Remember the ‘power surge’ story just after the London bombs went off? A strategic delay on the part of the security spin machine, says Mark Borkowski
Standing in whatever shade I could find at noon yesterday, as the two taut minutes of what passes for silence in London ticked away, I considered the nature of the communications contrivance put into operation following the bombings, and that it clearly was not so much a question of what we were told as events unravelled last Thursday, as when.
At least 30 minutes passed before anyone in the media was officially notified there had even been a bomb attack. This was neither a mistake, nor an example of poor communications. On the contrary, it was a signal that some well organised good guys on our side were busy taking the battle to the enemy. Consider the way this brutal publicity stunt was focused, in the light of 9/11. On that other sunny morning nearly four years ago, the hijacked aircraft hit the twin towers 20 minutes apart, not because one of them was late, but because the intention was to make sure that every TV camera in New York City was pointing in the right direction when the second plane approached.
The modern terrorist uses all the tools of the modern communicator to drive home his brand message. The bombers are publicists, taking their steer from guiding hands who appear, perhaps from abroad, to strengthen resolve and make sure the mission is carried out correctly, down to the last detail.
That is one of the reasons the London emergency plan for dealing with this strike included the contingency of blaming everything on a “power surge” immediately after the bombs had exploded, specifically to buy time for counter media management and to quell any panic.
And how successful they have been: information was at first non-existent, then contradictory, and then dribbled out fragment by fragment, so that neither the press, nor the public, nor, presumably, any living perpetrators remaining really knew what was happening until long after the secret services had gained their headstart in the propaganda war.
From then on, like a well-rehearsed ritual, the outrage was allowed to unfold at the government’s pace. At Gleneagles, I suggest, the skeleton of a speech drafted months, if not years, earlier was handed to the prime minister, who delivered it to camera against a timely backdrop of world leaders. Standing orders in the event of just about any disaster or attack imaginable must surely exist, drawn up by meticulous Whitehall departments, much as newspapers keep obituaries of the living on file, just in case.
And the follow-up? There was a conveniently jingoistic weekend commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war, but a spate of heart-warming stories appeared praising heroes among the victims of the terrorists’ bombs and the rescue services, to loud proclamations that “London can take it” and concerning the “plucky blitz spirit” and “business as usual”. Business as usual? Not the whole story: London was deserted and the tube was frightening.
The real battlefield in this case is managing the nation through the medium of the media. This single event has had devastating effects, not only in terms of the deaths of the poor Londoners and tourists killed in the blasts, but on what we are and are not allowed to know. This is not a new phenomenon: “In war, truth is the first casualty” as the playwright Aeschylus eloquently noted some 2,500 years ago.