It’s nice to watch Roger Federer at the Wimbledon net. It’s always a pleasure to watch real professionals. Via Kevin Drum, here’s a link to a little interview with Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Dearlove’s moment of unwanted fame came when someone leaked the Downing Street Memo, the secret record of a top-level British government committee in July 2002 in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Dearlove reported on his talks in Washington:
Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. .. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
Dearlove has now been put out to grass as Head of Pembroke College Cambridge – a plum: historic grace-and-favour apartment, classy food and booze, elegant academic backbiting at High Table, patronising clever (and some pretty) students over the second-best sherry. James Fallows asked him about the memo, and he naturally wouldn’t say much:
“I am less than two years out of government, and I have my pension,” he said, making a joke of it …“The version of the memo that is most often quoted was not the final version,” he said. “I made some important changes” — although he would not say what these pentimenti might have been.
Dearlove plays the part of Sir Humphrey Appleby to perfection, but step back a little. From Angola to Zanzibar, what kind of man enters the spying profession and rises to the very top, especially with a name out of Congreve or Wycherley? A ruthless, cunning bastard, that’s who. Geoffrey Chaucer had a phrase:
The smyler with the knyfe under the cloke.
Machiavellian interpretation is obligatory. I read it like this.
1. The little joke about the pension, made to a reporter, is a threat that if pressure is brought on him, or he’s made a fall guy, he will fight back publicly; and he knows where the bodies are buried, literally.
2. The memo is authentic. (Downing Street never denied this.)
3. Dearlove’s position is accurately reported, and he may have even used the same words; he just won’t take responsibility for Rycroft’s phrasing in the minute. (“aftermath after”? Tut tut.)
4. He’s not changed his mind.
5. The text we have is the first draft; the one sent right after the meeting to the participants alone, not the cleaned-up one sent later to a slightly wider circle.
I’ve been puzzled by the motive for the leak. Usually in Britain these things lead to well-publicised inquiries, and if it’s pinned on some outraged or venal PA, they go. This one, of a real secret, led to nothing. The inference is that it was leaked by one of the principals. Why? Not to put themselves in a good light; no-one asked the obvious question why it was in Britain’s interest to join Bush’s reckless adventure, and with ground troops. The only one who comes out of it well is C, and leaking’s not the spook style. Gordon Brown is the one Labour politician who’s unsackable and had an interest in discrediting Blair a little; but not too much, and he wasn’t on the first circulation list. Maybe somebody developed a conscience, a bit late. Machiavelli wouldn’t have bought this theory.
According to Fallows, Dearlove is still annoyingly right about the conflict:
The Western world, notably the United States, was doomed unless it reclaimed “the moral high ground”….. As a matter of pure strategic necessity, the United States needed to behave according to its best traditions, not the exigencies of an open-ended wartime emergency.
PS Dearlove is almost certainly still a talent spotter for his old firm; not that he would personally have the little chats over the best sherry or Darjeeling with young Arabists, but he’ll know of them. When he says it was easier to recruit in the Cold War, it’s practically a field report of problems today.