Blair's scheming laid bare

Michael Malkin looks at the Hutton inquiry

What a tangled web we weave. The Hutton inquiry continues to expose the tissue of lies and half-truths, the equivocation and the casuistry that lay behind Blair’s ‘justification’ for going to war against Iraq. The fabled weapons of mass destruction were not deployed and have yet to be found. A few rusting gas shells from long-forgotten stockpiles dating back to the Iran-Iraq war represent the sum total of the physical ‘evidence’.

As we all guessed at the time, when we heard the Bush-Blair axis almost daily changing its purported casus belli - WMDs, Iraqi support for al Qa’eda, the threat of global terrorism or the necessity of a cleansing ‘regime change’ to bring freedom and democracy to the benighted Iraqi population - the plain fact is they wanted rid of their one-time creature Saddam, but had to provide some kind of intelligence to give their war of conquest at least a degree of public credibility. If you are going to lose a husband, a son or a brother, you want to know that he died fighting for something worthwhile. Hence the now notorious September 2002 dossier.

Of course, the political question arises that even if the September document - not to mention its ludicrous successor, the ‘February dossier’ (cribbed off the web from a doctoral thesis) and all the other spurious crap adduced to justify the invasion of Iraq - had never been published and Blair had been obliged to rely just on his own rhetoric, would enough Labour members of parliament have dared to vote against the war - a move which would have led to Blair’s resignation and perhaps an early election and the loss of a significant number of marginal seats? It seems very doubtful.

Even before the ‘verdict’ is announced, Hutton’s first victim has already fallen on his sword. Alistair Campbell has decided to spend more time with his family and (eventually no doubt) with the wolf pack of publishers who will be desperate to gobble up his bilious vomit of insider tittle-tattle. It turns out, as if we did not already know it, that Downing Street and probably Blair himself were in thrall to an unelected and unaccountable foul-mouthed parvenu bully boy, feared and loathed in equal measure by ministers and civil servants, who exercised unprecedented power and influence at the heart of government.

Even from the documents already produced during the inquiry, it is clear that Campbell and the chairman of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), former MI6 senior officer John Scarlett, were in cahoots to provide Blair with the ‘strong evidence’ he needed to justify a war of aggression against Iraq. In the process, by sins of omission and commission, they consciously bent the truth to suit Blair’s and their own purpose.

Campbell’s office is no more. In the meanwhile, we are supposed to take comfort from the fact that henceforth the Blair administration’s misinformation machine has been downgraded and will be directed by a ‘proper’ mandarin, a loyal public servant from the ranks of the bureaucratic elite. The hope being that this will restore the myth of impartiality and objectivity in the way information is presented. No more funny stuff and histrionics; no more clenched fists or public slanging matches with the director general of the BBC. Just the quiet, professional massaging of the ‘facts’ to suit the prime minister’s requirements.

For Geoff Hoon also, the Hutton inquiry must surely be a sword of Damocles. His selective myopia, frantic buck-passing and nauseating refusal to accept even a scintilla of responsibility for what was taking place on his watch make him the most truly contemptible figure in this tawdry drama. His testimony to the inquiry has already been contradicted more than once. His recall for cross-examination next week should be fascinating.

But leaving aside personalities, and all the other ephemera which so preoccupy the bourgeois press, we should be grateful that the Hutton inquiry is perforce throwing some much needed light on the actual governance of the UK; on exactly who runs it and how.

Such insights are welcome because, even if only brick by brick, they help to dismantle the myth of ‘our’ free and open bourgeois democratic state, revealing instead a secret, undemocratic and unaccountable state apparatus, whose sole raison d’être is to protect and defend the existing relations of property and power under capitalism. This apparatus is not merely undemocratic - that much is obvious - but profoundly and actively anti-democratic, in so far as its principal goal is to suppress and where possible destroy anything that, in its wide-ranging eye, represents a threat to the ‘system’.

In this respect, last week’s report from the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (ISC) on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction makes very interesting reading. First of all, just what is the ISC? According to its terms of reference, the ISC exercises “parliamentary oversight of SIS, GCHQ and the security service”. Its remit was set out in the Intelligence Services Act 1994. The committee “examines the expenditure, administration and policy of the three agencies. It operates within the ‘ring of secrecy’ and has wide access to the range of agency activities and to highly classified information. Its cross-party membership of nine from both houses is appointed by the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition. The committee is required to report annually to the prime minister on its work. These reports, after any deletions of sensitive material, are placed before parliament by the prime minister.”

On the face of it, then, a body which, in the best British tradition, has some notional clout, but is in fact composed of toothless political appointees: Blair-loyalist second-raters (like its chair, Ann Taylor) and some tired retreads from the other main parties, accountable in reality to nobody but those who gave them office. Its most colourful and vocal member is Michael Mates, a Tory militarist, whom some readers might remember was once (very briefly) a Northern Ireland minister, before his links with the fugitive fraudster Asil Nadir obliged him to resign the only ministerial office he ever held.

As to the “ring of secrecy”, this risible concept reminds me of the ‘ring of confidence’ that advertisers once assured us was imparted by Colgate toothpaste. Meaningless. The sort of “highly classified information” to which the ISC has access is unlikely to go beyond the carefully sanitised summaries dished out by the intelligence services to certain government departments. Difficult to imagine the chief of SIS, Sir Richard Dearlove, or the director general of the security service, the as-yet-to-be-damed Eliza Manningham Buller, giving this motley crew access to anything resembling real operational intelligence in the form of the raw material that comes from human and technical sources.

Predictably, these safe pairs of hands on the ISC cleared Blair and his Downing Street cabal (principally Campbell, of course) of “sexing up” the September dossier, or of putting political pressure on Scarlett and the JIC - notionally ‘independent’ and objective providers of intelligence - to present their material in a way most favourable to Blair’s case for war. To have done otherwise would have been unthinkable. Yet the rest of the report contradicts these ‘acquittals’ in the most obvious way, although the ISC’s complaints (wrenched out of their consciences by some very stubborn facts) are couched in the most Sir Humphreyish language of British understatement.

Just a couple of examples. First, try as hard as it may, the ISC simply cannot get round the fact that the September dossier’s notorious ‘45-minute’ claim (to the effect that Saddam could launch weapons of mass destruction in less than an hour), repeated no less than four times in the dossier, was grossly misleading.

The information is described in the ISC report as representing “nothing fundamentally new”. In fact, in terms of the way it was presented in the dossier, it was entirely and consciously bogus. However reliable or otherwise SIS’s Iraqi source may have been, it was clear from the outset that the ‘threat’ (in so far as it existed at all) related exclusively to tactical battlefield munitions. The notional ‘threat’ from chemical and biological munitions was directed against the invading US and British armed forces,

Yet between them Campbell and Scarlett conspired to give the impression that the UK itself was under imminent threat of attack. If this is not “sexing up”, then what is? The ISC categorises this obvious gross distortion of the facts as “unhelpful”.

Likewise, at Campbell’s insistence and no doubt by his own hand, the draft dossier was amended to state that Iraq continued to have the “ability to produce chemical and biological weapons”, whereas the original, reflecting the poor state of intelligence on the subject, had qualified the statement with a “may”. This manipulation, forming part of the politically crucial foreword to the dossier, earned some very muted ISC criticism. It had to be anodyne, or the whole exoneration from the charge of “sexing up” (ie, falsifying) the available intelligence simply falls.

In some ways, Campbell’s and Scarlett’s collusion in what was suppressed from the dossier is more interesting. The sins of omission in this case were more vital to the enterprise than outright lies and distortions.

For example, in the draft foreword, Blair himself had written that “the case I make is not that Saddam could launch a nuclear attack on London or another part of the UK”. Self-evidently, one might think. Nor, for that matter, was there a suggestion that Saddam could launch any form of attack (chemical, biological or conventional) against the UK. However Blair’s limited but at least honest admission did not square with the apocalyptic language of the 45-minute threat, so it was edited out, presumably by Campbell. The ISC again describes this as “unfortunate” - one of the committee’s favourite words.

Given that the September dossier’s primary purpose was to make a convincing political case for war, you would think that it must have rested on a balanced strategic assessment, reflecting the best intelligence available at the time. Not so. The then current strategic assessment from the intelligence services was that Saddam Hussein did not represent a “current or imminent threat to the mainland UK”. Again, a statement that was clearly not ‘on message’ as far as Campbell was concerned. No room for it in the dossier.

No room, either, for the February 2003 JIC assessment that “there was no intelligence that Iraq had provided chemical and biological materials to al Qa’eda or of Iraqi intentions to conduct chemical and biological attacks using Iraqi intelligence officials or their agents” (The Times September 12). As chairman of the JIC since September 2001, Scarlett would have been responsible for signing off such assessments before they were passed to cabinet. But it evidently did not suit his purposes in September 2002 to recall the JIC’s appraisal of Iraq’s actual intentions and capabilities. Much better to please his “mate”, Campbell, and their political masters by stoking the fire.

Another example - one of many: at no point in the dossier was it made clear that Britain’s intelligence coverage of Iraq, particularly in relation to human intelligence, was patchy, to say the least.

The withdrawal of weapons inspectors in 1998 left not just SIS, but the imperialist secret services generally, bereft of good sources. But it was obviously directly antithetical to Blair’s purposes to admit that ‘we’ were not in a position to know much at all about what was going on in Iraq.

As the ISC puts it, the JIC “did not highlight in the key judgements the uncertainties and gaps in the UK’s knowledge about biological and chemical weapons ... We believe that this uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view.” Quite so. But a “balanced” view was the last thing that Campbell and Scarlett wanted to produce. Their brief was to give Blair a document on the basis of which he could send thousands of British troops to face death halfway across the world.

Geoff Hoon’s ‘forgetfulness’ comes in for some almost sharp criticism from the ISC. It was, the committee reports, “unhelpful and potentially misleading” (strong words from the ISC) that Hoon somehow forgot to mention to anybody that two defence intelligence staff analysts had written to their line manager protesting about the language of the September dossier, specifically in relation to the 45-minute warning.

Although they knew it not, these analysts shared the same misgivings as Richard Dearlove of MI6, of which more presently. Similarly, as we have now learned from the Hutton inquiry, Hoon also evidently ‘forgot’ to mention in his testimony that on July 9 he had chaired an MOD committee meeting which decided effectively to throw weapons expert Dr David Kelly to the media wolves.

Sad and pathetic though his suicide was, Kelly is now almost an irrelevance in terms of the Hutton inquiry, though it would be just and fitting if his death led to the political demise of the spineless scoundrel Hoon. The Hutton business has inevitably spread far wider, to take in the highest levels of government and of the organs of the secret state.

What, for example is the role of the JIC in relation to politics? In theory it is just a top-level clearing house for intelligence provided by the security service, the secret intelligence service, GCHQ and various liaison services, especially the Americans. This intelligence is provided in response to the constantly updated ‘red books’ of requirements detailing what the government of the day most wants to know, though not all requirements are formalised in this way. It is doubtful whether the insatiable desire of successive Labour prime ministers (notably Wilson and Callaghan) to know all about what was going on in their own party and in the unions was ever formally tabled as a requirement, rather than being discussed privately with the director general of MI5.

Traditionally, the chair of the JIC was held by a senior civil servant, often from the foreign office, though the allied role of intelligence and security coordinator within the cabinet office/JIC framework has been occupied by the tops from the MI6 such as Colin Figures and Chris Curwen or by senior MI5 officers like John Alpass.

Regular participants at the Wednesday morning meetings will be the heads of the British intelligence services, senior representatives from other departments (military intelligence and so forth), along with certain liaison officers (CIA, FBI, etc). Their participation is, however, limited. Intelligence that is for ‘UK eyes only’ is dealt with separately. The JIC’s purpose is to review and approve the intelligence digest and summaries forwarded by its many sub-committees devoted to regional and subject surveys.

On the face of it, this seems like a clinical, professional task. The intelligence boffins come along with their nuggets of information, which are digested and forwarded to ministers and that is the end of it. No politics? Nonsense.

The irresistible temptation is to tell your political masters what they want to hear, especially if, like John Scarlett, you are in thrall to a dominant figure such as Campbell - not just a “mate”, but someone whose unaccountable power and influence can secure you your ultimate ambition, to become ‘C’, the head of MI6. Look at the emails that have been published so far and you will see the nature of this special relationship, which in strict civil service terms should never even have existed, at least not formally, and with the paper evidence to substantiate it.

When Richard Dearlove ‘appeared’ before the Hutton inquiry (disembodied voice adding to the aura of MI6’s ‘unbreakable’ cover and secrecy), it was to impart a message delivered from between two widely separated stools. On the one hand, the 45-minute stuff was good intelligence, albeit from a single source (as most intelligence tends actually to be - fair point); on the other hand, it had been “misrepresented” and it was a “valid criticism” to say that the prominence given to this snippet of intelligence in the final version of the September dossier had been far in excess of its intrinsic significance: ie, the information had been politically manipulated.

This goes some way to explain why Dearlove is reported to have been furious about the JIC’s and Scarlett’s deliberate distortion of the limited intelligence available, because it represented the overt politicisation of the secret intelligence service and could scarcely be seen as anything other than a party political act. Dearlove reportedly briefed BBC Radio 4 about his concerns.

Scarlett is an old friend of Dearlove, otherwise he would not have progressed so far. Even getting kicked out of Moscow in 1994 (because Russian intelligence knew much more about him and his activities than he knew about them) did not damage his career. But his ambition and vanity led him to make the mistake of getting sucked into the fantasy world of spinmeister in chief Alistair Campbell, a bloated fart who yesterday was the keeper of the keys, today nothing at all.

But the system itself, and specifically the intelligence services - undemocratic and unaccountable, despite their worthless charters and their ‘legal’ status in terms of acts of parliament - will always be with us. They are the avowed enemies of our class and of all that we as communists and revolutionaries fight for. If the death of Kelly has done nothing else, at least it has given us some useful insights into the workings of the class enemy.