The recent cargo plane security crisis - involving the improvised explosive devices intercepted moving between the Middle East, the UK and the States - consumed the news media and politics over several days.
It spawned masses of press commentary and whipped up a veritable storm of outrage. The broadcast media had a field day; the ‘story’ made for excellent rolling news coverage. There was real time coverage of ‘developments’ in the US, talking heads were wheeled in and out of studios to give their expert analysis and within hours of the event, viewers were invited to witness for themselves pictures of the rogue printer cartridges.
Parliamentary business was interrupted. With puffed up chests, sombre expressions and lashings of due gravitas, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary ‘made statements’. The Yemen (the poorest state in the Middle East, previously as good as ignored) publicly ‘emerged’ as a worrying new hotbed of extremism and leapt up the terrorist league tables.
Forgive me for sounding cynical. I – like every other sane and decent person the world over – abhor terrorism and the tactics employed by its perpetrators. I – like every other sane and decent person in the UK – regard the safety and security of British citizens as paramount. But there was something uncomfortably voyeuristic about the excited media response and something worryingly unsophisticated – and predictable - about the political response, that bode no well for the ongoing struggle against terrorism.
Let’s be absolutely clear about what ‘happened’ here. Suspect packages were identified, intercepted and a potential catastrophe averted. It’s a pointless waste of time and energy (though it makes for good news copy) to hypothesise: “Ah, but what if the packages hadn’t been picked up? What would have happened then?” The fact of the matter is, they were. The systems in place were sufficiently robust to prevent disaster. The intelligence and security services, at home and abroad, did exactly what they are designed to do and all credit to them for functioning effectively.
I’m not being flippant about this. This was a major incident and it is right that all of the states involved – and others – should individually and collectively be re-assessing their security procedures on the back of it, as well as investigating the perpetrators. And of course, the outcome might have been very different. As we know all too well, the intelligence and security services do not always get it right – or in time.
In the West – by which I mean the UK and the USA, in this instance – it provides great propaganda for the ‘War on Terror’. There’s nothing like fear of a common enemy – the amorphous ‘Terrorist’ - to keep the masses in check. And there’s no harm in reminding the Great Unwashed of what the caring new Government is doing to look after them.
It’s worse than that, though. Both the media and politicians were up in arms that ‘The Terrorists’ should have devised a ‘new’ tactic involving ever more sophisticated methods to avoid detection. This reaction is utterly disingenuous. Sheer commonsense tells us that once one method of attack becomes closed to them, terrorists will devise an alternative. The fight against terrorism is an ongoing – and ever changing – struggle and whilst we should be ever vigilant, we should avoid unnecessary hype which does nothing to make Britain a safer place.