Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Levels of Threat

A JTAC report has been leaked which explains the government decision to lower the threat level from "severe defined" to "substantial" weeks before the London bombings. This is slightly embarrassing for the government.

The JTAC report does say:
"Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist related activity in the UK"
This is obviously not something Blair wants us to hear, especially as it comes from his own security services. That's not actually the point I want to make here though.

The Safety Elephant said something which appeared in the Observer on the 8th of July.
Mr Clarke said: "The overall security level was reduced and we felt that was the correct situation. Now, of course, we look back on that and consider exactly what the situation was, but I think it's important to indicate that even if the threat level had been at a higher level than it actually was yesterday, that doesn't mean we would have been more successful in identifying these perpetrators before the event took place."
Right. Have a wee think about that. The Scotsman article, linked above, summarizes his position like this:
Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, and the Metropolitan Police insisted in the immediate aftermath of the atrocities that the lowering of the threat level had no practical effect on security precautions taken.
Hmm. That does rather open up the question of what the threat level is actually for, wouldn't you say? If the government increases the threat level, "that doesn't mean we would have been more successful in identifying these perpetrators before the event took place." So it seems that the threat level isn't about increasing or decreasing the level of security in the country.

What is it for then?
Could it be that the government threat level scale is nothing more than an exercise in manipulating public opinion? If it's not about security, I can't think of anything else it can usefully achieve. You could argue that a raised threat level encourages the public to be more vigilant thus helping to prevent attacks. But Clarke has explicitly said that an increased threat level wouldn't have provided increased security so that argument seems flawed.

Is this actually an admission by Clarke that the government threat level warnings are nothing more than political propaganda? Answers on a postcard...

One last thing. I've been watching the government response to the London attacks and it's been pretty professionally handled. I'd say it has almost certainly been planned and rehearsed. I'm not saying that's wrong, in fact it's probably emminently sensible. It is worth bearing in mind when assessing the government responses to the attacks though.

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