posted on: Wednesday January 27, 2010
Arman Oganisian ’13 / World Staff
On Saturday, Jan. 23, the United Kingdom raised its terror level from “substantial” to “severe,” according to BBC. The “substantial” level indicates that “attack is a strong possibility.” “Severe” indicates that “attack is highly likely.” Although the level was raised, reports BBC, Home Secretary Alan Johnson stressed that this does not indicate an imminent attack. The increased level is simply meant to increase public awareness. “We still face a real and serious threat to the U.K. from international terrorism,” says Johnson.The last time the U.K. threat level was at “severe” was from July 4, 2007, to July 20, 2009. It was lowered from “critical” in 2007, according to BBC, because of further investigation by the Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre (JTAC) into attempted London bombings which caused the increase to “critical” in the first place. On July 20, 2009, the level was lowered again to “substantial.” It is not yet known why the level has been brought back up to “severe.” As reported by BBC, Alan Johnson has stated that certain intelligence, both foreign and domestic, has caused the increase. “We never say what the intelligence is and it would be pretty daft of us to do that,” says Johnson.Lord Carlile, an independent reviewer of the government’s terrorism legislation, is in favor of the increase. “The government has quite rightly decided that if you don’t tell the public to be vigilant, they’re not going to be vigilant,” says Carlile. “The message from the current change of assessment is not that we should be more afraid, but that we should be a little bit more vigilant than we have been.”By vigilance, according to BBC, Carlile means that the public should continue to report any suspicious behavior or events they encounter.On the other hand, others have criticized the increase or, rather, the method involved. Some criticized the government’s decision to not reveal the intelligence upon which the decision was based. Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the home affairs sub-committee on counter-terrorism, stated that key targets such as the energy and transport industries should individually be told intelligence details which would be beneficial to combating this threat, reports BBC. The increase to “severe” would have been different “if only the public knew what it meant. At the moment it is merely vacuous,” says Mercer. Colin Craig, from Stratford, U.K. commented on a related BBC article saying that he found it “interesting how this government has always increased the threat level as we approach events like general elections or votes on going to war.”Although Alan Johnson denies it, some believe that the Christmas airplane bombing influenced this heightened level. Frank Gardner, a BBC security correspondent, wrote that “four factors have prompted this [increase in threat level]: capability of terrorists looking to attack this country; their intent; the timing and the intelligence.” “It is not directly related but it’s following the alleged attempt to bring down an airliner on Christmas Day in Detroit coupled with a lot of the intercepted signals coming out of al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen,” says Gardner.