This article originally appeared in The Guardian
David Kelly referred obliquely to Operation Rockingham. What role did this mysterious cell play in justifying the Iraq war?
David Kelly, giving evidence to the prime minister’s intelligence and security committee in closed session on July 16 – the day before his suicide – made a comment the significance of which has so far been missed. He said: “Within the defence intelligence services I liaise with the Rockingham cell.” Unfortunately nobody on the committee followed up this lead, which is a pity because the Rockingham reference may turn out to be very important indeed.
What is the role of the Rockingham cell? The evidence comes from a former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter, who had been a US military intelligence officer for eight years and served on the staff of General Schwarzkopf, the US commander of allied forces in the first Gulf war. He has described himself as a card-carrying Republican who voted for Bush, but he distinguished himself in insisting before the Iraq war, and was almost alone in doing so, that almost all of Iraq’s WMD had been destroyed as a result of inspections, and the rest either used or destroyed in the first Gulf war. In terms, therefore, of proven accuracy of judgment and weight of experience of the workings of western military intelligence, he is a highly reliable source.
This article originally appeared in The Guardian
A shorter version of this article was published in the Financial Times.
Should a third runway be built at Heathrow? This collision between the needs of the economy and the environment focuses one of the most contentious decisions facing Parliament for a decade as the Government prepares to issue its White Paper on air transport policy to 2030. It will require wholly new thinking if this decision is not to go badly wrong.
For BAA the case for a go-ahead is clear. The number of airline passengers using British airports will triple by 2030, and quintuple in the South East. It will give a huge boost to the economy. And we should not deny new, lower-income passengers the right of access to air travel if they wish. But all these premises are seriously flawed.
The demand projections are based on the assumption that air fares will continue to fall by 1% in real terms per year. They also assume that aviation will continue to benefit from substantial tax breaks. They ignore any proposals that there should be a significant switch to high-speed, long-distance rail. And they are built on the presumption that the airlines continue to avoid their full external social and environmental costs. All four of these bases should be challenged and altered.
This article was published in the New Statesman.
In the teeth of intense opposition – including Mothers Against Genetic Engineering parading naked outside parliament and hoisting a display board showing a four-breasted woman linked to a milking machine – New Zealand’s Labour government has just lifted a two-year moratorium on growing GM crops.
New Zealand (which I visited three months ago to give evidence to a select committee on this issue) has been through the same anguished public debate as the UK. Indeed, it had the world’s first GM election in 2001 when the incumbent Labour government lost a significant swathe of seats because people accused it of secretly allowing in GM in defiance of the country’s “clean green” image. As a result, Labour set up a royal commission on the subject. It recommended a cautious move towards GM, partly because New Zealand is thought to need a technological edge if it is to survive in an open trading system. But the royal commission proposed a controlled, case by case release of GM, as assessed by an Environmental Risk Management Authority, similar to the UK’s Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment. But the royal commission assumed that it was possible to achieve adequate separation between organic or conventional crops and GM crops.
Increasingly, it seems that this assumption was wrong. While 98-99 per cent of GM pollen may well fall less than 100-200 metres from the GM plant, the rest may well not, and that still involves millions of GM pollen grains. In Saskatchewan, Canada, which I visited in July, farmers have found that, since it was introduced in 1996, GM canola (oilseed rape) has grossly contaminated organic/conventional crops, despite the vast open spaces of the prairies. In fact, organic canola has been virtually wiped out in Canada. If that happens there, the chances of keeping GM and organic/conventional crops separate in the more confined and tightly packed farming terrain of the UK are nil. Moreover, the European Commission, in a report last year, concluded it was virtually impossible to keep cross-contamination at less than 0.1 per cent without prohibitive changes in agronomic practice.