Following on from the article former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, and I co-authored last month about the possible “fixing” of intelligence around Iran, here is a subsequent interview we did for The Real News Network:
By: Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and Annie Machon, former MI5 intelligence officer
Recent remarks by the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, leave us wondering if the Secret Intelligence Service is preparing to “fix” intelligence on Iran, as his immediate predecessor, Sir John Scarlett, did on Iraq.
Scarlett’s pre-Iraq war role in creating “dodgy dossiers” hyping the threat of non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” is well known. As for Sawers, the red warning light for politicization blinked brightly on July 4, as he told British senior civil servants that Iran is “two years away” from becoming a “nuclear weapons state.” How did Sawers come up with “two years?”
Since late 2007, the benchmark for weighing Iran’s nuclear program has been the unanimous assessment by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and that, as of mid-2007, had not restarted it. Those judgments have been revalidated every year since — despite strong pressure to bow to more ominous — but evidence-light — assessments by Israel and its neo-conservative supporters.
Intelligence Can Make a Difference
The 2007 the US National Intelligence Estimate helped to thwart plans to attack Iran in 2008, the last year of the Bush/Cheney administration. This shines through in George Bush’s own memoir, Decision Points, in which he rues the NIE’s “eye-popping declaration: ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’”
Bush continues, “But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” (Decision Points, p. 419)
Hands tied on the military side, US covert operations flowered, with $400 million appropriated at that same time for a major escalation of the dark-side struggle against Iran, according to military, intelligence, and congressional sources cited by Seymour Hersh in 2008. This clandestine but all-too-real war on Iran has included attacks with computer viruses, the murders of Iranian scientists, and what the Israelis call the “unnatural” demise of senior officials like Revolutionary Guards Major General Hassan Moghaddam father of Iran’s missile program.
Moghaddam was killed in a large explosion last November, with Time magazine citing a “western intelligence source” as saying the Israel’s Mossad was behind the blast. More threatening still to Iran are the severe economic sanctions, which are tantamount to an act of war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel neo-conservatives in the U.S. and elsewhere have been pushing hard for an attack on Iran, seizing every pretext they can find. Netanyahu was suspiciously fast off the blocks, for example, in claiming that Iran was behind the tragic terrorist bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on July 18, despite Bulgarian authorities and even the White House warning that it is too early to attribute responsibility.
Netanyahu’s instant indictment of Iran strongly suggests he is looking for excuses to up the ante. With the Persian Gulf looking like an accident waiting to happen, stocked as it is with warships from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere — and with no fail-safe way of communicating with Iranian naval commanders — an escalation-generating accident or provocation is now more likely than ever.
July 23: Marking a Day of Infamy
Oddly, Sawers’s speech of July 4 came just as an important date approached — the tenth anniversary of a sad day for British intelligence on Iraq. On July 23, 2002 at a meeting at 10 Downing Street, then-MI6 head, John Dearlove, briefed Tony Blair and other senior officials on his talks with his American counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet, in Washington three days before.
In the official minutes of that briefing (now known as the Downing Street Memo), which were leaked to the London Times and published on May 1, 2005, Dearlove explains that George Bush has decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.” While then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dearlove explains matter-of-factly, “The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”
There is no sign in the minutes that anyone hiccupped — much less demurred — at making a case for war and furthering Blair’s determination to join Bush in launching the kind of “war of aggression” outlawed by the post-world war Nuremberg Tribunal and the UN treaty.
Helped by the acquiescence of their chief spies, the Blair government mainlined into the body politic un-assessed, raw intelligence and forged documents, with disastrous consequences for the world.
UK citizens were spoon-fed fake intelligence in the September Dossier (2002) and then, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy Dossier”, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Internet — all presented by spy and politician alike as ominous premonitory intelligence.
So was made the case for war. All lies, resulting in hundreds of thousands dead and maimed and millions of Iraqis displaced — yet no one held to account.
Sir Richard Dearlove, who might have prevented this had he had the integrity to speak out, was allowed to retire with full honours and became the Master of a Cambridge college. John Scarlett, who as chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee signed off the fraudulent dossiers, was rewarded with the top spy job at MI6 and a knighthood. George W. Bush gave George Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award.
What need have we for further proof? “So are they all, all honourable men” — reminiscent of those standing with Brutus in Shakespeare’s play, but with no Mark Anthony to expose them and stir the appropriate popular reaction.
Therein lies the problem: instead of being held accountable, these “honourable men” were, well, honoured. Their soft landings offer a noxious object lesson for ambitious bureaucrats who are ready to play fast and loose with the truth and trim their sails to the prevailing winds.
Ill-got honours offer neither deterrent nor disincentive to current and future intelligence chiefs tempted to follow suit and corrupt intelligence rather than challenge their political leaders with hard, un-“fixed” facts. Integrity? In this milieu integrity brings knowing smirks rather than honours. And it can get you kicked out of the club.
Fixing Intelligence on Iran
Are we in for another round of “fixing” — this time on Iran? We may know soon. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, citing the terrorist attack in Bulgaria, has already provided what amounts to a variation on Dearlove’s ten-year old theme regarding how war can be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”
According to the Jerusalem Post on July 17, Netanyahu said that all countries that understand that Iran is an exporter of world terror must join Israel in “stating that fact clearly,” in order to emphasize the importance of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Appearing yesterday on Fox News Sunday and CBS’s Face the Nation, Netanyahu returned to that theme. Putting the blame for the terrorist attack in Bulgaria squarely on Iran (and Hezbollah), Netanyahu warned of the increased dangers that would accrue if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. “What would be the consequences if the most dangerous régime in the world got the world’s most dangerous weapons?”.
Will MI6 chief Sawers model his conduct on that of his predecessors who “justified” war on Iraq? Will he “fix” intelligence around U.K./U.S./Israeli policy on Iran? Parliamentary overseers should demand a briefing from Sawers forthwith, before erstwhile bulldog Britain is again dragged like a poodle into another unnecessary war.
Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer in the UK’s MI5 Security Service and Ray McGovern is a fomer U.S Army Intelligence Officer and CIA analyst.
I have always been ideologically opposed to war and all the horrors that flow in its wake: agonising fear and death, famine, displacement, maiming, torture, rape, internment and the breakdown of all the hard-won values of civilised human law and behaviour.
Looking back, I think that was partly why I was attracted to work in diplomacy and how I ended up being enticed into intelligence. These worlds, although by no means perfect, could conceivably be seen as the last-ditch defences before a country goes bellowing into all-out war.
I marched against the Iraq war, toured the UK to speak at Stop the War meetings, worked with Make Wars History, and have ceaselessly spoken out and written about these and related issues.
Today in the UK we have reached a consensus that Blair’s government lied to the country into the Iraq war on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction, and subsequently enabled the Bush administration to do the same in the USA, hyping up the threat of a nuclear Iraq using false intelligence provided by MI6.
Millions of people marched then, and millions of people continue to protest against the ongoing engorgement of the military/intelligence complex, but nothing ever seems to change. It’s democratically disempowering and an enervating experience. What can we do about it?
I have a couple of suggestions (The New Stuff), but first let’s look at some of the most egregious current fake realities.
Last year we had the spectacle of the current No 10 incumbent, Dave Cameron, stating that the Libyan intervention would be nothing like Iraq — it would be “necessary, legal and right”. But there was no subsequent joined-up thinking, and Blair and his cronies have still not been held to account for the Iraq genocide, despite prima facie breaches of international war law and of the Official Secrets Act.…
But help might be at hand for those interested in justice, courtesy of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader, MI6 kidnapping and torture victim, and current military commander in Tripoli.
After NATO’s humanitarian bombing of Libya last year and the fall of Gaddafi’s régime, some seriously embarrassing paperwork was found in the abandoned office of Libyan Foreign Minister and former spy head honcho, Musa Kusa (who fled to the UK and subsequently on to Qatar).
These letters, sent in 2004 by former MI6 Head of Terrorism and current BP consultant, Sir Mark Allen, gloatingly offer up the hapless Belhaj to the Libyans for torture. It almost seems like MI6 wanted a gold star from their new bestest friends.
Belhaj, understandably, is still slightly peeved about this and is now suing MI6. As a result, a frantic damage-limitation exercise is going on, with MI6 trying to buy his silence with a million quid, and scattering unattributed quotes across the British media: “it wasn’t us, gov, it was the, er, government.…”.
Which drops either (or both) Tony Blair and Jack Straw eyebrow-deep in the stinking cesspit. One or other of them should have signed off on Belhaj’s kidnapping, knowing he would be tortured in Tripoli. Or perhaps they actually are innocent of this.…. but if they didn’t sign off on the Belhaj extraordinary kidnapping, then MI6 was running rampant, working outside the law on their watch.
Either way, there are serious questions to be answered.
Both these upstanding politicians are, of course, suffering from political amnesia about this case. In fact, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary at the time of the kidnapping, has said that he cannot have been expected to know everything the spies got up to — even though that was precisely his job, as he was responsible for them under the terms of the Intelligence Security Act 1994, and should certainly have had to clear an operation so politically sensitive.
In the wake of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, what worries me now is that exactly the same reasons, with politicians mouthing exactly the same platitudinous “truths”, are being pushed to justify an increasingly inevitable strike against Iran.
Depressing as this all is, I would suggest that protesting each new, individual war is not the necessarily the most effective response. Just as the world’s markets have been globalised, so manifestly to the benefit of all we 99%-ers, have many other issues.
Unlike Dave Cameron, we need to apply some joined-up thinking. Global protest groups need to counter more than individual wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Sudan (North and South), Syria, Iran.….. sorry, I’m getting writer’s cramp just enumerating all the current wars.
Give me a while to overcome my moral spasm, and I shall return with a few suggestions about possible ways forward — 21st Century Pacifism; the New Stuff.
In January and February 2009 Chris Coverdale toured the UK speaking at Make Wars History meetings. I had the pleasure of introducing him at a number of events. The first date of the tour was in Liverpool:
The UK Intelligence Community: Ineffective, Unethical and Unaccountable
The USA and the UK are enmeshed in an apparently unending war of attrition – sorry peacekeeping — in Iraq. Why? Well, we may remember that the UK was assured by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, in sincere terms, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction which could be deployed again British interests within 45 minutes. Indeed the press was awash with “45 minutes from Armageddon” headlines on 18th March 2003, the day of the crucial war debate in the British parliament. The implication was that Britain was directly at threat from the evil Iraqis.
The US varied the diet. George Bush, in his State of the Union address before the war, assured his nation that Iraq had been attempting to buy material to make nuclear weapons from Niger. The American media and public fell for this claim, hook, line and sinker.
What do these two erroneous claims have in common? Well, both were “sexed up” for public consumption.
We all know now that there never were any WMDs to be found in Iraq. After 10 years of punitive sanctions, the country simply didn’t have the capability, even if it had the will, to develop them. The Niger claim is even more tenuous. This was based on an intelligence report emanating from the British Secret Intelligence Service (commonly know as SIS or MI6), which was based on forgeries.
We have had headline after screaming headline stating that yet another terrorist cell has been rounded up in Britain. The Ricin plot? The beheading of a British Muslim serviceman? The liquid bombs on airplanes? Yet, if one reads the newspapers carefully, one finds that charges are dropped quietly after a few months.
So, why is this happening? I can hazard a few guesses. In the 1990s I worked for 6 years as an intelligence officer for MI5, investigating political “subversives”, Irish terrorists, and Middle Eastern terrorism. In late 1996 I, with my then partner and colleague David Shayler, left the service in disgust at the incompetent and corrupt culture to blow the whistle on the UK intelligence establishment. This was not a case of sour grapes – we were both competent officers who regularly received performance related bonuses.
However, we had grown increasingly concerned about breaches of the law; ineptitude (which led to bombs going off that could and should have been prevented); files on politicians; the jailing of innocent people; illegal phone taps; and the illegal sponsoring of terrorism abroad, funded by UK tax-payers.
The key reason that we left and went public is probably one of the most heinous crimes – SIS funded an Islamic extremist group in Libya to try to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi in 1996. The attack failed, but killed innocent people. The attack was also illegal under British law. The 1994 intelligence Services Act, which put SIS on a legal footing for the first time in its 80 year history, stated that its officers were immune from prosecution in the UK for illegal acts committed abroad, if they had the prior written permission of its political master – ie the Foreign Secretary. In this case they did not.
So, the assassination attempt was not only immoral, unethical and highly reckless in a volatile area of the world, but also illegal under British law.
In August 1997 we went public in a national British newspaper about our concerns. We hoped that the newly-elected Labour government would take our evidence and begin an investigation of the intelligence agencies. After all, many Labour MPs had been on the receiving end of spook investigations in their radical youth. Many had also opposed the draconian UK law, the Official Secrets Act (OSA 1989), which deprived an intelligence whistleblower of a public interest defence.
However, it was not to be. I have no proof, but I can speculate that the Labour government did the spies’ bidding for fear of what might be on their MI5 files. They issued an injunction against David and the national press. They failed to extradite him from France in 1998 but, when he returned voluntarily to face trail in the UK in 2000, they lynched him in the media. They also ensured that, through a series of pre-trial legal hearings, he was not allowed to say anything in his own defence and was not able to freely question his accusers. Indeed the judge ordered the jury to convict.
The whole sorry saga of the Shayler affair shows in detail how the British establishment will always shoot the messenger to protect its own interests. If the British government had taken Shayler’s evidence, investigated his disclosures, and reformed the services so that they were subject to effective oversight and had to obey the law, they may well be working more efficiently to protect us from threats to our national’s security. After all, the focus of their work is now counter-terrorism, and they use the same resources and techniques as the police. Why should they not be subject to the same checks and balances?
Instead, MI5 and SIS continue to operate outside meaningful democratic control. Their cultures are self-perpetuating oligarchies, where mistakes are glossed over and repeated, and where questions and independent thought are discouraged. We deserve better.
My article in AltVoices.org, June 2007:
THE OFFICIAL SILENCING ACT
Last month the UK’s draconian secrecy laws were again used to criminalise two honourable whistleblowers. The UK’s supine mainstream media failed both to question the validity of these convictions and to hold the government to account.
by Annie Machon
On May 9 David Keogh, a 50-year-old communications officer in the Cabinet Office, and Leo O’Connor, 44, a researcher for an anti-war Labour MP, were convicted of breaching the Official Secrets Act (1989).
Keogh’s crime was to have leaked an “extremely sensitive” memo to O’Connor, detailing a conversation about Iraq between Tony Blair and George W. Bush in April 2004.
Keogh passed the document to O’Connor to give to his MP in the hope it would reach the public domain, expose Bush as a “madman”, and lead to questions in Parliament. The memo was deemed to be so secret that much of the trial was held in camera.
Keogh was found guilty of two breaches of the OSA, O’Connor of one, and they received sentences of six months and three months respectively.
This bald summary of the case was all that appeared in the mainstream UK media. No doubt many people will have taken this case at face value. After all, the UK should be able to protect its national security and impose tough legal sanctions for treachery, shouldn’t it?
Except that this was not treachery. Keogh and O’Connor were not passing the UK’s secrets to an enemy power. They acted from conscience to expose possible wrongdoing at the highest level.
The media should have use this trial to address the ongoing debate in the UK about the continual use and abuse of the OSA. Unfortunately for the British people, the media toed the official line and kept quiet.
The UK’s secrecy laws are a very British muddle. The first OSA was enacted in 1911 to prosecute traitors. This law remained in place until the 1980s, when the Thatcher government was rocked by the allegations of civil servant Clive Ponting about a cover-up over the attack on the Argentine ship the General Belgrano during the Falklands War.
During his trial, Ponting relied on the public interest defence available under the 1911 Act. He was acquitted, and the Conservative government immediately drew up a new law, the 1989 OSA. This new law was designed primarily to intimidate and silence whistleblowers. Treachery is still prosecuted under the 1911 Act.
The 1989 Act, opposed at the time by Tony Blair and most of the current Labour government, ensures that anyone who is or has been a member of the intelligence community faces two years in prison if they disclose information relating to their work without permission, regardless of whether they are blowing the whistle on criminal activity.
Since coming to power in 1997, Blair’s government has repeatedly used this Act to suppress legitimate dissent, silence political opposition and protect criminals within the intelligence establishment.
In 1997, MI6 whistleblower Richard Tomlinson had no option but to plead guilty during his trial, and was sentenced to six months in prison.
Around the same time MI5 whistleblower David Shayler disclosed the illegal 1995 MI6 plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, as well as a string of other crimes committed by MI5.
During his trial Shayler argued that, under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, legislation such as the OSA is only proportionate in suppressing a whistleblower’s right to speak out in order to protect “national security”.
However, his judges effectively ruled that this right should also be curtailed for “national interest” considerations. This nebulous concept, undefined for the purposes of the OSA, is routinely wheeled out to spare the blushes of politicians and incompetent spy agencies.
In 2002 Shayler did win from the courts the defence of “necessity”. However, the Law Lords specifically denied him this defence without hearing his evidence. Shayler was convicted in November 2002 of three breaches of the OSA and sentenced to six months in prison.
In 2003 the late Dr David Kelly would also have faced an OSA trial for his alleged comments about the government “sexing up” the notorious dodgy dossier before the war in Iraq.
The 1989 OSA does not just apply to those in and around the intelligence community. Other civil servants, as well as journalists who publish their disclosures, face the same prison sentence if the prosecution can prove “damage to national security”. Keogh and O’Connor were convicted under these provisions, although the prosecution reportedly relied only on the “national interest” argument.
The UK government is increasingly concerned about security leaks during the unending “war on terror”, and is now talking about doubling to four years the sentence for whistleblowing.
By failing to challenge this or to campaign for the restoration of the public interest defence, journalists are complicit in criminalising honourable people. The media’s craven attitude allows the government and intelligence agencies to continue literally to get away with murder.