Friday, July 07, 2006

How to Cope with Terrorism

It’s a year since the suicide bombings in London.

Four sad losers with dreams of the glory of the Caliphate and (maybe) the heavenly virgins ended up dead and taking over 50 people with them.

Two things struck me in the aftermath of the bombing. One was how multi-cultural London is - amongst the dead and injured it seemed as if scarcely a nation or a race wasn’t represented. The other was how calm people were, and how almost everyone understood the bombing was the action of a tiny group of pathetic losers.

Tony Blair will never recover from the massive mistake of the supporting the war in Iraq, and the lessor one of being Dubya’s poodle. But here was a golden opportunity to read the mood of the public, and respond to the bombings in a measured controlled way.

Needless to say he blew it, blithering on about the war on terror, then moments later rejecting a link with the war in Iraq (does any rational being deny one?) and doing his halting…………l-o-n-g….. pause….for authenticity………another…….l-o-n-g pause "I'm almost overcome with grief - honest!" theatrical turn that we first heard nine years ago when Di died.

In Orwell's novel 1984, Winston Smith sometimes feels as if he’s the only person left alive with a memory. This is a familiar feeling for those of us old enough to remember the terrorist bombing campaigns of the IRA which took place from about 1970 to 1997.

The IRA were a far more formidable opponent than an unwashed bunch of amateurs who squat in a cave on the Pakistan/Afghan border. Until the United States intelligence agencies christened them Al Qaeda, they didn’t even have a name.

The IRA not only chose it’s own name, it had a purpose, and a core group of extremely brave and dedicated young men and a few women (all of whom the British tabloids described as cowards).

Around that core goup, a much larger number of people, who on occasions could be equally brave and resourceful, supported and abetted the active fighters. The IRA could also rely on a very large and well integrated Irish population on the British mainland, who even if they weren’t sympathetic to the cause, at least provided a certain layer of cultural and practical ‘cover.’

Yet these weren't all of the advantages. IRA members looked identical to the target population against whom they operated. They spoke the same language. Despite their denials, they came from a very similar culture. They had a large and powerful and well armed backer in the shape of the huge and ignorant United States’ Irish community.

Yet despite three decades of steadily evolving tactics and sophistication, the IRA ultimately failed in it’s primary goal of achieving a united Ireland. In fact as the years roll on since the peace agreements of the late 1990s, and both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic become steadily more prosperous and content, the chances of unification seem more distant than ever.

How on earth did Britain manage to neutralise this large, well organised, well led, and highly efficient terrorist group? It turns out by doing pretty much the opposite of everything Blair has done.

Once upon a time I rather liked Tony Blair, and it's taken me years to accept he no longer learns from past mistakes (Dubya has neither the courage to admit his mistakes, or the intellect to learn alternative strategies). So here, for the benefit of Blair and Dubya's successors, are some lessons on how to neutralise a terrorist threat:

  1. Downplay any terrorist success. No two minute silences, no elaborate memorial services, no indication that the attack has been anything other than a grubby crime, best forgotten.

  2. Don’t ever suggest the terrorist action is anything other than a local criminal act. No declarations of being in a global war, that the event itself has anything to do with being international. The IRA was always trying to get help from other countries. Apart from substantial American assistance, it largely failed in these efforts.

  3. Don’t change the laws of the country in response to a terrorist attack. To do so shows the terrorists are winning. During the entire 30 years war with the IRA, the government was able to reject calls for internment without trial, and identity cards. The one experiment in internment took place in Northern Ireland itself and was a disaster with hundreds of innocent people arrested and imprisoned.

  4. Stress vigilance in your general population, but otherwise it’s business as usual as soon as the broken glass is swept up. Don’t ever claim that a terrorist attack has “changed the world” – that's a terrorist’s wet dream.

  5. While you maintain the façade of business as usual, invest heavily in electronic and human intelligence. Recruit agents, monitor phone calls and e-mail and anything else, offer large sums of money to informers, and look the other way when your elite counter-terrorist forces murder in cold blood. Yes, we can be ruthless bastards too.

  6. Rely on the fact that no terrorist group, large or small, can hope to equal the damage done by even a single night of the Luftwaffe in World War 2. Ultimately terrorist acts, even spectacular ones, are no serious strategic threat to a modern western state.

Follow the advice above, and you can hope for some kind of resolution to the terrorist action in three decades, hopefully less. Ignore the advice, and go along with a "war on terror" and you can look forward to a global Forever War that inflicts permanent damage on your society.


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