Belmont Club

The front-line shopping mall

A UK government report warned that an attack by a chemical or radiological “dirty” bomb was likely to happen in Britain within the coming years and that mall managers had better get ready.

The assessment came as Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, unveiled a UK strategy to tackle the terrorist threat. As part of the plans, managers of shopping centres and stores will be among 60,000 workers trained to help deal with the danger. Ms Smith described the threat as “severe” – meaning an attack is “highly likely” and “could happen without warning”. … The Home Secretary identified “shopping centre managers, store managers, people who were responsible for the security in those areas”, as being key in the battle against terrorism.

The Telegraph identified a number of factors which were responsible for the heightened danger, notably the existence of al-Qaeda, the spread of weapons technology over the Internet and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The report says the risk of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack has been heightened by the pace of technological change and the spread of specialised information and knowledge via the internet. Its authors point to evidence that al-Qaeda has tried to recruit disaffected nuclear scientists in Pakistan and Iraq and has deployed chemical bombs involving chlorine gas cylinders in Iraq. The problem has been made worse by the smuggling of nuclear material from the former Soviet Union, where over 1,300 incidents have been reported since 1993.

Gee. The terrorists found the nonexistent chemical weapons program in Iraq? Imagine that. The British authorities alluded to UK citizens who traveled abroad specifically to learn how to blow up their countrymen. “We know that some British citizens still travel abroad to be trained in how to commit terrorist attacks, that terrorists want to strike the UK again and that they will keep on trying. … From experience and through research we now know more than ever before about how some British citizens are being drawn into terrorism. We are using this understanding with partners to divert people away from this path.”

Translation: Pakistan. Some of these British citizens are already back. The Herald says that “more than 20 Britons monitored by Pakistan’s intelligence service, who are believed to have spent time with radical militant groups, have returned to the UK, according to a report yesterday. The men are said to have trained with extremists linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban and are thought to pose a potential threat to British security. The dossier of names is expected to be handed over to British anti-terrorist teams soon and is being seen as a “big leap forward” in the sharing of intelligence between the two countries, the report claimed.”

Those 20 whose dossiers will be handed over after the press release is distributed are a drop in the bucket.  According to Jeremy Page of the Times Online, there are a burgeoning number of terrorist institutes in Pakistan and doubts among the cognoscenti about whether they can be effectively tracked by Pakistani intelligence, given that many of these are trained in the northwest frontier badlands.

British security officials estimate that about 4,000 people have been trained in this way in Pakistan or Afghanistan and now account for three quarters of serious terrorist plots in Britain — which explains why Pakistan features so prominently in the new counter-terrorism strategy.

The new approach does not resolve the two issues at the core of the problem: the sympathies of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and the lack of any state control in the tribal areas on the Afghan border. …

Pakistan’s police force is too poorly funded and trained to handle counter-terrorism. Its civilian intelligence agencies are weak and rely on the ISI for information and resources. So British counter-terror strategy depends largely on the ISI, which helped to create the Taleban and has long used militants groups as a proxy to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and offset Indian influence in Afghanistan.

The results from Pakistani cooperation have been less than total success. As a result, the UK is now facing a heightened threat. For example, the Mail says that British are watching out for the use of radiological roadside IEDs, bombs which are a cocktail of both explosive and nuclear material.  Jeremy Page says that “since the British Government cannot stop British Pakistanis travelling to Pakistan, most analysts agree that the only way to prevent them from undertaking militant training is for Pakistan to shut the camps.” Because that may not be forthcoming, the British authorities have decided to create a second line of defense: the Stasi society.

British citizens will provide their own layer of counter-terrorist security by being encouraged to confront people who “threaten democracy” while more shop, hotel and service industry staff will be trained to deal with terrorist threats under the government’s new terrorism strategy. …

Ms Smith said that 30,000 workers had been trained to help respond to a terror attack as part of the strategy, and said that programme would be extended to a further 30,000 people.

The Home Secretary denied that the plan amounted to “snooping”. She said: “If terrorists want to target crowded places I think it’s right that we put in place, as we have done, a programme of training for the people that manage our shopping centres, pubs, restaurants, clubs and hotels. That’s what we’re doing to help people be vigilant of the threat from terrorism and to deal with a terrorist attack were it to happen. That’s not about snooping, that’s about the widest possible range of people helping to keep us safe in this country.”

The Contest 2 strategy has four strands – Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare. These cover preventing radicalisation of potential terror recruits, disrupting terror operations, reducing the vulnerability of the UK and ensuring the country is ready for the consequences of any attack. There has been criticism that the government has had limited success in discouraging extremism and radical Islamist preaching in the UK in recent years.

“Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare.” How the mighty have fallen. Thirty years ago, the watchwords were Detect, Deter, Delay and Defend. Military technology has advanced a long way, but philosophy, alas, is past its Golden Age.