Saturday, 4 June 2016

Counterattack: The West’s Battle Against the Terrorists by Christopher Dobson and Ronald Payne

This is a very dated book, first published in the UK in 1982. So it precedes the events of modern terrorism: 9/11, 7/7 and 21/7, al Qaeda and ISIS. That said, it is an interesting read, not least as a gauge of the thinking of the time.

The IRA, PLO, and state-sponsored terrorism were the order of the day and this book details the early and tentative approaches the Western powers (countries covered include the United States Britain, France, West Germany - the book was written pre-unification - and Israel) took to counter the threats they faced.

Much of what is included in these pages appears in today’s world to be rather quaint. For example, in the section on West Germany we learn that there was a computer system centred in the town of Wiesbaden, nicknamed “The Komissar”, which logs every item of information - addresses, contacts, etc, of every terrorist and other serious criminal. This is divulged to the reader in breathless tones, and to be fair, it probably was a big deal at the time. But now of course this is commonplace, every police force in England has access to the HOLMES system, which does just that, and in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations we can be sure that the world’s security services do much, much, more.

But this book is not just historical trivia. Much of the pages detail the emergence of the counter-terror units that in today’s world we sadly take for granted. The section on the birth of Germany’s GSG9 (the federal police equivalent of the SAS) in genuinely interesting, as is the section on the French experience with Algerian terrorism.

In conclusion, this is a dated but interesting read, well worth the investment if you have a real interest in the origins of today’s architecture of counter-terror.

3 out of 5 stars

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