It is easy to shake your head and laugh at the pathetic police operation on Birmingham’s M6 motorway this week for a bus passenger who had a fake, electronic cigarette.
All because someone was struggling to survive without smoking, everyone on the bus was taken off, one by one, the vehicle surrounded and the road shut down for hours to deal with the incident, which amounted to nothing. Oops.
Hindsight is 20/20, obviously, so how anyone mistook a fake cigarette for a bomb, I’m not sure. But if there had been a bomb and nobody reacted, we’d all hold the police accountable. They are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
With just three weeks until the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, the city and country are on high alert. Britain has successfully pissed off so many people over the years – including its own – that the default position must be that the games will be a target for terror.
The United Kingdom is already one of the most paranoid nations on earth. There are a massive number of CCTV cameras that track you everywhere, defence bollards in front of every transport network entrance and many buildings, and a default “heightened” awareness level almost everywhere.
There have been people convicted of planned attacks, of course, and we must never forget the lives that are lost to terrorism, in the UK, Mumbai, New York and too many other places around the globe.
So the question then becomes, how safe is too safe? Will a paranoid Britain overreact for the next two months at every twitch and ill-timed joke because of the Olympics?
Take, for example, the report of six people arrested by counter-terrorist officers and MI5 on the same day as the bus incident. As described by the Guardian, “The arrests were not initiated as a result of any imminent attack but after counter-terror investigators weighed up the evidence they had gathered so far against the suspects, and the perceived risks of leaving them at liberty for longer with the Olympic Games on the horizon.”
These are precautionary arrests? Oh, that sounds familiar – didn’t China do the same thing with “troublesome” people before the Beijing games? They were called terrorists as well, except by the outside world who tend to call them human rights activities.
Vancouver moved homeless people off the streets in the city centre before the 2010 winter games as well, so the world would only see what organisers wanted them to see.
That’s not to say there may not be legitimate security threats from those arrested. But how far do you go to ensure a “clean” Olympics? Anti-aircraft missiles will be installed in six locations around the games sites, despite objections from residents, or as the UK government calls them, “activists”.
Helicopter carrier HMS Ocean will be based in the Thames and any swimming will be banned.
And for all that fear, apparently the government has not even decided if they will keep the security in place for the Paralympics, running from 29 August until 9 September. Maybe they don’t think disabled athletes need the same level of protection as able bodied ones.
Police and the security services must protect the public, and the Olympics might well be a target for a tiny minority of people.
You can take the George W Bush approach of doing anything and everything in the name of “freedom”. Or perhaps you prefer the “if we live in fear, the terrorists win” option. So far, the Olympics seem to be leaning towards Bush, but we have to hope nobody gets accidentally trigger happy because we’re so hell bent on the games going smoothly.