The spies and Libya — time to dust off their conscience

As I’ve men­tioned before, the former heads of UK intel­li­gence agen­cies have a charm­ing habit of speak­ing out in sup­port of the rule of law, civil liber­ties, pro­por­tion­al­ity and plain com­mon sense — but usu­ally only after they have retired. 

Per­haps at their leav­ing parties their con­sciences are extrac­ted from the secur­ity safe, dus­ted off and giv­en back  — along with the gold watch?

DearloveEven then, post-retire­ment, they might try to thrice-deny poten­tially world-chan­ging inform­a­tion, as Sir Richard Dear­love did when ques­tioned by the fear­less and fear­somely bright Silkie Carlo about the leaked Down­ing Street Memo at his recent speech at the Cam­bridge Uni­on.  (The links are in two parts, as the film had to be mirrored on You­tube — Dear­love claimed copy­right on the orgin­al Love Police film and had it taken down.)

And “out of con­text”, my left foot — he could poten­tially have saved mil­lions of lives in the Middle East if he’d gone pub­lic with his con­sidered pro­fes­sion­al opin­ion about the intel­li­gence facts being fit­ted around a pre­con­ceived war policy in the run-up to the inva­sion of Iraq.

Would­n’t it be lovely if these esteemed ser­vants of the state, replete with respect, status and hon­ours, could actu­ally take a stand while they are still in a pos­i­tion to influ­ence world events?

Eliza_Manningham_BullerMy former boss, Bar­on­ess Eliza Man­ning­ham-Buller, has been unusu­ally voci­fer­ous since her retire­ment in 2007 and elev­a­tion to the peer­age.  She used her maid­en speech to the House of Lords to object to the pro­posed plans to increase police deten­tion of ter­ror­ist sus­pects without charge from 28 to 42 days; she recently sug­ges­ted that the “war on ter­ror” is unwinnable and that we should, if pos­sible, nego­ti­ate with “Al Qaeda” (well, it worked with the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA); and that the “war on drugs” had been lost and the UK should treat recre­ation­al drug use as a health rather than a crim­in­al issue. She steals all my best lines.…

But cred­it where cred­it is due.  Des­pite the fact that she used the full power of the Brit­ish state to pur­sue ter­ror­ist sus­pects up until 2007 and invest­ig­ate drug bar­ons in the 1990s, she did appar­ently try to make a stand while en poste in the run-up to the Iraq War.  Last year she gave evid­ence to the Chil­cot Enquiry, stat­ing that she had offi­cially briefed the gov­ern­ment that an inva­sion of Iraq would increase the ter­ror­ist threat to the UK.

So it’s obvi­ous that once a UK Prime Min­is­ter has come over all Churchil­lian he tends to ignore the coun­sel of his chief spooks, as we’ve seen with both the Down­ing Street Memo the Chil­cot Enquiry. 

With that in mind, I’ve read with interest the recent press reports that the UK author­it­ies appar­ently knew about Col­on­el Gad­dafi retain­ing stock­piles of mus­tard gas and sar­in (des­pite the fact that the world was assured in 2004 that it was his renun­ci­ation of WMDs that allowed him back into the inter­na­tion­al dip­lo­mat­ic fold) . 

So the key ques­tion is surely: is this anoth­er erro­neous45 minutes from attack” moment, with Gad­dafi’s alleged stock­piles of WMD a per­fect scare­mon­ger­ing pre­text to push for a full-on régime change in Libya; or is this genu­ine, and we were all lied to about Gad­dafi’s destruc­tion of his WMD stock­piles for eco­nom­ic advant­age and fat, juicy oil con­tracts?

The Wall Street Journ­al recently ran an art­icle quot­ing the con­cern of “gov­ern­ment insiders” about Gad­dafi’s poten­tial future ter­ror­ism threat against the West, up to and includ­ing WMDs, should he cling on to power.  Well, yes, it would hardly be sur­pris­ing if he were now to be as mad as a wasp with his ex-new best bud­dies.  Des­pite the sor­did rap­proche­ment in the last dec­ade, he has been for much of his life an invet­er­ate enemy of the West and spon­sor of world­wide ter­ror­ism.

Rather than wait­ing for his “K” and his retire­ment, would it not be won­der­ful if the cur­rent head of MI5, Jonath­an Evans, could extract his con­science from that dusty secur­ity safe and make a use­ful and informed state­ment to shed some light on the mess that the Liby­an war is rap­idly becom­ing?  He could poten­tially change the course of world his­tory and save untold lives.

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