Britain tightens air security after Yemen bomb scare, renewing civil liberty concerns
After criticism of its initial response to the threat of Yemeni cargo-hold bombs, Britain is moving to close loopholes surrounding freight transportation and tighten vetting of travelers.
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“Before this particular incident [the cargo bombs] the tide in Britain seemed to be running against intrusive security measures,” says Eric Grove, director of the Centre for International Security and War Studies at the University of Salford. “Things were moving in that direction with the airlines complaining and the libertarian element in the coalition apparently being successful in executing some changes.”
Dr. Grove argues that, "These two bombs have made it more difficult to argue the case that we should abandon some of the measure that were taken in the heat of 9/11, even though at a realistic – rather than at a rhetorical – level I think there is a crying need to rethink what measures are taken so that we don’t do the terrorist’s work for him."
Robin Simcox, an analyst at the right-leaning Centre for Social Cohesion, argues the need for the orders. He agrees that dropping them gathers popularity politically when there is “proliberal and antiauthoritarian mood,” but says that the renewed spotlight on the terror threat from Yemen helps to engender public acceptance.
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“There is the potential for real division on this though, if the Liberal Democrats are saying that getting rid of the orders [is] a ‘red line’ for them, and the security services are saying retaining them is a red line for them,” he adds.
For now, a political showdown in the form of a vote in Parliament is being delayed while a review of the orders’ effectiveness takes place.
Meanwhile, the government is receiving increasingly louder calls, often from nonpolitical quarters, for a rethink of airport security.
Last week, British Airways chairman, Martin Broughton, urged the British government to stop "kowtowing" to US security demands and drop "redundant" antiterror precautions at airports.
On Monday, Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Europe's largest short-haul airline, Ryanair, accused the British government of pandering to the terrorists.
"They are laughing away in their caves this morning at the prime minister and his security team meeting to discuss printer cartridges," he said.
Although often dismissed in past for hyperbole, on this occasion Mr. O’Leary’s comments won the approval of experts like Grove, who credited him with “saying some very sensible things”.
“There is no logic at all in extra passenger security,” says Grove.
“We need to think very carefully about the particular issues of the passenger airline and also the cargo airline but the two are rather different and to read across both of them strikes me as not just very silly but also counterproductive.”
Still, Grove concedes, "If there was more profiling and less of the sort of routine checks going on I would not necessarily be against that. What we need is more focused security measures rather than a broad brush approach.”