BRITAIN apparently became a safer place yesterday when the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, downgraded the level of risk of an al-Qaeda terrorist attack from “severe” to “substantial”. In case no one understood what the change would mean, Mr Johnson explained that there remained a “real and serious threat from terrorists” -- which actually confused rather than clarified the situation. Perhaps the change sends signals to those in the security business but it means nothing to the general public. Indeed many people may ask why, at a time they are being told that military action in Afghanistan must be intensified to keep Europe's streets safe, the risk in those streets has gone down a notch. The retiring Secretary General of NATO spoke specifically earlier this week about the risk to life in the streets of London, Paris and Amsterdam if there is any letting up of Nato activities in Afghanistan. The subject is too serious to score cheap points but politicians and the security services cannot have it both ways. Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5 said earlier this year that Al-Qaeda leaders still wanted to mount an attack and that there were individuals in Britain capable of doing so. The risk levels are set according to four key considerations: available intelligence, terrorist capability, terrorist intentions and the timescale of a likely attack. Presumably the situation in Afghanistan is factored into these assessments?


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