We should not trust Bush’s ‘lives were saved’ story
Crispin Black: Is the former American president a reliable source? No
Over the years the British public has been called upon to take a great deal of intelligence on trust. In Iraq we were promised weapons of mass destruction. In counter-terror we have been asked to believe that MI5 could not have done any better in thwarting the 7-7 bombers. Each time the glossy intelligence brochure has been a disappointment.
And now George W Bush, in his memoir Decision Points, is asking us to believe that 'waterboarding' al-Qaeda suspects in US custody helped avert a number of terrorist attacks on targets around the world, including Heathrow and Canary Wharf, and thus "saved lives".
'Waterboarding' is an interrogation technique which causes the subject or victim to believe that he is drowning. President Bush's legal experts concluded that its use "complied with the Constitution and all applicable laws, including those that ban torture". After authorising its use, Bush was assured by the head of the CIA that "interrogations would be performed by professionals".
In the Second World War, professionals from the Gestapo used similar techniques on French Resistance leaders and professionals from the Japanese Secret Police used them on British and Commonwealth prisoners of war and internees.
Which is presumably why Mr Bush is so keen to show that he did the right thing and that 'waterboarding' can be justified from the intelligence results.
But how do we know that he is not making it up - using 'results' to justify his actions which he knows conveniently cannot be verified?
We don't know, and we never will. We the public are not privy to secret intelligence. But we can apply to Bush's story some of the tests and safeguards that our intelligence services use to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Let us imagine we are MI6 and that the key passages from Bush's memoirs are a series of pieces of CX (the MI6 shorthand for human intelligence reports) and see where that takes us.
The first 'report' we receive in London is the one about waterboarding. The information about Canary Wharf and Heathrow comes with a short summary of what we know about the source and his previous reporting.
Our initial report might well look something like this: "A new source at the heart of the US government on trial. Previously an alcoholic. Possibly trying to influence as well as inform."
Given the subject matter terrorism in the UK the Joint Intelligence Committee would be hungry for more. It would tell our spooks at MI6 to go back for seconds so we can get a better handle on the reliability and accuracy of his views.
A second report reveals that the source had no respect for British public opinion. No problem typical of the senior echelons in Washington. Sounds as though he is the real thing.
But everyone got their fingers burned with dodgy sources over Iraq so we might demand one final test report, just to make sure that we were not dealing with a crank or a Walter Mitty fantasist.
The third report reveals the source talking gushingly about the "wisdom" and "strategic thinking" of Tony Blair.
The JIC would quickly appreciate that it had reached its own 'decision point' and would no doubt issue the following urgent clarification:
"This series of reports from an initially promising source in Washington are withdrawn with immediate effect. The opinions expressed in them are not grounded in objective reality and any assessments based on them likely to be valueless." ·
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