Attempted Terrorism Attack at the British Library 34

Unlike journalists of the mainstream media, I am going to read through the government’s new paper on the Prevent Strategy before I comment on it. From first glance I am not impressed, but I will read it properly and write it up tomorrow morning.

Meantime I can break the news that a major terrorsit attack was foiled today at the British Library. I went to use the reading room of the British Library to look at some Alexander Burnes manuscripts, on which I have been in email discussion with the curators. I took my passport with me for identification. But they would not let me in as I did not have proof of address. They needed to see both a passport and proof of address “For security reasons”.

I did have, as it happens, several documents containing my address on in my pockets; including a doctor’s prescription, a hotel bill and a library card. Surely in addition to my passport that would do? No, I was told, “for security reasons” only a specified list of documents was acceptable, which the police have advised the Library contain securely verified addresses. A NHS registration is apparently not verified; a credit card statement is (which is bollocks – some of my credit card statements all go to an ancient address, from which someone kindly forwards them, and at which false address I could now register at the British Library as this false address will be acceptable on a specified document)

But it doesn’t stop there. I was asked why I wished to access the British Library; I replied that I was researching a biography of Sir Alexander Burnes. I was told that I must provide evidence of that. What? You think I am pretending to be researching a biography of Alexander Burnes? That I have some obscure motive in seeking to read some of the most obscure and neglected documents in the British Library? I offered to produce the emails from the Library’s curators about the documents I am looking for. These were not acceptable as emails were not “original documents”.

I was then assured that all of this was in the interests of security, and part of the anti-terrorism advice received by the British Library from the Police. It was obviously expected by the young man telling me this that I would therefore accept that all this nonsense was both sensible and necessary.

I gave up. The British Library can no doubt be delighted that they have foiled a major Al Qaida plot to insert a sleeper cell of false Alexander Burnes researchers.

Why on earth do we put up with this total bollocks, whereby ludicrous “security” regulations, administered by half-educated low paid staff steeped in the insolence of office, are used to block individuals from going about their lawful business? Karl Marx famously wrote Das Kapital in the reading room of the British Library. He would never get in now. “Can you prove that you are researching the relationship between Capital and Labour then, sir?”.

34 thoughts on “Attempted Terrorism Attack at the British Library

1 2
  • Mike Cobley

    Oh how I wish I lived in London – I am sure that I could rustle up a substantial number of library users keen to do research in the BL reading room. I mean, I'm absolutely certain that the staff would be overjoyed to be treated to a variety of address sources etc, maybe even accompanied by various photo evidence from holiday snapshots, secondary school class group photos, fuzzy mobile pix etc. It would make their day.

  • kathz

    Perhaps I could send you a letter, on headed notepaper, to your current address to tell you that you are researching a biography of Alexander Burnes. That would presumably be an original document (unlike an email). If I charged you 10p for the privilege, it could count as a bill. (Seriously – let me know if that would help – you should be able to access my e-address from my comments.) The whole thing is absurd. Last time I renewed they were very worried that I didn't have a driver's licence (I don't drive) and spent ages considering if any of my documents would count. As for the occasional security checks … I once wasn't allowed a bottle of mineral water because liquids aren't allowed in planes.

    Mind you, I remember a friend of mine once producing a British Library reader's card as proof of identity, only to be told "That's no use at all – all sorts of people have those."

  • Suhaylsaadi

    God, that is so insufferable! Librarians are normally such helpful people. What did they think you were going to do? Eat the manuscripts? Roll them and snort them like cocaine? Blow your nose in them? Or even, read them (perish the thought!). It's truly the time to give everyone a collective brick wall so that we all can bash our collective heads upon it. Whatever happened to the Heads? We need them now, more than ever.

  • yaxu

    Strange, I've always found BL staff very helpful, courteous and professional, which I've always put down to working in a nice environment and being treated well by their employers… Probably those serving their turn on the registration desk receive the most stress though.

    Since when has a GP script, library card or hotel bill ever been considered a proof of address? Never in my experience. Maybe you should have checked their website for what they needed before you left home. "Half-educated" indeed.

    The terrorism thing seems like an excuse to get rid of you, they're probably more worried about people cutting out the pages of history, for good reason.

  • gyges

    The British Library is also based in Boston Spa, Wetherby. At this established they have something much more dangerous: every copy of Playboy ever printed. This publication is so dangerous that the library staff keep it in a steel cage: however, it isn't clear whether or not the publication is caged in order to keep the publication in, or the staff out.

  • Ellie

    Disgraceful. Give a fool a uniform and some duff rules to follow…….

    I do wish you had asked the people who questioned you for proof that they were indeed employees of the British Library. You know, adequate proof that could be checked by the police……

  • gyges

    At the moment public libraries are one of my pet gripes. Where I live I have sufficient access to a number of libraries but can I get access to Hansard, Halsbury's Laws of England, the chemistry periodicals? Can I bollocks. What the public seems to think is a library, and hence worthy of support, is completely different to my idea of a library.

  • Raymond H

    Hello Craig. As someone who spends most of the day every day working in one of the reading rooms at the BL, I just wanted to say I hope you won't let one stubborn administrator deprive you of the pleasure of having access to that magnificent collection. A friend coached me for the interview. My provable credentials are certainly much weaker than yours. My advice would be to pre-register online. At the end of that process you print out a document that tells you exactly what you need to bring with you in terms of acceptable proof of address. Then as far as justifying your need to access the collection, I would say don't just tell them you need to see the Alexander Burns manuscripts, tell them who you are, what work you do, and stress the fact that you frequently need to do research and you're getting nowhere with your local libraries. I work for myself and my work requires a certain amount of research. So this is what I told them. They asked me for a business card as proof. I didn't have one so I asked them to look up my website, which shows a picture of me, and that did the trick. Maybe they've tightened the rules since I joined, but I hope you'll give it another try. I had no idea I was going to enjoy working there so much. It is truly one of the last remaining public places where you can work for hours at a desk surrounded by scores of people and yet not be disturbed by a single voice or mobile phone.

  • nextus

    Exactly. During my PhD studies, I made 3 trips to the British Library (an annual visit due to the distance involved) and got turned away each time due to a minor anomaly in my documents (photocopy/bank printout/expired licence, etc).. Once I protested to the security staff until I was nearly escorted off the premises. Following my graduation, I visited again and my documentation was accepted (albeit with an out-of-date address) but this time I wasn't allowed in because I was no longer enrolled at a university as a postgraduate student (although I was still teaching part-time on an undergraduate degree course!). So I made up some fibs about being an honorary postdoctoral research assistant; which they eventually accepted. An admission card valid for one year was duly produced. Finally I could gain admission to consult my own publications.

    It's equivalent to an honesty check. "Are you prepared to lie sir?" "Er, yes, if I have to … ", "Alright, you're in". Phew! That ought to protect us against those scrupulously honest terrorists, The security check could be reduced to one question: "Occupation?", "International terrorist", "Aha! Got you! Naff off! You'll not read any of our books. Why not try a local library instead?"

    It's stupid, pointless and futile – just like the airport frontline against Head & Shoulders, nail scissors and volumising hairspray. Why do we put up with this bollocks? Because if we protest, we get carted away by the plods.

  • Leo

    No need to burn the books, just turn the library into a closed fortress on spurious grounds of terrorism.

  • Jack

    The problem is not so much with the security regulations, other than the fact the security posturing involved is a colossal waste of everyone’s time on both sides of the counter. Even where some sort of security structure is needed, the “tick 10 squares and you’re safe” approach is both bureaucratic and security nonsense. Personally, in any high risk area I’d prefer seasoned security staff with their wits about them to this kind of witless bean-counting theatricals.

    A bigger problem lies – in everything from airports to street photography to libraries – in the increasing empowerment of petty officialdom. People who used thrive by making a nuisance of themselves in any job that promised a low salary along with a uniform and peaked cap are now charged with the task of “anti-terrorist security”. What a huge ego-boost for the socially-dyslexic in their eternal search for petty power. Who – on visiting their local council offices or police stations – hasn’t wondered at what point the servants became the masters?

    In a library, it’s more than just inconvenient – it’s the growing surrender by ‘audience development officers’ of principles which an older generation of librarians would have defended rigorously.

    But perhaps the biggest problem is the abject acceptance of this kind of nonsense – and by and large it is utter nonsense – both by officialdom and the public. For modern security theatre to succeed (in its true aim of petty power and lucrative contracts) it takes an aquiescent public, desperate to believe that bean-counting will make them 100% safe, and to hell with the loss of a few civil liberties. And that may be the greatest danger of all.

  • coiaorguk

    I have commented on the 'Prevent' strategy in the Independent and the Telegraph where I responded to their article called, 'Universities: The Breeding Grounds of Terror' by Anthony Glees. I was surprised, saddened and depressed by the anti Muslim sentiment of most commentators to the article, most referring to the London bombings of 7th July, most hateful, acrimonious and nasty.

    I wander slightly here to mention Lord Carlile of Berriew's review of 'Prevent' where he refers to ' evidence that some organisations have espoused the writings of Syed Abdul ‘Ala Maududi, who founded Jamaat-e-Islami. This of course is the precursor to Lord Berriew's ideas on Islamic 'jihad' and he goes on to say that research, 'for the motivated, the
    journey between a bedroom computer in the UK and a suicide belt may be covered merely in weeks, with devastating consequences for the individual and his/her victims.'

    To Lord Berriew the word ‘Jihād’ conjures up the vision of a marching band of religious fanatics with savage beards and fiery eyes brandishing drawn swords and attacking the infidels wherever they meet them and pressing them under the edge of the sword for the recital of Kalima. More to the point he knows that Jamaat-e-Islami and its strong student wing have had some degree of influence, for instance, In 1986, two JI senators successfully piloted the controversial Shariat Bill through the Senate, although it did not become law at that time. In addition, the movement of student recruits from the Jamiat-i-Tulaba-i-Islam into the JI has created a new bloc of Islamist voters.

    The irony is that these painters of Jihad are no other than those benefactors of ours who themselves have been engaged in an extremely unholy war for centuries on end. They themselves present the picture of robbers who armed to the teeth with
    all kinds of deadly weapons, have set upon the world with deception, pillaging it for the capture of new markets of trade, resources of raw material, open lands for colonization, mines and of course oil.

    One however must not mention deception, it is forbidden and expressed as 'how dare you – how dare you! – or in the words of
    Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C. 'One faith leader in Birmingham stated in 2007 that MI5 had some part in the London bombings of 07 July 2005, a demonstrably absurd and inflammatory suggestion.

  • Azim

    I wonder if anyone actually COULD get into that library. Seems like it is easier to go through the security checks on to the international flights to United States than accessing the British Library. What a waste of recourses caused by incompetent people 🙁

  • sam

    The British Library : subtle Fahrenheit 451 but just as deadly.

    Does anyone else notice this throughout British life now? It's all MiniTrue in every public service.

    Oh no, wait…Public Services…what service? to which public?

  • Jonangus Mackay

    Out of the mouths of babes & princes . . . The heir to the throne himself did say before the building even opened, if you recall, that it resembled a secret police training school.

  • Richard

    Having used the library a number of times, I’ve always had a good experience.

    The staff who work in the registration office have always been polite to me when renewing my card. As for the ID needed to get a card, it’s no different to other national libraries around the world, in some cases it’s even more difficult.

    They asked me on my first visit what I wanted to see so that aside from directing me to the right reading room (there are 11), they could also ensure I was using the library for a genuine reason. Lots of people want to use the reading rooms just as a place to work, which isn’t fair on someone who may have travelled thousands of miles to see a rare item.

    You also fail to mention that the library is free to use, and once you have your card you have access to over 150 million items, some of which can’t be seen anywhere else (I am a library stat fan, sorry!).

    I’ve spoken to other readers who have come from as far as Japan and New Zealand, and they say going to the library is one of the joys of their work.

    I know we are all entitled to our opinions but please also look at what your gaining access to – just for the sake of two forms of ID.

    Thank you for taking the time to read.

    • craig Post author

      I cannot imagine why you would need to use a library when your ability to think is so constrained. Why do I need to provide the specified proof of address as well as a passport? The fact that you may have to in Singapore is a strange justification. And secondly, why are emails from their own curators to me discussing the manuscripts I am going to see not sufficient evidence of why I need to access them?

  • david

    maybe im missing the point here.. but isnt it a library ? where they keep books ? I know that the pen is mightier than the sword and all that, but they are books for goodness sake. Why do you need to prove who you are just to read a book ?

    Im staggared to hear that you need identity documents in order to read a few pages of a book !

    What a sad and pathetic country we live in.

  • Kebz

    Strangely, I have visited the British Library numerous times for meetings and, although my bag has been inspected, I have never been asked why I was visiting despite me being a suspicious looking character.

  • mary

    How has the British Library helped you?
    We are looking to understand more about the value that we add to your research or work. Have you used our collections and services (including our digital resources) to, for example:
    • Complete a post-graduate qualification?
    • *******+++Write a book? +++********
    • Help start your own business?
    • Develop a new product on behalf of the scientific, medical or technological industries?
    • Research a television programme?
    Tell us your story using the form below

    It’s like Waiting for Godot. I am sending the post with comments to the Director of the British Library, Dame Lynne Brindley (Chief Executive, since 2000) and will ask for her comments.

    • mary

      I received this reply today. Any follow up comment Craig?

      Dear ….,
      Thank you for drawing Mr Murray’s blog piece to my attention. Mr Murray also raised his concerns directly with the Secretary of the British Library Board who has now responded to him.
      Yours sincerely,
      Dame Lynne Brindley
      Chief Executive
      Sent: 08 June 2011 20:51
      Subject: Craig Murray attempts to visit the Library
      Dear Dame Lynne Brindley
      In case this article by Craig Murray, the UK ‘s ex-Ambassador to Uzbekistan , has not reached your desktop, I am sending the link.
      The article and the comments thereon will be of interest to you.
      Yours etc

  • Herbie

    I’d always thought that the reason for all this OTT security bollocks was to create the impression that we were under attack.
    It’s not to “Prevent” attack. It’s to prevent us thinking we aren’t under attack.
    Much indeed as the US and UK use of torture on all manner of random inncocents was to elicit confession that there really was a concerted international threat to the US and UK, when of course there was not.
    You need to look too at the security companies, private and public, which are the beneficiaries of much extra taxpayer monies.
    The real threat to US and UK citizens comes not from abroad but from our own political and media class, and the corporate interests for whom they are acolytes.
    It really couldn’t be any clearer.
    I’m very much more concerned by the real threat to body and soul coming from UK and US government agants than I am from bogeyman jihadis.


    Dear Craig,

    On the only occasion I have tried to gain entry to the British Library since it moved into its present building I found the bureaucracy involved in gaining entry impossible and gave up. This was despite the fact that I had some serious research to do. This contrasts with the set up when the British Library was in the British Museum. In those days gaining entry was ridiculously easy. I had no difficulty doing so even though my reasons were frankly frivolous. The British Library obviously has not found a proper balance but to use “terrorism” as an excuse to keep people away is frankly absurd.

  • gavin mckerrell

    fosters hatred
    which might lead to inter-community violence
    in the UK, or otherwise can be demonstrated
    as providing support for extremists.Can a person who disagrees with the class system and states this be prosecuted?

  • Parky

    hmmmm maybe they just want to keep out the chavs and the alkies ? more of them about now as the cuts deepen…

    So in future just get Dame Lynne Brindley on the phone and ask her or if one of her cronies could come down to reception to sort out an urgent HR issue.

    Recently i was dealing with a very pleasant and helpful govt official and presented my passport as a positive ID. Apparently an officially produced and expensive government travel document with several high tech security measures was not such a definitive gold standard as I expected but a telephone bill, which I could well have knocked up myself with photoshop, did it for them. So much for the virtues of privatisation.

    PS can we have the preview button back here please in this new look blogg site ?

  • nobody

    Hullo Craig,

    Did you ask that chap if he’d ever read any Voltaire?

    It occurs to me that as we see ever more idiotic rules, people doing absurd things is precisely what is intended. It’s a variety of training designed to ensure that when we get to wherever it is we’re going, the whole thing will be fully staffed. It’s the Voltaire School of Training and Management. It’s motto: ‘Truly, whoever is able to make you absurd is able to make you unjust’. This is embraced, not with any sense of irony but rather upbeat enthusiasm. I should add that the last bit of that quote is usually translated as ‘commit atrocities’ and quite right too since we in the West are worldbeaters in the atrocity business. But sure enough in training your human resources, you can’t start with atrocities on day one. First comes absurdity.

    Not forgetting of course that the greatest absurdity is the al qaeda bogeyman. Honestly, if al qaeda didn’t exist the CIA, the mossad, and MI5/6 would have invented them anyway. And they did! And we all know it!

    Oh God, it’s that bloody Voltaire again. He’s a pest, that bloke.

1 2

Comments are closed.