It seems to us that every time a terror attack happens in the UK and the media look into the perpetrators’ backgrounds the same problem appears: there weren’t enough resources to watch all of the suspects all of the time. For the sake of this discussion let’s assume that this is true. It is also safe to assume that terrorism is not just going to go away, nor, from the present evidence, even decline. We need to plan for a future in which terrorism from people within our country is an ever-present threat.
Our society needs to ask how important it really is to track those amongst us who might be in the process of becoming terrorists. If, as we believe, the answer to that is that it is essential, then we need more resources for the task. What we propose is for the government to call for part-time volunteers to be trained as suspect watchers. If there truly isn’t enough money to increase the number of full-time, professional surveillance personnel then this would be the only way to bring more resources to bear upon the constant pressure of potential internal terrorism which our country faces. We feel this is a pragmatic approach to an ever-present threat.
The UK has a great tradition of volunteers stepping up when needed and we feel sure that if the government called for volunteers to carry out surveillance duties there would be a good response. At first it would be a slow process and something of a burden on the system, as to get them operational they would need vetting as well as training, but eventually it would lead to a much greater ability to keep track of, and to gather intelligence about, would-be terrorists.
We envisage that the volunteers would only be doing surveillance – either electronically or in an anonymous way from a distance – so there would be little risk to their safety. On no account would they be expected, trained, or authorised to engage directly with anyone they were watching. Their expenses for meals and travel, etc., could be paid, but they would receive no salaries – they would be giving their time for free.
If all this sounds too much like a scene from 1984 then we need to remember that everyone in the UK is already being watched by one of the highest number of CCTV cameras per capita of any other country in Western society. So do we really need more surveillance? It would seem so, at least for a small segment of the population which wants to destroy the rest of us.
If surveillance has to grow in our society, we also feel that it would be better for it to be carried out by volunteers rather than by more professionals. As an unpaid volunteer your motivation would have to be the safety of yourself and of your fellow citizens. Yes, there will be the curious, the nosey and the bored who are just looking for something to do, but whatever their reasons for volunteering they would have to be judged on how well and effectively they performed their task.
We are personally impressed by the number of attacks that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have prevented in the UK. However it must be disheartening for them to work so hard and then be overwhelmed by the number of suspects who come up on the radar, and the agonizing choices they then have to make of where to apply their finite resources. In our opinion, preventing terrorism should not have to depend on a cost-benefit analysis. The potential damage to people’s lives, to our society and to the economy is too great. So if the government’s Magic Money Tree is truly dead then it is time for volunteers to step forward and to give practical support to our dedicated law enforcement and intelligence agencies.