in Blog

Why Hilary’s Deleted Emails Are More Dangerous Than Any Leak

“Beware he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.” Pravin Lal, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Firaxis Games.


Every foreign policy catastrophe has, at its root, secret diplomacy. Examples abound, yet we refuse to learn from them, and the same mistakes are repeated again and again, to terrible, illegal, counter-productive, and sometimes genocidal effect. The most important thing we could demand of our politicians is transparency, but recent events show that if anything, we are moving further away from it, and into an era of secrecy, elitism, and obfuscation.

Secret diplomacy is generally considered to be one of the fundamental causes of the First World War. As it drew to its murderous close, US President Woodrow Wilson drew up fourteen points as a blueprint for a permanent world peace, first among which was a ban on private diplomacy. The world needed “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view”. The principle became a founding covenant of the League of Nations.

It was too late for Wilson to undo the damage caused by that secret diplomacy which had occurred during the war itself. The worst of this affected a region which is still reeling from the trauma: the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration were both drawn up behind closed doors. Inevitably, the Great War also saw a great amount of propaganda too. Propaganda and secret diplomacy are co-dependent, because covert rationales can never be publicly exposed, and so additional motives must be manufactured. In this regard too, the Great War foreshadowed the future.

In my own lifetime, secret diplomacy was rife, and continues to shape events like never before. The countless assassinations and coups and proxy wars of the Cold War were all the product of secret diplomacy. None bode well. But since the War on Terror, secret diplomacy has exploded. In fact, the harbinger event of our current age, 9/11, has a foreign policy component which continues to be deliberately concealed at the highest level: the role of Saudi Arabia.

Then came the invasion of Iraq, an act of secret diplomacy writ large. The truth behind it remains impenetrable, we can only be certain it was never enacted for the reasons proposed to the public. Naturally, as with all secret diplomacy, the key decisions were all made in a very tight circle, whose members refuse to reveal their true deliberations. All of this is now notorious. A quick (British) sketch would include the “sofa cabinet” of Tony Blair, which refused to take minutes; the use of ministerial veto by Jack Straw to prevent publication of what minutes were taken; the refusal by the Cabinet Office to release the minutes of conversations between Blair and Bush in the build-up to war; the concealment of exhaustive intelligence that disproved Blair’s assertion that Saddam Hussein was developing WMD. In America the situation was even graver.

This terrible secrecy became entrenched to the extent that those who breached it, or even alleged it existed, either lost their jobs or were prosecuted as criminals. David Kelly, of course, is an example which is close to my heart, but there are many others. Civil servant David Keogh and MP’s researcher Leo O’Connor were both jailed simply for passing minutes of a 2004 Bush-Blair meeting to O’Connor’s MP (who, to his undying shame, dobbed them in to Downing Street and Special Branch). The content of the memo they passed on has never been made public, but it is believed to relate to future planned war crimes, such as bombing the media offices of a respected broadcaster in a neutral country. It is, at the time I write this, still illegal in the UK to suggest that the secret trial of Keogh and O’Connor proved that Bush and Blair supported bombing Al Jazeera’s branch in Qatar.

One decision from this episode I find particularly curious is Coalition Provisional Authority Order Two, which disbanded the Iraqi military. Nobody has owned up to this. It was the first thing Paul Bremer did when Bush appointed him Presidential Envoy. Bremer has said only that he worked it out with the Pentagon, and considering Bremer’s only line manager was superhawk neocon Donald Rumsfeld, it seems likely that that Rummy was instrumental. But Rumsfeld isn’t talking, and George Bush has even said he can’t remember why they did it. What is tantalising about this disastrous decision is the light it shines, namely that the ultimate geopolitical aim of Operation Iraqi Freedom was to destroy Iraq as a sovereign nation. This is exactly what Saddam and most Iraqis believed the West always intended, and history has borne them out.

Although it remains intrinsically self-defeating, secret diplomacy has only accelerated since the fall of Baghdad. On one side we have a wall of silence and lies, on the other we have empirical reality and the odd leak. A case in point would be what Seymour Hersh reported as “the redirection”, whereby America presaged its withdrawal from Iraq by covertly fomenting Sunni sectarianism not just in Iraq (where it also boosted the Kurds) but also in Syria and Lebanon, thereby ensuring the impossibility of a stable, democratic Iraq. This began with an informal meeting of inner-circle Bush-era neocons, presided over by Elliott Abrams, architect of some earlier eighties secret diplomacy known as Iran-Contra. Faced with the stark truth that secret diplomacy hadn’t worked, they concluded this was simply because it hadn’t been secret enough, and “the redirection” was confined almost entirely to the Vice President’s office. Even the spooks were frozen out.

Fast forward to Hilary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, during which she used a private server, which allowed her, when State Department officials asked for copies of her emails, to delete about 30,000 of them. Hilary’s private server was a deliberate and very blatant circumvention of American law. Those emails are gone. They will never be subpoenaed by Congress. They will never be collected by the National Archives and Records Administration. I suspect that like the Nixon with his tapes, Hilary cannot bring herself to bin them entirely, but for the purposes of everyone else in the world, they are no more. This sets a disastrous precedent. It is the precise opposite of what Woodrow Wilson advised in the aftermath of the world’s worst ever war.

Consider where we have come to. There is something called the truth. There is something called democracy. At home or abroad, effective government policy has to rest on both those points. Yet whenever anyone (often through enormous sacrifice) drags some element of the foreign policy sphere towards either, they are branded traitors, and/or mentally ill. As with that terrible Assange biopic, they are accused of “stealing” secrets. But they haven’t stolen them, they have only given them to us, to history and the world. The information is still there, in its classified silo. They are accused of endangering lives, or worse, but every time these accusations are made they are swiftly rebutted by fact.

Wherever you stand on Assange and Snowden and Manning et all, you must concede this: the whistleblower who hands you a memo is a far lesser worry than the warmonger who burns it behind closed doors. There isn’t a single plaintiff whose life has been endangered by the revelations of Wikileaks and Snowden, but there are bodies falling in Libya and Syria and Yemen and the Ukraine every day, and I do not know if our true role in these crises will ever be officially disclosed. History is set to become a very challenging discipline if chunks of it can now be routinely deleted.




Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Write a Comment


  1. “I think if you want to influence history, you’ve got to get down there and write it yourself”
    John Rentoul

    And at the 2 year anniversary of Dark Actors and of course the anniversary of Dr Kelly’s death it is perhaps apposite to touch on the truth contained in history, the truth not contained and revisionism.

    It’s not the historical propaganda and secret diplomacy, that is the stuff done after the event to put a better (or worse) shine on things, It’s the stuff done in the present and planned for the future that has caused immeasurable suffering and will continue to do so.

    Freedman whilst cosying up to Blair was in an infinitely greater influencing role than that of the impotent shadow of his former self who hangs around with Chilcot et al wondering what to do with themselves these days.

    The MSM get to do both on a daily basis but they lost the skill and drive to manipulate the masses when the masses gave up caring.

    There are pockets of the public who still care about stuff but it is selective, normally something that directly affects / effects themselves, family, loved ones etc but not the next door neighbour.

    Quite rightly some of the CIA championed Conspiracy Theorists could see the flaws in past, present and future official proclamations but got bored with pointing them out, not because the political communications departments and msm can shout louder than them but because the methods for correcting official lies have been dismantled.

    Official Lies have long been legalised but the mechanisms for challenging them were at the heart of our democracy, they have now gone.

    Dr Kelly’s suicide was not proved, it is an opinion. An opinion which holds as much weight as those who hold the opposite opinion. The deciding factor in Kelly’s case was not that one opinion carried more weight than the other. The deciding factor was the law was dismantled to allow one opinion to be recorded and not the other.

    Gisli Gudjonsson’s opinion…………

    (apologies to readers who are not quite up to speed with Dark Actors, I haven’t read it but one of two chapters kindly placed on the internet as a freebie revealed that this top prof psyco guy thought Dr Kelly had killed himself {v important NB: Killing oneself is Not the same as suicide} Anyway bloke was brought in secretly by the police, didn’t appear at the Hutton i, his report not referred to, he was not mentioned, the only glimmer than he may have been skulking around was a reference to his security clearance in a police evidence log)

    ………… counts for nothing in law. On the other hand Prof Pritchard and eminent and deeply expert psychiatrist, not afraid to come out of the shadows, has the law (as it was) to back him up. Suicide has to have intent proved. Intent was never proved in Kelly’s case and therefore in law (as was) it is not possible to rule a verdict of suicide; the Death Certificate (interim) bares this out, no final Death Certificate has been issued Yet because the inquest was abandoned and not formally closed as required by law (as was)

    Do away with the law and history has no meaning.

    • My opinion is that Kelly committed suicide, Peter, but I never claimed to have proved it. I believe it on the balance of probabilities. Unlike, say, John Rentoul or David Aaronovitch, I have never sought to castigate those who disagree with me. I believe that many of the Kelly activists (for want of a better term) are intelligent, respectable, concerned citizens working without reward for the public good. They are contributing to civic society and a healthy democracy to a greater extent than any columnist will. I’ve also always been at pains to demonstrate that Hutton was a travesty, that the invasion was illegal, and that our policy towards Iraq illegal from 1991 onwards. As regards one man’s death, and perhaps the nature of that man himself, we might differ. As regards the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, not to mention almost 200 British servicemen, we probably agree.

      • My opinion is Malbec is nicer than Shiraz.

        Opinions, for what they’re worth, can be useful, often harmful, never definitive.

        Robert your opinion (Kelly’s mode of demise) was leapt on by Mangold, Aaronovitch and someone else to justify their paid for beliefs, celebrate their perspicacity and traduce their detractor’s ………….. well opinions.

        Robert you harmed a well meaning, intelligent, concerned etc etc cause for no benefit by playing into the hands of the place men.

        My opinion (Kelly’s mode of demise) doesn’t matter, not to you and you may be surprised not to me.

        There are people who believe; Kelly killed himself at Harrowdown, somewhere else and moved, died of natural causes (heart arrest whilst under interrogation) and moved, murdered and moved and some believe the body wasn’t Kelly’s.

        Kelly’s death did not cause a scintilla of the harm to public trust compared to the cover up. The cover up depended on the law being shat upon and often. The cover up, as with Watergate, eclipsed any crime that may have led to Kelly’s death, the cover up is not an opinion it is a fact.

        And Robert you played your part in it (the cover up), that’s my opinion but as mentioned it doesn’t matter and I don’t care. I also think over chilled, oaked Chardonnay is nice.

        • My opinion that Kelly killed himself is in no way harmful to anybody. It was not a conclusion I arrived at casually. It took several years of work. It is by no means an opinion that rests solely on the opinion of Gisli Gudjonsson, and I would defy any biographer of Kelly to come to a different understanding. That which was covered up at Hutton was Kelly’s relationship with various intelligence services, the reality of our foreign policy towards Iraq, and the precise nature of the pressures that drove Kelly to kill himself. What was not covered up was murder. Had the law taken its course without the intrusions of the Lord Chancellor, I would be surprised if a coroner’s jury recorded so much as an open verdict.

          I must confess, however, that my interests lie primarily with the Iraq War, western foreign policy, and the role of our intelligence services. I have attempted no reading of the extant law regarding coroners’ inquests until today, when prompted by your comments, I read the relevant passages of the Coroners Act 1988, specifically Section 17A (1), which I quote verbatim below…


          (1) If on an inquest into a death the coroner is informed by the Lord Chancellor before the conclusion of the inquest that—

          (a)a public inquiry conducted or chaired by a judge is being, or is to be, held into the events surrounding the death; and

          (b)the Lord Chancellor considers that the cause of death is likely to be adequately investigated by the inquiry,

          the coroner shall, in the absence of any exceptional reason to the contrary, adjourn the inquest and, if a jury has been summoned, may, if he thinks fit, discharge them.


          That seems open and shut to me, although I am no lawyer, and neither is Professor Pritchard, although he is indeed an expert, civic-minded man, and generous with his time.

          Peter, if you would like to compose me a set of questions as regards my take on Kelly and Hutton, a sort of Q and A, I will answer them in an upcoming blog post. Perhaps that might clear the air. I do find it draining to read critiques of my book from people who haven’t actually read it. I had enough of that from Nick Cohen et al.

          • (I would also contest the idea that Kelly’s suicide did not harm public trust. It shattered it. It was the root of, and the justification for, my own, long-abiding interest in his life and times.)

  2. Robert, thank you for your generous offer to answer some specific questions on your take Kelly and Hutton. I will be pleased to take up but first;

    I assume you bundle me in as one of those “people” who drain you by critiquing your book without reading it. You’re right I haven’t read the book bar the two chapters “leaked” online before your seminal tome was published. You are wrong that I have attempted a critique of the book, I took issue with some things I read in those chapters.

    Interestingly Google books carried a preview of those two chapters yesterday but today the offending chapter, where Gudjonsson lifts your haze, “Harrowdown” has been removed. No worries I have a copy of the original texts somewhere. But it may be useful for other readers who haven’t read your book, in order to understand this thread, to see if you can reinstate it.

    Influencing someone to believe in something that may not be true can be extremely harmful.

    If you delve into Coronial Law a little further you will find Hutton had no legal Authority to rule on Dr Kelly’s Cause of Death. Only a Coroner or jury if one sits have that Authority; as such Dr Kelly’s Cause of Death has never been legally determined. The Coroner wrote to the AGO during their undemocratic investigation reminding them of the fact (Gardiner – AGO 6 May 2011).

    And I take issue that the law is open and shut on the matter, Grieve concedes (HoC Wrtten Statement 9 June 2011) “However the proceedings before Lord Hutton did not as a matter of law, amount to an inquest, however thorough the Inquiry.”

    Grieve had no power to order a new Inquest but held the authority to block one. An Inquest has not ruled on the Cause of Death no final Death Certificate has been registered. Only the High Court can rectify this legal abomination but governments will not permit that.

    But as Hutton might have said these are just details.

    I didn’t say Dr Kelly’s death did not harm public trust, I said compared with the cover up which destroyed it, it did far less harm.

  3. 10 Questions

    Robert, we are in agreement that there was a cover up, we may disagree on some of the details but where we disagree fundamentally is I believe the purpose of the cover up was to hide the true details of the circumstances of Dr Kelly’s death (how and where he died).

    You believe that which was covered up at Hutton was; 1) Kelly’s relationship with various intelligence services, 2) the reality of our foreign policy towards Iraq, and 3) the precise nature of the pressures that drove Kelly to kill himself.

    1) The decision to usurp the proper legal process was made before the pathologist saw the body. It was known that a public Inquiry would delve into aspects of Kelly’s life including his relationships with various intelligence agencies, something that an Inquest would have little interest in unless it was considered they might somehow be involved with the death. A deliberate decision was made to expose Kelly’s Intelligence relationships, they didn’t need to.

    Hutton did not cover up Kelly’s relationships with the spooks. It was all on display (or most of it), a detailed picture of his varied roles was painted by his colleagues, from his job appraisals, his inter agency contacts even the terms of his security clearance. The press augmented the revelations with further details including contacts with foreign agencies, something they wouldn’t do without a nod.

    Q (A) What makes you think Hutton covered up Kelly’s relationships with various intelligence services? And what specifically do you think was covered up?

    2) It was not in Hutton’s gift to expose or cover up the reality of UK’s foreign policy towards Iraq. The truth of that matter is still being fought over by the Cabinet Office,Chilcot and FOI requesters.

    Q (B) What specifically do you think the Hutton inquiry covered up regarding the reality of UK’s foreign policy?

    3) The pressures on Kelly were aired well enough to enable Hutton to reach a conclusion. The press, again, were able to assist during the inquiry.

    Bearing in mind that the Hutton i revealed Kelly was coming to terms with not needing his security clearance after he retired in a few months. Bringing his retirement forward was no big deal. His relationship difficulties at home were aired whilst Hutton was sitting, as were his possible extra marital interests.

    Q (C) What do you believe were the precise nature of the pressures that drove Kelly to kill himself? The ones that Hutton covered up?

    Q (D) Where do you think Kelly stayed on the night of 9th July 2003 and why do you think Janice Kelly went along with the elaborate tale of the flight to Weston Super Mare as described at the Hi?

    Q (E) Why do you think Hutton covered up the repositioning of the body after it was found by the search team?

    Q (F) What is your take on the disappearing / reappearing dental records, why Page misled the inquiry regarding the fingerprints and why they were only replaced after Kelly’s death? Given that they were most probably taken on the night of 9th July.

    Q (G) What do you make of Gilligans revelations that he was told by journalist Mike Smith that the police were looking for a body. The police knew Kelly was dead before the body was found. And his boss Sambrook was informed painkillers were involved several hours before the blister packs were found in Kelly’s coat pocket by the forensic team?

    Q (H) DC Coe misled the inquiry about who accompanied him to the scene, the position of the body when he said he first saw it, how long he remained at the scene after the ambulance crew arrived and what he did in the two hours that he remained when he said he wasn’t there. He also misled the inquiry about his involvement in the search of Kelly’s home.

    What do you make of this?

    Q (I) Evidence heard at Hutton (supplemented by forensic reports) indicates that 10 times more blood was witnessed on the right knee Dr Kelly jeans in the afternoon than was witnessed in the morning, a similar size stain was witnessed on the left knee but that had been diluted.
    (morning: stain described variously as the size of a 10p, the size of a 50p and 25mm in diameter. In the afternoon the stain was measured by the forensic team as 80mm in diamenter, an area increase of more than 10 times)

    What do you think was going on?

    Q (J) Mai Pederon’s lawyer had supplied the police with a 10 page witness statement 2 weeks before Page took the stand and said she had declined to give a statement. Why do you think that was and do you think her statement would have been useful?