Am at Schiphol again at 5.30am, after an overnight flight from Accra, waiting eight hours for a connecting flight to Washington, and thinking “Why oh why do I put myself through this?” Slightly mitigated by the joy of being able to post again on a working internet connection.
AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN, IRAN, IRAQ, VIETNAM: EXPOSING OFFICIAL LIES
Ward Circle Building, Room 2, American University
Wednesday, October 21 at 8:10 pm
Keynote Speaker: Col. Larry Wilkerson (USA, ret.) Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell during the critical period from August 2002 until January 2005; Served as Army officer for 31 years;
Recipient of 2009 Award from Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence
Daniel Ellsberg, Former Defense and State Department official who released the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, for which he was put on trial facing a possible sentence of 115 years; Author, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers; Subject of newly released documentary “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” which he was called at the time by Henry Kissinger
Coleen Rowley, Former Special agent and legal counselor, Minneapolis FBI, who called the FBI director’s attention to serious flaws that might have prevented 9/11; Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2002; Sam Adams Award Recipient, 2002
Craig Murray, Former U.K. Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who exposed the use of torture, declaring, “I would rather die than have someone tortured in attempt to give me more security.” Sam Adams Award recipient, 2005
Ray McGovern, Veteran CIA analyst, whose duties included preparing and briefing the President’s Daily Brief under Nixon, Ford, and Reagan; Co-founder Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS); Colleague of Sam Adams
Peter Kuznick, Professor of History; Director, American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute; Co-writer (with Oliver Stone) “Secret History of the United States” (forthcoming on Showtime)
The late Sam Adams, in calculating the number of Vietnamese Communists under arms, came up with more than twice the number Gen. William Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. forces, would allow the Army to acknowledge. The country-wide offensive at Tet in January-February 1968 proved Sam right.
Sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, American University History Department, American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute
To Tell the Truth
Coleen Rowley and Ambassador Craig Murray
Ray McGovern, moderator
Date/Time: THURSDAY, October 22, 7-9 PM
Place: Festival Center/Servant Leadership School
1640 Columbia Road, NW
Washington, DC 20009
202 328 0072Cost: free (but free-will offerings welcome)
We are all taught to tell the truth. But when some folks enter government service, they seem to claim an exemption. Truth telling becomes quaint, obsolete. Misfeasance and malfeasance get covered up, and we never seem to learn from our mistakes.
Worse still, governments start wars on flimsy pretexts; and this leads to what the Nuremberg Tribunal labeled “accumulated” evils?”like torture. Although a chosen few in our Congress are briefed on such evils, we the people never get to know, UNLESS…
… people of conscience have the integrity and courage to speak out. Our presenters will draw on their personal experience in this kind of speaking out; what it’s like; and what happened to them as a result:
Coleen Rowley, as legal counsel/special agent in the FBI’s Minneapolis Bureau, became aware of the repeated?”but unheeded?”warnings her colleagues sent to FBI headquarters before 9/11. In a memorandum to the FBI Director and Congress she exposed many of the shortcomings and became persona non grata when a lawmaker gave the memo to the press. Time Magazine honored her by naming her Person of the Year in 2002.
Craig Murray was Great Britain’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan when he discovered that his hosts were boiling people alive to extract “intelligence” on “terrorists.” He discovered to his dismay that his Foreign Office superiors thought that this was okay, so long as Craig didn’t do it. He left the Foreign Service and is now Rector of the University of Dundee?”one of Britain’s leading universities, described by Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney as “having its head in the clouds and its feet firmly on the ground.”
Rowley and Murray are past recipients of the annual Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. This forum is follow-on to the Oct. 21event at American U. (see: http://tinyurl.com/ygm55pe)
Sponsored by Speaking Truth to Power/Tell the Word
Union of Uzbek non-governmental organisations
A particularly damning example of New Labour’s Stalinist approach to propaganda. The FCO website carries news of the High Court judgement in the Binyam Mohammed case. If you click on the headline, it gives you an utterly mendacious statement by Milliband attacking the High Court judgement – but nowhere on the website does it give you the High Court judgement, any kind of objective summary of the High Court judgement, or even a link to the High Court judgement.
The FCO, having just lost a court case and been heavily criticised by the High Court, on a taxpayer funded website is hiding the facts while spewing out pure propaganda that we are paying for.
Absolutely fucking disgusting.
It is my birthday today, and I feel rather pleased with the progress being made on exposing the torture crimes of New Labour.
Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett’s “Get Out of Jail Free” card has been that the courts accept the argument that national security overrides all, and the biggest threat to national security is the threat of withdrawal of intelligence cooperation in the “War on Terror”.
It was precisely the threat of withdrawal of Saudi security cooperation that the Law Lords concluded was the potential greater evil, which justified forbidding the prosecution of New Labour’s personal paymasters at BAE for corruption.
And it was precisely the alleged threat of withdrawal of US security cooperation which persuaded the High Court to ban publication of material detailing the torture of Binyam Mohammed.
Only then Obama got in and the Americans said “Milliband is wrong (ie lying), we never threatened to withdraw security cooperation”.
If you read the Guardian report of the High Court judgement, in any other age a Minister caught behaving as appallingly as Milliband has, would have resigned. I would love to be locked in a room with the little twerp for a couple of hours to teach him about the reliability of intelligence from torture. I would have him confessing to menbership of Al-Qaida before I severed his second testicle.
Which is of course the major point. Binyam Mohammed is an innocent man whom we gave over to torture for no reason. The thousands tortured in Uzbekistan into confessing to Al-Qaida links were almost all innocent. That is just one problem with the “Torture Works” argument put forward by Britain’s highest paid thug Jonathan Evans
Can anybody construe the government’s line as anything other than “We were not complicit in torture. We were complicit in torture, but it was necessary.”?
In a Kafkaesque twist, Sky News are today running the banner headline
“Release of Intelligence Papers Could Damage UK/US Intelligence Sharing Agreement”
They are reporting from “US sources” that the Americans have now been persuaded to help Milliband by threatening to reduce cooperation if the evidence of Binyam Mohammed’s torture is released.
Is there a single person out there who genuinely does not now believe that Mohammed was tortured, and further that MI5 and MI6 were not complicit in torture worldwide? The documentary evidence I have already published is damning:
More so are the minutes of the FCO meeting at which I was formally instructed to stop complaining internally about collusion with torture as it had been set as an undeclared government policy. The High Court ruling gives still further weight to my Freedom of Information Act request to have those minutes released.
Friday was the twentieth working day by which the FCO was supposed under the Freedom of Information Act to respond to my request. Hardly surprisingly, it has not done so (other than to acknowledge receipt). I shall now appeal to the Information Commissioner. The government’s attempts to prevent the truth being known about their complicity in torture, are simply desperate. There appears to be a weird fiction that everybody does not realise the truth already.
It really is “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
The war of invasion in Afghanistan is being sustained on two things: the imbecilic argument that it is preventing terrorism in the UK, and on a feast of cod patriotism. Real deaths on the battlefield are not noble; they involve the smells of blood, sweat, shit and piss, and a lot of fear and tears. But this nation cultivated its Spartan myth for generations, and we mentally convert each terrible waste of young life into a tableau of the death of Nelson.
Or this, one of the most popular paintings of the Victorian era; the Last Stand at Gandamak, showing the sad end of the first British army to foolishly invade Afghanistan.
The ritual of Gordon Brown reading out the names of the latest British soldiers to die, is a key part of the patriotic hokum that sustains this dreadful war. But after MPs came back from their incredibly long holiday, it backfired spectacularly on Brown today as he read the names of the 37 young men who died in the hills of Afghanistan while the MPs spent months swigging Pinot Grigio in the hills of Tuscany.
So now we are sending an extra 500 men. That will finally kill off the fierce historic resistance of the Afghans to foreign occupation, then. How many more body bags are we sending?
The media have bought hook, line and sinker the story that Thomas Legg has been hard on poor MPs, making them pay back gardening or cleaning bills over an arbitrary limit.
In fact, on average those MPs asked to make a repayment are being asked to pay less than 0.25% of their salary plus allowances over the period. And with the media diverted to slight repayments of trivial items, the real big money – fake mortgages and capital gains tax evasion through “flipping” – where MPs rake in tens and even hundreds of thousands of pounds, has gone completely undisturbed.
Don’t look over here, look over there! Talk about a dumb media.
Meantime at least the Mail, Independent and Telegraph, and perhaps others, have quoted me on Legg and the Sierra Leone inquiry, because journalists nowadays seldom leave their offices and do their “research” through google. The implication is that in fact Legg has turned into a ferocious prober of iniquity. Why anybody would pay for the facile mainstream media is beyond me.
And in other shocking news, the sun sets in the evening….
There are many terrible injustices in this world. Of the two which most caught the World’s attention and about which I marched through the streets of Edinburgh as a young man, apartheid is thank God long gone, but the fate of the Palestinians has got worse and worse. No American President except Carter has even remotely cared. Blair’s appointment as quartet “envoy” on Palestine was a joke so sick that I can only think of the concentration camp slogan about work setting you free as a similarly horrific irony.
Meantime anyone in any doubt as to how unpleasant our Conservative rulers in waiting are, might look through the comments section on Martin Bright’s Spectator blog post on Kaminski.
I particularly like this comment from someone called Judy:
Craig Murray is not just unreliable, but a ludicrous and embittered crank with inter alia a track record of writing distorted defences of the most indefensible regimes, such as the Iranian one.
As my extremely negative view of the Iranaian regime is a constant source of dispute with my commenters here, I found that funny. Judy’s link is to an article by the pig-headed neo-con fool Oliver Kamm, where he took issue with my contention that the British sailors arrested by Iran were not in Iraqi waters but in disputed waters, and that the “boundary” map produced by the MOD had no legal standing and was simply propaganda.
Eventually, of course, absolutely everybody including the House of Commons inquiry accepted that I was right. Kamm has since been totally silent on the subject. Whether he still believes in the entirely fake MOD boundary map, I have no idea. I guess he probably does. He probably believes the Iraqis cunningly hid the WMD too.
Meantime, a large prize goes to anybody who can produce an example of me “writing distorted defences of the most indefensible regimes”.
Thanks to Charles Crawford for pointing out a typo. I knew Kaminsi when I was at the British Embassy in the late 1990’s, not the 1980s.
In KLM lounge at Schiphol. Having been given the choice of the Telegraph or Mail on the flight here, I feel compelled to note that the attacks on Gordon Brown over his eyesight are completely out of order. The media of course was quite happy with David Blunkett – blindness is evidently OK as long as it is populist right wing blindness.
One of my strange brushes with popular culture. About four years ago I was with Nadira in the then popular St James’ nightclub, when she started dancing in the incredibly sexy way only she can with a young man a good deal shorter than her, and a very great deal younger and better looking than me. I was a trifle annoyed, but he came and joined us for a drink and he was both friendly and very obviously more likely to be interested in me than Nadira. Nadira explained to me he was Stephen from Boyzone, whcih meant next to nothing to me. We saw him I think just once more, but he was very friendly, polite, unassuming, drank very little and showed no signs of drugs. He bought his round (a quality high up my judgemental list on men).
I have never knowingly listened to anything by Boyzone. I suppose now I ought to.
Off to Ghana now.
I have just realised that the man appointed to head the formal investigation of MPs’ expenses is Sir Thomas Legg. That removes any possible doubt that this will be a total whitewash. I suppose it was impossible to expect that a genuinely independent minded figure of authority would be appointed.
I have come across the odious Legg before, and been interviewed by him in a previous inquiry, as detailed in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and Other Conflicts I Have Known.
“Robin Cook had announced an independent inquiry into what lessons could be learned, to be conducted by Sir Thomas Legg and Sir Robin Ibbs. Cook had now lost control, and with No 10 driving, the “Independent” inquiry was a complere stitch-up – the first in a long line of Blair whitewashes that were to include the Butler and Hutton inquiries.” Catholic Orangemen p63.
Sir Thomas Legg, quintessential insider, the Establishment Man’s Establishment Man: as unctuous a piece of slime as ever slithered around the corridors of Whitehall. In his “Independent” Arms to Africa inquiry he exonerated mercenary Tim Spicer and Executive Outcomes against the evidence and after taking direct instruction from No 10 on the kind of whitewash to produce. I have no doubt he has done so again now.
He will find that the vast majority of MPs acted “Within the rules” and that any mistakes by Ministers were “In good faith”. You read it here – now you don’t need to read the report.
Legg’s line in corrupt smoothing over does not come cheap. In this new era of openness and accountability it would be interesting to know how much Legg is being paid.
This brief documentary is wel worth watching. Sadly there is nothing equivalent on UK complicity that I am aware of, and we are still struggling to get the comparable documents. It feels like I am one of only a handful of campaigners who really seems to care. Obama’s collusion in the US cover-up is just one reason why it was a farce to give him the Nobel peace prize.
“We could drop it on an Afghan village. Just keep the cash.”
Iain Dale has an interesting interview with Michal Kaminski. I think Iain should be congratulated for asking all the right questions, rather well. It is not his fault that Kaminski was dissembling wildly in his answers.
I knew Kaminski slightly when he was a young political activist in the late 1990s. I was at the time First Secretary in the British Embassy and much concerned to identify the new political leadership, untainted by Communist mindset, which might bring Poland into the European Union. I should say that the Embassy had a group of young Second Secretaries who were absolutely brilliant in this. William Elliott, Anna Clunes, Andy Smith and Dominic Meiklejohn were amazingly talented; I tried to take credit for their work!
Life is complicated sometimes. Kaminski certainly was anti-Semitic. He was also a very personable and polite young man. Let me try to explain this paradox.
When Alexander Kasniewski defeated Lech Walesa to become President of Poland in 1995, Kaminski was one of the right wing activists involved in lobbying the media to publish stories stating that Kwasniewski’s grandmother was Jewish. That accusation became the focal point of the entire election campaign. The Kwasniewski camp felt unable to reply that the ethnicity of Kwasniewski’s grandmother was immaterial; in fact, they went to great lengths to produce documents and witnesses to show that she was not Jewish. That fact is crucial to an understanding of the depth of anti-semitism in Poland. Even Kwasniewski felt unable to face it down electorally.
Living in Poland for four years, I was continually shocked by the casual anti-semitism I encountered. One day I was going to lunch with Kasia Krause (now a diplomat at the Polish Embassy in London). I said to the kindly old Polish lady in the Embassy who fixed my appointments:
“Oh Kasia, that’s great, she’s really lovely”.
The old lady replied
“You do realise she is Jewish, don’t you?”
It would be a lie to say that I encountered casual anti-semitism every day. But I did so often enough to be severely worried – and often from very nice people who did not otherwise have weird opinions. Anti-semitism was absolutely endemic in the Polish Catholic Church, and still is. There has been no serious attempt to eradicate it, despite the odd rap on the knuckles for Walesa’s priest Father Jankowski or the rabid crowd at Radio Marija – Kaminski’s most important media support. It is worth noting that whilst within the Polish Catholic Church, the conservative Polish Pope John Paul II had always been considered a far liberal.
I should add that a young black British businessmen reported to me that being spat at was an almost daily occurence.
The strange thing is that I adore Poland, and Poles, and Polish culture. I was ever so happy in my time there. There are reasons for the development of this deep-seated racist strain which are historic. There is a limit to how far you can blame individuals for adopting attitudes which are widespread in their culture; and without understanding you cannot change attitudes. Which brings me back to Kaminski. Much as he tries to hide his past, for the present I do not think we should rule out that he really has changed his views, after being exposed to wider cultural influences (like Iain Dale!)
There undoubtedly remain, however, many really nasty anti-Semites in the political grouping in Poland around Kaminski. I still think the Tories will regret this alliance. It is a wonderful irony that Kamiski is a strong advocate of the Lisbon Treay, which rather obviates the reason for the Tories to have shot themselves in the foot with their weird alliances.
A key part of Poland coming to terms with its anti-semitism will be an acknowledgement of what Polish people did to Jews in or just after World War II. Iain Dale’s questioning about the Jedwabne massacre is actually important. This was one of a number of massacres of Jews by Poles, but there were also hundreds of individual murders of Jewish survivors who inconveniently resurfaced, and perhaps tried to reclaim their property.
Poland must come to terms with all of its history, not just the heroic bits. Poland suffered terribly for three hundred years of near continuous foreign occupation. It was moved about physically on the map, sometimes disappearing, and emerged an artificially placed and artificially ethnically homogenous nation. Of course it was screwed up and nationalistic. Of course Kamnski is screwed up and nationalistic. Poland is slowly getting better. Who knows? Maybe Michal is too.
I don’t think Cameron is a malicious charlatan like Tony Blair, nor as avaricious – he doesn’t need the money. But there is something of the Blair about him – good looking young politician delivers touchy feely lines of dubious sincerity. One of his concluding lines summed it up for me:
“I see a country where the poorest children go to the best schools.”
Now don’t just admire how fine that sounds, read it again:
“I see a country where the poorest children go to the best schools”.
Do you think David Cameron does see that, really? Do you see that? And if the poorest children go to the best schools, who will go to the worst schools? What does it actually mean in practice? ” I think we should give a few token plebs scholarships to Eton”? “I wish we had someone from a council estate in the Bullingdon Club”? Or that the state schools in deprived inner city areas really will become the very best schools in the country? Does anybody in their right mind consider that to be possible? Or is this just rhetoric designed to neutralise Cameron’s cossetted origins?
There was a rather nastier point of using pretended concern for the poor earlier in Cameron’s speech, when he banged on about the poor single mother who works to better herself, and who because of benefit withdrawal effectively is taxed at 96% on every pound she earns over £150 per week. A crafted standing ovation greeted a ringing declaration that the Conservatives would end the scandal of marginal 96% tax rates for the poorest in our society. But of course the Conservatives would do that, not by lowering the single mother’s tax rate, and not by keeping giving her benefit when she works. They would do it by reducing the benefit she can get if she does not work, thus “incentivising” her to search for a non-existent job supported by non-existent cheap childcare for her children. The Conservatives’ attack on “Welfare Dependency” is motivated by their perpetual nastiness, which Cameron merely disguises a bit better. It is an attack on the poor disguised as social concern.
We are in for a Khaki election, with the parties competing to be the most committed to the ruinous war in Afghanistan. I have to say I do not object to Richard Dannatt joining the Tories. I always argue that we need politicians who have experience outside politics. There have been distinguished military men who have been good in Parliament – like Denis Healey and Paddy Ashdown. But they had the decency to get themselves elected first.
Yes, the true hypocrisy of the Dannatt affair has been missed by pretty well all commentators. The Tories opposed New Labour’s self-serving House of Lords reform, on the apparently principled point that the House of Lords should be reformed to a democratically elected Upper Chamber. Now they announce that Dannatt will be working with the prospective Tory government – from the Lords.
Plainly the Tories have no more interest in democracy than New Labour, and their true intention is just to turn the Lords from Tony’s Cronies to Dave’s Cronies.
Makes you sick, doesn’t it.
So determined are the British mainstream media, and all three main English political parties, to maintain patriotic support for the War in Afghanistan, that there has been almost no reporting here of conclusive evidence that the Afghan elections were entirely fraudulent. There are huge discrepancies between the turnout as monitored by UN observers, and as declared by the Afghan “Independent” Electoral Commission. For example:
In Helmand province in the south, where Taliban fighters remain very active, for example, the U.N. estimated that just 38,000 votes were cast while Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission reported 122,376 votes for the top three candidates, including 112,873 for Karzai. In neighboring Kandahar, the U.N. estimated turnout at below 100,000 voters ?” compared to the commission’s official count of 242,782 votes, 221,436 of them for Karzai.
The interesting thing is that the UN itself has been complicit in covering this up, and the true figures have only been released by a whistleblower, Peter Galbraith, who has naturally been sacked. His motives are immaterial – it was wrong of the UN to suppress this information. For sheer bloody minded cynicism, the response from Edmond Mulet, assistant UN secretary general, takes the biscuit. He stated that the UN was mandated to support the Afghan election, not to monitor it.
A smoother but still more cynical confirmation that the UN is going along with fraud came from the Head of the UN’s Afghan mission, Kai Eide, who stated that:
“If one is serious about state-building in Afghanistan, one must allow these nascent institutions to work and to grow. This means allowing them to make their own mistakes.”
This resonates strongly with me because it mirrors exactly the arguments I had with UN officials in Uzbekistan who refused to acknowledge the appalling human rights abuses in the country. In particular, UNICEF point blank would not report the massive use of forced labour of young children in the cotton fields, preferring instead to quote reports from Uzbek government institutions denying this.
Sadly, the majority of international diplomats, Eide and Mulet included, are high living careerists, fleas riding on the back of power, with no principles and with no empathy for the plight of people whose lifestyle does not include an unlimited supply of free champagne.
There are times when I feel a total disconnect from the mainstream media. Political commentators appear almost universally to have concluded that George Osborne’s speech yesterday was a success, that he has “Grown up” or “Come of age”. Am I alone in thinking that Osborne sounded like a petulant public school prefect? I spent the entire speech thinking “arrogant little shit”, and I would be astonished if quite a few other people did not hink so too.
The incessant repetition of “We are all in this together” struck me as amateur in both concept and delivery. It also brought the thought that multi-millionaires like Messrs Cameron and Osborne are rather less “in it” than ordinary people. If that were not true, of course, he would not have needed to insist so hard on the opposite. The fact that the rich may have to wait up to five years for exemption from inheritance tax seemed to me less than a huge sacrifice on their part: in contrast to public sector workers, who are expected to take a pay freeze, and working people who are expected to retire later – both to finance the massive subsidies paid to bankers. The Conservatives are no better than New Labour in seeking to hide their determination to let bankers’ obscene salaries and bonuses continue, hidden behind a smokescreen of hypocritical rhetoric.
You may be surprised to learn that personally I believe that the public sector should be kept to below 40% of GDP, which is to say that it should be cut by over 25%. That makes me more radically anti-state than the Tories. There is a huge amount of waste in public expenditure, especially in local government.
My solutions are more radical. The local government system suffers from a disconnect between provision and finance. It is admministered locally but financed centrally. Your council tax only accounts for a tiny percentage of the council’s expenditure, so the ability to relate performance and provision to cost is lost on the taxpayer/voter. At least 80% (100% in wealthy areas) of all local services, including education, should be funded through wholly variable local income tax. National income tax would be correspondingly reduced and council tax abolished. Up to 20% central government subsidy might be paid to poorer regions.
If voters were paying 15% of their income in tax to the local authority, they would take much more interest in local government, and wonder why they were paying for over-inflated and almost completely useless social services departments, and why the deputy manager of the leisure centre was on £85,000 pa. I can think of no single change which would lead to a more radical reduction of government expenditure.
The other major change would be smaller, leaner public services which simply go on with delivering the service direct, with minimal administration. This is the opposite of what the Tories would do. In particular, we need to cut out the whole complex administration of “internal markets” within the public services, where vast arrays of accountants and managers spend their wasted lives processing paper payments from the government to the government.
Let me tell you a true story which is an analogy for the whole rotten system. As Ambassador in Tashkent, I had staff from a variety of government departments – FCO, MOD, DFID, BTI, Home Office etc. In addition to which, some staff sometimes did some work for other than their own department. This led to complex inter-departmental charging, including this:
I was presented with a floor plan of the Embassy building, with floor area calculated of each office, corridor and meeting room. I then had to calculate what percentage of time each room or corridor was used by each member of staff, and what percentage of time each member of staff worked for which government department. So, for example, after doing all the calculations, I might conclude that my own office was used 42% of the time on FCO business, 13% of the time on BTI business, 11% on DFID, etc etc, whereas my secretary’s office was used ….
I then would have to multiply the percentage for each government department for each room, lobby and corridor by the square footage of that room, lobby or corridor. Then you would add up for every government department the square footages for each room, unitl you had totals of how many square feet of overall Embassy space were attributable to each government department. The running costs of the Embassy could then be calculated – depreciation, lighting, heating, maintenace, equipment, guarding, cleaning, gardening etc – and divided among the different departments. Then numerous interanal payment transfers would be processed and made.
The point being, of course, that all the payments were simply from the British government to the British government, but the taxpayer had the privilege of paying much more to run the Embassy to cover the staff who did the internal accounting. That is just one of the internal market procedures in one small Embassy. Imagine the madnesses of internal accounting in the NHS. The much vaunted increases in NHS spending have gone entirely to finance this kind of bureaucracy. Internal markets take huge resources for extra paperwork, full stop.
The Private Finance Initiative is similarly crazy; a device by which the running costs of public institutions are hamstrung to make massive payments on capital to private investors. What we desperately need to do is get back to the notion that public services should be provided by the State, with the least possible administrative tail. The Tories – and New Labour, in fact – both propose on the contrary to increase internal market procedures and contracting out.
All of George Osborne’s vaunted savings proposals yesterday would not add up to 10% of the saving from simply scrapping Trident. Ending imperial pretentions is a must for any sensible plan to tackle the deficit.
The Tories have adopted one plan I advocated in Norwich – tax breaks for start-up firms. One of the reasons for the failure of British entrepeneurship is our insistence on taxing firms even as they struggle to first establish themselves. George Osborne has only proposed a two year break on employment taxes – I propose a much more radical five year exemption from all taxes – but at least he has noticed the right problem.
All state personal payments should be means tested. It is time to slaughter the sacred cows of the welfare system. Lloyd George’s old age pension saved us from the horrors of the workhouse system and brought a sense of entitlement and dignity to working people, but after precisely a hundred years it is time to move on. Peculiarly, if all state benefits are means tested, it will remove the stigma. Many pensioners, including some close to me, take the basic pension but refuse to apply for income support. If all state payments were made through a single income tax assessment procedure, the stigma problem could be tackled. So would the nonsense of the Duke of Westminster’s entitlement to a state pension and child benefit, and the billions spent in recycling money to and from the middle class via the state.
There would still need to be a cut-off age at which the State no longer expects people to work -though retirment should be voluntary, not compulsory for those still able and wanting to work. Here the Tories are insensitive. It is a national disgrace that the difference in average life expectancy between districts in the affluent South of England, and inner city areas in our older industrial cities, can be as much as twenty years. In parts of Glasgow men struggle to live to retirement. There is also the law of unintended consequences here – any increase in retirement age will bring an immediate and major increase in those claiming incapacity benefit, the Tories’ favourite bugbear. The solution is to make it easier for people to continue to work voluntarily, and means test all payments. But the entitlement to retiire at 65 should remain until the benefits of increasing good health have reached all workers, not just Tory voters.
I hope that offers some food for thought. I also hope that it does something to remove the continuing misimpression that I am left wing….
Tom Harris MP being the fool in question. He thinks that the people who concocted the lies about Iraqi WMD, thus launching a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, are the best choice to be in parliament:
I would have thought it in our country’s interest to have an MP ?” of whatever political persuasion ?” with a background in covert intelligence work.
Tom’s article is based on a huge number of preconceptions. The truth is, that the wonderful James Bond opus has fundamentally affected the perception of MI6 in the British people, including the politicians. But James Bond is fiction. It bears no resemblance at all to the real MI6.
In particular Tom Harris has swallowed the idea that MI6 officers put themselves in particular danger in the course of their work, That is simply untrue. Watson’s attempted contrast in “The View From The Residence” between comfortable diplomats and brave MI6 officers is offensive. He may be interested to know that consistently since World War II more FCO than MI6 staff have been killed or injured on active service.
MI6 officers only work abroad with diplomatic immunity. Their “Cover” is almost always as Embassy staff. The following single true story tells more truth about MI6 than Tom Harris will ever experience. Names have been changed.
I was First Secretary at the British Embassy in Warsaw, in charge of the Political and Economic Sections. One day I was having lunch with a well known Polish restaurateur, Wlodek. Wlodek ran Warsaw’s most exclusive restaurant and catered for many government functions. He was also a well known social figure in his own right, and a great purveyor of political gossip.
Over lunch Wlodek told me a story about the then Polish Prime Minister. I was able to tell him that I had been present on the occasion he described and the story was untrue.
There was another First Secretary in the Embassy, we will call him Bill, with a theoretical job description very similar to mine – only he was really an MI6 officer. A couple of days later I was having lunch in another restaurant with another contact (now you know why I am so fat). Ensconced in a corner together were Bill and Wlodek.
A couple of days further on I received a copy of an intelligence report issued by MI6. It described the source as “Regular and reliable, with good access”. It contained the same story Wlodek had told me.
I minuted on it – “Bill – you got this from Wlodek. He told me the same thing. It’s not true. I was there.” and sent it back to him. I got told off for the cardinal sin of writing the name of the source on the report.
A couple more days, and I met Wlodek again.
“Wlodek, why did you tell Bill that story”, I asked, “I told you it wasn’t true”.
“Ah yes,” Wlodek laughed, “But Bill paid me ten thousand dollars for it”.
Which is what MI6 mostly do. They buy information. By definition, of course, people who sell you intelligence are apt to be unreliable. Much of the key “intelligence” on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction was bought from an Iraqi Colonel. If you hand over briefcases of used dollars to Iraqi Colonels in Egyptian hotel rooms, they will give you lots of information on WMD. Absolutely as much as you want. Just keep the dollars flowing.
Forget the entertaining Ian Fleming. Read Graham Greene, who saw much further into the human soul. Our Man in Havana is much closer to truth than James Bond.
There is also the question of the huge sums of taxpayers’ cash doled out. I had to account in detail you would not believe for ever penny of FCO cash spent. Every British Ambassador spends two full working days a month carrying out accounts and receipts and stocks checks.
But I frequently in my career had to sign for large sums in cash (MI6 officers do not sign for it themselves) which I then handed over to my MI6 colleagues. You can’t ask a paid traitor for a receipt, so this money was, literally, unaccountable. The largest cash sum I ever handed over was US$120,000. Did I ever suspect MI6 officers might be stealing some of this untraceable money? Yes, bluntly I did, in one case in particular. There are absolutely no safeguards.
Not all information is paid for. Informers can have other motives. Interestingly one effect of the invasion of Iraq has been that far fewer informants are willing to cooperate with British intelligence because they see the UK as a force for good in the world. But “Human Intelligence”, or HUMINT, always has to be carefully assessed for the motive of the teller and his credible access to the information. Very often, it is wrong.
HUMINT reports arrive around Whitehall with red cardboard covers and SIGINT – communications intercepts from GCHQ – in blue jackets. I recall Tristan Garel-Jones, when a FCO minister, asking his Private Secretary in a meeting about Cyprus “Now remind me again, which colour is reliable and which colour is speculative?” Broadly, he was not wrong. GCHQ information is viewed generally in Whitehall to be better quality than MI6 information, and I certainly found this true in my 20 years of dealing with intelligence.
All this is broad bush. MI6 are sometimes involved in Sigint operations. They sometimes produce good human intelligence. But they failed disastrously their two most important tests – over Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, and over the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. Both failures led to war.
The other source of MI6 HUMINT is foreign liaison. This is where MI6 stand accused of accepting large quantities of dubious intelligence and turning a blind eye to the fact that it was obtained by torture.
But the biggest source of UK intelligence is the United States. Most reports issued by MI6 are CIA reports, as most reports issued by GCHQ are NSA reports. An alpha-numeric code is the only thing that shows the difference. It was the CIA’s adoption of torture that caused Jack Straw’s change of policy to accept it.
The fallibility of HUMINT has been very well understood in Whitehall for generations. The reports are fed in by MI6 but then go through a number of sceptical filters, in the FCO, MOD and Cabinet Office and other government departments if relevant, formalised in the Joint Intelligence Committee and its sub-committees. With New Labour enforcing true belief in the War on Terror, the scepticism filters have been opened wide. That was the scandal of the Iraqi WMD dossier. The appalling quality of the bought and torture intelligence being fed in was just par for the course from MI6.
A final observation. I had no MI6 officers with me in Tashkent because MI6 said the operating environment was too dangerous. Meantime I was visiting alone and unarmed all through the Ferghana Valley and Tien Shan.
There, Tom Harris MP. That is the view from the Residence. Evidently it is a damn sight clearer than the view from the New Labour benches of the House of Commons.
Where do I find the campaign to stop Blair?
A massive task of mobilisation lies ahead to prevent the elevation of Tony Blair to President of the European Union. The issue has potential to unite the vast majority of the British people. Imagine the Countryside Alliance and Stop The War demonstartions combined. It is essential that people accept a “Big tent” campaign that unites around the single objective of preventing Blair’s appointment by amking clear to Brussels that it is completely unacceptable to the European Union.
I had always been a supporter of EU membership, but even the possibility of Blair’s appointment crystallises for me the arrogance of Brussels and the increasing distance between EU institutions and people. Should the EU become headed by a war criminal, I shall defintely conclude it is time to leave.
No post today because I have been too busy with a whirlwind of family and friends. By chance, everyone seemed to have something they wanted to celebrate with me today. Now I am off to bed early, smiling and exhausted.