Tuesday 15 November 2011

Anonymous Sources Raise Olympic Trial Balloon

I see that yesterday’s Guardian article claiming that the United States has raised serious concerns about security measures for next year’s Olympic Games has been rejected by the US State Department.

I’m not really that surprised, for in truth, it was always highly likely that during the Olympics there would be substantial number of overseas security personnel, including FBI agents “to provide protection for America's contestants and diplomats”, just as it was likely that we’d see the deployment of ground-to-air missiles to ‘protect London’. The fact that “the sponsors of the Games, including Coca-Cola, will have their own private security details” was an intriguing extra, but nevertheless, some of us living near to the Olympic site have been saying for several years that our community will effectively become a militarised zone from around May 2012.

What is perhaps most significant about the Guardian piece is its extensive use of unattributed contacts from within the security and intelligence establishment – “one security official” and a “well-placed Whitehall source” – and the eagerness of these sources to blame everything on the Americans. Rereading the article, the issues of ‘concern’ they raise, from the meddling of foreign agencies to restrictions on the scope of anti-terrorism stop and search powers and budgetary limitations, look very much like their own gripes, particularly as Britain’s securitariat is notorious for its turf wars and petty jealousies . What the piece also looks like is the raising of a trial balloon for more money and more draconian powers (especially around stop & search) to see how much is shot down by politicians and public opinion (rather than the aforementioned naval missile batteries).

With under a year until the start of the Games, it feels like the process of soften us up for potentially sweeping new powers – in the name of Olympic security – has finally begun This may well mean more arguments for a ‘temporary’ reversal of the repeal of section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allowed police to stop and search people with impunity, along with demands for a range of new laws to clamp down on public gatherings, ban protests and install a far more intimidating level of visible security in east London than many people may have perhaps realised.

The security establishment used to use the Murdoch press, especially the Sunday Times, as its vehicle for communicating its messages. The right, however, is already largely onside. That this story appeared first in the Guardian does tend to therefore suggest a more targeted audience, aiming to persuade liberals who are more likely to complain about infringements on civil liberties that draconian measures are necessary in the ‘special circumstances’ of the Olympics – and pointing the finger of blame at those terribly hawkish, ‘risk-averse’ Yanks.

Sadly, it’s a strategy that is likely to work – we only have to look at the meek acceptance of the Blair government’s aggressive legislation over a decade of ‘the war on terror’ to see how fragile the liberal establishment’s support for civil liberties can be during ‘special circumstances’. However, the implications for those living near the Olympic park remain genuinely frightening, especially if you are young, black, Muslim, poor and unable to afford to escape to Tuscany during July and August next year.

1 Comment:

David Mery said...

> This may well mean more arguments for a ‘temporary’ reversal of the repeal of section 44 of the Terrorism Act

No need.

Section 44 may have been repealed but the powers are still there. The Terrorism Act 2000 (Remedial) Order 2011 introduced section 47A. And this will become permanent with the Protection of Freedoms Bill. The change is that to give an authorisation, a 'senior office officer' must 'reasonably suspect that an act of terrorism will take place; and consider that (i) the authorisation is necessary to prevent such an act; (ii) the specified area or place is no greater than is necessary to prevent such an act; and (iii) the duration of the authorisation is no longer than is necessary to prevent such an act.'

Once an authorisation is in place, there's no difference with the old section 44.

And authorisations are not published so there's no public scrutiny that the authorisation process has indeed improved.

(See Terrorism stop and search, plus ça change… for a few more comments on these powers.)

Of course there are other stop and search powers available that do not need any reasonable suspicion such as the Section 60 and 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. The use of these powers spiked in August.

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