We now know more about the shameful behaviour that led to the Iraq war. But with my experience at GCHQ, I could have helped the inquiry
Following the damning Chilcot report, much will be said about the decision to go to war in Iraq. But one thing will be missing: the information I leaked in the runup to the war. It won’t get an airing because I was never questioned or asked to participate in the Chilcot inquiry.
The Iraq inquiry delivered a comprehensively damning verdict on Tony Blair and the decision to join the US-led invasion, but some questions remain
Back in early 2003, Tony Blair was keen to secure UN backing for a resolution that would authorise the use of force against Iraq. I was a linguist and analyst at GCHQ when, on 31 Jan 2003, I, along with dozens of others in GCHQ, received an email from a senior official at the National Security Agency. It said the agency was “mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN security council (UNSC) members”, and that it wanted “the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises”.
In other words, the US planned to use intercepted communications of the security council delegates. The focus of the “surge” was principally directed at the six swing nations then on the UNSC: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan. The Chilcot report has eliminated any doubt that the goal of the war was regime change by military means. But that is what many people already suspected in 2003.
I was furious when I read that email and leaked it. Soon afterwards, when the Observer ran a front-page story: “US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war”, I confessed to the leak and was arrested on suspicion of the breach of section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. I pleaded not guilty and, assisted by Liberty and Ben Emmerson QC, offered a defence of necessity – in other words, a breach of the law in order to prevent imminent loss of human life. This defence had not and, to my knowledge, has still not, been tested in a court of law.
I believed that on receiving the email, UK parliamentary members might question the urgency and motives of the war hawks, and demand further deliberations and scrutiny. I thought it might delay or perhaps even halt the march towards a war that would devastate Iraqi lives and infrastructure already crushed by a decade of unrelenting sanctions. A war that would send UK and US service men and women into harm’s way, leaving hundreds of them dead, disfigured and traumatised. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It couldn’t, for now we know via Chilcot that Blair promised George W Bush he would be “with him, whatever”.
It took eight months before the Crown Prosecution Service announced I would be charged. It had a change of heart two and a half months later, after my legal team demanded to see all the legal advice to Blair in the runup to the war. I left the Old Bailey with a huge weight gone from my shoulders. It was a day I will never forget.
Chilcot’s report does not apportion blame. But it does provide ample evidence of what many of us knew all along: that this was an illegal war, that military intervention was by no means a last resort, that all avenues were not exhausted and that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the UK. Furthermore, the post-invasion plan for Iraq looked like it had been scribbled on the back of a beer mat. Blair was warned by the intelligence services that the threat levels to the UK would increase, that Iraqi weapons would fall into the hands of al-Qaida. The consequences of his lack of concern about these things can be felt to this day.
We know a lot more now than we knew before, but what about the email I leaked? Who did the NSA talk to in the UK to OK it? Did it talk to anyone? How did an NSA official feel bold enough to write to UK civil servants anticipating their cooperation in an attempt to undermine the UN’s diplomatic processes, in a secret effort to garner information to secure “results favourable to US goals”? How far did the surveillance operation proceed? Whose communications did they intercept and record? What, if anything did they discover and did they use any information they may have gathered? Was this email sent to other organisation or agencies besides GCHQ? It seems reasonable to ask why this crucial information was not included in the Chilcot inquiry?
It was a huge relief when the CPS dropped its charges. But I had admitted the leak. Why did it decline to offer evidence? The catastrophe of the Iraq invasion and occupation is painfully evident today. Terrorism and risk has spread across the globe as many said it would. So much for “keeping us safe” and protecting our freedoms.
Chilcot has shone a light on what happened, but it is clear there are still bits of the puzzle that are missing. Now that we know better, will we do better?
(Original op-ed at The Guardian.)
U.S. intelligence veterans are calling on German Chancellor Merkel to bring a needed dose of realism and restraint to the upcoming NATO conference, which risks escalating the dangerous new Cold War with Russia.
MEMORANDUM FOR: Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: NATO Summit in Warsaw
REFERENCE: Our Memorandum to You, August 30, 2014
We longtime U.S. intelligence officers again wish to convey our concerns and cautions directly to you prior to a critically important NATO summit – the meeting that begins on July 8 in Warsaw. We were gratified to learn that our referenced memorandum reached you and your advisers before the NATO summit in Wales, and that others too learned of our initiative via the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which published a full report on our memorandum on Sept. 4, the day that summit began.
Wales to Warsaw
The Warsaw summit is likely to be at least as important as the last one in Wales and is likely to have even more far-reaching consequences. We find troubling – if not surprising – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s statement at a pre-summit press event on July 4 that NATO members will agree to “further enhance NATOs military presence in the eastern part of the alliance,” adding that the alliance will see its “biggest reinforcement since the Cold War.”
The likelihood of a military clash in the air or at sea – accidental or intentional – has grown sharply, the more so since, as we explain below, President Obama’s control over top U.S./NATO generals, some of whom like to play cowboy, is tenuous. Accordingly we encourage you, as we did before the last NATO summit, to urge your NATO colleagues to bring a “degree of judicious skepticism” to the table at Warsaw – especially with regard to the perceived threat from Russia.
Many of us have spent decades studying Moscow’s foreign policy. We shake our heads in disbelief when we see Western leaders seemingly oblivious to what it means to the Russians to witness exercises on a scale not seen since Hitler’s armies launched “Unternehmen Barbarossa” 75 years ago, leaving 25 million Soviet citizens dead. In our view, it is irresponsibly foolish to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not take countermeasures – at a time and place of his own choosing.
Putin does not have the option of trying to reassure his generals that what they hear and see from NATO is mere rhetoric and posturing. He is already facing increased pressure to react in an unmistakably forceful way. In sum, Russia is bound to react strongly to what it regards as the unwarranted provocation of large military exercises along its western borders, including in Ukraine.
(Remainder of memo at: https://consortiumnews.com/2016/07/06/merkel-urged-to-temper-natos-belligerence/ )
A group of U.S. intelligence veterans urges President Obama to resist the “reckless” call for a wider Syrian war from 51 State Department officials in a recent “dissent memo.”
MEMORANDUM FOR: Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Subject: Beware Foggy Bottom Dissent
Dissent and disagreement within the foreign policy and national security bureaucracy only comes to the public’s attention when there are deep and fundamental differences of opinion about the execution and objectives of a U.S. policy. Instances of dissent emerged during the war in Vietnam and have reappeared periodically, e.g., during the Contra War in Central America in the 1980s and the Cold War with the Soviets. We can now add Syria to this list.
The latest media buzz came with the leak that 51 “State Department Diplomats” signed a dissent letter advocating direct U.S. bombing as a tool to force Syria into submission to our government’s dictates. U.S. Foreign Service Officers are a unique collection of highly educated people, who take great pride in having passed the Foreign Service Exam. Yet even among such “bright people,” some succumb to the forces of careerism and the pressures to politicize intelligence.
Unfortunately the dissent signers are calling for America to threaten, and if our bluff is called, commit acts of overt, aggressive war against the forces of a sovereign nation on its own territory. One whose supporters include Russia, the world’s other big nuclear power.
The line of thought — that it is America’s right and duty to employ large-scale death to enforce its leaders’ will on other peoples — adheres to the noxious notion that the U.S.A. enjoys uniquely privileged standing as the “sole indispensable country in the world.” If this was ever an arguably legitimate position, that time is long gone — and today demonstrably blinds its adherents to common sense.
Such thinking is not new. Theodore Roosevelt popularized it as we went to war to annex Spanish territories in the Philippines and Caribbean — at the cost of over half a million indigenous lives — more than a century ago. We saw it, in spades, with the “Best and the Brightest” — those responsible for destroying Vietnam. Three million Vietnamese people died in that war (according to former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara), and another two million or so in its Indochina spin-offs. After this slaughter and the deaths of scores of thousands of its own troops, the U.S. endured a complete and humiliating defeat, one affecting its foreign policy and domestic politics to this day. Their bright successors supported the attack on Iraq in 2003, the catalyst for an outbreak of violence that has brought death reaching into the millions — again — in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and other neighboring locales we’ll eventually read about. This aggression has created millions more traumatized refugees.
The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times (and Wall Street Journal), presumably by one of the State Department employees who authored it, claims American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria and calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.” Furthermore, per the NYT:
“In the memo, the State Department officials wrote that the Assad government’s continuing violations of the partial cease-fire, officially known as a cessation of hostilities, will doom efforts to broker a political settlement because Mr. Assad will feel no pressure to negotiate with the moderate opposition or other factions fighting him. The government’s barrel bombing of civilians, it said, is the ‘root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.’
“The memo acknowledged that military action would have risks, not the least of which would be increased tension with Russia, which intervened in the war on Mr. Assad’s behalf last fall. Russia subsequently helped negotiate the cease-fire. Those tensions increased on Thursday when, according to a senior Pentagon official, Russia conducted airstrikes in southern Syria against American-backed forces fighting the Islamic State.”
The dissenters were smart enough to insist they were not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia,” but rather a credible threat of military action “to keep Mr. Assad in line.” Easier said than done! The 51 are silent on this point of major importance.
The foundational premise of their dissent is that Assad’s “barrel bombing” (followed by chemical attacks) on civilians provoked civil war in Syria. It’s true that the initial phase of the Syrian Spring seems to have been largely spontaneous. Facts show, however, that outside interveners — primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia — cooperated in lighting the match that brought the inferno of civil war. Covert funding and provision of weapons and other material support to opposition groups for strikes against the Syrian Government provoked a military reaction by Assad — which created a pretext for our enlarged support to the rebel groups.
A large body of evidence also suggests that it was the U.S.-backed rebel forces that employed chemical weapons on civilians, and then blamed Assad, in a propaganda effort to advance international public support for overt American intervention.
U.S. actions against Syria have been widely perceived to be part of a broader proxy battle with Iran, being pursued to push back against its expanded influence in the Middle East. But Iran’s emergence as a regional power was not the result of a magical event. It was a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and our subsequent decision to eradicate every vestige of the Baathist party and to install Iraqi Shia leaders with close ties to Iran in the positions of leadership.
We have thus helped start a war and then have the audacity to pretend to be shocked at the consequences of our own action.
The State Department dissenters were not the first to land a blow in this new PR battle over the course of U.S. policy in Syria. The Department of Defense and CIA appear to have entered the fray two weeks ago. According to a report in The Daily Beast, DOD and CIA are in a “cat fight.”
Two Department of Defense officials told that media outlet that they are not eager to support rebels fighting in the city of Aleppo because they are believed to be affiliated with al Qaeda in Syria, or Jabhat al Nusra. The CIA, which supports those rebel groups, rejects that claim, saying alliances of convenience in the face of a mounting Russian-led offensive have created marriages of battlefield necessity, not ideology.
“It is a strange thing that DOD hall chatter mimics Russian propaganda,” one U.S. official, who supports the intelligence community position, wryly noted about Pentagon claims that the opposition and Nusra are one in the same.
The intelligence community, which backed opposition forces in Aleppo, believes ISIS cannot be defeated as long as Assad is in power. The terror group, they say, thrives in unstable territories. And only local forces — like the ones backed by the CIA — can mitigate that threat.
“The status of the opposition is resilient in the face of horrendous attacks by the Syrian and Russian forces,” a U.S. intelligence official explained to The Daily Beast. “The defeat of Assad is a necessary precondition to ultimately defeat [ISIS]. As long as there is a failed leader in Damascus and a failed state in Syria, [ISIS] will have a place to operate from. You can’t deal with ISIS if you have a failed state,” the U.S. official observed.
This unnamed official conveniently ignores the fact that the U.S. is working aggressively to facilitate Syria’s failure. We are astonished. After 15 years of strident rhetoric about waging a war on Al Qaeda, we have now come full circle to witness the CIA and a vocal bloc within the State Department advocate to arm and train an Al Qaeda affiliated group.
It’s impossible to know whether or not the eruption of this dispute is a slap to the face of President Obama simply because the President appeared to support the overthrow of Assad but then backed away from the precipice of militarily taking him out.
The influence of Saudi Arabia in helping push and promote “regime change” in Syria cannot be underestimated. The Saudis also have reportedly funneled significant money into key sectors of the U.S. foreign policy establishment and, it would appear, have obtained considerable influence over our national security policy. More evidence is coming to light that the Saudis have given significant amounts to the Clinton Foundation.
A recent report on the Petra News Agency site (which was subsequently taken down and claimed to have been a “hack”) raises some important concerns. On Sunday a report appeared on that website that included what were described as exclusive comments from Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The comments included a claim that Riyadh has provided 20 percent of the total funding to the prospective Democratic candidate’s campaign. Although the report did not remain on the website for long, the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs later re-published an Arabic version of it, which quoted Prince Mohammed as having said Saudi Arabia had provided with “full enthusiasm” an undisclosed amount of money to Clinton.
In light of Hillary Clinton’s strong advocacy for imposing a No Fly Zone in Syria, which would put us on track for stepped up intervention in Syria and a military confrontation with the Russians, it is natural to wonder if Saudi donations had any influence over the direction of U.S. policy in Syria and support for rebel groups?
In sum, the latest memo from the 51 State Department officers is just one more alarming indication of disarray and failure within the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Notably, most of their children and grandchildren will not be in the military ranks of those called on to fight this war. They are too smart and too “valuable” to engage in such ridiculous endeavors. So something called a “Volunteer Army” was assembled, populated by “volunteers” — mostly from the inner-cities and the small towns of our country, where jobs and education are elusive.
This almost unprecedented dissent letter from 51 emboldened State Department hawks is an alarming new sign of the reckless direction that well-organized elements of the U.S. foreign policy establishment seek to take us. Thus, we appeal to you, as Assistant to the President for National Security, to help President Barack Obama stand firm against such institutional destructiveness and to sort out the disarray and bureaucratic contention among his “Team of Rivals.” If the 51 are sincere in their advocacy of a let’s-try-some-more-of-the-same-but-tougher policy, we would expect them to welcome the personal risks involved in being sent off to bash Bashar with “standoff” — or — “closer-quarter” weapons. This could provide them initially with a sense of affirmation — then later, an education.
(Also see earlier remarks by individual VIPS members: by Ann Wright, here, by Elizabeth Murray and Ray McGovern here; by Philip Giraldi, here.)
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator
Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)
Michael S. Kearns, Intelligence Officer, USAF (ret.); former Master SERE Instructor.
John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former Senior Investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003
Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)
Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)
J. Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA
Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret.); Foreign Service Officer (resigned in opposition to launching of Iraq War)
(Originally published on Consortiumnews.com)