Secrets, Spies and Cover-ups

Former Cabinet Minister Clare Short, who resigned over the war, has candidly admitted that British Intelligence had spied on UN officials including Secretary General Kofi Annan, in the run-up to the Iraq war. This follows on the admission of a former translator at GCHQ who revealed that the US intelligence services has asked the British to spy on senior UN officials and representatives of other "allied" governments.

It seems the truth will out. The intrigue, deceit and lies surrounding the build up to war in Iraq continue to leak out. No sooner had the Hutton whitewash absolved Blair – convincing no-one - and scapegoated the BBC, than once more Radio 4’s Today programme delivers a devastating blow.

Former Cabinet Minister Clare Short, who resigned over the war, astounded presenter and listeners alike by candidly admitting that British Intelligence had spied on UN officials including Secretary General Kofi Annan, in the run-up to war. When asked to confirm that she was certain about this Short replied that she had known about it whilst in the government, “I know. I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations” she said.

Their purpose in spying was thought to have been to discover what progress was being made in convincing waverers on the security council to support a second resolution legitimising the invasion of Iraq. The UN has condemned this spying operation as illegal. Blair meanwhile neither denied the allegations nor condemned them. Instead he had the bare-faced cheek to denounce Clare Short as “totally irresponsible.”

These new revelations follow hot on the heels of the remarkable case of Katherine Gun. A former translator at GCHQ [General Communications Headquarters, part of the British intelligence services], Ms. Gun was arrested some eight months ago, and later charged with a breach of the Official Secrets Act, for disclosing what she saw as highly unethical and possibly illegal British and American spying operations on so-called friendly countries. At GCHQ she had seen an e-mail from the US National Security Agency asking British Intelligence for their assistance in bugging officials at the United Nations. In her own words she thought this was “outrageous”, and despite the risk to herself leaked the information. This she does not at all deny. Yet when the case finally came before the Old Bailey the governments lawyers dropped the charges saying they had no evidence to submit, and refusing to go into any more detail. Had they been so shaken by the impact of the persecution suffered by Dr. David Kelly that they decided to let the matter drop?

The truth has more to do with self-preservation. Here we enter the realm of yet another cover-up. In their defence Ms. Gun’s lawyers intended to demand the details of the advice given to the government by the Attorney General on the legality of attacking Iraq. Legal Advisors in the Foreign Office were apparently divided, many believing that a second UN resolution was required to legitimise an invasion.

In another related blow to the government a senior legal adviser at the Foreign Office, Elizabeth Wilmhurst, who resigned from the Foreign Office after 30 years service last year, has now confirmed that the reason for her departure was that she was unhappy with the legal advice given to the government by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, that a war would be legal even without a second UN resolution.

Why did the Attorney General differ with his opposite numbers in the Foreign Office on this question? The answer brings us back to the original lie festering away at the heart of the build up to war in Iraq, and the deceit extending to the very tops of the government. Very few people ever believed the claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In any case their mere, if untrue, existence was not enough for Blair and co. They had to go that one step further in claiming that Britain was in clear and present danger because those weapons could be used against us in 45 minutes. Everyone now knows this was not true. But was this ‘evidence’ used to convince the Attorney General that war would be legal? In the opinion of Clare Short there was “something fishy about the way he said that the war was legal.” This whole business stinks. Prime Ministers and governments have fallen for less. That the secret services spy on the UN comes as no surprise. The labour movement has plenty of experience of the illegal activities of these people. That these operations should be exposed by a former member of Blair’s cabinet creates a scandal of the first order.

In her statement Clare Short has also breached the Official Secrets Act. It is hard to believe that any legal action will be taken against her, however, since the result would be the same exposure of the reasons behind the Attorney General’s advice to the government. Nevertheless the Blairites are desperate to stifle all criticism and may even attempt to remove her from her seat or even expel her from the party.

This lie and the cover-up operations shrouding it have already driven one man beyond the edge of reason to take his own life; they have persecuted a former GCHQ translator, cost several people their jobs, and launched an unprecedented an assault on the BBC. No matter how hard Blair wishes, and his aides spin, this will not go away. Of course, the legality or otherwise of the war is in reality a purely formal question. The families of the thousands of dead in Iraq, those enduring the occupation of their home by foreign invaders, and the families of those troops who have died will not be so concerned with legal niceties. They, like millions of others, will however be appalled and outraged by the web of intrigue and deceit now surrounding this government.

All this covert activity, the cover-ups and whitewashes which helped drag Britain into a war opposed by the majority of the population, certainly required a great deal more planning than has been given to conditions of the troops. Following the death of Sergeant Steven Roberts, killed after being made to hand over his flak jacket to another unit because there were not enough to go around, another soldier has exposed the frivolous manner in which these soldiers are being sent to die in a war they should not be fighting. The new revelations, from a soldier who served on the frontline in Iraq, explain how he and his men were given five bullets each for the duration of their duty. Many uniforms, vehicles, and even ‘camouflage’ nets were green instead of the required desert brown. Instead of radios they were issued with mobile phones and told to call if they came under attack!

What thanks are the British imperialists getting for their loyal support of their US masters? Very little. Trade Minister Mike O’Brien and Blair’s trade envoy Brian Wilson have recently returned from the States where they were lobbying for British firms to be granted lucrative construction contracts in Iraq. It seems they came away more or less empty handed for their troubles. While Halliburton formerly headed by US vice-president Dick Cheney has received billions in contracts, the British will get just a few crumbs.

As Clare Short rightly pointed out “the tragedy is Iraq is a disastrous mess. Ten thousand Iraqis have died, American troops are dying, some of our troops have died, the Middle East is more angry than ever…so it won’t go away will it?” Whilst Blair and co are desperate for Iraq to go away, there are millions in Iraq who are desperate for them to go away.

These scandals are dragging the name of the Labour Party through the mud. By their actions at home and abroad, in secret and in public, the Blair leadership faces crisis. The Blairites and their pro-capitalist policies must go. The stench of corruption, intrigue and deceit leaking from every pore of the corridors of power needs to be cleared away. At home and abroad a socialist policy is required. Blair will soon receive a verdict not from Hutton, or some other inquiry, but a verdict he cannot control, from the labour movement.