Supplementary advice given in relation to UKSF

Iain Overton made this Freedom of Information request to Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee
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Dear Brigadier Dodds,

I note the DSMA standing notice 3 - Military Counter-Terrorist Forces, Special Forces and Intelligence Agency Operations, Activities and Communication Methods and Techniques

Can I please in relation to this standing notice, ask how many times supplementary advice was given from the DSMA to the media (editors etc.) in relation, specifically, to Special Forces use?

I understand there is a cost limit on FOIs and I also presume that you might not easily find notices issued before your own appointment, but if you could give me an indication of advice given on DSMA SN 3 in relation to UKSF for 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 I'd be very grateful.

If the cost to do this impacts, then please take each year in order of proximity to the present, until will or funds run dry.

Yours faithfully,

Iain Overton

Geoffrey Dodds, Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee

Dear Mr Overton
Thank you for your email to Brigadier Dodds, to which I am responding as
the duty adviser.
You asked for UK Special Forces how many times
DSMA supplementary advice was given in relation to standing notice 3 -
(Military Counter-Terrorist Forces, Special Forces and Intelligence Agency
Operations, Activities and Communication Methods and Techniques) in the
decade from 2011 to 2021.

The DSMA Committee is an independent non-governmental body and as such is
not subject to the FOI Act. Actually, its independence is key to being
able to work effectively. So too, is the confidentiality of discussions
and advice.
Nevertheless, the Committee is committed to practicing a policy of maximum
disclosure of its activities consistent with the effective conduct of
business and the need to ensure it honours any assurances of
confidentiality given to the individuals and organisations with which it
deals and I will answer your question as fully as I can.
The short answer in relation to SF and SN3 is 'none'. 'Supplementary
advice' is a very specific formal notice to all media outlets and rarely
used.  More normally advice is offered entirely confidentially to the
person or organisation who has sought it and might be as informal as a
telephone conversation often followed by a confirmatory email.  If these
are included, the answer becomes 'quite a few' and I summarise these
below.
For the period in which you are interested, the minutes of all the DSMA
Committee Meetings are available online here:
[1]https://www.dsma.uk/news/
If you have the time, and depending on the focus of your research, they
are an interesting read, and there are some good illustrative examples of
advice in relation to SF operations and Sensitive Personal
Information.  Requests for advice are reported on every 6 months and for
the last couple of years we have produced a sort of ‘digest’ of business:
'Summary of Secretary's Report'. 
[2]https://www.dsma.uk/wp-content/uploads/2...
[3]https://www.dsma.uk/wp-content/uploads/2...
All statistics should be approached with caution, and you ought to note
the following points. There is no distinction drawn with whom these
discussions were held, nor between current or historical operations or
events, or any differentiation between memoirs submitted ahead of
publication, or news articles.
Similarly, the queries are not broken down between the various Standing
Notices, but rather by topic - SF sits in its own category. Actually,
until 2017, DSMA standing notice 3 had an entirely different focus, (on
Protection of data), and the grouping by topic, rathan than Notice, is
helpful to the historian, since if we consider UKSF specifically:  an
ongoing operation might fall under Standing Notice 1 - military
operations; their weapons under SN2 - equipment; their tactics under SN3 -
methods and techniques; their bases under SN4 - physical property and
assets, and their names under SN5 - sensitive personal information!
Thinking you might find it helpful, I have extracted figures for the
previous years from the minutes (two figures per year where available as
the Committee meets formally twice each year). You should also bear in
mind that the meetings are held in Spring and Autumn so the Spring
reporting period covers the tail of the old year and the start of the new.
2019. 16 and 15
2018. 10 and 9
2017. 14 and 15
2016. 29 and 32
2015. 24 and 27
2014. 6 and 33
2013. 7 and 17
2012. 9 and 14
2011. 52 and 42
Because of the necessary secrecy with which UKSF operates, as well as the
understandable public interest in their work, it is not surprising that
there are a number of questions every year. Added to this is the
long-standing policy of the government continuing to ‘neither confirm or
deny’ matters to do with SF.
I hope that this response proves useful to you; please come back to me if
you have any further questions.
With renewed thanks and good wishes,
Yours aye,
Stephen 
Lt Cdr Stephen Dudley RN (Rtd)| Deputy Secretary | Defence and Security
Media Advisory Committee | 4.4.113 | Ministry of Defence Main Building | 2
Horse Guards Avenue | Whitehall | LONDON SW1A 2HB | Office [4]020 7218
2206| Mobile [5]07876778518
|[6][DSMA request email]|[7]www.dsma.uk

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Iain Overton <[FOI #780772 email]>
Sent: 10 August 2021 13:46
To: Geoffrey Dodds <[DSMA request email]>
Subject: Freedom of Information request - Supplementary advice given in
relation to UKSF
 
Dear Brigadier Dodds,

I note the DSMA standing notice 3 - Military Counter-Terrorist Forces,
Special Forces and Intelligence Agency Operations, Activities and
Communication Methods and Techniques

Can I please in relation to this standing notice, ask how many times
supplementary advice was given from the DSMA to the media (editors etc.)
in relation, specifically, to Special Forces use?

I understand there is a cost limit on FOIs and I also presume that you
might not easily find notices issued before your own appointment, but if
you could give me an indication of advice given on DSMA SN 3 in relation
to UKSF for 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and
2011 I'd be very grateful. 

If the cost to do this impacts, then please take each year in order of
proximity to the present, until will or funds run dry.

Yours faithfully,

Iain Overton

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Dear Lt Cdr Dudley,

Thank you for your kind and detailed reply. It is unexpected to have such transparency and politeness in the FOI process and your civilised response is much appreciated.

I don't want to take advantage of your kindness, but can you give me an idea - if this is possible - of what other 'categories' in terms of advice, the DSMA might also give?
Could you, by way of comparison with SF advice, tell me - perhaps - the categories of advice.
And, if this is not too burdensome, list the top three categories in terms of advice given (as per your first reply) for the period 2011-2019 (if SF is included in these three, then just the two)?
This would give me an idea of what other categories advice is given on and - as such - enable the reporting to demonstrate if one category is of particular interest compared to others....

Would this be possible?

Thank you so much, if so.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Overton

Geoffrey Dodds, Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Overton,
I have taken over from Lt Cdr Dudley as the duty adviser this week and so
I am responding on his behalf.
As Lt Cdr Dudley mentioned in his earlier email response to you, the
Freedom of Information Acts do not apply to the DSMA Committee nor the
DSMA notice system.  As an independent body, it is nothing less than
essential that we protect the communications we have with members of both
the media and the Government.  The system would not exist if that were not
so.  However, the Committee is committed to a policy of maximum
transparency when and where this is possible without betraying
assurances.  It is on this basis that I respond to your inquiry.
I don't think I fully understand your question.  The duty DSMA officer
offers advice on certain national security topics that have been
pre-agreed by both media and official side members.  These are the 5
standing DSMA notices which can be viewed at [1]Standing notices – The
DSMA Notice System.  There are NO other categories on which the
secretariat offers advice.  And only the DSMA secretariat can offer DSM
advice.
Perhaps confusion may have arisen by the way in which the secretariat
reports to the Committee every 6 months?  This is not made on the basis of
these five notices but on subject areas eg: SF, counter-terrorism and SPI
for the reasons outlined by Lt Cdr Dudley.  You can mine this data from
the website minutes at [2]News – The DSMA Notice System where you will
find biannual Committee meeting minutes since May 2008, noting the
increasing transparency of the minutes and the data within them over the
last 13 years.  For clarification I have attached the minutes of the May
2021 meeting, including the associated 6-month summary of activity.
For the period prior to that, I would point you to Nicholas Wilkinson’s
extremely detailed official history of the Committee (“Secrecy and the
Media; the official history of the United Kingdom’s D-Notice System”)
which is published by Routledge (Whitehall History Publishing) and covers
the period from the early days before the First World War until 2009.
Best wishes,
Geoffrey Dodds
 
Brigadier Geoffrey Dodds| Secretary | Defence and Security Media Advisory
Committee | Office 020 7218 2206 | [mobile number]
| [3][DSMA request email] | [4]www.dsma.uk

show quoted sections

 From: Iain Overton <[FOI #780772 email]>

 Sent: 10 August 2021 13:46

 To: Geoffrey Dodds <[DSMA request email]>

 Subject: Freedom of Information request - Supplementary advice given in

 relation to UKSF

  

 Dear Brigadier Dodds,

 I note the DSMA standing notice 3 - Military Counter-Terrorist Forces,

 Special Forces and Intelligence Agency Operations, Activities and

 Communication Methods and Techniques

 Can I please in relation to this standing notice, ask how many times

 supplementary advice was given from the DSMA to the media (editors etc.)

 in relation, specifically, to Special Forces use?

 I understand there is a cost limit on FOIs and I also presume that you

 might not easily find notices issued before your own appointment, but if

 you could give me an indication of advice given on DSMA SN 3 in relation

 to UKSF for 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012
and

 2011 I'd be very grateful. 

 If the cost to do this impacts, then please take each year in order of

 proximity to the present, until will or funds run dry.

 Yours faithfully,

 Iain Overton

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Dear Brigadier Dodds,

Thank you for your reply.

In his response, Lt Cdr Dudley said "the queries are not broken down between the various Standing Notices, but rather by topic - SF sits in its own category."

"Actually, until 2017, DSMA standing notice 3 had an entirely different focus, (on Protection of data), and the grouping by topic, rathan than Notice, is helpful to the historian, since if we consider UKSF specifically: an ongoing operation might fall under Standing Notice 1 - military operations; their weapons under SN2 - equipment; their tactics under SN3 - methods and techniques; their bases under SN4 - physical property and assets, and their names under SN5 - sensitive personal information!"

So given that queries over SF is listed by category and not by Standing Notices, I was wondering if there were any other categories that you gave specific advice on (for instance, reporting on court martials; or reporting on accusations of sexual misconduct etc.) that were listed as categories advice as opposed to standing notice advice.

To make this clearer, if I were to report, for instance, the following:

" Between 2011 and 2019, the Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA) Committee were approached by British media 371 times in relation to informal advice pertaining to reporting on UK Special Forces. As they said: "because of the necessary secrecy with which UKSF operates, as well as the understandable public interest in their work, it is not surprising that there are a number of questions every year. Added to this is the long-standing policy of the government continuing to ‘neither confirm or deny’ matters to do with SF.""

What I might also like to do, for the benefit of balance, is to say:

"During this time, the DSMA also gave x instances of advice relating to y and x instances of advice relating to y (the other two most common areas of advice requested)."

This would give me a sense of just how dominant SF advice is to the DSMA in relation to other forms of informal advice.

As such, can I ask this - if the DSMA were approached by British media 371 times in relation to informal advice pertaining to reporting on UK Special Forces (between 2011 and 2019), what were the other two most 'popular' categories or notices the DMSA were also approached for during this time for purposes of comparison?

I hope this is a clearer explanation.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Overton

Dear Geoffrey Dodds,

PS - I note in your reply that SF is its own unique category and so there are no other categories, so in order to cross compare perhaps just asking how many informal instances of advice were given to other non-SF notices would, I think, be the best way forward, if this is possible.

Sorry if this was all confusing. I didn't realise that the category given to SF was unique and not reproduced in relation to other matters.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Overton

Geoffrey Dodds, Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Overton,
As requested in your last email, I attach a summary of the total requests
for DSM advice received over the past 10 years.
To clarify other matters made in your penultimate email:
The DSMA notice system is designed to prevent the inadvertent publication
or broadcast of information that would endanger national security or
increase the risk to people's lives.  It does not deal with other defence
or security related matters such as court cases and indiscipline.
I cannot agree to any quotation from the DSMA secretariat unless I am able
see the context in which it is written.
Best wishes,
Geoffrey Dodds
 
Brigadier Geoffrey Dodds| Secretary | Defence and Security Media Advisory
Committee | Office 020 7218 2206 | [mobile number]
| [1][DSMA request email] | [2]www.dsma.uk

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

From: Iain Overton <[FOI #780772 email]>
Sent: 17 August 2021 13:43
To: Geoffrey Dodds <[DSMA request email]>
Subject: Re: Freedom of Information request - Supplementary advice given
in relation to UKSF
 
Dear Geoffrey Dodds,

PS - I note in your reply that SF is its own unique category and so there
are no other categories, so in order to cross compare perhaps just asking
how many informal instances of advice were given to other non-SF notices
would, I think, be the best way forward, if this is possible.

Sorry if this was all confusing.  I didn't realise that the category given
to SF was unique and not reproduced in relation to other matters.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Overton

show quoted sections