Burying the bad news – it’s what Terror Alert Statuses are for!

I appreciate that I may be being overly cynical here, and will certainly feel a total idiot if the recent escalation of the UK’s Terror Alert Status actually was based in one of the threats reported here.  But that’s part of the problem – unless the threat is carried through or arrests are made we will never know.  We’ll hang around for 30 or 40 (or 70, based on a recent ruling) years until the Government determines that secret documents can be released and then we might find out.  Unless, of course, the file’s pruned in the meantime.

The whole thing is like the story of the man who walks in to a pub and offers to sell anyone there some of his patented elephant repellent.  When someone points out that there are no elephants in the town, our hero simply replies ‘Just shows how good it is, doesn’t it?’  And that’s the way it is with terrorism warnings and terror intelligence in general.  If an arrest is made, great.  If no arrest is made, the intelligence services can claim that continued awareness has saved the say yet again – without telling us precisely how.  And, God forbid, should a terrorist attack be committed then it’s due to the fact that the intelligence services were not able to use all their resources adequately because of civil liberties issues, so can we have some tighter rules please.

It’s a great tool.  Don’t get me wrong – I believe that we need a strong counter-terrorism and counter-espionage capability in the UK, along with a strong military to adequately defend this country.  But I also believe in these institutions being under control and open to inspection and examination.  The last decade of Bush in the White House and New labour in Downing Street has made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the typical UK citizen to trust Government.  It’s no longer enough for our Government to say ‘We know best’ with regard to what information is released or not released.  When trust has been lost, it needs to be regained and one way in which this could be done is for the Government to tell us more of the reason as to why the terrorist alert level increases and decreases.

I’m not suggesting operational information is released; just a general warning – ‘An attack related to an airport is expected’, ‘Hijackings are being planned and may occur at any time’, etc.  No doubt the authorities would suggest many reasons why this can’t be done:

  • Pushing the terrorists in to launching an attack early – well, as soon as the announcement that the terror alert has increased goes out, it would surely provoke the terrorists as well.
  • Scaring terrorists off – and this is a bad thing?
  • Disrupting investigations – the idea of counter-terrorism is to disrupt terror attacks and catch or kill terrorists.  If an investigation is under way and those under investigation suddenly start running around like scalded cats, then again it must indicate that the attack has been disrupted.

I genuinely cannot see how telling us more could hurt matters; it would begin to rebuild lost trust and realistically terrorism will never be defeated unless state and citizen trust each other.  Reducing the Fear, uncertainty and Doubt associated with the current method of attempting to alert UK citizens about terror attacks must be a good thing….unless…..

Well…unless the FUD is a necessary requirement that can be used to distract us from ongoing issues in our country’s governance?  It could be coincidence that we are now sitting at ‘Severe’ when the following are issues in the news:

  • Blair will be questioned at the Chilcot Inquiry this week.
  • Information from the Inquiry suggests that legal advice was given to the Government that the war in Iraq was illegal.
  • Papers to do with the death of Dr David Kelly  to be kept secret for 70 years.
  • Gordon Brown will be questioned at the Inquiry before the UK Election.
  • The Foreign Office is being forced to deny that some anti-terrorism projects are being cut.

Perhaps a ‘Severe’ anti-terror warning is just what the Government needs to try and distract us right now….

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