There was a time when security service chiefs retired and disappeared into the gentle night — not anymore.
It is a given these days that former government officials on both sides of the Atlantic soon after their retirement secure book and lecture contracts to discuss all the things that purportedly were highly classified during their professional career. Lady Manningham-Buller, former director general of MI5, Britain’s Security Service dedicated to internal intelligence operations, recently has joined these ranks.
According to her official biography, she spent 33 years in that service. She explained how she had gone from teaching after her Oxford years reading (majoring in) English into the Security Service. She stated in a BBC program that she was recruited “at a drinks party” under the guise of pointing her toward employment at the Ministry of Defense. A damned clever ruse, wot?
Nowhere is there any indication that the highly opinionated Lady M-B has had any background in foreign affairs unless one counts her operational desk assignments in London and a short liaison stint in the UK embassy in Washington. Nonetheless, she has now made the theme of her public speaking her earlier assessment that Saddam Hussein was “only likely to order terrorist attacks if he perceives the survival of his regime is threatened.” How she arrived at this definitive position without any experience beyond Britain’s shores has never been explained.
This statement was contained in a memo by then Dep. Director General M-B to the Home Office in March 2002. She commented on that letter to the Chilcot commission inquiring into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. The question was posed to determine what intelligence existed on the threat from Iraq to the UK. Her comment was, “We thought it was very limited and containable.”
This assessment, taken at face value, is used to justify why Lady Manningham-Buller believes that the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein actually provided Osama bin Laden with the impetus for broad al Qaeda operations not only in Iraq but in the UK as well. What about OBL being chased out of Afghanistan? Apparently she also lost track of the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, the attack on the USS Cole, and the destruction of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia — all of which happened before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the later invasion of Iraq.
This testimony before the Chilcot inquiry has London’s political establishment quite confused. To begin with, Manningham-Buller seems determined to blacken Tony Blair and the Labour Party that appointed her DG of MI5 in the first place. She stayed in that post for five years and soon afterward joined the House of Lords and was named Baroness Manningham-Buller of Northampton. At that point she led the effort against Labour PM Gordon Brown’s attempt to change the detention-without-charge regulations from 28 days to 42.
Although the Conservative Party now considers this new peer a valuable political asset, the anti-U.S. theme of her politics is not consistent with the traditional position of the Tories. Or was she always a Tory mole waiting for the correct moment to undercut the Labour (read Tony Blair) love affair with the Americans? And where does Obama’s returning the bust of Winston Churchill come in? Oh, yes, one must not forget that her father, the late Viscount Dilhorne, served in every Conservative government from Churchill to Eden to Macmillan to Douglas-Home. Apparently Tony Blair did.
Having been quite content to double the MI5 budget in order to counter terrorism activities in the UK while she headed that organization, Lady M-B now refers to that occurrence as if somehow she was near totally uninvolved. In reality, the terrorist threat to Britain and the rest of the world had grown immensely during the post-9/11 period for reasons that had little to do with the invasion of Iraq. As any Middle Eastern/South Asian resident of London —Palestinian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Iranian, etc. — will attest.
Perhaps it’s a matter of M-B’s convenient memory or simply lack of an in-depth understanding of the growth internationally of Islamic radicalism that explains her current politics. More likely, however, is the fact that there is a ground swell of political reaction against a continued British military participation in Afghanistan. Terror-linked Taliban operations no longer appear to be viewed by the public as a direct threat to British security. Sixty-two year old Baroness M-B sitting in the House of Lords has quickly maneuvered herself into a “senior statesman” role. Apparently from the sinecure of her newly acquired status, Her Ladyship appears to be laying the groundwork for a political life as a titular no-party peer.
There was a time when security service chiefs retired and disappeared into the gentle — usually English — countryside. Those were the days when MI-5 officers weren’t referred to as “spooks” and caricatured in a television series as painfully conflicted remnants of a bygone era. Back in the day, the term MI5 was as little mentioned as its Foreign Office “friend,” MI6. Even David Cornwell, a.k.a. John le Carré, avoided being too clear about Britain’s security structure.
Perhaps it’s unfair to chastise Lady Manningham-Buller in these days of greater openness regarding Britain’s security services. After all the U.S. pretends to have the same approach. Of course, the Yanks cover it up by having so many intelligence organizations no one can keep track of them. Lady M-B appears to be doing something that’s “just not done.” Noticeably her MI6 counterparts have presented their views solely in camera. The Baroness is trying to enhance her public political stature by bringing attention to herself and her former post.
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