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?
Even 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?
My 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 erroneous “45 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.