Document:In Defence of the Indefensible
In Defence of the Indefensible
Three and a half years in the making, Sir Richard Scott's long awaited inquiry report thumped on to the desks of quivering crown ministers in February 1996. Scott was charged with investigating Britain's own murky "Iraq-gate". Amongst other things he reveals how governments daily side-step domestic democratic controls in pursuit of reckless foreign policy. Also laid bare was the secret UK-USA policy to supply Iraq with anything that goes "bang" - from tanks, to chemical and nuclear weapons... even after Saddam invaded Kuwait!
There has been nothing like it in British history. Traditionally one of the most secretive and unaccountable democracies in the world, Britain's elite were reported to be quailing in fear as it realised that Sir Richard Scott was a "loose canon." Maybe. Determined to get to the core of government culpability in a series of mega-explosive allegations, the independently-minded Sir Richard Scott laboured under a welter of evidence: 200,000 official documents, 88 days of oral testimony from scores of government ministers and their officials, dozens of unidentified operatives from within the security and intelligence community plus those shadowy businessmen who's trade is death.
At stake was the governments' cynical and hypocritical mishandling of its ultra-secret weapons exports. Additional allegations focused on a government led conspiracy to prejudice the outcome of a criminal prosecution against Churchill Matrix - a small Iraqi owned, British based and managed armaments manufacturer. Scott was also charged with investigating serious charges that the government had repeatedly "misled" Parliament, lied to the public, and undermined the 300 year old constitution.
By any reading, Scott upholds all three allegations; adding a few of his own for good measure. Once sufficient to bring any accountable government tumbling to its scabbed knees, the bizarrely worded report was subjected to acrimonious debate in Parliament. Bruised, battered and reeling under incessant Parliamentary and media assault the government scraped a technical victory and by the slimmest of partisan votes - 320 against 319 - survived to export another day. Twenty four hours later, the whole affair - arguably the biggest political scandal in decades - disappeared as though tossed off the edge of the planet, stark testimony to the integrity of British journalism
For their part the media and parliament engaged in a humpty-dumpty spectacle that had a few Roman elements. Disingenuously focusing on the permissible by emphasising arguments about what constitutes "lethality" in relation to defence exports (non-lethal equipment being permitted under the governments guidelines) and by adhering to the central charges of Scott, they ensured that, at worst, one or two crown ministers would be forced to open their veins in public atonement. Largely going unreported was the cynical joint US-UK policy to fuel the bitter Iran-Iraq war, which during eight bloody years consumed over a million casualties. Also uncovered in any great degree was Britain's exports of chemical weapons, nuclear warhead components and an array of very seriously lethal items that were knowingly diverted via third parties - a hygienic device that allows governments ministers to Vim over their blood-stained hands and hold up their heads in mock honour as they shamble, vampire-like, towards a well deserved knighthood. Despite the media's willing supinity, the Scott Report lays bare the squalid machinations that underpin one of the top weapons exporters on the planet. Rendered to a glazed and stupefied public were a dizzying catalogue of cynicism, duplicity, back-stabbing, dishonesty and fawning foreign policy considerations that crept, unseen, along the light-free corridors of power. In other words "Business as usual."
The Government "Spin"
Constantly rocked backwards from one grimy government expose chasing on the heels of another, and weakened by persistent party fragmentation over European integration, Prime Minister Major opted to make a bold stand on Scott in the hope of supplanting his tarnished image as the weak, ineffectual "grey man" of British politics. With much bravado he announced that the two senior Ministers most likely to come under fire, William Waldegrave and Sir Nicholas Lyell, would not resign. At the time this Custer-like posture seemed fraught with danger, but the media had not fully digested Major's plans for "news management" and, in any case were not about to seriously undermine the hidden power of the multi-billion pound British armaments industry by treading where angels feared to tread. The Prime Minister went on to announce in Parliament - to incredulous gasps of disbelief - that Sir Richard Scott's report would be made available to government ministers a full ten days prior to being made publicly available. At the same time, by scheduling the important Parliamentary debate on Scott's findings to coincide with publication, he constricted the ability of opposition MP's to even read the first page of the report before commencement of the debate, thus ensuring the best possible "spin" would accrue. Indignantly hounded by the media and MP's for this devious strategy, he eventually consented to permit two opposition spokesmen three hours grace to read the 1800-page report on the day of the debate. This "concession," he felt, would be sufficient for them to prepare counter arguments.
With a media fanfare, the report was published at 3.30 p.m. on 15 February 1996, by the Department of Trade and Industry. The press review copies were accompanied by a "press pack" outlining the "salient" findings of Sir Richard Scott's report. Page one of the "pack" lists appropriate "snap-shot" headings. The first heading "No arms sold to Iraq" disingenuously outlines the government's spin, saying "The report confirms that Britain supplied no lethal weapons to Iraq." Other headings included: "No conspiracy to send innocent men to gaol" and "No deliberate misleading of Parliament." All three assertions are profoundly inaccurate as we shall see, but the "spin" and Major's resilient attitude ultimately worked as intended.
Within a few days the report had been adequately read and digested. Perhaps the most surprising discovery was the extreme care Sir Richard had taken in wording his report. Repeatedly cataloguing a host of ministerial malfeasance (charges of ministerial "sophistry" being one of many) he was, non-the-less, careful to chose his words with the greatest caution. Scott mysteriously pulls his punches in his conclusions, but at the same time, roundly and continually condemns the government throughout the main body of the report. It was this peculiar and complex mixture of penmanship that provided the government with enough space to wriggle free in the all important debate. Why Scott chose to "blend" his findings and conclusions in this manner remains unclear. A popular theory, and one expounded by the Conservative rebel, Sir Teddy Taylor, suggests that Scott was anxious to ensure that "rather than taking the easy way out of the problem by dismissing two ministers..." the government would not then be able "... to close the file on this worrying issue." Despite his "worries", Sir Teddy Taylor, non-the-less, voted in favour of the government line, and for all intents and purposes the "file" has, de facto, been closed.
The back-drop to Scott was the secret British and American policy to arm Iraq's Saddam Hussein, whilst also carefully regulating weapons supplies to both combatants to prevent either side "from winning the war." Deceitfully packaged - even to this day - as an honest desire to bring the conflict to an early halt, the reality behind weapons exports was more serpentine and a great deal more cynical. An extended conflict - eventually lasting eight years - was clearly recognised as an economic bonus to UK Ltd. The massive profits derived from weapons exports to both combatants was the singular "engine" that drove early British policy and, despite a later shift in emphasis, remained the central theme.
In his book "Spider's Web", veteran Financial Times journalist Alan Friedman outlines the policy adopted by successive US administrations to arm Saddam. He observes, for example, that the Israeli bombing of Iraq's nuclear plant at Osirak in June 1981 (built with French assistance) resulted from intense "frustration" that the Reagan administration would not listen to their concerns about Saddam's nuclear weapons projects. Friedman goes on to review the Oval Office debate on 8 June 1981, following the Israeli action, noting that "What transpired during that Oval office meeting has never been made public." According to Secretary of State Alexander Haig the discussions primarily focused on how the administration "should behave towards Saddam Hussein." George H. W. Bush and James Baker steered the debate and both felt that Israel "should be punished" for the raid. Bush and Baker were long-time Texas "oilmen" and wanted to give support to "to prevent Iran from challenging the security of navigation for oil tankers and American access to Middle East oil." Added to this was the hope that Iraq could be weaned off its reliance on Soviet weapons and influence, a "shift" that would be of immense benefit to European NATO allies and soon percolated through the voracious Whitehall weapons network.
It was understood by government ministers that their promotion of the armaments manufacturers self-interest - purposely fuelling a war then sitting back growing comfortably richer - would have been repugnant to the public. For this reason it was kept secret. Domestic anxiety over the continuing war led the government to deviously announce that it would adopt a "neutral, impartial and even-handed" stance in the conflict. Secure in the knowledge that it sat atop of a voraciously secret regime, it cunningly added it would only provide "non-lethal" defence equipment to both combatants. this moral "add on" went a long way to easing public disquiet. Secretly however, Ministers "had agreed that although lethal arms and ammunition would not be supplied to either side, every opportunity should be taken to exploit Iraq's potentialities as a promising market for the sale of defence equipment; and to this end 'lethal items' should be interpreted in the narrowest possible sense, and the obligations of neutrality as flexibly as possibly."
This covert decision reflected wider geopolitical pressures. As early as 1981, Britain's publicly stated position had run into increasing difficulties. Unable to reconcile its public posture to the longer-term interests of its closest allies and business partners, and following severe behind-the-scenes pressure from the US, and the Gulf states - in particular Saudi Arabia - the fig-leaf position of neutrality was secretly abandoned in favour of Iraq. This change was later outlined in the remarkably frank admission of Alan Clark (Minister of State for Defence 1989-92) during cross-examination in the 1992 Matrix Churchill trial. No longer a member of the government, Clark mischievously revealed that "the interests of the West were best served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, and the longer the better." Intentional Western prolongation of the war became de rigueur.
By early 1984, the media disseminated widespread reports that Iraq had used chemical weapons. A UN report published in March 1994 confirmed the use of WW1 mustard gas and the far more sinister WWII Nazi nerve gas Tabun. Iran too, came in for widespread criticism for its use of young children as front line infantry soldiers. Pressed in the House of Commons to confirm that chemical weapons would not be supplied to either combatant, Geoffrey Pattie (Minister for Defence Procurement) stated "we do not intend to authorise the supply of any item which might assist Iran or Iraq to wage chemical warfare during the current conflict."15 The Carefully drafted Parliamentary answer was wide open to abuse. In particular the words "intend," "authorise," "assist" and "current conflict" are noteworthy for their flexibility. For a public weaned on the concept that "what you mean is what you say", the Scott affair has proved to be an eye opening journey through an Alice in Wonderland world of double-speak and hidden meaning. As we shall see chemical pre-cursors were, in fact, shipped to Iraq, destined for use in its chemical warfare programme. So too, were machine tool components vital for Saddam's much desired nuclear weapons factories.
Shipping weapons to the enemy in time of war is not a new phenomenon. The use by UK Ltd of Jordan to act as a "front" was likewise reflected in the USA. William Casey, DCI at the Central Intelligence Agency, saw Jordan as the "perfect front for covert U.S. operations, whether they involved intelligence-sharing or arms." Fred Haobsh, a Jordanian born US citizen, worked for the CIA as a contractor and skated around the middle east collecting intelligence for his employers. It was dangerous work. Meeting up with Saddam Hussein's weapons procurement officer in Jordan, he received a shopping list of weapons and war materiel needed by Iraq's greedy war machine. As with the UK, these included components for both CBW and nuclear weapons, particularly "Tungsten carbide cutting heads for computer controlled lathes... blocks of graphite of particular specifications and dimensions." Haobsh returned to the US and met his CIA "handlers" in a Washington safe house for debriefing. Happy to work for Uncle Sam he began to worry as the meeting continued. The intelligence he had gathered seemed to be of little interest to his handlers. What they wanted, he concluded was "to sell weapons to Iraq." By February 2 1991, Desert Storm's air war was in its fourteenth day. As hundreds of allied sorties continued to be flown in a round-the-clock air superiority and bombing campaign, Haobsh returned from a trip to Tunis with an urgent Iraqi request for a consignment of "Soviet-made shoulder-operated surface-to-air-missiles (SAMs)." Both his handlers were keen to help: "Great, now we're going to sell Saddam some missiles," one of them enthused. Now acutely worried, Haobsh asked for a letter confirming he was acting on behalf of the CIA, "in case I was prosecuted," he later revealed. The request went unfulfilled and Haobsh, now desperately wanting out, refusing to take any more calls from the cool dudes at Langley Enterprises.
When a Policy is NOT a Policy
Disturbed at increasing public distaste for the war in the light of these revelations, the then Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe, announced in 1985, a strict set of measures covering weapons exports to Iraq and Iran. Under bitter discussion for a year or more they would, henceforward be known as the "Howe Guidelines." Not worth the paper the ink had just dried on, they were another shining example of flexible and deceptive wording. Non-the-less they were good PR and again stilled public unease. The guidelines are also a masterful example of careful drafting and demonstrate that government rarely means what it says... and never says what it means.
By some convoluted alien logic only understood by Whitehall Mandarins, their political bosses and senior executives from the armaments industry, the concept of "lethal" does not stretch to include artillery shells, Main Battle Tanks, Multiple Rocket Launchers, a truly massive gun-barrel (supergun) launch sites for Exocet anti-ship missiles, plus a whole host of other pyrotechnical devices and objects that go "bang." "Non-lethal" on the other hand does, it appears, include highly sophisticated machine tools capable of producing upwards of 500,000 assorted artillery shells annually, as well as special lathes destined to develop nuclear warheads. Somewhere between a Dictionary's heaven and hell is another Whitehall phrase: "Diversionary Routes." When one has an official policy that precludes openly exporting sensitive "defence equipment" to a "restricted" destination, one doesn't actually export it. It's as crystal clear and as simple as that. Maybe.
What you do, however, is cajole or bribe (or both) a friendly smaller nation to act as a "front." For a percentage of the cost, they'll sign the all important "end user" certificates promising not to on-ship weapons to the proscribed nation. That they will ship weapons onward is precisely the point. This is one reason why Jordan permitted Iraq to finance, build and staff a large section of its major seaport, Aqaba, from which an endless supply of western war materiel was trucked across land to bolster Saddam's flagging soldiers. It is also a major reason why Britain "deliberately encouraged" Jordan to act as an end-user "front" for the sale of "twenty-nine ARV's" (Armoured Recovery Vehicles)."20 In a classified Security Service (MI5) note dated 26 May 1983, obtained by Scott, was the disclosure that "In view of the restrictions imposed on the sale of war material to Iraq and Iran, Iraq has been using Jordan as an intermediary." Noticeably, the vaunted "Howe Guidelines" didn't include Jordan as one of the proscribed destinations.
Shipped via Jordan in February 1985 were a number of Chieftain Main Battle Tank spares for use in captured British made Iranian tanks, earlier supplied by Her Majesty's masters of deceit.21 Jordan, it turns out, didn't have any Chieftain tanks.22 In July 1985 a supply of NBC (Nuclear, Biological & Chemical) "packs" for use in MBTs (Main Battle Tanks) were also shipped to Jordan despite serious reservations from a Ministry of Defence expert, Lt-Colonel Glazebrook. An honest man, Richard Glazebrook was naive enough to believe the existing export "Guidelines" were meant to be followed. 600 NBC respirators were treated in much the same. Additional shipments of Chieftain tanks spares, NBC equipment and other materiel were sanctioned over Lt. Col Glazebrook's objections.
Becoming a thorn in the side, Glazebrook was ultimately side-stepped and a welter of sensitive "export applications" were approved without his knowledge. By August 1990, following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait "40 wagon loads of tank spares and L64 APFS (armour piercing fin-stabilised) discarding sabot 115mm tank rounds" were approved - following a lunch between King Hussein of Jordan and Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister. Shipped aboard the Yugoslavian freighter Tara bound for Aqaba, the consignment reached Iraq, its real end-user. Sufficiently worried that Saddam may get hold of some really useful "kit" to use against allied soldiers, the LAW 80 anti tank missiles (ATM) forming part of the original Tara cargo were temporarily withheld. Scott reflects the anguish of some minister's in reaching a decision on these ATM's particularly in the light of the deployment "of the Seventh Armoured Brigade in the Gulf which could become the target for these missiles if they found their way into Iraqi hands." For example he refers to Peter Lilley (Sec. Of State DTI) who "is not satisfied with proposals from the Jordanians for ensuring that anti-tank missiles delivered to Jordan are retained by the Jordanian Armed Forces and not made available to Iraq." Apparently these same concerns did not cause anxiety for the sabot tank rounds. However, despite these and other misgivings, Scott reveals that "in the event licenses for the export of the anti-tank missiles to Jordan were not approved until Autumn 1991." The difficulty faced by British government in regard to UN sanctions imposed on Iraq following the Gulf war was of no great significance - after all Jordan was the official end-user, as we have seen.
The $25,000 Egyptian "End-User"
Apart from Jordan, a number of other end-user nations acting as "fronts" were able to divert considerable quantities of materiel to Iraq. A Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) minute dated 29 November 1984 notes "links between Egypt and Iraq in the CW field" and goes on to observe that evidence of those links is "quite conclusive." Despite this obvious intelligence an export licence by ISC Chemicals Ltd., to tranship a quantity of hydrogen fluoride (HF) to Egypt (destined for Iraq) was sanctioned. This approval followed a visit to Egypt by Trade Minister Tim Renton. Hydrogen fluoride is a known pre-cursor for the nerve gas Sarin, which formed one of the ingredients in the "cocktail" of chemicals dropped on the unsuspecting citizens of Halabja - "a brew of hydrogen cyanide, tabun, sarin and sulphuric mustard gas." Interestingly, UK Ltd has a long and devious involvement with the Nazi nerve agents, Sarin, Tabun and Soman. In their book "Rat Lines", authors Mark Aarons and John Loftus reveal that following WW11, British agents successfully negotiated with a Nazi war criminal to obtain the necessary formulae's of these gases. Satisfied, they then aided in the Nazi's flight from justice - to South America. The war criminal was none other than Dr. Joseph Mengele - Auschwitz's notorious "White Angel", a monster guilty of the most vile medical experiments in Hitler's abominable death-camps. All in a day's work for the boys who brought a wide-eyed world such thrilling media extravaganzas as: "Nuremberg Trials R US."
Egyptian "end-user" certificates were available to anyone prepared to pay $25,000.00 according to oral testimony given Scott by two unnamed intelligence operatives. Egypt was also the "opaque" destination of over one million "Proximity" and "Point Detonating Fuses" produced between November 1986 and July 1987 by the Scottish based munitions manufacturer Allivane International Ltd. Fuses of this sort are an obvious and indispensable component of large brass tubes packed with cordite and other explosive chemicals that are propelled at great speed out of the nozzles of howitzers. They are thus, in the jargon, agreeably "non-lethal." Naturally. The fuses ended up in Iraq." Other nations engaged in the diversionary "peek-a-boo" game were Saudi Arabia, Austria and Portugal.
Quite apart from the "diversionary" routes, UK Ltd., was happy to engage in other forms of neat business practice, presumably for a commission? Fortunate possessors of the much sought (and still unimaginable) "favoured trading status with Iraq" the British government was delighted to act as an international "clearing house" for other nations defence exports to Iraq. These particularly included pre-cursors for Chemical weapons.
Halt the Gravy-train - Saddam's just invaded Kuwait!
By August 1990, misinterpreting western signals, the heavily-moustached and armed Saddam Hussein ungraciously stomped into neighbouring Kuwait. A long time friend became an immediate and grisly foe. UK Ltd's role in supplying weapons to Iraq suddenly became a major problem, and damage limitation the order of the day. To demonstrate their "innocence" and deflect criticism, the government elected to prosecute some small-time armaments manufacturers, who they considered could be shown to have breached government export licence laws. Amongst others chosen as the sacrificial lamb was Paul Henderson and his two fellow directors. Henderson, the Managing Director of Matrix Churchill, a small, British based Iraqi owned manufacturer, was supplying a wide range of machine tools to Iraq with British government approval. Termed as "dual-use" (equally capable of producing weapons or innocent products) Henderson knew that the equipment he provided Iraq went straight into Saddam's war factories; there was never a doubt in his mind, as he readily admits in his book "The Unlikely Spy."
Likewise, the government had no doubts that the Matrix Churchill exports they had approved were destined for Iraq's weapons network; numerous British intelligence reports, plus a 1989 CIA briefing note clearly identified Churchill Matrix as a weapons supplier to Iraq. Unfortunately, what government ministers did not know at that time, was that Henderson had been a Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6) asset for the last twenty years. Regularly reporting to his "handler" before and after each visit to Iraq, he had provided a massive quantity of material on Saddam's weapons development and procurement programme, including his own small contributions. He was in the words of his handler, John Balsom, "A very brave man".
By October 1990, two months after Saddam's foray into Kuwait, anxious Customs and Excise officials raided Matrix Churchill and arrested Henderson and others. A year later, in November 1991, committal proceedings against Henderson and two other directors commenced at the Old Bailey. By now, government ministers had become aware that Henderson was the "unlikely spy." His defence lawyer made clear he would go for acquittal on the basis that Henderson had informed Her Majesty's government's intelligence community of the true state of affairs. However, central to Henderson's defence were classified government documents confirming his spy status and prolonged assistance to SIS and MI5. Without these Henderson's lawyer was not hopeful of proving the defence case. Found guilty all three would have almost certainly been imprisoned.
Once again a step ahead of the defence, five government ministers confidently signed so called "gagging orders" known as Public Interest Immunity Certificates (PIIC's). With devilish cunning these sought to withhold the vital (culpable) government documents on the grounds of national security. PIIC's generally consist of exhaustive legal and emotional argument to convince the presiding judge that dreadful damage would follow were he to permit the defence access to necessary evidence. In Henderson's case, the arguments consisted on a mishmash of public spirited concerns. One argued that the lives of Intelligence agents would be put in jeopardy were documents released, citing that "unquantifiable damage" would result.37 Heady stuff. Later, it was discovered that the intelligence agent who's life was at risk was...Henderson himself. The Minister who signed this order, Tristan Garel-Jones was hauled in front of Scott and quizzed. In the light of the evidence surveyed, Scott asked Garel-Jones what he meant by "unquantifiable damage." Presumably he meant unquantifiably large? "No," Garel-Jones replied, stoicly. Then, perhaps he meant unquantifiably small? Scott asked. Not that either. "Unquantifiably" Garel-Jones intoned, can mean "unquantifiably large or unquantifiably small."
Bombarded by these gagging-orders, the trial Judge, unusually, demanded to read the documents and make his own judgement. They were delivered sealed in metal boxes under stringent security measures, with guards placed outside the judge's chambers to ensure utmost secrecy - such was the magnitude of state secrecy attached to them. In the event the Judge, surprisingly, ruled in favour of the defence and ordered the documents turned over. Thereafter, the same documents were "biked" to the defence attorney via a solitary commercial dispatch rider - such was the magnitude of state secrecy attached to them. Now on fragile ground, the prosecution was dealt a final death blow by the Minister of State for Defence turned prosecution witness, Alan Clark. Under cross-examination Clark revealed that he had given a "nod and a wink" to Henderson and other Machine Tool manufacturers to export weapons to Iraq. With this incredible testimony the governments prosecution of Henderson and his co-defendants collapsed. Suddenly revealed was the governments cynical maneuvering that directly led to the establishment of Sir Richard Scott's inquiry, and the resulting hue and cry - now evaporated.
This sad tale of daring-do has an additional footnote that is well worth retelling. Alan Clark revealed to Paul Lennon, the London Independent's journalist that "The moment you announce an enquiry the thing's dead. Who gives a toss about the findings? They are not yesterdays fish and chip's but last February's fish and chips." Clark's fifty-roomed country home, Saltwood Castle, Kent, is, incidentally, the place where 10th century assassin knights working for the crown, conspired to put an end to that "troublesome priest", Thomas a'Becket.
We British have a long history in such matters of state.
- Scott D3.151, D6.312-328, D6.374-387,D6.388-392, D6.397-401 and in particular D6.402-405
- Variously jumping from 2nd to 3rd place with France. The USA is by far the largest weapons exporter in the world with well over 50% of global annual sales.
- The Independent, 21 February 1996, and SirTeddy's personal correspondence with this writer.
- Scott D1.56
- Scott D1.57
- Scott D1.10
- Alan Friedman "Spider's Web" (Faber & Faber, London 1993) p3
- Ibid p4
- Ibid p5
- Scott D1.10
- Scott D1.10
- Scott footnote No. 52, page 170, vol. 1. See also Court transcripts: Regina V Matrix Churchill, 4 November 1992 p. 91.
- Scott D1.19
- Scott D1.3
- Scott D.19
- Alan Friedman's "Spider's Web" (Faber & Faber 1993) p 27.