New York Times, August 28, 2006; Daniel Sanford, “Airline plot: Al-Qaeda connection,” BBC, September 7, 2009; Habibullah Khan, Nick Schifrin, and Brian Ross, “US Kills Al Qaeda Mastermind of Airline Liquid Bomb Plot,” ABC News, November 22, 2008.
 Paul Cruickshank, “An Interview With: Usman Raja, CTC Sentinel 8:7 (2015); Paul Cruickshank, “A View from the CT Foxhole: Dr. Angela Misra, Co-Founder, The Unity Initiative,” CTC Sentinel 10:10 (2017).
 For recent coverage of the group, see “System Resistance Network: Neo-Nazi group ‘should be illegal,’” BBC, December 3, 2018.