in Human rights / Surveillance state

“The Police and Government have a duty not to engender panic as a way of achieving their own ends”

The Metropolitan Police have launched a new poster campaign clearly pitched to engender paranoia and anxiety in London’s population.  A picture shows a wheelie-bin brimming with carelessly discarded toxic chemical containers accompanied by the smug caption:

‘These chemicals won’t be used in a bomb because a neighbour reported the dumped containers’

At the edge of the shot – to remind us what is at stake – a mother and child approach, totally unaware that such danger lurks in their community.

The scenario is clearly simplistic, as well as being inconsistent with previous government statements.  Are these terrorists, so overcome by fanatical zeal they find themselves unable to dispose of incriminating evidence with necessary care, the same terrorists whose plots are so devilishly complicated that investigators supposedly needed 42 days to unravel their schemes?

For several years now, the Government and security services have been feeding us information about the ever-present threat to us from international terrorism in the shape of Al-Qaeda.  Al-Qaeda is apparently well financed, well organised and poised to strike at the heart of our freedoms.  The danger is so serious that it necessarily requires a government and security force with increasingly wide ranging powers to defeat it.  But their threat has also not materialised, and in 2005 the only significant attack on UK soil has not been successfully linked to them.  So, with international terrorist attacks increasingly appearing largely a fantasy, and in the face of civil liberties protests against draconian and frequently misused police powers, the Met’s posters are more about maintaining the police’s might and authority by reiterating the precariousness of our security, and the necessary evil of strong policing, than about catching terrorists (such as they do exist) per se.

Appealing to our wish for security is a technique at which politicians are already well practised.  The Government’s assessment of the current terrorist threat, made available in the name of keeping us informed, is ‘severe’.  This ‘threat level’ has been published since August 2006 and has since been either ‘severe’ (terrorist attack highly likely) or ‘critical’ (terrorist attack imminent) ever since.  With such an apparently unwavering crisis, one is reminded of the plot of 1984 wherein a state of perpetual war was used to justify the control of Oceania by Stalinist methods.  Constant news of inevitable attacks feeds the assertion that threats are all around us and can only be tackled by strong government, whose actions are all ultimately in the common good.  Furthermore, having over-exaggerated the security risk, continued absence of any attacks serves to strengthen their point, and ‘prove’ the success of their policies.

The social divisiveness of all this, and especially the current campaign, need hardly be pointed out.  Given that it’s almost impossible to differentiate between a man wearing a rucksack full of books and a similar man with a rucksack full of explosive there will inevitably be a large number of people falsely detained following the actions of well meaning, but ultimately misguided amateur anti-terrorist sleuths.  It pays to do a little maths;  imagine that there are 8 million people in London and that amongst their number there are 150 ‘terrorists’.  We know from this poster campaign that every member of the public is under suspicion.  Let us suppose that the intuition displayed by members of the public in spying on our neighbours with the aim of catching terrorists is correct an incredible  99.99% of the time.  Since our ‘test’ is very sensitive, our 150 terrorists are successfully caught, but it still gives a false positive rate of 0.01% which means that 80 000 people will be wrongly identified and possibly victimized.  Such simple calculations and the collateral damage they imply appear to have been entirely overlooked.

The Police and Government have a duty not to engender panic as a way of achieving their own ends.  Many people find modern life distressing enough without having to feel that they must be constantly on the look out for terrorist cells; the psychological health of society at large should be considered before the use of alarmist campaigns.  Successful society relies on mutual trust and widespread suspicion encouraged by this campaign is more akin to that seen in communist East Germany than to 21st century Britain.

Update – this piece appeared in the Daily Mail 15 April 2009 With recent police activity, anti-terror adverts and CCTV everywhere no wonder we’re all scared stiff.  Whilst I agree with much of what it says, it does read like the transcript of a right wing shock jock show.  Here’s the Mental Health Foundation report he talks about.

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  1. Great write-up. I agree that fear tactics are so outdated and should be done away with.

  2. Dear Sir/Madam,

    I’m not sure whether you would be interested in what has been going on over our skies now for at least 9 years. Below are several E-Mails sent to various individuals, including David Miliband (leader of the Labour Party) and an article about these unmarked surveillance aircraft in the Telegraph, which have been flying around in circles, for 18 hours a day, over our estate for 9 years now.

    No one in authority, seems to know why these unmarked aircraft have chosen our area, for all this surveillance.

    I’ve read your article on this new Police DNA database. I bet that soon all this information, will suddenly dissapear, into some overseas database.

    Acts of terrorism, have brought rich rewards, for both the police & intelligence services.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Demetrius Skortou


    Dear Mr Miliband,

    So, the government want to give even more powers to the security services to spy on anyone they like, how convenient. Terrorism has been a gift, to the intelligence services. The new laws, rules & regulations, have allowed these faceless people to intrude into all our personal lives, and the government doesn’t have to confirm nor deny whether someone is under surveillance either. The established order of this country don’t really care about acts of terrorism, if they did, the government would not allow so many people to pass through our border controls, so easy!

    Consider the E-Mail & the Telegraph article below. For 9 years I have sent over 300 e-mails to every newspaper, relevant government dept, Prime Ministers offices, Home Secretaries (that didn’t seem to last long every time I wrote to them about these mysterious unmarked aircraft) Southwark Council, Valerie Shawcross MP, James Cleverly (who sits on the London assembly) Liberty, HACAN – Clear Skies, CAA, NATS, Simon Hughes MP for Southwark/Bermondsey and the MOD. I have come up against a brick wall of silence over this matter. It seems no one in authority or the press & media are the least bit interested in these commercial passenger type aircraft, that are actually being used as surveillance aircraft. These unmarked aircraft/helicopters have been flying constantly around our estate of Tabard Gardens, SE1 for at least 9 years now, causing so much unnecessary levels of noise & pollution, from 6:00am until 11:00pm at night……….why?

    Yours Sincerely,

    Demetrius Skortou


    I’m not sure whether this E-mail will interest you. However, after reading an article of a white unmarked jet flying over New York on 9/11, I thought you may be interested in the article I sent below to our Local Police Authority, at the London Mayors Office at Tower Bridge, South London.

    As you can see from the article below, the residents of a South London apartment block have had to endure the constant noise/pollution flights of these unmarked commercial passenger type aircraft, that have been flying around our estate, for nearly 9 years now. The British government have been keeping a tight lip about all of this.

    The question is, why would the intelligence services use unmarked passenger jets to just fly around in circles, for 18 hours a day? And why was their a similar white unmarked passenger jet, circling around New York City, the same day that both Twin Towers, were destroyed…by Al-Qaeda?

    Yours Sincerely,

    Demetrius Skortou


    The Metropolitan Police has secret spy planes capable of eavesdropping on mobile phone calls from the sky.

    The existence of the fleet of planes – each costing at least £3 million to purchase and hundreds of thousands more to operate – has never been publicly disclosed.
    The police have being using the planes since at least 1997.

    The disclosure of the spending, which is not detailed in official accounts, comes as the police face 20 per cent cuts in their budget, creating fears that hundreds of support staff will lose their jobs and the number of officers reduced.

    Despite the cuts the Met’s secret fixed wing aircraft fleet is still flying regular sorties over London from a base at Farnborough airfield, in Hampshire.
    The planes have apparently been fitted with secret surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or eavesdropping on conversations.

    They are understood to be similar to surveillance planes available to MI5 which have been used in anti-terrorism operations and were used to help West Midlands Police track suspects connected to a plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier.

    One of the planes is a Cessna F04, which can carry up to 14 passengers or be fitted with specially integrated patrol mission packs. We have been asked not to disclose full details of the aircraft on security grounds.
    The twin engine craft are operated separately from the Met’s Air Support Unit which has three helicopters and flies hundreds of hours a month in support of police operations around the capital at a cost of £3 million a year.
    Last week a Metropolitan Police spokesman refused to discuss its use of the fixed wing aircraft but insisted it has gone through a “full” procurement process.

    However members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which scrutinises the force’s spending said they had never been told of the existence of the aircraft.
    According to Civil Aviation Authority records, the aircraft is registered to a firm called Nor Leasing.

    There is no trace of the firm on any other official record and its business address registered with the CAA is actually a branch of Mail Boxes Etc, which offers a virtual office services and mail forwarding, in Surbiton, south-west London.

    Another Cessna was also previously registered to Nor Leasing at the same address and at another service address in Kensington, west London.
    In 1997 one of the original individuals listed as “trading as” Nor Leasing was John Carnt who at the time was a senior Metropolitan Police detective.
    Superintendent Carnt was the then head of the Serious and Economic Crime Group, which was set up to combat major fraud, money laundering and art and antiques thefts.

    The pattern of hidden spending is believed to have been established by Tony Williams, a former assistant finance director at Scotland Yard, who established a secret web of companies for use in specialist undercover operations.
    But Mr Williams also used the same techniques to steal millions of pounds from the force to set himself up as a bogus Scottish “laird”. Williams was accused of stealing more than £4 million from Scotland Yard. He was jailed for seven years in 1995.

    Metropolitan Police Authority member James Cleverly last night said he was totally unaware that the Met had any fixed wing aircraft.
    Mr Cleverly, who also sits on the authority’s counter terrorism and protective services committee, which examines the force’s covert work, said: “This is not something that I have been made aware of or have had the opportunity to scrutinise.

    “In the light of the tight financial situation we are facing and the cuts being imposed on the police service it is imperative that we examine any assets that could be construed as a ‘luxury’.
    “I would expect full disclosure of details of this to the MPA to enable us to examine whether it represents good value for money for the police service.”

    Mark Demery
    Head of External Relations
    SE1 2AA
    020 7983 5769
    07973 191 635

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    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I have written to the London Mayors Office, the Prime Minister & many other institutions/organisations, about these large & smaller unmarked aircraft/helicopters, that have been flying low, around
    in circles, over our estate, from 6:30 until 11:00pm at night, for nearly 9 years now.

    All I have encountered, is a government wall of silence, over this matter. How can these huge commercial type aircraft (which are obviously being used has spy/surveillance aircraft) be allowed to constantly wake local residents up, every day, for nearly 9 years?

    Exactly, how much has this really cost the British tax payers? According to a recent Telegraph article regarding these mysterious unmarked aircraft, the Met would only admit to just 3 aircraft, that they have been flying around London since, 1997. However, I have counted over 20 different types of unmarked aircraft/helicopters, including 4 main commercial type passenger aircraft, that have been used since 1997. they are; 2 x 727’s, 737, & a 747 passenger type planes. These particular aircraft are flying low over Tabard Gardens & toward London’s Heathrow Airport. However, these unmarked aircraft are not flying to Heathrow or any other airport, all they are doing, is just going around in circles, over our estate, for 18 hours a day. How in gods name can this be justified? Who is paying for all these aircraft to just fly around in circles, for 18 hours a day?

    I am not getting any answers, from any of you in authority. Who, within this government, gave authorisation for these noisy/polluting planes to fly around our estate, constantly waking up local residents, every day, including every weekend? With all the cutbacks, the Met Police are going to be facing (simply, because the Government/EU eventually want a smaller European type police force) massive cuts in their budget. How, therefore, can the government/intelligence services, justify this kind of lavish spending on these types of aircraft. Or, is it, that an American military organisation are mostly funding these costly surveillance procedures, that a local resident told me only the other day?

    I am writing to everyone in the media. I will not stop until I get some answers, from all of you within the government. I know the security forces have to protect our citizens from possible terrorist activities. However, can’t they just be satisfied with using just a couple of helicopters, packed with their eavesdropping equipment? Why are the intelligence services using these huge commercial type passenger aircraft, that are so noisy as well as create so much more unnecessary levels of pollution, over our estate? This is totally bizarre!

    Because of the unusual nature of this situation, we at Tabard Gardens Estate Community Residents, demand a proper public enquiry into this matter, for the first time in nearly 9 years, come April. I am also sure, the British people/taxpayers will & eventually get to know, exactly how much these hugely expensive, aircraft are costing & who in government, authorised all of this.

    Local residents, are sick to the back teeth of being woken up at early hours of the mornings, by these huge unmarked aircraft. All of this has become intolerable, to all the residents of Tabard Gardens. We will eventually be sending a letter, to her Majesty the Queen and the whole of the media. Quite frankly, the residents of Tabard have had enough.

    If these aircraft were genuine commercial type passenger aircraft, going into Heathrow, then we would just have to put up with it all. But, these unmarked planes (that are not even registered with the CAA nor The NATS) are not commercial aircraft…….they are spy planes!

    I will await your earliest reply,

    Yours Sincerely,

    Demetrius Skortou

  3. These unmarked aircraft/helicopters are still flying around Tabard Gardens Estate, SE1.

    A US black operations group, operating out of a Farnborough airbase, are paying for all these unmarked aircraft, for at least 10 years now!

    Why don’t someone within this government investigate why these planes are just flying around in circles for 18 hours every day, causing so much noise & pollution?

    I can only assume that the people on this side of the Atlantic, gave authorisation to this US intelligence service, to allow them to fly these aircraft over parts of South East London.

    I wonder how many within this government were given a bribe by these Americans to allow them to fly these Surveillance aircraft over the city of London?

    There are investigations going on to determine who (within this government) authorised these planes to fly around and so low over the south east region of London & why.

    Demetrius Skortou


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