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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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Operation Rockingham saga gets a spin-off!

Now, you don't need to go very far in the blogospherical emporium to see British journalism royally slagged off - a less than wholehearted defence (December 15) in response to one such piece focussed more on examining the state of the American journalistic glasshouse!

And, in the case of Con Coughlin, of the Telegraph stable, only yesterday was I doing yet more slagging off of my own.

But a story by Nicholas Rufford (aka Nick Rufford [1]) in the London Sunday Times over Christmas - that I'd been happy to sacrifice to the Festive Season - has, it seems, found some willing to give it credence (over at Road to Surfdom, to be precise). We are back in the area of HGM dirty tricks with Iraqi WMD intelligence:
The Secret Intelligence Service has run an operation to gain public support for sanctions and the use of military force in Iraq. The government yesterday confirmed that MI6 had organised Operation Mass Appeal, a campaign to plant stories in the media about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

The fit with the supposed Operation Rockingham - last mentioned here on November 29 [2] - is striking.

Rockingham was characterised thus by the ubiquitous Scott Ritter:
In an interview in the Scottish Sunday Herald in June, Ritter said: "Operation Rockingham [a unit set up by defence intelligence staff within the MoD in 1991] cherry-picked intelligence. It received hard data, but had a preordained outcome in mind. It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD... It became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections. They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite."

Mass Appeal, then, took intelligence from sources like Rockingham and spoonfed the media with it. And Ritter - the main prop of the Sunday Times piece, as well - says that, when an UNSCOM inspector, he met MI6 operatives and assisted with their work.

Is this a scoop? No: according to a BBC piece (November 21),
He told reporters in the House of Commons...
all about it [3].

And, that time,
A spokesman for MI6 said the allegations were "unfounded".

So what on earth can be going on?

The Rockingham story spiked twice: once in June with a Ritter-driven piece in the Glasgow Sunday Herald and again in November with the Meacher piece in the Guardian - it's what I believe what stock analysts [4] call a dead cat bounce: nothing remotely like a press pack developed on either occasion. Even the Samaritan passed by on the other side of this one!

And now, after denying the Mass Appeal allegations in November, HMG are confessing in December. Just two weeks or so before the Hutton Inquiry reports, when - in theory, at least - Tony Blair's nuts will be in the blender over (amongst other things) the handling of Iraqi WMD intelligence.

If true, Christmas or no Christmas, you'd expect a press pack (even if only a British one) - some parts of the British press would dearly love to stick it to Tony about the war - and they all might like a teaser for Hutton. Yet there's no sign of it that I can detect: the Sunday Times story is twisting in the wind - five stories on Google News - including dud Al Jazeera and Pravda links!

Is this Not Invented Here pouting? Or do they just not think it's kosher? Answers on a postcard...

  1. Rufford was the hack who doorstepped David Kelly on July 9 2003, the day the MOD released his name to the media as the source of Andrew Gilligan's 45 minute claim (as discussed at length during the Hutton Inquiry.)

  2. Links to several earlier pieces here, and to related material elsewhere, can be got by working back from this piece.

  3. When? It doesn't say; and gives no information which yields by inference the date of the press briefing. More than a month before the Sunday Times piece, though!

  4. I like the analogy between tracing media take up and chartism.


The Sir Derek Plumbly referred to in the Sunday Times piece is kosher. To the extent that there is one, and he is British Ambassador to Egypt.

The more you look at the Sunday Times piece, the less sense it makes. For instance, the piece mentions Plumbly and says he
worked closely with MI6 to help to promote Britain's Middle East policy.

The next sentence reads
The campaign was judged to be having a successful effect on public opinion.

Which you might infer was a reference to British public opinion.

But no. It goes on
Poland, India and South Africa were initially chosen as targets for the campaign because they were non-aligned UN countries not supporting the British and US position on sanctions.

Now, speaking as an utter layman in these matters, I'd need some persuading that sweet-talking the non-aligned was much of a priority. Even though Poland was a UN Security Council member at the time.

[We're talking about the run-up to Desert Fox in 1998: what was the state of play in the UNSC at the time? Were the US and UK short of votes? Research may become necessary. But, as Saint Augustine once said, not yet.]

The piece goes on to refer to Ritter's dealings with the MI6 people, one of whom
asked Ritter for information on Iraq that could be planted in newspapers in India, Poland and South Africa from where it would “feed back” to Britain and America.

I've heard of food miles, but this is surely ridiculous: that a tale about Iraqi WMD would gain credibility by being routed via the Daily Forked Stick of Timbuktu?

And weren't we looking to influence those key non-aligned powers two seconds ago?

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