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Wolf! Wolf!

Apparently the terrorism threat level in the UK has just been raised to ‘critical’. Which we are told means, “an attack is expected imminently”.

Pardon me for being critical, but that is entirely meaningless. It has been raised from ‘severe – an attack is highly likely’ which is also meaningless. When I write “meaningless,” I suppose that is because I want to know what is meant by ‘an attack’, and what probabilities are adduced to distinguish between ‘unlikley’, ‘possible but not likely’ [are not those the same? – no, apparently], ‘a strong possibility’, ‘highly likely’, and ‘imminent’? The announcement is full of meaning, but it is a purely political meaning.

This morning the police announce they have “disrupted a major plot” and arrested 18 people overnight, “as part of a long-running operation”. Unless there is actually someone known to the police to be loose with a bomb as a result of the raids, then disrupting a plot would reduce the actual level of danger, wouldn’t it? Maybe the danger was ‘critical’ (whatever that means) before last night, and they did not know it, so now a misleadingly low level of threat is being corrected.

What is entirely evident is that in the threat levels do nothing to inform the public. They contain no information. Actual threats (those that might succeed) are by definition unknown unknowns, because the security services can (we hope) cope with what they know.

What threat levels do do is provide justification for actions the authorities might otherwise have to explain in detail. One cannot help notice the timing, immediately after a vague but minatory speech by John Reid:

[W]e may have to modify some of our freedoms in the short-term in order to prevent their misuse and abuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy our freedoms and values in the long-term.
It is up to each and all of us to ask the questions: what price our security? What price our freedoms? At what cost can we preserve our freedoms?

I do not think the plot is invented to support the Home Office’s war on liberty but I do think it is so interpreted. I do think that Reid, with knowledge of what would happen in the next few hours, was well situated to take advantage. And the timing could not be better to monopolise the news.


An acquaintance of the left-liberal establishment, whom I will not embarrass by mentioning his name on this blog, remarked on Reid’s speech that it marked another step in the perversion of language: “None of us should be anything other than vigilant and that vigilance is the price of securing our freedom,” the Home Secretary said, inverting the meaning of a well-known phrase.

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilence” once meant we should take care of our liberty at all times lest we lose it to surreptitious encroachment. Now the official meaning is to be that we may only repurchase our freedom (at some indefinite time in the future) by indentured labour for state security, exchanging it just for now (and future nows to be determined) with vigilence – that we should subordinate our lives to watching for the Bad Wolf. And Big Brother is a TV programme.

15 comments to Wolf! Wolf!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Semantic word-play aside, it does not seem all that perverse for the security authorities to tighten security if they think there is still a risk that some of the would-be plotters are still at large. Yes, it is encouraging that a plot has been disrupted, but obviously the police etc are erring on the side of caution. That strikes me as responsible, even though it is has obviously disrupted a lot of passengers this morning.

    Sorry Guy, but the tone of your article smacks of “flouride-in-the-water” paranoia. The security services are doing their job. Quite effectively, it seems.

  • MarkE

    I’m with Guy on this. My initial reaction was to wonder if the plot was (a) anounced to bury embarrassing news for the government, (b) an excuse to “tighten security” or, in English, remove more of our civil liberties and only at (c) did I get to the thought of a genuine plot. I may be paraniod but I’m not the only one thinking along these lines, and if the government and police have lost the trust of a qualified professional, member of a charitable association and potential piller of the community, they have created a serious problem for themselves!

  • It would not be unreasonable to suggest that Dr Reid knew of the impending raid and thus primed the pump.

    Unfortunately, NeuArbeit has been so systematically cynical and spin-prone, it is hard to simply ignore the linkage.

    What next, a Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defence?

  • Chris Harper

    The Sky news report states –

    “those arrested were mainly young, British-born Asian men”

    British born Asian men?


    Is this another example of that oxymoron “second generation immigrants”?

    Could they be subtly hinting that these guys might be muslim?

  • guy herbert

    That’s Asian as ethnic descriptor, Chris, not geographical. I’m sure the implication is they are Muslims from Pakistani families. Tibetan Buddhists are not in the frame, I’m fairly sure.


    Perhaps I wrote it badly, but my intent is to suggest that how good a job the security services are doing has absolutely nothing to do with the threat announcements, threatening pronouncements, and plain panic-mongering of government, which is itself of the fluoride-in-the-water variety.

    We don’t know how good a job the security services are doing, and probably never can. We do know that it is highly convenient for them to make their jobs easier by getting us to obey them without question and for them to have more power, both of which are assisted by maintaining public anxiety and ‘vigilence’.

    Security is not exempt from producer capture or political exploitation.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Guy, for my part, I think I was a bit harsh in using the word “paranoia”. Of course, security services are liable to the sort of pressures that you talk about, and it may be that in this case, we have a classic example.

    Even so, I think we tend to be overly rough on the security services at times like this. They are damned either way: if they play it quiet, they are accused of trying to hide stuff from the public and if they issue warnings or make clampdowns, they are accused of heavy-handedness.

  • Guy makes some good points.

    Concerning the language of the threat levels, is it not all a bit meaningless, as I also thought to mention over on SpyBlog.

    The “Wolf, Wolf” aspect must have occurred to the thinking listenership as this came up on BBC Radio 4’s Today. Also there are the draconian and perhaps suspect protective measures, which look very disruptive and likely to seriously inhibit normal life.

    However, surely we must give the police and Security Service a chance to show whether they have pounced effectively, or there is yet another false alarm or over-reaction.

    For me, I’m looking to see how many of the 18 arrested persons are still in custody in 1 or 2 week’s time, and also what evidence is found at the various raided addresses. A bit of “wait and see” is required before coming to any firmer conclusions.

    Guy is also right in pointing out that we may never know for certain – however, probabilities being my business, I’m happy to work with judgement of the effectiveness of government action on a scale of likelihood, using such terms as …

    Best regards

  • Paul Marks

    John Reid was a long term of the Communist party – not a Marxist who was critical of the Soviet Union (which some Marxist groups were), but a member of the slavishly proMoscow Communist party.

    The idea that he is interested in maintaining liberty is (as Guy rightly points out) absurd.

    Yesterday a top news story in Britian was how many members of Parliament were demanding that it be recalled to discuss the government’s treatment of the Lebanon war.

    Now whilst I support the government’s line on that war (basically no “death to Israel” stuff), most Labour members of Parliament (and many non Labour members of Parliament) do not.

    Hundreds of members of Parliament were signing documents demanding the recall of Paliament – one of these M.P.s. was Gordon Brown’s (Mr Brown being the finance minister and Mr Blair’s chief rival in the Labour party) parliamentary assistant.

    So Mr Blair was in terrible trouble. Had Parliament been recalled he would have been torn apart by his own party.

    And today we get a massive security alert.

    Why were not the terrorists arrested weeks ago – or sometime in the future.

    Did it just have to be TODAY?

    Not “paranoia” at all.

    The security and intelligence services work for the government (the idea that they are neutral and work for the Queen is a total fiction).

    The things they say MAY INDEED BE TRUE – but nothing they say (on domestic or overseas matters) can be trusted.

  • Paul Marks

    “long term member of the Communist party” of course.

  • Events of the last few days have engendered in me an awful cynicism. I no longer know what to believe. I view all the output of the MSM with extreme suspicion and find myself asking “Who benefits most from this?”.
    I’m living in a world where no-one and nothing can be trusted anymore.
    The truth may be out there but I’m damn sure I’ll never get to see it.
    Was there really a terrorist plot or are we being manipulted yet again?
    Who’s interests are served by jamming up the airports?
    Who is benefiting most from this situation?
    The MSM can no longer be trusted to provide the answers to these questions and there is no way of telling which online sources are reliable.
    These are dark days indeed but not for the obvious reasons.

  • Alex

    Paul you stole the words right out of my mouth!

    If they knew about this plot how come its only today – the day they foil the plot – does the level increase to critical.

    Its all so 1984 its unbelivable.

    I think it would be intresting to see what govt anouncements manage to slip into oblivion over the next few days and wether the recall parliament bandwagon loses momentum.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    I’m sure you’ve all seen this more meaningful terror alert scale. 🙂

  • guy herbert

    I think it would be intresting to see what govt anouncements manage to slip into oblivion over the next few days and wether the recall parliament bandwagon loses momentum.

    Here’s one. From this morning’s Times:

    Judges will be given the power to dismiss lawyers in ever-lengthier terrorist and fraud trials under government proposals to curb the multi- million-pound costs of cases. […]

    The proposals were published quietly by the Department for Constitutional Affairs without any press notice six days ago. They will apply to all cases lasting 41 days or more and will include major terror, organised crime and fraud trials.

    And another. From eGov monitor:

    HMRC is seeking views on applying the relevant provisions in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) across all its activities. Currently, those powers and their associated safeguards are only available for specific taxes and duties. Having the same law apply across the board will be clearer for those under investigation and will increase the effectiveness of HMRC’s investigations.

    In other words, Tax Inspectors would like to have powers of arrest, search and seizure. (And fingerprinting? DNA sampling?)

    But two plays for major extension of the power of the state is probably average for a Thursday during recess. It doesn’t stand out from the background enslavation rate.

  • Yes we have to stop using the pussyfoot term “Asian Men”. However, that means we being to use the term “suspected muslim”. Ouch. Better to say “suspected Islamist”, but again it is a slippery slope into the hands of the victimmedhinh.

    As for Reid, it is all very “V for Vendetta” – “I WANT EVERONE TO REMEMBER WHY THEY NEED US!!!”

    And Alex, you took the words out of my mouth about Paul taking mine in the first place…errr…

    “‘The End of History’? Beginning of nonsense.” – Margaret Thatcher.

  • Andrew Milner

    From: Douglas Alexander, transport secretary
    To: Dr. John Reid, home secretary
    (on reading BBC HYS responses on airport emergency)

    “I don’t think they bought it, doc.

    Please advise when/if we go to Plan B.

    Yours Aye,