Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's The Left One! It's the Right One! I KNOW it's the right one!

The Sunday Times this weekend carried a really frightening story regarding the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell tube station. Now, we know that the Met has a procedure of some kind for the case of finding a suicide-bomber roaming the streets under which they intend to shoot them dead on the spot. None of its detail is in the public domain, but we know it's called Operation KRATOS.

Now, let us consider what KRATOS is meant to change. In the past, the cops were permitted to shoot first in the case of an immediate threat to the lives of members of the public or police officers, having issued a warning. This is essentially a fail-safe control system, at least as far as such a thing is possible in the conditions. Authorisation to use firearms must be sought, but even then, without specific dangerous conditions being satisfied they will not be use. (This, of course, doesn't always work - see Harry Stanley)

With KRATOS, which from all available evidence seems to mean that when a suspected suicide bomber is identified, the firearms squad can be authorised by a tactical commander to shoot them, the guns are more likely to be used than not once that authorisation is given. This is a fail-deadly system, rather like some used for nuclear deterrence during the cold war. Back then, command-and-control systems had two functions - to assure deterrent credibility by making it impossible for an enemy to be confident that a pre-emptive strike at command centres would prevent the weapons being launched, and to reserve the ability to launch the weapons to designated authorities so as to prevent accidental or malicious use. These are obviously two halves of a trade-off!

Clearly, fail-deadly is completely fucking psychotically inappropriate for police purposes. It ought to be obvious that suicide bombers will not be deterred by greater certainty that the cops will shoot them if detected - the clue is in the name, no? But anyway. Once the activation order for Operation KRATOS is given, the firearms team who receive it may be considered to be armed like a grenade with the pin out. They have been ordered to shoot somebody at their own discretion. In nuclear terms, the weapon has been released to local control. When the UK's deterrent was carried on RAF bombers, this stage was actually left until after the aircraft took off, when it reached its startline over the Baltic. Under what was known as Positive Control, the V-Force would scramble and proceed to the start line, where they would contact various commands in the UK by radio for the final authorisation code which permitted them to arm the bomb, dive to low level, and head for their targets.

The crucial point, though, was what happened if the code did not arrive. If the final order was not received, the bomber crews' orders were to circle and get in touch with a succession of other authorities for instructions. If the word had still not arrived when the fuel state passed the minimum to complete the mission, they were simply to return to base in Lincolnshire (if it was still there..). The system would fail-safe, sacrificing a degree of deterrent certainty for greater safety. Consider KRATOS. Once they get the word, and lose communications by running into a tube station, they go ahead and shoot someone. The system fails-deadly, sacrificing a considerable degree of safety for greater certainty. In fact, it's far more suited to assuring nuclear deterrence than dealing with a suspected suicide bomber.

You would think, then, that releasing the KRATOS team to fire at will would be difficult, that there would be a very specific procedure to ensure there could be no possible confusion. A codeword, perhaps. The Times:
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has also discovered that the surveillance team that followed de Menezes from his flat had sent a misleading message to the armed officers waiting at Stockwell.

When the firearms officers were told “this is the man”, sources say they took it to mean “this is the suicide bomber” rather than “this is the man we have been following”.
Well, someone was hanged for saying "Let him have it!", but he wasn't a copper. Sir Ian Blair is incompetent and must go.

Note: The title of this post is rumoured to be what passed between the pilots of the British Midland plane that crashed onto the M1 at Kegworth. After an engine fire, they miscommunicated and shut down the wrong engine. A fault in the instrumentation didn't help, but still. Words matter..

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is an "Operation Kratos" situation less
dangerous to innocent bystanders than an
Operation Clydesdale one, which might involve a raid on a suspected (possibly boobytrapped) terrorist hideout, during which lots more firepower might be used than on a single potential suicide bomber ?

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