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Exclusive: We reveal the secret identity of the CST's former director of security

Welcome to the top-secret world of the woman you never knew was looking after us

    Homeland security: Carol Laser in her north-London living room with husband, Michael, and their dog, Maxi
    Homeland security: Carol Laser in her north-London living room with husband, Michael, and their dog, Maxi

    In a small room in the headquarters of a Jewish charity, a crowd of senior figures gathered for a leaving do like no other.

    Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was there, as was his predecessor, Lord Sacks, surrounded by leading officers from Scotland Yard and chief constables from across the country.

    They gathered to honour a figure who had, for over 25 years, co-ordinated the Jewish community's security needs, working alongside colleagues from anti-terror units, the United States Secret Service, and Israel's security experts.

    But you will never have heard of the 51-year-old woman whose retirement they marked.

    Searching for Carol Laser online draws an almost complete blank. Her picture has not been published until today. Even close friends and family were unaware of her work. But today Ms Laser steps out of the shadows to reveal details of her years as director of security at the Community Security Trust.

    The CST's biggest secret: in her own words

    Hers was a role that demanded isolation, discretion and a cloak of silence.

    "I had a complete cover story. I didn't tell anyone anything about what I did," she told me at her north-London home. "There's a simple rule to keeping secrets: if you don't open your mouth about anything then you won't make a mistake. I just kept shtum. It bothers my husband. He says I still keep secrets. It's a culture. It's hard to get rid of."

    When the community faced the gravest of threats, security experts from around the world picked up the phone to her. On countless occasions she was dragged away from Shabbat dinners to take a call from Scotland Yard, only to return to the table half an hour later unable to utter a word about what she had been told.

    "My friends and family just got used to it. You're at a dinner party and you can't come back to normal life and talk to people. There were life and death decisions to make," she said.

    It is little wonder that CST chairman Gerald Ronson described her as having "the biggest balls" in the organisation.

    This unassuming, softly spoken daughter of Holocaust survivors can only now speak her mind on how British Jews respond to the threat of antisemitism, Islamist extremists and the far-right. Her assessment is stark.

    During last summer's Gaza conflict, the community overreacted, she said. The impact of social media meant people were "winding each other up.

    "We saw with the evolution of Facebook and Twitter that the community were more aware of how the outside world considered them. Cast Lead [Israel's operation in Gaza] in 2010 was evidentially much worse, but the community completely overreacted last summer to things that really weren't very serious. People were not being beaten up on the street.

    "During Cast Lead we woke up one morning and bus shelters across London had been daubed with 'Jews out'. I remember that being a pretty low moment in my CST career.

    "When those bus shelters were daubed, everyone read about it only in the JC the following Friday. Now, if someone takes a picture, it's on Facebook, it's on Twitter - you wake up and you're looking at it while eating your cereal."

    The community retains a resilience, Ms Laser believes, that is based on generations being forced "up against the wall so many times.

    "But I honestly believe we have never, ever known it so good, because we have Israel, a country that gives us a subliminal confidence that our fathers and grandfathers didn't have.

    "And we have never had it so good from a government and police viewpoint. The community should be so grateful. We worked bloody hard at CST building these relationships and breaking down barriers."

    Ms Laser was at the forefront of that hard work from the late-1980s onwards. Her role revolved around day-to-day security arrangements, including overseeing personal protection teams for three chief rabbis and co-ordinating large communal events such as dinners and rallies.

    But she also trained CST volunteers, cherry-picking some for key jobs, and educating police chiefs across Britain, giving them a better understanding of the Jewish community and taking hundreds of officers on tours of Auschwitz.

    Over time she became a confidante to countless religious and communal leaders who trusted her discretion.

    On patrol with police at a rally in London
    On patrol with police at a rally in London

    Her retirement was marked with almost unparalleled recognition. Scotland Yard presented her with a commendation usually reserved for officers shot in the line of duty.

    She had fallen into working with CST in her mid-20s almost by accident. Growing up in a Progressive family in Finchley, north London, her connections to the community were loose. Her father, Henry, had fled Germany three weeks before the war and largely rejected religion after settling here.

    When friends volunteered to help CST, she latched on, taking lessons in krav maga - the Israeli martial art.

    "One night I went to training and was sparring with someone. I lost my footing and broke my leg," she said.

    In hospital she was visited by the head of CST who, after they got chatting, suggested she ran his office, initially as an administrator.

    "I said I'd work for him for three months and then review it. I had no idea what I was going in to. It was a fundamental Sliding Doors moment in my life."

    She began by organising teams to protect small community events. Nonetheless it was a substantial jump from administrator to director of security.

    Read: The CST in figures

    "It was determination, hard work and a bullishness on my side," she reflected. "I had to fight all the way along. Nothing came easily.

    "I showed a capability and people trusted me and knew they could rely on me. I ran a big team of highly trained protection officers, but it was more about the fact I could just get the job done and had a good security mind.

    "Security is not rocket science. It's about a good understanding, instinct, determining what is bullshit and what isn't, and being calm. Half my job was not winding the community up."

    As her career developed, so did her contacts and expertise. She found herself acting as go-between when Israeli prime ministers and presidents visited Britain and their security teams worked with the Metropolitan Police.

    She said: "Nothing comes higher than the protection around the Israelis. The Met meets the Israelis and there'd be little old me in the middle. I understood both mentalities. They would describe me as the glue between them on any security operation because I would break down the barriers."

    Such was the level of secrecy, even her husband, Michael - who she met when he volunteered for CST - was largely in the dark.

    "Because of the trusted close relationship I built up, particularly with the counter-terrorism command, there were a few phone calls over the years at all hours. I'd get a call and whoever it was would say 'I'm sending a car for you to come up to the Yard now'.

    "My husband and I were out doing Chanucah shopping. The phone rang. We were in Brent Cross and I turned to Michael and said, 'I've got to go, sorry'."

    The former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, once suggested women made better spies because they listened and instilled confidence. Ms Laser believes being a woman brought pros and cons - particularly when working with religious Jews and Muslims.

    "I always used to amuse myself; you'd see it in their eyes - 'Oh! A woman'. They would always be a bit surprised. Over the years I got used to it. Actually, being a woman in this role was a massive advantage. The testosterone flying round some of those rooms! I would walk in and everyone would calm down. Being different was an advantage. I could break down barriers."

    Despite her friendly and modest demeanour, Ms Laser was an uncompromising figure.

    "Whether it's security people or the enemy, how someone looks is almost irrelevant. It's how they behave, it's what's inside. Some of the strongest, most aggressive fighters I know are the littlest guys. Size is irrelevant. If you have it, it's a massive advantage because people will judge you on it, but actually it's what's up here," she said, tapping her forehead.

    She recalled incidents in which she led officers from the frontline. During one such episode it was Ms Laser who led the response when a group of anti-Israel demonstrators infiltrated a Zionist Federation event at Wembley Arena. As a wave of panic spread through the crowd, she and her colleagues helped police detain activists.

    Did she enjoy such a hands-on role? "Always. You're right in it. I'm not going to be a leader if I'm not prepared to get stuck in. I'm not the most physically capable person, not now anyway; maybe 25 years ago I could throw a decent punch. I could still smack someone in the gob.

    "Strength and balls are in the mind. You have to have big balls. I didn't give a shit. I took anybody on. Anytime where it was looking like it was really intense, really challenging and we had to dig deep and keep it together - that's what I loved the most."

    She ran the operation when former US president Bill Clinton was guest of honour at the JNF's centenary dinner in London; organised security for the large pro-Israel rallies in Trafalgar Square; and there was even a call from Scotland Yard requesting her help when the English Defence League held regular protests at Harrow Mosque in London five years ago.

    A JC poll last month revealed that 61 per cent of British Jews see Islamists as the greatest threat to our security. Ms Laser's experiences have provided a unique insight into how the community deals with the constant threat.

    "The Jewish community has to be more careful than anyone else, but the world is currently going through this. What is it, a third world war?"
    "The Jewish community has to be more careful than anyone else, but the world is currently going through this. What is it, a third world war?"

    "The issue with jihadists is that we are all facing it. The Jewish community has to be more careful than anyone else, but the world is currently going through this. What is it, a third world war?

    "Worrying about it is not a very productive emotion.The community worries and works itself up into a tizzy, but that doesn't provide practical solutions. CST exists because we need another layer of protection.

    "When you're designing security protection it's like an onion - the more layers, the better your protection is. There's no foolproof plan. You cannot put entry points at the top and bottom end of Golders Green and only allow Jews in. You have got to live your life."

    Such were the demands on her in recent years that she now intends to take her time before deciding on her next career move. Private consultancy or another job within the community are possibilities. And she hopes to enjoy proper holidays.

    "It's so instinctive. Any place I go I will check out where the exits are. I can't help it. I enter any London hotel and I can tell you every way in, every way out, the best ways to attack it. I'm happier in a local pub. In a restaurant I can't sit with my back to the door.

    "It was my life. I don't think I'm free yet to do something else. I need to rediscover who I am.

    "I have this image and this toughness. I find it odd. I feel like I've come out of a bubble."

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