Monday, July 20, 2009 

Of Revelation and terror threat levels.

Thanks to my glorious religious upbringing, an upbringing so successful that instead of inculcating the fear of God in me it instead made me a God mocker, I can't approach the "terror threat level-o-meter" without thinking of Revelation. It brings to mind the four horsemen, the seven seals, the pouring of bowls, the moon turning to blood, the whore of Babylon and the 1,000 year reign. There are, of course, dozens of different interpretations of Revelation, as well as those that dismiss it as either the hallucinations of a madman or drug-inspired similar visions. I, belonging to a well-known sect which preach expressly that the end is nigh, was only taught the strictly literal interpretation; indeed, there is an entire book dedicated to "understanding" Revelation, which was relatively recently updated to take account of "changes" to the interpretation. Also connected in is the "King of the North and King of the South", both of which are mentioned in Daniel, and also taken literally. During the Cold War the King of the North was Russia, while the South was the United States, or rather the "Anglo-American" world power; since the Soviet Union's collapse they have hedged their bets and said they don't yet know who the King of the North will be.

Some of the more independently theorising members (something which itself is not often encouraged) believe that the King of the North may yet turn out to be radical Islam. This fits in with the belief that the Wild Beast of Revelation 13:1-18 is the United Nations, and that at some point in the near future the United Nations, probably prompted by war between the South and North, will attempt to eradicate all religion except for the chosen sect, which will then be turned on once all other belief has been stamped out, heralding the beginning of Armageddon proper. That this entire utterly bizarre interpretation gives the United Nations the sort of power which some of its members could only dream of, and that members of the UN keep attempting to get it recognise religious defamation as well as the other varieties makes no difference to the true believers: it's simply going to happen.

Waiting for the apocalypse and for the four horsemen to appear is much like the sort of belief required to think that the brown trousers-o-meter actually means something. In a long predicted move, the level of threat has been lowered from "severe" to "substantial", although why has not been explained. In fact, those making the decision have gone out of their way to say that there'll be no change in actual resources being used to ensure that the level doesn't have to rise, and that rather gives the impression that they're doing it simply because you can't in a democracy where there hasn't been an attack in four years forever keep up the impression that exploding Muslims are just around the corner or over the hill. Even politicians and terrorism "experts" eventually get weary of maintaining that the sky is perpetually dark, and that death, famine, war and conquest will soon be clippity-clopping along the High St.

You can't however not notice that it still is a step change from the last few years, where scaremongering was the order of the day and where there was talk of 30 plots and 2,000 individuals ready to heed their own call of duty. What's happened to those 30 plots and those 2,000 individuals? Few of those plots have been publicly broken up, as we're sure to have heard about them had they been, and while the courts have been relatively busy dealing with those charged with terrorism "offences", the numbers don't come close to the magic round number which was pushed around. It might simply be that like the intelligence which suggested that Pakistani students were ready to go with their own attack, it was wrong; it might be that the security services are telling lies, having enjoyed years of plenty after their own years of famine which were the mid-90s; or a cynical "expert" on the BBC suggests it might be to underline just how fabulously the troops in Afghanistan are doing in protecting us from terrorists here, yet not even the politicians themselves believe their own lie, and Gordon Brown has after all said himself that the crucible of terrorism is Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

Whatever the reason, it's one we should embrace, even if the "threat level", then not publicly declared, was similarly lowered before 7/7 occurred. Now that the threat isn't so severe, any further legislation on terrorism should be even more rigorously opposed, and the target should be set on repealing control orders, bringing the detention limit back to 14 days, lifting the Kafkaesque ban on some "suspects" not being informed of the evidence against them, and campaigning for investigations into our role in rendition and the potential "outsourcing" of torture. Fear, whether it's of the end of the world or of terrorism, is what makes numerous individual worlds go round.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 

The government should be in terror, not the people.

3 years ago, after the police had conspicuously failed to find anything more dangerous in the Kamal family's house in Forest Gate than a bottle of aspirin, a "senior police source" told the Graun that "[T]he public may have to get used to this sort of incident, with the police having to be safe rather than sorry." For the most part since then, most of the major anti-terrorist raids, while scooping up some innocents along the way, have resulted in prosecutions rather than the authorities emerging with egg on their faces. Instead, the most objectionable thing that has characterised the arrests has been the febrile briefing of the media with the most outlandish and potentially prejudicial, as well as exaggerated, accounts of the carnage which would have taken place had the attacks not been foiled. These leaks, despite the self-righteousness of former Met chief anti-terror officer Peter Clarke over the stories which appeared in the press concerning the plot to behead a Muslim soldier, appear to have came from all sides, with the police, security services and the government all involved.

Along with the leaks, we have become wearily accustomed to politicians commenting on what are after all, criminal operations, with no apparent concern for whether their remarks might subsequently influence a jury. The apogee was reached when John Reid famously said that the disruption of the "liquid bomb" plot had prevented "loss of life on an unprecendented scale", something that the jury in the first trial decided not to agree with. Their second trial is still on-going. I can't recall however any politician making similar comments to that which both Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith did about the raids in Manchester and the north-west two weeks ago where those arrested were subsequently released without charge. Politicians may have defended the police after the Forest Gate raids, but at no point did they appear to specifically say that a "very big plot" had been disrupted as the result of the police's actions. In the case of the ricin plot where there was no ricin, much which was inflammatory was spoken by politicians and the police, but in that instance Kamel Bourgass was at least guilty of murder, as well as stupidity in that his ideas for using the ricin that he wouldn't have been able to produce would have failed to poison anyone.

The only reason why there doesn't seem to far more deserved criticism of this latest fiasco is that it's been overshadowed completely by the budget. From getting off to one of the most inauspicious starts imaginable, things have in actuality got worse. If we were to believe the media's initial reports, if the men arrested had not been taken off the streets, there would now presumably be hundreds if not thousands dead, up to six places of varying interest and importance would have been badly damaged if not destroyed, and new anti-terrorist legislation would almost certainly be back on the agenda. Instead, 11 Pakistani students are going home far sooner than they would have anticipated, and no one can explain adequately how the position changed from there being an attack imminently prepared to there being not even the slightest evidence that there was anything beyond the murmurings of one.

Not that anyone from the very beginning even managed to get the facts straight. Variously the targets were meant to be two shopping centres, a nightclub and St Ann's Square, or Liverpool and Manchester United's stadiums. Then there were no targets, as the planning had not reached that stage, then they were photographs found of the places previously briefed, the only real piece of circumstantial evidence which seems to have been recovered and then finally there was no plot at all. Depending on who you believe, the men had either been under surveillance for some time, or the intelligence had only came in very recently. Like with the claims that the men arrested at Forest Gate had been under surveillance for up to two months, it reflects rather badly on the police/security services if the case is the former. Having hoped to find something more explosive than bags of table sugar, the police turned to desperately searching the suspects' computers and mobile phones. After nothing incriminating enough to bring any sort of charge was found on those, they seem to have declared defeat. We should be glad for the small mercy that the police seem not to have tried to string out their detention for the full 28 days allowed.

That will of course not be any sort of comfort for those who now find themselves in the custody of the Borders Agency, their studies disrupted for no good apparent reason. The BBC is suggesting that their cases will be considered by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which meets in secret and hears evidence which is inadmissible in the normal court system. Presumably this means that the very intelligence which resulted in their arrests, despite being proved either downright wrong or speculatory at the least, will be used against them. It also happily means that none of the men can talk directly to the media about their experience, something which in the past has led to embarrassment all round, whether it was the person released without charge who described this country as a "police state for Muslims", or Hicham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir, both arrested after Yezza had printed out an al-Qaida manual for his student, which he had downloaded from a US government website, with the intention that Sabir was to use it to write his MA dissertation. In a bizarre reversal of fortune, after Gordon Brown had lectured Pakistan on how it had to do more to combat the terrorist threat, it's now the Pakistan High Commissioner who's doing the honourable thing, offering legal assistance to the men so they can continue with their studies. As Jamie says, it takes some nerve to call Pakistan the failed state in all this.

As previously noted, it was from the outset strange that such a imminent threat should emerge considering the way that the head of MI5 and the government had begun to downplay the threat for the first time since 9/11. When you bear in mind how the previous head of MI5 scaremongered about "the evil in our midst" just three years ago, it instantly suggested that something substantial had changed. It's not unknown for surprises to be sprung, but this one seemed to be too outlandish to be accurate. That within 48 hours it was already becoming clear that no attack had genuinely been disrupted should have rung alarm bells then in the minds of the media, but still they kept with the fallacy for the most part that something would turn up. Only now that it hasn't will questions be asked.

It has to be kept in mind that intelligence work is not an exact science. It often turns out to be wrong, or just too unreliable to be used to carry out the sort of arrests which we saw two weeks ago. As the senior police source didn't quite say, it is better to be safe than sorry, but this is beginning to become a habit. At the very least, if such raids are to be carried out, then politicians should keep their mouths closed and the media should not be used to put completely unsubstantiated rumours into circulation which then can colour a person for the rest of their life. We have however said these things before, and no notice whatsoever has been taken. After the incompetence of the patio gas canister attacks, both Smith and Brown seemed to be keeping to their word not to exaggerate things in the same way as their predecessors so copiously did. The irony of this is that as politicians continue to use security threats as a way to justify their serial dilutions of civil liberties and the imposition of ID cards and databases, the public themselves become ever more cynical when these threats turn out to be nothing more than hyperbole with a motive. It also surely isn't coincidence that today of all days MI5 shows the Sun their brilliant invention that can stop a "suicide truck bomb" in its tracks, as long as the driver keeps the speed below 40. That terrorists have shown no inclination whatsoever to use such bombs in this country, when explosives are incredibly difficult to obtain and where the next best thing, such as TATP, is even more difficult to produce in such quantities is neither here nor there. This we are advised will be part of the government's "Fortress Great Britain" counter-terrorism strategy, where more or less every public building may well be reinforced in case it becomes a target. This is not just a colossal waste of time and money, it's a colossal waste of time and money with the intention of scaring people. The quote goes that governments should be scared of the people, not people of the government. Despite its almost certain imminent electoral demise, this one doesn't seem to be. That may be what needs to change the most.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 

No smoke or fire.

It's now almost three days on from when those arrested last Wednesday were supposed to have launched their attack at the latest, yet surprisingly considering the scare stories which the press was full of last week it still remains the case that the most dangerous items to be found so far remain photographs of 4 separate locations, and after a raid by the bomb squad yesterday, a bag of table sugar.

Regardless of the fact that the botched arrests look likely to have been even more botched than they were originally by Bob Quick, a kind judge has agreed that the police can continue to hold 11 men for another week (one man caught up in the raids having already been released without charge and another turned over to the immigration authorities), although whether they're saying anything or indeed whether the police have even began to question them yet is open to scrutiny.

The plot though does seem to be thickening. Despite claims that the raids were only 12 hours away, having to be brought forward after Quick exposed himself (geddit????) other sources seem to have suggested that the plans outlined on Quick's briefing note were simply one option, that had yet to be authorised, and that it was likely that the "plotters" would have been left to incriminate themselves further if it hadn't been for the snapper in Downing Street. This would explain why nothing has been found, and possibly also opens the idea that Quick was seeking political opinion on what should be done. If this was the case, it still doesn't explain quite how wrong the intelligence seems to have been - both Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown swiftly praising the police for swooping in the way they did and claiming that a "very serious" terrorist plot had been disrupted. There still might well have been a plot, unlike at Forest Gate, where there was nothing whatsoever, but it seems to have been nowhere close to being put into action, despite the predictable briefing of the media that doom was just around the corner unless they had acted.

The Times reported on Monday that the most likely course of action would be that all the Pakistani students here on visas would simply be deported, which though again is only speculation, seems to suggest that the intelligence was almost entirely wrong. As I wrote last week, this is the danger with relying on intelligence rather than good old fashioned surveillance, and while we should hesitate before second guessing the security services or the police over when such raids should take place, the danger is that you both alienate the communities where the arrests happen when no one is charged, while also creating cynicism about the scale of the threat and the political motivation behind the exaggeration of it. It was peculiar that so soon after the head of MI5 and the government itself had almost unprecedentedly started to talk down the level of threat from jihadists that such important arrests would be made, and the failure to find anything suggests that the prior assessments are still the ones that seem to be the closest to the truth.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, April 09, 2009 

Frustration and terror raids.

This week has been deeply frustrating, not having the internet at home, my entire phone line still being completely dead, although Tiscali have finally put BT engineers onto the case, because despite it being ostensibly a "holiday" week with parliament in recess, the news has hardly been slow, what with the emergence of the video footage of Ian Tomlinson being assaulted, the arrest of the two boys in Doncaster in what seems like a chilling echo of the murder of James Bulger, which the tabloids have predictably leapt upon, as have the equally shameless Tories (although only following Labour's own politicisation of the Bulger killing), with Chris Grayling reprising his somehow worse than Labour front on tackling youth crime, and then finally with the anti-terror raids in the north-west.

It's the latter that's most intriguing because of the way already in which the "plot", if indeed there was one, is starting to be downplayed. Yesterday the Sun was headlining its website with "BOMB PLOT TO KILL THOUSANDS", as it is wont to do, while now spooks' friend Frank Gardner is briefing that it had been at "the aspirational, rather than operational" stage. This is quite a change from yesterday: then sources had been claiming, to the Guardian in particular that the attack was expected to have taken place by Monday at the latest, and that the raids, triggered by Bob Quick's slowness had successfully disrupted a soon to come to fruition plot. Others talked, even this morning, of suicide attacks on up to four locations, with the Daily Star yesterday going out on its usual limb (or as usual simply making it up) claiming that Anfield and Old Trafford were potential targets.

Equally, other stories claimed that those involved had been under surveillance for months; now the Guardian suggests that the intelligence alerting the authorities to the alleged plot had only arrived in the past couple of weeks, with the raids triggered because further intelligence had suggested that the attack was imminent. The only "incriminating" thing that appears to have been found so far is photographs of the Trafford centre, the Birdcage nightclub, St Ann's square and the Arndale centre, along with claims that officers watched and listened in as they took them.

It's enough to make you wonder whether already the police and security services are preparing for another "ricin plot"/Forest Gate style fiasco. This is the obvious problem when relying almost solely on intelligence rather than good old fashioned surveillance and police work; it tends, more than often, to be inaccurate. If the Guardian's take on the intelligence only coming in in the last two weeks is correct, it explains why both ministers and indeed the head of MI5 were up until very recently beginning to suggest that the general level of threat from terrorism had begun to diminish. If we assume for a moment that those arrested are at some level connected with jihadism, even if any attack they were planning was still way off, it does also suggest a step change in tactics. Until recently almost all those involved in past plots were either British citizens or had lived here for significant periods of time; only one of those arrested this time round is of British origin. Whether this is because those indigenous to this country had miserably failed, whether they be those involved in the fertiliser plot, the "liquid bomb" attacks or the Tiger Tiger/Glasgow airport patio gas canister debacle or because those at the top thought Pakistani student "clean skins" would have a better chance of going undetected, as well as being probably far better trained is unclear, but it does also suggest that the threat from actual Brits is declining, as suggested by Jonathan Evans when he said al-Qaida had no "semi-autonomous" structure in the country at present.

It could of course yet turn out to be everything which security sources initially briefed on, but as always it's equally difficult to know just how cynical to be, with Craig Murray getting his in early, especially regarding the coincidences regarding the Ian Tomlinson evidence and the continuing furore over parliamentary expenses. Always worth keeping in mind is that however much ministers and police attempt to exaggerate the threat, or what might have happened had a plot not been foiled, so far jihadists in this country have exposed their incompetence and ignorance on numerous occasions, while only succeeding once. The IRA used to say that they only had to be lucky once, which is true, but the odds are overwhelmingly, nonetheless, in our favour.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates