5 February 2004

A little light Hansard

In his resignation speech of 17 March 2003, Robin Cook told the House of Commons:

Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term?namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target. It probably still has biological toxins and battlefield chemical munitions, but it has had them since the 1980s when US companies sold Saddam anthrax agents and the then British Government approved chemical and munitions factories. Why is it now so urgent that we should take military action to disarm a military capacity that has been there for years, and which we helped to create? Why is it necessary to resort to war this week, while Saddam's ambition to complete his weapons programme is blocked by the presence of UN inspectors?

In today's debate on the Hutton report, Tony Blair said that he did not understand (when the September dossier was published) that the 45 minute claim did not refer to nuclear weapons but only to battlefield weapons.

Blair was then asked if he knew the difference before the war vote on 18 March, and answered:

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Prime Minister says that all the intelligence about the 45 minutes was made available. As he will be well aware, it has subsequently emerged that this related to battlefield weapons or small-calibre weaponry. In the eyes of many, if that information had been available, those weapons might not have been described as weapons of mass destruction threatening the region and the stability of the world. When did the Prime Minister know that information? In particular, did he know it when the House divided on 18 March?

The Prime Minister : No. I have already indicated exactly when this came to my attention. It was not before the debate on 18 March last year. The hon. Gentleman says that a battlefield weapon would not be a weapon of mass destruction, but if there were chemical, biological or nuclear battlefield weapons, they most certainly would be weapons of mass destruction. The idea that their use would not threaten the region's stability I find somewhat eccentric.

Cook addressed this issue later in the same debate:

There is one question that I have for the Butler inquiry to consider. I think that it falls within its remit, however narrow that may be. I have never doubted that Ministers believed all the information in the September dossier when that dossier was presented to Parliament, but I would be surprised if they believed all of it by the time the House was asked in March to vote for war. I say that because in between those two points we had two months of inspections by Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. We had given those inspectors, perfectly properly and correctly, our intelligence to guide them where to look, and they found nothing. Hans Blix has observed, "My God, if this was their best intelligence, what was the rest like?"

Those blank results were fed back to our intelligence agencies by the weapons inspectors. I would like the Butler inquiry to consider whether that knowledge that our intelligence had proved faulty changed any of the evaluation by the intelligence agencies of the threat from Saddam. If so, why did Ministers not tell the House before we went to war?

I shall pick up on the exchange between the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon. If I heard it correctly?I may have misheard it?the hon. Gentleman asked my right hon. Friend whether he was aware by March that we were considering battlefield weapons rather than wider long-range weapons of mass destruction.

If I heard him correctly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said no. I am bound to say that I was surprised by that answer. The House will recall that in my resignation speech I made the very point that we were considering battlefield weapons and that Saddam probably had no real weapons of mass destruction. I invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who will reply to the debate, to consider with his advisers whether it might not be wise to qualify the Prime Minister's answer when he replies. I find it difficult to reconcile with what I knew, and what I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knew when we had the vote in March.

Defence Secretary Hoon then confirmed his evidence before Hutton on 23 September 2003 (Para 225). Asked why he had not briefed Blair he resorted to bromides about how government works but then let the cat out of the bag:

The 45-minute claim was used so frequently not because it could be linked to the threat of missiles reaching here but because it was the only information in the document that implied that Iraq must already have the weapons, because it could get them to an unstated location 45 minutes later. That was the only evidence, and it contradicted the actual conclusions of the JIC, which is why so much was made of that claim.

It seems that Blair could not be briefed on the 45 minute claim because abandoning it would mean abandoning the very notion that the CBW weapons even existed. Be very clear when you read the Hoon speech:

it was the only information in the document that implied that Iraq must already have the weapons

Clearly, the Blair government has decided to adopt the Sgt Schultz defence first pioneered by the Man of Steel.

The prime minister's knowledge of the battlefield weapons/strategic weapons difference, and the time of that knowledge, was then a principal point of contention in the Commons debate on the Hutton report. Let us return to His Lordship himself:

A consideration of this distinction does not fall within my terms of reference, but the distinction was noted and commented on by the ISC in paragraphs 111 and 112 of its report presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister in September 2003:

111. Saddam was not considered a current or imminent threat to mainland UK, nor did the dossier say so. As we said in our analysis of the JIC Assessments, the most likely chemical and biological munitions to be used against Western forces were battlefield weapons (artillery and rockets), rather than strategic weapons. This should have been highlighted in the dossier.

Is it really Blair's position that he did not read the September 2003 ISC report, or the March 2003 Cook speech, and that at no stage between September 2003 and Match 2004 no-one made him aware of the difference. And is that really a credible position?

In summary Blair ought to have known the 45 minute claim related only to CBW battlefield weapons because:

  • Cook knew and said so publicly in March 2003 before the war vote
  • Hoon knew at some unspecified time before the war vote
  • the ISC knew in September 2003
  • in Britain the ISC reports to the prime minister

Lord Butler: the man who will investigate

During the Scott inquiry, Lord Butler achieved notoriety by defending Whitehall doublespeak and secrecy to a sceptical judge: 'You have to be selective about the facts,' he said, arguing that government had been entitled to mislead about, for example, delicate negotiations with the IRA or impending devaluations of sterling.

'It does not follow that you mislead people. You just do not give the full information ... It is not justified to mislead, but very often one is finding oneself in a position where you have to give an answer that is not the whole truth.'

He joined in ministerial attempts to undermine Scott's inquiry, although he directed his fire ostensibly at the media, saying the inquiry should 'undo ... the damage that had been unfairly done to our system of government, to the reputation of the civil service and to individuals'.

Southerly Buster is forced to conclude the only reason Lord Butler is to head this inquiry is that Sir Humphrey Appleby is unavailable. A cabinet secretary who has twice failed to find any evidence of ministerial wrongdoing is the perfect candidate to hand down another whitewash.

Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini Sistani - Why we'd better listen to Iraq's influential cleric

But the odds of a peaceful handover depend entirely on Sistani. The United States is not about to see all the blood spilled and money spent by occupation forces go toward the creation of a new hardline Islamic republic. Sistani will have to decide whether or not to endorse a slow, imperfect transition state. What if he skunks the deal? It's nearly unthinkable that he would call for armed revolt, but it could happen without him. 'Sistani may lose control of the masses,' warned Amatzia Baram, an expert on Iraqi politics at the U.S. Institute of Peace. If the Shiites stop following his lead, 'it's anybody's guess what happens.' Alongside Sistani's moderation one must take into account his aggressive young rival, Moqtada al-Sadr, and countless others who would be glad to push the Shiites toward war.

Sistani is a deeply religious man who is also a survivor. Living in Najaf, a holy city and burial place haunted by Shiite passion for martyrdom, he has emerged as a leader through quiet rationalism. When his fatwa summoned thousands into the streets of Baghdad, Sistani crossed the line from scholar to activist. In many ways, we're all lucky that he is the voice of Iraq's Shiites, but by playing politics, he is entering a dangerous arena. A powerful Shiite cleric is calling for a peaceful, internationally moderated democracy in Iraq. Just across the border, Iran's theocracy is wrestling with the same issues, and from Egypt to Malaysia leaders struggle to integrate Islam and democracy. Behind the rhetoric of regime change George Bush added the promise that America would make that integration happen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sistani has dared him to do it.

We know the public answer from the Bush forward strategy of freedom speech. Clearly Bush had better show much greater seriousness in carrying out the promises of that speech than we have seen thus far.

Today editor 'checked Gilligan's notes'

The Today editor was never called as a witness by Lord Hutton and his written submission was never handed to the inquiry because the BBC legal team mistakenly thought the judge would not rule on those parts of the editorial process about which he didn't hear evidence.

According to his witness statement, Marsh claims he had agreed with Gilligan what he was going to say in his scripted report going out just after 7.30am.

That script should have formed the basis of his two-way report at 6.07am.

Marsh is believed to be furious because he has been savagely criticised by Lord Hutton without having had the chance to defend himself and is consulting lawyers about the possibility of challenging some of the judge's verdict.

Marsh was not called as a witness to the Hutton inquiry, much to the surprise of many including the former editor of Today Rod Liddle.

I've blogged previously about Hutton's odd conclusions about things that cast no light. Now we have a case where Hutton delivers a damning conclusion without hearing a witness.

291.(2) The communication by the media of information (including information obtained by investigative reporters) on matters of public interest and importance is a vital part of life in a democratic society. However the right to communicate such information is subject to the qualification (which itself exists for the benefit of a democratic society) that false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of others, including politicians, should not be made by the media. Where a reporter is intending to broadcast or publish information impugning the integrity of others the management of his broadcasting company or newspaper should ensure that a system is in place whereby his editor or editors give careful consideration to the wording of the report and to whether it is right in all the circumstances to broadcast or publish it. The allegations that Mr Gilligan was intending to broadcast in respect of the Government and the preparation of the dossier were very grave allegations in relation to a subject of great importance and I consider that the editorial system which the BBC permitted was defective in that Mr Gilligan was allowed to broadcast his report at 6.07am without editors having seen a script of what he was going to say and having considered whether it should be approved.

(3) The BBC management was at fault in the following respects in failing to investigate properly the Government's complaints that the report in the 6.07am broadcast was false that the Government probably knew that the 45 minutes claim was wrong even before it decided to put it in the dossier. The BBC management failed, before Mr Sambrook wrote his letter of 27 June 2003 to Mr Campbell, to make an examination of Mr Gilligan's notes on his personal organiser of his meeting with Dr Kelly to see if they supported the allegations which he had reported in his broadcast at 6.07am. When the BBC management did look at Mr Gilligan's notes after 27 June it failed to appreciate that the notes did not fully support the most serious of the allegations which he had reported in the 6.07am broadcast, and it therefore failed to draw the attention of the Governors to the lack of support in the notes for the most serious of the allegations.

According to Marsh the notes were checked before the first broadcast. Hutton (as is standard with these inquiries) notified a number of people that they faced criticism and gave them a chance to answer that criticism. It defies logic that Hutton neither heard from marsh not notified him that he faced criticism.

I boldfaced the principle outlined by Hutton which the media should give contested allegations. That principle is higher than Hutton demands of the government in publishing war dossiers. Hutton cites passages from Reynolds v Irish Newspapers to support his view. I'll turn to unpacking that conclusion (itself contested by a number of eminent lawyers) over the next few days.

Howard dogged by Iraq intelligence doubts

KERRY O'BRIEN: It was about whether he had enough of an arsenal to present a clear and present danger.

JOHN HOWARD: I'm sorry, Kerry.

The argument was about whether in the light of the evidence of Iraq's non-compliance with successive UN resolutions, the correct course of action was the action taken by the coalition or whether we should further persevere with further UN processes.

There was no argument at the time about the existence of WMD.

The debate was whether the UN process should be further utilised rather than taking military action.

KERRY O'BRIEN: In other words, whether the weapons inspectors, under the UN's auspices, should be allowed to continue searching?

JOHN HOWARD: Kerry, that is an argument about process, not about existence.

I am not absolutely convinced that 'Process, not existence!' will fly as a campaign slogan. I am also not clear how it excuses Howard from at least examining the evidence (the evidence he is now beginning, ever so quietly, to gently tiptoe away from) to find out whether it was correct.

I am also very, very unsure that mere belief in WMDs is a sufficient case for war, as opposed to believing in WMDs which actually constitute a clear and present danger. As always, Howard takes a more extreme position on this than Blair and Bush and offers less justification.

There was argument about the existence of WMDs. Hans Blix told the Security Council on 19 March:

Another matter - and one of great significance - is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for. To take an example, a document, which Iraq provided, suggested to us that some 1,000 tonnes of chemical agent were "unaccounted for". One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However, that possibility is also not excluded. If they exist, they should be presented for destruction. If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented.

We are fully aware that many governmental intelligence organizations are convinced and assert that proscribed weapons, items and programmes continue to exist. The US Secretary of State presented material in support of this conclusion. Governments have many sources of information that are not available to inspectors. Inspectors, for their part, must base their reports only on evidence, which they can, themselves, examine and present publicly. Without evidence, confidence cannot arise.

It's really quite a long way from Howard's claim of 'no argument' to 'without evidence, no confidence can exist.' There is mounting evidence that gives confidence that UNMOVIC's tentative view was correct.

Iraq's WMD: the big lie?

The key points the intelligence community now wants placing on the record are:

Firstly, there was a problem with Iraq, particularly over the interpretation of the WMD issue. Many said they had been openly sceptical about the presence of WMD in Iraq for years. There was a systematic failure, they believe, in the way intelligence was interpreted. This was because they were under pressure to provide the government with what it wanted, namely that Iraq possessed WMD and that it posed a clear and present danger.

Secondly, they say intelligence was 'cherry-picked' about Iraq: that damning intelligence against Iraq was selectively chosen, whilst intelligence assessments, which might have worked against the build-up to war, were sidelined. The government was looking for anything that would cast Iraq in a negative light.

Thirdly, they claim that a political agenda had crept into the work of the intelligence community and they found themselves in the position of taking orders from politicians. When asked if direct lies were told to the British public, the answer was that the intelligence they supplied was one- sided and produced on demand to politicians.

Fourthly, the intelligence community got into the habit of making worst-case scenarios and these were used to make factual claims by politicians. The intelligence community accepts that intelligence was used for political ends. But they also understand that intelligence is not supposed to help politicians justify their actions as that distorts the nature of what intelligence work is about.

While they believe they are not in the firing line over Hutton, they also realise that they are going to have to think long and hard about the future of British intelligence. They stressed that they accepted that there would be changes in the way British intelligence operates, adding that they wanted changes in order to maintain their integrity.

The mail on Sunday published this article on 25 January, before release of the Hutton report. Since then we've had the chief CBW analyst tell us that his views on the 45 minute claim were overruled and we've had Tony Blair tell the House of Commons he was unaware, when the dossier was published, that the 45 minutes claim only covered battelfield weapons.

Meanwhile, back at the inquiry, Lord Hutton heard from Dr Jones and said only:

465.��This matter was considered by the ISC and in the conclusions to its report of September 2003 it stated at page 44:

R. The Agencies and the JIC reported that none of their staff had concerns about the 24 September dossier. Two individuals in the DIS wrote to their line managers to register their concerns. We were told that these concerns were discussed within the DIS in the normal way. CDI agreed the text of the draft dossier, which was informed by intelligence that he, but not the two individuals, had seen. We have seen that intelligence and understand the basis on which CDI and JIC took the view they did. The concerns were not brought to the attention of the Defence Secretary or the JIC Chairman. (Paragraph 114)

S. We regard the initial failure by the MoD to disclose that some staff had put their concerns in writing to their line managers as unhelpful and potentially misleading. This is not excused by the genuine belief within the DIS that the concerns had been expressed as part of the normal lively debate that often surrounds draft JIC Assessments within the DIS. We are disturbed that after the first evidence session, which did not cover all the concerns raised by the DIS staff, the Defence Secretary decided against giving instructions for a letter to be written to us outlining the concerns. (Paragraph 104 and 115).

T. It is important that all DIS staff should be made aware of the current procedures for recording formal concerns on draft JIC Assessments. We recommend that if individuals in the intelligence community formally write to their line managers with concerns about JIC Assessments the concerns are brought to the attention of the JIC Chairman. (Paragraph 105 and 116)

As I have set out Dr Jones' evidence at some length and as this matter has been considered by the ISC I consider that it is unnecessary for me to express an opinion on it.

Truly, an amazing number of things seem either to cast no light on His Lordship's inquiry or to be unnecessary for him to form an opinion. Jones' article is being described as a bombshell. But nothing went bang for Lord Hutton.

4 February 2004

Why the UN had it right on Iraq

'We were all wrong,' says weapons inspector David Kay. Actually, no. There was one group whose prewar estimates of Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities have turned out to be devastatingly close to reality - the U.N. inspectors. Consider what Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear agency, told the Security Council on March 7, 2003, after his team had done 247 inspections at 147 sites: 'no evidence of resumed nuclear activities ... nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any related sites.' He went on to say that evidence suggested Iraq had not imported uranium since 1990 and no longer had a centrifuge program. He concluded that Iraq's nuclear capabilities had been effectively dismantled by 1997 and its dual-use industrial plants had decayed. All these claims appear to be dead-on, based on Kay's findings.

Regarding chemical and biological weapons, the U.N. inspectors headed by Hans Blix conducted 731 inspections between November 2002 and March 2003. Despite claims by the U.S. government of the existence of specific stockpiles of weapons and active weapons programs, they found no evidence of either. In his reports to the Security Council, Blix was always judicious. "One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist," he said. "However, that possibility is also not excluded."

The tinfoil brigade who believe that the UN was wrong, no matter what, are now happily claiming that everyone, including the UN, believed in the existence of WMDs. That is simply untrue. UNMOVIC had found nothing beyond the enhanced al-Sammoud rockets.

The war, we were told, had to be fought immediately. In 9 months all the ISG achieved was to confirm UNMOVIC's tentative view. Why then, did the coalition hurry to war? And when will Bush, Blair and Howard apologise to Blix?

More on this when tonight's 7:30 Report is available online.

Hutton Report

411. Some commentators have referred to answers by the Prime Minister to questions from members of the press travelling with him on an aeroplane to Hong Kong on 22 July and I have read the transcript of that press briefing. As I have stated, I am satisfied that there was not a dishonourable or underhand or duplicitous strategy on the part of the Prime Minister and officials to leak Dr Kelly's name covertly, and I am further satisfied that the decision which was taken by the Prime Minister and his officials in 10 Downing Street on 8 July was confined to issuing a statement that an unnamed civil servant had come forward and that the Question and Answer material was prepared and approved in the MoD and not in 10 Downing Street. The series of events and considerations which led to the decision in 10 Downing Street on 8 July to issue a statement was a complex one for the reasons which I have previously set out and I consider that the answers given by the Prime Minister to members of the press in the aeroplane cast no light on the issues about which I have heard a large volume of evidence.

Refusing to look at Blair's 22 July statement is the strangest of all the Hutton conclusions. If you read what Tony Blair said on the aeroplane you find:

Speaking to reporters on the plane en route from Shanghai to Hong Kong, the prime minister stated categorically: "I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly."

Mr Blair said he "emphatically" did not authorise the leak, but he said the confirmation of Dr Kelly's name was a different matter, adding that the judicial inquiry he had set up would look at all the facts.

Questioned on why the government confirmed Dr Kelly's identity, he replied: "That's a completely different matter once the name is out there. The inquiry can look at these things."

Boldface mine. It defies all logic to say those words: 'I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly.' 'cast no light on the issues'. Hutton examines the contrast between Blair's evidence and that of the Ministry of Defence permanent under-secretary at some length.

Broadly, a series of officials (including people present at the 8 July meeting where Blair approved issuing a statement) say it was inevitable that David Kelly's name would come out once the government released a statement saying that a civil servant had come forward. Yet Hutton exonerates the government of leaking the name and instead finds it released materials which made finding the name inevitable. Hutton also does not address why the government might not have refused to confirm or deny the name while making David kelly available to private sessions of the ISC and FAC.

A reasonable inquiry would have questioned Blair on how he had not authorised the leaking of David Kelly's name when he approved both release of the 8 July statement and the confirmation of Kelly's name if any journalist identified him. Far from doing that, Hutton merely blandly declares, without explanation, that Blair's 22 July statement casts no light. That is not the mark of fearless inquiry or rigorous logic.

Don't be fooled again

Where do you even start? Perhaps with the comedy of George Bush demanding 'to know the facts' about Iraq's non-existent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction - casting himself as an aggrieved American voter, somehow hoodwinked into the war with Iraq. No doubt we should brace ourselves for Bush pounding his fist on the table, demanding to know 'who ordered this goddamned war anyway?' And to think, he could have known all the facts without firing a single shot - if only he had let Hans Blix and his team of UN inspectors finish their work.

Or perhaps we should begin with the hilarious sight of Colin Powell, who exactly a year ago treated the UN security council to a show-and-tell expos� of Saddam's terrifying arsenal, now admitting that, had he known Baghdad had no WMD, he would have had his doubts about going to war. With rather elegant understatement, he concedes it would have changed 'the political calculus'.

Maybe the right starting point is closer to home, with the alternative comedy of Tony Blair insisting as late as last week there could be no inquiry, no inquiry, no inquiry - until Bush ordered one in Washington and suddenly London saw the entire question in a new light. Now there is to be an inquiry. What was an unnecessary, ludicrous proposal last week when the Tories and Lib Dems demanded it is suddenly a rather good idea now that Mr Bush has smiled upon it.

Indeed. The Hutton Report (Para 9) specifically excludes:

whether the intelligence in relation to weapons of mass destruction set out in the dossier published by the Government on 24 September 2002 was of sufficient strength and reliability to justify the Government in deciding that Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed such a threat to the safety and interests of the United Kingdom that military action should be taken against that country

Now Blair will exclude the same question from the Butler inquiry because it was covered by the Hutton inquiry? Um hello?

We were overruled, says former intelligence chief...

During the course of their own inquiry, the Intelligence and Security Committee was given sight of the relevant intelligence and, despite the fact that they are not expert intelligence analysts, they reported rather enigmatically that they could 'understand the basis on which the CDI and the JIC took the view they did'.

But with all that has and has not happened since, I believe the advice I received in September 2002 about the compartmented intelligence was valid. Now that it is being so widely suggested that Britain went to war on the back of an 'intelligence failure', it is important that the nature of that failure is understood. An intelligence failure can be the result of many things. The absence of significant 'raw' intelligence would be a collection failure. There was a self-inflicted dearth of information on Iraq following the withdrawal of Unscom inspectors before Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and an additional degree of uncertainty once their constraining influence was lost.

A failure can result if the significance of a piece of 'raw' intelligence is not recognised, or its analysis is flawed, or its context misunderstood. This would be an assessment failure. The failure of policy-makers to accept or act on information can also be called an intelligence failure because of the inadequacy of its presentation by the intelligence community.

Whether or not there was a failure of intelligence assessment should be judged, not on the dossier, but on relevant JIC papers. Similarly, whether or not there was a failure in intelligence collection should be judged on the reports the collectors issued. Arguably, the dossier revealed more about the top end of the process and the fashioning of a product that has hitherto been alien to the UK intelligence community.

In my view the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002 resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities.

It would be a travesty if the reputation of the DIS and its dedicated people was besmirched and the organisation as a whole undermined. The DIS includes the only significant body of dedicated professional intelligence analysts in the UK intelligence community and they are a much under-valued and under-resourced national asset. It is the intelligence community leadership at the level of the membership of the JIC and the upper echelons of the DIS - those who had access to and may have misinterpreted the compartmented intelligence - that had the final say on the assessment presented in the dossier.

Lord Hutton describes the JIC as, 'the most senior body in the Intelligence Services charged with the assessment of intelligence'. But this is misleading.

The members of the JIC are mostly extremely busy officials. Some are effectively the chief executives of large organisations with large budgets and all that goes with that responsibility. Others have a wide range of other responsibilities. All will have a limited time to study personally intelligence reports and the related archives in detail. Most will have had quite limited experience of analysing intelligence.

From my perspective the JIC's function is to oversee the assessment of intelligence and question and challenge the experienced and dedicated analysts and intelligence collectors on issues where they, the JIC, might understand the broader relevance and significance of a particular assessment. When they take it upon themselves to overrule experienced experts they should be very sure of their ground, and if a decision to do so is based on additional sensitive intelligence unknown to the experts, it must be incontrovertible.

Events have shown that we in the DIS were right to urge caution. I suggest that now might be a good time to open the box and release from its compartment the intelligence that played such a significant part in formulating a key part of the dossier.

I recognise this could possibly be one of a few exceptional circumstances that means the content of the compartmented intelligence remains sensitive even after the fall of Saddam. If this is the case it should be clearly stated. Otherwise the simple act of opening this box and explaining who had the right to look into it before the war could increase the transparency and hasten the progress of the new inquiry.

Dr Brian Jones was formerly head of the branch within the Scientific and Technical Directorate of Defence Intelligence Staff that was responsible for the analysis of intelligence from all sources on nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. He retired in January 2003.

Boldface mine. The Hutton report must have had the shortest shelf life of any allegedly authoritative report since Denning's Profumo inquiry where he found that the allegations against Profumo must be untrue because no cabinet minister would be attracted to a Christine Keeler. The allegations were later proved true, Profumo resigned in disgrace, as did Harold Macmillan and Labor won the 1964 election.

Immediately after its release Blair rejected any need for a new inquiry, although one has since been appointed. Now we have Potemkin inquiries running in the US and Britain. It is really getting to be time for the opposition parties there and in Australia to announce that if elected they will ensure an open and thorough inquiry into the political use of intelligence by their governments.

3 February 2004

Never forget that they lie

Lord Hutton seems unable to grasp a simple truth: all journalism is conducted against a background of official obfuscation and deceit, which does much to explain our blunders and omissions. It seems remarkable not how much journalists get wrong - a great deal - but that we are able to retrieve from the Whitehall swamp fragments of truth, and to present the waterlogged and bedraggled exhibits to readers and listeners.

I say this with regret. I am more instinctively supportive of institutions, less iconoclastic, than most of the people who write for the Guardian, never mind read it. I am a small 'c' conservative, who started out as a newspaper editor 18 years ago much influenced by a remark Robin Day once made to me: 'Even when I am giving politicians a hard time on camera,' he said, 'I try to remember that they are trying to do something very difficult - govern the country.'

The Hutton report is strange. It's been claimed by Blair and (incredibly) the Man of Steel as vindication for their general WMD claims even though Hutton specifically disavows (Paragraph 9) addressing the general WMD claim. Hutton then sets up a legal standard (Paragraph 280) for the media that is higher than the standard he demands of government. The leading case he cites, Reynolds v Irish Newspapers does not, at first reading, appear to support his conclusions.

All of this looks more than faintly silly now that the White House is about to name a commission and the Man of Steel has suddenly gone into fast reverse and started speaking about Australia's war decision as based on the US and UK pre-war intelligence .

Globalisation - lopsided generator of wealth

Second, countries at the centre of the global capitalist system enjoy far too many advantages over countries at the periphery. Perhaps their greatest advantage is that they can borrow in their own currencies. This allows them to engage in counter-cyclical policies, that is, they can lower interest rates and raise government expenditures to fight recessions. The countries at the centre are also in control of the IMF and the international financial system, which gives them much greater influence over their own destiny than peripheral countries, which are in a much more dependent position.

Contrary to the tenets of market fundamentalism, financial markets do not tend toward equilibrium; they are crisis prone. Since 1980, there have been several devastating financial crises but whenever the centre is threatened, the authorities take decisive action in order to protect the system. As a consequence, the devastation is confined to the periphery. This has made countries at the centre not only wealthier but also more stable. It has encouraged capitalists in peripheral countries to hold their accumulated wealth at the centre.

Soros' views should not actually be controversial because they are so obvious, but for some reason admitting that power has anything to do with the way markets work makes people hysterical.

Mistaken aims toward Indonesia

In Singapore and Malaysia, two other countries where Islamic groups linked to al-Qaeda have been active, the governments have detained hundreds of suspected terrorists under security laws introduced by the British in 1948 to counter the rise of communist groups, Bakar said.

However, Indonesia has avoided such draconian practices. Instead, when it captured the ringleaders of the Bali bombing, it placed them on trial.

Over the long term, such actions strengthen the belief in the public mind that 'the rule of law will succeed', Bakar said. Indonesia 'can win the war because of the inner dynamics now being seen'.

Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington and a former official with president Bill Clinton's National Security Council, said the United States has a strong interest in 'beating back the jihadists' but warned against seeing the conflict in Indonesia in black-and-white terms.

'Too many regimes have used the 'war on terror' to put excessive pressure on groups they view as threatening,' he said. 'We shouldn't make the same mistake we did during the last ideological struggle,' the Cold War. 'If so, it will be the blowback phenomenon again.'

Okay, at one level this is just the customary US strategy of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the interest of fighting the War on Terror. It is also incredibly shortsighted. Indonesia elects a new president in April. They will be the first Indonesian president chosen by popular vote (unlike the US they've just abolished their electoral college). This is not the time to risk delegitimising the present government by being seen to be involved with its police and military operations.

In Indonesia, as elsewhere, human rights are the best defence against the growth of terrorism. The Megawati government promised to resolve Aceh within 6 months of the declaration of martial law last May. The conflict continues. The mailed fist has failed. This is a bad time to support the military at the expense of human rights.

2 February 2004

[Michael] Howard: Blair is odd man out on WMD

Downing Street appeared today to be on the brink of a climbdown over granting an inquiry into the intelligence basis for the war in Iraq.

Following the announcement in Washington last night that the US president, George Bush, had ordered an investigation into evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly held by Saddam Hussein, No 10 today said it was on the point of making a statement to parliament on the subject.

That could come either later today, or, quite possibly, as Mr Blair is questioned by the heads of select committees tomorrow morning.

No further details were immediately available, but the prime minister's official spokesman did concede that the verdict of Lord Hutton last week had changed the debate.

The spokesman said: 'What's different between last week and this is that the Hutton report, like the Commons foreign affairs committee report and like the intelligence and security committee report, has cleared the government of allegations of having politically interfered with, falsified or hyped the intelligence on WMD.

If the Bush inquiry makes Blair look odd, it makes John (I don't do apologies, I get them) Howard look positively eccentric.

Bush To Form Iraq Intel Probe

President Bush has decided to sign an executive order creating an investigation of intelligence failures in Iraq, a senior White House official says.

The probe comes after two congressional investigations and a CIA internal probe concluded there was no White House pressure to produce pro-war intelligence.

White House sources tell CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts the commission will have full access to materials they need. The commission will be set up quickly, but is not expected to complete work until next year - after the election.

This is wonderful. Not only are we told we must wait for the Iraq Survey Group before questioning the WMD allegations, now we can be told that we must wait for the White House inquiry before questioning Iraq Survey Group report. Perhaps a further inquiry into the inquiry into the ISG could stretch the process out until after the 2008 presidential election. And no embarrassing facts before Bush has to face the people.

I'm not yet sure if the Man of Steel has despatched our ambassador to demand an apology from George Bush.

1 February 2004

China, Korea wrangle over ancient kingdom

The ancient kingdom of Koguryo, famed for its mighty castles and horseback warriors, has sprung back to life in a 'war of history' between South Korea and China that carries alarming modern-day implications.

The dispute has raised diplomatic hackles and symbolizes what many say are rival geopolitical designs on Northeast Asia, a region rich in conflict and currently riled over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

The wrangling could also influence the way future borders are drawn between two of Asia's biggest economic powers should the region become unstable.

Koguryo ruled much of Korea and Manchuria, now China, until it vanished from maps 1,300 years ago. It has been dragged into the headlines by a Beijing-backed study that deems the kingdom to be an integral part of China


New South Wales should take China's Koguryo approach to heart. All of New Zealand, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory once lay within the borders of NSW. There is a magnificent opportunity for the small government advocate here. Not only would we get one government in place of 7 but the bloated Senate could be reduced to 12 senators each from Western Australia and NSW. The bloated House would be reduced to 48 with a gigantic NSW majority. And we'd get two UN votes.

US Explanation of Vote [on Resolution 1441]

As we have said on numerous occasions to Council members, this Resolution contains no 'hidden triggers' and no 'automaticity' with respect to the use of force. If there is a further Iraqi breach, reported to the Council by UNMOVIC, the IAEA, or a member state, the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required in paragraph 12. The Resolution makes clear that any Iraqi failure to comply is unacceptable and that Iraq must be disarmed. And one way or another, Mr. President, Iraq will be disarmed. If the Security Council fails to act decisively in the event of a further Iraqi violation, this resolution does not constrain any member state from acting to defend itself against the threat posed by Iraq, or to enforce relevant UN resolutions and protect world peace and security.

What a tangled war we weave...

Scientists Clamor to Save Hubble

Even Mars Society president Robert Zubrin, who's best known for advocating human colonization of the red planet, hammered NASA.

"This was the most important thing the shuttle would do in its remaining lifetime," he said. "Most of its other missions are science-fair stuff. The Hubble is a milestone in human intellectual history, and this decision is a crime against science.

"What's happening is that a bunch of bureaucrats are wanting to feel decisive, to show they can make the tough calls to support the president's moon and Mars program. They'll say: 'Much as it might rend our hearts, we're willing to give this up.' That's all a crock," Zubrin said. "If the first thing this new space policy does is murder Hubble, then it's born with the mark of Cain on it."

Space policy analyst John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org sees dark motivations behind the move. He argues that President Bush has made clear what will be abandoned in the short term, but has scheduled non-military missions like colonizing Mars far over the political horizon so that succeeding administrations can cancel them without controversy.

"I think it is sort of symptomatic of this administration's orderly dismantling of the American space program," he said.

But the greatest outpouring of support for the Hubble and hostility to NASA's decision has come from the grass-roots community of science enthusiasts, Villard said.

Slooh.com, an online service providing live links to telescopes, has taken a leading role in organizing Hubble fans, launching SaveTheHubble.org to petition Congress to provide additional funding to keep the Hubble aloft and in service.

Sign this one as well. And while you're waiting for the petition to load ask yourself about the depth of thought behind the Bush Mars project.