Wednesday 4 February 2004

How Britain & America Stage Cover-ups

by Trowbridge H. Ford

Britain and America, despite appearances to the contrary, have learned to stage managed cover-ups of scandals and crises to a tee. They have learned the adage that despotic government can continue, even thrive, just so long that each step in the process is only taken ever so slowly, and nothing new is done until all the other pieces in the puzzle are firmly in place.

After a scandal or crisis occurs, the government only succumbs to press demands for an inquiry after it has exposed choice bits of apparent criminality or gross incompetence, though its remit is too small to get anywhere near the bottom of the problem - the government explaining that something like national security concerns prevent wider investigations. Once the reports of the first inquiries are revealed or leaked, invariably indicating some flagrant omission, the authorities agree to an independent, secret inquiry - headed by apparently eminent figures who have time for such matters - to investigate the omission with judicious patience.

Washington had learned the process as far back as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the priorities of fighting a world war taking precedence over finding a fair explanation of the tragedy - what has not even been achieved yet. The famous Warren Commission, appointed after the assassination of President Kennedy, was the only recent exception, but it was hurriedly appointed to prevent tragedy from developing into a world war. Still, its findings have promoted the usual process in reverse, with inadequate inquiries, and prosecutions coming later rather than sooner.

The latest investigation - the one about the 9/11 attacks - has become the paradigm for how Washington and London cover up failures of monumental proportions. Though the Bush administration compared the attacks to the one by the Japanese back in 1941, there were not even any sackings like that of Admiral Kimmel and General Short back then. Washington was too busy gearing up to fight rag-tag rebels half way round the world to mete out any censure or punishment.

Only a year later did it agree to a joint-intelligence committee inquiry in the Congress conducting a limited, secret investigation of the tragedy which the White House, CIA, the Pentagon, and the Bureau continued to keep in the dark by releasing only limited, partial information; yet, after a year of looking, the committee issued a somewhat damning report - what the White House made worse at the Saudis' expense by refusing to declassify a merely descriptive part of its introduction where the background of Al-Qaeda hijackers was discussed.

In the end, the Bush administration was obliged to appoint a national commission to investigate the attacks, but its composition was so compromised that there is no way that it will ever come up with an adequate explanation of how the attacks occurred, and who should be punished in what way.

Headed by Staff Director Philip Zelikow - co-author of a book with friend NSA Condi Rice, and author of an article in Foreign Affairs about the impossibility of preventing such attacks unless America adopts its own MI5 - he has even given testimony to the Commission about the validity of his conclusion.

For those who have any confidence in the Commissioners, just look at who they are. Three of the Republicans, headed by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, have only experience in state government, so their knowledge of how Washington works is most limited. Those Republicans who do know, former Reagan Navy Secretary John Lehman, Jr., and Fred Fielding, aide to Nixon's private lawyer John Dean, are so weighed down with scandal that there is no way they can right matters.

Lehman led a cabal which almost got us all annihilated in a secret showdown with the Soviets after Swedish statsminister was assassinated. Fielding had the responsibility of making sure The Plumbers, especially Secretary Kathleen Chenow, didn't spill the beans about all the horrors they had committed for the President.

On the Democratic side of the 9/11 Commission, there is a bigger component of who will coopt the lesser fry in order to keep hidden other horrors. Richard Ben-Veniste was instrumental in seeing that Richard Nixon was not indicted as a co-conspirator in the Watergate break-in, former Congressman Lee Hamilton was deeply involved in covering up wide claims of an "October Surprise" to secure Reagan's election, of the President's deep involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, and others. And former Senator Robert Kerrey, replacement for disgruntled former Senator Max Clelland - the only member of the panel qualified, and seriously interested in a proper inquiry - who recently resigned in disgust, has all kinds of claims of war crimes in Vietnam to be expected to do an adequate job.

With this history having unfolded before our very eyes, it was easy for Prime Minister Blair to appoint a similar commission - one which will undoubtely arrive at a similar inadequate conclusion about Britain having gone to war with Iraq - once the Commons committees, and the Hutton Inquiry had issued their reports. There is no way that a body made up of Lord Butler, Michael Mattes, Ann Taylor, Lord Inge, and Sir John Chilcott can come up with an adequate answer to the complaints. Its like having an older brother try his younger brother - what every criminal desires.

While the popular press has told us everything that we don't need to know about them - their previous blunders, unsavory connections, and incidental pastimes - we should know that they all are spin doctors of various kinds who, like their American counterparts, should be the last persons investigating anything controversial about governance.

While we are told something about Lord Butler of Brockwell's dealing with sleaze, and the Scott Inquiry, we are told nothing about his "secret intelligence feed" to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from 1982 to 1985 as her Principal Private Secretary. This, of course, was when Britain was fighting the Falklands War, and the dirty war in Northern Ireland was at its dirtiest. Without going into the handling of intelligence regarding the former, we know that it was 'sexed up' regarding the latter to suit the needs of the 'Iron Lady'.

No sooner did the PIRA set off nail bombs in Hyde Park in July1982 than the Prime Minister sent Captain Simon Hayward of the Life Guards off to the province to settle scores with the Provisionals. The result was the infamous Shoot-to-Kill murders in which six unarmed IRA members were murdered by the Hayward-re-inforced headquarters mobile support units of the RUC.

It is impossible to believe that Butler was not deeply involved in this - a matter so controversial that another inquiry was required - that by John Stalker - which became so controversial than another police officer was required to finish it, with the whole matter ending up in the European Court of Human Rights with Britain having egg all over its face, and money missing from its pocket.

Of course, defenders of the Establishment will argue that this is just some more conspiracy theory but John Stalker' s The Stalker Affair, and Simon Hayward's Under Fire: My Own Story indicate otherwise. Stalker was suspended from the inquiry when he was on the verge of getting the tape which implicated Hayward in the shooting of Michael Tighe in the Hayshed shooting, and he made it crystal clear that his suspension was because he was allegedly connected to Simon's brother Christopher in drug dealing through Manchester businessman Kevin Taylor - an utter red-herring to sideline this determined police officer.

When Hayward was set up in Sweden by a similar red-herring - alleged drug-smuggling - he offered this explanation of his unexpected conviction: "I dozed fitfully until it was time for the evening's TV News...Everything, needless to say, was in Swedish. I could not understand a word. Then a new face appeared, an elderly man being interviewed outside the police station at Uppsala. He was obviously a senior police officer(.) I caught my own name being mentioned and then the letters 'SAS' several times." (p. 276)

This series of incidents shows that Butler was deeply involved in bending intelligence to suit the interests of another out-of-control Prime Minister. Mrs.Thatcher went on to institutionalize the process in a small, selected cabal of ministers and key civil servants after Butler left. Ultimately, he became so powerful as Cabinet Secretary that he could personally arrange the "secret vote" with the Treasury over what funds the intelligence services would be provided.

Similar, though, less damning criticisms can be made of the rest of the panel. Ann Taylor doesn't deserve to be there just because she would not go along with an official, public outling of Dr. Kelly to the frenzied press, and she thinks that more intelligence must be found to this illegal war. Mattes was running Northern Ireland when Johnny Adair's UDA and associates in the PIRA, especially 'Steak Knife', were culling the Provisionals so that their depleted ranks would make peace through Sir John Chillcott, the new permanent secretary. Mattes went on to agree to the controversial prison release of all the killers, republican and loyalist alíke, which has now even become an obstacle in the peace process.

Given the sorry state of the peace process in the province, one does not have to be too suspicious to think that Downing Street is now expecting these gentlemen to help get it out of the Iraqi mess because of all the false promises they made about the Good Friday Agreement.

In sum, Blair is gathering all the wagons - filled with all the politicians and civil servants who helped get his administration into a dangerous corner - in the hope that they will see the need of working totally together in order to avoid annihilation.