Leaking Secrets 6

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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6 thoughts on “Leaking Secrets

  • Tal

    This is a very important point indeed. There is absolutely NO way that a journalist can avoid publishing a top-secret document that falls into his hands, but it is all too often very difficult for him to judge whether he's actually working for his own government, as a mere information provider. I believe every newspaperman should ask himself over and over again: "OK, how did I come by this information again? Who would benefit from me going to print with it?"

    This is not done very often unfortunately. The only (dubious) consolation is that it's not a UK-only problem.

    Thanks for writing this, Craig.

  • Sabretache


    I don't comment (or blogg) much lately but you should know that your efforts in exposing the mendacity of the government over Iraq and the 'war on terror' (and much else besides) are greatly appreciated. Their agenda is so transparently self-serving and their constant 'spinning', lying and general corruption so brazenly in-your-face. It depresses me beyond words that they appear to be able to get clean away with anything.

    Please keep it up.

  • Randal

    Difficult to see any way round the grave problem you rightly highlight. Any attempt to increase penalties or vigour of investigation against pro-government leakers would inevitably be subverted by the government and used to further suppress anti-government leakers.

    Dealing with the problem would require, at a minimum, a genuinely independent court, prosecutorial and investigative structure, staffed by people imbued with the idea that the rule of law is a higher priority than "national security". (I use quotes because what is generally claimed to be "national security" is usually actually the particular interests of ruling groups or state functionaries).

    I don't se any such structure or any such group of people appearing any time soon.

    The Mencken quote about hobgoblins applies, and so long as the majority are controlled by fear of largely imaginary or grossly exaggerated threats, the state and those who administer it will have largely free rein. If we (ie the people of Britain) cannot protect people like Keogh and O'Connor from punishment by our government functionaries for disclosing information the disclosure of which was so clearly and vitally in the public interest, then there is little hope of ever bringing government under real control here.

    The truth is, people need to understand that the relationship between government and people needs often to be adversarial, rather than paternal, if disaster is to be avoided. Few in Britain understand that eternal truth, however.

  • simohurtta

    It is astonishing that telling to the public the truth of the establishments actions is sanctioned but establishments telling lies is not.

    In the Iraq affair it is disgusting to read the excuses about the non existent WMD's. "We as everybody else believed that Saddam had WMD's." There is already enough evidence that the US and GB leaders and their hence men should be thrown in prison and the keys of the cells should be thrown from a helicopter to the Iraqi desert.

    Saying that I honestly believed I was doing the right thing is not enough good excuse. Also the leaders must face the responsibility. If Bush suggested the bombing Al-Jazeera and painting planes with UN colours to get a reason for a for the war, those suggestions are preparing crimes (= multiple murders). It is every citizens responsibility to inform about these crime plans if he gets information about them. It is a matter of taste is the confidential label on a paper legally stronger than this citizens responsibility.

  • writeon

    All the above comments are valid. It really is a ghastly situation when liars and purveyors of crass propaganda, specifically designed to fool and frighten the the public and parliament into supporting an agressive war against Iraq, remain free, and are still running the country, whilst those few who have dared to speak the truth and show how we've been lied to stand in the dock.

    This just shows how Power in society is distributed; that is, it really isn't distributed at all, Power is incredibly concentrated and centralized and is becoming more so.

    For a long time Power hasn't really been a subject we've discussed very much. The dogma was that we lived in a democratic society, where Power had somehow didn't really exist anymore in the old-fashioned way. This was a false analysis. Power just changed form and became more difficult to identify for a few decades, but now Raw Power is coming back with a vengance make no mistake about that.

  • Randal

    The information issue is, I think, one of the key flaws in the case made by the Democracy-Uber-Alles ideologues. Not that I propose any alternative form of government – I merely suggest that the democratic component of our government should not be allowed to crowd out all the others, and I decline to accept the assertion of moral supremacy on behalf of nominally democratic regimes.

    "The dogma was that we lived in a democratic society, where Power had somehow didn't really exist anymore in the old-fashioned way. This was a false analysis. "


    The anarchist goal of a society without political power may be unattainable in practice, but I've often thought that there could be far worse overall goals in devising your society than minimising power (perhaps replacing it wherever possible with its weaker cousin, influence). Seems to me that, in a state with genuine respect for the rule of law and proper laws, individuals could be limited to influence rather than power.

    Maybe we were indeed closer to that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (wartime excluded) than we are today.

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