A Terrorism Case in Britain Ends in Acquittal, but No One Can Say Why

3111207407_ea37525588_z

LONDON — Ian Cobain, a reporter with The Guardian, is one of very few people who know why a student arrested by armed British police officers in 2013 was finally acquitted this year of terrorism charges.

Problem is, he cannot report what he knows. He was allowed to observe much of the trial, but only under strict conditions intended to keep classified material secret. His notebooks are being held by Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. And if he writes — or even talks — about the reason that the student, Erol Incedal, 27, was acquitted, Mr. Cobain faces prosecution and possibly jail.

“I know the essence of what was happening,” Mr. Cobain said, “but I can’t tell, I can’t even talk to my editor about this.”

dissolution-of-man-nicklas-gustafsson

Having initially gone along reluctantly with the reporting restrictions, a number of British news organizations are now challenging them in court. And yes, the challenge itself is being heard under secrecy rules that leave the public mostly excluded. Were Mr. Cobain to break the law and disclose what he knows publicly, his prosecution would also take place in secret.

“Not even the Russians do that to journalists,” Mr. Cobain said, speaking recently in the cafe of the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The case is among the latest to highlight the growing debate about the proper balance between civil liberties and national security in the age of terrorism. That debate has intensified this year in the United States and across much of Europe, with nations reflecting on decisions they have made since the Sept. 11 attacks and reacting to more recent developments, from the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris to disclosures in Germany about eavesdropping by the United States National Security Agency.

In Britain, which recently lost 30 citizens to a terrorist attack in Tunisia, public support for the intelligence and security agencies is high, according to opinion surveys, and Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to expand their resources and their ability to monitor electronic communications.

england

But the Incedal case has focused attention on whether governments are cloaking too many of their activities in national security classifications, insulating themselves from public debate and accountability for mistakes or collusion with suspects.

“It’s hard to know quite who is being protected in all this,” said David Davis, a lawmaker from the governing Conservative Party and a former minister.

“The implication is that this is more about the embarrassment of the agencies than it is about real questions of national security,” he added.

Sean O’Neill, a reporter with The Times of London who also attended the secret hearings, said he believes that the government’s desire to keep some of the trial evidence secret was legitimate, but that this could have been done under normal rules allowing parts of trials to be held behind closed doors.

Instead, the conduct of the Incedal case demonstrated an “obsession with secrecy” at a time when there is growing debate on the oversight of intelligence agencies, Mr. O’Neill said.

paintings gas masks digital art science fiction airbrushed romantically apocalyptic cheers vitaly s_wallpaperswa.com_21

The result is that, as things stand, public knowledge about one of Britain’s biggest recent terrorism trials is a patchwork of partial truths and unanswered questions.

In the parts of the proceedings that were open, jurors heard that Mr. Incedal traveled to Syria, met a fighter known as Ahmed and discussed terrorist attacks.

In September 2013, Mr. Incedal, who was born in Turkey but lived in London, was stopped by the police for speeding, and his car was searched. A slip of paper found in a glasses case contained the address of a property owned by Tony Blair, a former prime minister.

While he was detained, Mr. Incedal’s car was bugged, and a listening device recorded him talking about buying a gun.

Then came the dramatic arrest by armed police officers when Mr. Incedal was stopped while driving with a friend, Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, near Tower Bridge in central London, and the tires of his Mercedes were shot out. The police found a memory card with instructions on assembling a bomb in Mr. Incedal’s phone case.

tumblr_lxxhx6Fyme1qbd6poo1_500

After his first trial last year, Mr. Incedal was convicted of possessing the bomb-making guide, and was sentenced to 42 months in jail. Mr. Rarmoul-Bouhadjar was jailed, too, after admitting to having a similar manual. But a jury could not agree on whether to convict Mr. Incedal of broader terrorism offenses.

After a retrial, Mr. Incedal was acquitted in March, but the reasons remain unknown to the public.

Mr. Incedal argued in open court that he wanted a gun to protect himself as he was planning to deal in drugs, and that he had a “reasonable excuse” for having the bomb-making manual. Again, what that excuse was is not clear.

Even these scraps of information are more than the authorities wanted made public. Initially, prosecutors argued that they might not be able to bring the case to court unless it was held in complete secrecy.

But after an appeal by news organizations last year, a strange middle way emerged: Some of the trial was held in public, some in secret, and the rest in a kind of no man’s land.

Ten reporters, including Mr. Cobain and Mr. O’Neill, were admitted to these segments of the trial on the condition that they published nothing from the semi-secret sessions and that, at the end of each day, their reporters’ notebooks were locked in a safe.

The notebooks are now being held by MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service — a fact that has been reported by the British news media and is not denied by the government, although it will not comment officially.

brazil777

In going along with the reporting restrictions a year ago, the 10 news organizations accredited to the trial may have believed — incorrectly as it proved — that the secrecy would be lifted at the end of proceedings. Although not all of the news organizations covered every phase of the trial, no media group refused to attend on principle. Mr. Cobain says he now has “real reservations” about having gone along with the process, but, of course, cannot explain why.

In a statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said that the case “touched on important issues which related to national security.”

“Some evidence has already been made public as it was dealt with in open court,” the statement said. “We are working to identify evidence heard during the closed proceedings which could be placed in the public domain.”

“The extent to which further evidence can go into the public domain will ultimately be a decision for the judge.”

Many are not convinced. “How is the public to evaluate the state’s actions if the media cannot report on it?” said Cian C. Murphy, a legal expert at King’s College London.

7BT2nyL1UgvWnpMHCB6FxJUFzTR

“In constitutional terms, secrecy is anathema to the rule of law because legal and political accountability is impossible without transparency,” he said. “If errors are made, they must be brought to light — but there is little incentive for the prosecution, intelligence agencies or government departments to acquiesce when they can invoke national security to ensure secrecy.”

Critics contend that such secrecy risks eroding not only civil liberties, but ultimately the effectiveness of the intelligence agencies, too.

“The more secret the organization is, the more inefficient it tends to be,” Mr. Davis said. “It’s unwise to think of them as a bunch of hyperefficient James Bonds. They probably aren’t.”

“The truth is,” he added, “that there is no such thing as secret justice. If it’s secret, it’s not justice.”

The appeal against the reporting restrictions has now been adjourned until the autumn, but in one public session this month, Lord Chief Justice John Thomas acknowledged that there were “really difficult constitutional issues” at stake.

A few minutes later, those reporters without special permission to attend were politely asked to leave.

Screen-Shot-2015-05-14-at-11.52.20-AM-1024x511

Advertisements

Detroit water shutoffs began in May 2015 again this year….

404189427748209

The Detroit water department has delivered about 3,000 shutoff notices to households with delinquent bills since May 11, giving those customers 10 business days to make arrangements to pay their bill or have their service cut off. More notices will be delivered as the shutoffs are carried out this week.

Detroit’s number of delinquent accounts — those owing $150 or more in bills that are at least two months late — remains a significant problem. There are 64,769 delinquent residential accounts owing $48.9 million, according to the water department. As of last June, there were more than 79,000 delinquent accounts owing $42 million.

The department, under the leadership of Mayor Mike Duggan, is proceeding with shutoffs against the wishes of the City Council, which passed a resolution May 12 for a shutoff moratorium until the current financial assistance programs are evaluated and a subsidy plan is pursued to lower water bills for poor people before they fall behind.

The latest crackdown is raising fears of a growing public health crisis. Thousands already are living in southeast Michigan without running water, according to the Sierra Club.

Greg Eno, a spokesman for the water department, declined to comment on the water shutoffs.

31203778

The seemingly never-ending problem of Detroit’s unpaid water bills comes as city and county officials work to craft a new strategy to fight the problem under the Great Lakes Water Authority, a regional operation created during Detroit’s bankruptcy case. The regional authority is expected to have $4.5 million available to help water customers in the tri-county area pay their bills.

There are two fundamentally different ways to design the strategy.

The water department’s current model is known as an assistance-based plan, which provides discounts to qualified residents with overdue bills.

An alternative is an affordability-based plan, which would reduce bills for poor people while adding fees to other customers. Supporters argue this approach is more pro-active.

The City Council supported an affordability plan in 2006 that proposed to set rates at between 2% and 3% of residents’ income. The plan was never implemented.

The city’s law department said then that the plan was not possible — an opinion to which the department still clings.

Nevertheless, the City Council and other groups, including the Sierra Club and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, continue to encourage the city water department and those developing the new regional authority to pursue an affordability plan.

So far they have not been successful. In fact, the Sierra Club resigned last week from its position among stakeholders developing the regional water assistance plan once it became clear an affordability strategy was not on the table.

“It’s so unfortunate that in the crisis that the region faces with water shutoffs that the GLWA is not seeing this as an opportunity to address a major problem.” said Melissa Damaschke, Great Lakes program director for the Sierra Club. “This is a public health threat.”

mad-max-fury-road

PS 
As an a-side it’s a shame to see that people who post comments like those below,  don’t get that this issue may well be presenting itself in a city or town near them or with them resident in it, in the ever looming future….
  • John Lesko · Top Commenter

    The “deeper problem” here is the entitlement mentality that has created a permanent underclass in Detroit. When you teach people that they don’t have to work and pay their bills, they’ll stop working and paying their bills. And then become outraged when others stop working for them free of charge.
  • Damidwesterner Indamidwest

    No other city has this problem of people who don’t pay getting their water turned off and it’s a federal case. Even those cities that are down on their luck enforce non-payment and people pay up. Does anybody realize that 70% of the nonpayers in Detroit have up to date Cell Phone and Cable accounts? If they didn’t pay those, they’d be shut off. They get gas shut off if they don’t pay.
    Because Detroit Water and Sewage hasn’t turned off the water until now, everybody thinks they can skate. Just like the 47% of the city residents who don’t pay their property taxes. Nothing happens in the end. So, why pay.
    Well, the free ride is over. Get in line and cough up some cash and work out a payment plan. That’s what everybody else everywhere else does. Detroiters shouldn’t be any different.

Across The Globe, Wildfire Season Is Lasting Longer

Forest-fire-e1430333295847

With 35 active large fires currently burning up and down the West Coast — and with dry, hot conditions sparking an unprecedented number of fires throughout Western Canada — the 2015 wildfire season has started strong, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Now, a new report out in Nature Communications has a some more bad news for the West, and wildfire-prone regions around the world: In the last 35 years, wildfire season has gotten longer, and the global area affected by wildfire has doubled.

Though several studies have looked at the relationship between climate change and regional wildfire patterns, scientists lacked a comprehensive assessment of how climate change might be influencing wildfire seasons on a global scale. Using a combination of fire danger indices and surface weather data, a group of American and Australian scientists looked at how “fire weather” — weather conditions that are especially conducive to fire — has changed around the world over the last three and a half decades.

They found that as global temperatures have increased (by about .2 degrees Celsius per decade since 1979), the length of wildfire season has also increased by 18.7 percent around the world. Across nearly a quarter of the world’s vegetated areas, the length of fire season increased. Only 10 percent of vegetated areas saw a decrease in the length of fire season — Australia was the only vegetated continent that did not exhibit a significant increase in both fire season length and affected area.

fire

Over the last several decades, the report notes, the United States has seen a particularly marked increase in the frequency and duration of large wildfires, especially in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The report links this increase to earlier snowmelt, which creates drier conditions earlier in the summer. In general, the report found, areas with the greatest changes in local weather are the most likely to see changes in their wildfire season:

Our results extend these findings by demonstrating that areas with the most significant change in fire weather season length occur where not only temperature but also changes in humidity, length of rain-free intervals and wind speeds are most pronounced. In 2012, for example, longer-than-normal fire weather seasons across an unprecedented 47.4% of the vegetated area of the US culminated in a near-record setting ~3.8 MHa of burned area.

The tropical and subtropical forests of South America have also experienced what the report refers to as a “tremendous fire weather season length changes,” with a median 33 day increase over the last 35 years.

The average length of fire season, the report notes, does not perfectly equate with fire activity — even if the conditions are right for fires to occur, wildfires still need some sort of ignition spark and ample fuel. But the researchers warn that “if these fire weather changes are coupled with ignition sources and available fuel, they could markedly impact global ecosystems, societies, economies and climate.”

GOLETA, CA - JULY 06:  U.S. Forest Service Hot Shots set a backfire to try to contain the Gap fire, officially the top priority fire in the state, on July 6, 2008 near Goleta, California. The 6,860-acre Gap fire is spreading across the chaparral-covered Santa Ynez Mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, drawing closer to many houses that were rebuilt after the1990 Painted Cave fire destroyed 400 homes. An estimated 4,000 people have evacuated from about 1,700 homes in the path of the fire.  President Bush has declared a state of emergency for all of California in response to more than 1,400 fires that were mostly started by dry lightning storms crossing the state on June 20. More than 300 continue to burn. Making matters worse for the more than 19,000 firefighters from 42 states battling the California wildfires, drought is wicking moisture from the vegetation which leads fire experts to fear a possible repeat of the firestorms of 2003 and 2007 that destroyed thousands of homes in southern California.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

An increase in fire activity could impact everything from public health to the economy. When fires burn, they emit smoke that can travel hundreds of miles, impacting air quality and exposing residents in places removed from the direct dangers of wildfire to harmful particles that can exacerbate existing health conditions, especially in the very young and very old. Fighting wildfires is also expensive, costing the U.S. government an average of $1.13 billion a year in the last decade. As climate change exacerbates wildfires, one study estimates that fighting wildfires could cost as much as $62.5 billion annually by 2050.

An increase in wildfires can also lead to an increase in climate change. As wildfires last longer, and cover a greater area, more trees burn, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and turning some forests from carbon sinks into carbon sources. And as places like Alaska experience longer wildfire seasons, carbon-rich permafrost could melt more quickly, releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere.

Article from Climate Progress: Natasha Geiling

No shortage of money for renewable energy, but there is a denial of that truth

 This is ridiculous beyond madness (and comes from the Guardian this morning with an addendum from the estimable Richard Murphy):

The government is struggling to pay for new clean energy supplies which could result in a rise in household bills or a major cut in investment in renewable technologies.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has already overspent its budget to support renewable energy projects over the next five years by £1.5bn, senior sources said.

Unless ministers increase the budget still further, the UK could struggle to meet legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

community_image_1428836159

This is mad for four reasons.

First, it’s mad because we need renewable energy.

Second, it’s mad because renewable energy creates jobs in the UK and potential competitive advantage for UK business outside it.

Third, it’s mad because we could find £375 billion of quantitative easing to bail out banks (which is what it achieved, even if it was not quite what was planned).

Fourth, it’s mad because Green Infrastructure Quantitative Easing could, without a shadow of a doubt fund this programme at almost no net cost to society.

The argument that ‘there is no money’ is just not true. There is always money available to a government with its own central bank and a mechanism for repurchasing its own debt (which is what all QE does). To argue otherwise is to either deny the truth or turn a willing blind eye to it to achieve another political aim. It’ up to you to decide which one is going on here.

whiteleewindfarm

UN Security Council Meeting on Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier for Global Security

136564_600 On June 30th, 2015, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an open Arria-formula meeting on the role of climate change as a threat multiplier for global security. The meeting was co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Spain and Malaysia. The aim of the meeting, according to the prepared concept note, was “to better identify the inter-connected threats to international peace and security related to Climate Change.” The concept note continues: “Everyday more countries are incorporating climate change considerations into their national security policies and since Climate Change is, and will be, altering geopolitical dynamics, it seems necessary to develop more structured means of addressing this issue from an international perspective.” A list of speakers and statements is available below and here. Abbott-on-Climate-Change-600x400 This is not the first time the UNSC has addressed the security implications of climate change, or influenced action on climate and security issues elsewhere in the UN. As the Arria-formula debate concept note points out, actions were taken by various governments in 2007: UNSC Debate on Climate, Peace and Security (press release); 2009: UN Secretary-General’s Report Climate change and its possible security implications (A/64/350) (PDF) & UN General Assembly (climate security) resolution; 2011: UNSC Presidential Statement 6587th (PDF), and in 2013: UNSC Arria Formula Meeting on Security Implications of Climate Change (press release). All of these documents can also be found on the Climate Security Chronology. tumblr_lrhf0j7OKd1qbazqao1_1280 To date, the United States has lamented the difficulty of reaching a consensus on addressing climate risks at the UNSC. Then US Ambassador to the UN (and current U.S. National Security Advisor) Susan Rice made her disappointment with the 2011 Presidential Statement process very clear:

In this Council we have discussed many emerging security issues and addressed them, from the links between development and security to HIV-AIDS. Yet this week, we have been unable to reach consensus on even a simple Presidential Statement that climate change has the potential to impact peace and security in the face of the manifest evidence that it does. We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened. They’ve asked this Council to demonstrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying, by its silence, in effect, “Tough luck.” This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic. It’s shortsighted, and frankly it’s a dereliction of duty.

However, this recent Arria-formula debate may be a sign of progress. What’s In Blue, a website that monitors the UNSC, points out that certain nations that were once opposed to UNSC “encroachment” on this issue, are now supportive:

The first-ever debate on the security implications of climate change was held in April 2007 (S/PV.5663), under the UK presidency. At the time, a number of Council members and member states had reservations about holding the debate. This included a letter sent by Pakistan on behalf of the Group of 77 and China ahead of the first debate, criticising the “encroachment” by the Council on the roles and responsibilities of other principal organs of the UN (S/2007/211). However, since then Pakistan and now Malaysia, which are members of the G-77, have chosen to co-chair the two Arria-formula meetings on this issue. This signals a desire on their part—and probably several others in the G-77—for a frank discussion on the security implications of this issue, with the Arria-formula serving as the most appropriate format given its informal nature.

Furthermore, many G-77 nations have also incorporated climate change into their military and defense doctrines since the first discussion of the issue in the UNSC in 2007. In this context, the Arria-formula meeting may present a turning point. mother-abigail-2 More progress may be on the horizon. New Zealand assumes the Presidency of the UNSC for the next six months, with a stated intention by Prime Minister John Key to focus on “the peace and security challenges confronting Small Island Developing States [SIDS], including many of our Pacific neighbors.” Given the significant vulnerability of many SIDS, climate change risks will likely be a significant part of that focus. Documents Here are the Statements from the Arria-formula debate on Climate Change as a Threat Multiplier to Global Security (via Spain’s Permanent Mission to the UN)

Prof. Michael Gerrard, with the Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, spoke at the Arria-formula meeting, and intends to “post a detailed paper with supporting materials and documentation outlining possible mechanisms for how the UNSC might address climate change displacement.” This will be a welcome addition to laying the foundation for how the UNSC can better address climate risks.

Climate pressures threaten political stability – security experts

Syria-Free-Syria--600x403

LONDON, June 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Politically fragile countries face breakdown as a result of mounting climate change pressures, and even stable ones may find coming shocks too big to manage peacefully, security and development experts warned.

But work now to protect food security, reshape water sharing agreements and cut risks from worsening weather disasters could play a huge role in reducing future conflict and instability, they said in a report commissioned by G7 governments.

Both at-risk and stable countries would benefit, as they attempt to deal with problems such as uncontrolled migration, rising emergency relief bills, and demands for military assistance in conflict zones, the report said.

“The scale of security risks we’re talking about is potentially enormous,” said Dan Smith, a co-author of the report and head of International Alert, a UK-based peacebuilding organisation.

The report termed climate change “the ultimate threat multiplier”, and said it should be a top foreign policy priority for the Group of Seven major industrialised democracies.

As food and water security worsen in many fragile parts of the world, “you can see the climate thread” in social upheaval from Egypt’s revolution in 2011 to the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Smith said at a discussion on the report at Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office this week.

SYRIA DROUGHT

bluegold-splsh

The start of Syria‘s crisis was preceded by a brutal five-year drought in its main northeastern food-producing region, the report said.

The loss of crops and animals pushed many rural families to already overcrowded cities, increasing unemployment, it added.

Lukas Ruttinger, an author of the report from Adelphi, a German policy thinktank, emphasised that drought was not the main reason for Syria’s crisis.

“We’re not saying climate change caused the conflict in Syria. But it combined with other pressures that a repressive and non-responsive government was unable to manage,” he said.

In Asia, Thailand’s severe 2011 floods, which affected 2 million people, came on the heels of years of anti-government protests. After the disaster many people complained that state compensation had been unfairly distributed – and the government eventually fell in a 2013 coup, Ruttinger said.

Looking ahead, regions from the increasingly water-short Indus River basin in India and Pakistan to states already afflicted by conflict and poverty, such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Niger, will probably face some of the biggest risks of instability, the report noted.

In all of them, “we have to think about this in terms of managing risk, not solving the problem”, Smith said.

The good news, he added, is that many of the elements of what needs to be done are starting to fall into place. Efforts to coordinate climate change adaptation, aid and peace-building efforts are growing, though they are “not systematic”, he said.

Maintaining a distinction between financing for climate change and financing for development “is misleading and potentially dangerous”, he warned, saying climate and development action must be integrated to be effective.

But many poorer countries want to keep the two types of aid separate to ensure that rich-country promises to mobilise $100 billion a year in international climate funding – on top of existing aid flows – are met, the experts said.

Insurance could play some role in reducing risks and providing stabilising payouts to disaster-hit families, Smith said. But the cost of providing insurance depends on analysing risks based on long-term trends, and climate change is bringing “profound disruption of existing trends”, he said.

That could make the cost of providing insurance cover for some climate risks excessive, the experts said.

CREATIVE THINKING

Innovative thinking could help. A project to negotiate open border agreements for drought-hit nomadic herders who move from country to country in Africa’s Sahel may ease pressures in the region’s fragile states, said Baroness Joyce Anelay, a minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The project, by French aid group Acting for Life, is supported by Britain’s Department for International Development through its Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme.

On a broader scale, reducing climate-related security risks will require many changes, including better global risk assessments and support for food security through measures to build stocks and curb price fluctuations, experts said.

Improving local abilities to cope with climate stresses and finding ways to defuse water disputes between neighbouring nations will also be important, the report said.

Water sharing across national borders has in the past been a shining example of how to build cooperation and head off disputes, Smith said.

But with populations growing and demand for water rising as climate change in many cases cuts flows, a process for renegotiating water deals in line with those shifts is needed, he said.

Trying to reduce as far as possible the pressures driving world instability is crucial, Ruttinger said, because “we are already at the limit of what we can manage”.

syria-protests-assad-nationalturk-8764-610x343

(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s rights, trafficking and corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)

Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq

community_image_1428836159

Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world’s largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show.

The papers raise new questions over Britain’s involvement in the war, which had divided Tony Blair’s cabinet and was voted through only after his claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

The minutes of a series of meetings between ministers and senior oil executives are at odds with the public denials of self-interest from oil companies and Western governments at the time.

The documents were not offered as evidence in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war. In March 2003, just before Britain went to war, Shell denounced reports that it had held talks with Downing Street about Iraqi oil as “highly inaccurate”. BP denied that it had any “strategic interest” in Iraq, while Tony Blair described “the oil conspiracy theory” as “the most absurd”.

But documents from October and November the previous year paint a very different picture.

community_image_1428836159

Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair’s military commitment to US plans for regime change.

The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

The minister then promised to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on her lobbying efforts.

The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post regime change”. Its minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”

After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office’s Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”

Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had “no strategic interest” in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was “more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time”.

community_image_1428836159

BP was concerned that if Washington allowed TotalFinaElf’s existing contact with Saddam Hussein to stand after the invasion it would make the French conglomerate the world’s leading oil company. BP told the Government it was willing to take “big risks” to get a share of the Iraqi reserves, the second largest in the world.

Over 1,000 documents were obtained under Freedom of Information over five years by the oil campaigner Greg Muttitt. They reveal that at least five meetings were held between civil servants, ministers and BP and Shell in late 2002.

The 20-year contracts signed in the wake of the invasion were the largest in the history of the oil industry. They covered half of Iraq’s reserves – 60 billion barrels of oil, bought up by companies such as BP and CNPC (China National Petroleum Company), whose joint consortium alone stands to make £403m ($658m) profit per year from the Rumaila field in southern Iraq.

Last week, Iraq raised its oil output to the highest level for almost decade, 2.7 million barrels a day – seen as especially important at the moment given the regional volatility and loss of Libyan output. Many opponents of the war suspected that one of Washington’s main ambitions in invading Iraq was to secure a cheap and plentiful source of oil.

community_image_1428836159

Mr Muttitt, whose book Fuel on the Fire is published,said: “Before the war, the Government went to great lengths to insist it had no interest in Iraq’s oil. These documents provide the evidence that give the lie to those claims.

“We see that oil was in fact one of the Government’s most important strategic considerations, and it secretly colluded with oil companies to give them access to that huge prize.”

Lady Symons, 59, later took up an advisory post with a UK merchant bank that cashed in on post-war Iraq reconstruction contracts. Recently she severed links as an unpaid adviser to Libya’s National Economic Development Board. Last night, BP and Shell declined to comment.

community_image_1428836159

www.fuelonthefire.com

Not about oil? what they said before the invasion

* Foreign Office memorandum, 13 November 2002, following meeting with BP: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity to compete. The long-term potential is enormous…”

* Tony Blair, 6 February 2003: “Let me just deal with the oil thing because… the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it. The fact is that, if the oil that Iraq has were our concern, I mean we could probably cut a deal with Saddam tomorrow in relation to the oil. It’s not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons…”

* BP, 12 March 2003: “We have no strategic interest in Iraq. If whoever comes to power wants Western involvement post the war, if there is a war, all we have ever said is that it should be on a level playing field. We are certainly not pushing for involvement.”

* Lord Browne, the then-BP chief executive, 12 March 2003: “It is not in my or BP’s opinion, a war about oil. Iraq is an important producer, but it must decide what to do with its patrimony and oil.”

* Shell, 12 March 2003, said reports that it had discussed oil opportunities with Downing Street were ‘highly inaccurate’, adding: “We have neither sought nor attended meetings with officials in the UK Government on the subject of Iraq. The subject has only come up during conversations during normal meetings we attend from time to time with officials… We have never asked for ‘contracts’.”

blair_je_suis_460