February 01, 2004
Max Hastings, a British newspaper editor -- and self-described small "c"
conservative -- has a very interesting piece in The Guardian reacting
to the Hutton report.
For those of you who haven't been following the British side of the
missing WMD saga, the Hutton report was the result of an inquiry into the
death of David Kelly, a British arms control expert who tipped the BBC
off to some of the various deceptions practiced by the Blair government
in the run up to war, was exposed for it, and then committed suicide.
inquiry was supposed to establish the circumstances of Kelly's
death. Along the way, however, it became a surrogate investigation (albeit
a completely inadequate one) of the Blair government's use of intelligence
to try to justify the Iraq invasion. His report, released last week, turned
out to be almost a complete whitewash -- one which virtually ignored Blair's
deceptions and manipulations and focused entirely on the BBC's alleged
lapses in journalistic standards.
I hope to write more later about the strange duality of the WMD story
on both sides of the Atlantic, but Hastings zeros in on one particular
aspect: The way in which those "journalist standards" allegedly violated
by the BBC can be used by the national security state to blur or conceal
its own lies:
forget that they lie
The longer I think about Hutton, the angrier
I get. It is hard to dissent from his conclusions about the BBC's failures.
Yet the damage done by his grotesquely lopsided report vastly outweighs
the gravity of the offence. The corporation, guilty of lapses of journalistic
judgment, has been treated as if its reporter had committed perjury in
a court of law. Lord Hutton seems to expect from working journalists the
standards of proof he would demand from witnesses on oath.
The MO is the same here in the states. Having manipulated and bullied the
intelligence community into progressively hyping its own assessment of
the Iraq threat -- and then creating its own pet intelligence assessment
office within the Pentagon to say what the CIA would not -- the Bush administration
and it defenders have now fallen back on the narrowest possible definition
of wrongdoing: Did they, in fact, tell "lies" -- statements they knew
to be completely false when they uttered them?
Lord Hutton seems unable to grasp a simple truth: all journalism is
conducted against a background of official obfuscation and deceit, which
does much to explain our blunders and omissions. It seems remarkable not
how much journalists get wrong -- a great deal -- but that we are able
to retrieve from the Whitehall swamp fragments of truth, and to present
the waterlogged and bedraggled exhibits to readers and listeners.
This leaves the press -- or that part of it that actually seeks to get
at the truth -- in a classic Catch-22. It is difficult, and usually impossible,
for journalists to prove definitively that a public official is lying,
in the specific sense that the White House or 10 Downing Street now want
to frame the debate. The obstacles are particularly formidable when the
government is completely controlled by one party -- which is all the time
in Britain and presently the case in America. The government, quite simply,
has the field tilted almost entirely in its favor, especially in national
security matters. As Hastings notes:
We must resort to a cliche: news is what people
do not want found out. Ministers perceive it as their responsibility to
conceal unwelcome tidings. From their own standpoint they are right. But
our job, as journalists, is to circumvent the dobermanns, Campbell and
On the other hand, the propaganda machine will relentlessly spin the argument
that anything less than specific, documented proof of a concrete,
official lie is meaningless -- "mere supposition," or some such dismissive
phrase. And the journalistic conventions being what they are (this side
says X, the other side says Y) those sorts of stories generally disappear
fairly quickly into the roaring white noise that increasingly passes for
public discourse in the multimedia age.
One of Lord Hutton's most telling lines suggests distaste for the fact
that Dr David Kelly's meetings with journalists in general and Andrew Gilligan
in particular were "unauthorised". Most Whitehall and Westminster reporters
find it hard to recall when last they discovered anything of public interest
from "authorised" encounters. They are dependent for almost all significant
insights upon private conversations with people who would suffer heart
failure if their dalliance with the media was known.
The mistake made by Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter -- if, indeed
a mistake was made -- was to push beyond the "safe" boundaries of conventional
national security reporting, beyond the generalities about "manipulating
intelligence" or "stovepiping conclusions," and accuse the Blairites of
a specific, tangible act of deceit -- that is, of inserting a completely
bogus claim (that Saddam had the ability to deploy chemical weapons on
45-minutes notice) into an otherwise carefully hedged dossier prepared
by the spooks on Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee.
Now the evidence that Blair's propaganda team had its fingers all over
the various Iraq materials released by the government in the run up to
war is overwhelming. It's even been extracted
from the documents themselves, by people who know a lot more about
Microsoft Word than 10 Downing Street apparently ever managed to absorb.
There's also considerable evidence that the conclusions in the supposedly
"sexed up" September dossier were carefully
shaped by the Prime Minister's office, using the usual techniques of
bureaucratic manipulation. Finally, it appears the sexy "45 minute" allegation
was based on a single, highly untrustworthy source, and that the Blairites
(perhaps under pressure from their Washington counterparts) lobbied the
JIC very hard for its inclusion in the dossier.
All of this, however, has been obscured by the relentlessly single-minded
focus on the specifics of Gilligan's story -- specifics which Lord Hutton,
the accidental judge in a completely tangential inquiry, has now deemed
refuted. And, of course, the Blair government is claiming complete vindication,
and pressing home its war of annihilation against the BBC's editorial independence.
All in all, it's a vivid demonstration of the tremendous pressure on
mainstream journalists to avoid controversy, to hedge conclusions, to remains
safely within the limits of "he says X, the other guy says Y" reporting.
In other words: to play it safe.
Hastings quotes a wonderful passage from an article published some years
back in the British Journalism Review:
"Virtuous journalism is a weedy growth ...
It tends to be weedily unsystematic. Virtuous journalists are more likely
to hang around... than to practise any form of 'precision journalism'.
Journalism is not art, it is not science; neither is journalism scholarship,
although the accomplishments of journalists, purposeful and accessible,
often outdo the investigations of scholars... Journalists are free to be
amateurs, to be interested, to practise... the art of the scavenger."
That is, I think, one of the best descriptions I've ever read of what journalism
can and should be. Unfortunately, it's also completely incompatible with
the modern reality of corporate media control. And, it seems, incompatible
with future role of government-sponsored news organizations like
Update 3:45 PM ET: I forgot to say thanks to Simeon for pointing
me to Hastings' piece.
Posted by billmon at February 1, 2004 01:29 PM | TrackBack
Superb post. What a writer you are.
I can't think how a remedy for the predicament of mainstream journalists
might be found. Are there any ideas? Big grants to journalists? Where would
the money come from? I don't know much about this except that I hate the
Posted by: jed at February 1, 2004 02:32 PM
Gilligan's accusation that Number 10 was responsible
for shoving the 45 minute claim into the dossier was based on a single
dubious source- how eerily similar to Number 10's use of the claim, which
was also based on a single (much more) dubious source. The principal difference,
of course, being that Gilligan's claim led to a news program, while Number
10's led to a war.
The Hutton Report is truly an abomination.
Posted by: alma hadayn at February 1, 2004 02:35 PM
I think the Hutton report may well turn out
to be an accidental good thing. If it was designed to validate Blair (he's
certainly been all happy and smiley since the reports been out), the obvious
bias of the report is doing nothing except to fuel increased calls for
a full investigation of the "intel failure" (not that Blairs even admitted
it yet). This time it will be a real investigation into the governments
claims and not the limited death of Kelly remit - stay tuned
Posted by: xxx at February 1, 2004 02:53 PM
I wouldn't argue at all with the broad thrust
of your argument, Billmon. The government did lie to get us into war. It
lied about WMD; it lied about UN cover; it lied -- perhaps most of all
-- about our relationship to the Americans. Quotes germane to this are
But, though it shames me to say it, Gilligan was a bad journalist, and
Today was a badly edited programme. He knew what the rules were. We all
do. He broke them. He broke them in a really bad way, which is to illustrate
a largely true story with false detail to add verisimilitude. It was these
false details which gave the only novelty to his story.
About nine months before that row, the Today programme had started to
attack theCatholic church in this country over child abuse,a subject on
which I have a professional interest (one of my gigs is writing a column
about religious stories inthe news). The story here was similar. The broad
thrust was certainly true -- there had been Catholic paedophile priests,
and not enough had been done to stop them. But it wasn't news. The bits
the programme drove as news weren't true, and hadn't been properly checked
out. It really was quite shocking. I've been a journalist for 20 years
now, and I know -- as you must -- that it's not just governments who lie
to us all the time. Everyone does. Even people who hate governments lie
I don't mean by saying that Gilligan was wrong to imply that the government
was right -- whch seems to have been the leap made by Lord Hutton. But
too many opponents of the war assume that because the governmetn was wrong,
Gilligan was right. He wasn't. He was unprofessional and so were his superiors.
If they hadn't fucked it up, the BBC wouldn't be in this mess.
Posted by: Andrew
at February 1, 2004 02:55 PM
In general, you're correct about the difficulty
of proving a "lie." But as I have written in Left
I on the News
, there is one way in which there is absolutely
that Bush (and many others in his administration) was lying,
and it's exemplified by this quote:
"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt
that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most
lethal weapons ever devised."
No one could possibly claim
there was "no doubt" about these
claims. Maybe they thought it was likely, even highly likely. But it was
the assertion that there was "no doubt" about these claims which was so
essential to convincing Congress and the American people to back the war
(to the extent they did). And there can be no doubt that that "no doubt"
claim was a lie, pure and simple.
Posted by: Eli
at February 1, 2004 03:17 PM
Superb post. The most disappointing thing for
me has been to see Tony Blair revealed as just another lying scheming politician.
I'm glad the British public appears not to have been fooled by the Hutton
I especially liked the backstory about Microsoft word- what a wicked
web we weave indeed.
Posted by: four legs good at February 1, 2004 03:54
It was the assertion that there was "no doubt"
about these claims which was so essential to convincing Congress and the
American people to back the war (to the extent they did). And there can
be no doubt that that "no doubt" claim was a lie, pure and simple.
I certainly agree. But we can already see the administration's fallback
position: We relied on the intelligence, and it's not our fault that the
spooks got it so wrong. So Bush's "no doubt" language becomes like Blair's
"45 minutes" language -- a classic example of circular bureaucratic fingerpointing.
We know it's bullshit, and I suspect most of the reporters covering
the story know it's bullshit. But the journalistic conventions make it
very difficult to say it's bullshit.
Posted by: Billmon at February 1, 2004 04:06 PM
An excellent piece indeed.
It's pretty obvious in the American media climate, that this administration
and its pulpit bulldogs are controlling the debate, setting the rules,
and, as Rumsfeld is famous for, asking the questions it wants to answer.
Can we scour over years worth of newsbites to find the words "imminent?"
is it a lie if they believed it? What's the difference if we went to war
to rid Iraq of a dictator, or rid that dictator of his weapons of mass
destruction? I'm currently without a democratic candidate that's willing
to call a duck what it is, and i'm hoping that's going to change really
Posted by: monkeywrench at February 1, 2004 04:09 PM
The most disappointing thing for me has been
to see Tony Blair revealed as just another lying scheming politician.
I think the British have known this for quite some time...Blair love
on the left seems to be a wholly American phenomenon.
Posted by: John at February 1, 2004 04:22 PM
In a related development, some have voiced criticism
of the emperor's new wardrobe.
(TWO-SECOND LONG SHOT OF A MAN SCREAMING)
Today, Emperor's spokesman Scott McClelland replied, "I'm glad you asked
that question, Bill. This must be the silly season! Why, just look at the
ugly sweaters and fake casual clothing of the so-called clothes horses
over there on your left. I think the question that needs to be asked is,
"Who the hell made YOU hosers the supreme fashion gods?"
BILL O'REILLY: Folks, Scott makes a really good point. If only these
guys could come up with some decent new clothes for themselves instead
of the same old polyester leisure suits they've worn year-in, year-out
for the past thirty-five years, I think people in this kingdom would take
them a lot more seriously. They should remember that before they start
criticizing our Emperor's custom-tailored wardrobe, especially in a time
of war. Shame on them!"
Posted by: glenstonecottage
at February 1, 2004 04:25 PM
I apologize for being a little off topic, but
in the constant discussion about the administration's numerous deceptive
statements-and there really is here an embarassment of riches-one major
issue seems to be overlooked: according to repeated and explicit statements
by the President the war was a bad idea.
The President said on November 21, 2002 that the "world will be better
off" if Saddam Hussein disarms peacefully according to his agreement with
the UN. Another day he said that his "first choice" was not war, but the
disarmament of Saddam Hussein. There were many, many similar statements
(I found a bunch on whitehouse.gov in Nov 2002 alone). Since that disarmament
actually happened a decade earlier, it follows that according to Bush the
war was bad, regardless of whether Bush believed it to be the case at the
Why does the entire media, even the WMD critics, keep letting him get
away with saying that the war was justified on other grounds w/o reminding
him of his repeated statements to the contrary?
Posted by: alma hadyan at February 1, 2004 04:46 PM
Fortunately, the Hutton report being so laughably
one-sided, a large number of Britons aren't buying it. Far from gloating
(as they were initially), the Blairites are now quite glum, the subject
of much ridicule. Things are still sticky for Phoney Tony.
Posted by: Bollox Ref at February 1, 2004 04:50 PM
The question to be resolved seems to me to be
was it Tenet's intelligence operation or Douglas Feith's which came up
with the "no doubt" claim. Folks who have been paying attention will no
doubt conclude the latter; but, from all the discussions I've heard over
the weekend, the mainstream press appears to be unaware of Feith's existence.
A dishonest (Huttonish) investigation will focus on the CIA, an honest
one will grill Feith. We'll see.
Posted by: M. Tullius at February 1, 2004 05:08 PM
Nice to know this is on the radar that side
of the pond.
If the British press has any say in the matter, this ain't over yet.
Of the four main national broadsheet newspapers, two are baying for blood
(the Indy and the Grauniad
called it a whitewash immediately). In between gloating over the misfortunes
of the beeb (which it has hated for some time), the Torygraph
(which Hastings edited for years) is also making very disapproving comments
at the report's deference to the Blair government. Even the Murdoch-owned
Times is making disgruntled
Back while the inquiry was taking evidence we had pages and pages of
coverage every morning in the press, dissecting the previous day's testimony.
Those of us that read a lot of it are having serious difficulty matching
up what we saw with the final report.
in the polls, too - We are not amused. In fact, many of them are
showing Blair's approval going DOWN in the aftermath of the report.
Yeah, it's a BBC report. But they're summarising polls that were
commissioned by a bunch of unrelated newspapers.
Posted by: blufive
at February 1, 2004 05:11 PM
All I can say is great piece Billmon. Youyr
writing is a pleasure to read. And I think I can say that you, sir, are
what I call a real journalist. (I hope that is not an insult to you!)
Posted by: Alexander at February 1, 2004 05:31 PM
*** Newsflash ***
Bush orders intelligence inquiry, and appoints Lord Hutton as its head.
Posted by: Michael at February 1, 2004 06:18 PM
Terrific post, as usual.
Especially relevant is the parallel between the now completed whitewash
of Blair via an indictment of the BBC and the proposed whitewash of Bush
via a kangaroo kongressional inquiry of the US intelligence establishment.
Keeping the focus on the impact of this on journalism (already in a miserable
state in the US) is rather depressing.
But keep in mind that there are perhaps a few genuine patriots at the
CIA who are becoming (I imagine!) even more pissed off as they are now
blamed for telling Bush precisely what they were ignored and insulted for
refusing to tell him. And some of these people are not likely to take this
all with the kind of resigned grace of a BBC executive. At least I hope
not. We'll see.
Posted by: richard at February 1, 2004 06:30 PM
Wow, Billmon, you picked it up, I'm honoured!
The mess at the BBC is truly horrific, not least because the departed
bosses had a good rep Netastically speaking:
It's not looking good for any of the BBC right now - least of all
for its scraggy Internet end. Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies were two of the
BBC's Secret Masters who got the Net at least partially. It was Dyke who
geed up the Creative Archive, that theoretical GPLing of times past; it
was Davies who pushed the Directors to consider using the Net as a serious
part of the BBC's public service. Years of careful tutoring by the quiet
tech advocates in the syrupy slow world of the Beeb - gone. (http://www.ntk.net/
Jan 30th edition)
10,000 BBC employees bought an advert in a major national newspaper
on Saturday to express their anger (ok, they called it "dismay") about
what has happened:
This is after spontaneous demonstrations at BBC offices all around the
country in support of ousted boss, Greg Dyke.
I know it's being played out overseas (eg in Canada's Globe and Mail)
as though the BBC has "apologised unreservedly" (via one of its governors,
Lord Ryder, a former Tory party chief whip), but BBC staff do share that
view to put it mildly.
Nor does the appointment of Mark Byford as acting BBC director-general
inspire much confidence - he's reportedly a close friend of the UK Defence
Secretary, Geoff "Buff" Hoon.
(For anyone who wants to look at the disparities between the Hutton
evidence and report and draw their own conclusions:
Posted by: simeon at February 1, 2004 06:39 PM
Oh the impropriety!
“God save the Queen” and as for Lord Hutton, well, that’s different.
It seem that the winds are starting to change (at least, I pray) and
the coming storm requires a reining in of protection around Saint William
Jefferson Clinton, who has tried his hardest to stay above the fray, but
many in the Senate and House seem not to hold “certain” truths to so be
self evident about the Bush clan’s need for it’s clandestine “preemptive
I noticed this interest conversation today on that fair and balanced
online transcript with Ex-Majority Leader Lott, Rockefeller on 'Fox News
WALLACE: But, in fact, wasn't regime change a policy of this government
starting in the late '90s under Bill Clinton?
LOTT: And the Congress voted for that.
ROCKEFELLER: But with a difference. Regime change did not mean the
way, what I would call the neoconservatives — and Senator Lott will not
be happy about that.
LOTT: Well, I'm not one of them.
ROCKEFELLER: No, you're not one of them. But you won't be happy that
I said it.
WALLACE: You're just a conservative, right?
LOTT: Right. I'm not a new conservative.
ROCKEFELLER: In other words, they wrote President Clinton on January
1, 1998, and it was Rumsfeld and it was Wolfowitz and it was Cheney's top
guy and it was everybody that runs the Defense Department basically. And
they said, "Diplomacy isn't working, let's go in there. Let's take them
That was not Clinton's policy. Regime change to him meant, you know,
a revolution by the people, a quiet action, something of that sort. It
was not a military attack.
WALLACE: But, Senator, let me ask you, in October of 2002, as you
were explaining your vote — because you voted for the authorization of
force — here's what you had to say: "I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent
threat. Saddam's existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities
pose a very real threat to America now."
What did you base that on?
ROCKEFELLER: I based it upon the intelligence, which was clearly
flawed. And I have since said that that was a wrong vote and, as far as
I'm concerned, it's a wrong war.
Posted by: Cheryl
at February 1, 2004 06:42 PM
Hutton report is a joke (bad one)...
Old as it is Britain should be ashamed of what a joke of a state it
If it's not tragic this would make a whole world laugh to death...but
I am getting specially angry when someone use this expression : that
people should be quiet about lies and wrong doing of their leaders and
governments "especially in a time of war. Shame on them!" I can’t imagine
BETTER time to reveal the truth about what they are doing then time of
war and I find it SUPER PATRIOTIC to be able and courageous enough to fight
for your country to get back on a right track while it is away off…
Posted by: vbo at February 1, 2004 07:28 PM
A history of Hutton's life, from Bloody Sunday
cover up to Pinochet affair to Iraq war lies
Posted by: Joe at February 1, 2004 07:55 PM
The more I read about the entire Iraq affair,
the more I am inclined to delve into historical records.
Why react in shock and awe? Has anyone here read Halberstram's account
of the overthrow of Abens in Guatemala during the Fifties (in the eponymous
Has any punishment or opprobrium been cast on the Dulles brothers? Or
to bring it more up to date, Kissinger or MacNamara?
You act as if the Iraq affair was a departure from SOP, instead if being
precisely the SOP, with a few minor variations.
The reason why Kerry is successful over Dean is in good part because
the majority of this country is knowingly complicit in the crimes of its
administration, now as it was then.
It is not enough to have a Daniel Ellsberg; you also have to have the
collective will to face up to what you've done.
I once throught America might have changed, but I now fear it has not.
I realize this is hardly helpful or constructive, quite the opposite
in fact, and I'm sorry.
Posted by: Lupin at February 1, 2004 08:15 PM
“I realize this is hardly helpful or constructive, quite the opposite
in fact, and I'm sorry.”
I don’t think so. It is helpful and constrictive to realize the truth
of who we are, who we were, what we and our ancestors have done wrong cause
that’s the way to catharsis…Same on individual level…
I know it’s so bloody hard…and it’s specially hard when time-distance
is not long enough. But that’s the only way to do it…
Posted by: vbo at February 1, 2004 08:27 PM
correction: that should read "but BBC staff
do NOT share that view to put it mildly." (sorry)
Posted by: simeon at February 1, 2004 08:31 PM
Alas I agree with Lupin here.
Hutton report is a joke. How anyone can come to such conclusions after
having hearings which provided such blatant evidences of lies and deceit
from Bliar New Tory administration is beyond my understanding.
Posted by: ClulessJoe at February 1, 2004 08:34 PM
The United States is a nation of accomplices.
Posted by: Proto-Troll at February 1, 2004 08:58 PM
"Has any punishment or opprobrium been cast
on the Dulles brothers?"
Bonesmen always get away with it.
Posted by: paranoia is awareness at February 1, 2004
“The United States is a nation of accomplices.”
As I said earlier it’s not that ONLY American nation is like this…we
are not that different after all …Germans…Serbs…Americans…under the wrong
leadership and exposed to this kind of propaganda any nation will act practically
the same way.
Problem is that post WWII Americans tend to think of them selves as
of the perfect nation and they give them selves rights that do not belong
to them ( or any other nation)…They believe they are here to lead the world
. It is OK (someone always has a leading role) but one thing is to lead
and the other is to FORCE others in to your direction.
Posted by: vbo at February 1, 2004 09:50 PM
I don't know that Hutton's report is such a
piece of crud, because I haven't read it. Isn't it really just stating
that the UK government did not play a role in Kelly's death and that the
BBC aired a badly sourced story, so badly sourced that it was against BBC
policy to air the report in the manner it was, with such sweeping statements
about Blair's gov't?
If that is the case, I fail to see how it actually exonerates Blair
of anything. Just because the BBC aired a flawed news report doesn't mean
Blair or members of his gov't did not lie about WMD. Why is it being said
that it makes Blair innocent of taking Britain to war under false pretenses?
Posted by: Brian Bell at February 2, 2004 12:09 AM
It is hard to prove the President or his administration
knowingly lied ???
Consider Condi "We had no way of knowing they would use planes as weapons"
Since proven to be a lie. We knew this in 1990
Consider the Uranium story, Condi again, "Nobody at the top knew it
was false". Proven to be a lie, the CIA warned the Whitehouse twice the
Niger story was shit
The Banner on the Carrier, Bush said "well, you know, that was put
there by the crew" proven to be a lie. the banner was made by the Whitehouse
it is not hard to prove these people liars. Just ask them direct questions.
When the choice is incompetence or fraud, these people try to convince
you they are incompetent
Which begs the question, Who wants to vote for an incompetent President?,
George Bush wants you
Posted by: Free American at February 2, 2004 12:09
the Bush administration and it defenders
have now fallen back on the narrowest possible definition of wrongdoing:
Did they, in fact, tell "lies" -- statements they knew to be completely
false when they uttered them?
First of all, it doesn't matter if Bush knew he was making false statements
or whether he was reading from a bit of paper someone handed him. False
statements were made. A country was invaded based on those false statements.
People died, more people were maimed, lives were destroyed. And Bush is
responsible, not the fellow who handed him the bit of paper. He is responsible
because he made the statements, he told everybody to trust him, he insisted
that he knew the truth. And he is responsible because that's his job.
Second, Bush now says that "he wants to know the facts". So when he
assured everybody that he knew how many liters of Sarin or VX Saddam had,
he didn't actually know the facts. Because if he did he wouldn't be asking
about them now. So he was consciously lying.
Posted by: Al at February 2, 2004 01:54 AM
My daughter has an American friend who spent
some time with us two years ago. Confronted with negative opinions (and
hard facts, such as the American patronage of the military dictatorship
we used to have) about her own country both in conversations and in the
Brazilian newspapers, she got into the habit of reading exclusively American
newspapers over the Internet. You see, it's not that Americans are misled
by the media, but rather that the American media gives them what they want
to hear. As we say here, it takes two to dance a tango. Mr Bush is a dangerous
acute symptom which, with any luck, will be removed in the forthcoming
elections, but the underlying pathology will remain.
Speaking of which - and complementing Lupin's comment, which I endorse
wholeheartedly - I saw a few days ago that Mr McNamara, still in the process
of punishing himself, had
expressed strong criticism against the current administration: "It's
just wrong what we're doing. It's morally wrong, it's politically wrong,
it's economically wrong." I thought that would surely make the news, but
I was wrong as well.
As to the current buzz about WMD and who might have lied about them,
I believe there is a logical flaw here that so far has gone unexplored.
Either (a) Mr Bush went to war based on unreliable information, which means
that he wouldn't have done it otherwise, or (b) he was deeply concerned
with the plight of the Iraqi people and thought Saddam should be removed
for humanitarian reasons, which means he would have done it anyway. When
you use both at the same time, you are clearly lying in at least one of
Posted by: Pedro at February 2, 2004 03:34 AM
"he wants to know the facts".
What a comedy...and even more hilarious when they say
Posted by: vbo at February 2, 2004 06:33 AM
Are we all mad, or is it Hutton?
Henry Porter, a leading writer and journalist specialising in intelligence
affairs, watched the Hutton inquiry unfold in the summer. In this searing
indictment, he argues that the law lord's findings clearly contradict the
evidence he heard
Sunday February 1, 2004
It is a sublime irony that the process which vindicated Tony Blair,
Alastair Campbell, the intelligence services and Whitehall now threatens
to become an even bigger problem for the Government precisely because Lord
Hutton handed it such a clear victory over the BBC.
While Campbell gloated and Ministers tried to draw lines under the affair,
a rumble of anger spread through the public because the average citizen
has grasped several important facts since last summer:
1. Forget weapons of mass destruction - barely a rack of stink bombs
has been found in Iraq.
2. Dr David Kelly died because he was treated shabbily after speculating
how and why faulty intelligence led us to war.
3. Despite all its errors and incompetence, the BBC has done more than
most to ventilate the political use of intelligence prior to the invasion.
Quite simply, Hutton did not, in the legal phrase, take due cognisance
of the obvious: the political and journalistic cultures of Britain were
both responsible for Kelly's death. Anyone who paid attention to the inquiry
understands that, and even the intelligence services are open-mouthed at
Hutton's credulity when it came to assessing the motives and methods of
the political establishment. Hutton's inquiry and report are so distant
as to appear unrelated. Those who read the daily transcripts wonder at
the law lord's spectacular failure to represent the balance of evidence
heard in Court 73 and ask themselves if there is not some kind of cognitive
dissonance at work.
Was it their lack of judgment, or a failure of process, that caused
the report to appear without, for example, giving due weight to Newsnight
reporter Susan Watts's evidence that Kelly had made allegations to her
- as well as Andrew Gilligan - about Campbell's role in preparing the September
dossier; without underlining Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's inconsistent
testimony; without highlighting the grave doubts expressed by Kelly's colleagues
at defence intelligence about the dossier; without asking the Prime Minister
to account for his remarks on a plane trip immediately after Kelly's death;
and without inquiring to any significant degree how Tom Baldwin of the
Times acquired Kelly's name? Are we mad, or is it Lord Hutton?
At the heart of the process is a mysterious lack of logic. On the one
hand Hutton spent weeks listening to evidence about the preparation of
the Government's case against Saddam in the September dossier, but when
it came to writing his report he rejected the need to address the issue
of the dossier's truth. 'A question of such wide import ... is not one
which falls within my terms of reference.'
Two points need to be made:
1. If he was not going to rule on this, why go into the facts at such
2. The truth of the dossier's contents is the essence of the circumstances
of Kelly's death because that issue propelled the BBC and Campbell to escalate
their running battle to open war. Owning the truth was what that was all
But maybe the illogicality of Hutton is not really that mysterious.
Maybe we were all taken in by the manner of the classics master and
the gentle probing of his nice-looking protégé, the counsel
for the inquiry James Dingemans. Certainly, the comparison between the
report and the transcript published reveals an editing process that is
every bit as good as Campbell's.
On pages 118 and 119 of the report, Hutton reproduces some of the evidence
given by Dr Brian Jones, of the Defence Intelligence Staff, in relation
to claims made in the earlier drafts of the dossier. What he does not include
is the following exchange about doubts expressed by a chemical weapons
expert in the defence intelligence staff that were rejected.
DINGEMANS: 'And those concerns had not been accepted?'
JONES: 'Some had, but there were significant ones that had not been.'
DINGEMANS: 'And how did your chemical weapons expert feel about that?'
JONES: 'He was very concerned.'
A few lines later Hutton says he does not want Jones to go into security
matters and the following exchange takes place.
JONES: 'My Lord, they were about language, but language is the means
by which we communicate an assessment so they were about the assessment.'
HUTTON: 'Quite, yes.'
JONES: 'So they were really about a tendency in certain areas, from
his (the CW expert's) point of view, to shall we say over-egg certain assessments
in relation of production of CW agents and weapons since 1998.'
Of course, Hutton could not include every transcript, but it's significant
that he did not use Jones's comment in relation to the claim that WMD could
be launched within 45 minutes. 'My concerns,' said Jones, 'were that Iraq's
chemical weapons and biological weapons capabilities were not being accurately
represented in relation to the available evidence. I was told that there
was no evidence that significant production had taken place either of chemical
warfare agent or chemical weapons - some of the detail of the 45 minutes
that we had seen was causing us problems.'
Nor did Hutton include Jones's suspicions about a secondary source on
the 45-minute claim who might have been 'trying to influence rather than
inform', or the evidence of Mr A, a serving member of defence intelligence,
who said: 'The perception was that the dossier had been round the houses
several times in order to find a form of words which would strengthen certain
In the entire 700-page report there is not a quotation that better encapsulates
the issues at stake. It seems extraordinary that while all the fire was
trained on the BBC, this crucial element was excluded. Jones and Mr A establish
without doubt that the September dossier didn't command consensus right
down the line.
There is no adequate explanation for Hutton's omission, other than that
his inquiry was unconsciously skewed in favour of the Government.
It is astonishing that Hutton includes much evidence in his report to
expose the behaviour of Ministers, spin doctors and civil servants, but
then refuses to draw conclusions which stare him and us in the face. For
instance, it is unclear that Campbell was in charge of the editing process
that produced the September dossier and that he was aided by civil servants,
including the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee. John Scarlett,
who obliged him by shepherding dubious intelligence into the dossier.
On page 133 we have Campbell's minute to Scarlett of 17 September. 'Please
find below a number of drafting points. As I was writing this, the Prime
Minister had a read of the draft you gave me this morning, and he too made
a number of points.'
That, in essence, was the editorial board for the dossier speaking and
even Hutton acknowledges that the Prime Minister's unwavering focus on
the need for a strong dossier may have 'subconsciously influenced' Scarlett
and the JIC.
Time and again Hutton lets the political and Whitehall establishments
off the hook. On 18 September, 2002, Scarlett held a meeting attended by
members of the Number 10 press office in which it was agreed that ownership
of the dossier lay with Number 10. This appeared to confirm that the dossier
was an Alastair Campbell production.
Scarlett was subsequently asked to account for this minute, which seemed
from the outside as though he was covering his rear end in the time-honoured
fashion of the Civil Service. His unconvincing reply was that 'ownership'
was to enable the practical arrangements over printing and publication
to be handled by Number 10. It is difficult to escape the feeling that
if a member of the BBC had come up with such a feeble explanation it would
have been given much greater prominence in Hutton's report than Scarlett's
Scarlett's role in the Kelly affair is intriguing. The former MI6 man
is the nexus of so much that went on before and after the war. It is widely
believed in MI6 and defence intelligence that he compromised the traditions
of the JIC's independence by accepting the commission for the dossier from
Number 10 without apparent demurral and that he allowed the 45-minute claim
to be made in language that was not justified by the available intelligence.
Even the MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, accepted it was valid criticism
that the 45-minute claim was given undue prominence.
Feelings in MI6 are considerably sharper. There is a sense that MI6
was badly used by Number 10. The JIC is not just intended as the provider
of intelligence assessments for policy-makers; it also acts as a bulwark
between the spies and their political masters. Contrary to popular belief,
spies are not always confident of their sources and they do not like to
be compelled to express certainty when sources may have hidden motives.
Scarlett is held in MI6 to have aban doned that principle in order to
provide what the Prime Minister wanted.
Why? The most frequent answer is that Scarlett, effectively passed over
when Dearlove became C, has ambitions to succeed him when he retires. The
job at the JIC was an opportunity to impress Blair and the dossier a way
of showing his loyalty.His behaviour during the row between Number 10 and
the BBC last summer displays a certain zealotry. In a 'restricted' letter
to Sir David Omand, head of Security and Intelligence at the Cabinet office,
published by Hutton, he wrote: 'Conclusion: Kelly needs a proper security
style interview in which all these inconsistencies are thrashed out.'
Hutton makes nothing of this because he has ruled that, in talking to
Watts and Gilligan, Kelly was in breach of the Civil Service code of procedure.
But to the people in the intelligence services the memo has a very chilling
note. Security-style interviews are intended for embezzlers and traitors;
not someone who may have overstepped the mark with a reporter.
If the fuss over Hutton's report dies down and there is no further inquiry
into the intelligence which led 45,000 British troops into Iraq, Scarlett
is regarded by some former colleagues as a strong candidate. They hope
that if this is the case he will revert to the Vauxhall Cross culture and
leave the fanatical atmosphere of the Number 10 cabal behind.
Equally, the momentum of feeling against Hutton may in the end harm
anyone who contributed to the September dossier. Even though he has been
largely vindicated by Hutton, Scarlett looks like damaged goods.
There is a sense that both the JIC and MI6 have to regain their self-possession
and independence after the debacle of the last 18 months. For it is clear
that defence intelligence scientists were not the only ones worried about
the intelligence on Saddam's weaponry. The most senior members of the apparatus
wondered at the wisdom of attacking Iraq and at the evidence of its hostile
Let's not forget the memo sent from some part of the intelligence apparatus
- probably the JIC - on 11 September, 2002, to MI6 and defence intelligence.
'Unsurprisingly,' it begins, 'they (Number 10) have further questions.'
It ends: 'I appreciate everyone, us included, has been around these buoys
before, particularly item 4 ( chemical and biological weapons) but Number
10 ... want the documents to be as strong as possible.'
There is an air of desperation about that email, which is surprising,
given the view then that Saddam was a clear and present danger. Taken with
the emails pinging between such Number 10 people as Campbell, Philip Bassett,
Godric Smith and Jonathan Powell on the dossier's wording and content,
it provides the clear impression that there was very little more to include
in the dossier and that its impact would be left to the wordsmiths. As
Robin Cook wrote on Friday: 'I am left uneasy by the number of emails that
reveal so many occasions when Number 10 requested a change in the drafts
and the JIC submitted.' Cook knows about these things because as a former
Foreign Secretary he is well acquainted with the JIC and its relationship
with MI6. The signs of people desperately making a case are obvious to
So it is not just the BBC which has suffered institutional harm. The
Cabinet Office, JIC, MI6 and the Prime Minister's office have all sustained
injury from a furious effort to produce the September dossier and the equally
furious effort to triumph in the dispute with the BBC. Boundaries were
trampled and lines of responsibility blurred in a drive to push Britain
to war. These things do not necessarily recover of their own accord. Someone
is going to have to pull the JIC out of the clutches of politicians and
re-establish it as one of the most envied analytical bodies of the intelligence
The BBC is a surprising victim. Of course, Andrew Gilligan was a fool.
Of course, Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies should have investigated Gilligan
before they addressed the Government. But that is the extent of their crimes.
Compared to the invasion of a sovereign territory on flawed intelligence
they are minor. The issue now is not whether Campbell lied; it is whether
he and Blair got it wrong and skewed the processes of government to forge
the dossier that took us to war.
As to Brian Hutton, former law lord and Diplock judge in Ulster, it
is difficult not to level a great deal of criticism at him. Admittedly,
he was faced with a bewildering array of evidence that included statements
from the most powerful people in the land. But at some stage he needed
to draw back, taking into consideration the motives and allegiance that
exist between people roped together at the summit of British life.
The British people understand that Kelly's death was caused by much
more than a reporter's cock-up and the corporate arrogance of the BBC.
That explains the anger and dismay at Hutton's verdict. It just wasn't
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