Richard Norton-Taylor

Saturday September 25, 2004

The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,12780,1312489,00.html

Newspaper editors and television producers are to be asked to avoid referring to such visible installations as sewage works and power stations on the grounds they are potential targets for terrorists.

The request has been prompted by growing anxiety in parts of Whitehall, notably the Home Office, concerned not least by a spate of drama documentaries about terrorist attacks.

After intense argument about whether the media should disclose the whereabouts of conspicuous locations – and their vulnerability – new media guidelines are being drawn up by the defence, press and broadcasting advisory committee which operates a system of voluntary self-censorship.

The committee will soon extend the reach of D notice number 4 which now concentrates on nuclear weapons and intelligence facilities, according to emergency planning officers.

It will be amended to cover a much wider range of “sensitive sites”, including what Whitehall calls Britain’s “critical national infrastructure”, or CNI. It covers telecommunications, energy, transport and water.

Two years ago MI5 drew up a list of more than 300 possible terrorist targets, including oil refineries, the country’s 15 nuclear power stations, the main National Grid sites, petrochemical facilities, and the atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire as well as such obvious high-profile targets as the House of Commons.

This summer MI5 warned businesses that terrorists were increasingly looking at “soft” targets such as social and retail venues, tourist sites and transport networks.

It offered sensible practical advice about precautions that public authorities and private companies should take in light of an increased terrorist threat.

Telling the media what to report – or rather not report – about buildings and locations whose functions are visible to the naked eye or described on maps is quite another matter, some senior officials concede.

One issue raised behind the scenes in Whitehall was whether the media should be dissuaded, not only from describing the locations of sensitive sites but from reporting any vulnerability in their defences.

The Home Office suggested that the media should not be allowed to report security lapses as a series of programmes and articles have recently done.

The argument appears to be that this would only help terrorists. The contrary argu ment is that such stories alert the authorities to gaps in security precisely so that they can make locations less vulnerable.

Those in the latter camp seem to have won the battle, on the grounds that if the media are going to pay any attention to D notice guidelines, then they may as well be as reasonable as possible.

It begs the question whether the D notice system is viable in the first place.

Few would want to put lives at risk, whether or not this was the subject of one of the committee’s guidelines.

However, even the existing D notice No 4 refers to the need to seek official advice before disclosing, for example, “sites associated with the nuclear weapons programme”, or “high security MoD and military sites associated with intelligence and other sensitive activities”.

Such sites are well known and many have been photographed, frequently.

Recently the D notice committee – which consists of senior Whitehall figures and media representatives – agreed that the government would say more about the activities of Britain’s special forces. The agreement has been ignored by the MoD.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,12780,1312489,00.html

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For more background on what a D notice is all about, check out the pages at:

DA-Notice Home Page – The official site of the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee

http://www.dnotice.org.uk

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