posted on Apr, 21 2003 @ 04:19 AM
The trouble isn't our old friend the dog that didn't bark. The trouble is that - from Baghdad to Belfast to Baluchistan - there seem to be packs of
sniffer dogs with drippy noses and sore throats. We feed them royally. America alone puts close to $40bn on their plate every year. They live in
gold-plated, hi-tech kennels. And yet - every time you need them - they don't bark, let alone bite.
Where were the bloodhounds of MI5 when Sir John Stevens (and under-informed Northern Ireland secretaries such as Peter Brooke) needed them? They'd
got time to kill and reason to perform at the end of the 1980s, remember. Having failed to anticipate the end of the cold war, they were bidding
anxiously for a "lead role" in tackling Irish terrorism. Budgets got protected that way. But somehow there wasn't a single warning woof. Loyalist
death squads - with direct links to relatively junior British army officers - were able to go around bumping off unhelpful solicitors; and the silence
Some observers, like the Daily Telegraph, find that a little odd. Surely the upper reaches of MI5 must have been cognisant? Surely they were playing a
deeper game of patriotic double bluff? Sir John himself doesn't appear to think so. He reckons the trail goes onwards and upwards, far beyond the
hapless Brigadier Gordon Kerr, but he specifically praises the operators from Five for their eagerness to help him out. Eager beavers in the cause of
truth, unlike the MoD.
Well, perhaps we shall see. But, either way, the people from MI5 are also the folk from Catch-22. They must have known, in which case they're
culpable. But if they didn't know what Kerr, who recruited informers with their permission, was up to, then that's even worse.
Meanwhile, has anybody spotted Osama bin Laden lately? The CIA and their special forces were combing the badlands beyond Quetta again when last heard
of, but he seems to have slipped away - maybe to some secret rendezvous with Saddam and the other four-dozen or so cards on the wanted list who have
disappeared, carrying their weapons of mass destruction with them. And it is time, high time, to get serious.
We taxpayers on the outside are much like the politicians on the inside. We fund our intelligence services. (In Britain alone, at a billion a year.)
We bend our policies and perceptions to chime with the information they provide. If we're a prime minister who has moral fervour to spare, we may
even go to war on their say-so.
But then there's a reckoning. Where are those weapons of mass destruction? They, and their non-provision for Hans Blix, were the reason why the war
that couldn't wait was waged. Colin Powell showed us CIA-approved pictures of their hiding places. It could only, surely, be a matter of days
post-conquest before those canisters of gas and vials of poison were recovered and waved, tauntingly, in Chirac's face. Labour ministers and MPs had
been commodiously briefed; there was no doubt at all. But delay is the mother and father of doubt.
Here are just few other uneasy things to ponder. That early "uprising" in Basra when nobody rose. Didn't we have one agent inside the city to tell
us what was going on? That first strike on Saddam, which seems to have missed. Who gave us the steer? The current failure to find him or his righthand
men. Even the chaps we have managed to round up have mostly turned themselves in or been picked up by Kurds. Is this good enough? Is this what the
voters of the US pay $40bn for?
The question is necessary because a pattern lies behind it. Technically, the massed ranks of spooks and surveillance men produce data by the tonne.
Some of it, often with help from special forces pinpointing bombing sites, is excellent. Bang goes the information ministry (though not, happily, the
oil ministry). But, time and again, there's no other inside track.
Saddam's supposed nuclear programme? Even the Blix boys scotched that tale. Maybe, it's said, the less intimidating weapons of mass destruction have
flitted off to Syria, just ahead of the crazy gang who developed and might have used them. Perhaps. Maybe. But why should the gang carry wagon-loads
of unused and thus useless chemicals to Damascus while leaving safes full of very useful dollars behind in Baghdad? The Americans found another
stashed $650m over the weekend. Ultimate craziness. And did none of Washington's finest think of blocking off the Damascus road anyway?
The task, coldly considered, wasn't too daunting. America has known about the threat of Saddam for 13 years, ever since it failed to predict his
invasion of Kuwait. In all that time, with all that money, couldn't it have got a few well-placed people on the ground? You may not like the way the
Israelis fight the Palestinians, but at least their intelligence effort gets mud as well as blood on its boots. At least Brigadier Kerr's malign
force research unit tried to be part of the action.
Just before the new President Bush took office, he got a personal briefing from the director of the CIA on the three "most pressing threats" facing
America. They were Bin Laden, weapons of mass destruction and "the rise of Chinese power, military and other". Eh? No wonder W wasn't much moved.
Laundry lists come more compelling than that.
I've never doubted that Saddam has some nasty secrets. I don't yet doubt that he and most of the other big cards will be found eventually; or that
Osama's years (if not days) are numbered. But time goes by and the hounds of the press yap for answers from Bush and Blair. Where's the clear and
present danger? Sorry, wrong lead and wrong park. Try asking the dogs who still don't bark.