More from: Secretariat

Dr David Kelly – not to be mentioned at Inquiry

by Andrew Mason

Writing for The Mail on Sunday, Miles Goslett reports that Carne Ross, formerly the first secretary to the UK Mission at the UN with responsibility for Iraq, has now spoken out about being restricted from discussing the late Dr David Kelly CMG whilst giving evidence to the Iraq Inquiry.

A former British diplomat has revealed he was ‘warned’ by the senior civil servant running the Iraq Inquiry not to mention the late biological weapons expert Dr David Kelly when giving evidence.

Carne Ross, the UK’s Iraq expert at the UN Security Council between 1998 and 2002, said he was told by the ‘very aggressive’ official that if he discussed Dr Kelly during his testimony, he would be silenced.

It is understood the official who delivered the order was Margaret Aldred, secretary of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot.

Key letter is indeed “missing”

by Chris Ames

I wrote earlier this month about a key document (in fact two versions of a letter) that the Foreign Office said it was unable to find in response to my freedom of information request. At the time I passed this information on to the Inquiry, which has now confirmed that it has been given one version of the letter but not the one that is most revealing.

To recap very briefly, in September 2002, the FCO’s UN Department sent UN ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock a draft letter from foreign secretary Jack Straw’s office to No 10 which included a proposal to use a UN resolution to engineer a situation where Iraq would refuse to readmit weapons inspectors.

In response to my FOI request, the FCO provided a copy of a later draft but said it could not find the copy sent to Greenstock or the final version of the letter. The implication, at least as far as the original draft was concerned, was that the Inquiry had not been given the letter, if the FCO did not have it.

Margaret Aldred, Secretary to the Inquiry, has now written to me, helpfully stating that:

… the Inquiry holds a copy of the letter to No 10 from Mr Straw’s office, which was provided by another Government Department, and I am sending a copy of this letter to the FCO’s Inquiry Unit. The Inquiry has acknowledged that the Government has not been able to find every document which may be relevant; the draft letter forwarded to Sir Jeremy Greenstock by UND is one of those documents.

It is a concern that what could be an important piece of evidence is not available to the Inquiry, although the Inquiry itself is clearly taking the cock up rather than conspiracy line. I can only hope that the significance of the draft letter, as described by Greenstock’s contemporaneous account, has been understood.

Margaret Aldred and the rendition cover-up

by Chris Ames

In January 2006 the New Statesman published a leaked Foreign Office memo from the previous month that discussed what the UK government knew about rendition, extraordinary rendition and torture at US interrogation centres. Having established that the US was using its own definitions of torture to ignore international conventions, the memo asked:

“How do we know whether those our Armed Forces have helped to capture in Iraq or Afghanistan have subsequently been sent to interrogation centres?”

The question is a very pertinent one and should be a very important question for the Iraq Inquiry. In 2008, former SAS trooper Ben Griffin revealed the answer:

“Hundreds of Iraqis and Afghans captured by British and American special forces were rendered to prisons where they faced torture, a former SAS soldier said yesterday. Ben Griffin said individuals detained by SAS troops in a joint UK-US special forces taskforce had ended up in interrogation centres in Iraq, including the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, and in Afghanistan, as well as Guantánamo Bay.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman told the Telegraph:

“We would not transfer an individual to any country if we believed there was a risk of mistreatment.”

Unfortunately, this had long been contradicted by the leaked memo, whose answer to its “how do we know?” question was:

“Cabinet Office is researching this with MOD. But we understand the basic answer is that we have no mechanism for establishing this, though we would not ourselves question such detainees while they were in such facilities.”

The memo was copied to Nigel Sheinwald and Margaret Aldred at the Cabinet, Office, presumably because it was their section, Defence and Overseas Secretariat that was doing the research.

We do not know what answer the Cabinet Office came up with. We do know that the MoD was so keen for the truth not to come out that it obtained an injunction to prevent Griffin repeating his claims.

We also know that the Iraq Inquiry, with Margaret Aldred as its secretary, has avoided the subject. The Inquiry has not published a single document from Aldred’s time dealing with Iraq policy at the Cabinet Office and has therefore not published the outcome of the Cabinet Office’s “research”. As Griffin told me:

“It looks as if the Inquiry has been steered away from this issue.”

Margaret Aldred and the SOFA

by Chris Ames

Returning to the subject of Inquiry secretary Margaret Aldred’s involvement in the government’s Iraq policy in the four and a half years before she took up her current role, a US embassy cable published by Wikileaks places her at a meeting less than a year before the Inquiry started, where a key issue of Iraq policy was discussed.

The cable describes a meeting in October 2008 where British officials asked their American interlocutors for assistance in obtaining a status of forces agreement (SOFA) to cover UK troops in Iraq after the expiry of the UN mandate at the end of that year:

USDP Edelman and Major General Allardice met with UK officials in London October 15 on a broad range of issues including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Russia/Georgia. At the MOD, Edelman and Allardice met with the Chief of the Defense Staff Jock Stirrup and Policy Director John Day; at FCO with Permanent Under Secretary for Security Affairs Peter Ricketts; and at the Cabinet Office with Foreign and Security Adviser to the Prime Minister Simon McDonald and the Cabinet’s Deputy Head of the Foreign and Defense Policy Secretariat Margaret Aldred.

Iraq SOFA: UK Looks to U.S. for Help

¶12. (C/NF) McDonald stressed that the UK could not have an “orderly transition” of its forces in Iraq without a SOFA to provide a legal framework and the UK seeks to “piggyback” on the U.S.-Iraq SOFA. Day noted that Prime Minister Brown seeks a “low key transition” of British forces in Iraq. Stirrup emphasized that “from a military perspective a UK soldier cannot show up in an Iraqi court,” expressing concern that he was “not sure the SOFA will get through the Iraqi system.” USDP Edelman provided an update on the progress of the U.S.-Iraq SOFA and reassured his interlocutors that the U.S. and UK shared similar concerns on jurisdiction issues.

The need for a SOFA was discussed on a number of occasions at the Inquiry, including the session with Simon McDonald (Aldred’s boss) in January last year. McDonald mentioned that the US was negotiating – and achieved – its own SOFA ahead of Britain’s attempts, but not that Britain was seeking to “piggyback” on the U.S.-Iraq SOFA.

Who knows whether Aldred would have mentioned this had she appeared as a witness? Who knows whether she has mentioned it behind the scenes? As I have said previously, because the Inquiry has itself failed to publish any documents showing Aldred’s involvement, we have to piece it together from what is in the public domain. Without Wikileaks, we would not have this piece of the jigsaw.

Margaret Aldred and the Iraq Senior Officials Group

by Chris Ames

Returning to the significant involvement of Margaret Aldred, the Inquiry’s secretary, in the government’s Iraq policy between 2004 and 2009 and therefore in the very matters that the Inquiry is examining, this section of transcript from last January’s hearing with Simon McDonald is very revealing:

The hearing is discussing a highly controversial announcement by Gordon Brown in October 2007 that troop numbers in Iraq would be cut. The government subsequently backtracked on the plan.

BARONESS USHA PRASHAR: But in developing this timeline, did you take any advice from the troops or from the main departments involved, ie the FCO, the MoD or DFID?
MR SIMON MCDONALD: Absolutely. There were two official committees. One, the Iraq Senior Officials Group generally chaired by my deputy in F&DP Sec and then there was the Iraq Strategy Group which I generally chaired, which met regularly and brought together Cabinet Office, Number 10, FCO, DFID, MoD and Agencies and all policies were discussed throughout.

McDonald was Brown’s foreign policy adviser and head of Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat – F&DP Sec. His “deputy in F&DP Sec” was Margaret Aldred.

Bizarrely, McDonald did not mention Aldred by name, even though she was sitting opposite him at the time as the video shows.

But in a hearing last June, the MoD’s Martin Howard did mention Aldred by name:

SIR MARTIN GILBERT: In terms of these policies, how were the priorities agreed among them? What was the process?
MARTIN HOWARD: I think collectively the priorities were set through DOP(I), the Cabinet Committee which oversaw Iraq, and then, below that, the Iraq Strategy Group chaired by Nigel Sheinwald, the Iraq Senior Officials Group, chaired by Margaret Aldred from time to time […].

I can find no reference to the work of Iraq Senior Officials Group anywhere and the Inquiry has not published a single declassified document from the Cabinet Office for the whole period that Aldred worked there.

It’s as if no-one wants to talk about the role that the Iraq Inquiry’s secretary played in the issues that the Inquiry is looking into…

Chilcot digs his own hole over Aldred

by Chris Ames

The Inquiry – and Sir John Chilcot in particular – don’t seem to understand that their attempts to cover up the significant role of Inquiry secretary Margaret Aldred in the (Labour) government’s Iraq policy for four and a half years are undermining any reputation they may have for openness and honesty.

Margaret Aldred should be a significant witness at the Inquiry. Her predecessor Tom McKane, who held the post of deputy head of Defence and Overseas Secretariat (subsequently Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat) for a shorter time than her, was a key witness last week. The only reason she has not been called as a witness is because she is the Inquiry secretary.

The Inquiry has refused to say whether it has been given documents relating to Aldred’s work, let alone how many, but the answer to the first part is pretty obvious. Margaret Aldred is surely the only senior official whose involvement has not by now been disclosed in published documentary evidence. The Inquiry’s willingness and ability to reveal the extent of her role is clearly compromised by the fact that she is its secretary. In concealing the conflict of interest, the Inquiry is concealing the truth of what happened.

As for the process by which Aldred was appointed, it was only through Digest contributor Chris Lamb’s freedom of information request that it was revealed that she was directly nominated by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell. The Inquiry’s head of communications had previously stated that “Sir John Chilcot had complete freedom to choose whoever he wanted both as Secretary and as head of communications”.


Conspiracy (theory) at the Inquiry

by Chris Ames

From the Western Mail:

THE Iraq Inquiry is “flawed and compromised” because of a conflict of interest at the heart of the investigation into the invasion, Plaid Cymru parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd claimed yesterday.

The head of the secretariat for Sir John Chilcot’s committee is Margaret Aldred – previously director general and deputy head of the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat in the Cabinet Office.

Mr Llwyd claims she chaired meetings of the Iraq senior officials group which co-ordinated policy on Iraq for four-and-a-half years – part of the period under investigation.

He said: “The key question here is how did someone with such a clear conflict of interest get appointed to this role and what impact is it having?

“It begs the question, if Mrs Aldred wasn’t the secretary of the inquiry, would she be called as a witness before the inquiry?” he added.

“Undoubtedly the answer is yes – just as her predecessor was called as a witness.”

A spokeswoman for the Stop the War coalition was also concerned, stating: “Elfyn Llwyd is right to highlight the conflict of interest in Margaret Aldred’s appointment as secretary of the Chilcot inquiry.”

However, a spokesman for Shadow Welsh Secretary and Labour Neath MP Peter Hain said: “Elfyn Llwyd is a desperate conspiracy theorist with too much time on his hands.”

The Iraq Inquiry declined to comment.

For the record, the fact that Margaret Aldred chaired the Iraq senior officials group has been mentioned twice during public hearings. On the first occasion, Aldred’s boss, Simon McDonald, mysteriously failed to mention her by name, even though she was sitting opposite him:


Secretary called into question at ‘stitch-up’ Iraq inquiry

by Chris Ames reports that:

“A Cabinet Office insider at the heart of the Iraq inquiry has left Sir John Chilcot’s investigations ‘flawed and compromised’, an MP has claimed.

“Plaid Cymru’s Elfyn Llwyd will tell MPs later that secretary Margaret Aldred was appointed without reference to the civil service code by Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell – and that the Iraq inquiry “may have been a stitch-up from day one” as a result.”

MP challenges inquiry and government over appointment of secretary

by Chris Ames

In advance of a parliamentary debate tomorrow, I have published this piece on Index on Censorship, regarding the appointment of Margaret Aldred as Inquiry secretary and the extent of her involvement in co-ordinating the Labour government’s Iraq policy for four and a half years.

New concerns have arisen about the openness of the Iraq inquiry after it emerged that its top official played a key role in co-ordinating the government’s Iraq policy during the period covered by the inquiry.

The secretary to the inquiry, Margaret Aldred, is on secondment from her role as deputy head of the Cabinet Office Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat, formerly Defence and Overseas Secretariat (DOS), where she has worked since 2004.

When the inquiry announced Aldred’s appointment in July 2009, it made no mention of her role in Iraq policy during the previous four and a half years. But parliamentary questions, freedom of information (FOI) disclosures and my investigations show that it was a significant one — and the main reason for her appointment.

The inquiry has stated that it has been given papers from the section where Aldred worked but has declined to state whether it has documents relating directly to her. It has not published any Cabinet Office documents from this period.

Last week, Tom McKane, one of Aldred’s predecessors at DOS was a witness at the inquiry. It appears that Aldred would herself have been called as a witness if she were not the inquiry’s secretary.

Elfyn Llwyd MP, parliamentary leader of Plaid Cymru, has secured a parliamentary debate on Tuesday (25 January) to discuss Aldred’s apparent conflict of interest. He has described her position as “untenable”.
Llwyd will also raise concerns over the Cabinet Office’s failure to disclose the process by which Aldred was appointed. The issue threatens further embarrassment — or worse — for Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, who blocked inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot’s request to publish records of what Tony Blair promised George Bush in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

Read the whole article

Regular readers will know that the FOI request that has exposed the truth about Aldred’s appointment – that she was appointed because of, rather than in spite of, her “previous involvement in Iraq issues” – was made by Digest contributor Chris Lamb. Chris has my admiration for his resourcefulness and tenacity in digging into this important issue, in spite of astonishing obstructiveness from the Cabinet Office.

Did the Cabinet Office delete information about the appointment of Inquiry officials?

by Chris Lamb

The Information Commissioner has now published his decision notice (dated 13 December) on my FoI request seeking disclosure of information by the Cabinet Office over the setting up of the Iraq Inquiry Secretariat.

My request sought disclosures relating to;
i) the selection of Margaret Aldred as the Secretary and Rae Stewart as the Communications chief of the Inquiry Secretariat;
ii) the drafting of both of these roles, showing who was responsible for drawing up the roles, the role specifications themselves and whether they were advertised for external competition;
iii) how possible conflicts of interest may be addressed and managed between the roles of these officials in the Chilcot Inquiry and their backgrounds in the Cabinet Office.

I described on a previous blog how the Cabinet Office had initially stated that it held information that was exempt under Section 35 of the FOI Act. It then took a year to conduct an internal review in which it concluded that that information did not in fact fall within the terms of my request. It gave a narrative account of the appointments but did not state whether this account was based on recorded information that it held. The Commissioner’s decision makes clear that the Cabinet Office does not hold information relevant to my request. What is unclear is whether it held such information at the time of the request but subsequently deleted it.

I seek here to highlight the findings and conclusions of the decision notice, specifically the finding that the Cabinet Office breached the Act and concerns that electronic documentation was deleted.