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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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Friday, November 21, 2003

Was Operation Rockingham Britain's Iraq intelligence dirty tricks department?

Michael Meacher was a pretty ordinary Environment Minister of Tony Blair's - outside the Cabinet - until he was put out to pasture earlier this year.

Then, he made some allegations (Guardian September 6) about USG having intelligence prior to 9/11 which might have stopped some of the carnage, and on which they chose not to act - and thereby catapulted himself into the wacko category - beyond even Blair spinner Tom Kelly's description of David Kelly as
a Walter Mitty character

He is not the person to whom one would ideally entrust reviving an intelligence story which appeared (spookily) around the time Meacher made his 9/11 claims in one Scottish newspaper (the Sunday Herald) and was left to twist in the wind without comment by the rest of the world's media. (My piece of September 6 has the links.)

That, in the Guardian today, is what Meacher has tried to do.

My September piece talked about the Herald story as being
in single source hell

But it is not, apparently, the only source: firstly, there is a reference by David Kelly to the Intelligence and Security Committee made on July 16. A reference is made (transcript p184 line 17) in questioning of the Chairman of the Committee Ann Taylor on August 27 [1], but nothing is made of the point, and it is not - so far as I'm aware - mentioned again in oral evidence.

As I recall, ISC evidence was not put on the Hutton site until the ISC report on Iraq intelligence was issued on September 11.

The Kelly statement reference to
the Rockingham cell which used to service UNMOVIC and
18 UNSCOM and will now service the Iraq Survey Group
doesn't, perhaps, easily fit with the sort of organisation one was led to believe it was. Rockingham's role is, the Herald piece and Meacher say, to service HMG - UNMOVIC and the rest would be being used, rather than serviced, if the September story was correct.

It's not, I suppose, out of the question that the same name might be used for two different operations. Further speculation would be fruitless.

Meacher, in today's piece, quotes a third source using the name Rockingham:
Only one other official reference to Operation Rockingham is on record, in an aside by Brigadier Richard Holmes when giving evidence to the defence select committee in 1998. He linked it to Unscom inspections, but it was clear that the Rockingham staff included military officers and intelligence services representatives together with civilian MoD personnel. Within, therefore, the UK intelligence establishment - MI6, MI5, GCHQ and defence intelligence - Rockingham clearly had a central, though covert, role in seeking to prove an active Iraqi WMD programme.

The reference that Meacher helpfully failed to link is this from June 24 1998: Holmes is talking about deployment of reservists in Iraq, and enumerates (Q1564):
Small numbers, mainly specialists...and occasionally Operation Rockingham, which is UNSCOM inspections in Iraq itself.

Leaving Meacher's history out of it, I remain dubious: proceedings at the Hutton Inquiry suggest that intelligence is treated within HMG with obsessive, sometimes almost maniacal, sensititivity. And the Rockingham story says its not merely an intelligence outfit, but one designed to manipulate intelligence for political ends - the mere concept of which would have Sir Richard Dearing's sensititve soul in traction.

Yet here we have a casual reference in open session (Kelly's ISC session was closed, of course) by a guy who, at the time, would appear to have been Director of Reserve Forces - nothing to do with intelligence at all!

The point, needless to say, is not whether intel was manipulated to smooth the way for war - or whatever was HMG policy at the time. It's whether the specific outfit identified was what was, and is, claimed.

To the information in the original story, we can add two casual and unexplicit references, which don't, to the extent that they carry information, necessarily fit with what the original story was suggesting.

We're not much further forward, I suspect.

  1. The question and answer, quoting from this document (PDF):
    Q. He deals with that in relation to the dossier. There is
    10 also reference at 32 to 33, ISC/1/32, to what he saw on
    11 intelligence. At the bottom of the page:
    12 "I see all the intelligence reporting concerned with
    13 both Iraq and *** with regard to chemical and biological
    14 weapons, that arrives in the Proliferation and Arms
    15 Control Secretariat and I have full access to that.
    16 Within the defence intelligence service I liaise with
    17 the Rockingham cell which used to service UNMOVIC and
    18 UNSCOM and will now service the Iraq Survey Group but
    19 I don't go through all the information..."
    20 A. Hmm.

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