Ex-MI5 chief says Tony Blair got it wrong…a lot


9:10 am - September 13th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Guardian reports today on a speech yesterday by the former MI5 Chief Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller.

In earlier lectures she criticised the invasion of Iraq, said the term “war on terror” was unhelpful and said 9/11 was “a crime, not an act of war”.

Yesterday she said it was important “to try and reduce terrorism by talking to its advocates” and that many anti-terrorist laws passed by the Labour government were “unnecessary” and “unproductive”.

I mean, how far does she have to go before the lectures can be collectively filed in the ‘Tony Blair didn’t know what he was doing post-9/11‘ Folder?

This isn’t some lefty hippie saying ‘WoT’ was a stupid phrase or the anti-terrorism legislation made things worse – this is the former head of MI5 saying ‘you lefties were right all along‘.

You can almost hear right-wingers collectively shuffle their feet and ignore what she’s saying.

But two questions arise: why was she over-ruled so comprehensively over such key decisions and narratives at the time? Doesn’t being the head of MI5 afford you any influence whatsoever? Of course, we will never know of the discussions between Blair and Manningham-Buller at the time, but its odd that she is pretty much repudiating everything she had to do in the aftermath of 9/11.

As the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor points out:

she has never before expressed such antipathy towards the prevailing policies and rhetoric of the government which she had to endure when she was in office.

Indeed.

Secondly, how much impact will this have on current foreign policy? And how should current foreign policy change in response to what she said? I haven’t thought much about the second set of answers, though I’m deeply uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating with the Taliban enough to give them a permanent seat of power in Afghanistan. Though, that may become inevitable.

It certainly means the UK government should be openly pushing the Israeli government to negotiate with Hamas, and Sri Lanka to work with the LTTE. What do you think?

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Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


It certainly is a damning indictment of those right-wingers Blair, Brown, Miliband, and Straw.

“But two questions arise: why was she over-ruled so comprehensively over such key decisions and narratives at the time? Doesn’t being the head of MI5 afford you any influence whatsoever? Of course, we will never know of the discussions between Blair and Manningham-Buller at the time, but its odd that she is pretty much repudiating everything she had to do in the aftermath of 9/11.”

You’re assuming she was over-ruled. Much of what has come out suggests that high level spooks went along with Iraq fairly willingly, but tried to distance themselves afterwards. Without hard evidence to the contrary, this smacks of being wise long after the event. Is a progressive website really saying we should take what retired spooks say at face value?

this is the former head of MI5 saying ‘you lefties were right all along‘

Opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to illiberal anti terrorism legislation are not “leftie” policies at all. Indeed, they were the policies of a Labour government and, at the time, I seem to remember you defending many of them.

Go steal somebody else’s clothes!!!

4. Torquil Macneil

Head of the secret service in denunciation of Labour government shocker! Liberal Conspiracy lines up behind the spooks!

Pagar: once again you confuse New Labour with ‘left-wing’; their actions between 2001 and the 2005 election were right out of the Vietnam/Falklands/Gulf War I playbook. Now I’ll admit Vietnam was started by Democrats, but the only left-winger involved may well have been shot in Dallas for trying to pull them back out; his VP was a bellicose Southern Dem, and in no way a Lib (as it were).

Parties cannot claim a wing by historical lineage; the NuLab experiment was a descendant of left-wing politics, but was itself authoritarian, violent, xenophobic and economically regressive. They can no more claim to be left-wingers than the mainstream of US Democrats, who have allowed the Overton window to be dragged so far to the right in their country that they can’t see the left wing with a bloody telescope.

At least their left-wingers got dragged to the right. Ours were pushing the moderate Tories out of the way to stake out a new lawn there. As I said on another thread, after Cook and Short went, there were no lefties appointed to the NuLab cabinets, at least not that I noticed.

I see Tim J is duty troll today.

The problem for nominally centre-left Governments, as even the most dozy right wingers should know, is that of being labelled as “soft” on law and order and by extension terrorism. This leads to the situation we had after the September 11 attacks where the Blair Government decided – consciously or otherwise – to show that it was as tough as any Tory administration had been in the past.

Thus it could not be labelled as “soft”. Also entering the equation is the urging by those in the military and security services in favour of taking a hard line. This, by fortunate coincidence, means more work for the military and security services.

At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, there were those urging JFK to strike the missile sites – a “surgical strike” was the term used – to show that the US was not afraid of the Communists. Kennedy, along with his brother Robert, and Adlai Stevenson, found themselves in a minority. It was easy to urge reckless action to show toughness, rather less so to be sensible.

Fortunately, Kennedy prevailed. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, did not resist the urging of the military. At that time, Harold Wilson kept us out of Vietnam. As Blair got the UK deeper into the quagmire of Iraq, I found myself revising Wilson’s stock upward. At the time, I never thought that would happen.

once again you confuse New Labour with ‘left-wing’

No, I don’t really, but the writer of the original post is a Labour Party member and should therefore be in a position to defend their policies.

His party were in power when the bad things happened and there is no difference I can see between the current leadership and the bunch of self-serving authoritarian pygmies who wrote the legislation.

Indeed many of them are the same personnel.

Sunny likes a pick and mix approach to politics and policies and, in general, that is the prerogative of a blogger. But when he oversteps the mark and dredges up an obvious absurdity in order to keep his halo polished, it is appropriate to call him out.

Even now, he will not admit the error that was made in attacking Afghanistan.

Its somewhat frightening that someone called ‘Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller’ should be saner and more ‘left-wing’ (if that still means anything) than someone called ‘Tony’ who shares a real surname with George Orwell.

I heard some of the lecture this morning.
she also said that we (the UK govt ) do not use torture techniques and did not resort to torture with regard to the Nazi’s and WW2.
That is a lie ,our use of torture at the end of WW2 is documented.
I dont know if anyone raised this in the questions or raised the obvious point that we might not currently torture people because we pass them to states that do.

There was a lot hinging on her definition of ‘torture’ and avoidance of mentioning collaborating with people who do it on ‘our behalf’. I dont know if anyone in the audience was rude enough to call her on this.

I don’t care whether Blair and co are regarded as “right-wing” or “left-wing” – whatever that distinction is supposed to signify.

Some of us were saying at the time that the whole Iraq war and its rationale were deeply flawed – a similar position to that at the time of then Senator Obama. The fact that no WMD were found in Iraq after the invasion confirmed that the claimed justification was false.

It later came out that the branch of the Defence Intelligence Service in the MOD dealing with incoming intelliegence of WMD had disowned the claims made in that infamous dossier presented to Parliament on 24 September 2002, where it was said four times that Iraq could use WMD within 45 minutes of a command from Saddam Hussein.

Still later, this came out in a leaked secret memo from MI6 to Downing St dated 23 July 2002:

“C [by tradition, the title of the head of MI6] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

Blair knew before the invasion of Iraq on 20 March 2003 that the claimed public rationale for the war was a fix. We were lied to.

Try this from FOX News: “WASHINGTON (20 August 2004) — A soon-to-be-released audit will show that at least $8.8 billion in Iraqi money that was given to Iraqi ministries by the former U.S.-led authority there cannot be accounted for, FOX News has confirmed.”
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,129489,00.html

11. robert the crip

Come Tony Blair knew what he was doing he was putting in place his future fortunes which he has now collected on.

Rockets launched in 45 minutes ok where would they land, ah well not here, America well no. He has Atomic weapons well I think we all knew he did not, he has a Dirty bomb, well OK how do you know, well we sold it to him years ago.

But it’s to late now the war is over and we have moved on what we need to know now is which way Iraq will go, will it end up with another American led leader like Saddam I suspect so.

I see Tim J is duty troll today.

An unusually fuck-witted response, even by your standards. If Eliza Manningham Buller is criticising the policy reaction to 9/11 and terrorism, then that is a criticism of the Government in power at the time. When Sunny says it’s an indictment of right-wingers, he means the leadership of the Labour Party.

The more that came out about the claimed justification for the Iraq war, the worse it got for Blair’s credibility:

“CRAWFORD, Texas — Paul O’Neill, President Bush’s Treasury secretary in the first two years of his presidency, says the Bush administration was planning to invade Iraq long before the Sept. 11 attacks and used questionable intelligence to justify the war.” USA Today 12 January 2004

“”WASHINGTON — The White House’s former top anti-terrorism adviser says President Bush ignored warnings about al-Qaeda and ordered him to find a link between the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Iraq. . .

“As early as Sept. 12, 2001, Clarke says, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged bombing Iraq despite repeated assurances from intelligence officials that the threat emanated from Afghanistan.

“‘Rumsfeld said there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq,’ Clarke said on Sunday’s 60 Minutes. I said, ‘Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with it.'” USA Today 20 March 2004

“The Senate Intelligence Committee has found no evidence of links between the regime of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.” BBC website 9 September 2006

Indeed, they were the policies of a Labour government and, at the time, I seem to remember you defending many of them

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

That is some good shit you’re smoking pagar.

Even now, he will not admit the error that was made in attacking Afghanistan.

I still don’t. And in fact she doesn’t say that either.

Tim Fenton @ 6

Also entering the equation is the urging by those in the military and security services in favour of taking a hard line.

Evidence, please? My recollection of the military’s response to being asked to invade Iraq is that they demanded a law officer’s opinion that it was kosher.

As for the Security Service’s view…… well, now we have Dame Eliza’s qualms and scepticism revealed. Doubt she was urging gung-ho stuff at the time.

This, by fortunate coincidence, means more work for the military and security services.

This, even by your standards, is a particularly crass observation.

As we now know, there was quite a big job of work for MI5 to do after 9/11 without any need for them to come up with make-work schemes. Ditto, the military.

@ Sunny

That is some good shit you’re smoking pagar.

An allegation of illegal drug taking is a serious matter as can be seen on the previous thread. If it is felt to preclude the effective running of the economy it presumably precludes lucid commenting on LC? You can, therefore, expect to be hearing from Schillings in early course.

However, if you haven’t yet realised that Afghanistan was a mistake, you really need to have a look at what you’ve been ingesting yourself.

But two questions arise: why was she over-ruled so comprehensively over such key decisions and narratives at the time?

Um, because the PM is the beloved leader and the head of MI5 is not?

@12

When you have to resort to hurling expletives, you’ve already proved that you are a busted flush. Apart from being duty troll.

@15

Oh look, the troll cavalry has arrived. It speaks just like the original troll.

I stand by my original observations.

the UK government should be openly pushing the Israeli government to negotiate with Hamas, and Sri Lanka to work with the LTTE. What do you think?

I think that’s not going to happen. They are not going to push and even if they did there would be absolutely no reaction from Israel or Sri Lanka.

@ 16. pagar

what would you have seen done in Afghanistan post Sept 11th?

dave bones,

what would you have seen done in Afghanistan post Sept 11th?

I can’t remember who wrote it but there was a counter-factual in the Times yesterday: imagine if the USA had treated 9/11 not as an act of war but a crime (albeit a terrible one) and not invaded Afghanistan. What would have been different in the past decade?

The US public would be $160bn better off, for a start.

so after Sept 11th you could see any American president of either stripe watching Mr Bin’s videos and doing nothing? or firing missiles at random like Clinton did?

so after Sept 11th you could see any American president of either stripe watching Mr Bin’s videos and doing nothing? or firing missiles at random like Clinton did?

Nope.

23. Just Visiting

neither could UK leaders have done nothing – once the USA decided to act – not after 77.

Letting the US be the sole guys fighting the ‘bad guys’ – doesn’t suit us Brits.

In WWII it was who started the fighting and the USA came along later to help.

Back with Napoleon – we got involved in a european punch-up when we could have stayed out:

Is it fair to say it’s a British meme- taking on the bad-guys overseas?

Sometimes at least (and not ignoring the times we were the bad guys…)

The US public would be $160bn better off, for a start.

I’m afraid it’s really not that simple. Not getting rid of the Taliban from Afghanistan would have cost the US something sooner or later – just a matter of how long you were willing to wait.

As I’ve repeatedly pointed out to people who pay no attention to South Asian politics – the Taliban were hell-bent on starting war between India and Pakistan. They nearly did, several times. If a war did start (sooner or later) then the US would have to intervene. That could eventually lead to more deaths and cost a lot more money.

Secondly, what would be the cost of not taking out the terrorist camps in Afghanistan? More terrorist attacks around the world? Cost of extra security? Cost of lives?

This idea that a whole bunch of money and lives could have been saved, cleanly, by not going into Afghanistan is just fantasy.

As I’ve repeatedly pointed out to people who pay no attention to South Asian politics – the Taliban were hell-bent on starting war between India and Pakistan.

As people have scratched their heads over Afghanistan and tried to work out WTF we are doing there, I’ve heard some pretty delusional analysis but the above is a new low.

I think I preferred “preventing the poppy harvest” and “making sure girls got a proper education”.

what would be the cost of not taking out the terrorist camps in Afghanistan?

The same as the current cost of not taking out the camps in Yemen, Pakistan etc?

This idea that a whole bunch of money and lives could have been saved, cleanly, by not going into Afghanistan is just fantasy.

By invading sovereign countries, torturing prisoners and assassinating opponents without judicial process, the US has confirmed to its enemies that it is, indeed, the “Great Satan”.

These actions have fomented more terrorism, not prevented it.

Just a reminder for the moronic tory trolls. Their idiot leader at that time wanted to attack Iraq even if they had No weapons of mass destructions.
Nothing would have different under a tory govt. Blair was as usual trying to be a tory,to appease his master Murdoch. Just like call me Dave set out to appease Murdoch,before the hacking scandal. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Sunny,

Secondly, what would be the cost of not taking out the terrorist camps in Afghanistan?

Um, that was my question: “What would have been different in the past decade” if the USA hadn’t invaded Afghanistan?

More terrorist attacks around the world? Cost of extra security? Cost of lives?

ISTM when people from MI5 say, “the invasions increased the risk of domestic terrorism” one has to wonder, but YMMV I suppose.

(my emphasis)

[blockquote]ISTM when people from MI5 say, “the invasions increased the risk of domestic terrorism” one has to wonder, but YMMV I suppose.[/blockquote]

But what foreign policy actions against radical Islamists would not have had that effect?

This remark that she made is missing any analysis of the consequences that not acting would have had. Not acting may have led to more international terrorism, ‘rouge’ states, WMD proliferation not to mention the inevitable networking and cooperation between these rogue states, criminal gangs and terrorist groups.

Iraq and Afghanistan both represented significant security risks. Before 9/11 there were already British citizens travelling to Taliban controlled regions of Afghanistan for military training. What would the consequences have been if that state of affairs was allowed to continue? Don’t forget that 9/11 was far from the first case of Islamist terrorism, nor the first perpetrated by al-Qaeda members.

The thought that if only we hadn’t gone in to Afghanistan and Iraq then we wouldn’t be confronting a significant and continuing threat from Islamist extremists is laughable.

For me Afghanistan is a cut and dry case. It was essential that action was taken. Iraq is more difficult. I’m of the view that it was essential action was taken at some stage. One can quibble about the timing and the lack of planning resources – but sooner or later something would have had to have been done.


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  27. Alex Braithwaite

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