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Nick Cohen (Lodon Observer): Beware smoking Guns

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Jack Rabbit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Feb-28-04 11:55 PM
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Nick Cohen (Lodon Observer): Beware smoking Guns
From the London Observer (Sunday supplement of the Guardian Unlimited
Dated Sunday February 29

Beware smoking Guns
While the legal basis for war with Iraq remains a secret, Tony Blair is one leak away from resignation
By Nick Cohen

Serious journalists like to pretend that we give the public all the news they need to know. The beneficial effects of competition ensure that broadsheets and up-market broadcasters are constantly bringing new products to the news market. What one organisation misses another provides to the fact-bloated consumer. The prosaic reality often falls short of this exalted ideal. Most of the time rivalry between journalists is more apparent than real. Everyone does what everyone else is doing; we cover the same stories and follow up each others' real or bogus exclusives. All that falls outside the loop formed by the media dog chasing its tail is ignored.
But there are occasions when rivalry is taken too seriously. Because, say, the Sunday Times doesn't want to give credit to The Observer, or vice versa, genuine exclusives appear only for... nothing to happen.
Such was the fate of the front-page lead of The Observer of 2 March 2003. We had a sensational document from the US National Security Agency. Its spies were preparing to bug the delegations of countries on the United Nations' Security Council in the run up to the war against Iraq. Calls and emails to and from diplomats' homes and offices were to be intercepted so that the Bush administration would have the 'whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises'. The Americans were asking for help from a friendly intelligence agency, which turned out to be the GCHQ eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham. It's one thing to know in theory that governments always spy on each other, quite another to see set out in a memo the detail of how the spying will be done. (Just as it's one thing to know in theory that MI5 has a mole in every newspaper and another to find out that it's your good friend Bloggs sitting on the other side of the desk.)
The story went round the world, causing particular outrage in Chile and Mexico, which were among Washington's targets. News of the intensive Anglo-American spying operation strengthened the waverers determination to vote against the war. No one in British media was interested. Hacks preferred to ignore a corroborated and indeed true accusation against the British Government and chase after an uncorroborated accusation from the BBC which pandered to the deep need of the Government's more credulous opponents to believe the worst about Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell. The indifference lasted until last week when the prosecution of Katharine Gun, the GCHQ officer who leaked the American request for a joint bugging operation, collapsed . . . .
The reason why many think that Tony Blair remains one leak away from resignation lies in what is known and supposed about the legal advice he received just before the war. Gun's lawyers were determined to get their hands on it. They were going to argue that when she saw a copy of the American memo at GCHQ she made it public because publicity would make the attempt to get a second resolution specifically authorising war harder when Chile, Mexico and the other swing states on the UN Security Council realised what the Americans and British were up to. She believed that without a second resolution the war would be illegal.

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indepat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-29-04 09:46 AM
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1. Launching an illegal war should bring an end to any government, regime,
cabal.
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