Alastair Campbell — guilty of breaching the OSA?

Alastair_Campbell_1I have long sus­pec­ted that Alastair Camp­bell, Labour’s former Dir­ector of Com­mu­nic­a­tions, may poten­tially have broken the UK’s Offi­cial Secrets Act.  Now prima facie evid­ence is begin­ning to emerge that he did indeed breach the “clear bright line” against unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure of intelligence. 

I know that the Met­ro­pol­itan Police have their hands full invest­ig­at­ing the melt­down that is the News of the World hack­ing scan­dal — and also try­ing to replace all those senior officers who had to resign because of it — but they do have a duty to invest­ig­ate crime.  And not just any old crime, in this case, but one that has poten­tially threatened the very basis of our national security.

Why do I say this? 

Sun_45_minutes_from_doomYou’ll no doubt have some vague recol­lec­tion that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment pro­duced a couple of reports “mak­ing a case for war”.  The first, the Septem­ber Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed sex up the case for war, as well as include fake intel­li­gence about Sad­dam Hus­sein try­ing to acquire uranium from Niger.  Most mem­or­ably it led to the “Brits 45 minutes from Doom” front-page head­line in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun news­pa­per, no less, on the eve of the cru­cial war vote in Parliament.

There was also the notori­ous leaked Down­ing Street Memo, where the then-head of MI6, Sir Richard Dear­love ©, was minuted as say­ing that the intel­li­gence and facts were being fit­ted around the [pre­de­ter­mined war] policy.

How­ever, for the pur­poses of a pos­sible Regina v. Camp­bell day in court, it is the second report that requires our attention.

It was pub­lished in Feb­ru­ary 2003, just before “shock and awe” was launched to lib­er­ate the grate­ful Iraqi people.   This report became known as the “Dodgy Dossier”, as it was largely lif­ted from a 12 year old PhD thesis that the spin doc­tors had found on the inter­net.  How­ever, it also included nug­gets of brand-new and unas­sessed intel­li­gence from MI6.  Indeed, even the tooth­less Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment stated in para­graph 82 of its 2002–2003 Annual Report ( Down­load ISC_2003) that:

“We believe that mater­ial pro­duced by the [intel­li­gence] Agen­cies can be used in pub­lic­a­tions and attrib­uted appro­pri­ately, but it is imper­at­ive that the Agen­cies are con­sul­ted before any of their mater­ial is pub­lished. This pro­cess was not fol­lowed when a second doc­u­ment was pro­duced in Feb­ru­ary 2003. Although the doc­u­ment did con­tain some intelligence-derived mater­ial it was not clearly attrib­uted or high­lighted amongst the other mater­ial, nor was it checked with the Agency provid­ing the intel­li­gence or cleared by the JIC prior to pub­lic­a­tion. We have been assured that sys­tems have now been put in place to ensure that this can­not hap­pen again, in that the JIC Chair­man endorses any mater­ial on behalf of the intel­li­gence com­munity prior to pub­lic­a­tion.

ISC_Iraq_reportAt the time it was repor­ted that Blair and Camp­bell had spon­tan­eously dis­trib­uted this report to journ­al­ists trav­el­ling with them on a tour of the Far East.   The ISC con­firmed that the intel­li­gence had been passed to journ­al­ists without the per­mis­sion of MI6 in its Septem­ber 2003 spe­cial report — “Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion: Intel­li­gence and Assess­ments” (see pars 131 to 134):

“The doc­u­ment was ori­gin­ally given to a num­ber of journ­al­ists over the week­end of
1 and 2 Feb­ru­ary and then placed in the Lib­rary of the House on 3 Feb­ru­ary. The Prime
Min­is­ter described the doc­u­ment as follows:

“We issued fur­ther intel­li­gence over the week­end about the infra­struc­ture of
con­ceal­ment. It is obvi­ously dif­fi­cult when we pub­lish intel­li­gence reports, but I hope
that people have some sense of the integ­rity of our secur­ity ser­vices. They are not
pub­lish­ing this, or giv­ing us this inform­a­tion, and mak­ing it up. It is the intel­li­gence
that they are receiv­ing, and we are passing on to people. In the dossier that we
pub­lished last year, and again in the mater­ial that we put out over the week­end, it is
very clear that a vast amount of con­ceal­ment and decep­tion is going on.”

“Con­clu­sions:

“The Com­mit­tee took evid­ence on this mat­ter from the Chief of the SIS on both
12 Feb­ru­ary and 17 July and sep­ar­ately from Alastair Camp­bell on 17 July. Both agreed
that mak­ing the doc­u­ment pub­lic without con­sult­ing the SIS or the JIC Chair­man was
a “cock-up”. Alastair Camp­bell con­firmed that, once he became aware that the
proven­ance of the doc­u­ment was being ques­tioned because of the inclu­sion of
Dr Al-Marashi’s work without attri­bu­tion, he tele­phoned both the Chief of the SIS and
the JIC Chair­man to apologise.

“We con­clude that the Prime Min­is­ter was cor­rect to describe the doc­u­ment as
con­tain­ing “fur­ther intel­li­gence… about the infra­struc­ture of con­ceal­ment.… It is the
intel­li­gence that they [the Agen­cies] are receiv­ing, and we are passing on to people.”

“How­ever, as we pre­vi­ously con­cluded, it was a mis­take not to con­sult the
Agen­cies before their mater­ial was put in the pub­lic domain. In evid­ence to us the
Prime Min­is­ter agreed. We have repor­ted the assur­ance that we have been given
that in future the JIC Chair­man will check all intelligence-derived mater­ial on
behalf of the intel­li­gence com­munity prior to publication.”

Iraq_supergunCru­cially, Blair and Camp­bell had jumped the (old Iraqi super-) gun by issu­ing this inform­a­tion, but Camp­bell seems to have got away with it by describ­ing such a breach of the OSA as a “cock-up”.  Or per­haps just another pre­cip­it­ous “rush of blood to the head” on his part, as recently described in the long-suppressed testi­mony of SIS2 revealed around the Chil­cot Enquiry and repor­ted in The Guard­ian:

“Papers released by the Chil­cot inquiry into the war show that an MI6 officer, iden­ti­fied only as SIS2, had reg­u­lar con­tacts with Camp­bell: “We found Alastair Camp­bell, I think, an enthu­si­astic indi­vidual, but also some­what of an unguided mis­sile.” He added: “We also, I think, suffered from his propensity to have rushes of blood to the head and pass vari­ous stor­ies and inform­a­tion to journ­al­ists without appro­pri­ate prior con­sulta­tion” (my emphasis).

So why do I sug­gest that Camp­bell could be liable for pro­sec­u­tion?  It appears that he was a “noti­fied per­son” for the pur­poses of Sec­tion 1(1) of the OSA.  While not employed by the intel­li­gence agen­cies, noti­fied per­sons have reg­u­lar access to intel­li­gence mater­ial and are sub­jec­ted to the highest clear­ance — developed vet­ting — in the same way as the full-time spooks.  As such, they are also bound by the law against dis­clos­ure of such mater­ial without the prior writ­ten per­mis­sion of the head of the agency whose intel­li­gence they want to dis­sem­in­ate.  There is no room for manœuvre, no dam­age assess­ment, and no pub­lic interest defence.  The law is clear. 

And a report in today’s Tele­graph about Andy Coulson and the phone-hacking scan­dal seems to show clearly that Camp­bell was just such a noti­fied person:

“Unlike Alastair Camp­bell and other pre­vi­ous hold­ers of the Down­ing Street com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ector role, Mr Coulson was not cleared to see secret intel­li­gence reports and so was spared the most detailed scru­tiny of his back­ground and per­sonal life.….

“The only people who will be sub­ject to developed vet­ting are those who are work­ing in secur­ity mat­ters reg­u­larly and would need to have that sort of information.

“The only spe­cial advisers that would have developed vet­ting would be in the For­eign Office, Min­istry of Defence and maybe the Home Office. Andy Coulson’s role was dif­fer­ent to Alastair Campbell’s and Jonathan Powell.

“Alastair Camp­bell could instruct civil ser­vants. This is why [Coulson] wasn’t neces­sar­ily cleared. Given [the nature of] Andy Coulson’s role as more stra­tegic he wouldn’t have neces­sar­ily have been sub­ject to developed vetting.”

So it would appear that Alastair Camp­bell is bang to rights for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act under Sec­tion 1(1).  He released new, unas­sessed and uncleared MI6 intel­li­gence within the dodgy dossier.  This is not just some tech­nical  infrac­tion of the law — although even if it were, he would still have a case to answer.

EMBNo, this report led inex­or­ably to our coun­try going to war against Iraq, shoulder to shoulder with the US, and the res­ult­ing deaths, maim­ings, pois­on­ings and dis­place­ment of mil­lions of inno­cent Iraqi people.  It has also dir­ectly increased the ter­ror­ist threat to the UK, as Tony Blair was offi­cially warned pre-Iraq war by the then-head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller.  With the dodgy dossier, Camp­bell has dir­ectly harmed count­less lives and our national security.

Of course, many of us might fan­tas­ise about war­mon­gers get­ting their just deserts in The Hague.  But per­haps the OSA could prove to be Al Campbell’s Al Capone–style tax eva­sion moment.

Now, what about The Right Hon­our­able Tony Blair?

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