Monday, 11 July 2011

Home Office downgrades the terror threat

I see that the Home Office has downgraded the terror threat level from "severe" to "substantial". Officially, that means that "a terrorist attack is a strong possibility and might well occur without further warning." What it actually means is that there hasn't been any terrorist attack or near-miss for a long time and the security services don't think there's much to worry about. Mind you, the Home Office has a habit of reducing the threat level for a few months or weeks just so that they can put it back up again, amid much fanfare about a heightened risk, when they want to introduce some pointless new security measures.

This latest move could well be something to do with the Olympics next year. There is, after all, bound to be some sort of terrorist panic (real or imaginary) in the run-up to the big event -- along with the equally inevitable sex-trafficking panic. Raising the threat level to "severe" will be a psychologically important part of driving the message home. But to do so they have to reduce the level first -- preferably at a time when everyone's mind is on other things, like Rupert Murdoch's collapsing hegemony or (more serious, I think) police complicity in tabloid misbehaviour over many years.

Historically, there has been very little correlation between the official threat level and actual terrorist incidents. Or if there is a correlation, it has been negative, with such incidents tending to occur when the authorities were least expecting it and have toned down the warning. That's probably coincidental, however. More significant, though you wouldn't know it to listen to the Home Office, is the almost total disappearance in real Al Qaeda-inspired terrorist activity in the West -- a trend that was in evidence long before the elimination of Osama Bin Laden.

According to the Home Office, there are five levels of terror threat: low, moderate, substantial, severe and critical. In reality, though, there are only three. We will never see the level set at low or moderate. The other levels remind me of the possibly apocryphal condoms sold in three sizes: large, extra-large and colossal.