Elite anti-terror PSNI unit now conducting 70 dissident probes
A specialist PSNI anti-terror unit is conducting almost 70 investigations into dissident republican activities, the majority undercover surveillance operations, its lead detective has revealed.
In an unprecedented step, the officer heading the dedicated evidence-building team has spoken publicly about the intelligence tactics employed in the fight against violent extremists.
Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes said while some of his present case-load was in the public domain, with arrests or searches having been carried out, much of it was still in the covert stage and involved gathering evidence against suspects who are likely unaware they are being watched.
He revealed that new state-of-the-art recording and listening technology provided by the Security Services was giving his officers potential evidence that would have been impossible to obtain in previous years.
"We have 68 current investigations and that's a mixture of proactive and reactive investigations, purely focused on terrorism and the vast majority of that would be focused on violent dissent republicanism," he said.
The Terrorism Investigation Unit (TIU) forms part of the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, but until now the police had been reluctant to divulge its inner workings.
It has recently been in the lead in a number of high profile terrorist cases where surveillance evidence proved crucial, including the convictions of four people for involvement in a dissident training camp in Co Tyrone.
Mr Geddes revealed that PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has deployed 25 new officers to the unit, bringing his staff to 79.
The 49-year-old detective said his unit used MI5 for "advice, assistance, technology and assessments", but highlighted that legislation in Northern Ireland dictated it had to be PSNI officers who did the work on the ground.
Mr Geddes also flagged up successful working relationships with the Gardai, Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service, the Northern Ireland Office, the Metropolitan Police's specialist anti-terror unit SO15 and the FBI in the US.
He said the latter played a crucial role when the PSNI was attempting to gain communications data from American service providers such as Google and Hotmail. His team investigates all forms of terrorism, so international threats posed by Islamic extremists such as Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida are also on its radar.
While Mr Geddes said his officers were "monitoring" a number of individuals in regard to those issues, the primary concern in Northern Ireland remained violent dissident republicanism. He said its operations focused on the so-called New IRA, the Continuity IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH).
He also said police were on high alert for the potential ramping up of activity in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.
"With 2016 the centenary brings a challenge but it also is an opportunity," he added. "If we can be in the right place at that time you could celebrate 2016 as the year of peace."
Mr Geddes added his unit worked hard to foster links and co-operation with communities in which they carried out operations.
Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes is the man in charge of the PSNI's Terrorism Investigation Unit which is currently conducting almost 70 investigations into dissident republican activities. The 49-year-old has a staff of 79 after PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton recently deployed 25 new officers to the unit. Mr Geddes said he was very mindful of the need to justify value for money and stressed the importance of an extra £200m the Government gave the PSNI in 2011 to specifically combat terrorism. "The officers, the technology, the training, all that is funded by the extra money," he said. "Without that we would be in a very different place."