Thursday 14 April 2016

More Vulnerable than is Comfortable

When a teenager - and I know this is going to surprise you - I was an aircraft spotter, military division.  There were four of us, and at half term we would set out in a battered Ford Prefect on long, looping one-day expeditions from our South London fastness: meticulously planned, OS maps all the way, to take in as many military airfields as could be reached in one day, timed so that sun-up found us and our telescopes at the first stop, and sundown at the last.  (Our record was 12.  Our extremities were Kemble in the West, Upper Heyford to the North, and Honington to the East.  In between stops we would recite from memory whole Monty Python sketches and ISIRTA skits ... party on!)

Anyhow: the IRA campaign of the '70s was in full swing, but security at these places was typically laughable.  It was by no means unusual to be able to wade unchallenged through a hedge and approach fully operational military aircraft across the grass (I have the photos ...).  But we and our confreres were the only ones that did.  It occurred to us that the IRA must either be stupid, not really trying, or in some strange way strategically averse to causing millions of pounds worth of damage and tying up thousands of British military personnel at minimal risk to themselves ... 

Back in 2016, I have been travelling a bit recently and had cause to rehearse the same observation, this time in respect of civilian transportation systems.  It would be crass to give details, but I couldn't help noticing (as I am sure we all have) that security is *less than ideal* in a great many awkward places.

We could go through the same conjectures again; and I am led to the conclusion that we may be on a knife-edge as regards easygoing, easyjetting international transport for everyday purposes.  Of course everyone will keep dancing until the music abruptly stops.  There was a dip in air travel after 9/11 but since then air passenger miles have doubled (sic), thanks to better aircraft, more competition, more demand at low prices, more movements of people from developing countries, and Not Very Much Trouble.  I suggest that it stands to get a whole lot more difficult, time-consuming - and of course expensive.  Schengen or no Schengen.

Hope I'm wrong.



Bill Quango MP said...

I was at lanzarote airport and I noticed that new houses had been built right alongside the takeoff runway.
Any semi competent jihadi marksman with a hunting rifle could put a bullet into the cockpit area of a plane without even leaving their bedroom.

Steven_L said...

I have terrible security too. I often leave my car keys in my jacket pocket at the other end of the office. I leave them on the kitchen worktop when we go out in her indoors motor too. The back doors is secured with a flimsy Yale lock that I have to keep screwing tight. One good kick would see to it and there's plenty to steal. Sometimes I go away for a whole week leaving fifty quids worth of booze and my cricket gear in an unlocked wooden garage. The lads I play cricket with are just as bad, they leave their wallets and phones in an unlocked changing room while we field, while several complete strangers roam the pavilion.

The thing is ND, very few people actually steal cars, burgle houses, nick wallets out of the opposition changing room etc.

And despite all the fear-mongering, I reckon far fewer people would actually carry our a terror attack.

Electro-Kevin said...

We're easy meat. If I were a Taliban wanting to take on the Royal Marines to inflict serious damage I certainly wouldn't have done it in Afghanistan.

Nick Drew said...

Oh yes, I agree very few people actually steal: my builder leaves £££ worth of kit & supplies on my front drive overnight, sometimes over weekend, and no-one makes off with it

except ... [fill in the obvious points here]

Raedwald said...

One of the major stress points of my career was having a contractor just *graze* a little fibre optic cable running 750mm closer to the surface than it should have done; the very minor signal disruption caused 4 large BT mobile workshops, a generator and a mobile 8' satellite dish and control wagon to take over the site within an hour and work all night to fix it. I learned from the BT site Honcho that the cable was a dedicated feed for Heathrow T5, Reuters and the LME amongst others.

With access to the 'thick pipe' network layout I guessed it would take about 5 easy home made thermite devices to stop London - dropped down easily accessible inspection shafts at strategic points. Some carry bundles of Thick Pipes as fat as a Sumo's thigh. The way the internet works (resilience, alternative routing and packet switching etc) means there would be a limited recovery through alternative low-capacity pipes, but the economic and social disruption would be devastating and sustained.

You can't lock manhole covers or armour 10,000 miles of cable. And the network plans are fully available to anyone - though not the details of what they serve as dedicated 'Private' cables rented out by BT and the like.

andrew said...

and there are about 2 pipes that connect the UK and the US internet
and there is one datacentre in London that serves about half the square mile
and waterloo station
and bradwell (really scary)
and I understand there are a load of bearer bonds in a safe below the nakatomi building

It is a tribute to the obvious fact that almost everyone is generally sane and law-abiding.
And a tribute to the police / intelligence services that so far, anyone who wants to do anything more than what can be achieved with a machete has been stopped.

Jan said...

My ex used to say that if anyone broke into our house to steal any valuables he would help them look for them!

It's not only travel by plane which could be targetted. What about trains/ferries/oil tankers/passenger liners/tube lines etc. and concerts/theatres/football matches/museums/shops...the list is endless. There's not a lot we can do about it except be vigilant.

Demetrius said...

Where I was when on guard duty in the 50's we were told not to challenge intruders but to keep them in our sights, shoot first and ask questions later if they were wrong 'uns. I wonder......

Elby the Beserk said...


One of our homes when I were a lad backed on to AV Roe's big plant in Woodford Cheshire. Vulcans were stationed there, and took off every day. At the top end of our large garden, there was a path, and then the fence surrounding the plant. Many of the uprights were loose, so a skinny lad would push one aside and squeeze in.

Not once were we apprehended, and even got quite near a Vulcan once in a while. Security? Ner, don't think so...

Awesomely LOUD at take off.

Electro-Kevin said...

Indeed, the disruption of major communication systems would be more damaging than terrorism.

We lose perspective on terror. 42,000 perished in London during the Blitz. IS would have to go some to match that.

The whole of Europe goes into silent mourning on news of the deaths of a hundred or so.

Matt said...

Fires in cable ducts do cause issues -

A lot of the fibre infrastructure in the UK follows the same 'figure of 8' pattern so a few well placed devices would wreak havok:

There are more than two connections between the UK and US (for Internet and other comms) -

Matt said...

Oh, forgot this -

Scrobs. said...

Elder Daught flies all over the world on business, and she's totally relaxed after any sort of scare, as the security does get pumped up more than somewhat!

I'd be more worried about something nasty happening in the Blackwall Tunnel...

Blue Eyes said...

Interesting post ND.

I have long said that if terrorists were more widespread or enthusiastic, we would see a lot more attacks. After all, how difficult is it in practice to get onto a commuter train with a rucksack?

At the risk of being accused again of simply making stuff up by people who think they know it all, I once saw a thing about how the authorities are actually quite good about stopping naughty people getting the stuff they need in the first place. Apparently a few years ago some idiots tried to buy a particular type of fertiliser, in such quantities that could blow a regional airport sky high. However, what they didn't realise was that a different type had been put into the supply chain well before they got hold of it. There was a photo of the idiots posing in front of the haul before turning it into things that go bang. They never got that far.... they had been under surveillance the whole time.

suff said...

What if the terrorists took out all the speed cameras, council offices, parliament buildings, the health and safety executive, environmental agency........the country would grind to an eye watering speed. It would be erh... Quite a pleasant change. Where do I sign up

Anonymous said...

Aircraft spotter LOL

Unknown said...


Difficult to see how we're going to stop something if 99% of our cops are too stupid to be armed (as you said recently.)

I did five years in the job so I do know a bit.

Blue Eyes said...

You also seem to know exactly what I know and what I don't know or more especially what I have had seen and not seen, which I find remarkably clever.

You probably could tell me what I ate for lunch yesterday if not invited to.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

@Kev: if you were a Taliban wanting to take on the Royal Marines, all I can say is I wouldn't recommend it. I mean, have you met any of those guys? I have...

Electro-Kevin said...


Interestingly I have an active AFO and his wife coming for dinner tomorrow night. It will be nice to talk about Ye Olde Jobbe.

A standard UK police issue vest could just about take one hit from a 7.62mm round.

The scenario which I fear most in the UK does not involve explosives at all. It involves a remote town of medium population, a couple of transit van transporting a bunch of guys equipped with AK47s, some orange boiler suits, bag ties, go-pro cameras, several K-Bar knives and a complete absence of AFOs.

When you embelished your statement on police ineptitude with "Only 1pc of officers should be allowed to carry guns" I kind of think you're exaggerating - let's sincerely hope so.


Of the EU and our failure to convert you. (btw I told everyone here a few weeks back that you were, in fact, a Remainer in disguise and on that I turn out to have been right.)

Please read John Redwood and the facts4eu site if you want well informed and well argued scepticism. Particular attention should be paid to one of his contributors in the comments - Denis Cooper. I don't know who the hell he is but he just has to be an insider.

The news is on at the moment. The Scots Nats demanding more rights to set their own tax... yet they want ever closer Union with the EU. This is just as bonkers as "The housing crisis has nothing to do with mass immigration." and then blaming it on old English people. In fact both are rooted in the same thing and that's antipathy towards the English. Incredibly the most antipathetic can be the English themselves ! Orwell did warn us of this trait.

Electro-Kevin said...

WY - Yes. Quite a few of the guys I work with are ex RM.

They are not Supermen. They could not take on armed men whilst unarmed (and off duty) themselves.

Electro-Kevin said...

I have my own 'theory' on the anti-terror success (so far !):

- The average jihadist is thick

- The average jihadist doesn't know when he's breaking the law and gets himself flagged up at GCHQ. He can get himself flagged from his unmade bed these days. Thus intelligence is built.

- The average jihadist (like most religionists) doesn't believe in God. His righteous anger evapourates on coming to Britain and he doesn't want to spoil a good thing. Suicide is no longer painless - he has something to lose.

- Home grown jihadists returning from Syria are not returnees but mostly escapees. Horrified and sickened by what they have been through.

- The average active jihadist has a cannabis addiction and is not actually very effective (see extensive research by Peter Hitchens.)

- Our security services are highly proficient.

- A lot of jihadists are meeting their maker before they get here.

On the negative side:

- When I was attached to the Surveillance Squad it took six of us to tail one target. There are thousands upon thousands of potential jihadists in the UK.

- The mere threat of them is already causing us to make great changes in our way of life.

- Woe betide us if they accrue anything like the savvy and know how that the IRA had.

- Materials for bomb making will not originate from UK shops or farms but will come through our porous borders. Courtesy of the EU.

Elby the Beserk said...

EK, talking to a couple of cops a while back (regarding Speedwatch in our village) we somehow got to talking about the cuts in the police force. It was noted that it would now take up to four hours to get an armed response team to Hungerford. So, yes, were I intent on causing major havoc and a huge body count, it would be off to a small market town, not the capital or one of our large cities. In the end, we'd be relying on local farmers and shotgun owners to protect us.

Given that any govt's first duty is the protection of its citizens, the cuts to our armed forces and the police force are criminal.

Electro-Kevin said...

Elby - I see the SAS are training to use the V22 Osprey (helicopter/plane) to deploy to such emergencies.

A well co-ordinated terrorist assault could be done and dusted in half an hour so the response would have to be bloody fast.

Electro-Kevin said...

I expect your cops are talking about a full-on incident response complete with Gold,Silver,Bronze Command, kitted up Ninjas and a burger van.

The standard ARV response has to be quicker than that. Many area cars are now equipped with: automatic pistols, automatic rifles, batton guns, Tazers, vests, helmets and special bullet proof blankets for making the whole car into a protected firing point.

They'd still be out-fired by ten motivated jihadis.

Blue Eyes said...

So... what did I have for lunch, expert?

Anonymous said...

"Apparently a few years ago some idiots tried to buy a particular type of fertiliser, in such quantities that could blow a regional airport sky high. However, what they didn't realise was that a different type had been put into the supply chain well before they got hold of it. There was a photo of the idiots posing in front of the haul before turning it into things that go bang. They never got that far...."

Are you sure it wasn't a particular kind of weedkiller, beloved of schoolboy pyrotechnicians in bygone days, which we're now not allowed to buy at all?