Who is the terrorist?

HOME Secretary Theresa May last Monday announced new Government powers that she claimed are necessary to combat the threat of terrorism and child sexual exploitation. These measures include a law forcing firms to hand details to police identifying who was using a computer or mobile phone at a given time.

The new Anti-Terrorism and Security Bill, internet service providers would have to hold on to data linking devices to users. It is blatantly an attempt to revive the “snoopers’ charter”, which died when the Liberal Democrats refused to support it and which would have given police and intelligence services access to information on all internet communications.

But as many suspected and Edward Snowden confirmed in his whistle-blowing leaks a couple of years ago, the American NSA and its collaborators in GCHQ in Cheltenham have pretty well been doing this anyway for a long time.

Anything that is technologically possible for secret intelligence services to do they will do and who can stop them? Or even know, or be able to prove, that they are doing it? Whenever we use a computer we have to assume they could have access to everything and mind our Ps and Qs.

But the very volume of data collected creates its own problems for them. Finding relevant information on real terrorists and child abusers would be like trying to find a needle in a planet-sized haystack.

The parliamentary investigation into the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich two years ago found that both the perpetrators, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, had appeared in various intelligence reports several times but those reports had not been linked.

The reason they were not linked is the sheer enormous number of similar reports on ten if not hundreds of thousands of similar reports on other potential suspects. Trying to foresee which of the thousands of suspects may be likely to act on their anti-government feelings is impossible.

To put full scale surveillance on all such suspects would require the full time work of more state spies than the entire population. The inquiry had to conclude that Rigby’s death was “not preventable”.

If the Government really wanted to prevent terrorism a much better policy would be to stop invading other countries on spurious grounds. The shock and horror that Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale brought to the streets of Woolwich is a commonplace everyday event now in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya in the aftermath of western imperialist invasions of those countries and the destruction of their social and political structures. That is the point the two terrorists were trying to make.

Michael Adebolajo had been a prisoner of British intelligence in Kenya where he was tortured and raped. That is a trauma that could well have affected his sanity and driven him to extreme violence. If British — and American — intelligence services around the world would stop committing atrocities it would make our streets in Britain and the United States much safer than spending so much time and money on snooping on all of us.

But the snooping techniques do deliver some victims to the police and intelligence services — overt political activists who challenge Government policies and journalists who try to hold the state machine to account. These people are breaking no laws but the ideas they spread — that there is a better way of organising a fair and just society — are in the long term a threat to the current regime where the rich are making themselves exponentially richer by the day while workers are crushed, starved and oppressed.

These are the people who are easy to catch — because they are not trying to hide. So the police will naturally go after them because it is the easy thing to do and creates statistics to show they are doing something for the benefit of their masters.

But by oppressing these people they explode reformist and idealist myths and force upon working class bodies an awareness of the need to organise and protect themselves — helping to create the forces that will ultimately overthrow this miserable regime.