Thursday, 11 August 2011


When I present or deliver a report to clients or to an audience of any description I usually start of by defining the topic. I do that to ensure that everyone present is clear on the topic and understands where I’m coming from during the presentation itself. You may also do the same thing, lots of people do.

So with that in mind I’ll now provide a definition of “terrorism” from Dictionary.comthe use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes”.

The Oxford Dictionary Online defines it as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”.

However, it’s not that simple. There is no agreed international definition of terrorism. Terrorism Research provides a lot more information on Terrorism if you feel inclined to know more.

Terrorism is an uncomfortable subject not least because terrorist acts are deeply shocking and morally wrong, that is as morally wrong as morally wrong as can be. We tend to think of 9/11, 7/7, Omagh, etc. and most recently Norway when we think of terrorist attacks. A further problem with terrorism however, is that someone terrorist is someone elses freedom fighter and harder to stomach potentially, someone’s terrorist becomes someone’s very senior government minister.

The nature of terrorism is to attack innocent people and finally, you’ll be pleased to hear, we come to the subject of this blog article. Simply put, Governments have a core responsibility to protect the populace they represent. How they respond to terrorist threats has become something of a difficulty for them however, as we are all too well aware.

The conundrum is how to protect the populace without infringing basic rights and imposing reactive solutions, which prove to be, shall we say, less productive as originally planned or intended. Guns have been removed significantly from our society and knife carrying is increasingly attracting more serious penalties. This is a good thing. The criminals also think it is a good thing since there is much less chance that a law abiding person will carry either a gun or a knife. Not that we want people doing either so how does the government assess cause and effect? I don’t think they actually do or if they do they follow the logic trail.

Airports tend to be the places at which we come face to face with these intended security features. How many airports do you regularly travel from? Do all of the airports you use have the same security requirements, which you have to meet? That’ll be a no.

A trip to London for me, when I use planes and I do tend to avoid them to be honest, is dependent on cost and can mean I travel through three airports. Which might include any three from Edinburgh, Gatwick, Heathrow or London City. They all have different procedures. The security requirements require shoes off or not off, same with belts, laptop out of carry bag or not. Next, I ping sometimes when I go through the metal detector thingy even when I wear exactly the same things as I did when it didn’t. Are these examples familiar to you? This is annoying but we all comply on the basis that it helps make flying safer for us all.

There is a flaw in this however. The security requirements are based on responses to terrorist attempts, which were or were not successful. We aren’t really being protected from new threats are we? The security forces seem to do a good job rooting out terrorist cells but as the IRA said after the Brighton bombing “you have to be lucky all the time, we only have to be lucky once.”

The latest moves to increase security, especially at Heathrow, is to request people go through full body scanners if the security people aren’t satisfied following swabbing hand luggage, scanning, pat down or individual wand scanning. Also bear in mind that they have also developed profiling which on the face it should be a major step forward. The evidence I’ve seen with my own eyes is that people singled out for higher security attention does not fit the profile of any terrorist we have seen pictures off on TV and in the newspapers. Unless of course middle-aged ladies, older men and teenage boys have been blowing up planes and the MSM have been keeping that very quiet. The Israelis use profiling to good effect, which has protected them to a high degree.

There is a need to have security at airports and for us all actively support this. However, our individual rights should not be eroded without sufficient justification and controls.

We should not be exploited because the rules imposed provide an opportunity for some people to make money. (Airport drop off charges and liquid controls which increase the likelihood that passengers buy drinks, make-up etc at prices higher than they would elsewhere).

The use of all security requirements should be subject to strict controls and based in laws, which our MPs have at least voted for. Horrifyingly, the use of full body scanners are subject to Department of Transport guidance only, which cannot be viewed in their entirety. The reason being that they may expose security operational aspects, which may be useful to potential terrorists. There is no opt out as there is in the USA. Be scanned or you will not be allowed on the flight.

You may have read articles based on the potential implications following the Norwegian attack. They may contain claims that the Police and security services may become more interested in people who express views of government which are critical, do not support big government or suggest radical change is required. Convenient?

The erosion of our rights should not be an option and we should not allow it to happen.  

Contributed by petem


Highland Cooncil said...

Terrorism is Scottish boys dropping bombs on Libyans.

petem130 said...

I couldn't agree more. HC. Democracy? Pah!

JRB said...

Terrorism is not a modern concept. It did not begin with 9/11, nor with the IRA. It has been with us for centuries.

It could be argued that William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Guy Fawkes were all terrorists. Names we now celebrate, and so it is with modern day terrorists.
For example, look at those who have held cabinet office in Israel, how many came to prominence via the ranks of Lehi and Irgun.
In South Africa the ANC had its extreme militant terrorist wing called the MK, its first leader, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned, he is now lauded as the planets elder statesman.
The list of former terrorists, now acclaimed, goes on and on.

Ever since the first caveman discovered a stone club, terrorism, has, is, and probably always will be, a regrettable facet of the life of any society.
What we have all learned is that over time we must come to accept and share this planet with those whom we once regarded as terrorists.

We therefore have to ask ourselves, in this modern technological world how far do we go to protect society from harm by those whom one day we will no doubt recognise?
Is there an acceptable level of ‘collateral’ damage to set against any infringement of our civil liberties, whatever they may be defined as?
Who amongst us has the courage to answer that?
Whilst many of us may now be inconvenienced at the airport, I feel sure that the relatives of passengers of Pan-Am flight 103 would have welcomed such inconveniences in December 1988.

Which leads to yet another question, who are modern day governments actually protecting?
the populous – if they say it often enough then perhaps we will all begin to believe it.
the financial and corporate institutions – most definitely, without their resources they are nothing
themselves – goes without comment, they have and are determined to hold on to power.

petem130 said...

Thanks JRB. I agree with all you say. Terrorism has been with us for a very long time. Great point. Begs the question though - why do our governments, police, armed forces, security services etc. not managed to determine a way to effectively neuter terrorists?

More could be done perhaps if profiling was used as intended.

Anon said...

The Guy Fawkes plot was an inside job - designed by Lord Cecil - using double agents.

The Jubilee Plot in Victoria's reign was also an inside-job.

Almost all terrorism is organised by the spooks, to keep the elite in power.

- Aangirfan

Edward Spalton said...

A cracking good article, Petem.

However, I'd like to unpack a couple of assumptions.
Fire Arms Control - Prior to the Twenties (I think) you could buy pretty well any fire arm you wanted over the counter. It was the Irish Troubles which brought in fire arm certificates etc. Yet gun crime was very low then (rebellious Irishmen apart). In the Sidney Street siege where an armed gang of Russian anarchists was eventually surrounded by armed police and soldiers,
the police had originally found the fire arms cabinet in the local nick locked and nobody could find the key!
They still chased the gang, borrowing pistols of members of the passing public! It was not long after the era when Watson would slip his service revolver into his pocket before venturing out with Holmes to do battle with the agents of Moriarty. So, many people carried guns but there was little gun crime. I suppose many more people, like commercial travellers, rent collectors etc, carried large sums of cash as there were no credit cards etc.
I half agree with the American Rifleman's Association spokesman who said "If we had effective gun control, the only armed criminals would be working for the government". The fate of de Menenzes and other innocents rather bears this out. As it is, gun crime has increased because criminals don't bother to apply for licences.

Airport Security

At the time of the London tube bombings there was a great panic and some people were even talking of air-line type security a tube stations. A very sensible senior officer of the British Transport Police said there would be little point in looking in white grannies' handbags. We never heard from him again!

I suspect most airport security is done for race relations purposes. If security alone was the aim, they would concentrate more thoroughly on likely suspects, principally by racial profiling and targeting known suspects. We are being put through a great deal of inconvenience for very little extra safety, just so that Muslims and others should not feel discriminated against.

Finally, Pedantry Corner.

I have noticed that the term "populace" has become popular when "people" would mostly serve as well. I was told at school that the term was very derogatory, meaning, more or less "rabble", "hoi polloi", "those of no account" etc. - and I was told to stop using a long word which I hadn't properly understood and to use a short one which I did!

A search of some free on-line dictionaries does not bear this out. So my teacher may have been wrong or the meaning may have shifted of recent years. My mother's old Chambers dictionary, the only one to hand, gives "the common people, those who are not distinguished by rank, education, office etc".

I wonder what the Oxford on line says?

Apogee said...

I am not sure I see the point of this article?To me, terrorism is an attempt to force me and the general population to a point of view , or to do things by threat of injury or death to the people being threatened,when doing so will help people who have proved themselves to be the enemy of me and mine to achieve an end I do not wish.
I consider terrorists as vermin, if you have an infestation, you don't mess about,you get rid of them ,with, to use a CIA phrase, "extreme prejudice".
We know where most of the terrorism comes from, why are we worried about the feelings of a terrorist?
The terrorist does not care about our sensibilities. In fact, they consider themselves expendable for the cause.The cause is to eradicate us. Its like life insurance with a guaranteed payout,its what they believe absolutely.
We should study carefully the way they think and the cause they push.
We should realise that they do not understand rational thought. They do not believe in democracy, the bottom line is that they do not believe in us existing in this Universe, only them.

petem130 said...

Anon. I would imagine that counter terrorism is like many other crusades today such as climate change, environmental issues, Aid for Africa etc. What happens to the people who's livelihood depend on these continuing if the issues are solved?

An interesting conundrum I'd say.

petem130 said...

Hi Edward,

It's always very interesting and thought provoking to read your comments.

I concur with all your comments. The meaning of populace was an interesting point to raise and seems to fit very well with the view that our elders and betters may well have. Do they protect us? Do they use the fear terrorism provides as a means of control?

If we are serious about effective airport security the best route by far is the use of dogs. £7,000 each so a much cheaper alternative. Those with who need or perceive that they are important enough to need protection use them. They can be trained to sniff out almost anything.

petem130 said...

The point when terrorists were prepared to blow themselves up for a cause changed things significantly. Up to that pint terrorists had accepted a risk which might mean they would be killed to further their cause, they set out to kill rather than to be killed.

I think you are right in your assertions. The bottom line is, are we being protected and is the response to the threat robust and appropriate? Making life more difficult for us, infringing our rights and perhaps not carrying out profiling as originally intended perhaps?

But what do we know.

Apogee said...

Hi pete, I suppose what I am trying to say is if they wish to be a guided missile, they must be treated as such and taken out at the first opportunity, you cannot discuss with a programmed machine. And you must prepare defences properly, there is less problems and it is more effective, the results are better.
But I still do not think that our leaders understand the problem, they are not dealing with rational
humans, there is only one way to talk to a hell-fire missile once its launched,you kill it. Or it kills you. You cannot have half hearted methods, that way people get killed.

RG said...

If as few as only two or three people were licensed for concealed carry on the island in the highly liberal Netherlands which does not allow licensed concealed carry, far fewer than 80 defenseless kids would have been massacred for over an hour and a half...

petem130 said...

Again I agree Apogee. Israel takes the hard line with their response to attack. Whilst the political price is high for them and the propaganda used against them is damaging they do what they do. Showing weakness is not an option for them and should be the same for us.

petem130 said...

I agree RG. I'm not a fan of guns but over zealous gun controls have resulted in greater risk to the population as a whole.

Edward Spalton said...

It's over fifteen years ago that I went to Israel on pilgrimage and we flew El Al.

We were not searched or made to do silly things but were sent to a separate departure lounge rather early.

Israeli security staff moved amongst us and questioned us - not at very great length. Then, a few minutes later, another chap would ask us similar but not quite identical questions. They then withdrew and (I assume) compared notes. Some people might be questioned three times.

When we got onto the plane, I noticed that several of them were sitting at the back - so they had every incentive to do their work thoroughly!

petem130 said...

Thanks Edward. I had a similar experience with American Airlines once well before 9/11. Strange at the time.

I flew into LA 6 weeks after 9/11. Soldiers with guns at the security gates. People were very twitchy. A plane crashed on take off from New York a couple of days later and loads of people stopped flying.

A year previously at Chicago I saw the security people stop a workman going through to work on alterations going on. They stopped him because he had a craft knife. They would not let him though until he gave it up. Well done them.

Billy said...

Just what "terrorism" are we talking about here. Just about all the supposed "terrorism" going on just now is our governments to scare the sheep and do what they want.

Same as in the 1950-70s it was our own Nato that was doing the terrorism - Gladio.

petem130 said...

Well Billy, the definition was provided at the beginning of the article. If the definition has been met by any group what so ever then the label terrorist is applicable.

Nice and simple.


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