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  • Secret mission? UK “homeland security” firms were in India three weeks before David Cameron’s February trade mission

    In late January, Conservative MP and Minister for Security James Brokenshire led a delegation of nearly 25 “homeland security” firms to India on a trip which, in sharp contrast to the trade mission to India undertaken by David Cameron in February, received no coverage in the press whatsoever.

    From 20 to 25 January multinational giants such as Agusta Westland, BAE Systems, G4S and Thales were taken to a number of Indian cities: Delhi, “for the government perspective”; Hyderabad, “the centre of the vast Naxal terrorism-troubled region and the home of a growing high tech industry base” where there was a “round table discussion with local security forces”; and Mumbai, “the focus of safer cities and coastal security initiatives” where attendees were treated to “a conference and round table discussion with local government security agencies and business.” [1]

    A number of lesser-known firms were present alongside the major corporations. Evidence Talks attended, which was founded in 1993 and describes itself as “one of the most highly regarded digital forensic consultancies in the UK.” The company supplies tools for the extraction and analysis of data from digital devices and boasts that its SPEKTOR tool is “used worldwide by police, military, government and commercial customers…[and] enables users with minimal skills to safely, quickly and forensicly [sic] review the contents of computers, removable media and even cell phones.” [2]

    Cunning Running also went on UKTI’s trip, and claims to provide “threat visualisation for the real world.” The firm say that they “develop high quality software solutions for the defence and homeland security markets,” supplying “direct to governments, law enforcement agencies, and militaries in the UK, USA, Europe and Australia.” [3]

    “The security sector in India is vast and desperate to modernise,” said UKTI’s flyer for the mission. “India has approximately 1.2 million police and 1.3 million paramilitary forces personnel. With this, the Central Reserve Police Force, at 350,000, is the largest paramilitary force in the world” – a vast number of personnel who could be equipped with the latest “homeland security” gadgets and expertise.

    The flyer for the mission seems to highlight the fact that backing the security industry as it moves into developing economies is seen as a national endeavour. “The [Indian] market is the subject of stiff competition from international competitors such as the US, Israel and France,” UKTI said, “but is simply too big to ignore.”

    UKTI highlighted that “the on-the-ground costs of this mission (receptions, ground transport, conference facilities, promotional literature) are being wholly subsidised on behalf of UK companies by UKTI and its partners/sponsors” (emphasis in original). Those partners and sponsors included the Indian Home Ministry and the Confederation of Indian Industries.

    Furthermore, companies were “able to avail a government-negotiated rate at the hotels being used throughout the programme.”

    The “only charge to companies” was for the UKTI Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS) – a “flexible business tool, letting you use the services of our trade teams, located in our embassies, high commissions and consulates across the world, to benefit your business.” [4]

    The government has recently made additional funding available in order to encourage wider use of OMIS by UK firms, with a 50% discount (up to a maximum of £750) available to “all eligible companies commissioning an order linked to a UKTI, Scottish Development International (SDI), Welsh Government (WG) or Invest Northern Ireland (INI) supported outward mission or Market Visit Support (MVS).” [5]

    While UKTI has clawed back some money from the firms who went on the trade mission to India, the department – described by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) as “a taxpayer-funded arms sales unit” [6] – initially spent over £35,000 subsidising companies. In its response to a freedom of information (FOI) request from Statewatch, UKTI said that “we have also generated income of £13,485 with another £1,170 expected. Therefore the net cost minus the expenses still to come is £20,997.98.”

    This amount pales in comparison to the total amount of subsidies it is estimated are awarded to defence and security firms by the UK government every year, but it also highlights the breadth of support given to a highly controversial industry.

    Research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that, between 2007 and 2010, total government subsidies for UK arms exports (including both defence and security firms) totalled at its highest £751.2 million, and at its lowest £668.3 million. [7]

    A spokesperson for CAAT criticised the mission to India, saying that: “Unfortunately the UK government continues to prioritise promoting corporate interests over promoting human rights and real security – and expects the UK public to subsidise this.”

    David Cameron’s February trade mission to India received heavy press coverage and saw the Prime Minister accompanied by a number of CEOs from defence and security firms, including Dick Oliver, the chairman of BAE Systems; Robin Southwell, the CEO of EADS UK; Steve Wadley, the UK managing director of the missile firm MBDA; and Victor Chavez, the chief executive of Thales UK. [8]

    [1] UKTI DSO, UKTI homeland security trade mission to India
    [2] Evidence Talks, Company Profile
    [3] Cunning Running website
    [4] UKTI, OMIS – Overseas Market Introduction Service, 25 January 2012
    [5] UKTI, Response to FOI request, 22 March 2013
    [6] Campaign Against Arms Trade, UKTI: Armed & Dangerous, 8 July 2011
    [7] Susan T. Jackson, SIPRI assessment of UK arms export subsidies, 25 May 2011
    [8] Kaye Stearman, Cameron’s Indian odyssey – brickbats and cricket bats, fighter jets and on-message execs, CAATblog, 22 February 2013
    [9] Global Day of Action on Military Spending


    Find this story at 15 April 2013

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