Sunday, July 01, 2007

From the Bomb Shelter

Threat Level
And the point is?
Currently I'm sitting under the dining table, wishing it didn't have a glass top, having put parcel tape all over the windows.

This is all because, of course, the security services via the Home Office, have elevated the terrorism threat level from 'severe' to 'critical'.

I shall do my public duty by publicising the Home Office definitions of the various levels:
  • critical - an attack is expected imminently

  • severe - an attack is highly likely

  • substantial - an attack is a strong possibility

  • moderate - an attack is possible but not likely

  • low - an attack is unlikely

Ok, I'm actually out on the balcony enjoying some rather thin sunshine, getting on with life as always, and wondering what the real difference is between the top three levels in terms of what we should do in our day to day lives, or what we should be expecting our security services to be doing for us. I'm not trying to minimise the events of the last few days, but what the hell changed between the failed attacks in London, and the somewhat of a failure on yesterday?

Call me a cynic, but isn't it just something that Broon and new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith can pull out to make it sound as if they are doing something personally about the situation? I've got every faith that the security forces were doing all they could to avert events like those of the last few days, long before these latest attempted atrocities. I would not doubt for a minute that the inquiries that will follow them will be as exhaustive as humanly possible. I can't help thinking that behind the threat level indication and emergency meetings of COBRA is simply the need of the government to be seen to be 'doing something'. Quite what the value is of dragging in security resources to brief an ex-schoolteacher and an economics geek and receive their advice, just a few hours after an event like this is beyond me.

Of course there should be political oversight of what happens in events like these, but in the absence of an all-out attack it should be considered, strategic thinking that is the order of the day; the shorter term tactical response should be left to the experts. The politicians should offer support to the professionals and reassurance to the public. The only outcome from too much of a hands on involvement can be kneejerk legislation.

Already, sadly, it appears the Conservatives appear to be willing to talk again about extending the scope of antiterrorism legislation, including longer detention without trial. The unfortunate thing is that in circumstances like those we find ourselves in, that principle can go out of the window when the urge to be part of the 'doing something' brigade gets too strong. To my knowledge the case for increasing detention without trial has still yet to me made, at least in the concrete form of individuals coming to the end of their permitted detention without it being possible to either formulate charges or decide there are none to answer. Yes, there have been plenty stories of unsavoury characters who have been let out on to the streets, and whom the security services have lost track of, above and beyond those thousands released as a matter of government policy to avoid building new jails. These cases though were ones where some dinosaur of a judge probably had a gin and tonic too many at lunch time and came up with an excessively restricted view of how existing powers should be exercised and have no relevance to the concept of being able to lock up someone, without charge, for a longer period you would be sentenced to after being properly charged and convicted of some pretty serious crimes.

For this reason the threat levels listed above are still only really meaningful under a caption reading 'Threat to Civil Liberties'.

By the way, the graphic above is taken from a blog plug-in that I'm desperately hoping that none of the writers of the blogs that I like reading choose to install. If they do I'm going to hack my own version, I envisage the levels being:
  • critical - good day to bury bad news

  • severe - chance to look good on TV

  • substantial - chance to sound good on radio

  • moderate - stealth liberty erosion mode engaged

  • low - fingers crossed for another excuse

I will display my Home Office terrorism opportunity level indicator with pride.

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