Patriot Games Essay Research Paper Patriot games

Patriot Games Essay, Research Paper

Patriot games Know Your Enemy: How the Joint Intelligence Committee Saw the World Percy Cradock

354pp, John Murray

The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War

Peter Hennessy

234pp, Allen Lane Twelve years ago, Sir Reginald Hibbert, a former senior Foreign Office diplomat, penned a devastating essay about the Whitehall elite responsible for assessing secret intelligence. Long-term intelligence assessments usually end up “by arguing that the future is going to be broadly like the present, only more so”, he wrote. “One knows that this can never be true because of the incidence of the unexpected. Perestroika, for example, was inherently unpredictable, at any rate in its timing.” However, Whitehall would not have been so surprised by perestroika, and the subsequent collapse of communism, had it spent less time counting weapons and more time studying human beings. Too much emphasis was placed on threats from the east revealed by secret sources, and too little on economic and political trends that were available for all to see. Hibbert pointed out the risk of ministers and their senior advisers becoming absorbed into a “a culture where secrecy comes to be confused with truth and where, after a time, contact is lost with earthly awkwardness”. Intelligence agencies were placed firmly under the spotlight after the September 11 attacks on the US. But what is their previous track record, apart from the failure to predict the fall of communism? Percy Cradock, former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, one of Hibbert’s main targets, unsurprisingly takes a much less critical view. Though he acknowledges that the JIC was surprised by the speed with which the Soviet Union developed the atom bomb, and overestimated its military strength, he emphasises that it was correct in identifying Soviet “strategic caution”, which he sees as perhaps the most important single judgment of the cold war. The JIC was also correct, he observes, in seeing China as a largely independent actor, and not just a Soviet puppet, as the US believed. When things went badly and governments were caught by surprise, Cradock blames policy-makers rather than the intelligence community. On the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968: “It was in the field of political understanding more than hard intelligence that the west went wrong.” He skirts over the UDI crisis in Rhodesia, saying that intelligence only had a small part to play. The JIC is again praised for its scepticism about the effect of sanctions. Did this encourage sanction-busting by British oil companies? And we could have had more on the analysis – by MI6 – of whether British forces would really have backed away from mili tary action against their “kith and kin”. Ken Flower, Rhodesia’s secret-service chief, admitted later that Ian Smith and his colleagues had been deeply worried about the possible use of force by the British. There were those in MI6 who did think it would work. How far they tried to impress their view on Harold Wilson we do not know. Cradock is certainly correct in describing Suez as a “policy rather than intelligence failure”. It was, of course, more than that – the attack on Egypt involved secret collusion with France and Israel. Cradock calls it a “stark lesson to Britain on the limits of power… a dramatic wastage of government resources through secrecy, duplicity and sheer muddle”. Cradock relies largely on JIC and other official documents released at the public record office. Curiously, he ignores the intelligence failings leading up to the Falklands war, even though they were vividly described by the Franks committee set up by Thatcher after the conflict was over. “The changes in the Argentine position,” it noted, “were, we believe, more evident on the diplomatic front and in the associated press campaign than in the intelligence reports…” But, in a curiously disappointing book, Cradock does refer to discussions in Whitehall about doomsday scenarios and nuclear options in the early days of the cold war. The original decision to embark on an “independent deterrent”, he says, was not the result of any elaborate strategic thought, but ministers’ instincts. Ernest Bevin, Attlee’s foreign secretary, summed up the mood by saying: “We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack flying on top of it.” Cradock writes: “Later he gave as his reason the need to ensure that no successor of his would be talked to as he just had been by his US counterpart, secretary of state Byrnes. His more formal comments… again turned less on threats from the Soviet Union than on independence from the United States: Britain ‘could not afford to acquiesce in an American monopoly of this new development’.” Neither could it long afford to maintain its independent ambitions. Nuclear war – or, rather, contingency planning, the procedures by which the prime minister would authorise an attack by Britain’s Trident submarine commanders, and how the government would hide from a Soviet attack in its bunkers – is the subject of Peter Hennessy’s rather misleadingly titled book, The Secret State. It has a narrow focus but, as one expects from Whitehall’s premier historian, it is well written and rich in anecdotes. How could a Trident commander be sure that the UK had suffered a catastrophic nuclear assault without an authenticated message from the prime minister? “One of the very last tests – over several days – is that BBC Radio 4’s Today programme has been silenced (a pleasing last touch of national identity, in every sense, I have always thought).”


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