Not published in the Guardian

On 3 June Simon Jenkins published a devastating critique of  the “security industry’s” promotion and exploitation of paranoia to expand its domain. It prompted the letter below, sadly not published. So I submitted it to my blog where it was accepted with alacrity.


Simon Jenkins (Not every adult is a paedophile, a terrorist or a mass murderer, 3 June) sets out the impervious, paranoia-generating logic of the security industry: “If an incident occurs, it is reason for spending more on security. If no incident occurs it justifies what is already being spent.”

Perhaps the industry’s greatest achievement thus far in the deployment of this logic is its success in protecting us from bicycle bombs. Anyone who has parked a bicycle near Whitehall or Parliament Square will appreciate the efforts that are being made to protect us from this threat; the police will confiscate it on the grounds that it might be a pipe bomb in disguise.

It has worked. So far no one in Britain has been killed by such a device. But the achievement is global. I have appealed for evidence on various websites, on the Radio 4 Today Programme, and on the BBC World Service. On evidence so far received it appears that no one, anywhere, ever has been killed by such a device. Can one ask for more convincing justification? The inconvenience of thousands of cyclists seems a small price to pay.

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  1. Jim Tubman says:

    Well, if you can believe Wikipedia, there have been some people killed by bicycle bombs, including some in the UK:


    In pointing this out, I don’t want to be seen as justifying absurd security measures. But I suspect that even if there were no recorded incidents of bicycle bombs, it would change nothing as far as the security establishment is concerned.

    Here is Wikipedia’s definition of a bicycle bomb: “A bicycle bomb (or bike bomb) is an improvised explosive device that is placed on a bicycle.” Please note “on” a bicycle. London police are confiscating naked bicycles on the grounds that they might be pipe bombs.
    This is how the Coventry bomb is reported in the BBC archive – http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/countdown_390828_mon_01.shtml : “The IRA was blamed for the explosion, which also injured 100 people. The bomb had been left in the basket of a bicycle.”
    In the other two UK references cited in your Wikipedia reference one was in a basket and the other in a mailbag.
    Best wishes, JA

  2. Phil says:

    I don’t want to justify absurd security measures either, but I seem to remember bicycle bombs being used fairly extensily during the Vietnam war. These were “naked” bicycles, with the frame filled with explosive.

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