Panorama scaremongering?

Did anyone else see that Panorama programme that was on BBC1 this evening? Did anyone else think this was a scare story? Even the Home Office refused to take part for precisely this reason. The scenario was of three bomb attacks on the London Tube (underground railway) system, and of an explosion in the City of London releasing a tanker full of chlorine into the air. Let’s look at a few problems with this programme:

  • While it wasn’t on at a “news” time (like 9pm or 10pm), they should have made it clear that this wasn’t news, as there were several mock news reports there with “CHLORINE CLOUD” on the screen in big letters. Why don’t they have a watermark saying “Fiction” in the corner of the screen? They have been taken to task for this before (when they did a “gridlock” feature a few months back).
  • Where on earth do Al-Qa’ida get a whole tanker full of chlorine, and another full of cyanide, from? How do the police tell that a tanker they see on the A13 is full of cyanide anyway - surely it would be disguised as something innocuous?
  • The tanker explosion was in Bishopsgate. First, what happened to that “ring of steel” they put up to keep out IRA bombs in the 1990’s? If there really is a threat of a terrorist attack on London, why couldn’t it be intercepted there?
  • Second, Bishopsgate is right on the eastern edge of the City, near to Spitalfields and Brick Lane, both of them the location of dozens of Muslim businesses (and in the latter case, one of London’s best-known mosques). I somehow doubt that anyone of a Muslim background with sufficient knowledge of London to carry off a terrorist attack would attack right next to the Muslim quarter.
  • In fact, I have a hunch that there won’t be attacks on civilian targets anywhere in central London, for precisely this reason. The area to the west of the West End (starting at Edgware Road) is an area of heavy Arab settlement, and there are heavy concentrations of Arab businesses in Edgware Road, Bayswater, North Kensington, Kensal Rise and Shepherd’s Bush. London is also an important centre for Arab dissident groups and Arabic media, to the extent that our city is supposedly called “Londonistan” in French intelligence circles. I don’t believe that an Arab group will hit a location of such importance to Arabs.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, a bomb attack is too much like the last “spectacular” which has been pinned on Al-Qa’ida, namely the Madrid train bombing. These incidents have been different each time, and there’s no reason to suppose that the next one won’t be as well.

    So for once I agree with the Home Office - this programme was somewhat irresponsible in both its storyline and its presentation. It is also of precious little use in the fight against terrorism, since it raises fears of the sort of attack that probably won’t happen, and ignores what might happen - including the fact that it might well be outside London, and that present government policy is actually helping to put us citizens in harm’s way - after all, like Aznar and co, the most they are likely to lose is their jobs.

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