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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Saturday, October 04, 2003
 

Hutton/Kelly and Plame: communicating and leaving no trace


A couple of weeks ago, there was a story about a British company that was banning its employees from using email on the company's time. The sexual Olympics email that goes around the world is a story that comes along every couple of months.

The assumption is that, if a guy at work is going to say something dumb, he's going to leave a paper trail. Email, or phone records, or whatever.

The Hutton Inquiry was deluged with copies of communications (a lot of emails!) relating to the preparation of the dossier, as well as the handling of David Kelly once he'd come forward as the possible source for Andrew Gilligan; and yet, more than once, the absence of minutes of key meetings at Number 10 was noted [1]. Alastair Campbell said he never used the computer (August 29), and referred to having his emails sifted (thus establishing an excuse for not having originated or, as the case may be, read any particularly awkward specimen). Not, of course, forgetting that fabulous exercise in showmanship (pure PT Barnum!), the fuck Gilligan Campbell diaries - or rather, the lovingly selected extracts therefrom revealed to Hutton.

Hutton seems - one obviously can't be certain yet - to have decided not to go behind the evidence provided (the feast of emails; the famine of minutes of meetings featuring Campbell). He has no right to demand any evidence, oral or documentary - that was one of the terms under which he was appointed. But there is nothing to stop him suggesting that what he has been presented with is - to use a polite word, incomplete.

For instance, we see only emails on the official HMG system: all those appearing before Hutton (with the possible exception of IT ignoramus Campbell) will have PCs of their own - desktops at home, laptops they bring in with them. (Kelly, according to the police evidence, had several machines.) And they will all - Campbell included, surely! - have mobile phones. And ordinary phones at home. Not to mention legs, mouths, and ears - for less hi-tech communication!

So far as I can recall, evidence about none of these sources was led in the Inquiry [2]. Yet, if dirty work was done, one of those would surely have been the mode of communication used.

If I were Hutton, I've had Inquiry counsel James Dingemans get the key players on the record about their use of these means. I think he might have got close to a Mark Fuhrman answer [3] - something practically falsifiable.

When it comes to the Robert Novak/Valerie Plame leak, similar questions arise. Except, according to a WaPo piece (October 3 - reprint [4]), the White House technology is distinctly - deliberately? - leaker-friendly:
During the Clinton administration, Whitewater investigators were hampered by the discovery that outgoing local telephone calls all were listed in electronic logs as if they originated from the main White House number.

An administration official said yesterday that the White House phone system has not fundamentally changed since then.


White House staff have been instructed to provide any and all relevant records by Tuesday - presumably, these would include personal as well as government records.

Yet, it seems, by accident or design, a leak made through the White House phone system may as safe as - oh, say, using the payphone in a hotel lobby.

Which, of course, would have been real tradecraft...

  1. By counsel for the BBC in his closing statement, for instance (my piece September 26).

  2. Or, at least, no evidence designed to show that communications made via these means contradicted the evidence submitted to the Inquiry, eg, emails on the HMG system.

  3. During the OJ Simpson trial, Fuhrman was famously led to making the following facially preposterous assertion:
    Q. And you say under oath that you have not addressed any black person as a nigger or spoken about black people as niggers in the past ten years, Detective Fuhrman.

    A. That's what I'm saying, sir.

    Whereupon Laura Hart McKinny brought out her tape recorder, and the rest...

  4. The piece namechecks the other USG official (apart from Samuel Morison) who has been prosecuted since World War 2 for leaking material to the press:
    Jonathan Randel, a former intelligence officer at the Drug Enforcement Administration, was sentenced to a year in prison for selling restricted federal information.


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