Daily archives: April 26, 2007

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.

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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.

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