Stupidity is not Innocence

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I had a conversation as a result of the post I made last week. I was asked if I was subscribing to knee-jerk conspiracy theories. Did I believe that the US government was responsible for planning and carrying out 9/11? Do I think that the British government has arrested more than twenty innocent people for planning a technically impossible plot despite having no evidence. That sort of thing.

No, I am not, is the short answer!

The point of the post about Airport Security Theatre was not that governments conspire or make things up. Admittedly those are possibilities and in a post-Watergate world they cannot be discounted altogether. But they are not the most likely possibilities, and the likelier ones are more interesting to think about.

Here is a possibility: what if the plot was technically impossible but the people planning it were planning it and believed, wrongly, that it would be deadly? In my view these people would have to be classified as dangerous and treated as such. The other option would be to do nothing about it, have them discover that their scheme didn’t work, and then wait for them to come up with a more practical plan. The almost precise analogy here is with the various incompetent would-be bank robbers who get caught from time to time trying to pretend the bananas or baguettes in their pockets are loaded guns. They are not allowed to walk away simply because their plan didn’t work – even if the plan was completely idiotic.

The main point of the post was intended to do with the way that the arrests were publicised and the question as to whether the publicity itself counts as a victory for terrorism. A point of comparison could be drawn with the war against the IRA in which the British government actively tried to prevent publicity of its successes and failures: to prevent, in a contemporary phrase, the IRA breathing “the oxygen of publicity”.

It was Margaret Thatcher, in fact, who told the American Bar Association in July 1985 that “democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”. My point, and Bruce Schneier’s I believe, was that the Bush administration’s War on Terror appears to have ignored this to its (and our) detriment.

Posted on August 27, 2006