Prelude to a Clampdown?

It was reported yesterday that 10 people arrested earlier this month, for involvement in suspected terrorist activity, have all been released without charge.

When originally arrested, there was much media conjecture about plots to blow up Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium during a high-profile football game.

That however, was to prove pure speculation and the release of the ten was met with minimal media interest. Nonetheless it followed a well worn routine: where ‘terror’ suspects are arrested amid a blaze of publicity, held for questioning, and then released without trial and with much less media attention than their arrest.

Since 911, British police have detained 572 for suspected involvement with terrorism. Less than one fifth of these have actually been charged with terrorism offences, and of these, not one has been tried yet.

Believe it or not though, these are the lucky ones. Across the Atlantic, in Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, America is holding its terror suspects without trial and with no immediate prospect of one. At best terror suspects there may face, not a civil court, but a court martial at an unspecified future date.

All of this, coupled with frequent terror warnings, has led some to wonder if the authorities are actually trying to cultivate a sense of unease and apprehension in the public.

Ominous rumblings about when, not if, there are terror attacks in mainland Britain has only added to this. It also provides justification for draconian anti-terror laws currently being pushed through parliament.

Above: poster from a campaign to increase public awareness to the potential terror threat
So are the authorities really trying to create a frightened, fearful public? This writer certainly thinks so, if only because a cowed apprehensive public is more likely to obey rather than question what it is told. That after all, is the essence of crowd control.

It is also one of the fundamental rules of psychological warfare. Keep your opponents uncertain and feeling vulnerable, stretch their defences with threats of potential attacks and exhaust their reserves. The same rules apply to both individuals and countries at war: the ultimate aim being to sap people’s inner strength and rob them of their ability to think for themselves.

It is against this backdrop that Britain’s Intelligence Service’s new openness needs to be seen. In recent days MI5 has launched an upgraded website, with a view to keeping the public informed and aware of the “War on Terror”.

Alongside features outlining the threat posed is a picture showing the second hijacked airliner about to hit the 110-storey World Trade Centre on September 11.

According to the website: “Despite many successful operations to stop terrorist activity and damage their capability to conduct such attacks, the groups retain the will and the means to mount terrorist operations worldwide”.

In other words: no matter where you are, you are never entirely safe, the terror threat is ever present, despite the best efforts of the authorities.

Visitors to the site who have information they think might help MI5 are invited to send messages via email or call a special anti-terror phone number.

In the old Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, that would have been seen as an offer to inform on others. But not so in the “War on Terror” where it is merely an invitation to do ones public duty.

Running alongside MI5’s new “openness”, is a poster campaign to heighten public awareness of the terror threat. Ultimately it will probably all prove as groundless as Saddam Hussein’s Weapon’s of Mass Destruction. But the like the publicity surrounding Iraq’s WMD, it too has a purpose.

It is easily forgotten now, but in the years prior to the invasion of Iraq the media’s fascination with Iraq’s WMD was unavoidable. The endless speculation about what they were, how quickly they could be deployed and so on, was everywhere. Now of course we all know better, but for a while it was useful.

Even when public opposition to an invasion of Iraq was at its height in England, Tony Blair was able to use the prospect of Iraq’s WMD as reason enough to invade. His talk of “45 minutes” will probably go down as one of history’s famous lies, but it did the job. It was sufficient to push an otherwise unwilling country into a war which they undoubtedly now regret.

Likewise, the current media fascination with the supposed “terror threat” may auger something altogether more ominious. In the final analysis, it may prove to be a ruse for a grinding, totalitarian clampdown: a global police state where we are all beholden to a ruthless ruling elite.

Police in front of St Paul's, London, practise in a mock terror attack
Be warned, it’s BORING: MI5’s website