Intelligence – an issue at the heart of the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq – is the trump card for the prime minister and his inner circle. Other senior ministers – the foreign, home and defence secretaries and the chancellor – see weekly intelligence summaries (called ‘Wizard’ by Whitehall insiders) that are prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee in the Cabinet Office. But the prime minister alone regularly sees the director general of the Security Service, MI5, and the chief (or C as he is still quaintly called) of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. So the prime minister and his closest advisers know more than anyone else (except the Queen, who sees all intelligence reports).
It is a position of power strengthened immeasurably by the supine approach of the vast majority of MPs when it comes to matters relating to security and intelligence. The parliamentary intelligence and security committee, chaired by former leader of the House Ann Taylor, meets only in private and has an all too cosy relationship with the agencies it is supposed to monitor. But privileged access to intelligence leads to dangers other than the unaccountable power knowledge provides.
Blair’s determination to go to war against Iraq led to a more insidious and deeply sinister development – the distortion and manipulation of intelligence for political ends. It is a black art practised by totalitarian regimes and, more recently, in the US. Frustrated by unwelcome intelligence provided by the CIA (it had no evidence of official links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime, for example) and its distrust of Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon cronies set up an alternative intelligence agency, the sinisterly-titled Office of Special Plans, to provide information to suit their hawkish agenda.
In Britain Blair and his closest advisers, Alastair Campbell especially, adopted a slightly more subtle approach. They took intelligence from MI6 and other sources and distorted it to suit their agenda. The result was a series of misleading dossiers designed to influence ministers, MPs and the general public.
With a phrase bearing all the hallmarks of a Campbell sound bite, Blair said in last September’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that Saddam’s ‘military planning… allows for some of the WMDs to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them’. Blair made much of the discovery that Iraq was importing aluminium tubes – evidence, he claimed, of Saddam’s nuclear weapons programme. Further evidence of Baghdad’s nuclear aspirations, 10 Downing Street insisted, was provided by Iraq’s attempt to procure uranium from Niger.
Experts from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency exposed the documents on which these claims were made as forgeries. Britain’s intelligence services subsequently admitted they were forged. The government has failed to put the record straight. Even Downing Street was embarrassed when contents of another dossier (handed out by Campbell to Westminster lobby journalists on the plane back from Camp David in February) were discovered to have been lifted from academic sources, including a PhD thesis by a US student. The dossier was put together by Downing Street with the help of the Coalition Information Centre, a body set up after the 11 September attacks to put the US-British case on the war against terrorism.
Already angry about the politicisation of the work of their cousins in the US, Britain’s security and intelligence agencies were furious that the same thing was happening here – with shady corners of the government undermining their credibility.
One would have hoped this would all prove self-defeating. Alas, such is the appetite, not least in the media, for stories about ‘intelligence’ that journalists – including those from the once-revered New York Times and Washington Post – publish anything fed to them. Thus files taken from Iraqi intelligence and foreign ministries about George Galloway, alleged links between al-Qaeda and Baghdad and how the French were allegedly spying for the Iraqis on the US were all conveniently available for journalists, notably from the Telegraph, to peruse. Heaven knows what tittle-tattle and self-serving allegations would be found if the files of MI6 and MI5 were looted. There is a difference between that kind of thing and what the security and intelligence agencies actually tell the prime minister. (Or I certainly hope there is.)
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry