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Ray McGovern and Annie Machon: British Intelligence chief ramps up war talk against Iran

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Ten years ago (that’s July 23, 2002) the British Cabinet met to discuss the possible war against Iraq. The then-head of MI6, the head of British intelligence, briefed Prime Minister Blair and the cabinet, and when asked about what evidence there was that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, amongst other things, he said, quote, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” That, as we know now, became the famous Downing Street memo, when the minutes of this meeting meeting were leaked and it became clear, unlike what the Bush administration was saying and what President—I should say President Cheney, but I guess it’s Vice President Cheney—was saying on Sunday morning show after show for years and continues to say without any challenge from mainstream media, that all the foreign intelligence agencies around the world that we work with agreed with us about this, well, in fact, the Downing Street memo made it clear that British intelligence had serious doubts about the intelligence, told Prime Minister Blair all of this. Now the question is: are we seeing all of this again when it comes to Iran? Are we seeing another set of facts fit around a policy?

Now joining us to talk about all of this are two people that have been part of this world of intelligence analysis for many years. First of all, joining us from Düsseldorf, Germany, Annie Machon was a intelligence officer at U.K.’s MI5 from 1991 to 1996. She resigned as a whistleblower. She’s now a writer, a media commentator, and an activist.

And now also joining us from our studio in Washington is Ray McGovern. Ray was a CIA analyst for 27 years. He prepared the presidential daily briefing under the Nixon and Ford administrations and he continued to serve under other administrations. He now joins us from our office in Washington. Ray, why don’t you kick us off first of all, a little bit about the significance of this day, ten years after the Downing Street meeting?

RAY MCGOVERN, FMR. CIA ANALYST: Well, Paul, it’s very, very interesting background here. We’re talking eight months before the war in Iraq, July 23, 2002, before March 19, 2003. Even before that, almost 12 months before the war, Tony Blair had gone to Crawford, Texas, and said, yes, I agree; if you want to be the first war president of the 21st century, I want to be the first war prime minister of the 21st century. And they kept talking for—oh, every week, according to the press, since April 2002.

But talking on the phone really just doesn’t do it on matters of this consequence. And so what we saw Tony Blair do was send his chief of intelligence, Sir Richard Dearlove, to Washington to talk with his counterpart George Tenet. It’s much better to get a firsthand view of this. And Tenet resisted this. And finally he was told by the White House, no, you have to see Sir Richard Dearlove. And so he did, on a Saturday. And that was 20 July, three days before the famous Downing Street meeting and minutes.

What did Tenet say? Well, he was the typically garrulous Tenet. He was pretty well advised to be skeptical of the chance to meet with Dearlove, because he was afraid he’d say too much, and indeed he did. And what he said was this, because we have this from Dearlove, and I quote (this is Downing Street memos prepared by a participant on the same day):

“[Dearlove] reported on his recent talks in Washington. . . . Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD”—translation: we’ll say that Saddam has all manner of WMD and that he’s going to give it to terrorists. And then the kicker: “But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Now, that is the cardinal sin of intelligence work, when you shape the facts around the policy. And so right from the outset it was clear to the British that there was no evidence for a war, but that since George Bush had decided to do it and Tony Blair wanted to be right along with him, they would fix the facts and the intelligence around the policy. We know the consequences of that decision. Just to think about these men—I call them men—the sirs, you know, the Sir Richard Dearlove and so forth—you know, these aren’t—I hesitate to think with my Irish grandmother would say. Sir this, Sir that. If that society—excuse me, they’re a bunch of punks plotting wars. That was what they are. And they’re honored graciously at the end of their service with knighthood [crosstalk]

JAY: Well, that’s my question. Annie, have any of the people involved in this—now we know this essentially was manufactured—not essentially; was manufactured evidence. Have any of the people involved in that meeting responsible, that helped create a war, and a war Kofi Annan called illegal (but of course it took him a year afterwards to say that), have anyone suffered any consequences to—of all of this?

ANNIE MACHON, FMR. MI5 INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Well, of course, millions of Iraqis have.

JAY: No, I mean the people involved. Yeah.

MACHON: But nobody in the U.K. establishment has suffered anything. In fact, what we saw was Sir Richard Dearlove retiring bloated with honors. And he was head of Cambridge College as a reward.

And his successor was a man called John Scarlett, who at the time of this buildup to the Iraq War was the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee in London. And he was the man who was responsible for [inaud.] the two dossiers that allowed the U.K. to join the U.S. in its invasion into Iraq. We’re talking about the September dossier from 2002, which included the famous claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which could launch in 45 minutes. So then we had screaming headlines in all the U.K. media saying the U.K. was 45 minutes from doom, 45 minutes from Armageddon. And it also included fake intelligence that Saddam’s regime was trying to gain yellowcake uranium [from Niger]. And this was based on forged documents. And Sir John Scarlett actually signed off on that. He also signed off on what became known as the Dodgy Dossier, which was published in February 2003, which was based not only on a 12-year-old PhD thesis, which was culled off the internet, but also included some [inaud.] which hadn’t been cleared for dissemination.

So we have a situation where these two men were responsible for the intelligence that allowed the U.K. government to go into the Iraq War. Sir John Dearlove took the rap for those dodgy dossiers when there was an inquiry into it, but his reward for that—rather than being held to account, his reward was to be given the head of MI6. He became chief spook in the U.K. and, again, he was given a knighthood. So nobody is ever held to account. They are dishonorable men who have been unfairly and unrightly and unjustly honored.

JAY: So, Ray, you and Annie have just coauthored a piece (in fact, people can read it on The Real News Network; we published it on our home page) which says that this could be all happening again, but this time the target being Iran. Why do you think that?

MCGOVERN: Well, the essence of it, Paul, is that these are all honorable men, all honorable men (out of Shakespeare here). And we have yet another such man, Sir John Sawers, who’s the new head of British intelligence, and he is saying unusual things. For example, on the Fourth of July he said that Iran was prevented from getting a nuclear weapon, which they would already have had in 2008, by the intrepid efforts of my organization, MI6. Secondly, even so, Iran is likely to get a nuclear weapon in two years.

Now, let’s forget the first one. That’s bravado. The second one is not shared by U.S. intelligence, nor British intelligence as far as we knew up till now. The judgment has always been since late 2007 that Iran has not yet decided whether it would go for a nuclear weapon, and there is no intelligence evidence to prove that they have reinstituted the nuclear weapons program that they stopped at the end of 2003.

So how do you square what the new sir is saying, the new head of MI6, with what most intelligence agencies, especially the Americans, but also the Israeli, to be sure, and also the British intelligence agencies say? The situation in the Persian Gulf vis-à-vis Iran is more perilous than it has been in years, and here we have the head of British intelligence warning without any evidence that Iran is going to get a nuclear weapon in two years. That’s shameless.

JAY: Annie, Russia, China, they have joined in on a certain level of the sanctions against Iran. I mean, one would think these various intelligence services are providing their governments with some kind of information that would lead them to agree to sanctions. What do you make of that? And then what Ray is saying, that, you know, is British intelligence cooking something up again, I mean, how do you—where do you draw the line as an analyst of what seems to be being cooked up, what’s not public? We’ve got the intelligence estimates from the Americans, which seem to contradict what the Israelis are saying; the IAEA keeps hinting at something, but without any smoking gun. How do you sort all this out?

MACHON: Well, I think we’ve been here before, because as Ray says, the national intelligence estimate, all 16 of the U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007 came to the same conclusion, which is that Iran had no nuclear capability, had stopped in 2003, and had no intention of restarting it. And this at the time was quite unexpected, I think, for the U.S. administration, because they were beginning [inaud.] against Iran and suddenly they’d lost the pretext.

And I’m concerned because in the U.K., MI6 historically has been one of the most secretive organizations. It has existed over 100 years. And the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, who is actually—his acronym is C [unintel.] mysterious—Sir John Sawers’ speech, like, ten days ago has broken historical precedent, because we have a situation—over 100 years of MI6’s history where the head of MI6 has never gone on the public record (Sawers made one public speech to a very select audience two years ago where he was talking about the general principles of intelligence). However, this is alarming, because not only was he bragging about operational matters (MI6 stopped the acquisition of the bomb by Iran in 2008); we’re actually looking at a situation where he is again commenting on political issues, such as the fact that Iran would have a bomb in two years.

And I think that the fact that he is now speaking up [unintel.] speaking independently—he will have permission and clearance from his political masters, one hopes, to say this—either they are trying to fabricate again a case for war, just as MI6 did in the run-up to the Iraq War, or that they are perhaps being used as useful sock puppets or mouthpieces to start the ball rolling, and then other intelligence agencies from other countries can then pick it up and run with it. And either way, it’s not looking good for the Iranians.

JAY: And Ray, while the rhetoric for war continues and perhaps heats up, there’s something real, a warfare already going on that’s economic warfare through the sanctions. And I’ve always thought there’s a bit of a good cop, bad cop going on, in the sense that if you keep the rhetoric for war going, yes, it leaves that door open, but it somehow makes sanctions look okay, reasonable compared to war, whereas there’s still—I mean, if there’s no evidence there’s a weapons program, what’s the basis for the sanctions?

MCGOVERN: Well, sanctions are in a very real sense an act of war, particularly the very stringent sanctions that have just been laid on Iran. And besides that, you have all manner of covert action activities—assassination of Iranian scientists, blowing up of Iranian generals for their missile program—there are all manner of things going on inside Iran. And we know that $400 million was appropriated by our Congress in early 2008 to pursue precisely those things.

So there is a state of war, there is a state of war already with Iran. And the question is how much it will go further before Iran decides to do something. The situation in the Gulf, as I alluded to before, is really perilous. There is no communication between the navies of the U.S., the U.K., other allied forces that are in the Gulf. They’re clogging it up. And so the prospect of an incident happening, whether a provocation or whether an accident, is very, very clear and very, very real. So one would think that if one wanted to prevent a war, they would at least set up a secure line of communications, a hotline or an agreement on incidents at sea, such as we had with the Soviet Union. But nobody seems to be interested in that, even [crosstalk]

JAY: Well, I think the objective clearly is regime change, not anything else, whether it’s through economic warfare or by other means.

MACHON: Well, of course, we’ve seen regime change by Western forces before. I mean the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected president, Mosaddegh, to be replaced by a Western puppet, the Shah, to allow [inaud.] oil contracts [unintel.] flowing. So history seems to be doomed to repeat itself, and we seem doomed to be making the same mistakes over and over again. And, of course, it’s going to be the people of Iran who suffer the most.

JAY: Okay. Thank you both for joining us.

MCGOVERN: You’re welcome.

MACHON: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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