Will MI6 “fix” intelligence on Iran?

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.

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?

Former head of MI6 says that fact and fiction get mixed up

Sir_john_Scarlett Former head of MI6, Sir John Scar­lett — he of the dodgy Septem­ber Dossier fame that led inex­or­ably to the UK’s inva­sion of Iraq in 2003 and the death, maim­ing, depleted-urani­um pois­on­ing and dis­place­ment of hun­dreds of thou­sands of people — has com­pla­cently stated dur­ing his recent talk at the Hay Lit­er­ary Fest­iv­al that:

One of the prob­lems of intel­li­gence work is that fact and fic­tion get very eas­ily mixed up.  A key les­son you have to learn very early on is you keep them sep­ar­ate.”

Well, no doubt many, many people might just wish he’d listened to his own advice way back in Septem­ber 2002.

Scar­lett is, of course, the seni­or UK spook who made the case for the Iraq war.  Here’s the link:  Down­load Iraq_WMD_Dossier

No doubt you will remem­ber the li(n)es: not only that Iraq’s non-exist­ent  “weapons of mass destruc­tion” could be launched with­in 45 minutes, but also that fake intel­li­gence doc­u­ments had per­suaded MI6 that Iraq was try­ing to buy urani­um from Niger , as Colin Pow­ell asser­ted dur­ing his per­suas­ive speech to the UN in 2003.

Scar­lett pub­licly took the rap and, by pro­tect­ing Tony Blair and Alastair Camp­bell, was rewar­ded with the top job at MI6 and the inev­it­able knight­hood.  No doubt a suit­able recog­ni­tion for his entirely hon­our­able beha­viour.

But it gets worse — now he has appar­ently landed a luc­rat­ive job as an advisor on the situ­ation in Iraq work­ing for Nor­we­gi­an oil mega-cor­por­a­tion, Statoil.

You couldn’t make it up…

… or per­haps you could if you’re a former top spy with an undeserved “K” and a luc­rat­ive oil con­tract who has dif­fi­culty sep­ar­at­ing fact from fic­tion.…..

 

The Age of Transparency?

Black_sheep_text?Well, this is an inter­est­ing case in the US.  Thomas Drake, a former seni­or exec­ut­ive at the Amer­ic­an Nation­al Secur­ity Agency (NSA), the US elec­tron­ic eaves­drop­ping organ­isa­tion, is being charged under the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act for allegedly dis­clos­ing clas­si­fied inform­a­tion to a journ­al­ist about, gasp, the mis­man­age­ment, fin­an­cial waste and dubi­ous leg­al prac­tices of the spy­ing organ­isa­tion.  These days it might actu­ally be more news­worthy if the oppos­ite were to be dis­closed.…

How­ever, under the terms of the Espi­on­age Act, this des­ig­nates him an enemy of the Amer­ic­an people on a par with bona fide trait­ors of the past who sold secrets to hos­tile powers dur­ing the Cold War.

It strikes me that someone who reports mal­prac­tice, mis­takes and under-per­form­ance on the part of his (secret­ive) employ­ers might pos­sibly be someone who still has the motiv­a­tion to try to make a dif­fer­ence, to do their best to pro­tect people and serve the genu­ine interests of the whole coun­try.  Should such people be pro­sec­uted or should they be pro­tec­ted with a leg­al chan­nel to dis­clos­ure? 

Thomas Drake does not sound like a spy who should be pro­sec­uted for espi­on­age under the USA’s anti­quated act, he sounds on the avail­able inform­a­tion like a whis­tleblower, pure and simple.  But that won’t neces­sar­ily save him leg­ally, and he is appar­ently facing dec­ades in pris­on.  Pres­id­ent Obama, who made such a song and dance about trans­par­ency and account­ab­il­ity dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign, has an even more egre­gious track record than pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents for hunt­ing down whis­tleblowers — the new “insider threat”.

This, of course, chimes with the Brit­ish exper­i­ence.  So-called left-of-centre polit­ic­al can­did­ates get elec­ted on a plat­form of trans­par­ency, free­dom of inform­a­tion, and an eth­ic­al for­eign policy (think Blair as well as Obama), and promptly renege on all their cam­paign prom­ises once they grab the top job. 

In fact, I would sug­gest that the more pro­fessedly “lib­er­al” the  gov­ern­ment, the more it feels empowered to shred civil liber­ties.  If a right-wing gov­ern­ment were to attack basic demo­crat­ic freedoms in such a way, the offi­cial oppos­i­tion (Democrats/Labour Party/whatever) would be obliged to make a show of oppos­ing the meas­ures to keep their core voters sweet.  Once they’re in power, of course, they can do what they want.

One stark example of this occured dur­ing the passing of the Brit­ish Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) which, as I’ve writ­ten before, was spe­cific­ally designed to gag whis­tleblowers and pen­al­ise journ­al­ists.  The old OSA (1911) was already in place to deal with real trait­ors.

And who voted against the passing of this act in 1989?  Yes, you’ve guessed it, all those who then went on to become Labour gov­ern­ment min­is­ters after the 1997 Labour elec­tion land­slide — Tony Blair, Jack Straw, the late Robin Cook and a scrum of oth­er rather for­get­table min­is­ters and Attor­ney Gen­er­als.….  And yet it was this very New Labour gov­ern­ment in the UK that most often used the OSA to halt the free-flow of inform­a­tion and the dis­clos­ures of informed whis­tleblowers.  Obama has indeed learnt well.

It’s an oldie but still a good­ie: as one of my law­yers once wryly told me, it doesn’t mat­ter whom you vote for, the gov­ern­ment still gets in.….

Libya: my enemy’s enemy is my friend, until he becomes my enemy again…

UK Prime Min­is­ter, Dav­id Camer­on, reportedly made the start­ling state­ment recently that the mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion in Libya “unlike Iraq, is neces­sary, leg­al and right”. 

Blair_takes_the_oathWould it not be won­der­ful if he could take the next logic­al step towards joined-up think­ing and con­sider send­ing our esteemed Middle East Peace Envoy, a cer­tain Mr T Blair, over for a spot of por­ridge at the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Court in The Hag­ue?  After all, Camer­on has now clearly implied that the Iraq war was “unne­ces­sary, illeg­al and wrong”.….

But back to Libya.  With the ongo­ing crisis — now war — much is being writ­ten about how the pre­vi­ous UK gov­ern­ment col­lab­or­ated with the Gad­dafi régime in the last dec­ade — while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coali­tion gov­ern­ment where, no doubt, sim­il­ar levels of coöper­a­tion and back-slap­ping and money-grub­bing were going on at the highest levels to ensure the con­tinu­ing flow of oil con­tracts to the UK.

But, yes, we should be dis­sect­ing the Labour/Gaddafi power bal­ance.  Gad­dafi had New Labour over the pro­ver­bi­al (oil) bar­rel from the late 1990s, when MI5 whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler exposed the failed and illeg­al MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Col­on­el Gad­dafi, using as fall-guys a rag-tag group of Islam­ic extrem­ists.  The newly-elec­ted Labour government’s knee-jerk response at the time was to believe the spook’s deni­als and cov­er-up for them.  Per­haps not so sur­pris­ing, as the gov­ern­ment min­is­ters of the day were uncom­fort­ably aware that the spies held files on them.  But this craven response did leave the gov­ern­ment pos­i­tion exposed, as Gad­dafi well knew.

MoS_G_Plot-credible_1997The CIA was fully cog­nis­ant of this failed plot at the time, as were the French intel­li­gence ser­vices.  The Gad­dafi Plot is once again being ref­er­enced in the media, includ­ing the Tele­graph, and a recent edi­tion of the Huff­ing­ton Post.  The details are still rel­ev­ant, as it appears that our enter­pris­ing spooks are yet again reach­ing out to a rag-tag group of rebels — primar­ily Islam­ists and the Senussi roy­al­ists based around Benghazi. 

The les­sons of the reck­less and ill-thought out Gad­dafi Plot were brushed under the car­pet, so his­tory may yet again be doomed to repeat itself.  Yes, Gad­dafi has been one of the biggest back­ers of ter­ror­ism ever, and yes he has bru­tal­ised parts of his own pop­u­la­tion, but if he were deposed how can the West be sure that those step­ping into the power vacu­um would not be even more dan­ger­ous?

Musa_Kousa_Hillary_Clinton_NY_2010The Liby­an gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to use the 1996 MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot as lever­age in its nego­ti­ations with the New Labour gov­ern­ment right up until (pub­licly at least) 2009.  Musa Kousa, the cur­rent For­eign Min­is­ter, played a key role through­out.  For many years Kousa was the head of the Liby­an Extern­al Secur­ity Organsi­ation and was widely seen as the chief archi­tect of inter­na­tion­al Liby­an-backed ter­ror­ism against the USA, the UK and France. 

Anoth­er appar­ent example of this mor­al black­mail caught my eye recently — this report in the Daily Mail.  Saif al-Islam Gad­dafi was afforded MI6-backed pro­tec­tion when he was finally allowed into the UK in Septem­ber 2002 to study at the LSE

The tim­ing was par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, as only months earli­er Saif had won a libel case against the UK’s Sunday Tele­graph news­pa­per.  A grov­el­ling apo­logy was made by the news­pa­per, but Saif refrained from ask­ing for “exem­plary dam­ages” — which he would almost cer­tainly have won.  The res­ult­ing pay-off for this restraint appears to be that a mere five months later he was wel­comed into the UK with MI6-facil­it­ated pro­tec­tion.

Saif’s rela­tions with the UK had not always been so rosy. As back­ground to this case, in 1995 the Sunday Tele­graph had fallen hook, line and sinker for a MI6 clas­sic pro­pa­ganda oper­a­tion.  As The Guard­i­an repor­ted, the secret­ive MI6 media manip­u­la­tion sec­tion, Inform­a­tion Oper­a­tions, (I/Ops), had suc­cess­fully spun a fake story to hap­less spook hack, Con Cough­lin, that Gad­dafi Juni­or was involved in cur­rency fraud.  This story was fake, but the paper trail it pro­duced was used by the spies as a pre­text to pre­vent Saif from enter­ing the UK at the time. 

Saif_Prince_AndrewBy 2002 this was all old his­tory, of course.  Saif was wel­comed to the UK, offi­cially to study for his MA and PhD at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics (and show­ing his grat­it­ude to that august insti­tu­tion with a hefty dona­tion of £1.5 mil­lion — it makes the new tuition fees for UK stu­dents seem bet­ter value for money), and unof­fi­cially to chum up to vari­ous Estab­lish­ment ena­blers to end Libya’s pari­ah status, open up luc­rat­ive trade chan­nels, and get the SAS to train up Libya’s spe­cial forces

The UK mil­it­ary must be just lov­ing that now.….

So I get the feel­ing that the UK gov­ern­ment has over the last dec­ade indeed “danced with the dev­il”.  After dec­ades of view­ing Libya and Col­on­el Gad­dafi as a Pri­or­ity One JIC intel­li­gence tar­get, the UK gov­ern­ment fell over itself to appease the Gad­dafi régime in the wake of the bungled assas­sin­a­tion attempt in 1996 and the libelling of his son.  These were the sticks Gad­dafi used; the car­rots were undoubtedly the Saif/MI6-facil­it­ated oil con­tracts

Of course, all this is now pretty much a moot point, fol­low­ing Dave Cameron’s “neces­sary, leg­al and right” mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion.  If the wily old Col­on­el man­ages to hang on grimly to some semblence of power (and he has an impress­ive track-record of sur­viv­ing against the odds), then I doubt if he’ll be happy to coöper­ate with Brit­ish oil com­pan­ies in the future.  At the very least. 

Gad­dafi has already threatened “ven­geance” against the West, and it was repor­ted today that MI5 is tak­ing this all-too-pre­d­it­able risk ser­i­ously.

If Gad­dafi is deposed, who can real­ist­ic­ally pre­dict the inten­tions and cap­ab­il­it­ies of those who will fill the power vacu­um?  We should have learnt from Afgh­anistan and Iraq: my enemy’s enemy is my friend — until he becomes my enemy again.….

 

Poor Bloody Infantry

There is an ongo­ing cam­paign to save Bletch­ley Park for the nation, in the teeth of gov­ern­ment oppos­i­tion. As his­tor­ic Brit­ish monu­ments go, the ques­tion of wheth­er to pre­serve it for pos­ter­ity should be a no-brain­er. Bletch­ley is not only where Hitler’s Enigma code machine was decryp­ted, along with many oth­er sys­tems, which argu­ably gave the Allies the intel­li­gence advant­age that led to vic­tory in World War 2, it is also where the first digit­al elec­tron­ic com­puters, code­named Colos­sus, were oper­ated. Two land­mark events of the 20th cen­tury.

Recently The Times repor­ted on this cam­paign. The art­icle also the dwells at some length on how long Bletchley’s secrets were kept by the 10,000 people who worked there dur­ing the war. Although this inform­a­tion was declas­si­fied after 30 years, the habit of secrecy was so deeply ingrained that many former employ­ees nev­er breathed a word. The art­icle laments the passing of this habit of dis­cre­tion from Brit­ish life, stat­ing that politi­cians and seni­or intel­li­gence officers now appear to view the pos­ses­sion of insider know­ledge as a good pen­sion fund when they come to write their mem­oirs.

Over the last dec­ade we have see a myri­ad of books emer­ging for the upper ech­el­ons of gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence in the UK: Alastair Camp­bell, Robin Cook, Wash­ing­ton Ambas­sad­or Sir Chris­toph­er Mey­er, ex-MI5 chief Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton. Even Tony Blair has appar­ently signed a sev­en fig­ure deal for his mem­oirs.

All these books have a num­ber of char­ac­ter­ist­ics in com­mon: they are lengthy, but say little of rel­ev­ance about the burn­ing issues of the day; they appear to have been writ­ten for profit and not in the pub­lic interest; and not one of these writers has ever even been arres­ted under the Offi­cial Secrets Act, even when there is clear prima facie evid­ence of a breach.

Yet these dili­gent authors are the very people who are the first to use the OSA to stifle legit­im­ate dis­clos­ure of crime, cor­rup­tion and incom­pet­ence in the highest levels of gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence by real whis­tleblowers, who risk their careers and their free­dom. The hypo­crisy is breath­tak­ing.

But was the old-fash­ioned, blanket dis­cre­tion, vaunted by The Times, really such a good thing? The code of “loose talk costs lives” may have made sense dur­ing the Second World War, when this nation was fight­ing for its life. The work at Bletch­ley was mani­festly a suc­cess, obvi­at­ing any need to blow the whistle. But who can tell how these pat­ri­ot­ic men and women would have reacted had they wit­nessed crimes or incom­pet­ence that dam­aged our nation’s secur­ity, led to the deaths of our sol­diers, or even pos­sible defeat?

Also, was the 30-year non-dis­clos­ure rule around the work of Bletch­ley really neces­sary? After all, the war had been won, so how could dis­clos­ure bene­fit the enemy? This unthink­ing applic­a­tion of the stand­ard rules cost the UK dearly. In fact, it would be accur­ate to say that it severely dam­aged the UK’s eco­nom­ic well­being – some­thing the OSA is sup­posed to pro­tect.

In 1943 the Brit­ish were the world lead­ers in digit­al elec­tron­ic com­put­ing. The dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act pre­cluded the devel­op­ment and com­mer­cial use of this know­ledge in Bri­tain after the war. In fact, mind­bog­glingly, the Colos­sus com­puters were dis­mantled and the research des­troyed.

There were no sim­il­ar pro­vi­sions affect­ing the Amer­ic­an cryp­to­graph­ers who had been sta­tioned at Bletch­ley. Con­sequently, after the war they enthu­si­ast­ic­ally applied Brit­ish research and tech­no­logy to devel­op the US com­puter research pro­gramme and even­tu­ally the mar­ket, pav­ing the way to the suc­cess of Sil­ic­on Val­ley and the dom­in­a­tion of the world’s IT mar­kets for dec­ades. What price the famed Brit­ish stiff upper lip and dis­cre­tion then?

Of course, there need to be leg­al pro­vi­sions to pro­tect real secrets that could affect Britain’s nation­al secur­ity. How­ever, this should be pro­por­tion­ate and bal­anced, and should not pre­vent the devel­op­ment of new research and tech­no­lo­gies, the expos­ure in the pub­lic interest of crime, and cer­tainly not the fact our coun­try was taken into war on the basis of lies.

Real­ist­ic­ally, how­ever, in the age of the inter­net such leg­al pro­vi­sions are increas­ingly mean­ing­less. Des­pite this, more and more coun­tries appear to be adopt­ing Britain’s mod­el of anti­quated and dra­coni­an secrecy legis­la­tion.

We live in a coun­try that crim­in­al­ises any dis­clos­ure of sens­it­ive inform­a­tion – unless it comes in the form of mem­oirs from seni­or politi­cians, White­hall offi­cials or spooks of course. As always, there is one rule for the gen­er­als and one for the poor bloody infantry.

For the good of our coun­try, we need to rethink this legis­la­tion.

Save Our Free Speech

The Guard­i­an today repor­ted that the United Nations Com­mit­tee on Human Rights had issued a damning indict­ment of the Brit­ish government’s use of legis­la­tion to sup­press a right that is fun­da­ment­al to all func­tion­ing demo­cra­cies: free­dom of expres­sion.

This is not news to me. But it’s inter­est­ing that free­dom of expres­sion is now being cur­tailed in so many var­ied, inter­est­ing and ima­gin­at­ive ways: libel laws, ter­ror­ism laws and offi­cial secrecy. That’s quite an arsen­al.

Bri­tain is now infam­ous for being the “libel cap­it­al” of the world. Wealthy indi­vidu­als can use our courts to sup­press pub­lic­a­tion of crit­ic­al books and art­icles any­where in the world, if they can prove that the book has been sold in the UK – even if it’s just one, second-hand copy on Amazon. The magazine, Private Eye, has been com­ment­ing on this extens­ively over the last year.

Then, under the slew of new counter-ter­ror­ism legis­la­tion that the Labour gov­ern­ment has intro­duced since 2001, it is now an offence to say any­thing that might “encour­age” ter­ror­ism. That defin­i­tion is so broad that, say, you or I made an inno­cent com­ment about the Palestini­an or Iraqi situ­ation, and this could be mis­con­strued by anoth­er per­son as encour­aging them to viol­ence, this could be assessed sub­ject­ively as a crim­in­al offence by the pro­sec­ut­ing author­it­ies. This is third party thought-crime.

These sort of laws have a neg­at­ive impact on free speech, as pub­lish­ers, edit­ors and journ­al­ists begin to self-cen­sor rather than run informed risks for the pub­lic good.

But it’s the third area of law that res­on­ates most with me, for obvi­ous reas­ons: the 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act, which crim­in­al­ises any unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure by serving or former intel­li­gence officers, noti­fied per­sons, and oth­er crown ser­vants and offi­cials. These people are the most likely to wit­ness high crimes and mis­de­mean­ors on the part of gov­ern­ment, police and the intel­li­gence ser­vices, and yet they are the most crim­in­al­ised in this coun­try for speak­ing out. Whis­tleblowers in oth­er areas of work are spe­cific­ally pro­tec­ted by the law under the Pub­lic Interest Dis­clos­ure Act (1998).

How did this hap­pen? Ever since the 1911 Offi­cial Secrets Act came into force, there has been legis­la­tion to pro­tect this nation’s genu­ine secrets against the actions of trait­ors. Under this law, crown ser­vants face 14 years in pris­on if they betray inform­a­tion to hos­tile powers. Of course we need to pro­tect genu­ine secrets, and this is cer­tainly safe­guard enough.

The change in this law was spe­cific­ally designed to gag genu­ine whis­tleblowers in sens­it­ive areas, not pro­tect nation­al secur­ity. This came about in the 1980s after the notori­ous failed pro­sec­u­tion of Min­istry of Defense civil ser­vant, Clive Pont­ing. In 1984 he blew the whistle on the fact the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment knew that the Argen­tini­an war­ship, the Gen­er­al Bel­grano, was sail­ing away from the exclu­sion zone dur­ing the Falk­lands War in 1982. Des­pite this, the order was still giv­en to attack it, and many were killed. Pont­ing was rightly out­raged by this, and went pub­lic. His actions were mani­festly in the pub­lic interest, and this was pre­cisely the suc­cess­ful defense he ran in court. Furi­ous, the Con­ser­vat­ive gov­ern­ment of the time re-wrote the secrecy laws, remov­ing the pub­lic interest defense to deter such prin­cipled whis­tleblowers in the future. And this is the cur­rent Offi­cial Secrets Act cri­ti­cised so strongly by the UN.

Inter­est­ingly, at the time the Labour party strongly opposed this change, rightly think­ing that this would cur­tail cru­cial inform­a­tion reach­ing the pub­lic domain. At this point, of course, many of them cor­rectly sus­pec­ted that they were on the receiv­ing end of illeg­al invest­ig­a­tions by MI5.

The roll call of Labour MPs who voted against the pro­posed Act as it passed through Par­lia­ment in 1988 includes such luminar­ies as Tony Blair, Jack Straw and the former Attor­ney Gen­er­al John Mor­ris. All these people went on to use the 1989 OSA to threaten and pro­sec­ute the intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers of the last dec­ade.

The blanket ban on free­dom of expres­sion for intel­li­gence per­son­nel appears to be illeg­al under the terms of the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights. Sure, Art­icle 10(2) does give nations the lim­ited right to cur­tail free­dom of expres­sion in a pro­por­tion­ate way to pro­tect nation­al secur­ity. How­ever, the term “nation­al secur­ity” has nev­er been defined for leg­al pur­poses in this coun­try and is used as a catch-all phrase to pre­vent dis­clos­ure of any­thing embar­rass­ing to the gov­ern­ment and the intel­li­gence agen­cies. Plus, dur­ing these cases, law­yers and judges have con­sist­ently con­fused the notion of the nation­al interest with nation­al secur­ity – two very dif­fer­ent beasts. And free­dom of expres­sion can­not be leg­ally cur­tailed under the Con­ven­tion merely for reas­ons of “the nation­al interest”.

So I was heartened to read the UN’s ver­dict on this leg­al mess: “Powers under the Offi­cial Secrets Act have been “exer­cised to frus­trate former employ­ees of the crown from bring­ing into the pub­lic domain issues of genu­ine pub­lic interest, and can be exer­cised to pre­vent the media from pub­lish­ing such mat­ters”.”

Let’s hope this leads to the rein­state­ment of the pub­lic interest defence at the very least. Dur­ing this time of the unend­ing “war on ter­ror”, gov­ern­ments lying to take us into illeg­al wars, and the use of tor­ture and intern­ment, whis­tleblowers play an import­ant role in uphold­ing and defend­ing our demo­crat­ic val­ues. We need to pro­tect them, not pro­sec­ute them.

The (Il)legal Road to War

Yet anoth­er art­icle has appeared about the mess that is the wars in Afgh­anistan and Iraq. Max Hast­ings, writ­ing in the Daily Mail yes­ter­day, described how our sol­diers in Afgh­anistan feel that the con­tin­ued con­flict is point­less if there is no clear polit­ic­al strategy to resolve the situ­ation.

The Brit­ish army is over­stretched, appar­ently at the behest of the USA. Accord­ing to the art­icle, our mil­it­ary badly needs to redeploy both nor­mal troops and the SAS from Iraq to Afgh­anistan, but the US is unwill­ing to allow this to hap­pen for polit­ic­al reas­ons. The Amer­ic­ans also appear to be mak­ing shame­less use of the SAS.

So, let’s remind ourselves of how we got into this mess. At an inform­al meet­ing with Bush in 2002, Blair uni­lat­er­ally com­mit­ted this coun­try to sup­port the Amer­ic­an inva­sion of Iraq. Without the sup­port of Blair, Bush could not have pre­ten­ded that he had a mean­ing­ful inter­na­tion­al coali­tion to invade Iraq.

Hav­ing made this prom­ise, Blair needed to deliv­er. Intel­li­gence mater­i­al, rather than being used to inform policy mak­ing, was manip­u­lated to fit around pre-determ­ined decisions. This was sum­mar­ised clearly by the then head of MI6, Sir Richard Dear­love, in the notori­ous leaked “Down­ing Street Memo”, in which he is quoted as say­ing that the intel­li­gence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

Fol­low­ing on from this came the Septem­ber Dossier, which not only placed undue emphas­is on the claim that WMD could be launched against Brit­ish interests in 45 minutes, but also the fake intel­li­gence that Sad­dam was try­ing to pro­cure urani­um from Niger. And finally, we had the Dodgy Dossier of Feb­ru­ary 2003, based largely on a 12 year old PhD thes­is culled from the inter­net, but which also con­tained nug­gets of raw intel­li­gence from MI6. Inter­est­ingly, it has been estab­lished by the For­eign Affairs Select Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment that Blair did not have pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion from MI6 to pub­lish this intel­li­gence, which leaves him wide open to pro­sec­u­tion under Sec­tion 1(1) of the 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act.

These are the false asser­tions that inex­or­ably took this coun­try to war. But even if these claims had been true, aggress­ive war is illeg­al under both inter­na­tion­al and Brit­ish law. A raft of legis­la­tion pro­hib­its our coun­try enga­ging in any mil­it­ary action except in self-defence:

Just Foreign Policy Iraqi Death EstimatorThe Gen­er­al Treaty for the Renun­ci­ation of War (Kel­logg-Bri­and Pact)
The United Nations Charter
The Nurem­burg Judg­ment
The Nurem­burg Prin­ciples
The Rome Stat­ute of the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Court
The UK’s Inter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Court Act 2001

The Iraq and Afghan wars are unwinnable and illeg­al. It is time for the people of the UK to inform them­selves of the laws of war and demand that they be upheld. We are all equal under the law – even the former Prime Min­is­ter. Every day we delay res­ults in the deaths of more of our ser­vice­men and of yet more inno­cent people in the Middle East.

.

UK Police Chief Misleads MPs

An inter­est­ing art­icle appeared in The Sunday Times today, stat­ing that Britain’s top police­man, the Com­mis­sion­er of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Sir Ian Blair, had “unwit­tingly” misled the par­lia­ment­ary Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee about the need to increase the peri­od of deten­tion without charge for ter­ror­ist sus­pects in the UK from 28 to 42 days. Blair claimed that 12 major ter­ror­ist oper­a­tions had been foiled in Bri­tain since 2005. In fact, the art­icle reports that only 6 plots have been stopped. Blair has had to issue a grov­el­ling apo­logy via the Press Asso­ci­ation for this, umm, gaffe.

But the art­icle neg­lects to tell us how and why this new inform­a­tion came to light. So allow me to spec­u­late.

The Met, along with its shad­owy cohorts in MI5, is entrus­ted with pro­tect­ing Bri­tain from ter­ror­ist threats. Since 9/11 and the all-per­vas­ive war on ter­ror, Britain’s secur­ity forces have been gran­ted sweep­ing new powers, resources and a huge increase in staff­ing levels to do this job. To ensure this is jus­ti­fied, they are con­tinu­ally telling us of the huge threat we face from ter­ror­ism and how suc­cess­ful they are in pro­tect­ing us. It is in their interests to talk this up.

Mean­while, over on the south bank of the river, MI6 con­tin­ues to suf­fer from the loss of prestige brought about by its mis­takes and lack of good intel­li­gence in the run-up to the Iraq inva­sion. There is no love lost between these three agen­cies, as they com­pete for power and resources. So, to use a good civil ser­vice phrase, I can­not rule out the pos­sib­il­ity that someone in MI6 leaked this inform­a­tion to have a pop at the Met and MI5.

How­ever, there is a more ser­i­ous aspect to this incid­ent. But for this inform­a­tion emer­ging, MPs and pub­lic alike would have had no way of know­ing that the per­ceived threat from ter­ror­ism had been grossly inflated in order for the police to gain yet more powers. We would have had to take Sir Ian’s word.

Well, we’ve been here before many, many times, most notori­ously when the intel­li­gence agen­cies would have us believe that Sad­dam had WMD that could attack Brit­ish interests with 45 minutes. This, of course, led to the Iraq war and the deaths of hun­dreds of thou­sands of inno­cent men, women and chil­dren.

So how can we ensure we are told the truth by the spies? Well, great­er account­ab­il­ity and effect­ive par­lia­ment­ary over­sight would be a step in the right dir­ec­tion. But we don’t just need the cor­rect mech­an­isms in place in par­lia­ment. We also need MPs with the know­ledge, intel­li­gence and integ­rity to ask the dif­fi­cult ques­tions when faced with bogus asser­tions.