Monthly Archives: April 2007


The Missing Links: MI5 acts to limit damage over 7/7 failure

Five men have today been convicted of a bomb plot, linked to al-Qaeda, that could have killed hundreds of people in Britain. However, the failure of MI5 to follow-up on two suspects associated with the plot is also making the headlines. The reason is that these two men went on to commit an actual attack in London – on July 7th 2005.

This revelation has renewed calls for a public enquiry in to 7/7 with relatives of the dead saying that only the tip of the iceburg is currently in the public domain. Rachel from North London flagged up these developments some weeks ago and a petition calling for “full public inquiry into the London bombings of July 7 2005” is open on the Downing Street www site.

MI5 is obviously concerned about the PR implications of these revalations. Today they posted information on the links between those convicted and the 7 July bombers on their web site, together with a personal statement by the Director General, Jonathan Evans.

View with comments

Ex-head of CIA accuses Bush over rush to war

By Rupert Cornwell in The Independent

The row over how President Bush went to war in Iraq has re-erupted with a charge by George Tenet, the former director of the CIA, that a coterie of top officials pushed America into the conflict with no real debate as to whether Saddam Hussein actually posed an imminent threat to the US.

Mr Tenet’s angry indictment of his colleagues is the first of its kind from a top ranking member of Mr Bush’s once-vaunted national security team, and was instantly rebutted by the White House.

For the full article go here

View with comments

Dundee University a Tool for New Labour?

I had been more than a little disconcerted by what I discovered of the administration of Dundee University since I became Rector two months ago. In particular, at my first University Court meeting, held the first working day after I took office, the University administration forced through the closure of undergraduate teaching in modern languages and in town planning, and adopted a five year framework of cuts. Accepting hypothetically that short term savings were necessary, I could not see the need for the immediate adoption of a five year programme before their Rector had even had time to read through the papers (which I received two hours before the meeting). Interestingly every academic and graduate representative on Court voted against the cuts, but they were rammed through by an array of co-opted members, who appeared without exception to be either businessmen or from the government’s educational administration establishment.

The atmosphere at the meeting really was an appalling bulldoze. I waited some time before catching the Chairman’s eye, and was astonished when, one minute into my first observation, the Chairman rudely interrupted me to allow the Principal to “Correct” me. This happened several times in the meeting, to me and to others. I wondered who this chairman could be – his name was John Milligan. More on that later.

In short, the Univeristy appeared to have come a long way from being the self-governing democratic community it is supposed to be. In the analysis given by the University administration of different academic departments, they were viewed solely in financial terms. Just what they cost and what they brought in. There was no mention of educational values or wider societal considerations.

It also was plain there was an inner group who were running things, and each subject was introduced with people primed to support. I was sitting close enough to the Chairman to note that while he acknowledged those wishing to speak and ostentiously was writing a list of names, he would vary the order of the list when he felt a need to influence the debate.

It was also plain, from numerous little indications, that this was not just a clique in charge, it was a New Labour clique. This became even more plain at my second Court meeting on Monday, when the Principal, Sir Alan Langlands, spoke of a recent visit to the Life Sciences Department by the vacuous Scottish First Minister, Jack McConell, in quite blatantly electoral terms.

(In Scottish parliamentary elections on 3 May the Labour Party looks set to lose political control of Scotland for the first time in fifty years).

I might have let that go, but for what followed. The University has been in discussions with the Victoria and Albert Museum about the possibility of opening a branch museum in Dundee. It is a wonderful idea – the V & A has vastly more than it can display, and it would bring jobs and tourists to Dundee.

However Sir Alan Langlands said to the Court that a public announcement would be likely to be made by Jack McConnell in the context of an election promise.

That really is too much. This has nothing to do with New Labour – the discussions have been between the University and the V&A. To try to use this University initiative to New Labour advantage is completely illegitimate. The University of course sits in Dundee West, a key Labour/SNP marginal. I therefore said at Court that the University needed to be careful to avoid identification with any political party.

I was still wondering who this Chairman of Court, John Milligan, was and how he had got the job. I have been a member of the University since 1977, and had not come across him. He is not a man who exudes the mores of higher education.

Then today all became clear. As’I am currently in Ekaterinburg, I saw it several days late, but I came across reports that one John Milligan, ex-Chairman of Atlantic Power, on the Sunday Times rich list, and (wait for it…) a high profile donor to the Labour Party, had organised and paid for an advertisement attacking the idea of Scottish Independence, signed by a lot of rich people, some of them very unpleasant indeed.

http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/news/display.var.1352249.0.0.php

http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=635452007

The move was widely reported to be inspired by Gordon Brown and timed to coincide with his electioneering breakfast in Edinburgh.

Among those who had signed for Milligan and Brown was the Principal of just one of Scotland’s thirteen universities. You guessed it, Milligan’s team-mate, Sir Alan Langlands of Dundee University.

As these two are so keen to help New Labour by entering into the hurly-burly of politics, let us treat them to some of the heat.

Alan Langlands has questions to answer. After retiring in August 2000 as Chief Executive of the NHS, in March 2001 he quickly reemerged as a Director of Patientline, the disgraced rip-off company which enjoys a monopoly of patient personal communications in the NHS. They charge the ill – who are disproportionately poor and elderly – 26p a minute to make a call and 49p a minute to recieve one. They also provide personal televisions at great cost, and, worst of all, have campaigned succesfully to have mobile phones, pay phones and communal TVs removed from hospitals. Langlands was a Director of Patientline when I was in Westminster Hospital for two months in Autumn 2003 and unable to talk to Nadira as Patientline phones won’t call, or receive from, Uzbekistan. He resigned in 2004.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/04/04/patientline_ups_charges/

Patientline is one of the most appalling examples of greed triumphing over the needs of ordinary people in Blair’s Britain. But for Langlands to move so quickly from heading the NHS which gave Patientline its monopoly, to the board of Patientline, is in my view of the world a disgrace which in a civilsed country ought to be be criminal. What do you think?

As for Milligan, we know the rewards that giving money to the Labour Party might bring. Who is to say that the chairmanship of a University is not that sort of carrot? The University is now sewn up very tight indeed, with all future appointments having to be initiated by a nomination committee of just six people, of whom Milligan and Langlands are two, and at least two others are from their “Trusty” circle. At the last committee it made two appointments – from amongst its six members.

This whole sorry tale of New Labour Croneyism is typical of much of Scotland, but relatively new in the University sector. I do hope that it causes a backlash of revulsion. I urge everybody with a vote to vote anything but Labour on May 3.

View with comments

Labour MPs join calls for anti-terrorism leaks inquiry

From The Independent

By Nigel Morris and Ben Russell

Politicians of all parties are racheting up the pressure for a criminal investigation into the leak of secret information about police anti-terror raids.

Labour MPs joined Conservative and Liberal Democrat demands for a full police inquiry as Downing Street conceded that detectives would have to act if further evidence emerged about the unauthorised briefing.

Peter Clarke, the country’s most senior anti-terror police officer, provoked uproar after he denounced “misguided individuals who betray confidences” about raids in Birmingham three months ago.

He opened a row over spin by suggesting that the culprits were trying to “squeeze out some short-term presentational advantage” by giving secret information. The Tories have seized on a report that an aide to John Reid was behind the leak…

View with comments

Called To Account: A review of the indictment of Tony Blair

‘The Indictment Of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair For The Crime Of Aggression Against Iraq – A Hearing’ is currently playing at the Tricylce Theatre, London. Nicholas de Jongh, reviews the production in This is london.

Blair put on trial over Iraq

There could be few bolder political fantasies today than imagining Tony Blair being investigated by the International Criminal Court to see whether he could be indicted for aggression against Iraq. It could not happen.

Yet such a dream, cherished by hundreds of thousands, now springs to startling stage-life thanks to those remarkable makers of contemporary political theatre, director Nicolas Kent and Richard Norton-Taylor, security editor of The Guardian. The Prime Minister himself is not one of the characters in this production, which considers how and with what legitimacy Tony Blair took Britain into the Iraq war. Even so, he looms over the action like a ghost noisily walking a haunted house.

In the courtroom process, Mr Blair’s reputation – that long-lost prize of his – takes a familiar sort of battering as he is accused of manipulating intelligence and misrepresenting the Attorney General’s advice on the legality of the war to Cabinet, Parliament and Britain. The apparent discrepancy between the Attorney General’s advice to the Prime Minister on 7 and 17 March comes to seem the crux of the matter.

William Hoyland’s wonderfully patrician Sir Murray Stuart-Smith, former commissioner for the intelligence services, registers critical bemusement. Diane Fletcher, who deftly catches the tone of former International Development Secretary Clare Short, gives an illuminating impression of what it was like to be in Cabinet on 17 March. Her worried queries about lack of discussion were met with Cabinet cries of “Oh, Clare, be quiet.”

Despite the sensational nature of Called To Account, it lacks the smack of conflict that made earlier Norton-Taylor/Kent dramatisations of official inquiries, such as The Colour Of Justice and Bloody Sunday, so enthralling. It was Kent’s conceit on this occasion to imagine Mr Blair investigated by the International Court, with well-known barristers Philippe Sands and Julian Knowles speaking for the prosecution and defence respectively.

The testimony of real subjects from Parliament and the civil, diplomatic and security services, together with the odd journalist and diplomat, was recorded in London this January and Norton-Taylor then edited their evidence for Called To Account. The legal tone is neither one-sided nor shrill, but always cool, clear and shocking in Kent’s restrained production. A few fresh facts emerge, but nothing momentous.

The two lawyers never clash or clamour. They handle each of the witnesses with respectable kid gloves. So the atmosphere is more akin to a lecture hall than a courtroom. For all its clarity, Called To Account could sometimes do with infusions of that absent theatrical commodity – passionate emotion. For these witnesses are, with the exception of Fletcher’s illuminating Clare Short, trained to keep the human touch under wraps.

Thomas Wheatley, who often plays these Kent/Norton-Taylor dramatisations, makes an authoritative Sands. The focus of his questions relate to Mr Blair’s real purpose in warring against Iraq: was it regime change or the elimination of those notorious weapons of mass destruction, details of which he may have, well, dramatised?

The prosecution lacks concrete evidence to make its case. What emerges, shockingly, is a sense of a messianic Blair riding in easy triumph over sheep- and Ostrich-like Cabinet ministers, towards a war that may make us a terrorist target for decades.

See also: Blair on Trial Tonight

View with comments

Leaking Secrets

I was dismissed as Ambassador to Uzbekistan when one of my diplomatic telegrams was leaked to the Sunday Times. The telegram complained of our continual receipt, via the CIA, of intelligence obtained by torture in Uzbekistan. It detailed London meetings which had approved this policy, referred to the CIA flying people to Uzbekistan and handing them over to the Uzbek intelligence services, and explained the illegality of this activity.

Interestingly the Financial Times decided to publish only a tiny fraction of this information, which was explosive back then in October 2003, as extraordinary rendition had not yet hit the headlines. But the leak was enough to get me sacked, and to institute a formal leak inquiry. Once it became plain that I was not the leaker, the inquiry was quietly stopped.

I have therefore been more sensitive than most to the Government’s continued habit of leaking “Intelligence” when it suits it. My objection has largely been that the government does this in order to exaggerate the threat of terrorism and instil fear, which they view as helpful in rallying popular support to the “War on Terror”.

I was therefore furious when I saw a headline “Al-Qaeda planning Big British Attack” in the Sunday Times of 22 April. So furious I have been carrying the cutting in my pocket all the way to Moscow, until I got the chance to blog about it. I see in the interim the opposition have started making a related point.

The Sunday Times journalist, Dipesh Gadher, claims to have seen a Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) report which justifies the terror stirring headline.

But JTAC reports are almost always Top Secret, and are always classified. Unless Gadher made it all up, he and whoever showed it to him, and his Editor, are all guilty of a serious criminal offence. They should be jailed for many years under the Official Secrets Act.

This is especially true as two gentlemen are currently being tried under precisely that draconian legislation, for possessing the minute of the meeting where George Bush proposed to Tony Blair the bombing of Al-Jazeera TV.

The truth is that both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service act in these matters in a way that is blatantly political. There is no even-handed administration of justice here. If a pro-war antagonist leaks information to whip up public opinion, no action is ever taken. Let me be plain – there is nothing in law that says that secret material can be leaked if it supports the government. Yet they do it all the time.

By what right was David Shayler jailed, but Dipesh Gadher and his informant not even looked at?

Government members and supporters do what they like. But should anyone else follow suit, the full wrath of the Establishment crashes on their head. Even, as in my case, when they didn’t actually do it.

The administration of justice is not impartial in the UK.

View with comments

Damned By Faint Greys

Sorry for the recent silence. I have been terribly busy with anti-war meetings in Edinburgh and Glasgow at the weekend, and then to Dundee for a University Court meeting on Monday, with lots of pre- and post-consultations. Got back home at 1.30am Tuesday (because the University values its Rector so highly it insists he travels Easyjet). Then quite literally up all night dealing with correspondence, and an 08.55 flight from Heathrow. Now blogging from Moscow.

Couldn’t resist the chance to mingle with the crowds at Yeltsin’s funeral. Astonished by how pinched and old Clinton looks – George Bush senior appears hale. The UK sends the Z team – Prince Andrew and John Major. Not so much damning with faint praise, as faint greys.

I am impressed by the many thousands of Muscovites, filing past the coffin all night and lining the short funeral route. I vox pop the funeral crowds, who are of course a self-selecting biased sample, but the Western media seems rather too glibly to accept the line from the state controlled Russian media that Yeltsin’s mistakes are remembered more than his achievements. At night I wander down to the White House and look at the cars whizzing past, over the spot where he climbed on the armoured vehicle (not actually a tank) to save Russian democracy and prevent the restoration of Soviet dictatorship. John Major is not really inappropriate as a mourner, because he had been speaking to Yeltsin from London moments before he did that. It is worth remembering that the troops had opened fire. Major says Yeltsin genuinely thought he would die then.

The media talk of Yeltsin as Russia’s first democratic President. I fear “only” might be a better word than first. Certainly mistakes were made in the uncontrolled rush to capitalism, as Abramovich and his like looted the country. It was done much better in Central Europe, with voucher schemes and other ways to get some immediate benefit to ordinary people. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it must not be forgotten how fragile the new Russian revolution was, and how real at first was the fear of Soviet reurgence. There was reason to hurry.

That does not excuse the ensuing creation of robber barons or Yeltsin’s decline into a drunken, jovial tool of corruption. But he had many decent human qualities, one of which was a lack of arrogance. Nobody noticed his resignation as President because it was the Millenium and we were all getting pissed. But he apologised to the Russian people for his mistakes, and especially the Chechen war. Do not expect Blair to follow.

Outside the White House is a girl with short blonde hair carrying two red roses. She too is looking at the road and thnking of Yeltsin. I point out that with today’s traffic, the army would never have got there. She has tears in her eyes – “He gave us our freedom”. She is bitterly amused that the only other person who thought to go to the White House on this evening is a passing Scot. I tell her she looks too young to remember all this. She says she was in her first year at Unversity when he resigned. But she remembers the White House, as a child. “He used to be handsome”.

We go for a pizza – thus adding a new tactic to my range of pick-up techniques. In the “Golden Drum” pub, the consensus is that at least Yeltsin ended Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol drive. His memory fades in a night of beer and vodka. Perhaps he wouldn’t mind that.

View with comments

UN Denied Access to Iraqi Casualty Data

Today, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq again called for access to Iraqi government files on civilian casualty figures. The Iraqi goverment withdrew access after the UN reported in January that 34,452 civilians were killed and more than 36,000 wounded in 2006. These figures were much higher than claimed by Iraqi government officials.

via LFCM

View with comments

UK Terror Chief Attacks Whitehall Spin

BBC Online has details of this breaking story but, interestingly, at the time of this posting, they were excluding one of the the most interesting quotes made by Peter Clarke on the leaking of information to the press for “short term presentational advantage”.

This clear attack on Whitehall spin doctors and their masters is taken up by Radio 4 on their Today programme this morning. The discusion can be heard online here.

From BBC Online

The UK’s counter-terrorism chief has condemned as “beneath contempt” people who leak anti-terrorism intelligence. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke of the Metropolitan Police said there were a “small number of misguided individuals who betray confidences”.

By doing so, they had compromised investigations, revealed sources of life-saving intelligence and “put lives at risk” during major investigations.

DAC Clarke also warned of a damaging “lack of public trust” in intelligence.

Reuters has the full quote:

“What is clear is that there are a number, a small number I am sure, of misguided individuals who betray confidences. Perhaps they look to curry favour with certain journalists, or to squeeze out some short-term presentational advantage.”

View with comments

Ten Years on – Just in the Nick of Time

From BBC Online

The file on the police investigation into “cash-for-honours” allegations has been handed over to prosecutors. It contains the findings of a year-long probe focusing on whether anyone was nominated for peerages or other honours in return for donations or loans.

The probe was subsequently widened to look into whether there was any attempt to pervert the course of justice. The Crown Prosecution Service will now decide whether anyone should be charged. All involved deny wrongdoing.

View with comments

French Hijack Warning

There has been something of a stir lately over Le Monde’s revelation that France passed warning to the CIA in 2001 that Bin Laden was planning an aircraft hijacking.

Nobody has paid a great deal of attention to the fact that the French intelligence came from the Uzbek security services.

But the headlines about France warning the US of 9/11 are complete nonsense. The alleged intelligence was about a plan to hijack a plane at Frankfurt airport. Flying the plane into buildings didn’t feature.

There was then (and is) intelligence cooperation between France and Uzbekistan, but in 2001 as now the Uzbek intelligence liaison relationship with Germany and the US was stronger than with France. It seems most improbable that the Uzbeks learnt of a plan to hijack a flight between Germany and the US, and told only the French.

An Associated Press report speculates that the Frankfurt plan was disinformation spread by Al-Qaida to distract attention from the 9/11 plot. http://www.topix.net/content/ap/0152981010029215169242201015390845871804That is obvious rubbish. Bin Laden would not want to give any indication that he was switching tactics to aircraft hijack, and have people looking at aviation security.

A far more likely explanation is that this was disinformation by the Uzbek security services. I have seen a great deal of intelligence passed on by the Uzbek intelligence services. It is inevitably self-serving, and almost always untrue.

The purpose of the Uzbek intelligence services in passing intelligence to the West is to persuade us that they and the Karimov regime must be supported as a bastion against a massive Islamic terror plot. They seek to portray all domestic opposition as al-Qaeda linked.

It goes wider than that. Consider this – across a huge swathe of the Caucasus and Central Asia, Turkic peoples have been struggling to emerge from colonial occupation. This belt runs from the Chechens of the West through the Tatars, Turkmen, Uzbeks, Kazakh, Kirghiz and Mongols to the Uighurs of China in the East. The wave of struggles for national liberation of these peoples is perhaps the most important political fact since the fall of the iron curtain, yet completely neglected.

The Chechens and Uighurs are being brutally suppressed by the Russian and Chinese imperial powers respectively. Those like the Uzbeks who have achieved nominal nation status are suffering under the fierce regime of the surviving indigenous colonial cadres.

As it happens, these Turkic nations engaged in a struggle for liberation are Muslim. By one of history’s unpleasant chances (and I would argue it is no more than that – there are transactions, but almost no causal relationship either way) their efforts at national re-emergence have coincided with a surge in fringe Islamic radicalism. This has enabled their opponents to attempt to tar them with that brush.

Uzbek intelligence is therefore primarily aimed at portraying Uzbek dissidents as Islamic terrorists, and linking them to Al Qaida and to Chechen and Uighur “terrorists”. The governments of Russia and China are enthusiastic co-participants in building the same story to discredit their own Chechen and Uighur dissidents, and the other authoritarian governments of Central Asia join in too. The most important diplomatic entity in the region – the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement – functions entirely on this principle.

The sad thing is that, such is the appetite of Western intelligence agencies for any material that stokes the so-called “War on Terror”, MI6, the CIA and others accept this self-serving dross as true, even when it is fabricated in Uzbekistan’s notorious torture chambers. That is the issue over which I resigned from the diplomatic service, as detailed in my book “Murder in Samarkand”.

The clue in the 2001 French intelligence causing the current stir is that the Uzbeks claimed that Bin Laden met with Chechen terrorists to plan the Frankfurt hijack. Of course there was no such plot. This so-called Uzbek/French intelligence was just part of the propaganda campaign to link the Chechen cause to Bin Laden.

View with comments

Arms and the Man

There have been a series of American commentators popping up on the TV, explaining that the right to bear arms is necessary to guard against an over-mighty executive. The strange thing is that the US now has an over-mighty executive, which has completely unbalanced the famous separation of powers. As yet I see no sign of the NRA forming up to march on the White House.

I am irresistibly reminded of Borat asking what the best gun was to use against a Jew, and the unblinking reply “9mm or a .45”. I wonder what answer he would have got if he had said “Student” not “Jew”?

Yet more grieving families. Margaret Beckett shows up on screen, sending her commiserations. Thank God she doesn’t send commiserations every time thirty people are killed in Iraq. We would have to see her whine on self-importantly several times a day.

View with comments

Paul Bergne

Much saddened by the death of Paul Bergne, one of my three predecessors as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

For most of his career Paul worked for MI6, but he was John Buchan not Ian Fleming. He spoke a vast array of Central Asian and Middle Eastern languages, and was a qualified and genuine authority on the archaeology of the area. He could read ancient as well as modern languages. You suspected he could speak them too.

Paul was in many ways the archetypal establishment figure. He was from exactly the stock of most British Ambassadors – Winchester (one of Britain’s most expensive private schools) and Cambridge. He had A’Court as a middle name. In many ways he represented the privilege that I so disliked in the Foreign Office. But I really liked Paul.

He was the only diplomat I ever met who truly shared, not just understood, my gut revulsion at the horrors of the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan. In his time he had been almost as forceful and diplomatically unconventional as I. The Uzbek government had put out feelers about having him removed. In a conversation at the University of Michigan he told me he felt I had crossed an absolute line when, on occasion, I had physically jostled the Uzbek security services. What would happen, he asked, if foreign diplomats started striking policemen in London? I pointed out that the cases were different – I was trying to save life: Uzbekistan was a dictatorship, we were a democracy. His eyes twinkled: “Really, Craig, you’re such an imperialist!”

Paul was called out of retirement to be the liaison with the Northern Alliance in the war in Afghanistan. It was a dashing adventure so late in his career. In the Foreign Office at that time we referred to him as “Greenmantle”, only half in jest. He had no illusions at all about General Dostum and his thugs, and though keen to see the Taliban removed, remained deeply ambivalent about the consequences of Western intervention. He opposed the War in Iraq.

His last publication was a review in “Asian Affairs” of Murder in Samarkand, which I have not seen yet. It is not, I am told, entirely friendly, but Paul’s views will remain worth considering.

View with comments

ACLU Publishes Online Database of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has, in the last few days, made public hundreds of files on civilians killed or injured by Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ACLU received the records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request it filed in June 2006.

They have created an online database that can be searched to find details of particular incidents and a complete log of the claims can also be browsed.

via LFCM

View with comments

Bretton Woods Corruption

I thought I would stun everyone this morning by saying something in partial defence of Paul Wolfowitz.

The big surprise about the current scandal is that the man has a girlfriend. If he used his position to lever pay increases for her, he should resign. Let him pay for his own sex.

This undermines his hypocrisy in launching a drive aganst corruption at the World Bank. The irony is he was actually right about corruption. Corruption in the World Bank is massive. I recall in the 1980’s in Nigeria watching billions of dollars poured into inappropriate agricultural programmes, the whole design of which was intended to be capital intensive, to provide the maximum flows to skim. We estimated that 30% of the money was lost to corruption. And yes, the World Bank staff were up to their neck in it. Things have changed a little since then, but not much.

In Nigeria the problem was a combination of a massively corrupt local political structre, and World Bank staff largely drawn from the corrupt elite of the Indian sub-continent. Add into that mix Western contractors and suppliers willing to pay huge bribes, and their governments willing to turn a blind eye.

All of those aspects of the problem need to be tackled. Wolfowitz was not focusing on the Western elements, of course. But that does not make him wrong about the culture of corruption. It is good the issue was forced, and our own loathing of Wolfowitz should not blind us to the fact that the opposition to him of many World Bank staff is from the worst of motives.

View with comments