The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Alastair Campbell and the Three Spooks - still a puzzle

If Lord Hutton sticks to his timetable [1], the witness sessions will be over by the end of next week - and yet one has the sense that vast swathes of oral and documentary evidence remain poorly, or not at all, digested.

As an example, take former Blair spinmeister Alastair Campbell's evidence (starting at 18:25) on a meeting he said took place on September 9 2002 attended by himself, John Scarlett [2] and

three very

1 senior SIS officers who had asked to -- for that
2 meeting, and actually used that meeting to indicate that
3 they were very unhappy at two press reports, one in the
4 Financial Times and one in the Daily Telegraph, which
5 suggested that the SIS were unhappy at their involvement
6 in the dossier process.

Now, using the (in my experience) unreliable XP Find on the file of transcripts on my machine - and checking (no single-source merchant I!) with Google - I cannot find any reference to this meeting elsewhere in the oral evidence to the Inquiry.

Which is surely remarkable. That three MI6 officers - exactly what their functions might be is not made clear - should be in AC's presence and identified as such must be fairly unusual; that they should request, and be granted, a meeting to complain of press coverage seems to demand much greater scrutiny than it received. (Lord Hutton, who one might have expected would query the basis of the meeting, doesn't.)

I smell a rat. The whole case of HMG on the preparation of the dossier, and the use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, is that the pols in Number 10 deferred to the JIC in those matters: the pols proposed, the JIC disposed [3], or so we're meant to believe. But here we have the chain of command rudely bypassed - not only the JIC, but SIS/MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove - by assorted spooks. And not so as to confer on substantive intelligence matters, but to bellyache like minor celebs about their press coverage!

Why? Clearly, at that stage, whilst the invasion was very much envisioned, a judicial inquiry was not. The meeting could, on this basis, scarcely have been intended as some sort of pre-emptive (!) action with such an inquiry in mind. And I doubt whether AC was going to go on the record about the spooks' concerns - perhaps he passed them to a tame journo on background. If so, one suspects that the MI6 guys may well have been put up to it by AC.

Alternatively, it might have been some part of internecine warfare on the spooks' side. For instance, we have MI6 officers purporting, according to AC, to speak for other agencies::
7 Q. What was the gist of their comments to you about whether
8 they were happy or not?
9 A. That these stories did not remotely reflect their views
10 or the views of the leadership of the agencies, who were
11 perfectly content to cooperate with the Prime Minister
12 on the dossier.

Whereas, it's not clear to me that such a group even had the authority to speak for SIS: such authority, one presumes, could only have come from Richard Dearlove. (I cannot see that Dearlove was questioned on this meeting when he appeared before the Inquiry - my piece yesterday.)

Fruitless to speculate further. It's far from the most obviously important information brought to light by the Inquiry. But the fact is that the meeting with the three MI6 guys remains unexplained. Yet what must be such an unusual event cannot remotely have occurred by chance: the guys did not just drop in to Number 10 as they might have picked up the phone to whinge on a talk radio show! The meeting clearly had a purpose - and of that purpose, in the time-honoured phrase, I think we should be told....

  1. The Guardian today has a useful piece rounding up key points, and setting out the schedule of witnesses, and the counsel who are to cross-examine them.

  2. Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) - links to explanatory material on the UK intelligence and security services in my piece of September 14.

  3. Essential to the argument is that the JIC itself represents the intelligence community (UKIC); whereas, as I've pointed out more than once (September 11, for instance) not only the UK intelligence agencies but also overseas partners (the CIA, most prominently) and UK customers (including the MOD and Foreign and Commonwealth Office - FCO) are represented on it.

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