Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Why we need an inquiry - my evidence

The generals and air marshals are now speaking up. The Tories will debate an inquiry next week. There is widespread belief that any private inquiry will be a whitewash. Evidence must be aired in public. Here’s some evidence I would like to offer up, as a former Royal Air Force Officer. I do not believe any of what I state below breaches the Official Secrets Act or compromises operational certainly compromises the government of the time though. I will happily go on the record with this, with full details of my post-title, name, rank, dates of service, units etc.

1a. In 2002 I was an officer in a major headquarters role working in support of operations. Operational war planning commenced at some point in September 2002 and was literally top secret. This was understandable as military war planning must always be secret but I perceived enormous political sensitivity with regard to the preparations that reinforced the secrecy and need-to-know principle. The code name for the war planning operation was Operation WARRIOR.

1b. One of my duties was UK/US liaison in a communications support role. This dated back to before 11/09/2001. From my experience, war planning was conducted in support of Afghanistan operations very quickly after 9/11, but there was no thought given to any operations in Iraq in my area of work beyond the existing no-fly zone air policing operations over Iraq and Kuwait until early to mid 2002.

My Conclusion (1). The decision to attack Iraq was taken in mid 2002 and war planning commenced shortly afterwards, well before any UN resolution was in sight. Given the time lag between September 11 2001 and March 20 2003, it is unlikely that the untrue claim that Iraq was an Al-Qaeda stronghold even featured in the decision-making process.

2a. I travelled to the United States in the autumn of 2002 to participate in an initial conference which set the groundwork for continued liaison (in the US, in the UK and eventually in the Middle East). One of the problems we had was a software interoperability issue: our software was essentially a “patch” behind the United States. Writing the code for the patch cost money (although the private sector contractors bent over backwards to do all they could for us) so I prepared a case for a UOR – an urgent operational requirement, which is a kind of business case for the release of funding for equipment. In the meantime, the communications data was coded by hand – at risk and without validation. The UOR was authorised soon after preparation (and recognised as urgent) but the funding was not released and the upgrade was not complete until the war fighting had commenced.

2b. I was involved in communications UORs for other equipment (ships, land platforms and aircraft). I believe there was similar foot-dragging in these cases as well and it was largely due to the sheer effort of military experts and civilian contractors that these were brought into operation.

My Conclusion (2). Release of funding for operations was held off to avoid political controversy. I believe the-then Defence Secretary is guilty of maladministration and malfeasance in public office, and this led to equipment and supply problems which in turn led to, or contributed to, the loss of life.

3a. I was told by contacts in theatre and in nearby bases (cited as under potential missile threat) that there was not enough NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) equipment (such as IPE – Individual Protection Equipment) and that some areas were stripped of equipment to supply up-threat troops (understandable under the circumstances). Periodic changes of protective suits and respirator canisters and other equipment is needed in a chemical warfare environment. One Army colleague told me obliquely: “you’d be utterly shocked at what’s going on over here.”

3b. In September 2002, on a few occasions at coffee-break time and other times, my colleagues and myself discussed the "dodgy dossier". The conclusion was that the intelligence claims were rubbish. My belief (and I think the belief of others) was that the dossier was a front for critical intelligence that could not be revealed for compelling reasons - compromise of a source, prompting of a short-notice attack somewhere. In reality, there was nothing.

My Conclusion (3). There was a glaring mis-match between the claimed WMD threat and the supply of NBC IPE. Either there was no credible WMD threat or the supply of protective equipment was utterly incompetent.

This is the sort of evidence Brown does not want made public or even considered by an inquiry. Public disclosure of this sort of evidence is necessary to identify lessons to prevent future loss of life. If General Sir Michael Jackson says he will give evidence in public, then that is good enough for all of us.

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