Current UK Threat Level: Critical

At some point today unbeknownst to me the UK entered into the highest level of threat that of critical.

Oh my! How in the world could I have missed such an important event as the changing of our current threat level to its highest possible state? Whatever shall I do now?

That’s the pertinent question what shall we as the public do now? No one knows because there is nothing for the public to do other than get scared.

The Threat Level System has according to the Home Office website been created to keep the public informed about the level of threat to the UK from terrorism. But it’s of no practical use it’s like shouting DANGER in a crowded city centre street, it can do nothing but cause confusion and fear as there is no specific advice associated with each different level of threat.

So what event has caused the threat level to be raised?

It was the arrest of 24 people by police who were suspected of a plot against UK flights to the US. The police believe they have disrupted this plot to blow up these transatlantic flights and are convinced they have detained the key players, but believe the network involved is large and global.

The plot apparently was to smuggle liquid explosives onto around ten transatlantic flights in water bottles or similarly innocuous containers. Airlines have now taken the precaution of preventing people taking anything other than the most essential pieces of hand luggage onto flights leaving the UK. The police have said that the plotters could have caused “mass murder on an unimaginable scale”.

Yes they could have blown up many airliners and killed hundreds of people but for the fact that the people involved had been under surveillance for some time. We shall have to wait and see when more information is released about how far along there really were with their plot whether they were a credible threat to our security. I do not want to get caught up in the politician’s gambit of who can imagine the worst scenario possible.

Security chiefs said the group believed to be planning the attack had been under surveillance for some time.

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the plot was “in some respects suggestive of al-Qaeda”.

“They had accumulated and assembled the capabilities that they needed and they were in the final stages of planning for execution,” he said.

It had only become apparent in the “last two weeks” that the target of the flights was the US, said Mr Chertoff.

Another problem I see with having a public Threat Level System is that surely it tips the terrorists off to the fact that they might be under surveillance. If the level increases correspondingly as the terrorist group gets closer to the commission of their act of terrorism is that not an indication that the UK Security Services are onto them.

No individual charges in de Menezes shooting.

The lead item on today’s Channel 4 lunchtime news was that the in the case of the mistaken shooting of the Brazilian born electrician Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube Station no individual officers of the Metropolitan Police would be prosecuted.

Instead the Office of the Commissioner of Police is to be prosecuted under Health and Safety legislation and therefore will at most receive a fine.

The Criminal Prosecution Service believe that there is not sufficient evidence to give a realistic prospect of conviction of any individual if they were to be prosecuted.

But from my perspective the officers involved do not seem to have followed the guidelines drawn up for Operation Kratos.

“The guidance states that in extreme circumstances an armed officer can shoot a suspect in the head if the intelligence suggests that he is a suicide bomber who poses an imminent danger to the public or police. This is to avoid setting off any explosives that might be attached to his body. Five shots are deemed necessary to render a terrorist incapable of detonating his bomb.”

Imminent danger is the key they cannot shoot someone they simply suspect is a suicide bomber. They must believe that individual is actually in the process of setting off a bomb.

Maybe it is a judgement call but clearly they judged wrong and the witness statements would seem to indicate there was nothing unusual about the behaviour of Jean Charles de Menezes prior to his being shot in the head.

Also this from the Channel 4 news site.

He was only intercepted when he was actually sat on the train, when he was suddenly grabbed from behind, had his arms pinned to his side and was shot seven times in the head at point blank range, according to reports.

The purpose of the shooting to the head under the guidelines of Operation Kratos is to render a terrorist incapable of detonating his bomb. Would not the grabbing and pinning of his arms be sufficient in this case?

Public Terror Warning System

According to BBC News the Home Secretary John Reid has announced that Britain is to get a Terror Threat Level system similar to that used in the US published by the Department of Homeland Security.

A new warning system is to alert the public to the threat of attacks by al-Qaeda and other terror groups.

From 1 August, details of current threat levels will be published on the websites of the Home Office and MI5, Home Secretary John Reid announced.

Great! Just what we really need, yet another channel for the government to terrify the public with.

Any alert system is useless unless those people that are being alerted have corresponding duties or actions to perform upon receiving such an alert for example on a warship. A threat level indicator for the general public can therefore have no value as there is no corresponding action that the public can perform.

Your Thoughts Are Your Password

Your Thoughts Are Your Password

What if you could one day unlock your door or access your bank account by simply “thinking” your password? Too far out? Perhaps not.

Researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, are exploring the possibility of a biometric security device that will use a person’s thoughts to authenticate her or his identity.

This is a remarkable and very interesting method of authentication although it is clearly in the very early stages and may never become a real world solution to this problem.

Review: V for Vendetta

Just got back from watching the movie adaptation of V for Vendetta. I have mixed feelings but it was enjoyable and a lot better than I had feared it might be especially given my feelings for the previous adaptation of a comic that was close to my heart Hellblazer which became the painful Constantine.

I thought that Hugo Weaving was very powerful as V and Stephen Rea did a great job as Inspector Finch. Natalie Portman was merely adequate as Evey and her accent was not as awful as some have written but she was a little wooden in her performance. I thought Stephen Fry was remarkably good also, other characters such as Chancellor Sutler were too poorly written to allow much from the other actors in the cast.

The movie lasted two hours and yet it felt like a lot had been edited out. There was very little characterisation outside of the central few main characters all the others seemed like stereotypes painted in broad strokes. Some events such as what happened that night at Larkhill which enabled V to escape were glossed over as was Finch’s visit to the derelict Larkhill.

I think the general mood of the film was established well, it was visually stunning and there were a number of very powerful scenes especially the fingerman’s shooting of the girl and the subsequent uprising of the townspeople.

In many ways the movie felt like it was set in some parallel universe version of Britain rather than a dystopic near future of our own Britain, possibly due to it being an American production. The Britain of the movie was very twee and a little off, Rupert Graves as a copper using the word “chummy” when apprehending V, eggy in a basket and the Benny Hillesque TV satirical attack on the Chancellor.

A number of things in the movie make me feel like the points of the original graphic novel were lost or misunderstood by the writers. V was too overly made to be identified with Guy Fawkes who in the introductory scene is portrayed as a freedom fighter rather than the religious nutcase that he actually was. I thought that the Guy Fawkes mask in the graphic novel was a useful disguise which was merely appropriate given the date of key events in the story and a shared interest in blowing up public buildings. But the motivations of V and Guy Fawkes are in no way the same.

In fact Guy Fawkes has more in common with the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists our society is being made to fear at the moment. The character of V is different but is no hero either really he is a force for change through destruction, rebirthing society by destroying it’s institutions so something better can be born out of the ashes.

The surveillance aspects were altered and there was no sight of surveillance cameras in the movie odd given their ubiquitousness in modern Britain and given the totalitarianism surely there should be even more in evidence. Plus the populace do not seem cowed by the authorities, living in constant fear of speaking out of turn. Certainly this so called dystopia is to my eyes a lot deal better than we can really hope to expect several years down the line from now once we have a National Identity Register, cameras that can scan our faces to identify us and track our movements and legislation that gives the ruling party pretty much free reign to do whatever it wishes.

Cinema DRM nightmare

Tarmle imagines the future of cinema-going in Burnoff: Part 1 – The Bad Guys Win

Going to the movies is not what it used to be. Security at the studio-owned theatres is heavy, it’s not a trip to be taken lightly. But if you want to see the film everyone is talking about without waiting a year for the home release, you have little choice. When you enter the lobby the first thing you see are long ranks of tiny, thumbprint activated lockers. This is where you must leave all of your electronics, your personal server and peripherals, even your watch, and you had better not be wearing smart spectacles or contacts.

I don’t see the real future being like that but I think the future does look bleak for cinemas.

Mark Cuban asks What Business are theaters in ?

I think Cuban makes great points. Cinema owners need to embrace the changes in the industry and innovate and possibly diversify, create an environment that people want to experience. Going to the cinema should be more than just a chance to see the latest blockbuster. Because if the only competitive advantage cinemas can offer is that of seeing the movie first then they’ve already lost because ‘pirates’ are always going to find a way to videotape the movie.

The hyper-secure cinema that Tarmle imagines will never work because customers will simply not put up with it. They might put up and shut up when it comes to the ridiculous restrictions placed upon them in order to take a plane flight but they will draw a line when it comes to their entertainment.

The cinema and movie industry need to embrace a world where if you missed it in the theater today you could see it on DVD tonight.

The lead time between the theatrical release and the DVD release has shrunk to only a few months now in many cases that I think there is an argument to be made that they should go the whole way and have simultaneous releases.

However before that they need to get on board with simultaneous worldwide releases and get rid of the DVD region system. With some movies getting released on DVD in the US before they even hit cinemas in the UK they have undermined their own business model. They argue that piracy is killing the industry but they are fueling it by having staggered releases as the globalising effect of the internet means that the US release of a movie creates an instant desire to see the movie in the rest of the world. This desire to see the movie is not being satisfied by the official release as that might be months off so the consumer turns to the pirates that can satisfy the desire with a dodgy looking video that was taped in an American cinema.

Review: The Power of Nightmares

I watched the first part of a three-part documentary series titled The Power of Nightmares on BBC 2 early tonight.

This series shows dramatically how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion. It is a myth that has spread unquestioned through politics, the security services and the international media. At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neoconservatives and the radical Islamists. Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. These two groups have changed the world but not in the way either intended. Together they created today’s nightmare vision of an organised terror network. A fantasy that politicians then found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. Those with the darkest fears became the most powerful.

I would urge everyone to see this if you get the chance as well as watching Errol Morris’s documentary film The Fog of War.

I’ve been saying this for a while but the concept of a War on Terror is nonsensical because not only is it a war on an abstract concept but you cannot defeat terrorists by waging war anyway. We are not at any greater risk of terrorism since 9/11 than we were before, that’s not to say that there is no danger but that it is of the same level as it ever was.

To really combat terrorism requires the typical cloak and dagger stuff that the security services do such as surveillance, wiretapping and infiltration of suspect groups. Plus increasing the security of likely targets of terrorist attacks in a manner that not only appears like you are doing something to improve security but actually does improve security.

But it isn’t easy to sell to the public that you are doing everything possible to combat terrorism if nothing is appears to be happening. Foiling a terrorist attack isn’t something that can revealed to the public in many cases at it could hamper future operations. So for the governments to appear to their citizens that they are effective in this they need to go and wage war in the name of combating terrorism even if the enemy in these wars are only tangentially connected to terrorism if at all.