Archive for the ‘press’ Category

Tom Watson runs for the gap, specifically yet another ugly little employment law story at the Sun. Readers will know that they’re like that among themselves and there’s something of a press tradition of not mentioning the names. On this occasion it’s Our Boys Go In Editor “Tom” “Newton” “Dunn” vs. their Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley.

The other story is that Watson is suggesting that Trevor Kavanagh took the credit for publishing the Hutton whitewash ahead of time when Hartley was in fact responsible.

Sadly this just recalls Labour’s relationship with the Sun. A close reading of this explains all:

Kavanagh, who claimed he had been read the contents of the report over the telephone by an “impartial” source went on to tell the BBC “the source had nothing to gain financially or politically, no axe to grind, no vested interest”

Access to the document, no financial or political interest, someone who had Kavanagh (or Hartley)’s direct phone number = i.e. they were a civil servant operating with permission from their boss who was in contact with them, or to put it another way, a government press officer.

As is fairly well known, Alistair Campbell got powers to give the career COI officials orders in May 1997. His departure didn’t end that. The source was probably Godric Smith or Tom “Walter Mitty figure” Kelly. Kavanagh was lionised by the media establishment for having what was, in fact, the government’s line-to-take read out into his ear by a government press officer. It wasn’t as if the Blair governments were averse to racking up brownie points with Murdoch where possible, was it?

On the other hand, perhaps the most repellent of the Murdoch/Met cases was the Forest Gate raid of 2006, when the police launched a miniature Operation OVERLORD (or rather, MOTORMAN – I don’t think they used a boat) in Walthamstow in pursuit of a “chemical dirty bomb suicide vest” which was capable of attacking aircraft up to 5,000 feet overhead in their opinion, accidentally shot someone because their hand slipped, tore the building apart, found nothing, and satisfied themselves by having the News of the World smear the suspects as paedophiles, before spending ages trying to seize their savings. It wasn’t so much a police operation as a sort of wildly overdone high-camp mashup of 2000s tropes. News International columnist Andy Hayman was in charge, but perhaps we were spared worse:

The police always argue that (many things they do) are a matter of operations and politicians should not be involved. Well, I’m afraid I have a big argument with that.”

Citing the 2006 raid on a street in Forest Gate, he added: “At one stage the police were going to turn out all the residents of the street at 2am in the morning. John Reid was the home secretary and I was working with him.

“Andy Hayman, who was in charge, wanted to turn them out and I said to John Reid – no, you can’t do that. He said ‘John, it’s operational’. I said ‘S** operational, there are political considerations here’ – turning out a street of Asians at 2am with the allegations of a gas plot and we don’t know what the evidence is for that.”

So when did they start tapping Prescott’s phone?

It remains the case that Labour’s half of the twisted relationship with Murdoch was very different to the Tories’. It was transactional and contingent and that’s one of the reasons why it was so horrible at the time, but that also made it possible to leave. When you are one entity you cannot cooperate, said Montgomery. It’s also very hard to stop.

Production note: part of this post was originally a comment on Tom Watson’s blog and was never released from moderation. I might have been nice about this, but you know.

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Ho hum, a spun day at the Guardian with this piece covering a double page spread on 8-9. Amelia Hill interviews a panel of prominent feminists about the Prime Minister’s new “women’s advisor”. You may have already guessed that they aren’t particularly impressed (an accurate headline might have been Thinking Individuals Find Sop Unsatisfying, Faintly Offensive), but the problem is not the content of the story, but its existence.

A quick search on Journalisted shows what’s actually going on here. Ever since the first weekend in October, roughly twice a month, the Government has been briefing the media that it’s doing something “to listen to women voters”.

Women as a demographic have turned sharply against the Tories quite some time ago. In fact, the polling shows a dramatic shift over Christmas, 2010, for reasons I’ve wondered about but never been able to make any conclusions on. See this chart of Anthony Wells’s.

But this got very little press right up to September. A decision was taken at some point in early September to spin the issue in the run-up to the Conservative conference, and on the 13th, the story was trailed by leaking it to the Daily Mail (i.e. to the intended target audience).

The 2nd of October saw the full-scale launch, with the local press being especially targeted (load the search – they hit syndication like a hammer and pretty much every local rag got it). Bypassing the nationals and briefing the local papers is an old Alistair Campbell trick you may remember from the Iraq war spin campaign, of course.

Since then, it’s been regularly re-announced, about twice a month. One can presume that there is a recurring item on the No.10 media grid for it.

So far, the sum total of actual action on this front consists of double-hatting the head of Francis Maude’s office, a bit of title inflation that the Guardian interviewees were rightly scornful of. But the real point here is that hours of work and a hugely prominent chunk of a national newspaper were dedicated to discussing this utterly content-free paper shuffle. And this has been going on for months, needing only a one-line e-mail to the cabinet secretary to support it in reality.

The return on investment is enormous. Great chunks of media space, time, and effort have been essentially neutralised, man-marked out of the game, all with a few press releases. This is the point of the exercise. If you are discussing the latest eye-catching initiative you are by definition not discussing anything else. Your eye has been caught. It’s why they’re called that.

Meanwhile, the latest on the Sun. Note this bit:

The source said that the investigation is not to do with “sources or expenses” claims by journalists.

Well, no, why would it be? Operation ELVEDEN is explicitly an investigation into bribes paid to police officers. What has it got to do with journalistic expenses, a private and trivial matter internal to News International? The answer is almost certainly that during Trevor Kavanagh’s comedy Ardennes Offensive earlier this week, it was privately briefed to the media that the police were arresting people over “£50 dinners for sources” (the figure actually appears in another Guardian story). This is clearly guff. But it achieved its purpose; in terms of cognitive anchoring, putting the notion out there sets the limits of what is expected. Even without its being mentioned explicitly, it controlled the content of this story!

It would obviously have been better if the Guardian had stated in so many words that “Representatives of News International [ideally NAMES TO GO HERE] have repeatedly suggested that journalists were arrested over expenses. The police source denied that this was the case and specifically said that the investigation has nothing to do with expenses”. Then we could, at least, make up our minds.

Update: I originally didn’t want to publish this because I didn’t think it was good enough, but I hit the wrong button. Anyway, Alistair Morgan read it and thinks one of the premises of the whole thing is wrong. Namely, the weapons were going in the same direction as the drugs, not the other way around. Well, at least the story moved on a bit, but this renders mostly useless a whole additional post I put together from reading a lot of crazy-but-interesting stuff out of the bottom of the Internet. Also, despite the Jessie J reference there’s better music at the bottom if you get that far.

So, Alistair Morgan’s twitter feed frequently hints at “cocaine, weapons, and Ireland” as well as police corruption as being factors involved in the case of his brother, Daniel Morgan, the private detective murdered in 1987, probably by people who were since employed by News International. It’s often been said that Morgan was on the point of publishing some sort of huge revelation when he was killed, but nobody knows what it was beyond his brother’s hints based on what the police told him at the time.

Since the eruption of the phone-hacking scandal, a number of sidelights have come up which linked the News of the World, its cadre of ex-police gumshoes, and its contacts inside the police force. Notably, it seems to have spied on the former Army intelligence agent-handler, Ian Hurst, on an NGO, British-Irish Rights Watch (because documents of theirs were on Hurst’s computer when they hacked it), and perhaps on the chief of police, Sir Philip Orde. It would have been hard for people working for the press not to have covered at least one Northern Irish story in the last 20-odd years simply because it was such a news staple, but it’s worth noting their interest.

The War Economy of Northern Ireland

So, what might link Morgan, cocaine, weapons, Ireland, and policemen? There are some fairly well-known stylised facts or stereotypes about the economy of the Troubles. The IRA mostly funded itself from money collected in the United States, from bank robberies, and from unofficial taxes it collected in the North. It also got contributions from friendly countries, specifically Libya. The Loyalists didn’t have a reliable source of their own money abroad like NorAid, and so specialised in protection and drugs. Both sides also got involved in smuggling across the border as a commercial exercise.

That’s a glib summary ‘graf; obviously, I collect a revolutionary tax for the struggle, you impose fines on drug dealers and dishonestly stick to some of the money, and they are merely thugs operating a protection racket. Traditionally, both Sinn Fein and the British tended to stereotype the Loyalists as basically criminal and the IRA as proper insurgents – there may be some truth in there, but the distinction is one of emphasis and degree and also of propaganda rather than of kind.

Having obtained money, they both needed to convert some of it into arms. The IRA got a famous delivery in the 80s from Libya in its role as Secret Santa, and also often bought guns in the US over the counter and smuggled them back. I don’t know how well characterised the sources of Loyalist arms are, which of course gives me license to speculate.

Permanently Operating Factors

Now for the cocaine, which has often been known to land in bulk quantities on the wilder, less populated bits of the Atlantic coast that also offer good harbours. This is a rare combination, as people live near ports. Two of the best bits on that score are northwest Spain and southwest Ireland. Having landed, you can move it on anywhere in the UK-Ireland common travel area without much more trouble. Since the creation of the Schengen area, Galicia is even better for this because there is such a choice of markets you can reach without a customs inspection. But in 1987 this was an un-fact, so you might as well go to Ireland.

This transit trade had important consequences – notably the rise of Martin “The General” Cahill, the assassination of Veronica Guerin, and probably a substantial chunk of the Irish property bubble via the laundering of profits and also by the boost to those ol’ animal spirits the drug provides.

Imagine, then, that an important criminal actor supplying the London market with cocaine also had access to a reliable surplus of weapons. There is the potential for trade here.

However, it’s not that simple – the famous Libyan shipment would have fit in a couple of shipping containers, and it kept the IRA going up until peace was signed, with a fair bit left over to be buried in concrete by the international commissioners on decommissioning. It is very unlikely that any plausible flow of arms to Northern Ireland would have paid for the flow of cocaine into the South-East.

We Don’t Need Your Money, Money, Money, We Just Wanna Make The World Dance…

There’s something else going on – Diego Gambetta would have already pointed out that you need to understand the trade in protection. To sell protection, you need weapons, which are the capital equipment of the business of private protection. In so far as the buyers in the UK were paying in guns as well as cash, they were arguably expressing a protector-protectee relationship. While on our territory, we protect you, and license you to provide protection. This was also reciprocated. In accepting them, were the sellers of the cocaine undertaking to protect it in transit on their own territory?

Another way of looking at this, which Gambetta would also approve of, would be in terms of costly signalling. Being both a supplier and a protector is a powerful position, but it might be worth letting the other side have it as a guarantee or hostage, to signal that you didn’t intend to break the agreement and deal with some other supplier. This makes even more sense given that you still have a regular supply of guns you could cut off or use against them, and therefore both parties have something to lose.

Now, Gambetta’s work mostly deals with Sicily, where a very important protection supplier has often been irrelevant. London is a very different society from this point of view. Whatever you think of the police, you can’t just ignore them as a factor. In some other societies, the police might be protection consumers, but here, police corruption usually takes the form of policemen selling protection. (In a sense, the more effective the police, the more tempting this will be. Nothing sells like the good stuff.)

So, gazing down on this complex, neo-medieval exchange of cash, credit, and protection, there is a sort of Sun King whose permission is required for any protection contract to be signed. It’s like a feudal society. My liege lord is only so, because he is the King’s subject, and the King at least theoretically owes duties to the Emperor, or later, directly to God. Our buyer is in a position to offer protection for his end of the business because he enjoys protection supplied by the police.

Who were the recipients, the sellers? They might have been drug dealers who needed to buy protection from one or other paramilitary group. They might have been drug dealers who wanted to build up enough arms that they could stop buying protection, or rather, change protector. Or they might have been paramilitaries who sold protection to the drugs trade. The distinction is surprisingly unimportant.

So, to put the pieces together, there was some group of South-East London villains importing cocaine from transit providers in Ireland, who were also exporting weapons in the opposite direction as part of an exchange of protection for their common business. This required buying protection from the police. Where did the weapons come from? And why is News International involved?

Jamie Kenny says:

Come to think of it, the only papers which their readers would miss are the ones which have have managed to establish their names and the word ‘reader’ as a social type: which is to say the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Mail.

John Band argues that this is also true of the Sun:

Surely ‘Sun-reader’ and the Sun also fit alongside Guardian, Mail and Telegraph?

Certainly, people do use “Sun reader” as a social type. But the really interesting question is whether anyone considers themselves a Sun-reader, and I think this is what’s doing the work here. (As a very rough check, I compared the Google hits for “I am a [paper] reader” – Guardian most common, Sun a couple of thousand less, but quite a few of both were people either putting it on for argument’s sake or indignantly denying it. Obviously, the huge Guardian web presence will distort that.)

People who read the Guardian often do identify as Guardian-readers and other people also pin it on them. This is true, although I think more weakly, of Telegraph or Mail readers. But there is a gradient here – I think you’re slightly more likely to self-identify as a Telegraph or Spectator reader than you are to be labelled as one. For the Mail, that’s more like evens. (The reductio ad absurdum would be the Daily Sport, which would almost certainly be an insult.)

For the Sun? I’d put it at 80% labelling to 20% self-identification. Why is this important?

Well, you can define a following – Sun readers, Worcester Women, whatever – and use this to sell advertising or push your own influence. In the first case, what matters is that you can define your own readership well enough that advertisers think of you as a way of reaching them. In the second, it’s that politicians are willing to believe that Sun-readers are a thing. Note that this involves a willing suspension of disbelief. If you can count the C2s among your readers, your media sales team can throw this at advertisers. If you are ideologically congenial to politicians, so that they’re willing to believe in Sun readers, you can exercise power. In a limited sense, if you can render your audience legible as a group, you can turn this into money or influence.

But this only goes so far. The key distinction is what happens when you need them. People who identify themselves as Sun readers will turn out. People who are identified by marketers as Sun readers will read something else in their tea break. And there’s an odd recursive quality to this – if you really did consider yourself a Sun-reader, what on earth would you be doing identifying yourself as a newspaper reader? What could be less in keeping?

To put it another way, imagine someone who is acting, trying to pretend to be a Sun-reader. What could be more obviously fake than brandishing a copy? You would need to work on the rest of the act first, and only then have one casually lying around. If you wanted to pose as a Guardian reader, you’d want to be seen reading the damn paper.

News International spent a lot of time and effort trying to create an identity for NI-consumers (there being not much difference between the target demographics for the Sun, the NOTW, and Sky Sports, and a hell of a lot of cross-promotion). Of course, so do all media products, even Mobile Comms International and Elevator Week. Some would deny it (The Economist), some would boast of it (The Face). Some are more successful than others.

But I would argue that rather than observing what its customers wanted and marketing it back to them, or deciding what they ought to want and persuading them to want it, NI’s modus operandi was to observe what its customers did, and then market that to its other, upstream customer base – advertisers and politicians.

If the Sun called for a demonstration against the Leveson inquiry, would anyone go?

After the last post, I think it’s worth nothing that it’s not just an isolated lapse. The Guardian has recently been sucking up to the Treasury in a revolting fashion. Yesterday’s paper, in an astonishingly hagiographic profile by Nicholas Watt explained how clever George Osborne is in defining his “fiscal mandate” as being to get rid of the current (i.e. ex-capital investment), structural (i.e. what he says it is) deficit over a five-year forecast horizon, on a “rolling” basis so there is no specific date by which it must be judged.

Well-informed readers will remember that inter-war British governments did this with defence plans – the decision was taken that there would be no war for 10 years and this assumption was used as a basis for policy. But the 10 years was considered on a rolling basis, so every passing year extended it further until it was abandoned in 1933, with the result that the British armed forces were just about ready…had the war waited until 1943.

Now you might recall that Gordon Brown also had a set of fiscal rules, and those laid down that the current (i.e. ex-capital investment) budget ought to be in balance averaged over the economic cycle. Put it like that, and you might think that there isn’t really that much difference. And we used to hear a great deal from Tories – and even from well-known newspapers dedicated to Liberal principles – about how the judgment of when the current economic cycle began gave the chancellor too much latitude to fudge the numbers. We heard a great deal about this from George Osborne personally.

But now he’s apparently thinking of tactfully leaving a bunch of stuff (current, structural) out of the figures to make them add up. And he’s quietly letting the day when they have to add up slide right. Fudging the issue, if you like. Just like Crazy Gordon McKiltie Borrowpants. (Did we mention he’s Scottish?)

So why is this a secret? Why did the Guardian publish all the information you need to know this, but not say it? Why do I have to read the papers as if I were composing an exegesis of the Talmud or decrypting the VENONA cables? Is it possibly something to do with this quote from Nicholas “You Fucking” Watt’s profile:

Even his critics acknowledge that Osborne is tough, which will serve him well, as one said. “George has an incredible strength. Perhaps this is down to the way he made it into the Bullingdon and survived. They were a bit sniffy about George. The Bullingdon is basically for Etonians. But they let him in even though he went to St Paul’s, though they did insist on him reverting to his original name of Gideon.

Now that’s what I call the sort of experience that builds real character. This is the Guardian! The Guardian!

Why has the Guardian gone so soft on George Osborne? Today’s paper is a fine example of the art of journalism as practiced to obscure rather than reveal. On the front page, we have this story headlined: George Osborne exploits fall in borrowing costs to boost growth

Now, that’s pretty much precisely what the chancellor would want on the front page, so it’s suspect in itself. But you might think there was another major UK economy story about. Something about the OECD estimating that we’re back in recession? Or you might even have heard another, something about the Treasury/OBR expecting much lower economic growth? Or that the OBR thinks things are so bad the deficit will rise despite the cuts? Strangely, none of these were considered worthy of front page treatment and were shoved back down the ticket to pages 6 and 2 respectively. Page 2 is of course the classic newspaper graveyard – people flip open the rag and immediately see Page 3, which is why what is on Page 3 is on Page 3 if you see what I mean.

The first number that appears on the front page is the figure of £21.5bn, which is apparently “lower borrowing costs” because gilt rates have fallen since last June. It’s not said anywhere how much this is relative to the total bill for debt service (£44bn), or to the government budget (£696bn), so it’s impossible for the reader to know if it’s a lot of money. It’s also completely mysterious whether this is annual, over a parliament, over a Comprehensive Spending Review planning cycle, or what. It is not said, but it is strongly implied, that this money is available now and will be used as an economic stimulus.

But the Chancellor isn’t doing that, and if it is a 5-year figure, the money isn’t available now. We only find out what’s going on over the page, buried on page 2, where we find out without much surprise that it is indeed a figure for the next 5 years, so 80% of it is promises, and anyway the annual figure of £5.3bn is 0.76% of government spending.

The piece moves on to recite a list of eye-catching initiatives – £380 million (woo, isn’t it a lot? Or a little?) by 2014-5 (does that mean rising to £380 million annually by 2015, or £380 million divided by five? They’re not saying, I’d take the short) for childcare (aww, babies), a “£300 million package of tax breaks for small businesses”, “a seed investment enterprise scheme” with no price tag, and – I am not making this up – £50 million for the Caledonian Sleeper.

I mean, it’s very cool and all – I took it in July 2005 to get out of town after terrorweek – but it’s hardly something that belongs in a front page economics story, is it? It’s an utterly trivial and vacuous eye-catching sunday-fer-monday initiative with a canny bit of marginal seat fan service in there too.

So, about that £300 million. Sounds like a lot of money! (After all, we have nothing to compare it with. Again.) You have to read on to page 7 and a story by an actual business desk reporter to find out that £210 million of it is a rates holiday for some small businesses that was sort-of going to end next October, that’s now going to end six months – six whole months! – later. To put it another way, it’s not new money and it’s a trivial amount and it doesn’t happen for a year yet.

Let’s adjust the £300 million – that’s more like £90 million, and we’re getting into Caledonian Sleeper levels of insignificance here. Experienced observers will guess that the unpriced “seed investment scheme” is probably included in the £90 million, thus getting twice the propaganda for the money, and they’d be right. Again, you’ve got to turn to page 7 for this, but not being the New York Times or the Craven Herald & Pioneer, there’s no way of telling that you need to. Government sources apparently think it’s worth £50 million. That leaves us with £40m to account for, and page 7 tells us that £50m is coming for “co-investment” from the “regional growth fund”. Well, the £10m difference can be accounted for by journos trying to add up. But it’s worth pointing out that the £1.5bn regional growth fund has been re-announced so many times you wouldn’t count on there being anything left in it.

And obviously, this doesn’t add up to anything like £21.5bn or even £5.3bn of stimulus.

So what’s going on here? It’s not as if the OECD or OBR stories weren’t running before the Guardian went to press. They’re right there in the paper! But by the time you read them, you’ll already have had your expectations anchors set by the front page, so you’re going to think things aren’t so bad. This is of course why the Treasury briefers gave the story to Nicholas Watt, Larry Elliott and Severin Carrell – to inject their own spin ahead of the news. In fact, Elliott is probably innocent, as he wrote both the real news stories, and the other two just quoted some of his work (chunks are identical).

Why Watt or Carrell, or the Guardian editor they answer to, still don’t either understand this or don’t mind is the real question.

Also, you’d have to read down to the bottom of Elliott’s piece on page 7 to learn that the Bank of England is apparently refusing to carry out the government’s policy even when it only involves the government’s money, rather than the central bank’s, and Osborne has cracked and given in.

The measures will augment the £20bn that the chancellor is announcing for so-called “credit easing” — money that will be channelled from existing promises that had been made by the Treasury to the Bank of England to enable Threadneedle Street to buy corporate bonds. The Bank has not purchased many corporate bonds and some of the £50bn of guarantees will now be used, instead, to help banks raise money more cheaply on the markets – and in turn reduce the price of loans to small businesses.
…..
Will Hutton, co-author of a report on how to revive small business lending, said: “As it is structured, this won’t add £1 extra of new credit.” His report, written with academic Ken Peasnell, argues that the government would have been more effective if it had created a vehicle to buy up small business loans from banks, freeing up their balance sheets. Under the government’s scheme, the cost of loans to small businesses should fall by one percentage point, according to Treasury projections, although this may be less if the government does decide to levy a fee for the guarantee.

So, the £20bn – or is it £50bn? – “credit easing” just isn’t going to happen, because the Bank doesn’t want to do it and Osborne is too weak to sack Mervyn King and appoint someone who will, and too proud to resign and leave the job to someone with balls. Instead, the Treasury’s money (i.e. ours) will be used to buy bonds (probably government bonds) off the banks. We’re already doing this with money the Bank prints, which costs nothing, but this exercise is funded by government borrowing, which we have to pay back. Why isn’t this on the front page?

In the recent case of Liam Fox and Adam Werritty, there was an issue that the news media spent an enormous amount of time and effort dancing around with innuendo, newspaper code, and carefully lawyered prose. It is a fact that the word “lawyered” is to the word “lawyer” as the word “doctored” is to the word “doctor”. Without understanding this hidden and sordid side of the issue, you would have been seriously misinformed. The matter was very sensitive, and there was an excellent chance of getting sued and probably also demonised as being deranged by shameful prejudices.

I refer, of course, to whether or not the Defence Secretary’s private office was having unprotected sex with other defence secretaries’ private offices.

It took a while to surface this at all – the Guardian let a wee squeak out on Thursday, and eventually it was the Sindy that took the plunge and surfaced it in the same way you surface a submarine, with an enormous roar of compressed air thundering into the ballast tanks under pressure while the nuclear reactor cranks up to full power. It’s a must read.

The fact that Werritty’s freebies included trips to the Herzliya Security Conference paid for by pro-Israeli lobbying groups should have been a screaming giveaway, but then, that’s what a good cover story is for. I presume that was what the Sindy eventually followed up.

I mentioned this element of the story to Daniel Davies earlier in the week. I can offer no special insight except for the enduring value of pattern recognition. This has, after all, happened before in recent memory, with really bad consequences.

Consider Mr. Michael Ledeen and the affair of the weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Ledeen, a professional neoconservative, claimed to have intelligence about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium and various other things, which came from his contacts in Iran, some of whom were recommended to him by his contacts in Israel, one of whom, Larry Franklin, was convicted of spying for Israel in the US State Department. Ledeen believed these contacts to be renegade members of the Iranian secret service. (He had never visited Iran, and I think to this day never has, and he doesn’t to the best of my knowledge speak Persian, so how he would have known is beyond me.) The CIA, for its part, believed that this was partly true. They just disagreed with the “renegade” bit. But Donald Rumsfeld had deliberately decided to ignore the CIA, so Ledeen’s intelligence was accepted. However, that wasn’t the end of the story. At some point, the Department of Defense became suspicious and called in its own Counter-Intelligence Field Activity to investigate.

At this point, a thick curtain of secrecy was drawn down on the story, even if we did eventually get the Phase IIA report. Whatever CIFA found out, Ledeen was able to introduce the famous forged documents on uranium from Niger, which seem to have come from the Italian secret service, as being Iranian information with Israeli approval, and this was used in the even more famous dossier.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if old blogging chum from way back in the day, 2004, Laura Rozen hasn’t also had this thought, as she was instrumental in digging into the whole Ledeen affair and she’s too smart to miss it. Also, hilariously, she and Spencer Ackerman had the honour of being targeted by Ledeen’s mates in Silvio Berlusconi’s intelligence service with a scurrilous smear-campaign. I should probably hat-tip the lady’s Twitter feed.

Note the elements of the story. Ledeen is a semi-official adviser with special, privileged access to policymakers. He is outside the formal requirements of government service, but has access inside it. He is seen to have special access to an important ally, and therefore to be trustworthy. A third party observed this, and took advantage of it to introduce information (or rather, disinformation) into the policymaking system. Does anybody see a pattern here? Similarly, Werritty was offered privileged access from outside the government firewall because he was ideologically congenial. It seems that this was considered acceptable because the influence exerted came from a country considered friendly. But then, there were the rogue Iranian intelligence agents, or were they just ordinary Iranian intelligence agents?

In May 2009, Mr Werritty arranged a meeting in Portcullis House between Mr Fox and an Iranian lobbyist with close links to President Ahmadinejad’s regime. In February this year, Mr Werritty arranged a dinner with Mr Fox, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, and senior political figures – understood to include Israeli intelligence agents – during an Israeli security conference in Herzliya, during which sanctions against Iran were discussed. Despite Mr Werritty having no official MoD capacity, an Israeli source said there was “no question” that Mr Werritty was regarded as anyone other than Mr Fox’s chief of staff who was able to fix meetings at the highest levels, and was seen as an “expert on Iran”.

Well, at least Werritty actually went to Iran. Unfortunately this is the worst of the story, as it seems he was going round encouraging Iranian dissidents, or people he thought were Iranian dissidents, and promising them British support. This is really incredibly, shamefully irresponsible – he could have got people killed, and it cannot be ruled out that he did, although it’s also quite possible that the whole affair was just a massive exercise in bullshitting and wanktankery.

Probably he really believes that he was in contact with the opposition. I’m fairly sure Ledeen doesn’t think he’s an Iranian agent either. This is where this classic Onion article comes into play. As I said at the time, why *do* all these Iranian agents keep sucking Michael Ledeen’s cock?

It is all reminiscent of Bruce Schneier’s thoughts on what happens if you create a backdoor into some computer system, so people like us can get in and out without anyone noticing. The problem is that once you do that, it immediately becomes the biggest security threat to the system as anyone else can use it too. Once this new interface to the MoD was created, with Werritty accepting connections from the wider Internet and forwarding them to Fox, of course it attracted dubious actors. Hence the parade of various people trying to sell aircraft spares and dodgy encryption software to the military or to get someone’s knighthood expedited.

For my next trick, what parallels do you see between Werritty’s role with Liam Fox and those of Andy Coulson and Neil Wallis with No.10 Downing Street and the Metropolitan Police (and of course the Conservative Central Office) respectively? Remember that both of them were at various times funded by third parties. Further, is it not interesting that the same key Conservatives who defended Coulson to the bitter end – George Osborne and Michael Gove – also tried to save Liam Fox? (Jonathan Freedland seems to have sensed something here – check out the reference to “Cheneyite Tories”.) And is it not even more interesting that George Osborne actually recommended Andy Coulson for the job? And is it not completely fucking outrageous that William Hague, Atlantic Bridge board member and Foreign Secretary (I think this is the right order of precedence), dares to claim that proper Cabinet government is back in the midst of this berserk threat-chaos?

A couple of News of the World things. Just before the Met dropped their effort to bully the Grauniad with the Official Secrets Act, they ran this story about the disastrous attempt to use a supergrass in the Daniel Morgan case. Is this a coincidence? And this quote reads like a Ballardised version of Le Carré:

One of the most “concerning” events for the judge came on 5 September 2006, a month after Eaton was recruited as a supergrass and while officers were still taking his witness statements. Eaton was taken by DCI Cook to a “covert location” near Reading, and left alone in the bedroom of a hotel. He became very distressed and broke down.

Half an hour later Cook – who had been trying to get Eaton to implicate two brothers, Glenn and Garry Vian, in the Morgan murder – sent him a text message that the officer then deleted from his mobile phone, according to the judge’s ruling.

An hour after Eaton had been put into the hotel room he changed his story and prepared a statement implicating the Vian brothers in the murder for the first time.

That’s none other than Dave Cook, the policeman who was being followed around London by the Murdochs’ private investigators in an effort to protect Alex Marunchak, on the instructions of Greg Miskiw. I wonder who else read the text message?

Also, if the police story that a junior officer on the Operation Weeting case launched the OSA effort all on his lonesome while the handover to the new chief was going on is at all true, I think we probably know who one of the moles is.

is this normal?

It seems that the Islington Gazette‘s usually very funny problem page isn’t coming back from their recent re-design. Perhaps I should write and tell them I have a problem.

so…

Tom Watson’s twitter feed linked the transcript of the BBC Radio story on re-opening the Daniel Morgan case. There’s not much in there that’s new if you’ve been reading this, but I’ve excerpted the best bits.

1: The story that vanished

But the Report can tonight reveal that we’ve seen a copy of a witness statement
to the police suggesting that a week before Daniel Morgan died, he said he was taking a story to a newspaper exposing police corruption.

The witness believed the paper was the News of the World, and that Daniel’s contact there was Alex Marunchak. If Daniel ever had a story, it never appeared.

2: Finances

GOLDBERG: So, just how important was the News of the World to Southern Investigations.

BOOKKEEPER: Erm, the News of the World really was the biggest customer, we used to invoice out maybe five to six hundred invoices a month but all of the invoices were for only for 50 pounds or less. Generally when you generate invoices you actually send them to an accounts department and then somebody in the system
will give the OK that they are OK and they are not fraudulent and they are to be paid, whereas with the case with the News of the World all of the invoices were hand- delivered to a man at the News of the World, not to the accounts department, and he would release an invoice to be paid now and again, so that they didn’t all go through in one lump.

GOLDBERG: So who was the man that they were hand-delivered to at the News of the World?

BOOKKEEPER: Alex Marunchak

GOLDBERG: And what did you hear about the relationship between Southern Investigations and Alex Marunchak, what was said about that?

BOOKKEEPER: I think they were pretty good friends, I think it was just a case of he could help us and we could help him, that sort of thing. He did have his credit card paid off at one time and there was a little comment thrown in about the fact that they had paid his school fees, and they obviously didn’t go through the books and I can remember Jonathan Rees and Sid Fillery talking about that before they went out
to lunch and joking and laughing and saying that this would be the first time in his life that Alex Marunchak had been out of debt.

3: A bit of Watson

WATSON: I know that Jonathan Rees and Alex Marunchak had a very close relationship over many years to the extent that they were even in contact whilst Rees was serving a prison sentence. That kind of relationship between a very senior Newspaper Exec and a private investigator with a criminal record deserves greater investigation.

It’s mostly style-and-tone, but that’s not unimportant. The inverse path is interesting – the fact that substantial amounts of money were flowing from the police back to Marunchak.

But I think the next topic for speculation should probably be what the hell that story was. A significant fraction of why we’re all arguing about this now, 25 years on, is driven by the Morgan case.

Strange, really – yet another news/Stross crossover post. We surely need the Laundry’s take on the News of the World affair…