Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Reason Great Britain Invoked The Official Secrets Act

The controversy is continuing in England over President Bush's alleged threat to bomb the Qatar headquarters of the Al Jazeera network.

Great Britain invoked the Official Secrets Act to punish a former government employee who leaked a document detailing a conversation between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. British newspapers are being threatened with prosecution if they publish the memo.

A report today from London says that the law was invoked to squelch the embarrassing report in order to avoid damaging the US/UK "special relationship.

Senior MPs, Whitehall officials and lawyers were agreed yesterday that Lord Goldsmith had "read the riot act" to the media because of political embarrassment caused by a sensitive leak of face-to-face exchanges between the prime minister and the US president in the White House in April 2004. He acted after the Daily Mirror said a memo recorded a threat by Mr Bush to take "military action" against the Arabic TV station al-Jazeera. Mr Blair replied that that would cause a big problem, reported the Mirror. David Keogh, a former Cabinet Office official, has been charged under the secrets act with sending the memo on the Blair-Bush conversation to Leo O 'Connor, researcher to the former Labour MP Tony Clarke.

The timing of the Bush/Blair meeting is interesting:

The meeting between Mr Bush and Mr Blair took place at a time when Whitehall officials, intelligence officers, and British military commanders were expressing outrage at the scale of the US assault on the Iraqi city of Falluja, in which up to 1,000 civilians are feared to have died. Pictures of the attack shown on al-Jazeera had infuriated US generals. The government was also arguing with Washington about the number of extra British troops to be sent to Iraq at a time when it was feared they would be endangered by what a separately leaked Foreign Office memo called "heavy-handed" US military tactics.There were UK anxieties that US bombing in civilian areas in Falluja would unite Sunnis and Shias against British forces. The criticism came not only from anti-war MPs, but from Mr Blair's most senior military, diplomatic, and intelligence advisers. When Mr Blair met Mr Bush in Washington, military advisers were urging the prime minister to send extra forces only on British terms.

Sources in London say that the British government had to stop the leak of the incriminating document immediately for fears that other politically damaging papers on the war had fallen into whistleblower hands and are being readied for release.


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