House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE
LEAKS AND WHISTLEBLOWING IN
This is a
corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House.
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Taken before the Public Administration Committee
Dr Tony Wright, in the Chair
Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger
Mr Gordon Prentice
Mr Charles Walker
Q263 Chairman: Let me call the Committee to order and make a start. We may be joined by some more Members shortly, but I would like to make a start if we could. Can I say how grateful we are to you all for coming along. As you know, we are doing an inquiry into the whole area of leaks and whistleblowing in Whitehall and you have all interested us in that respect, not because you have all been leakers or whistleblowers, but because you have all had to think about what you were doing in the context of things that you were believing, and then, after you, we are taking some video evidence from a former diplomat in New York who asked similar questions. We are constrained by the fact that we have got about an hour before we have to do the link to New York, but I would like to perhaps start by getting all of you to say something very quickly about the dilemmas that confronted you and that then made you do what you did, if I can put it like that. Katharine, could I start with you. I think we know broadly your story, but if you could just distil it into just exploring that dilemma with us.
Ms Gun: Okay. First of all, I did not join GCHQ with the
intention to be a whistleblower, of course, but when I was aware that the
invasion of Iraq (back in January 2003) was imminent, I was a recipient of
an email from the National Security Agency in the US, and the email was pretty
straightforward, directly requesting GCHQ to help them, basically, eavesdrop on
the six swing nations that were currently at the time sitting on the Security
Council. The email asked us to get any
information that could be used against them in order to achieve a "yes" vote
for the second resolution, which would authorise the invasion of
Q264 Chairman: You decided to give the information, I think through a friend, to a journalist.
Ms Gun: Through a contact who knew Yvonne Ridley, who then passed it on to Martin Bright, who published it in The Observer.
Q265 Chairman: We shall want to ask you some questions, but we are not going to do that at the moment, we are just going to hear the stories at the moment. Brian, can we turn to you.
Dr Jones: I think there were probably
two phases to my situation, and it is rather complex but I will try and put it
in a nutshell. At the front end, if you
like, I found myself in a situation where problems were brought to me by my
expert staff of intelligence analysts concerning the preparation of the dossier
and the drafts that they had been asked to comment on. In fact, we are not talking about absolutes
here, which is what made the whole thing very difficult, but the assessment of
Q266 Chairman: Just establishing the facts, unlike Katherine, you did not feel the need to resign but you did write this memo setting out your concerns.
Dr Jones: Yes, it was confidential, of course.
Q267 Chairman: And then you retired subsequently.
Dr Jones: Yes, that was unrelated to this.
Q268 Chairman: That is helpful. We shall come back to you as well. Derek, could I turn to you. You tell us you were inside the Foreign Office. What was it that made you do what you did?
Mr Pasquill: I think an important element in the process that led me to make my decision to leak information was the sense of surprise and shock that I experienced when I discovered that things were perhaps not as they might be, or should be, and the catalyst for this particular sense of discovery or shock was an article in The Observer which was published on 14 August 2005 by Martin Bright. As a result of reading that article, I made a decision to contact the journalist. That was a process, from my perspective at that time, of information gathering. I wanted to find out why he was thinking along those particular lines, and I had a chat with the journalist and then, subsequent to that meeting, I made a decision to leak information to him.
Q269 Chairman: Let us go now to some questions that bear on this general dilemma that you found yourselves in. I will start and I will bring colleagues in.
Dr Jones: I realise I have missed a very salient feature from what I said to you. My motivation, really, for writing that memo was that I was determined that my group, and myself, I guess, would not be scapegoated in any subsequent inquiry.
Q270 Chairman: I understand that; I have read that you said that. Here we have got people all faced with dilemmas who responded in different ways, and I suppose that is the question. Why did you respond in the way that you did, and do you think, in retrospect, that was the right thing to do? Perhaps staying with you, Brian, for the moment: now that we know what we know, what you were saying was vindicated. In other words, this dossier was being over-egged, there were pressures to make it of a certain kind, and you, who knew about WMDs, were saying, actually, no, this is putting it far too strongly. What I thought, reading again all this stuff that you had done, is if someone like you had resigned at the time in the build-up to war, that would have had a dramatic effect, would it not? You did the proper thing, you wrote the memo to your superior; it made not a blind bit of difference.
Dr Jones: Why did I not resign is your question, I guess. To be honest, that did not occur to me. It was not something that entered my mind. You are not the first, obviously, to make the suggestion that you have, and when it was first made some time in 2004, I think, that did stop me in my tracks. It was something I had not thought of until it was put to me in that way. It is rather difficult, having gone through everything, to go back to that time and the circumstances and all the other pressures, but I have thought it through and, if you like, this is a sort of retrospective excuse, if you want. I doubt that a single resignation at that time, or a single voice, would have had much effect, not least because, of course, the argument, as Katherine has said, was very strongly, "We are not in a war-time situation; this is not about a war."
Ms Gun: Could I possibly interject, because I read a previous transcript of a hearing that you had with Sir David Ormand, and it was mentioned in that hearing that there was a Foreign Office legal adviser who resigned right at the lead-up to the war. At the time everybody in this room said, "Oh, she did the honourable thing", and, "She was an upstanding member", but in my own personal view - this is no attack on her personally but perhaps an attack on the media establishment itself - her resignation hardly caused a flutter in the media and, in fact, she did not actually go into much detail about why she resigned, and she has been very private about that. I think, had she resigned, coupled with a bit more clarity as to why she resigned, that would have caused more of a brouhaha, and I think Sir David Ormand also suggested that investigative journalists like Mr Hencke could have dug deeper to find out why, but I think nowadays it is really difficult for journalists to dig deep, because I have been told by members of the National Union of Journalists that their investigative journalist side of the media is being cut, and cut, and cut back all the time, so there is actually very little money in the whole broadcast media and print media on issues about investigative journalism.
Q271 Chairman: The case of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who you are referring to, is an interesting one. She did resign, simply because she took a different view on the legal position.
Ms Gun: That is right.
Q272 Chairman: And she felt it was incompatible with continuing in her job, and that was a very proper response.
Ms Gun: Correct.
Q273 Chairman: What I was going to ask you was this. You were at GCHQ. GCHQ, I imagine, gets involved in all kinds of dirty tricks; that is what that world is about. Presumably you knew, when you entered that world, that it was a world of dirty tricks and when you came upon a dirty trick, you had presumably signed up for that, had you not?
Ms Gun: There are dirty tricks and there are dirty tricks. Of course, I know that in the course of business negotiations, public administration type negotiations, and so on, there is a deal of carrot and stick going on with regard to the people who have a specific criteria they want to meet and those that they are trying to get to sign up to that criteria. However, on this occasion we were not just talking about issues that were to do with economic development or trade negotiations and so on, this was a matter of life and death, it was a matter of war and peace, it was a matter of invading a sovereign nation which had done absolutely nothing to harm our nation or the US, and, therefore, I felt that the poor Iraqi civilians, who we now know have died in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions, would still be potentially living today.
Q274 Chairman: But you were in the wrong job, were you not? You had signed the Official Secrets Act, you felt as you did and it was pretty certain that you were going to get into trouble, was it not?
Ms Gun: Yes, it came upon me as a very big shock, because, of course, I was doing my job on a day-to-day basis - of course I cannot go into that now or at any stage for the rest of my life - but I sat happily with my conscience doing what I was doing because it was not putting anybody's life in jeopardy. However, what we were being requested to do was politicise intelligence, and we have subsequently found out, thanks to the leaking of the Downing Street memo, that intelligence was being fixed around policy. I think that tells us exactly what was going on at the time, and I think that when it comes to issues of war and issues of innocent civilians' lives and putting our military personnel into harm's way, there should have been far more transparency and clarity, and there was not.
Q275 Chairman: I have been reading the
things you have been writing subsequently:
"Civil servants are disgusted by the manipulation of truth, even
outright lies. I urge those in a
position to do so to disclose information which relates to this planned
aggression." That is about
Ms Gun: I changed over the course of my employment whilst I was there, and, to be perfectly honest, I think a lot of linguists do as well. This is a totally different issue altogether, but it is an issue surrounding people who work within the intelligence services who are linguists, and this is a difficulty that all the agencies have, because as a linguist you are already familiar with another nation, you have a love, possibly an affinity, with a nation, where you have spent time learning the language and studying the culture and meeting the people, and then, when you join an intelligence service like GCHQ, or MI5 or MI6, many linguists find, and I say linguists especially because of this experience with people of different nations, that it goes against what they have come to believe in.
Q276 Mr Prentice: Had you been tempted to leak before?
Ms Gun: Absolutely not, no. This was a matter---
Q277 Mr Prentice: But you went on anti-war marches. You are quite a politicised kind of person.
Ms Gun: About the Iraq War I
was. That was a single issue that I felt
very strongly about because I did my research.
In September 2002, as part of my work at GCHQ, I went to
Q278 Mr Prentice: When you leaked, were you aware (and this is a question to you as well, Mr Pasquill) that you were breaching the Official Secrets Act and you could be sent to prison?
Ms Gun: Yes.
Q279 Mr Prentice: You were?
Ms Gun: Yes.
Q280 Mr Prentice: And you did it anyway. Mr Pasquill.
Mr Pasquill: Yes, that was clear.
Q281 Paul Flynn: The issue we are discussing is the one that has been the gravest decision taken by Parliament for decades, one which we have all agonised over, because the vote we took was not about the war going ahead - the war was going ahead anyway - but whether Britain should be involved in the war at the cost of nearly 200 British lives and billions of pounds. Did it occur to you to contact parliamentarians? Looking back on what you did, do you think that might have been a more effective course?
Ms Gun: At the time, no, it did not occur to me.
Q282 Paul Flynn: Dr Jones, looking back in retrospect, I think what you are saying is that you wanted to protect your position and how it was going to be seen in later years, but do you think that it would have been far better, at the stage before the vote was taken in March 2003, to contact parliamentarians with the information that you had?
Dr Jones: No, because the information I had was not absolutely clear. There were uncertainties, because there was information I had not seen.
Q283 Paul Flynn: Can I say, I had déja vu about what you said, because we were told as Members of Parliament that there was some secret information that was so dreadful and no-one would tell us what it was, that this would convince us, and this was the line that was being pushed in Parliament, as it was being pushed to you. In retrospect, what was that secret information and would it have made any difference to your view?
Dr Jones: I have never seen that secret information.
Q284 Paul Flynn: Did it exist?
Dr Jones: Yes, it did exist, and I think both the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Butler Review saw that information.
Q285 Chairman: It was too secret for you, was it not?
Dr Jones: Yes, it was supposedly sensitive and held within a very small compartment because of its sensitivity. Lord Butler, in fact, subsequently in his review said they could see no reason why we did not see it, but, of course, I was not aware of that and, whilst information of that sort is quite unusual, this was by no means unique. That is a fairly common thing to arise, and in the intelligence business you accept that that is the case. Also, I was dealing with classified information; all the information was very classified. That induces a sort of mindset in an intelligence analyst in the intelligence world that makes stepping out of those boundaries very difficult.
Q286 Paul Flynn: It is important that we know
this for future decisions. We might have
to take a decision on
Dr Jones: I think, again, it is a matter of timing. By that time war was inevitable, and I felt the war was not inevitable until the first shot was fired. That is the way of politics and the way of war, as you know. By that time I had retired, I was no longer privy to the detail of what had happened in the few weeks I had been away. It was something that I did not contemplate, and I do not think I would have.
Q287 Paul Flynn: If I can ask you now, we have seen the Civil Service Code, and I think you probably are better aware now than you were then of what options were available to you. Your advice to someone in your position now, if they were in a similar situation where information they have could avoid another damaging decision like this, would you say that they had a duty to leak?
Ms Gun: It is a very, very difficult
question, because, of course, what I did did not avert the war. I do not know whether, once again, it was an
issue of timing, but you say that these MPs were bribed and bullied to vote yes
for the war, or for
Q288 Paul Flynn: In March 2003.
Ms Gun: Yes. So, presumably, it was not the first Sunday
in March, because the memo that I leaked was published on the first Sunday of
March. It was a fairly explosive story,
I imagine. I was not circulating the
Paul Flynn: I think if we had known more about the reasons, that the war was an illegal war - that certainly did not come into the parliamentary domain at that time - that would have had a profound effect, the evidence that was to bind Britain's hand would have had a profound effect as well.
Q289 Mr Prentice: I was interested in what you were
saying about everything being compartmentalised. You were the country's leading expert on
chemical and biological weapons. We know
that. When the second dossier appeared,
the one that was written by the PhD student in
Dr Jones: By the time it appeared, I had retired.
Q290 Mr Prentice: You had retired.
Dr Jones: In addition to that, our expertise was in weapons and weapons programmes. I think the second dossier was---
Q291 Mr Prentice: Did you see anything? It is difficult to remember from this distance exactly what happened when, but when it became public that the second dossier that was referred to by Colin Powell in the United Nations had been drafted by this PhD student in California, did you talk to anyone about that? Did you feel it was an absolute disgrace that Parliament was being hoodwinked, even though you had retired? I understand that.
Dr Jones: Yes, I suppose I did. It was not something I focused on particularly. I had heard Powell's speech at the UN.
Q292 Mr Prentice: He congratulated Jack Straw on this dossier?
Dr Jones: I was not focusing very much on that. I thought Powell's whole speech was a misrepresentation of the situation as I understood it. I must say, I was rather surprised on a number of occasions. I was surprised that the dossier was not more criticised than it was, for example. I do not think it needs someone with my expertise to look at the dossier, for example, and see the difference between the Prime Minister's foreword and what was in the main body of the dossier. I think, as the dossier was going to press, part of my reaction was, "My gosh, as an intelligence community we are going to be crucified for this."
Q293 Chairman: This is why I asked you the question earlier on, and in a way it is unfair to put it like this to you because you behaved with absolute integrity as a public servant all the way through, but from our perspective, thinking of that chronology of events, I think if a defence intelligence expert at a crucial moment, when all that discussion about the dossier was going on, had said publicly, "Actually, there is a mismatch between what it says at the front of this document and what the document actually contains", in the way that you have just put it to us now, that would have had a very significant impact on you.
Dr Jones: Can I risk offending you, gentlemen?
Q294 Chairman: It is not a high risk.
Dr Jones: I am not sure about that particular situation, but having seen all that has happened since the Iraq War and the evidence that has come from the various inquiries, beyond that very small group of people, of MPs, who have, as it were, seen through some of the nonsense, I think for someone like me it has been very disappointing that so little has happened as a result of those inquiries. I feel you gentlemen from time to time have been either deliberately or accidentally misled and that those incidents have not been followed up. I think that there is a degree of laxity about it, and that, if I may say, will not encourage people like me or my colleagues to come to you.
Q295 Mr Prentice: This is a question to the three of you, I suppose. Were you aware that the Civil Service Code says that ministers and civil servants must not do anything knowingly to mislead Parliament, but that was what was happening?
Ms Gun: I suppose that is given as taken. I do not think you would expect ministers to deliberately mislead. I think I worked on the assumption that that is the way it should work, but, no, it did not occur to me. Possibly because I had not researched and did not know which minister would be particularly sympathetic and who I should go to, but also for me it was definitely a time question. I felt we were running out of time, I felt the rhetoric was accelerating and that invasion was absolutely imminent.
Q296 Paul Rowen: Could I ask either of you who whistleblew, why did you not go to your superior officer and raise your concerns? Why did you go straight to the media?
Ms Gun: Personally, for me, once again, it was a time issue.
Q297 Paul Rowen: How did you know it was a time issue?
Ms Gun: As I said, because of the
rhetoric. The media was practically
having a field day with the 'shock and awe' campaign that the
Q298 Chairman: As I understand it, you did not even consider going through the internal procedures, did you?
Ms Gun: No, because working on the inside, there are people whose views are similar to my own but they dare not speak their mind, and wish to keep their jobs, which I perfectly understand, but there is a vast majority of people who have group-think and group-think is such that people do not dare think outside the boundaries.
Q299 Paul Rowen: Mr Pasquill, you had concerns about another officer in the Foreign Office. You hint in your article at the fact that he had been seconded to the Labour Party, and that, of course, raised eyebrows. Did you not feel that if you reported those concerns to one of your senior officers that that would have been taken seriously?
Mr Pasquill: Before coming here today I read some of the previous transcripts of the sessions that you have held here, and I would like to refer to Sir David Ormand's comments of 22 January. I think his answer on that occasion, you could apply that to the different government organisations, and so on. He said, "Leave this one to us." I think that is the language of the kindergarten or the nursery. To my mind, that is very patronising, and part of the problem is that patronising attitude; that the people who are making the policies and making the decisions have all the information perhaps at their fingertips and that people who have reservations about certain policies, do not have the full facts and should seek advice before making revelations to the media.
Q300 Paul Rowen: But it has subsequently been proved, in your case, that your concerns were well-founded and, to some extent, the Government have changed their policy. Do you not think, by having that debate internally, you could have not brought about a change of government policy anyway?
Mr Pasquill: No, because I think that the policy that I was objecting to or had reservations or concerns about was being driven by senior people in the Government, it was being driven at ministerial level at the FCO and the Home Office, and it was one of their key priorities to have a successful outcome to this particular project and they were in a position of wanting to accelerate the delivery of the results that they were expecting from this particular policy. Hence a sense of urgency on my part during the autumn 2005 to make sure that the public had an awareness of the issues that were involved and that they had an opportunity to see what was going on and could perhaps put us under pressure.
Q301 Paul Rowen: Do you think what you did has succeeded in changing the way the Government goes about dealing with various Muslim groups?
Mr Pasquill: I would like to refer, potentially, the Committee to a recent report by the Policy Exchange, and I quote from this report which was issued a week ago. The authors are Shiraz Maher and Martyn Frampton and one of their main conclusions is that a new generation of young Muslims is being radicalised, sometimes with the very funds that are supposed to be countering radicalisation. Those were my observations back in 2005 and they are being repeated in 2009.
Q302 Paul Rowen: You have not changed government policy? It has not had the desired effect.
Mr Pasquill: I will make a reservation there. There were significant steps being taken by government, and I refer the Committee to a speech made by Ruth Kelly on 11 October 2006 where she took a significant step, making a statement on behalf of British values, British responsibilities and asking certain Muslim organisations, Muslim groups, to sign up to those shared values and shared responsibilities. I think there were factions of people within government that had a clearer handle on the problem than perhaps some other organisations.
Q303 Chairman: You have written, and you
are saying it now, "I wish to reveal that the Government was pursuing a potentially
catastrophic policy for
Mr Pasquill: Yes.
Q304 Chairman: But the question is: why did you think yourself entitled to decide that for yourself? The deal was that you had joined an organisation to which you owed a duty of confidentiality. You had signed the Official Secrets Act. You had not been invited to decide whether you thought your policy was better than the organisation you were working for, and if you found it incompatible to work for it, why did you not just resign and then proclaim all these things afterwards?
Mr Pasquill: That is a fair point. That was an option I could have taken. If I disagreed with the policies to the extent that I did, then, yes, an option would have been to resign. I took the best course of action that I thought was best for the national interest, for the public interest, which is the important point here, I think. This was an opportunity to involve the public in the debate, and sometimes I think that the Government needs the public's help to achieve some clarity.
Q305 Chairman: But if we have every public servant deciding that from now on they will work out for themselves what they think is in the public interest, irrespective of what the organisation is that they are working for, which they have signed up allegiance to, that government would be undoable in those circumstances, would it not?
Mr Pasquill: Yes, I agree. I am not advocating that civil servants round the country start deciding that they can have an input into policy which is not being promoted by ministers or the organisation as a whole and that individuals seek to enlist the help of the media for their particular concerns, but I think I was in a privileged place. I was right at the heart of this unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which was driving policy on preventing radicalisation of young Muslims. According to my perspective, I had a special insight into this problem. What I found was that it was almost embarrassing to raise these concerns because it was so blindingly obvious that something was not going right here.
Q306 Mr Prentice: On your own admission, in 2005, when you joined the unit in the Foreign Office, you said in your article in The New Statesman, "I did not have a great deal of knowledge about British Muslim politics." So, unlike Dr Jones, you were not an expert at all. You just happened to be working in this unit, picking things up as you were going along.
Mr Pasquill: I think that is the value. I think that is because I did not have expert knowledge. I was in a position---
Q307 Mr Prentice: Oh, Mr Everyman!
Mr Pasquill: No, I was in a position not to be blinded by the trees and still see the wood.
Q308 Paul Flynn: Why do you think the prosecutions against, Ms Gun and Mr Pasquill, did not proceed? What was the reason behind that?
Ms Gun: For dropping the charges against me?
Q309 Paul Flynn: Yes?
Ms Gun: It is still somewhat of a mystery. We know that the Attorney General's advice was leaked. We know at the time that my case was dropped there was a lot of pressure for the Attorney General to provide his first legal opinion, and of course that was part of my defence that they do so, and now that we see that there was difference of opinion between his first legal advice and a subsequent page of advice that he gave to Parliament, that may have been one reason.
Q310 Paul Flynn: You thought that in the evidence in the public court it would have been revealed that the Government was advised by the legal advisers that the war was illegal?
Ms Gun: My defence team asked the then Attorney General for every scrap of paper that he had written in relation to the war. So, yes, we wanted that. In fact a little birdie had told us, if you like, that there was a difference of opinion.
Q311 Paul Flynn: In the position now, if somebody leaks now in these circumstances and the Government or whoever is prosecuting you does not have any reason to conceal information, the leaker now might well go through the full course of a prosecution and imprisonment.
Ms Gun: Correct.
Q312 Paul Flynn: Is that right?
Ms Gun: It is possible. I think another potential reason for my case being dropped at the time was possibly that they felt a jury would acquit and I would have a not guilty verdict, and that potentially the defence that we were preparing, which was the defence of necessity, would then have had precedent and been set down in an OSA case. Subsequent to my case being dropped, David Blunkett and other members of Government have talked about tightening the OSA. I believe that before Labour was in power, before 1997, in opposition, Labour talked about reforming OSA, not tightening OSA, and I think that in my case and perhaps in Mr Pasquill's case, if the jury had acquitted and there was a not guilty verdict, they would have been forced to reform the OSA.
Q313 Paul Flynn: Your view, Mr Pasquill in your case?
Mr Pasquill: About the failed prosecution?
Q314 Paul Flynn: The what?
Mr Pasquill: Could you repeat the question?
Q315 Paul Flynn: Why do you think the prosecution did not continue to its logical end in your case?
Mr Pasquill: I think for the reasons put forward by Martin Bright and John Kampfner, it would have been embarrassing for the Government, for ministers, such as Ruth Kelly and perhaps other ministers, to be called to give evidence and for them to admit to having been influenced, having sought advice from the editor and from the journalist Martin Bright about government policy on dealing with this particular area. I think that would have been a huge embarrassment to the Government at the time and, yes, I think that is possibly a reason why the prosecution did not go ahead.
Q316 Paul Flynn: Dr Jones, returning to what you said, the two inquiries by parliamentarians were both carried out by committees, the Foreign and Commonwealth Committee and the Security and Intelligence Committee, who were cheerleaders for the war. What do you think Parliament should have done that we have not done?
Dr Jones: I am sorry?
Q317 Paul Flynn: You were critical of the fact that Parliament has not exposed the truth of what happened at the time. What do you think we should have been doing?
Dr Jones: It really was not so much the reports of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee that I was referring to as, I was going to say, the report of Lord Hutton, but the thing about the Hutton Inquiry was that so much was revealed in evidence to provide a very broad picture and then, of course, Lord Hutton chose to stick very closely to his terms of reference when he reported. So it is perhaps the evidence to Hutton and some of the things arising in the Parliamentary debate following Lord Hutton's report and then, further, the report of the Butler Review that I was really referring to. I think there is information there that was undone.
Q318 Chairman: I think you are right.
Dr Jones: Could I come back to Mr Prentice's question about the requirement on civil servants not to allow parliamentarians to be deceived. I think I was always very well aware of that, and I think the only time on which I could be absolutely certain that a misunderstanding arose in relation to the Foreign Affairs Committee was when they said that no civil servant had raised an objection. In a very positive way, they said that the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, at the time had told us that. Mr Straw had not, in fact, said that, and that was when I wrote to my department, in the way I am required to, saying, "Look, this is not right. What should I do about it?", and that really got the ball rolling and took me in that direction.
Q319 Mr Prentice: But you had gone into public print to say that the first dossier should have been qualified - there should have been caveats, and so on so forth - but from where you were, because decision-making was so compartmentalised, you were not in a position to be absolutely certain there was not another bit of intelligence that would have made the difference. That is what it is all about.
Dr Jones: I was told there was intelligence.
Q320 Mr Prentice: You were told there was this
little nugget of intelligence that you were unaware of (and you were the top
man in the country for biological and chemical weapons), not disclosed to you
but that would make a huge difference.
We understand that. The Prime
Minister has promised an official inquiry into
Dr Jones: I am hesitating because it is a very open question---
Q321 Mr Prentice: Maybe that was an unfair question.
Dr Jones: ---in the nature of any future inquiry, but in principle and within the constraints of official secrets---
Q322 Mr Prentice: And if they felt Parliament was misled, yes.
Dr Jones: I think that civil servants should be able --- For example, when I gave my evidence to the Butler Review, you said I was the top man in these various fields.
Q323 Mr Prentice: You are, I think.
Dr Jones: The real experts were the technical experts who were working to me, if you like. I was a part of the synthesis and the filter. So I would hesitate to say that, but I did suggest at the Butler Review that they should speak to other experts, the experts who worked for me, and they did do that, but they would not have, I think, if I had not suggested that they did.
Q324 Chairman: I think you are absolutely right to castigate Parliament, which I think has behaved abysmally in this matter: endless bleating about the need for an inquiry but a complete failure to insist upon one. I would remove this committee from that indictment, because we have pressed endlessly for it and, indeed, have produced reports arguing the case for a parliamentary commission of inquiry but got nowhere with it, but I think you are absolutely right on the central charge. Could I go back to the Hutton Inquiry? When you were asked by Hutton how you would have reacted if a member of your staff had given the sort of information to journalists that David Kelly had given - concerns about the contents of the dossier - you said, "I would have thought they were acting well beyond the bounds of what they should have been doing. I would have been very disappointed and very annoyed." From this vantage point, would you change that answer?
Dr Jones: I do not think so. It was a difficult question for me to deal with because I could see that Mr Dingemans was asking a clever question because he did not want to ask me about Dr Kelly, and Dr Kelly's wife had given evidence the previous day, I think, and it was very moving and so the whole thing was very difficult. I answered the questions he gave to me, taking a little time to think about it, and I was giving an answer that related to a member of my staff, if a member of my staff had done that, and I think my disappointment would have been that that member had not come to me to discuss the issue with me. Indeed, in terms of what happened, and I have heard suggestions that I might have gone even further, my whole process of action was based on approaches to me by my staff. They had come to me and said, "Look, there is something that we do not like here. We are not managing to get our point of view across. We do not understand why", and I represented that in the most positive way I felt I could.
Q325 Chairman: I think what is interesting for us, and this is why we wanted to ask all of you to come, is that you bring such different ways of thinking to the dilemmas that you found yourself in. Just listening to you, Brian, tell me if I am wrong, but I do not think you are the sort of person who would ever have thought about breaching confidences, leaking, going outside the system. I do not think you thought, as a public servant, that was something that was conceivable - tell me if I am wrong - whereas I think, Katherine and Derek, you were in the market for this if the moment came along. What I am interested to ask you two really is, what kind of internal system would it have required for you to have made use of it in the circumstances in which you found yourself, or is there no kind of internal system that you think would have met the case? Tell me, first of all, whether you think I am right.
Dr Jones: I can imagine circumstances where the consequences and time factors could mean that that was the only option available to you, that is what your conscience told you to do, so I would not rule it out completely. My first inclination is to say I would try all the internal channels of complaint and argument first, but I can see there are circumstances when someone might not do that. I do not know how I would have reacted if I had had anything as definitive as perhaps Katherine saw. What she was seeing was much more definitive than anything I had at that time.
Q326 Chairman: So if you had not been told that there was this little secret nugget of intelligence which you did not have access to, which supported what was being said, you might then have taken a different view.
Dr Jones: It was not only that. Of course, intelligence assessment is a matter of dealing with uncertainty. You can rarely be completely sure that you have all the information, all the pieces of the jigsaw, and so it really is quite difficult on that basis, especially when numbers of other experienced intelligence people might take a different view.
Q327 Paul Flynn: You had the firm view that the evidence as presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister was exaggerated, was sexed up, and did not reflect the balance of the probabilities.
Dr Jones: That was my view, yes.
Q328 Chairman: And that if a fair assessment were presented to Parliament, Parliament might have taken a different decision.
Dr Jones: Yes, but, again, there is no certainty there. I thought, looking logically at what was said, the arguments that were made, they were not totally convincing; indeed they did not convince a significant enough proportion of parliamentarians.
Q329 Chairman: Has anything changed since 2003 at the time when you made your decisions and now as far as a civil servant presented with a piece of information they think should be in the public domain? Is there anything there that has been reformed that would improve the transparency?
Ms Gun: Of course, I do not work at GCHQ any more and I do not know what steps they have taken, presumably, for another incident such as my own to happen again. I do not think what they would be considering reforming would be how to assist somebody like myself. I think what they would be trying to do, subsequent to my dismissal, would be to tighten up on their security division interview processes and to try and pick out candidates such as myself, but that is just pure guesswork. I do not know what is actually going on there, but in the policy area, I do not think there has been anything which would---. We have seen with Derek's case, he was charged, of course, the charges were dropped, and then there were the other two, O'Connor and Coughlin.
Q330 Mr Prentice: We have had the new Civil Service Code, which was issued, I think, in 2006, whereby disaffected civil servants, civil servants with a concern can take their concerns to the line management or go outside the Civil Service to the Civil Service Commissioners. So things have changed since 2006. You were dismissed for gross misconduct, Mr Pasquill, in August 2008, but you are challenging this.
Mr Pasquill: Yes, I am challenging this. I think the suggestion earlier that I was perhaps in the market for making revelations is incorrect, but that would be to deny the surprise that I felt on discovering the seriousness of what I saw as the wrong approach to this particular policy, and so I am contesting this gross misconduct charge.
Q331 Mr Prentice: I understand that. We do not want to prejudice any action that you bring in the Industrial Tribunal for gross misconduct. Can I pick up this business about ethical behaviour, because I think Tony touched on this: how we get civil servants to consider the ethical dimensions of matters they deal with. It is difficult at GCHQ, is it not, when your whole raison d'etre is to spy and eavesdrop? It is a bit fanciful, is it not, to run courses on ethics at GCHQ?
Ms Gun: I can tell you what they do not tell you at your introduction, or at the start of your career there, is what you should do if you come across information that you feel contravenes the law. I think that should be part and parcel of the introduction and it should be made quite clear; it should not be one of these things that is in small print at the back of a handbook. When you join, rather than bludgeon it into your head that you should never ever upon death speak to anybody outside of GCHQ about what you do, they should say, "Okay, we agree that this is a murky world, we agree that the world is not black and white, that there are shades of grey. If you believe there is something which is totally against what you believe in and it is against possibly the law even, please do this and do not do this", but I do not think they talk about that.
Q332 Chairman: I think that is a really helpful answer, but that brings me back, finally, to the question I raised a few minutes ago, which I would like the two of you to answer, which is the one that says: can you imagine any kind of machinery that would have made you take your issues up within the machine rather than outside? We have had the first Civil Service Commissioner come here, who says you can bring your concerns to her and, if she is not satisfied with what she gets, she will come to us and tell us about them. So there is a route. What I am asking you really is would there not be a route of that kind that, when you meet issues of this kind in your work, you might want to use?
Ms Gun: I think, yes, if you felt that it was not a partisan route, if you felt that you were not just going up the chain of command with people who are basically all going to agree with policy and agree with government, then, yes. I think if there is a route that is made clear to all employees, then it is a possibility, for certain cases. I would stress that in my case, once again, I believe it was a time issue and I really feel, as Martin Bright has subsequently said, they wish they had gone to print with that story when they were only 10% sure of its authenticity rather than 99% sure of its authenticity.
Q333 Chairman: I take your point about the time issue. Derek, do you want to add a word?
Mr Pasquill: Yes, I think it depends very much on the individual and, speaking purely from my own experience, in my particular circumstances I do not think there would have been any route that I would have been content to use rather than going to the media straightaway, and I think it revolves around the question of trust. If there is that lack of trust about the procedures, about whether the concerns are kicked into the long grass and so on, if that level of trust is absent, then, as I did, I would go straight to the media.
Q334 Chairman: You would not have trusted the Civil Service Commissioner to have dealt seriously with the points that you wanted to raise.
Mr Pasquill: I think the Civil Service Commissioner would have dealt seriously, they would have followed the procedures, they would have been absolutely scrupulous in following these procedures, but I think there would have been opportunities for the Home Office and senior ministers perhaps to quote national security concerns or international relations would be damaged if this inquiry goes further, and I think there may have been ways found of perhaps sitting on this particular concern and shunting it off.
Q335 Chairman: We are going to have to stop, but can I tell you how really useful this has been for us in thinking our way through these issues because I think it is only when you can discuss them with people who have had to work them through for themselves that we do really get inside them. Thank you very much indeed for your time and for coming along this morning.
Ms Gun: It has been a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Witness: Mr Carne Ross, ex FCO, gave evidence by video link.
Q336 Chairman: Good morning. Can you hear us?
Mr Ross: Yes, I can.
Q337 Chairman: Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr Ross: Thank you for having me.
Q338 Chairman: There is a slight delay on
the line, but we will have to cope with that as we go along. Could I ask you, first of all, you know that
we are doing our inquiry into whistleblowing and leaks. You are neither of those things, but you are
someone who has taken a very independent view, indeed, resigned from the
Foreign Office, set up on your own, gave evidence to the Butler Inquiry on
Mr Ross: In a word,
Q339 Chairman: We are exploring the
different decisions that people made, particularly around
Mr Ross: It is a good question and one I have wrestled with for many years. I certainly did, and I drafted resignation letters in the run up to the war and I am afraid I did not send them. I wish, looking back, that I had. There are various reasons why I did not. I think one was that I felt that there was such a momentum towards war, such urgency about it, that anybody who put their hand up at that point would have been somehow crushed. I could not articulate to you then, or even now, what I necessarily meant by that, but there was just a very strong sense that this was a force far greater than little me, though I did consider it at the time.
Q340 Chairman: We have been asking other people whether they felt able to take up their worries internally inside the organisations in which they found themselves. I think you are saying, are you not, that within the Foreign Office you thought it would have been inconceivable for you to have taken up these concerns in any way that had any effect. Is that so?
Mr Ross: On an issue of this kind,
which was profoundly political, which was clearly led from the top, from Number
10, I think it was inconceivable. I do
not think there was any real way that somebody at my level - I was a mid-level
diplomat, I was the First Secretary at the
Q341 Chairman: Was it the case that you had different judgments than the prevailing ones in the Foreign Office at the time or that you felt you had knowledge that was not being given proper account of?
Mr Ross: What a good question. I think it was both. As I think the history of the Iraq War will
reveal, there were both problems over the knowledge and the judgments of that
knowledge. I felt that it was not just a
judgment about the threat and the available alternatives to war; I felt there
was clear information, clear data. I had
read the intelligence on Iraq for four and a half years, been part of the Joint
Intelligence Committee process, for instance, had taken part in US/UK
bilaterals on Iraq every quarter for four and a half years, and during that
time the assessment of Iraq and the assessment of our intelligence on Iraq was
very clear. It was that there was no
significant threat from
Chairman: Thank you for that. I am going to ask one or two colleagues to also ask you questions now.
Q342 Mr Prentice: You believed that sanctions
was a real alternative to going to war against
Mr Ross: You are getting to the heart
of the matter, and I am glad of that, because it is not often that I have been
asked that question, least of all by parliamentarians, but one problem which I
go into in my evidence to Butler and, indeed, I enlarged upon in an article I
later wrote for The Financial Times
is that this policy was very complicated.
There were not large numbers of officials in the FCO who understood it
because of its complexity. I do not
blame them; it was just that they did not have the time that I and others had
to spend on it. It was very much my
speciality. I spent a lot of time
at the UN on sanctions work, trying to make sure that the Saddam regime did not
garner this kind of illegal revenue.
There were other political problems.
These illegal flows of oil went through the Gulf, they went through
Q343 Mr Prentice: At its simplest, you are
saying we could not afford to upset key allies -
Mr Ross: That was a clear
calculation, yes. That was what we
believed and we discussed with the
Q344 Mr Prentice: Why was it impossible to get
the attention of, as you mention, key ministers? You talk about having discussions in cars on
the way to the airport and so on. What
is wrong with the system that someone like you, steeped in
Mr Ross: That is a good question. I do not think it is because the ministers themselves were stupid or unsympathetic. On the contrary, I think they were quite alive to these arguments when I got a chance to put them to them, but ministerial life in the Foreign Office and, I suspect, other ministries these days, is a very hectic business and it does not lend itself to deep immersion into complex policy, and if that immersion happens, it happens very rarely, likewise for senior officials, and I think there was a degree to which Iraq ultimately became a very simple choice. The view was in senior levels that sanctions were falling apart. This was not, in fact, true. Therefore, the only alternative was military action, and, in fact, the first premise was not true and the second alternative was not the only alternative, but I think there is a simplified process that goes on in policy-making from the complexity at the base to simplification at the summit, and, of course, I am sure ministers would dispute this and would, I am sure, feel that their lives were extremely complicated and they had a very complicated and sophisticated understanding of the world, but I think the world has actually got in some ways too complicated for the kind of policy-making system we have for it.
Q345 Paul Flynn: You have taken the view, I
believe, that foreign policy in this country is distorted by the supremacy of
commercial British interests rather than in the interests of alleviating
suffering and poverty throughout the world.
Could you talk about your present work on drawing attention to the
suffering of people in the
Mr Ross: Would it be better if I was doing it in the Foreign Office or we were doing it?
Q346 Paul Flynn: Both, yes. You are exercising your influence. If we are talking about people, you are in mid-career, you are a young man: what would someone do in the Foreign Office now if they felt there was a major weakness in our foreign policy?
Mr Ross: I would make a distinction
in the first place. I think the Western
Sahara is an area where commercial interests and our strategic interests with
Q347 Paul Flynn: When you were in charge of
UK policy on Afghanistan, you had many doubts about the policy, and you said
the allies did not understand Afghanistan, that they were trapped in their
fortified compounds, were naive about the willingness of the War Lords to seize
power and that they were far too optimistic in the belief that opium production
could be curtailed. These were your
views just after 9/11. Do you think you
were in a position in the Foreign Office to influence government on those
clearly far-sighted views which in subsequent events proved to be
accurate? Do you think the Civil
Service, and you with an informed position there did influence policy or could
you have done more to have influenced policy for the better rather than end up
in the dreadful position where we are in
Mr Ross: I had absolutely no ability
Q348 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Your disillusionment with
the FCO started a long time ago. I think
it started probably with
Mr Ross: I do not believe in leaking. I think that if you are in a system, if you are in a ministry, you sign up to its rules and you should stick to them. I think if officials are leaking everything they disagree with, the system very rapidly becomes unworkable. I think the only way to address serious concerns about policy is to resign and speak out and join the public debate. The Foreign Office is dealing with very, very political issues. It is a deeply political ministry. It is not dealing with the most effective way to deliver healthcare or education, which are, of course, themselves political questions, but everything in foreign policy is political, and these are judgment calls about what the right thing to do is which sometimes are clearer in retrospect than they are at the time. I felt for my career that I wanted to become a senior diplomat and influence policy for the better, and I did speak up in policy debates. I remember one of my American colleagues saying of the US/UK bilaterals on Iraq that they were, in fact, trilaterals because there was the US, UK and Carne Ross, because I would speak out, but there are limits to which you can do that without becoming a kind of iconoclast. Whilst it is fun to be an iconoclast, it is not very good for your career.
Q349 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I agree with that totally. You were a speech writer to the then Foreign Minister, Malcolm Rifkind, pre 1997.
Mr Ross: I was, yes.
Q350 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Did you try to educate
Malcolm Rifkind, who is a fairly intelligent character, on some of the stupid
things we are doing then in the former
Mr Ross: I did not, no. I would not have stayed his speech writer for
very long if I had. The speech writer
job at that time was, and still is as far as I am aware, relatively junior,
oddly enough, in the Foreign Office system.
I was not in his private office, I was in a separate department and I
would be told what to write for a speech and drafts would go up. I have the greatest of respect for Malcolm
Rifkind, but it was not a very close relationship and certainly not one where I
was asked my opinions about policy. I
have to say, you are focusing on
Q351 Mr Liddell-Grainger: What I am trying to get at is not particularly what happened when, but why you became disillusioned in the way that you did. You dealt with a lot of things where you fundamentally disagreed as a person but also as a diplomat. It took you 15 years, basically, to say, "Enough is enough. I have done all this. I am coming out." You did not leak, you do not agree with leaking. You have done all the things by the book, but you then felt you could not go up the ladder to say, "We are wrong on this." Do you feel that perhaps you missed a lot of chances all the way through?
Mr Ross: Yes, that is right. It is a really good question. Again, there are some fairly deep and
personal considerations about what I do and I have done with my life. It is not terribly easy for me to answer
it. I really believed in British
diplomacy. I really wanted to be a
diplomat. It was my life's dream to
become a diplomat. I loved the job. I greatly enjoyed my colleagues. The work was unbelievably interesting and
fascinating. I had incredible
responsibility. I have met Yasser Arafat
many times, I visited
Q352 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Can I ask one last question, and do not take this the wrong way. I want to know how much this was motivated by self-preservation and selfishness. Did you decide: "I cannot leak because they are going to stuff me. I want to have a career in the future. I want to be an international diplomat. Therefore, I have to make a calculated decision to go under my terms in my way without really blighting myself as a jerk", whatever you want to call yourself? Did you say consciously in your mind, "I am going to make a very selfish decision and this is how I am going to do it, so I can carry on in my career as an international diplomat"?
Mr Ross: There were very selfish reasons involved, partly about self-preservation and partly about being independent and free, but they were nothing to do with my career. There is no doubt my career would have prospered if I had stayed in the Foreign Office. I was doing quite well; I would have been a head of department. My next job was to be head of department in the Foreign Office, ironically, dealing with post war reconstruction. That was the job I was due to do after returning from my secondment. As you know, there is no job as a diplomat unless you are working for a government. I have constructed something new with Independent Diplomat, this non-profit consultancy that I established, but that path was not available when I left. I thought my diplomatic career was over when I quit and I suffered a long period of depression as a result because I did not know what I was going to do in the world. I had really, from a very early age, as a child, in fact, imagined myself as a diplomat, so it was the fulfilment of my lifelong dream. To do something else was very, very difficult for me. So those reasons that you suggest were not, in fact, at play.
Q353 Paul Rowen: You have written that there is a culture in the Foreign Office of actually giving the minister, the Foreign Secretary, what he wanted to hear. Do you think that inhibits people from being outspoken?
Mr Ross: Of course it does. I think it is very difficult to say to a
minister or a senior official that
Q354 Paul Rowen: Do you feel that there are only circumstances where it is legitimate for someone in your position to leak?
Mr Ross: I think if they are aware of
criminal activity or blatant dishonesty to Parliament, to the public, I think
that there is a case for leaking in those circumstances. Having resigned, I think it is desperately
difficult to resign. I do not think it
is easy, and it is asking an awful lot of somebody to give up their entire
career and their livelihood over a political concern, but I think those
circumstances of leaking should be very limited. It might be helpful if your committee were to
define them, who knows, but, as I say, I do not think a culture of leaking is
to be encouraged because it makes government almost impossible, civil servants
will not feel able to write things down to their ministers, contrary views or
otherwise, and I think it is ultimately destructive to a proper system, but the
system also needs to be correct in itself.
It needs to be held more accountable.
I think one of the reasons people leak and people resign and perhaps one
of the reasons you are having this discussion is because in recent years there
has been a more fundamental failure of transparency and accountability in
government. I feel very strongly that
there is still not proper accountability and scrutiny into what happened over
Chairman: Thank you.
Q355 Mr Walker: What things do you know about the Iraq War that the public do not know, and would you like to share them with the public now?
Mr Ross: I walked into that! I am happy to let my evidence to the Butler
Inquiry stand as my view. It is only my
view; I was not the whole story by any means.
I had a particular take on it from my standpoint at the
Q356 Chairman: I am going to end the session
now, but I want to thank you for speaking so frankly to us. I think it is a source of enormous regret
that the Foreign Office cannot accommodate people like you. That is a huge cultural challenge for us to
think about, and we are grateful for your time, and we are particularly
grateful for the fact that you had to get up so early in the morning in
Mr Ross: Thank for what you have said. Thank you for having me.