Thursday, July 28, 2011

The New Terrorism, Part 1 – Identification

Across the western world, a new form of terrorism is breeding. It strikes fear into citizens, it attempts to change civilization as we know it, and it attacks and assaults people on a daily basis. It's name? “Anti-terrorism.”

To understand what terrorism 'is', we need an appropriate definition. One of the best is actually from the US Department Of Defense, which puts it as
“The unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to instill fear and coerce governments or societies. Terrorism is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political.
(Source:  Joint Pub 3-07.2, Antiterrorism, (24 November 2010))
Broken down simply, it can be put as “People will try and change the way people live, by intimidation, to match their beliefs”. It's important to note that, unlike many definitions, this one recognises that the THREAT of violence is enough, those that only allow for actual violence forget that many (but not all) of the IRA's bomb attacks in the 1990s didn't harm anyone, as the IRA phoned in coded warnings to evacuate the areas. It also makes clear that whatever motivation is behind it, the goal is political. (The 'unlawful' at the start is intriguing though, since violence, or the threat of violence is, by custom, unlawful)

In the US, everything has become about 'the threat of terrorism'. A massive Federal agency (the TSA) was created, along with a cabinet post. Police got new powers, telephone companies started monitoring phone communications. There are roving checkpoints now, to 'scan people' for 'safety', and there are 'prisons' where someone can be kidnapped anywhere in the world, and imprisoned indefinitely, with no trial. They all have one thing in common – their justification.
“The Patriot Act provisions we are extending are vital for America’s national security and for the prevention of terrorism. They give law enforcement the authority and tools needed to track suspects and known terrorists in order to better protect our nation against those who seek to do harm to our families, our communities and those serving in our armed forces at home and abroad.”
That's a quote from Representative Shelly Berkley (D-NV1) in May over extending Patriot Act provisions (there's many others just like it). If we break it down, though, we get:
We're going to get people attacking us (threat of violence), so we need to grant these powers (political aim), despite barely being used in 10 years, because they're essential (belief)
Her statement qualifies as terrorism.

Terrorism can't be fought with terrorism. Humiliating old ladies, and groping kids isn't going to do it, certainly not by saying 'we have to do this, else you'll die'. When they DIDN'T do all this stuff, 10 or more years ago, people weren't dying all the time. At least, not on aircraft. In fact, in the US, you're more than 70x more likely to be 'murdered' than die in a terrorist attack, which is only going to grow as police forces across the US are having their budgets cut, while the TSA now has a budget of over $8Billion.
About as effective as the TSA
So, what have we got for that? Well, one study (PDF) found that the TSA led to 129 road deaths between October-December 2002, as people avoided the TSA by driving. That's on top of 3000-month average road deaths (or a 9/11 ever single month). Over 500 TSA agents have been fired or suspended for stealing from passenger's baggage in the last 10 years, yes only one was ever charged, and then only because he was caught by an airline employee. The TSA doesn't even pass on reports of baggage theft to the police – it's against policy even – which took a news investigation to find out. It's not their job to investigate thefts, they may claim, but if items can be stolen from luggage, it's easy to place items in the same way.

So what about their stated aim? To prevent hijackings by detecting bombs and weapons? Well, they're bad at that too, failing the vast majority of tests, and having to cheat on others to pass. So, since we've discounted their 'claimed' purpose, what does that leave us with? It leaves us with a Federal Agency, that has no accountability, does not have to follow the law, and can do pretty much anything as long as they claim they're 'trying to prevent terrorists killing people'.

That sounds a lot like terrorism to me!

It's not just the US though. The UK has also adopted such measures, despite terrorist activity being at a low in recent decades. Some months in the 90's there were a dozen separate terrorist attacks (bombs, sniper attacks, mortars, etc.), compared to a half dozen in the last 10 years (including some 'bombs' which were chemically impossible of exploding), and yet there has been a surge in 'Terrorist legislation', detentions and actions, including the shooting of an unarmed man by police, for which, again, no disciplinary action was taken. In fact, in a number of these cases, 19th Century laws were used to prosecute (usually the Explosive Substances Act 1883), undermining the need for terrorist legislation.

So what should we do instead? Well, that's a question for Part 2.

This piece was first published at and is released under a CC0 license

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