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Two stories with jagged edges that challenge us
Dominic Raab and Freddie Scappaticci: it’s a complicated world
Several ex-ministers will not be joining the condemnation of Dominic Raab today. I’ve spoken to a number, who have unusually, like Rishi Sunak, read every word of the Tolley report ten times over.
If you don’t know, Adam Tolley is the KC appointed by the PM to investigate bullying allegations against our ex-deputy Prime Minister. His enquiry was comprehensive, as you’d expect, and his report is very clear. It finds that Raab was “unreasonably and persistently aggressive” towards staff. He had to go.
So why are all those ex-ministers left pondering what to think this morning?
Well, here are the extracts from the report which has not been widely reported this morning:
…..The DPM is highly intelligent, pays close attention to detail and seeks to make decisions based on evidence. He has strong principles and is guided by them in practice. He works assiduously and typically from about 0730 until about 2200, Monday to Thursday. This includes working during the car journey to Westminster and from Westminster to home. Fridays are allocated to constituency work. He usually does extensive work on weekends also. He makes a determined effort to use his working time effectively. He seeks to use meetings with policy officials in order to test the relevant material and make a decision.
…… The DPM’s style is, in his own words, inquisitorial, direct, impatient and fastidious. The DPM told me, and I accept, that he tends to prepare extensively for meetings, will typically have read all of the key papers and identified questions in advance. He explained that he does not wish to receive a recitation of papers which he has already read. He will focus on the points of interest to him.
I have a friend who used to write submissions to Dominic Raab. He claims Raab was the best Secretary of State he’d ever worked for. My friend goes further, telling me he used to sweat before seeing Raab because the minister would have read every word in the submission before he got in the room. If my friend couldn’t stand up each recommendation in his submission, Raab would not sign it off.
Tolley spends a lot of time analysing the definition of bullying and interpreting the various iterations of the ministerial code. His report gave me the impression that he was 55%/45% in his conclusion that Raab had crossed a line.
The report is 49 pages long. There are lessons for everyone, including the people who were undoubtedly trying to darken Raab’s name with inaccurate media briefings:
“There has been a series of inaccurate and misleading media reports about the investigation. I do not propose to set out a list. The level and frequency of such media reports, and the perceived risk that some individuals were prepared to use others’ confidential information for their own purposes, had significant potential to deter people from coming forward as witnesses. I cannot assess whether or to what extent this in fact happened.”
To save or not save Dominic Raab?
Based on the Tolley report alone, if I were Rishi Sunak, I would have tried to keep Dominic Raab. I read in reports that he took further advice from officials, who may have swayed his thinking with new evidence or a different interpretation of the facts.
It’s hard not to conclude that Sunak let Raab go because it was easier than the inevitable parliamentary and media fuss caused by digging in to save him.
Don’t get me wrong, Raab got up himself in high office. You can be hardworking and challenging whilst dialling down the passive-aggressive schtick. The report actually says that since the start of the inquiry, he’s reduced his “abrasiveness.”
What are my thoughts on this case?
If ever there was an industrial case for a mediation procedure, this is one. Maybe mediation would have diluted his “abrasiveness” before he was sacked. Raab would probably think this is too nanny state to contemplate.
Perhaps the main conclusion should be that the Ministerial Code should be amended to include the catch-all line “don’t be a dick.” It’s a complicated world.
Ironically, Raab lost his job for upsetting civil servants but was unadmonished for allegedly refusing to make a phone call whilst on holiday to help protect Afghan interpreters. It doesn’t take an inquiry to know how appalling this was.
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Freddie Scappaticci, who may have been a British Spy, is dead.
During the phone hacking scandal, I first encountered this guy, or to be precise, was made aware of his alleged pseudonym, “Stakeknife”. I was told journalists hacked computer equipment from a former Army intelligence officer to find the agent's name described as “the jewel in the crown” of British Intelligence.
You will see from the link to the Irish Times obituary that most media outlets are convinced that Freddie Scappaticci and “Stakeknife” are one and the same. He went to his death denying it. So far, I haven’t seen evidence of the computer hacking but I’d love to find it.
Exposing Scappaticci to public scrutiny led to an ethics debate about using agents allegedly involved in murders. Some journalists have claimed the RUC failed to investigate murders to protect “Stakeknife.” It led to an investigation called Operation Kenova.
The “Stakeknife” case is one where individuals tasked by the state to keep us safe must make secret decisions for the greater good. It’s a tough job because if things go wrong, those intelligence officers cannot be certain that elected ministers will back them up.
With regard to “Stakeknife”, the question to answer is, did he save more lives than he took? Did his covert actions help the progress to peace? History will answer that question before any newspaper.
I asked someone with greater knowledge than me to explain an intelligence agency's decisions to recruit and run an agent. Here’s what they told me:
“The death of Freddie Scappaticci has unsurprisingly spawned renewed allegations of him being an informer for British Army Intelligence during the IRA campaign commonly referred to as ‘The Troubles’. No-one in any position of authority will ever confirm or deny that statement.
”The use of informers (more usually referred to as agents) is exceedingly useful in providing intelligence to the Security Forces during terrorist or insurgency campaigns. This was most certainly the case in Northern Ireland where several agencies recruited terrorists from both the Republican and Loyalist communities. None of them will ever reveal their identity, even in death. In Ireland especially, agents and informers (‘touts’ in Irish parlance) are the most hated within communities, in life and thereafter. Few sympathise when one is caught and murdered, for the stigma of being a ‘tout’ lives on through generations and becomes embedded in local Irish history.
”This type of intelligence collection seems simple - get someone to talk, pay them to be an agent and get the information before putting it to good use. In any terrorist campaign, that ‘good use’ is first and foremost to save life. No agency would explain their ‘intelligence collection’ purpose in any other way; and allegations that agents are somehow ‘protected’ from prosecution for committing a crime, is simply false. The levels of scrutiny over agent running and the accountability of those who conduct such operations is considerable; then and particularly nowadays.
”In every single case, if you are not going to use the intelligence to save life, there is no point in going to the extraordinary lengths of danger and necessary difficulty to recruit a member of the IRA (for example). Few understand just how challenging this activity is, nor the dangers to the handlers in entering a hostile environment (think of South Armagh during the troubles) just to get into a position to engage that individual, never mind then persuading him/her to work as an agent. Meeting handlers every week - 2 or 3 hrs at a time - how does an agent explain that to loved ones ? Using coded texts and email to report ‘time sensitive’ intelligence ? The agent’s life is changed dramatically, forever. Their new found role has to be kept secret from their wife, husband or partner, indeed everyone.
”The reality is that intelligence collection through the use of agents is immensely complex, dangerous, intellectually challenging and sometimes frustrating. Very, very few understand this activity and even less are able to conduct this means of information gathering. It is shrouded in secrecy for good reason - expose an agent by revealing her/his identity and the intelligence flow is cut off, immediately. The agent’s life is at risk which brings all sorts of obligations upon the Army, Police or whoever is running the agent. For these good reasons, agent running is only conducted by those who have aptitude for this business, are trained and tightly managed.
”Those who were agents in that era of Irish history, provided intelligence which was used to protect members of all communities, the Security Forces as well as other matters which led to the cessation of violence and signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Secretaries of State (NI), senior Army and Police figures read this type of intelligence on a daily basis in carefully written intelligence reports gained from agent running operations; but whose identity was never revealed to the reader, regardless who that was.”
What do I think about this?
I asked myself what would have happened had our security services chosen not to recruit the alleged “jewel in the crown?” Then, of course, the answer as to what to do is obvious. I’d have recruited him. It’s a complicated world.
It’s rare for me to recommend two must-reads on the same subject, but if you want to see how fragile our peace is, try:
Operation Chiffon: The Secret Story of MI5 and MI6 and the Road to Peace in Ireland by Peter Taylor and Killing Thatcher by Rory Carroll.
They are both majestically narrated on Audible. I’ve asked my kids to read them.
John Ioannidis is a globally renowned epidemiologist who wrote an article in March 2020 questioning US government statistics about the mortality rate associated with Covid-19. The backlash against him was immense, despite the Stanford professor’s global status. If you’re interested in lessons from the pandemic, you must listen to what he says.
AI Drake. Switched on Pop explores how AI could destroy revenues for music makers. It’s a very frightening prospect.
Nobody is on Netflix. It’s a daft and violent action movie but good fun and well-acted by Bob Odenkirk.