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Another terror plot unravels!

The row over allegations that lives were endangered by leaks about major anti-terrorism operations deepened last night as it emerged that there were a series of disclosures about one highly sensitive investigation.

As Tony Blair rejected calls for an inquiry, and Liberal Democrats called upon the police to investigate, it emerged that journalists received up to three separate briefings about an allegation that a group of men was planning to abduct and behead a Muslim British soldier.

The Guardian has been told that an aide to John Reid, the home secretary, was responsible for one of those leaks, and has also learnt that there is strong suspicion among the highest-ranking police at Scotland Yard that one of their own officers also briefed the media.

The controversy centres on a series of raids which led to nine arrests across Birmingham in February. Six men were subsequently charged with a number of terrorist offences. The row over the leaks which accompanied those arrests erupted after deputy assistant commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, warned on Tuesday that such disclosures, both in advance of operations and while they were ongoing, could be illegal and highly dangerous.

The Guardian reports that this information which later proved to be inaccurate came from the office of John Reid while in a further development there is now a strong suspicion that a further leak came from an officer within Scotland Yard.

Defence lawyers are expected to argue that it will be impossible for any of the men arrested in Birmingham to receive a fair trial as a consequence of the leaks at the time of their arrest. One lawyer, Tayab Ali, said he had been told by a senior West Midlands officer that the disclosures may have been an offence under the Official Secrets Act.

So we are reminded yet again of how the British system of justice will be run. Without a scrap of evidence UK citizens can be arrested, no charges pressed and their lives and good names destroyed on the basis of surreptitious rumours from the office of the Home Secretary, John Reid.

Naturally, Reid attempts to spin his way out of this by blaming the government’s army of spin-doctors. A rather stupid move which is bound to backfire on him. Reid claimed that the leakers were trying to “squeeze out some short-term presentational advantage” by secretly briefing on anti-terror operations.

    N.b. Reid clearly understands the principle: never being one to pass up a “short-term presentational” opportunity as when when he visited Forest Gate last year to warn Muslim parents to look for signs of brainwashing in their children. Right on cue, Reid was heckled by the highly visible Abu Izzadeen (aka Trevor Brooks), a well known Islamic extremist and activist, which raised questions about how it was he was able wander into the room of invited guests, reported to be at a secret location, without drawing the attention of police and security. As Abu Izzadeen was ejected from the room, Reid remarked “I was making the very simple point that however sensitive these issues are, we must never allow ourselves to be intimidated or shouted down.” It is ironic because this incident drowned the voices of moderate Muslims who were in attendance, and sadly their opinions on his talk were never broadcasted. You might also recall that this was during the period when Reid was attempting to raise his profile as a possible contender for the Labour leadership.

Other events that were unfolding at the time of the Muslim soldier beheading terror leak were damaging stories about fundraiser Lord Levy (the arrests coming a day before his), Prescott/casino sleaze and turmoil in the Home Office. A source at West Midlands Police said at the time that “There is widespread fury that Whitehall officials have been briefing sensitive details of this operation. This terror raid has come at a very convenient time for the Government as it has taken a number of embarrassing stories off the news agenda.”

Iain Dale has posted online the correspondence between Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve and John Reid here in which the Guardian allegations are emphatically denied. As Dale says, it is only a matter of time before the gauntlet is thrown down and some brave editor reveals the identity of the ministerial aide responsible for briefing the press. We must wait with baited breath until then.

Of course Blair doesn’t want another leak enquiry, according to the conservatives this would bring to over 60 the number of investigations that have been carried out so far. From Iain Dale.

60 Leak Inquiries in First 3 Years. In the first three years of the Labour Government, 60 leak investigations were ordered by Whitehall departments. There were nine leak inquiries alone in the Home Office in the first three years under Jack Straw (The Guardian, 14 February 2000). These included inquiries into: a leak to the Guardian of a memo from Jack Straw watering down provisions in the Freedom of Information Bill; a leak to the Telegraph of the outcome of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry; and even a leak from the Cabinet Office into David Clark’s first-class air trip to Australia and New Zealand as part of fact finding tour into freedom of information legislation.

Leak enquiries are only conducted when the leak embarrasses the government but not when the identity of the leaker would embarrass the government. A charge made by David Gauke (con) and one which the government … naturally denies.


Blair vs Cameron

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Midway through Thomas Ricks’ Washington Post scoop on Monday detailing a U.S. military “propaganda program” aimed at convincing Iraqis that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has a very prominent role in directing violence in that country, there is one specific tip on how the plan may have also targeted American reporters and audiences.

Ricks found that one “selective leak”–about a recently discovered letter written by Zarqawi–was handed by the military to Dexter Filkins, the longtime New York Times reporter in Baghdad. Filkins’s resulting article, about the Zarqawi letter boasting of foreigners’ role in suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the front page of the Times on Feb. 9, 2004.

“Leaks to reporters from U.S. officials in Iraq are common, but official evidence of a propaganda operation using an American reporter is rare,” Ricks observed. He quoted Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military’s chief spokesman when the propaganda campaign began in 2004: “We trusted Dexter to write an accurate story, and we gave him a good scoop.”

Filkins, in an e-mail to Ricks, said he assumed the military was releasing the Zarqawi letter “because it had decided it was in its best interest to have it publicized.” He told Ricks he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity then, and remains so now.

But Ricks’ article, if anything, underplays the impact of the letter in February 2004–and if Filkins had qualms about its authenticity, it hardly deterred him and his paper from giving it serious, and largely uncritical, attention.

In his February 9, 2004 front-pager, Filkins detailed the contents of the letter, and its significance, matter-of-factly for eight paragraphs. Only then did he introduce any doubt, suggesting that possibly it could have been “written by some other insurgent…who exaggerated his involvement.”

After that one-sentence brief mention, Filkins went directly to: “Still, a senior United States intelligence official in Washington said, ‘I know of no reason to believe the letter is bogus in any way.”’ The story continued for another 1000 words without expressing any other doubts about the letter—which was found on a CD and was unsigned.

In his Post story today, Ricks also does not mention what happened next.

William Safire, in his Feb. 11, 2004, column for the Times titled “Found: A Smoking Gun,” declared that the letter “demolishes the repeated claim of Bush critics that there was never a ‘’clear link’ between Saddam and Osama bin Laden.” Safire mocked the Washington Post for burying the story on page 17, while hailing a Reuters account quoting an “amazed” U.S. officials saying, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.”

Three days later, another Times columnist, David Brooks, covered the letter as fact under the heading “The Zarqawi Rules.” The letter was covered in this manner by other media for weeks. So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.

A Web search of New York Times articles in the two months after the scoop failed to turn up any articles casting serious doubts on the letter. Two leading writers for Newsweek on its Web site quickly had a different view, however.

Christopher Dickey, the Middle East regional editor, on February 13, 2004, asked: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from Zarqawi? We don’t. We’re expected to take the administration’s word for it.”

Rod Nordland, the magazine’s Baghdad bureau chief, on March 6 wrote: “The letter so neatly and comprehensively lays out a blueprint for fomenting strife with the Shia, and later the Kurds, that it’s a little hard to believe in it unreservedly. It came originally from Kurdish sources who have a long history of disinformation and dissimulation. It was an electronic document on a CD-ROM, so there’s no way to authenticate signature or handwriting, aside from the testimony of those captured with it, about which the authorities have not released much information.”

Ricks, in any case, observed today that the overall propaganda campaign may have “overemphasized” Zarqawi’s and al-Qaeda’s role in Iraq, according to senior intelligence experts. One of them said that Zarqawi and other foreign militants were “a very small part of the actual numbers” of troublemakers.

He also quoted one internal briefing, produced by the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq, which revealed that Kimmitt had concluded that, “The Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date.”

It is always interesting to see what is left out of a story. In the case of the targetted killings of Iraqi trade unionists and the intellegentsia, as far as these stories are reported in the American and European press, questioning who or what is served by these sectarian murders is carefully omitted, such as the capture of the two British SAS men, disguised as Sadr’s militia, their car packed with weapons, explosives and remote control detonators. Why were they dressed as members of the Mehdi army, what were they planning to do with the explosives and did they hope to stir up sectarian hatred? Such obvious questions were never aired in the Western media.British “Undercover Soldiers” Caught driving Booby Trapped Car. “They refused to say what their mission was.

In today’s Guardian an article on clashes between Basra residents and the British army, following an helicopter crash in which 5 troops were killed explains that the tensions between the two sides arose last September after

British forces arrested two officials of Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to al-Sadr, raising tensions. About a week later, militiamen and residents clashed with British troops after two British soldiers in local clothes were detained by Iraqi authorities before being freed in a raid by British forces.

No mention of the fact that these British soldiers were SAS on a mission to “infiltrate” the Iraqi police as was reported by the disinformationalists at the time. The Guardian article is useful for the way in which it tries to obscure this earlier incident and to shift responsibility for the rage of local people to the Mehdi army.

The UK Independent writes

The two seized British undercover soldiers were gathering intelligence on one of the most menacing of the police/militia factions, “the Jameat” force within the force numbering several hundred, and suspected of abductions, torture and murders.

No mention of the explosives, the detonators, the disguise.

Max Fuller writing for Global Reseach unravels the role of UK and US in the murder of thousands of Iraqi academics and trade unionists.

What the mainstream Western media neglects to remind us is that following the occupation of Iraq, British and US intelligence went into overdrive to establish a new Iraqi intelligence apparatus.

They rightly saw this as the linchpin of their puppet state. Recruits were drawn from existing intelligence agents (presumably CIA assets) within the main political parties, all of whom had returned to Iraq on the back of US tanks, and hammered into a new organisation known as the Collection, Management and Analysis Directorate (CMAD).

CMAD’s first task was to draw up lists of opponents, who were to be the targets of a paramilitary unit drawn from the militias of the same political parties, working in collusion with US special forces.

Who these targets were is not known. It is known, however, that in the first year of occupation some 1,000 Iraqi professionals, including many teachers, were murdered, promoting a mass exodus.

While some reporters suggested that disgruntled students might be responsible for the massacre of academics, the pattern is better placed within the total levelling of Iraq’s cultural and political life — an apocalyptic Year Zero.

The fact that "disgruntled students" might be responsible is not accompanied by analysis that would enlighten the reader as to why students would want to destroy a generation of university lecturers and professors. It is also disquieting to find that CMAD is never mentioned. In tracing the establishment of the CMAD enough detail exists to infer U.S.A and U.K involvement in the formation of Iraq's death squads. As Max Fuller explains:

In fact, the entire intelligence establishment is a creation of the Anglo-American secret services (Los Angeles Times), which began building at least as early as the beginning of the occupation (Detroit Free Press), although it may be suspected that the process was conceived long before. The new Iraqi establishment was staffed by long-term CIA assets, such as General Mohammad Shahwani, who had been nurtured by the CIA since the late 1980s (Asia Times Online) and became director of the new National Intelligence Service (the Mukhabarat). Like Thabit and Flayyih, other old CIA hands, Shahwani had participated in attempted coups against the government of Iraq. Further agents (presumably existing intelligence assets for the most part) were recruited from Iraq’s main political groups, consisting of SCIRI, the Dawa Party, the two main Kurdish parties, the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi National Accord. These agents became the Collection, Management and Analysis Directorate (CMAD), whose principal job was to ‘turn raw intelligence into targets that could be used in operations’ (Detroit Free Press, op. cit.). Initially, ‘operations’ were carried out by a paramilitary unit composed of militia from the five main parties, who, under the supervision of US commanders, worked with US special forces to track down ‘insurgents’ (Washington Post). As the new Iraqi state apparatus developed, CMAD was split between the ministries of Defence and Interior, with an ‘elite corps’ creamed off to form the National Intelligence Service (Detroit Free Press, op. cit.). To oversee all three bodies, the National Intelligence Coordination Committee was established, headed, as National Security Advisor (appointed in April 2004), by Mowaffak Rubaie. This ‘leading Shiite moderate’ had been a spokesman for the Dawa Party in the 1980s when it was a serious terrorist organisation targeting Iraq, before moving on to help coordinate the Iraqi opposition from London (Asia Times Online, op. cit.). In London he worked with the Khoei Foundation, a pro-US charitable organisation that has distributed money for the CIA and is linked with the National Endowment for Democracy through Prime minister Jaafari’s advisor Laith Kuba, another long-term CIA asset (Village Voice).

 

These new intelligence agencies supply the data for the Interior Ministry to make arrests. A graphic and harrowing account of such arrests on 27 June 2004 was provided by UPI’s P. Mitchell Prothero, in what he describes as the ‘welcome arrival of frontier-style law enforcement’. Prothero described how local residents ‘seemed shocked’ as their doors were broken in and ‘men were dragged from their homes dishevelled and screaming’ by members of a SWAT team in central Baghdad. The raid had been planned for months by General Kamal’s intelligence agency within the Interior Ministry and the names of more than 100 detainees were checked against prepared lists (Washington Times). Prothero witnessed many of those detainees ‘worked over’ with metal batons and lengths of hose in the backs of vans, but the most serious abuse came later, within the Interior Ministry compound. On 29 June members of the Oregon National Guard swept into the grounds of the Interior Ministry and disarmed plain-clothed Iraqi policemen whom they had observed beating bound and blindfolded prisoners (Oregonian). The US soldiers began to administer first aid to the prisoners, who had also been starved of food and water for three days; many were clearly in a very serious condition. Steven Casteel was called to help deal with the situation (Boston Globe). After hours of negotiations, the soldiers unwillingly withdrew, leaving the victims in the hands of their torturers. Perhaps their ultimate fate will never be known, but as Casteel commented, ‘There’s always a pendulum between freedom and security’.