Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Terrorist Claims Are Self-Defeating

I have to admit I am not normally a Simon Jenkins fan, but his column in The Guardian today certainly hit the nail on the head. Here's a little taster:

The essence of a secret service used to be secrecy, including of its methods and achievements. Otherwise it is just a branch of the police. In the early days of "avowal" in the 1980s, the heads of MI5 and MI6 would invite journalists to tell them how to go about handling publicity. One, Stella Rimington, was obsessed with how she might do on Any Questions? Others fancied themselves as M lookalikes. The only advice that made them miserable was that they should stay secret. "How," one retorted, "are we ever to lobby for our budgets when the cold war is over?" The answer of both MI5's Evans and MI6's John Scarlett is to join the fear factory.

In 2002-03, before the Iraq war, the security service supplied the Cabinet Office with a weekly catalogue of "terror fears" - anthrax, smallpox, sarin, dirty nuclear devices and a Christmas bombing campaign - to soften public opinion for the war. It was MI5's answer to MI6's "weapons of mass destruction", and was the same drivel.

There can be only two results from this abuse of publicity. One is that the public demotes such scares to wolf-crying and treats them as background noise. The other is that, as all scare stories stereotype communities, the host nation distances itself from whatever group allegedly harbours the threat. The latter in turn retreats and denies the police the intelligence required for public safety. In other words, speeches such as those from the head of MI5 are wholly self-defeating.

Stupefying sums of money are being devoted to warding off a threat to life and limb which, I suspect, is far less than was posed by the IRA in the 1970s and 1980s. The IRA succeeded in evading the police, killing large numbers of people and destroying property with grim regularity. It did so with the intention of changing policy and securing the release of murderers and criminals. What it did not do was curb British liberties.

Al-Qaida has killed fewer Britons but induced politicians to curb more liberties. It remains so murky that the security services grab at the epithet "an al-Qaida-linked organisation" to imply they are up against some vast global mafia, to excuse any intelligence failure and justify any increased budget.

I couldn't have summed it up better myself. This perhaps explains why Mr Jenkins writes for The Guardian and I write on a wee blog. Ah, such is my fate.