The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Why the strange hush over leaked DIA report on Chalabi?
The fashionable leak story in Washington is the one concerning the (gloriously searchable) Valerie Plame - already, we had the leaker leaked against ; and now AP has the leak of a memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales telling White House staff not to shred stuff that might be of interest to the Department of Justice leak inquiry!
Meanwhile, the leaked report of the Defense Intelligence Agency saying that most of the intelligence provided through Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress was complete garbage - seems to have made almost zero news impact: one piece in the New York Times (September 29), another in the London Independent (September 30), and that's about it.
Which is, perhaps, a little surprising given that
The Times piece has the leakers 
federal officials briefed on the arrangementsaying that
The arrangement, paid for with taxpayer funds supplied to the exile group under the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, involved extensive debriefing of at least half a dozen defectors by defense intelligence agents in European capitals and at a base in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil in late 2002 and early 2003, the officials said. But a review early this year by the defense agency concluded that no more than one-third of the information was potentially useful, and efforts to explore those leads since have generally failed to pan out...
DOD officials damn the INC intel with faint praise:
A Defense Department official who defended the arrangement said that even most of the useful information provided by the defectors included "a lot of stuff that we already knew or thought we knew." But the official said that information had "improved our situational awareness" by "making us more confident about our assessments."
The Independent piece includes a contribution from friend of the blog (from way back ) ex-CIA man Vincent Cannistraro on INC intel:
...Much of it is propaganda. Much of it is telling the Defence Department what they want to hear...
I never did get to find out what Cannistraro's deal was: I'm none the wiser now.
The piece also mentions (that the Times piece does not) Grey Lady hack and WMD specialist  Judith Miller. It quotes (without further detail) an email of Miller's: 
I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper. He has provided most of the front-page exclusives on WMD to our paper.
Comment is surely superfluous...
A piece in WTF Is It Now today (permalinks seem fried) leads on to further levels in the Plame Game that I'm content to leave to the better informed.
On the CIA's Studies in Intelligence site - which looks to be a mine of fascinating information - I find a piece from the latest edition by James B Bruce, Vice Chairman of the DCI Foreign Denial and Deception Committee - though naturally writing on behalf of himself alone. (DCI is Director of Central Intelligence (ie, George Tenet).)
Bruce's thesis is that a pandemic of intelligence leaks (not a recent invention!) is endangering US security; and that what is needed is stricter anti-leaking laws, and all laws rigorously enforced (he mentions the laws in force - including the one under which the putative Valerie Plame leaker might be liable to prosecution).
(Apparently, the sole prosecution for an intelligence leak was Navy analyst Samuel Loring Morison in 1985. He was convicted, and his conviction upheld on appeal. It seems Morison got one of Clinton's confetti-pardons in 2001.)
Will Bustamante be sunk by Indian giving?
I can't say I've followed the ins and outs. But it does seem that a little of that rare commodity in politics, justice, is being meted out to MEChA man Cruz Bustamante, the Dems' bright, occidental star now apparently slowly sinking in the West.
According to the Sacramento Bee (September 27), a judge has
...ordered Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante...to prove that he tried in earnest to cancel television ad contracts and return money for the recall campaign that he collected in violation of the state's campaign finance laws.
At issue, it seems, is the trifling sum of $3.8m most of it provided by Indian tribes in recognition of his sterling services as a sort of universal blood-brother . The judge found the contributions were illegal, but Cruz said he'd spent the cash on TV spots. In what seems amazing forbearance, instead of being dispatched to Pelican Bay for an intensive course in gang rape (as prescribed by Dem buddy and champion of jailhouse justice, Bill Lockyer ), he's been allowed (in effect) to keep the money! But only so far as he shows he did his best to cancel the spots once the judge had ruled the Indian money was illegal.
Meanwhile the polls (the CNN poll over the weekend, at least) are showing Cruz well beaten by Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite the fact the GOP vote is split - and the second GOP man, Tom McClintock not far from pushing the barrio boy into third place.
I feel a remake of Mr Smith Goes To Washington coming on - but who could possibly play Arnie?
UPDATE (October 1)
There's a nice little WaPo piece today on the Golden State Indians, and their fast-growing status as the Octopus of the 21st century: for the Southern Pacific, it was public lands, for the Indians, it's the casinos, of course.
Just for the recall alone, they've given $11m out of $66m spent, it seems - chickenfeed compared to their (untaxed) casino cash flow of around $5bn. And - as the piece has it -
Bustamante is the Indians' go-to guy in Sacramento
When he sees dancing feathers approaching his office, Cruz assumes the position (he knows there'll be heap big heap of wampum in it for him) - but it's the patient California taxpayer who gets screwed!
And guess who's on the tribes' casino payroll? None other than
younger brother, Andrew Bustamante, who is the general manager of the casino near Fresno owned by the Big Sandy Rancheria of Mono Indians.
Hutton: Dingemans closing statement and the 45 minute claim
Now that the torrent of Hutton stuff has at last dried up - all bar Sir Kevin Tebbit on cross, and the documentary evidence submitted late, which has yet to hit the Hutton site - welcome time for reflection.
For one thing, over Inquiry Counsel James Dingemans QC's closing statement last Thursday (from 146:6).
First impression is that, in emphasis, it appears rather more concerted with the treatment of Kelly question than the September dossier: it is topped and tailed with references to coronial matters; the production of the dossier takes from 149:12 to 155:12, when he picks up with the Gilligan/Kelly meeting of May 22 and its sequelae: BBC v Campbell, the FAC, Kelly's June 30 letter volunteering his name, and so forth - but all (and for good reason) from viewpoint looking directly down on Kelly. He rounds off, at 181:6, with a suitable caution on the need to stick to the terms of reference, and that's it.
He prefaces his dossier passage with the following, rather oddly phrased statement:
there are two phrases which have been
Brian Jones, from memory, made quite a point about the (in his view) loose way that WMD was used. But Hutton's is scarcely a semantic inquiry.
Dingemans skips through the dossier chronology touching only on a few elements. He frames the question, whether or not a case was being made by the dossier (ie, presumably, a case for war on behalf of HMG).
He quotes John Scarlett (Chairman of the JIC) at 150:32:
Mr Scarlett's evidence is that he
25 Mr Campbell, in evidence earlier this week, when
A compare and contrast there, one surmises. He cites
[t]he e-mail of 11th September 2003 atand an
e-mail of 10th September at CAB/3/21, in which
And refers to complaints by DIS members, including Brian Jones, on the dossier.
At 154:14, he makes reference to the
I'm not clear he is criticising the use of these silence procedures. For instance, he does not, so far as I can see, refer to Jonathan Powell's September 19 email (CAB/11/103), timed at 1545, 45 minutes after the supposed cut-off under these procedures, which suggested a passage on WMD be redrafted .
Then, at 155:1, he pursues his point:
1 Perhaps part of the problem, that a case was being
(Scarlett, like PNJ, has a foot in two camps - in his case, as an ex-SIS (MI6) man and sitting in the Cabinet Office as Chairman of the JIC.)
Dingemans completes his point on making a case:
9 Mr Sumption says it is constitutionally appropriate
As I've said here more than once, the vital thing to recognise that, in demarcating the political/administrative from the intelligence, the JIC (and Scarlett) are at least half in the political sphere. The JIC is not the UKIC at prayer! Scarlett is the liaison man between the spooks and HMG, and the JIC is a liaison committee (why else does it have the main departments of state, and thus customers of UKIC's product, sitting on it?).
(A comparison that some more expert than I am might wish to pursue is of Scarlett with the Government Chief Whip: he has, I think, a similar function, representing the views of backbench MPs to the prime minister, and disseminating the wishes - or instructions - of the PM to his troops.)
Apart from any considerations of being Alastair Campbell's mate, Scarlett is tainted by politics - and not by accident or fault on his part: that's his job!
Dingemans then picks up the point, at 155:19, that the misunderstanding of the press over the 45 minute claim - the wrong assumption that it applied to WMD delivered by ballistic missiles, rather than WMD used in battlefield weapons - had been allowed by HMG to remain uncorrected. He concludes the dossier passage of his speech:
7 It might be thought unfortunate that if Governmentand moves onto Kelly/Gilligan.
Nothing there about the quality of the 45 minute intelligence; or the methods of analysis; or the peculiar UK system of providing HMG with a single view of intelligence, rather than the marketplace of ideas that rules in the US.
His peroration contains something of a warning to those expecting too much:
15 The aim of the Inquiry is to urgently conduct an
Now, since Dingemans acts hand in glove with Hutton, one can't really take this as his admonition to the judge! An assurance, perhaps, to Teflon Tone that, despite appearances to the contrary, his Lordship is going - as it were - to decide the case on the narrowest grounds available? (No Roger Taney he! The free-ranging Dred Scott Will Rogers putting the world to rights is - I infer from his interventions - no part of Lord Hutton's character or intentions.)
There certainly seems to be some rowing back from the Fifteen Points in the statement Dingemans made at the start of the cross-examination phase of the enquiry . The fact that no evidence has been led to get behind the 45 minute claim (was, as suspected, the immediate source one of Ahmed Chalabi's hacks? how could the inconsistencies in the expression of the 45 minute claim  arise if the ultimate source knew what he was talking about, and was accurately reported? Etc, etc...) or the reliability of UK intelligence analysis in general would tend to support the argument that Hutton will go narrow.
Monday, September 29, 2003
British forces carried to Iraq on ships unsafe at any speed
It's one thing that the UK Ministry of Defence is headed by a hulk ; quite another that, according to the Guardian today, the troops used to prosecute Saint Tony's crusade in the East should have been ferried there in a fleet of coffin-ships.
The piece says that
Of the 50 ships traced, almost a third had been detained [by coastguards as unfit to sail] and 47 had defects recorded by coastguards during recent inspections, suffering a total of 1,018 safety failures in all.
And, appropriately enough, it seems that the MOD was turning a Nelson's eye towards the decrepitude of these old puffers : for a start,
The records...reveal that the majority of the 50 ships sailed under flags of convenience, even though the government's own advice warns that such vessels are often substandard and employ low paid and poorly trained crews.
Hoon's boys clearly knew these were rust-buckets when they hired them.
Most of the ships were not inspected by coastguards during the MoD charter period...
Hoon's capacity to see no evil extends to more than the hounding of loquacious scientists, it seems.
Joined-up government? Don't make me laugh: the Department of Transport website apparently says that
Substandard ships, operating under flags of convenience, with low paid and generally poorly trained crews, benefit from the cost advantage of lax safety regulation.
The history of the British soldier being treated like shit did not, of course, start with Tony Blair or Geoff Hoon. Around this time last year, in the context of controversies surround the Army's main personal weapon (rifle, to you or me), the SA-80 and the Challenger 2 tank, I mentioned the World War 2 boon of Lend-Lease, the Sherman (known as the Tommy-cooker to grateful members of the Wehrmacht) .
A couple of months ago, I saw on the TV an account (caveat spectator, natch ) of the way, in Normandy in 1944, the British with their Shermans were able to beat the Germans with their vastly superior (in firepower and armour) Tiger tank: we had ten times as many of our crappy machines as they had of their dream-machines. The technique was for Shermans to work four to a Tiger: three Shermans in turn would take on the Tiger in fruitless combat while the fourth snuck round the back of the Tiger and got in close enough to get a meaningful shot in against its weaker rear armour.
It's the sort of trade of superiority of numbers for superiority of technology that one notes the Red Army for employing during WW2 (using men rather than flails to clear minefields, is the classic, or apocryphal, instance) - though the Red Army's T-34 was a pretty good machine (six hundred bucks for half an hour's test drive right here).
Coming up to date, the London Daily Telegraph on January 16 reported that an MOD found that
55 per cent of soldiers and 42 per cent of officers said they found they needed to buy additional kit. Less than half of all soldiers polled expressed any confidence in Army equipment.
It quotes a private supplier of military equipment as saying
that American army issue desert boots were among the items most frequently bought by British troops.
And the reaction from the mob that, according to MOD apparatchik Richard Hatfield, gave the late Dr David Kelly such
An Army spokesman said soldiers had been buying their own equipment "since time immemorial".
Marie Antoinette could scarcely have put it better.
This, of course, was the situation before hostilities began: coming up to six months in theatre and no sign of being able to reduce the size of deployments in the foreseeable future, the equipment situation can scarcely be getting any better.
Anyone for Damascus?
In this connection, one has to admire the chutzpah of Teflon Tony's lovingly crafted desert paean of May 29 (from the pen of Alastair Campbell, no doubt, in the odd moment he could spare from fucking Gilligan) to the men who had made possible his exercise in compassionate carnage (if Blair's heart bleeds, others will surely follow):
You have made this whole country, our country, hold its head up high, and I think that is a wonderful, wonderful achievement. It is your achievement and thank you.
From the man who gave them substandard rifles and substandard boots. And a gem tucked away amidst the TV movie shlock sentimentality:
I would like to think that maybe in a year or two years time it is going to be possible for some of you to come back here and see the changes in this country that have arisen from what you have done today.
At the current rate of progress, that's not a possibility - that's a cast-iron certainty!
Sunday, September 28, 2003
NSA listening post in Algeria - an excess of kif or what?
A strange little story from weeks ago that made me sit up and take notice.
An AP report from September 7 takes me to a piece in the Quotidien d'Oran of the same date:
... le chef d'état-major de l'ANP, le général de corps d'armée, Mohamed Lamari reçoit, depuis hier, le général Charles F.Wald, commandant adjoint des forces américaines en Europe, à Alger. Une visite qui sera marquée par l'étude d'un projet d'installation d'une station d'écoute américaine dans le sud algérien indiquent des sources informées.
For those with rightfully suspicious minds, I can confirm that General Wald is not only a real person, but, according to his USAF bio, has a chestful of medals and is a pretty important guy: Deputy Commander, Headquarters U.S. European Command, Stuttgart. Lamari is, from my present sketchy appreciation of Algerian politics, the important guy over there .
The piece says that Wald was coming
...avec un projet d'installation d'une station d'écoute, probablement de la National Security Agency (NSA), l'agence fédérale qui est chargée des interceptions des communications mondiales, qui serait basée dans la région de Tamanrasset. Une station qui viserait à intercepter puis analyser toutes les communications - par téléphone, Internet, réseaux informatiques ou radio...and was possibly going south to visit the local commander, Gen Saheb .
It suggests three reasons, apart from the GSPC activity , for US interest in such a project:
And points out that the moves come as part of generally buddying-up between Algerian and US forces - US training of Algerian officers, joint naval exercises, and so on.
From one perspective, Algeria is potentially the Islamist dagger pointing at the belly of Europe - and therefore, its present government, however unsavoury, is naturally our son of a bitch material - as proof of its zeal in the matter, around 100,000 died in the civil war which has, for now, largely returned the Algerian Islamists to their box.
A strange piece of historical reflux in the shape of one Senator John F Kennedy, who regaled the Senate on July 2 1957 with a speech more or less calling for USG to ditch the French and prepare for an FLN victory in the 1954-62 war . The old and paradoxical American fatal attraction for supposedly revolutionary causes (the mountains of cash, rather than vomit, that landed in the NORAID buckets, for instance) which runs in tandem with the loathing of all things communistic.
The successors to the FLN who now rule Algeria have long been cured of communism (to the extent they were ever ill with it) and, it seems, are ready to vindicate JFK's support of so long ago.
A piece of Google detritus provides a modest sidebar - apparently, round about the same time as JKF's speech, WaPo icon Ben Bradlee had his own Algerian experience:
Leaning left in those days, he thought it unfair that French views were well-covered but not the views of the Algerian FLN (after the war he had joined the left-wing quasi-Marxist American Veterans Committee), so he went to Algeria to interview the FLN. Trouble was, the fedayeen he met clandestinely were French counter-intelligence actors, and he was ordered to leave France. Ambassador Dillon got the expulsion order canceled.
Title IX - how Stalinist can you get?
The US, at one level, is a puzzle set for the amusement of those of us doomed ever to suffer from a crick in the neck from gazing up to the City on a Hill.
Gunnar Myrdal's American Dilemma is but one of a myriad of conundrums  offered to the discerning foreigner. Why, for instance, is it rank socialism and unAmerican (or is that Unamerican?) to finance health care from general taxation, but the most American thing in the world to do the same for education?
I doubt that even the reddest of governments around in the continent of the Axis of Weasels believes these days in equality of outcomes: under the lash of competition from Uncle Sam, on the whole, a rather beneficial stimulant, equality of opportunity would tend to be the most on offer (and that in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence's life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)
But, if I understand it aright, that's what Title IX offers . Forget Michigan and its shilly-shallying points system nudge nudge, wink wink methods: in practice, Title IX provides  the very crudest of quotas: in Spencer Tracy's immortal line from Pat and Mike,
I can't pretend to have traced it all through: the best starting point I've got is this DOJ page which links into the various regulations that fill out the detail. But the meat seems to be in para (c) of .450 of the main regulations on Title IX : it says (in (c)(1)) that
A recipient that operates or sponsors...athletics shall provide equal athletic opportunity for members of both sexesand goes on to enumerate various factors to be taken into account.
And in (c)(2):
For purposes of paragraph (c)(1) of this section, unequal aggregate expenditures for members of each sex or unequal expenditures for male and female teams if a recipient operates or sponsors separate teams will not constitute noncompliance with this section, but the designated agency official may consider the failure to provide necessary funds for teams for one sex in assessing equality of opportunity for members of each sex.
A USA Today piece from last year talks about a three-part test applied by the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education  that addresses similar issues to the regulation, but in a different way.
The upshot is, however, that equality rules: although both the regulations and the three-part test ostensibly allow for flexibility, a Gresham's Law of risk aversion makes college authorities prefer the draconian but safe solution of strict equality. And, things being what they are, that means levelling men's sports down to the level of female.
And - what got me looking at Title IX just now - a WaPo piece (September 27) has the University of Maryland
promoted part of its cheerleading squad to varsity status this year to create more scholarships and playing opportunities for female athletes on campus.
Next, it'll be ballroom dancing and aerobics! Anything to make the Title IX quota without slashing the men's teams .
Surely a system more in tune with the values of Uncle Joe than Uncle Sam?
Saturday, September 27, 2003
Kenya rape shakedown hits a snag
A cautionary tale on the need for vigilance where truth and moral hazard are in play.
A British lawyer called Martyn Day has been organising a lawsuit against the UK MOD (that is, Hapless Hoon's outfit) on behalf of a large number of Kenyan women who say they were raped by members of HM Forces in Kenya on manoeuvres. According to a piece in the Guardian today , the total sum he was seeking was around $15m. (Quite what his cut would be is not discussed.)
However, rather than roll over, the MOD put in a forensic team to examine the police records; and found them all to be forgeries!
Now, anyone paying the slightest attention to the evidence at the Hutton Inquiry would understand that the MOD's playing fast and loose with the truth would not be an altogether new experience. I'm rather thinking, though, that the information would not have been released unless the evidence of forgery was clearly able to stand up to judicial scrutiny.
And the Kenyan record for bribery and corruption is legendary. The Kenya branch of Transparency International produced a report (c750KB PDF) in 2001 which (based on a survey) rated in a Bribery Index the incidence of corruption in various government institutions (p10a): the Kenya Police come top of the list with 68.7 out of a hundred . A separate table on the same page shows a 90.4% incidence of bribery in the Kenya Police; that is (p11a)
...the likelihood of obtaining satisfactory service from [the Kenya Police] without paying a bribe is less than 10%...
A further table (p11a) shows that 57.5% of those surveyed said they had paid bribes to the Kenya Police, or suffered from not paying such bribes.
In a TI Corruption Perceptions Index (2002) Kenya ranked joint 96th out of 102 .
So, is the rape business a scam dreamt up by local chiselers to guilt Whitey into handing over moolah, with rakeoffs for the KP and the (no doubt) many other officials who had assisted in the project? According to the article, Martyn Day is no neophyte when it comes to suing the MOD on behalf of Kenyan claimants:
Mr Day began documenting the rape allegations after concluding a successful compensation campaign on behalf of Kenyan farmers killed or maimed by ordnance left on two nearby British army firing ranges. The MoD paid £4.5m in an out-of-court settlement to injured and bereaved Samburu and Masai herders but did not admit responsibility for any ordnance left lying on the ranges, which it shares with the Kenyan army.
Rumours have since circulated in northern Kenya that many of those claims were fraudulent with penniless herders awarded sums of up to £250,000 for injuries allegedly caused by wild animals and domestic accidents.
The background is the period of colonial rule in general, and the Mau-Mau terror campaign in particular. Whilst the politics of Mau-Mau were complex and dynamic , the left-liberal perception is of some kind of colonial holocaust (a legend on a par with that of Winston Churchill having the army fire on striking miners in Tonypandy in 1910. )
Labour pin-up  turned battleaxe Barbara Castle and others made a fuss about some rough treatment of prisoners at Hola Camp in 1959, which has come to stand as the representative pink factoid for colonial Kenya , guaranteed to be in the crib-notes of at least one lefty talk-show caller whenever the subject of the British Empire can be shoehorned into the discussion !
Since the sums asked in the current Kenyan case are chicken-feed in relation to total UK government spending, and the asymmetry of means between plaintiffs and defendants makes for tough PR, one could not blame the MOD for rolling over. However, it seems the spirit of Rorke's Drift may not quite have disappeared...
Friday, September 26, 2003
BBC bleaters out already
Apart from the pretty execrable performance of Andrew Gilligan's mouthpiece , the BBC side did less badly than might have been expected on closing remarks day of the Hutton Inquiry yesterday.
But a piece in the Guardian today by John Kampfner has the Corporation already done for, as a news organisation of independence and verve. Although...
The truth seems to be that it never was. It may come as something of a surprise that, both on radio and then on TV, news came very late as a function. On radio, there was an unbelievable cringing attitude taken by the BBC towards the newspapers, who for some years from its formation (as the British Broadcasting Company) in 1922 succeeded in imposing embargoes on news items being broadcast, for fear that a speedy broadcast news service would hit circulation. Only with the invasion of Normandy in 1944 was there something like the sort of news operation (with full news bulletins and a cadre of correspondents) one might have expected of the British monopoly broadcaster.
On TV, into the early 1950s, news used voice-overs with material from newsreels - when they'd finished with it!
And, as far as independence from government is concerned, the occasional worm-turning success  does not really make up for a general tendency to self-restraint.
Kampfner rightly points out that
The BBC is, in reality, a risk-averse institution.It's a bureaucracy: it's prime objective is its own survival. The names of erstwhile BBC mavericks one might throw out - James Cameron (not that one!) and Ken Loach, say - stand out for being few and, well, erstwhile.
He goes on to suggest that
It hates accusations of bias.
That's wrong. What it hates are surprises. For example, it is constantly being accused of bias in its coverage of the Israel/Palestine issue. But that's fine because it's constant - it's factored in, processes deal with it, no heart attacks for senior execs opening their morning paper and seeing one of Sharon's attack-dogs mouthing off.
Similarly, those combative interviews of politicians by John Humphrys of Today and Jeremy Paxman of Newsnight will get the likes of Alastair Campbell effing and blinding down the phones - but, again, that's expected, discounted, planned for. Both the interviews and the off-air backchat are stylised, contentless - and have about as much to do with imparting information as the Japanese Tea Ceremony has with quenching thirst.
It's the loose cannons like Gilligan - especially if they're firing at ungodly hours of the morning (in other times, the time of choice for raids by the secret police) - who give the BBC brass headaches. And managers like former Today editor Rod Liddle, who brought Gilligan in to man his present, now very provisional, post. An organisation like the BBC is not equipped, culturally or organisationally, to deal with guys who don't even themselves know what they're going to say or do next.
(There is, perhaps, an analogy to be made with commercial and investment banking: when the operations are merged, there is a sort of Gresham's Law whereby the risk-hungry deal-makers on the investment banking side see the capital of the commercial banking operation as cash under the mattress for them to make sweat.
It's such a highway to hell that the Americans have laws to keep the operations apart !)
Kampfner is a Liddle man too, apparently, so might be expected to have no sympathy for the organisation men (the BBC has 1960s levels of middle management, I gather) who aim for preservation of the organisation. He wants scoops - only better edited ones than Gilligan's infamous '6.07'.
With the Charter coming up for renewal in 2006, an unceasing barrage from the Murdoch and Conrad Black press (Murdoch has an idea of the BBC with no licence fee and perhaps a couple of million subscription-paying viewers) and withering fire from Hutton a few weeks away, it would be common sense rather than cowardice or lack of vision for the organisation to give scoops a rest for a good long while.
Surprising, perhaps, to see, in the middle of the Hutton process, BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies giving a lecture (September 10) on the history of the BBC and its relations with government. One par gives the tone:
Kofi Annan has described the World Service as Britain's greatest gift to the world in the 20th Century. Anyone who grew up in the remote bush of central Africa - as I did - would agree with him.
But, then, you can't go wrong with boosting the World Service . It is the Geoffrey Boycott of broadcasting (or even the Trevor Bailey): it aims to occupy the crease, and does so. How many stories does it break in a year? A handful, at most, I'd guess. It knows that that's not what it's there for.
If the Gilligan/Kelly saga does the Corporation any good, it will be to get it to reconcile its objectives as a news operation with its resources, organisation and culture. Raising absurd expectations about scoops do it no favours.
The Congo perspective
As piece of unashamed news tourism, after several weeks obsessing about the minutiae underlying the death of one man , I thought I'd do a little nosing around the news about a war that's killed millions - and got a small fraction of the publicity.
As a subject to interest even the news anorak, the war in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo  is a tough sell: it's hard, boring and in French (or worse!). (And there's the colour question, of course; but of course no one would mention that...) And, for the hacks, the working conditions are deeply unpleasant when they're not downright dangerous. Whether it's insurance costs or staff morale, the whole thing is... well, a disaster.
A search on the Google news page will come up with stuff in most of which (to judge from the information on the search page) the war is either peripheral or irrelevant to the thrust of the story. A search on the French news page produces more local product on the war . But, apart from considerations of quality (questions of bias and sheer competence), these stories assume a knowledge of the story so far which make them pretty hostile to the newbie.
To obtain the all-important background (without which the news stories are incomprehensible), you have to descend into PDF hell (searching on a broad topic, but trying to exclude the dross, on the assumption that the good stuff tends to be PDF). Mr Google, unhelpfully, does not sort the results by origination date. There is, for example, what looks like 150 items of solid material on the DRC and neighbours dating back to the mid 90s; but several hours work involved in downloading, arranging and tasting the stuff, before one got onto reading it!
More NGOs than you could shake a stick at have, it seems, produced at least one paper on the war (each, naturally enough, directed to its particular subject area of concern - children, women, particular diseases, international law, wildlife or whatever). One might get more joy with a shlep through individual NGO sites, but a trial run on the Human Rights Watch site produces some promising stuff, but distinctly not Congo War 101.
As far as the think tanks, I couldn't see anything on the CSIS site - and Brookings offers a Michael O'Hanlon WaPo piece from July 23 2002! (For a listing of online Congo material, this from Columbia University seems the best on offer.)
My suspicion is that there is a solid week's work required to get up to sufficient speed to get a decent familiarity with the history, issues, personalities and strategic situation. (No point in investing time in a particular story if you're not even going to be able afterwards to explain the basics on a side of A4!)
Far be it from me to give the hacks a free pass: but I can well see why they should want to pass on the DRC, whatever the casualty levels .
[As a final chastener, a piece on the continuing war in Cabinda. Which has been going on, more or less since Gerald Ford was in the White House.]
Hutton: Closing statements
From an initial skim - focussing on the dossier rather than the treatment of Kelly question - one or two points emerge from the day of statements from counsel for the interested parties yesterday .
The breathtaking arrogance of the HMG case from Jonathan Sumption  reminded me of luckless ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont's
Je ne regrette rienunwisely uttered following the UK's exit from the EU's Exchange Rate Mechanism on Black Wednesday (September 16 1992).
Whilst this was, perhaps, particularly notable in relation to the Kelly question (he had no difficulty in agreeing with Richard Hatfield's view that the MOD's treatment of him had been outstanding - 91:6), he thinks much the same of the intelligence underlying the 45 minute claim (31:12).
The contrary view (taken here) was picked up by BBC counsel Andrew Caldecott, highlighting Kelly's own reasoned disbelief - passage from 110:14 - of its validity.
Caldecott also picks up a point made here before - the lack of notes of (some) meetings at Number 10:
it appears that in
Is he alleging that the absence of records is deliberate? Or, perhaps, that such records exist but have not been produced to the Inquiry?
As if grounds for doubting the good faith (to use a mild expression) of HMG aren't thick enough on the ground already, the bizarre appearance of dribs and drabs of late evidence from HMG is striking: the latest, I think, is an email that emerged only this Tuesday.
The inquiry, of course, was set up without powers to subpoena documents or compel witnesses; each party would supply what he thought was relevant ....
The statement (which came last in the day) of Inquiry counsel James Dingemans is noteworthy for the relaxed way in which, unlike his colleagues, he identifies the documentation he refers to by number (eg, BBC/6/13 or whatever) .
More substantially, for the fact that he does not address the quality of the 45 minute intelligence. But does hit the more general question of the politicisation of the intelligence in the dossier, quoting Dame Pauline Neville-Jones  as saying (154:6)
He spends most of his time on the Gilligan, the BBC/Campbell war and the Kelly treatment issues.
(No one, that I could see, had picked up the essential sleight of hand in the description of the JIC as representing the intelligence services, despite the fact that a substantial number of its members were not from those services. Nor the distinctly ambiguous position of the JIC Chairman - as having a foot in both camps, as much representing Number 10 to the agencies as vice versa.)
The key question for Lord Hutton remains HMG's bad faith, both in relation to the dossier and its handling of Kelly. On the dossier question, though Gilligan perversely denies the point, the charge he made against HMG, as revised , is still an allegation of bad faith.
Indeed, the only satisfactory outcome on the dossier question would be a finding that HMG drew it up in bad faith. But I doubt whether picking at the procedural niceties - the detailed to and fro of the drafting process - could ever be enough to satisfy Lord Hutton on the point: it needs the substance of the 45 minute claim to be undermined - and given the Messines Ridge treatment. Although it would certainly have been better if expert evidence had been led on the technical detail of the claim, it seems to me there is sufficient material in the evidence before the Inquiry to ground a finding that the 45 minute claim had indeed been inserted though known by HMG to be questionable, based on the information available at the time.
The best thing would be for a leak of unvolunteered evidence. Yet another Number 10 email, for instance. Not necessarily a smoking gun, but something that makes it clear that HMG have been hiding stuff.
(The dog that didn't bark all day was Teflon Tone himself. To judge from the closing statements, at least, Tony Blair appears to have slithered away from the crosshairs of all who might have taken pot-shots. And he wasn't recalled for cross-examination, either.)
The risk is that Lord Hutton may be averse to giving credence to the substance of Gilligan's story, given his apparent idée fixe that an allegation by the BBC and the broadcast by the BBC of an allegation by a source should be equated; and the errors in the story which Gilligan has admitted.
It may be (to judge from the areas his questioning has focussed on) he has in mind a balanced outcome, with one hit for each of HMG and the BBC: HMG's hit would be on the treatment of Kelly by the MOD, the BBC's on substance of the Gilligan story (rather than, say, the Governors' or management's handling of the affair).
Of course, Hutton did warn against jumping to conclusions from his lines of questioning...
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Scott and Hutton: a contrast in inquiries (net-wise)
Two inquiries with but a single causa sine qua non - Saddam and his military ambition; and a single field of inquiry: the performance of HMG in the fields of intelligence and arms control.
But, whereas Hutton has provided us plebs gratis with electronic access to the materials - documents and transcripts of oral evidence - for us to make up our own mind on the matters he looks at, online research into Scott is a complete no-hoper.
There is no online copy of the report , still less transcripts of testimony or documentary evidence . There is Hansard for the floor of the House of Commons going back to the 1988-9 session - amply far back to include the introduction of the Report to the House (February 15 1996) and the subsequent debate (on February 26) during which Robin Cook had his finest Parliamentary hour.
There is not, it seems, even a decent online summary of the facts and conclusions of the Scott Report - just bits and pieces (sidebars brought forth by the establishment of the Hutton Inquiry, for instance) .
The main problem is that Scott was completed before Internet Year Zero - which varies from source to source, but for each source is a date documentation created before which is inaccessible. For instance, the Guardian/Observer archives go back to September 1 1998; the BBC News site's to around the middle of 1997 (exact date unstated) .
Whilst debates on the Commons floor go back to 1988, reports of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (an important supporting actor in the Kelly affair) go back online only to 1997/8. Similarly inconsistencies in Year Zero apply between and within institutions of UK government. (The FCO's online documentation is pathetically sketchy - to judge from the main page.)
To use phrase du jour of the boss of the FCO, Jack Straw, the whole thing is a complete Horlicks. The money spent on the wretched Millennium Dome ($1bn+) should have gone to digitising the national archive and the best of the British Library. As it is, records created (roughly speaking) before Monica Lewinsky gulped her last in the Oval Office might as well be Babylonian cuneiform tablets at the bottom of a well in Saddam's back garden. Wherever that is right now...
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Cross-examination of head spook largely a bust
As I've mentioned before, Hutton is investigating two main areas: the treatment by HMG of Dr Kelly and whether HMG sexed up the September 24 2002 dossier.
On the latter point, the evidence of John Scarlett, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who - HMG's case supposes - had entire command of the content of the dossier at all times is bound to be vital. Others - like Alastair Campbell - were (on HMG's case) peripheral to the construction of the dossier; or - like Brian Jones from the Defence Intelligence Assessment Staff (DIAS) - subordinate. If any progress was to be made on the sexing-up allegation, it would have to be with Scarlett.
The transcript  of his second appearance  makes for a pretty depressing skim-through:a fine tooth-comb may uncover gold, but I doubt it!. The BBC's lawyer - whose client had most to gain from discrediting the intelligence content of the dossier in general, and the infamous 45 minute claim in particular, made what looks like a comprehensive Horlicks of the whole thing.
Even on the evidence given to the Inquiry (which, even allowing for considerations of security, seems to have been on the scant side), the 45 minute claim was assailable on numerous points (some of which I attempted to pin down in my September 2 piece).
All cross-examining counsel were time-limited, so might be expected to hit their best points hard and fast. The BBC's man wasted ages with a line of questioning (from around 113:24) that never achieved take-off speed on the difference between various formulations of the 45 minute claim in the dossier, and in the JIC assessments  on which the dossier was supposedly based: the difference between
intelligence shows that...and
intelligence indicates that...
There is - one gathers - a genuine difference between the two formulations: both are terms of art as that expression would be understood by lawyers. But Caldecott could make nothing of it.
(Even Lord Hutton seemed confused (123:13). And, perhaps, not a little bored, too. )
Where he does take on the detail of the intelligence, it goes nowhere; as at 128:16, when he puts to Scarlett
some possiblein the 45 minute intel; starting with:
Firstly,and moving on to
You did not know from where or to where the munitions
To both of these propositions, Scarlett assented.
Now, those - utterly basic - details would be important in two ways:
Their absence surely cripples the Iraqi officer's story?
But Caldecott insists on wrapping up these admissions of Scarlett's into his futile quest for a result in his indicates v shows line of (I laughingly call) argument. It sinks slowly into the sand, before vanishing without trace.
There is further stuff on Campbell's role - which has zero shock-horror value, given what we already know.
He returns to the battlefield munitions point , and asks (138:3) whether the distinction had been made clear to Blair. Whereupon Scarlett evidently remembers a point from his practice sessions, and launches into a whole barrage of technical detail on battlefield CBW (chemical and biological weapons) evidently designed to point up Caldecott's ignorance of the subject-matter. (Though Scarlett is, of course, vastly less of an expert on the subject than - oh, the late DK, say...) As fine a deployment of chaff (in the Andrew MacKinlay sense) as one might wish to see!
[Another area ripe for investigation is the apparently highly selective recording of meetings and other communications at Number 10. But Caldecott chooses to raise that question with Scarlett, who had the easy out that it wasn't his business (147:17). Leaving Caldecott - yet again - one down (in the Stephen Potter sense) - and (by necessary implication) Scarlett, one up.)
He makes something of a September 19 email from Blair's Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell  asking for a redraft of a passage in the dossier that suggested that a threatened invasion would be the one thing to make Saddam use his WMD (which was, rather, one of the points opponents of the War Party were making at the time!). He presses the argument (158:17) that  on can have sexing up by omission
But then plunges back into the detail of discussions on the drafting of the dossier - points which simply have no traction.
Then he moves onto questions of the evidence about the drafting of the dossier provided by HMG to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. (Thereby already moving one level away from the matter in hand.) The whole thing gets terminally mired in inconsequential tedium over a confusion over the identification of a particular document on the screen (from around 177:13). By 181:17, the hapless Caldecott decides not to ask any questions about the document after all - and this time resorts to football for his analogy:
One nil to you, Mr Scarlett, I think on that
Fortunately, he grinds to a complete halt shortly afterwards - to find Inquiry counsel James Dingemans (fuming, evidently, about having his time cut short) returning to the offending document, and uttering the immortal words:
What I think you were
The fact is that, of the QCs involved in the cross-examinations, only Dingemans has anything like a satisfactory mastery of his brief. (And no wonder, given the volume of evidence produced!)
If effectiveness had been the aim, it would have been far better for Dingemans to have assumed in turn the role of counsel for the various interested parties, and cross-examined accordingly. (That, however, would certainly not have been cricket!)
In short, the cross-examination sessions, long trailed in the media as the time when the gloves would come off has been a damp squib. The patient examination-in-chief of Dingemans - interspersed with courteous interventions of
his Lordship whose vitriol was given away in a final
Yes...-was, ironically, much more effective and less tedious than the efforts of the latter-day Marshall Halls and FE Smiths .
Tuesday, September 23, 2003
Jacques Chirac, the New York Times - and 95% of what?
The Quota Prince, Jayson Blair, and his claque may have gone, but the Grey Lady still struggles with the smallest details when it comes to quality control.
Take the big interview yesterday with the Chief Weasel: one of those prestige projects that helps a newspaper of record puff out its chest with pride - I suspect it figured on page 1 (though, unlike the WaPo, its online articles don't include a note their position in the hard copy rag.) Bush v Chirac at the UN was always a good bet for a punch-up (each way rather, than on the nose - despite the involvement of a cheese-eater...), and a nice long interview has a sort of coffee-table book function for a rag, even if - as, I think, is true with the Chirac piece - it adds little of substance to the sum of human knowledge.
But, either way, it's something that, unlike, say, an agency piece about the coup in Bongo-Bongo Land, you'd have thought the Times would have produced with some attention to detail.
Wrong. For a start, in the sixth paragraph down, we get beleive. Is that just rank carelessness, or a Jaysonesque flipping of the bird?
But then something truly bizarre: the interview mentions Chirac's Algerian experience - he served in Algeria during the 1954-62 war - and Chirac takes up the point:
In Algeria we began with a sizeable army and huge resources and the fellaga [independence fighter] were only a handful of people, but they won. That's how it is.
Then, he goes on:
When the Germans invaded France, 95% of the French were… But there were people who said no. They came from different cultural and political backgrounds, from the extreme left wing, the left, the right, the extreme right, and they said no...
What was Chirac about to say 95% of the French were? Patriots?
Now, the interview, the piece says, was conducted in French . The text of the original is not provided by the Times. But there is elsewhere a French text of the interview  which could well be the original (rather than a translation of the Times translation).
The French text corresponding to the passage quoted is this:
Quand les Allemands ont envahi la France, il y a eu des gens qui ont dit non. Ils étaient de différentes origines, culturelles, politiques. Il y en avait d'extrême gauche, de la gauche, de la droite, de l'extrême droite. Et ils ont dit non...
No 95%, no incomplete sentence, no guessing game invited.
What gives? I've drawn the attention of the Times corrections people to the point - let's see.
Monday, September 22, 2003
Not quite the Big Lie, but...
In the agonisingly slow progress towards enlightenment down at Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand - home, for what seems an eternity and a half, for Lord Hutton's great inquest - a potential small leap forward on Thursday.
In the witness box, was Richard Hatfield, Personnel Director at the Ministry of Defence, and intimately concerned with the limb of the inquiry dealing with the treatment of Dr Kelly by HMG. Hatfield took a notably combative approach, in the face of cross-examination from counsel for the Kelly family, Jeremy Gompertz, QC .
He was happy to stand behind the way the MOD behaved towards Kelly - in fact, suggested that it had erred in being excessively lenient .
On the question of the guessing game the MOD played with journos - the MOD had agreed it would identify Kelly if, and only if, his name was put to one of its press officers  - his comment appears typically bold and bullish (44:16, emphasis mine):
16 Q. Do you consider it was outstanding support by the MoD
Now, I think that is the clearest statement we have had in evidence from HMG witnesses of what is, to judge from Hatfield's tone, supposed to be a killer argument to justify the guessing game. And I hypothesise that the statement is, in fact, a lie. (Or, at the least, a falsehood - despite his senior position in the MOD, one could not discount the possibility of ignorance on his part.) And that evidence might be adduced (should his Lordship be willing) to prove it to be a lie (or falsehood).
One or two points on this:
The MOD was created in 1964; I would hypothesise that, on several occasions in its four decades of existence, MOD ministers or officials have done what Hatfield alleges they are not able to do.
I can suggest a number of cases in which this may well have occurred - though absence of online records militates against being able to confirm the fact .
Very far from an exhaustive list, I'm sure; but illustrative of the rich seams to be mined for facts to contradict Hatfield's statement.
Would Lord Hutton allow counsel to lead evidence of this sort? Time is certainly against it. As well as the natural disinclination of all judges to bar fishing expeditions or diversionary tactics.
On the other hand, the question bears directly on a matter Lord Hutton evidently views as important: whether the MOD should have striven to resist Kelly's name becoming public, whether or not such efforts were likely to succeed. If it could be shown that the MOD had more than once denied (or avoided confirming) what it knew to be true, then no such rule as alleged by Hatfield could be adduced for its failure to do so to protect Dr Kelly.
Sunday, September 21, 2003
Whatever happened to the UK anti-war movement?
Back in the prehistory that is the back-end of last year, I was doing my best, as the expression goes, to dampen expectations of the likely effectiveness of street protest against the war. On October 29 2002 , point out the lack of seriousness inherent in the Stop the War Coalition's loud call that
...we are backing Tony Benn's call for civil disobedience.
(I was equally sceptical about suggestions that the march to war could be stopped by the weight of a silent majority (January 27).)
The numbers mobilised onto the streets came as something of a surprise, I confess: a million in London alone on February 15 (Observer February 16). But Blair made it clear he was taking not a blind bit of notice!
Both the demos and the polls had zero traction (or close to it) on the course of the pre-war.
Now, we have the Hutton Inquiry, and, for all that quagmire talk is vastly premature, USG is hurting sufficiently in Iraq for it to think worth while enduring the humiliation of going cap in hand to that dive of cheese-eaters, the UN Security Council. Jacques, the Chief Weasel, naturally has his middle digit locked in the upright position .
We are long due a recrudescence in street activism to attempt to exploit these little local difficulties. But, according to a piece in the Observer today, the groupuscules of the movement are becoming ever more groupuscular. For example,
...a coup at CND with Carol Naughton, the longstanding chair defeated by one vote by Kate Hudson at the annual general meeting, amidst dark talk of tactical infiltration by the leftist group Socialist Action together who, with elements of the Socialist Workers Party, have effectively taken over.
(The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is one of the oldest organisations in the movement - the famous Aldermaston Marches of the early 60s were theirs. One might have hoped they'd have been wise to such tactics.)
The Stop the War Coalition is apparently equally fissiparous: even a long-time lefty like Bruce Kent (ex-Catholic priest, ex-CND chairman)
is furious about the happenings at CND and refusing to share anti war platforms with SWC people.
An SWC demo is planned, it seems, for next weekend (just before the Labour Party Conference). The Observer piece warns darkly that
In media terms anything less that the millions who turned out in February is going to be viewed as failure.
Good luck with that!
But even if a million do show up, the same lack of traction will enable Blair to ignore them. Only Hutton is in a position right now to do Blair any serious damage. And, while it's a possibility, no one should be holding their breath that it's going to happen.
Saturday, September 20, 2003
Journalistic ethics and the reported source
One of the proverbial oxymora , like military intelligence - but a phrase which has been exercising the public prints lately, what with the Grey Lady's Quota Prince Jayson Blair and now the BBC's hapless hack Andrew Gilligan (who, more and more, is showing himself to be every bit as stupid as he looks).
One point of principle that I'm puzzling over is the responsibility of a media outlet in reporting allegations.
Now, in English and American libel law, it seems that a paper that quotes an allegation is deemed to have made the allegation itself - neither the accuracy of the quotation nor the credibility of the person quoted is a defence.
If, therefore, Alastair Campbell had sued the Mail on Sunday for the allegation that he had been responsible for inserting the 45 minute claim into the September dossier, the case would have proceeded as if it were the newspaper that had made the allegation without reference to any source .
But what of the ethical position? The stance of objective journalism  was that the statement of a prominent person was news per se. However demonstrably false the content, the speech of a US president or senator merited respectful coverage - and not fact-checking!
Even a more balanced approach must comprehend the fact that conflicting - and often thoroughly tendentious - statements from politicians are flying around the ether; allegations are often made which are not mere empty invective but qualify as falsifiable : disputes over the quality of statistics, say; or alleged quotations which can be checked with the record.
Are media outlets to be required to publish annotations with every such report? Or to refrain from reproducing such statements altogether? Neither constraint is the least bit practical.
There is a limited analogy in the role of stock markets: investors understand that, whilst the market authorities will take steps (not universally efficacious!) to exclude known con-men and South Sea Bubble-style propositions, the market is not responsible for the quality of the stocks traded .
The marketplace of ideas is, at least in the US, one of those tags of easy boosterism that spring to the lips when the glories of free speech are in question. No market can function when the market organisation is required to stand guarantor for everything that's sold in it. The marketplace analogy assumes that, pretty much, all ideas will find their place on one stall or another - and that competition will find out the best idea .
Back at the Hutton Inquiry, his Lordship's questioning has suggested that he disagrees with any such notion. The distinction between the BBC making an allegation, and reporting the allegation of a source, does not, it seem, appeal. He would have the analogy from libel law on his side in rejecting that distinction. But would he actually conclude that media outlets should only publish statements (from whatever source) they themselves have checked and are prepared to stand behind?
With all those pols rubbed out of the schedule (who knows what allegations they might make!), it would certainly make the Today programme, for one, a whole lot shorter!
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