The result of the toner cartridge bomb plot, as with all such individual acts of terrorism, will be to further strengthen, rather than weaken, the anti-democratic arm of the state to use against its own citizens.
Whatever the true nature of the plot, said to originate from an Al Qaeda cell in Yemen, its exposure will be useful for MI5 chief, Jonathan Evans. Evans wants anti-terror legislation introduced by New Labour – 28-day detention without charge and “control orders” in particular - to remain on the statute books.
Before last May’s election, both Conservatives and LibDems attacked New Labour for this open breach of civil liberties. Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg was particularly outspoken, condemning the “control order regime” and calling for its abolition. Now that Cameron is in office, the spooks have told him they need these laws and apparently he says that if Clegg objects, the coalition is “heading for a fucking car crash".
Cameron yesterday chaired an emergency meeting of COBRA, the committee that takes over in the face of major terrorist or health threats. In parliament he spoke of the need to “cut out the terrorist cancer that lurks in the Arabian Peninsula”.
Evans, along with his fellow spooks in the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism based in the Home Office, are lobbying the government hard to keep the laws on the books so that they can do what they want with terror suspects.
The intelligence agencies are already virtually the only area of government spending not facing cuts – in fact MI5, MI6 and GCHQ have been awarded an extra £65m on top of their existing £2.4 billion budget to run their 5,700-or so agents, much to the chagrin of Defence chiefs. Counter-terrorism and spying on the population is a greater priority than the armed services, apparently.
The reality is that however much they spend, countries across Europe, and the US, are still vulnerable to terror attacks. The toner cartridge bomb exercise demonstrates that it is relatively simple to construct such devices. As long as there are individuals prepared to risk their lives – and terrorist organisations like Al Qaeda to fund and organise global networks – this cat and mouse war will continue.
Hyping their ability to prevent further attacks through big-power co-operation and more cash for spooks, is just whistling in the dark. Innocent civilians in cities like New York, London, Madrid, Mumbai and Nairobi will be the ones to suffer. And the threat is not only in the west – yesterday 52 worshippers lost their lives in yet another Baghdad bombing.
Governments who continue to fight disastrous and hopeless wars like that in Afghanistan, supposedly to root out terrorism, will never succeed in protecting their citizens from terrorist attacks. Quite the opposite.
But will they listen to the advice of former Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev who said last week that victory in Afghanistan was impossible and that the same militants terrorising Afghanistan and Pakistan today were trained by the US? Of course not.
Fighting the so called “war on terror” and protecting populations from terror attacks – real or imaginary, actual or contrived - is one of few important roles that today’s political leaders can lay claim to – as they set about deconstructing the welfare state.
And the spooks lobby will continue to enjoy government support as long as that is the case, not only for the so-called “war on terror” but also to rapidly resurrect the role they played so enthusiastically in the 1980s, of targeting trade unionists and others fighting the actions of the government. For example trade unionists like the firefighters. many of whose personal details including home addresses, were this week mysteriously leaked to the Sunday Mail.
A World to Win secretary