Monday, July 07, 2003

Memory, Forgetting, Alistair Campbell and Iraq

It would appear that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report has let the Downing St Director of Strategic Communications, Alistair Campbell, aka Consultant Spin Doctor, "Riviera Gigolo", hate figure of the Right, the Left, the Media and probably the church too, wannabe Scotsman, reformed alkie and all-round political thug off the charge of interfering with the now-infamous dossier on weapons of you-know-what in Iraq. What a bore! Mr Campbell's defence strategy has in effect been to start a blinding row with the BBC and hope that a) everyone forgets about the war, and b) the Sun et al get into the spirit of the thing and start a hard right hue and cry about "liberal elite....politically correct media....journalists" and the usual 80s-Republican imported rubbish. Ali's beef is basically that BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan published the original story that he doctored the dossier on the back of a single spook's tale. The full absurdity of this argument is best shown by a thought experiment - what would Campbell have done in his old life as political editor of the Daily Mirror, faced with the same story? The only realistic answer is that he would have clamped down like a starving crocodile and splashed the fucker all over page one at all costs. Think about it - it was a killer news nugget and no journalist in the world would ever have missed it for all the expenses in Fleet Street. Mr C - as I'll call him from now in homage to East London rock'n'roll sensations, Daryl C and his C-Men - made his career as a scurrilous tabloid politician basher, before defecting to the west as a scurrilous, tabloid journalist-basher. There are 2 possibilities - he's turned overnight into the reincarnation of Pulitzer, or he ain't playing straight. And he's paid for the second.

What does he want us to forget? The full technical and military absurdity of trying to say that Iraq was just tipped to the toes with evil chemical germs, that somehow disappeared overnight when they were needed most. The September dossier - the one the government didn't admit to faking - gave the powerful impression that Iraq had a genuine, operational system for the use of chemical and/or biological arms. If such arms could be "deployed" within 45 minutes of an order, they must have been prepared for use as weapons - i.e. artillery rounds or rockets, warheads for ballistic missiles, aerial bombs or missiles - and produced in quantity. Even if "deployed", as the Foreign Office now contend, only means delivered to units, this means that arrangements must have existed to transport them to those units wherever they were - which means that the war stocks of such weapons had to be held at logistically convenient points around Iraq. Not in a remote cave or secret bunker lab, but an ordnance depot with excellent road access, railway links, and major warehouse-type facilities. Not too hard to find - like looking for a supermarket distribution centre, airport cargo terminal or the like, in inconvenient fact. Another hint - special weapons are of course stored and handled under extreme security precautions.

Further forward, the units chosen to fire them would quite clearly have needed to prepare. They would have had to keep and deliver the chemical munitions separately from the conventional ones. They would have had to train their personnel in the use of nasties. They would have had to keep extra protection and decontamination gear and take precautions against the special stuff being exposed to enemy fire or detected before its use. Deployment could mean various things, but can hardly have been less than the delivery of the WMDs to the unit echelons. It could also mean their delivery to the firing points. Those units chosen for this role would be permeated by preparations for chemical or biological war (if not by the stuff itself...), quite apart from the complex transport arrangements needed.

One of the crucial issues with regard to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons is "C3" - command, control, and communications, as they are the most deadly weapons in existence. Plutonium is not a thing to play with. Further, to use them is the biggest military-political decision there is. The decision to authorise such use is usually reserved at least to the supreme military command, if not to the supreme political leadership. Even if weapons are released to the control of lower formations, they generally require approval if possible. This makes a special and sophisticated command system necessary. It is obvious, first of all, that the unintentional use of a weapon is prevented as far as possible. It's also obvious that the enemy might try to interfere with communications in order to prevent their use. From an Iraqi point of view, keeping the perpetrators of a coup from using them would also be crucial. Various solutions exist, but all require complicated encipherment and identification as well as some form of split channel, so that no one man can fire the missile.
The Soviet answer, for example, was to split control of the rocket from control of the warhead. Authority to launch stayed with the commander, but the warhead could only be primed by the Communist Party commissar (who answered to the General Political Administration and ultimately to the 4th chief directorate of the secret service). On a nuclear submarine, for example, the launch order would come in a naval cipher restricted to the Captain. Having decoded the signal, the Captain would use this key to fire the missiles. But the bombs would only go off if they had been primed by the Commissar's key - and this could only happen on receipt of another signal in a Naval GRU intelligence cipher known only to the Commissar. The strong influence of Soviet military technique on the Iraqi forces would suggest some version of this structure.

This all means that Iraq, were anything in the dossiers true, would be awash with people (to say nothing of materiel) trained as part of this system - much of the artillery arm, for a start. And not one of them - now penniless - would be tempted to talk? Is this realistic? If the government was not lying in its teeth, then the information provided by the intelligence services was so wrong as to be absurd. Suspiciously so. What they want us to forget is that we have apparently gone to war for no reason at all. That people have been killed. That we find ourselves in occupation of a vast ruined territory where the people sometimes shoot, for an indefinite period. That the cost has been insane. That no - absolutely no - concrete benefit has come of it. Only pain and hate and distrust and waste. They hope we will forget. They hope that those oh-so-handy silly season soaraways about footballers being kidnapped and evil asylum seekers stealing the Queen's swans will screen their getaway. They hope against hope that we will forget the hopes of 1997 and the steady grey betrayals ever since. Milan Kundera said that "the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

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