Brown: Jack Bauer spook horde to tackle terrorism
UK's CTU (no, really) will heavily outnumber suspects
Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed we are safer than we were a year ago, as he outlined his long-awaited National Security Strategy to Parliament today.
Brown reeled off the usual list of potential global threats - pandemics, climate change, water/energy/food shortage, and terror - and appeared to take inspiration from Hollywood in tackling the terrorist threat in Blighty.
You thought Jack Bauer and his fellow CTU spooks were fictional? Not any more. Mr Brown confirmed today that the UK will shortly have four regional Counter Terrorism Units, just like Jack's LA office - though hopefully less riddled with traitors, leaks etc.
There was also confirmation that the UK's spooks will soon heavily outnumber their possible domestic terrorist adversaries. The strength of MI5/SS is predicted to reach 4,000 in the near term, while Mr Brown confirmed that the Enemy Within was holding largely static at around 200 networks each as many as 10 strong.
This seemed to indicate a spook-to-terrorist ratio of at least two to one - without even counting other British agencies operating in the UK such as MI6/SIS, GCHQ electronic spooks, the Met Counter Terrorism Command/SO15, regional special-branch plods, military special forces etc etc.
It was also confirmed by Mr Brown that the number of UK "foreign office employees" in the Middle East and South Asia would rise by 30 per cent - which would seem to indicate a manpower increase among the spies at MI6.
There may not be enough terrorists to go round, by the sound of it. The new spook-to-terrorist ratio was described by Admiral Sir Alan "U-turn"* West, Baron of Spithead and the UK's boss securocrat, on BBC radio as meaning that Britons were "safer than we were a year ago".
The good admiral also implied that he had managed to secure the support of civil-rights group Liberty for controversial plans to extend detention without trial in cases deemed to involve terrorists. However, an angry telephone call from Liberty to the Today newsroom subsequently made it clear that this was not, in fact, the case.
Apart from the Jack Bauer revelations, there wasn't much in the Strategy to really make a Vulture or Reg reader sit up. However, for those who have been following the UK's recent interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo etc, there was one plan of interest. In all these operations, the UK forces have typically eliminated organised military opposition in short order - only to find themselves desperately improvising a local government to replace the one they have just toppled.
Mr Brown said that UK will soon have a quick-reaction instant government ready to go at all times, made up of a thousand police, civil administrators, advisors etc - even some judges. It wasn't made clear exactly how rapidly the shake'n'bake civil power would be able to react, but the need for parachute and possibly amphibious/frogman High Court beaks does seem clear-cut.
Even the Tories couldn't find much to pick on, though David Cameron did complain that there ought to be a National Security Council instead of a National Security Forum. The Prime Minister said actually there was a National Security Council, so there. ®
*Lord West was until recently the Royal Navy's top admiral. His service career seriously took off after his courtmartial for allowing 50 pages of confidential documents to fall from his coat pocket while walking a friend's dog. By a staggering coincidence, the next person to happen by was a journalist. This slip-up resulted in some very convenient press coverage for West's then superiors, perhaps going some way to explain his speedy ascent following the court-martial.
Since becoming a peer and counter-terror minister, West has added to his fame by a lightning change of mind over extended detention for terror suspects, following an interview without coffee at No. 10 Downing Street. His excuse was that he was just a "simple sailor" and people had misunderstood. He also notes, sadly, that these days "there is a firm of chauffeurs that refers to a U-turn as an Admiral West, which I find rather difficult".
West's Falklands War experience of being aboard a sinking ship may yet become relevant.