Richard Norton-Taylor / The Guardian – 2006-03-21 00:54:15
Legal Gag on Bush-Blair War Row
Richard Norton-Taylor / The Guardian
LONDON (March 16, 2006) — The attorney general last night threatened newspapers with the Official Secrets Act if they revealed the contents of a document allegedly relating to a dispute between Tony Blair and George Bush over the conduct of military operations in Iraq.
It is believed to be the first time the Blair government has threatened newspapers in this way. Though it has obtained court injunctions against newspapers, the government has never prosecuted editors for publishing the contents of leaked documents, including highly sensitive ones about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, last night referred editors to newspaper reports yesterday that described the contents of a memo purporting to be at the centre of charges against two men under the secrets act.
Under the front-page headline “Bush plot to bomb his ally”, the Daily Mirror reported that the US president last year planned to attack the Arabic television station al-Jazeera, which has its headquarters in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where US and British bombers were based.
Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror, said last night: “We made No 10 fully aware of the intention to publish and were given ‘no comment’ officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under section 5 [of the secrets act]”.
Under section 5 it is an offence to have come into the possession of government information, or a document from a crown servant, if that person discloses it without lawful authority. The prosecution has to prove the disclosure was damaging.
The Mirror said the memo turned up in May last year at the constituency office of the former Labour MP for Northampton South, Tony Clarke. Last week, Leo O’Connor, a former researcher for Mr Clarke, was charged with receiving a document under section 5 of the act.
David Keogh, a former Foreign Office official seconded to the Cabinet Office, was charged last week with making a “damaging disclosure of a document relating to international relations”. Mr Keogh, 49, is accused of sending the document to Mr O’Connor, 42, between April 16 and May 28 2004.
Mr Clarke said yesterday that Mr O’Connor “did the right thing” by drawing the document to his attention. Mr Clarke, an anti-war MP who lost his seat at the last election, returned the document to the government. “As well as an MP, I am a special constable,” he said.
Both men were released on police bail last Thursday to appear at Bow Street magistrates court on November 29. When they were charged, newspapers reported that the memo contained a transcript of a discussion between Mr Blair and Mr Bush.
The conversation was understood to have taken place during a meeting in the US. It is believed to reveal that Mr Blair disagreed with Mr Bush about aspects of the Iraq war. There was widespread comment at the time that the British government was angry about US military tactics there, particularly in the city of Falluja.
Charges under the secrets act have to have the consent of the attorney-general. His intervention yesterday suggests that the prosecution plans to ask the judge to hold part, if not all of the trial, in camera, with the public and press excluded.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
Britain in Clash over US Fighter Secrets
Tom Baldwin / The Times
WASHINGTON (March 15, 2006) — Britain yesterday threatened to scrap a planned £10 billion purchase of the new Joint Strike Fighter if the United States refuses it access to American military secrets.
Lord Drayson, the Minister for Defence Procurement, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Britain would lose sovereign control without the technology transfer deal.
The transfer is being resisted by both Congress and Lockheed Martin, which fears that it would mean handing over preciously guarded stealth aircraft technology to industrial competitors in the UK.
But RAF chiefs say that failure to reach agreement will leave them having to beg for help from US Lockheed Martin specialists after each sortie flown by one of the new aircraft.
Lord Drayson’s comments, on a trip to Washington yesterday, represent a significant escalation in a diplomatic row that has rumbled on, largely in private, for several months.
Speaking to reporters before the showdown with Senators, he said: “We should be absolutely clear about what our bottom line is on this matter . . . we will not be able to purchase the aircraft.”
Although Lord Drayson was reluctant to discuss what he called “plan B”, it is understood that the Government is considering alternatives to the largely US-designed JSF. These include prolonging the life of RAF Harriers or buying French Rafale aircraft.
Britain is committed to spending more than £1 billion on the JSF project, but the eventual procurement of 150 jets is said to be worth £10 billion to £13 billion. There is also a question over whether Britain would withdraw its own contribution of jump-jet technology.
Lord Drayson told the Senators yesterday: “We are approaching important decisions that will impact on both UK and US military capability for a generation.” He said that the US needed to understand that a mutual commitment to the JSF was dependant on Britain having “the operational sovereignty that we require”.
Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, is among those who have made it plain that the US should give the UK nothing. The White House is said to be sympathetic to Britain, but it is powerless to secure the transfer deal this year without approval from Congress.
The row, said Lord Drayson, could affect future co-operation on military deals such as a replacement of Trident as Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. He emphasised that negotiations had been going “pretty well” with the US Administration — but pointedly failed to say the same of Congress.
Britain has been further angered by the US Defence Department’s decision to scrap a $2 billion programme for a second engine for the JSF which would have been jointly developed by Rolls-Royce and General Electric.
Lord Drayson also used his visit yesterday to emphasise the operational and cost advantages of the second engine.
He said that Britain had “not been properly consulted” by the Pentagon before the project was scrapped. Senator John Warner, the committee’s Republican chairman, agreed that the lack of consultation with a “tier one partner” was “perplexing”. Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the Air Staff, who accompanied the minister to Washington, later compared the engine decision to being “hit over the head”.
He added that the technology transfer was absolutely essential if the new JSFs were to be fully integrated with British aircraft carriers. “This is not a vague generalisation. We have come up with specific requirements,” Sir Jock said.
Lord Drayson said that he believed it was still possible to get a deal that separated the “industrial politics”, involving Lockheed Martin, from the military technology transfer issue. He added: “I appreciate the concerns of some in the US about the issue of technology transfer but . . . I am optimistic that we can find a way through that will meet our requirements for sovereign capability.”
The minster has been strongly backed by Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, who yesterday made his own submission to the committee.
At yesterday’s hearing he also received some support from Joe Lieberman, the influential Democrat Senator, who said that he felt “very sympathetic” to Britain’s position on the technology transfer.
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