Monday, January 08, 2007

Terror Alert emails

BBC NEWS | UK | MI5 to send e-mail terror alerts

Ok, now that's an interesting idea, and I approve of anything that keeps the public informed about what our security services are up to. I doubt this will tell us much, but I'll sign up for it on the off chance.

The article raises another point, though. It prompted me to have a look at the MI5 website, and see what they think our current situation is. This is what they had to say:

Current threat level

The current threat level is assessed as SEVERE (as of 14th August 2006).

This means that an attack is highly likely and indicates a continuing high level of threat to the UK.

Hmm. To me, that's a problem. We've been in a position where an attack is 'highly likely' since August last year. It's the second highest rating, second only to Critical threats, in which an attack is 'expected imminently.' So, where is the attack? How long can an attack be highly likely before we have to start doubting the assessment rather than continuing to take precautions?

The last attack posted by MI5 on their website is the July 2005 attack on the London transport system. The last significant arrest was in September 2005. In both cases well over a year has passed with no attacks. Oddly, no mention is made of the bomb scare that paralyzed air traffic on the 10th of August 2006 (and pushed the threat level to Critical) - an event which, I now read, happened in the first month that the alert status was public and exactly one month after the Home Office announced that it would be made public. An event which turned out to be no real threat, or at least not an immediate one, as the suspected terrorists still needed to get passports... it's as though the timeline is missing embarrassing details.

Perhaps there have been attacks which were quietly prevented, in which case good for MI5. But I'm unwilling to take that on faith, and without some evidence I can only assume that we're not really at that much risk, and that these threat ratings are more an exercise in politics than prudence.

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