Saturday, 10 July 2010

Tally ho!

The incident that ended at Rothbury in the early hours of today was really only the expected result. Mentally, Moat was a thin shell waiting to crack. The police had a serious array of expertise and the necessary assets so that they were able to watch and wait for the public appearance of a man who was seeking publicity. Lest this all sound dismissive, I think they did a very good job handling the incident. The public and media were kept well advised of what was happening and were given opportunities to question those directly in charge of the case with no police PR interference.

There were mistakes made but these were of detail only; the media will try and set hares running. However, it would make sense for some detailed internal scrutiny to be undertaken. We have had armed stand-offs with hostages involved. I think mainly of Spaghetti House and Balcombe Street. The first related to criminal action whilst Balcombe Street was an IRA-related event. In both, watch and wait was the ingredient that got the hostages out alive and those responsible arrested alive and well. The surrender at Balcombe Street followed release of plans to pas the matter over to SAS. The siege at the Iranian Embassy was a different matter; the building was attacked by SAS. Hostages were killed as part of the negotiations and all of the intruders bar one ended up dead. There was much at the time to indicate his survival was a mistake; he hid amongst female hostages and left the premises with them. SAS and other special forces figured in most of the hostage situations after the Embassy affair and an almost common factor was the absence of negotiation and the deaths of the hostage takers. When this certain death aspect was queried the explanation most often given was that any survivor would have been able to reveal the tactics of the military. This seemed to be an Israeli philosophy as in Mossad actions at Entebbe.

This difference in style between Police and Army will become relevant once we pull out of Afghanistan. Our government - coalition and opposition - claim that we will not leave until there is no risk of Islamic terrorists returning to our streets here in UK. Political expedience could lead to our using it as a reason to withdraw before that situation were true. There is also the possibility that the forces we put in place will not be up to the job and allow some terror organisation to base themselves there and fight here. It is, of course, open to the Taliban or al Qaeda to attack from some other Muslim country in the Middle East. Dealing with any siege or making arrests of the sort of member of those organisations would be a very different kettle of fish to the Spaghetti House/Balcombe Street situation.

CO19 would be prime movers in anything like a police-led solution. They supplied officers and equipment to the Rothbury investigators who were also reinforced by some heavyweight specialists in dealing with counter-terrorism. Indeed, a cynic could say that the Home Office used Rothbury as a real live exercise to test tactics and assets. It might be significant that there was no mention of SAS being added to the equation. SAS do not 'do' police and rely upon first class military skills in any confrontation. The Government were maybe not keen to have their shock troops committed in the light of public reaction to the killing of the Brazilian and so soon after release of a critical Saville Report. The Brazilian on the Tube demonstrated that the Met police were quite capable of killing but had problems in the back office and the work of Gold and Silver Commanders. It is an area where the rank and file would not like to go as evidenced by their rejection of a proposal to arm all officers all of the time. The general public seem not to like strong arm policing but tolerate the same from the special forces.The reaction to the ambushes in Gibraltar could have been much more critical and such as leaks out from what they do in Afghanistan is seen being part of an all is fair in love and war philosophy.

So, if there was any element of rehearsal or training in Rothbury that is all to the good. It is unlikely that police would want to pass their role to SAS and there is no great indication that SAS would welcome any joint operation.

Friday, 9 July 2010

For whom the bell tolls

Hemingway commented when he quoted from John Donne’s Meditation XVII, “No man is an Island, entire of itself." Ernest evokes the reality of the human condition. None of us, in spite of what we may believe, or have been told, is ever alone. In turn, Donne's opinion follows upon his better known assertion "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."

This illustrates just how far I personally have withdrawn from what one may think of as the norm. We have just had one of those flashes of media outrage at what we were told was to be the fate of an Iranian woman. Stoned to death. The great and the good, along with I suspect, may plain old attention whores dropped their knitting and rushed to the barricades. It had an effect as Iran was forced into making a statement that stoning did not figure in the list of acceptable ways of killing recognised by Islam. That in itself is a chilling statement. How does a merciful God endorse killing in his name? I must restraining myself here - I cannot accept the doctrine that whatever happens is the will of some Deity and is intended as a cross to be borne.

The world spoke out against the barbaric sentence for an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, and it seems Iran has listened.
"She will not be executed by stoning punishment," the Iranian embassy said in a statement to London's Channel 4 news Thursday, commenting on reports that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani would be stoned to death for "illicit relationships" conducted after the death of her husband. The embassy claims that, despite international reports, the violent punishment was never actually on the table. "This mission denies the false news aired in this respect," the embassy said in the statement. The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran highly recommends that news and reports should not be taken for granted and considered a reliable source of information for official statements or misjudgements"
But it is not clear whether they have lifted the death sentence on a woman who has been in prison in Tabriz since 2006. The 43-year-old had already been punished with flogging for an "illicit relationship" outside marriage when another court tried her for adultery. There again, a strange concept as other reports claim that her husband was dead at the time she went over the side. I happily accepted 'till death us do part' but a prohibition such as Iran's would have troubled me.

My feeling of isolation arises from the fact that I cannot find anything incredibly wrong with the situation that the woman was to die in the barbaric way that had been rumoured. The death - Yes. The manner of her departure - No. We cannot know how many 43 year old women die every day in this world. There is famine, fatal illness, other forms of honour killing and just plain old vanilla deaths from violence or neglect. Every one of those deaths is as significant to the about-to-die and her friends and relatives but no one speaks for them. I cannot do anything for them other than give a passing few minutes of reflection as are taken by writing this blog. Just what would that do for her? What impact does it have on her and her executioners that I find myself unable to campaign on her behalf and in aid of the hundreds who depart in the same unjustified and cruel manner.

Maybe I am an island? But there is another possibility - "If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away" I have to console myself with the drum idea as I cannot face the possibility that my milk of human kindness has turned sour or that I have emptied the jug.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Laughter is the best defence

What we need is more of this. We defeated Hitler by referring to his testicular deficiency. Washing on the Seigfried Line was amusing and a general air of Laugh rather Than Cry got us through.

Any self-respecting soldier will have a stock of funny but amusing ditties. They may be in need of updating from the concept that Queen Farida was pleasured by dogs but the same concept would apply.

Way way back I had to work out what to do about a crowd of young Worthy Oriental Gentlemen who deemed it funny to expose themselves to the bus taking the WRAC clerks and secretaries into work each morning. A quick evening's class in colloquial Arabic and the next morning, instead of slowing, the driver stopped. The exhibition was given but this time the females all cried out such as observations as 'midget dick' 'tiny tiny boy' and 'Try it on your sister' whilst wiggling their little fingers. Never saw the lads again.

Run rabbit run

A change in the way that the war in Afghanistan is fought could be on the way.

The new commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, Gen David Petraeus, is suggesting that he will review the rules of engagement. Some troops have complained that the restraints, which curb the use of air power and heavy weapons if Afghan civilians are at risk, are putting Western forces in greater danger. They also, it is claimed, make it harder to defeat the Taliban.

The phrase that seems to occur often is 'self-defence' as a criteria for the use of force. No mention of aggression then? It is very clear that a large number of the people of Afghanistan do not want us there such that persuasion achieves little. Certainly not much that lasts as our forces deploy to another location and the Taliban tide washes back in. If we want change, we will have to make it compulsory and find a mechanism of making it permanent. That is never going to be achieved by 'self-defence' where out enemy has the initiative and plays the game by their rules.

If the powers that be really held the self-defence opinion then our tactic is very simple indeed. Withdraw completely and re-form back in England. No risk of any confrontation where one of our units does a Bloody Sunday in some fly-ridden compound. Those with the animus to continue the dispute would need to travel here. We are on a much better wicket. Any incomer would - marginally I agree - stand out as being of a particular ethnicity. Maybe we should be enforcing the dress for them of hair covered and white dish dasha robes?

Our intelligence would have the benefit of many more eyes. Neighbourhood Watch par excellence. Proper roads inhibit placement of IED. Savings in the supply train reduction. Also, a much stronger moral justification where attacker deliberately comes to us to cause us harm; why then complain when sent off to the land of the transvestite virgins?

Also, it is still self-defence regardless of where the assailant is based. Whether they come from Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen or any other Mad Mullah dependency is all the same to us.

Yep - more I think about it, the more I like it. Instead of a Glorious Twelfth for birds we could declare an open season for extremist fundamentalists. Sell tickets - whole new world of environmentally friendly hunting so old Foxy could rest in peace.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Bang Bang to rights

Once again we have a dangerous and armed criminal loose in the community. Already, one murder and serious injuries.It seems that the killer was motivated by his girl friend's association with a police officer - the dead man - and has transferred his hatred to all policemen as evidenced by his attack on the uniformed patrol.

A likely outcome will be repeated calls for all of our police to be armed when on duty. Events in Cumbrian could well add to that debate. The last major debate was back in 2005 when a female police officer was shot whilst on duty. The general public seem to accept officers having firearms, think of our airports and the situation in Northern Ireland. However, the officers themselves rejected the idea with a majority of over 80% not wishing to be armed. They hold that the existing special units can do all that is required and they do not wish to do anything that destroys the image that policing is done by consent and not armed force.

That is a nice cosy view of the way things are. However, it does not cover the situation where someone suddenly runs amok in clear rejection of the consent idea. I wish my police to be in a position to protect me. If some disturbed individual is intent on doing me harm, I am not prepared to tell him to hold off or rely upon his good nature or forbearance. I am all for Newton's Law that that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction - if he wishes to open fire then a PC must be immediately available to react.

I care not for any law officer's wish. He is there to maintain law and order and if he is not prepared to be trained in the use of firearms and to then carry a weapon then he has no place in a police force. The idea of consent seems to be overlooked when it comes to their latest iteration of the wooden baton. The asp is quite capable of causing death. The same outcome may occur where Taser weapons are deployed. Even the cs gas spray can be dangerous and is not indicative of policing by consent.

The will be some who say that arming the police will result in the criminals upping their game and taking weapons with them of their illegal actions. The fact that the latest offender was able to obtain a deadly weapon within hours of release from prison shows our gun control is weak. Knives are very easily available so just what extra risk there could be cannot be established. To me, the reaction is immaterial - if Bill Sykes chooses to be armed then he has signed on for swift retribution in the event he uses it.

Spending unaided

"A study carried out by the Department for International Development (DFID) found that a quarter of its projects do not "achieve" or even "largely achieve" their aims – even by the assessment of staff involved in the schemes.

The result will pile further pressure on ministers to find savings from the ministry, which is one of just two in Whitehall to have its budget "ring fenced" – protected from swingeing cuts of up to 40 per cent to be introduced elsewhere across the Government. Currently £7.3 billion goes to fund DFID every year and the Coalition has pledged to increase spending on aid in order to meet a United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of national output by 2013.
Among the failed schemes, details of which have been disclosed in other government documents, were:

* two information technology programmes in Mozambique and Ghana, where DFID ceded too much control over the schemes to the countries' governments, which failed to supervise them adequately;

* fraud in the Kenyan education sector which saw money meant for text books and improved classrooms stolen by fraudsters who organised workshops which never happened and manufactured receipts. DFID has spent £55 million on the programme since 2005;

* "leakage" of 14 per cent of notebooks provided to Malawi because of lax management at warehouses, as well as "leakage" of teachers' salaries in the country of between five per cent and 28 per cent;

* an audit in Malawi also found 700 "ghost teachers" (about 3.5 per cent of the total) on the payroll that DFID helped to fund.

There is a common thread - inadequate supervision allows, at best, incompetence and at worst, theft to swallow up the monies allocated. The ring-fence may be justified but the fencing needs to be improved on the ground where the money is laying about waiting to be stolen or wasted.

The Coalition's commitment to maintaining the aid budget is bizarre. DFID is admittedly a very small department, responsible for less than 1 per cent of state spending. But it is hard to see why it should be thought sacrosanct when spending on so many other vital areas is not – particularly when there is plenty of evidence that a significant proportion of our overseas aid is completely wasted.

This protection of aid is in place when Ministers have been told to submit proposals in the face of a 40% cut in budgets. 25% cuts were described as certain to hurt - 40% must be a killer blow. Ministers will have to think the unthinkable. The task ahead is enormous, and they are proceeding in the right direction, and with commendable resolve. But for their plans to succeed, they will have to tear down the ring-fencing.

If it is verboten to cut the money back, then we have to find ways of reducing the sums demanded so as to remove the ability to siphon funds off and to improve the way in which budgets are controlled. Just how spending is approved is cloaked in mystery but I suspect country A says 'we want 20 more wells at £10,000 a go' and we remit £200K to their Treasury. Just what happens then is, I suppose, 'nothing to do with us'

Those who seek aid should be required to submit fully detailed proposals for everything they wish to do. Where, why, start date, stage completion dates and costs as each stage is undertaken. Cost accountants would look at what was suggested, Economists at the returns on the expenditure, health experts, environmentalists and any other applicable expertise should scrutinise the project. All disbursements controlled from London and the opportunity for fraud reduced. If something is provided for the benefit of all of the foreign populace, regard should be paid to recovery of the expenditure from tolls or other charges for use. One Indian village charged for the use of a shower and the income was sufficient to get a public lavatory.

These requirements would have two benefits. The locals would learn budgeting and project management which would move them towards greater independence. Some applications would not be made as they were deemed too much fuss and trouble.

I always have one query when I read of overseas aid. When we were in the country and devoted ourselves to governing it we were wicked colonial despots. Now, we are just wonderful where we hold the purse strings. This does open up another aid question - why not require the former masters to bear the lion's share of aid donations? Germany, Belgium and Italy all had colonies in Africa so why not have them pay for what they failed to put in place during their rule?