Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Improving intelligence

The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 empowers Britain's government to lock up its citizens on the basis of unsubstantiated intelligence reports. Therefore, we must be grateful that steps are to be taken to improve the quality of such reports. Or must we? If our intelligence services were as pervasive and efficient as the KGB in the Soviet Union, would that really comfort those Britons afraid of losing their liberty without due process?

This government told us we could rely on the intelligence reports it had about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But there were no WMD. None at all. Now the intelligence services and the government cheerfully admit that the reports were wrong. So that's OK then. The government won our support for the war because we believed there were WMD. Now it's too late and it seems we can believe what we like.

The Guardian, famed organ of the educated Left in Britain, reports today with the po-faced solemnity of Pravda or Izvestia that "New safeguards to prevent a repeat of the intelligence failings in the run-up to the war on Iraq were announced by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, today." Jolly good! Furthermore "The processes of the joint intelligence committee, which advises the government on intelligence findings and produced the controversial Downing Street dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, have been 'reviewed and tightened up'" Wonderful. Excellent. So we have nothing to fear then, comrades! The Party has tightened up the processes under which the secret police work. How laudable! How reassuring!!

There is a slight problem for the Party and the Guardian. Most British people believe that the government knew the dossier was false. Most British people believe that a loyal public servant was hounded to suicide for suggesting to a journalist that the "controversial" dossier had been "sexed up" by politicians.

Of course most people may be wrong. Most people often are. But believing as they do, most people are quite likely to be afraid. Most people will fear that a future government may use a future dossier to take a political opponent off the streets.

It will be little comfort to the honest citizen concerned that the dossier (which he will not be allowed to see anyway) is later admitted to be false. By then, it will be too late.

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