Tag Archives: official secrets

Review: Official Secrets – and contemporary parallels

Go to see ‘Official Secrets’.  It will remind you of the hard choices Liberals have to make in swimming against the tide of the received wisdom of the public debate.  And it will remind you that we stuck out our necks, against the received wisdom of almost the entire media, both the main parties, and much expert opinion, in challenging the case for the Iraq war.

The film is about Katharine Gun, a GCHQ employee with doubts about the drift towards the invasion of Iraq, who leaks (to the Observer) a memo from the US National Security Agency requesting material on representatives of states on the UN Security Council that could be covertly used to pressure them into supporting the US motion to authorise the use of force against Saddam Hussein.  It follows the subsequent investigation, her arrest, the involvement of Liberty in her defence, and after a lengthy delay the government abandonment of her prosecution on the first day of the trial.  There is much detail on the pursuit of reliable counter-evidence to contest the government’s case, the interaction between journalists and lawyers in London and Washington, and the uncovering of information on how advice to our government on the legal case for intervention had been altered under pressure from the US Administration and No.10.  

It’s well constructed; it links the personal tensions and agonies with the wider political context.  Several well-known living people are portrayed – some more sympathetically than others.  Good triumphs in the end, after much skulduggery.

It’s easy to forget how risky we felt it to be at that time for us to contest the dominant narrative of weapons of mass destruction and a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qu’aida.  The film shows even the Observer editor and many of its senior staff resisting the plausibility of covert efforts to fix UN authorization and evidence being twisted.  I remember going with Ming Campbell  to a briefing, on ‘Privy Council terms’, from two very senior intelligence officials, and having afterwards to assess how far we had been persuaded by their presentation.  Charles Kennedy had to resist strong pressure from Blair’s government, and weigh up the costs of being attacked by most of the press against the case for refusing to accept the government’s rationale for war.   We stuck our necks out, without complete confidence that we knew what was happening; but our instincts proved right.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 4 Comments

Royal access to official secrets must stop

In recent days it has been revealed that Prince Charles and Prince William have access to UK official secrets. Charles “routinely receives” secret documents including Cabinet papers. It is not clear whether access stops at the two of them.

This is entirely inappropriate and should cease.

In a democracy, control of the state rests, or should rest, with the elected government. A monarch’s role is purely ceremonial and should entail no real control over any part of the state. The Queen (or William, Charles, George or another person who may succeed her) is unqualified to exercise power, has not been chosen by the people to do so, is subject to few checks and balances and is not accountable to the electorate.

Ministers, officials and others sometimes need access to official secrets to do their work, although almost none have unfettered access. An individual can see secret material relevant to their duties. As members of the Royal Family, William and Charles have no public duties to which secret material could be relevant.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 35 Comments
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