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An Independent Inquiry into WMD

John Simkin

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It has just been announced that Blair will making a statement after George Bush announces his views today on the merits of an independent inquiry into WMD. Blair is obviously waiting for his orders from Bush. The situation is not the same in America and Britain. Bush did not use WMD as his main arguments for war. Anyway, Bush will be attempting to head off the trouble he is going to get into when the Senate Intelligence Committee publish its report in March. This is the same committee that exposed the American government’s Executive Action policy (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power). They also discovered how the secret services worked with the Mafia in attempting to assassinate foreign leaders. They also exposed the methods used to smear progressive political figures such as Martin Luther King.

Of course we have been hear before. Here is a secret taped conversation between Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover seven days after the Kennedy Assassination (released in 1995).

Lyndon B. Johnson: Are you familiar with this proposed (Congressional) group that they're trying to put together on this study of your report...

J. Edgar Hoover: I think it would be very bad to have a rash of investigations on this thing.

Lyndon B. Johnson: Well, the only way we can stop them is probably to appoint a high-level one to evaluate your report and put somebody that's pretty good on it... that I can select... and tell the House of Representatives and the Senate not to go ahead with their investigations...

From taped conversation with his friend, Richard Russell, we now know how they selected the committee to make sure the Warren Commission would rubber-stamp the FBI report (all based on blackmail – the famous Hoover files).

However, the situation is not the same in 2004. The Senate Committee has already started taking evidence. Edward Kennedy has already said that he believes the evidence was manipulated. This has been backed up by leaks from David Kelly type figures who were involved in this process.

Bush plan, like that of Blair with the Hutton Report, will be to dismiss any critical comments from these Senate committees with statements that the American people will have to wait until the official report is published. (Blair used this tactic all the time, even with things that were outside the remit of the Hutton Committee). Bush will no doubt put people on the committee that he can blackmail into provided the right sort of report. However, like Hutton, it will be dismissed as a “whitewash”. For that reason, he will try to make sure the report is published after the next election.

Blair has a different problem. He has already organized one whitewash, can he get away with a second. Blair is now aware he made a mistake by limiting the range of Hutton’s Inquiry. He should have called for one straight away (just like Johnson (Warren), Macmillian (Denning), and Thatcher (Franks and Scott), did – of course they were all far more sensible than Blair).

If Blair aggress to have an independent group of people to decide on the committee and if it is held in public and on television (important in allowing the public to judge who is lying) I will admit that maybe I have misjudged Blair. However, I think we all know what route he will go down. Let us hope that politicians have caught up on their history studies and will not agree that a Blair nominated committee will be an independent investigation.

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We now know more about the two inquiries. The most important thing for Bush is to make sure his report is not published until after the election in November. This he guaranteed by making it a very wide-ranging inquiry. It will no doubt end up with a report on how Bush’s government manipulated intelligence data for their own political ends, but by this time he will either be a defeated candidate or into his last term as president.

Although America has a political system that gives far too much power to those with money, it does have two things that are vitally important in a democracy: a freedom of information act and the willingness to use television to give the public as much information as possible about the actions of government officials.

Compare what has come out of the Senate Intelligence Committee in America with our own Parliamentary Security and Intelligence Committee (PSIC). It is only because the American committee was televised that the American public have been able to discover that the raw intelligence data had been manipulated by Bush for political ends. It does not have to wait for the committee to report these findings in March, they have seen it with their own eyes.

In Britain we had to accept the judgement of the PSIC, a small group of MPs selected by the party whips and therefore excluding any independent thinking politician. We now know they got it nearly completely wrong (evidence from the public Hutton Inquiry). Why did they get it so wrong? Why for example, did the government not explain to the British public that the 45 minute claim was about battlefield weapons and not long-range weapons? For some reason the PSIC were not interested in telling the British public about this. Yet nothing could be more important. Under international law, unless a country can show it is in imminent attack, it can not make a pre-emptive strike on another country. That is what we did. The only way that Blair could convince his Labour MPs to vote for the war, was by given the impression that Iraq could deliver WMD against our people. The Parliamentary Security and Intelligence Committee knew that Blair mislead the House of Commons and the British public about this issue, but decided to withhold this information. Under our system they can do that. Under the American system that kind of information is revealed on television. I know which system I prefer.

Blair has of course not only refused a public inquiry, but confined it to the investigation of intelligence on WMD in Iraq and debarred the inquiry from examining the political and diplomatic decision to wage war, and the legal basis for doing so. Blair is right to think that the inquiry will find it very difficult to publish a report that will be critical of the government. The trouble is, so does the British public, and so it will not restore faith in his honesty.

Blair has also selected his committee very carefully. Lord Butler has a proven reputation for believing politicians who lie to him. This is the man who investigated Jonathan Aitkin and Nigel Hamilton and told the public they had been telling the truth. He also came to the same conclusions about the Tory ministers involved in providing arms for Iraq in the 1980s. In every case he got it wrong (as discovered by the court cases that followed his pathetic inquiries).

When he retired it was pointed out to him by a journalist that he had proven to have been a lousy detective. He defended himself by saying he had not been trained as a policeman and it was the fault of the politicians for lying to him about what they had been doing.

His lousy investigative work was rightly criticised by the Scott Report. His defence is interesting. He caused quite a stir when he said that governments are justified about being “selective about the facts”… He went on to say that by doing this you are not actually telling lies, you are just misleading the public by not telling the whole truth. As you can see, he is the ideal man to carry out this kind of investigation.

Blair is also safe with Ann Taylor and Michael Mates as they have already been involved in one failed investigation into the government’s role in the build up to the war (one of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats refused to take part in the inquiry was that their representative would have been Alan Beith, a fellow member of the same Parliamentary Security and Intelligence Committee).

Mates is another man who has already shown he is a person who is willing to be influenced if he is given the right sort of rewards. Remember how he was forced to resign as Northern Ireland minister in 1993 for using his position in government to lobby for Asil Nadir. Note also the Northern Ireland connection with these inquiries (Hutton, Mates, Chilcott), no coincidence I can assure you.

One of the things that Blair and Bush have been keen to say over the last few days is that all the world’s security services got it wrong about WMD in Iraq. On the surface this might appear to have been true. There is no doubt that spies in Iraq have been sending out similar information about WMD. Kenneth Pollack, a CIA analyst, attended a meeting on this issue in the Spring of 2002 in Washington. The intelligences agencies of the United States, Britain, China, Russia, Israel, Germany and France had all received information that Iraq was producing WMD. The most remarkable information came from the German Federal Intelligence Service. They had received information that Iraq was only three years away from building a nuclear weapon. Pollack was so convinced by what he heard at this secret meeting that he went away and wrote a book called Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.

However, it would be wrong to believe that all these intelligence agencies reported to their respective governments that Iraq had WMD. They rarely make such judgements. This is especially true when they are relying on information being provided by members of the intelligence services in the country they are spying on. The reason being that they may in reality be working on behalf of their own government. Western intelligence agencies discovered this after the collapse of communism in the late 1980s. They realised they had completely over-estimated the military capability of the Soviet Union. The reason being was that they had been relying on the information being supplied by agents working within Soviet intelligence. In reality they were doing the work of the Soviet regime. By exaggerating Soviet military capability, they were helping to prevent their country being attacked by the United States.

Saddam was playing the same game. He was actually controlling the agents supplying information to the western intelligence agencies. He did it because he thought it would help stop his country being invaded by Israel or Iran.

This is not to say that Saddam fooled the various intelligence agencies. After their experiences with the Soviets they were fully aware of this tactic. It is never the role of intelligence agencies to say how this information should be used. The real question to be asked is why of all the countries that received this information, it was only the United States and Britain who decided that it warranted a pre-emptive strike. France, Germany, China and Russia had similar sort of information and yet they took the opposite view.

According to Blair we are not able to ask this question in Britain. However, the Senate Intelligence Committee is allowed to ask this question. They are even allowed to ask it in public. We even have some answers. In 2002 the Office of Special Plans (a group with an interesting history, for example, the organizers of Executive Action) set up a unit inside the Pentagon. The role of this group was to sift through all intelligence arriving from Iraq. From this they selected the information that supported the view that Iraq had WMD and passed it onto Bush. This included information that experienced intelligence officers had already classified as being unreliable or false. This is what Edward Kennedy meant last week when he talked about having overwhelming evidence that intelligence reports were being manipulated for political reasons. Did the same thing happen in Britain? Maybe, but Blair is making a good effort to try and make sure we will never find out.

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Lieutenant Colonel Crispin Black, who was a member of the intelligence assessment staff from 1999-2002, has written an interesting article in today’s Guardian. For example he says:

From what came out at the Hutton inquiry I could hardly recognise the organisation I had so recently worked for. Meetings with no minutes, an intelligence analytical group on a highly specialised subject which included unqualified officials in Downing Street but excluded the DIS's lifetime experts (like Dr Brian Jones), vague and unexplained bits of intelligence appearing in the dossier as gospel (notably the 45-minute claim), sloppy use of language, that weird "last call" for intelligence like Henry II raving about Thomas a' Becket - with "who will furnish me with the intelligence I need" substituted for "who will rid me of that turbulent priest".

I looked forward to Lord Hutton making some serious suggestions about how to keep the intelligence process free of political manipulation and analysts free from the preparation of propaganda dossiers. I thought he might help explain, too, why the intelligence community had been taken by surprise by the aftermath of victory in Iraq.

When the report came I was puzzled at first - serious people seemed to be taking it so seriously. And then everyone started to laugh. Some of the passages - particularly "the possibility cannot be completely ruled out that the desire of the prime minister ... may have subconsciously influenced ... members of the JIC ... consistent with the intelligence available to the JIC" are masterpieces of comic writing.

He goes on to explore the fact Blair told the House of Commons that he was unaware at the time of the war debate that the 45-minute piece of intelligence referred only to battlefield rather than strategic weapons.

Let me list just some of the procedures which must have been executed incorrectly to allow him (Blair) to be kept in such a state of ignorance at such a crucial time on such a crucial matter when other members of his cabinet (Cook and Hoon) appear to have been in the know.

One: neither Cook nor Hoon saw fit to tell the prime minister, for whatever reason.

Two: the intelligence was not considered important or accurate enough to explain to him in detail - even though it appears in the September 24 dossier at least three times and in the prime minister's own foreword.

Three: Blair had to rely on verbal briefings from the JIC chairman and others, who told him about the 45 minutes bit of the intelligence but omitted to mention that it referred only to battlefield weapons, and neither the prime minister nor any of the brilliant young staff asked the obvious question.

Four: the original SIS report mentioned the 45-minute time, but made no attempt to distinguish between strategic and battlefield weapons - even though the service was aware that the report was about battlefield munitions.

Five: the prime minister's daily written intelligence brief from the Cabinet Office included the 45 minutes point but not the crucial distinction between battlefield and strategic weapons. And not a single member of the Cabinet Office assessments staff (the most brilliant intelligence analysts in the UK) spotted this or thought it important.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Katharine Gun, a translator at GCHQ, is due to appear at the Old Bailey next week. Gun is being charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act. She was arrested last March for providing information to the press on a US dirty tricks campaign against opponents of the Iraq War.

However, the rumour is that that the case against Gun will be dropped. The reason being that Gun’s defence will be arguing that she acted in an attempt to prevent an illegal war. In order to prove this the defence team have demanded the disclosure of the full advice from the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, on the legality of the war against Iraq. The government is concerned that this request will be granted and is therefore working behind the scenes to get the case dropped against Gun.

The possibility of an embarrassing court case was also the same reason why legal action was not taken against David Kelly for breaking the Official Secrets Act.

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Katharine Gun, a translator at GCHQ, is due to appear at the Old Bailey next week. Gun is being charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act. She was arrested last March for providing information to the press on a US dirty tricks campaign against opponents of the Iraq War.

However, the rumour is that that the case against Gun will be dropped. The reason being that Gun’s defence will be arguing that she acted in an attempt to prevent an illegal war. In order to prove this the defence team have demanded the disclosure of the full advice from the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, on the legality of the war against Iraq. The government is concerned that this request will be granted and is therefore working behind the scenes to get the case dropped against Gun.

The possibility of an embarrassing court case was also the same reason why legal action was not taken against David Kelly for breaking the Official Secrets Act.

Report from the BBC website:

A GCHQ translator sacked for revealing a secret e-mail is cleared of an offence under the Official Secrets Act.

Katharine Gun, 29, from Cheltenham, claimed the e-mail was from US spies asking British officers to tap phones of nations voting on war against Iraq.

She walked free today when the prosecution offered no evidence.

Mrs Gun had denied committing an offence under the Official Secrets Act, arguing she was acting to prevent the "illegal war" in Iraq.

Mrs Gun, who was sacked from GCHQ in June and charged on 13 November, will soon be issuing a statement through her solicitor, with a news conference expected later.

She pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, after which the prosecution announced it would not be going ahead with its case.

Mark Ellison, for the prosecution, said: "The prosecution offer no evidence against the defendant on this indictment as there is no longer sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.

"It would not be appropriate to go into the reasons for this decision."

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  • 2 weeks later...

The case against Katherine Gun was dropped because if the case proceeded her defence team would have called on Elizabeth Wilmshurst (legal adviser at the Foreign Office) and Lord Boyce (chief of the defence staff) to have given evidence on the background to the advice Lord Goldsmith gave to the government that the invasion of Iraq was legal.

Wilmshurst and Boyce would have told the court that the initial advice given by Goldsmith was that the war would be illegal without another resolution being passed by the UN Security Council. That is why Blair tried so hard to get this second resolution (including spying on UN officials and attempts of blackmailing delegates into voting for the resolution).

When this failed Goldsmith persuaded the Foreign Office to hold a seminar for international law experts. After “flushing out” the opinions of these experts, Lord Goldsmith then formally consulted the couple who thought war was just about legal. Those experts who thought it clearly would be illegal were of course not consulted.

Gun’s case was dropped but the government is not out of trouble yet. There is currently two other cases pending concerning Greenpeace members breaking into military bases. They plan to argue that they were drawing attention to Britain decision to declare an illegal war. In both cases they will be calling Wilmshurst and Boyce as witnesses. I suspect the government will again put pressure on the Crown Prosecuting Service to drop these cases. The first of which is due to start in Southampton on Tuesday.

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  • 2 months later...

It is now becoming clear what it cost Tony Blair to persuade John Scarlett to provide the necessary story for the Hutton Inquiry. Over the last 30 years the head of MI6 has been allowed to select his successor. He does this by appointing his deputy. Sir Richard Dearlove selected Nigel Inkster. However, last week the government announced that the new head of MI6 will be John Scarlett. It is a £155,000 a year job that will help pay his three daughter’s fees at Roedean.

It has also been reported today that Martin Sixsmith, that the former press officer for the government, has revealed the corrupt relationship Blair has with BAE, our leading arms manufacturer. Sixsmith alleges that Blair feared that New Labour would lose the first elections for the new Scottish parliament in May 1999. One major problem was that Kvaerner was planning to close down the Govan shipyard with the loss of 1,200 jobs. This caused a surge in support for the Scottish Nationalists. BAE offered to buy Govan in return for an important favour. Blair had already refused permission for BAE to buy its main rival, the defence arm of GEC. Blair rightly argued that this would give them a virtual monopoly over the British arms industry that they could exploit against the interests of the British taxpayer. Blair decided to do a U-turn in order to get GEC to buy the Govan shipyard. BAE was allowed to buy GEC for £7 billion. This was a cheap price considering the money BAE has made from Blair’s decision to go to war with Iraq. I am reminded by Eisenhower last speech as president: (17th January, 1961)

Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen...

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

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