What a week it's been. Anyone who reads newspapers should be shivering in their shoes by now.
In a widely-reported speech Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, told us that her spooks are currently tracking 30 terror plots and have under surveillance 1,600 individuals "actively engaged in plotting, or facilitating, terrorist acts here and overseas", and that they might be preparing to use "chemicals, bacteriological agents, radioactive materials and even nuclear technology". She said "the threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation."
To read the whole speech, click here.
Then Sir Ian Blair, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, leapt in to add that the security services and his own force had prevented attacks on Britain in the last few weeks. "The sky is dark," he said. "Intelligence exists to suggest that other groups will attempt to attack Britain in the coming months."
Then the Foreign Office declared that al Qaeda are trying to obtain material for a nuclear or biological attack. An anonymous official told the Daily Mail that terrorists are even closer to mounting a chemical attack (story here).
And Home Secretary John Reid told Radio 4 that a wave of attacks was being planned. Another terrorist attack in the UK is "highly likely", he said, prepared strategically and directed from abroad by al-Qaeda. He agreed with Dame Eliza's assessment that there were 30 major plots. He described it as "a very great threat" (story here).
Strange, then, that buses and tubes are running normally. Odd that we are all getting up and going to work in the morning when we really should be hiding under the kitchen table. Surprising that there aren't armed police on every street corner and Saracens full of Kevlar-clad squaddies parked up every alley.
So what's it all about?
The GOS thinks - well, let's not mess about, he knows - that people like John Reid, Ian Blair and Dame Eliza have agendas of their own. What's in it for Sir Ian Blair, for instance? Why is it important for him to talk up the threat?
Well, he gave us a clue in that same pronouncement (text here). "We need to detain terror suspects for far longer than we ever had to do before," he said. "There is no choice."
Dame Eliza presides over an organisation that has expanded by 50 per cent since 9/11, though its casework has increased by 80% since January. By 2008 MI5 is scheduled to double in size compared with its 2001 level. Fair enough - after the London bombings nobody's going to make too much of a fuss about that. But of course it takes massive amounts of public money to run an operation like this, and what Dame Eliza needs in order to keep the funding flowing is a healthy climate of fear. Why else would she publicly flag up to the terrorists that she's on their tails, and risk them quietly sinking back into the back streets of Londonistan and Bradford and biding their time till the coast is clear again?
John Reid also needs to keep us good and worried, so he can crack on with ID cards, 90 days detention and deporting terrorist suspects to countries where they might be tortured. The Joseph Rowntree report into the government's conduct of the War Against Terror says that "thanks to its constant use, the word "suspect" is now charged with the presumption of guilt".
And "crack on" is the right word. This week The GOS attended a meeting of Ipswich Borough Council's Planning Committee, where permission was given to a private company (so private that it is based offshore and pays no UK taxes) to convert a suite of offices in the town centre into an ID Card "interrogation centre". That's not what they called it, of course - they said it's to interview and identify people applying for passports, but come the ID Card Scheme, that's where we'll all be queueing up to have our fingerprints taken, that and 69 other centres round the country. In other words, they lied.
Telling the truth has a low priority, of course, in perilous days like these. To bolster his case for locking people up for three months without trial, Sir Ian Blair had the cheek to quote the so-called "ricin poison plot" that was broken up last year. Remember that? It was the case in which no ricin was ever found, and all the defendants were acquitted (see here, here and here).
He also talked about Dhiren Barot, the al Qaeda terrorist recently gaoled for 40 years for his plot to explode a dirty bomb among other things. The plan appeared to have been based on an incident in France when a truck carrying 900 smoke detectors crashed, provoking concern about possible exposure to radiation as such devices contain small amounts of radioactive material. "If something so small and simple such as 900 burning smoke detectors could cause so much havoc, then by increasing the amount used, the possibilities are good," Barot wrote. What Blair forgot to mention was that experts said Barot would have needed to collect the radioactive isotopes from 10,000 smoke alarms in order to build a dirty bomb, and even then it probably wouldn't have worked (click here for an article about the how realistic such threats really are).
Blair also said that "very considerable numbers of Muslims believe life in Britain has got worse for them since 2001 and they attribute that worsening to the war on terror and perceived Islamophobia". Muslim sources added their sheckels-worth - the Muslim Safety Forum claimed a 500% rise in "faith-related" attacks in London, while the Islamic Human Rights Commission said that there had been a 13-fold increase - but Sir Ian wasn't going to fall for that. He said there is "no evidence of a significant rise in Islamophobic attacks in Britain. Opinion polls show that Muslims do not feel any less safe, in terms of general crime, than other communities."
We rather liked what Nick Hume wrote about this in the Times: "Yesterday the BBC reported a big rise in Islamophobic attacks since July 7. Grim statistics, but what do they mean? The "enormous upsurge" in attacks reported to the IHRC turns out to be from six or seven incidents a week to 170 in a fortnight. That sounds like an increase from virtually none to relatively few. Moreover, it came after the IHRC launched an online and satellite TV trawling operation, asking Muslims to report "anything from verbal abuse, nasty looks to physical assault", or just being "treated differently". That relatively few incidents fit even that broad definition of attacks suggests a rather different situation than the headlines. But I suppose a press release headed "Not much sign of serious Islamophobic backlash" is unlikely to get you on the BBC news." There's a rather interesting document about ethnic minorities in Britain here.
We wouldn't be so foolish as to deny that there is a risk of further terrorist attacks. Of course there is. There are certainly a lot of loony dark blokes with beards and sandals who don't like us very much, though The GOS frankly can't be arsed to try and work out why, and we as a society should not be playing into their hands by appearing to be frightened about it. Firm, sensible precaution, yes. Constant vigilance, yes. Large, effective and properly-resourced security organisations, certainly. Newspaper headlines about scare-mongering by politicians and other public figures, no.
Because it's not the terrorists they're after, really, is it? What Sir Ian, Dr.John and Eliza really want is for us to keep putting our hands in our pockets, to accept more and more erosion of our personal freedoms, to quietly allow them to become more and more powerful and important, to gladly and gratefully hand our lives over to them so they can stay in power for ever and ever. It's not the terrorists they're after. It's us.
And it's not the terrorists we should be worried about. All the terrorists can do is kill a few of us. These public servants will crush us all.
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