While I'm gathering unto me various bits and pieces from the four corners of the webosphere, below is a couple of comments I submitted to the tail end of a rather good Aaronovitch Watch thread, relating to David Kelly's death and similar events, expanding on the notion of implausible denial.
But first, a piece from Private Eye which reports the first known use of the Kelly Affair as a threat. In these particular circumstances, the threat is rather implausible, and it's beginning to sound rather as though the scumbag issuing it got a bit carried away, to the point of slavering dementitude. But I'm sure other scumbags may be more plausible, in which case the threats are less likely to be splashed all over the Eye.
Regardless of the matter of actual explicit threats, what is called in the context of debates about libel law the 'chilling effect', and in general may be called the 'latent deterrent effect', probably has a rather wider application. Even if you only suspect that Kelly may have been rubbed out, you, a possessor of highly discreditable government secrets, are likely to keep you gob firmly shut, without anyone having to shout threats at you. In fact, this applies whatever you think actually happened to Kelly, since even on an unassisted suicide hypothesis he was pretty clearly hounded, and probably the most plausible motive for him to kill himself would have been the threat to remove his pension rights. (Whether this is actually very plausible depends on such matters as whether he would have expected his life insurance to be invalidated by suicide - which I admit I haven't looked into, not being an investigative journalist.)
PFI at all costs
Private Eye #1271, p12
17 Sept 2010
IN 2003 Dr Peter Brambleby, then director of public health for Norwich Primary Care Trust (PCT), received requests from senior clinicians at the PFI flagship Norfolk and Norwich hospital (Eyes passim) to look into their concerns about changes to the design and build that they believed put patients at risk.
The ventilation system and isolation facilities were top of their list, but so were a lack of management response and a culture of secrecy.
When his preliminary inquiries confirmed cause for concern, evidence of covering up and a lack of proper supervision by Norfolk' Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA), Brambleby put the matter in the hands of the National Audit Office (NAO) on 31 March 2004. The NAO, led by Sir John Bourn (Eyes passim), referred it straight back to the SHA and hospital to investigate.
External scrutiny did at least prompt some remedial building work (at the NHS's expense), a belated clinical risk assessment (from which Dr Brambleby was barred), an internal inquiry (which omitted key witness testimony and declined to track down critical records on changes to design specification), and a flurry of press interest. Much was at stake — not just the safety of patients and staff using the hospital, but also the reputation and value of this scheme to its financial backers and the credibility of the whole multi-billion-pound NHS PFI programme to follow.
On 4 May 2004' the PCT asked Dr Brambleby to give a statement to the media but to check first with the SHA press officer, who was briefed and ready for the call. The press officer said he had read all the "libellous" correspondence, had briefed the secretary of state (then John Reid) and warned Dr Brambleby that unless he dropped the whole matter he would end up "like Dr David Kelly who was found dead in the woods with his wrist slashed". Complaints to the NAO and SHA about that threat fell on deaf ears.
Documents recently released on the instruction of the Information Commissioner's Office show that Norwich PCT chief executive Dr Chris Price took up the complaint in a letter to SHA chief executive Peter Houghton on II June 2004: "...the unacceptable behaviour... was an orchestrated and deliberate attempt to bring pressure to bear... to intimidate me into making public statements which would discredit Dr Brambleby... [the press officer] made wholly inappropriate referral to the death of the late David Kelly as an illustration of what happens to whistleblowers... I know he said these things because he had a very similar conversation with me... I would hate to think that he might subject some other less robust individual to the same sort of treatment in the future and I guess that is the real reason I feel compelled to make this complaint."
And the response? Nothing. It was months before the SHA looked into it, and years before the findings were released, albeit in redacted form, and through the intervention of North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. In it, the press officer claimed his advice was: "Wholly appropriate given the circumstances... talked through the advice with colleagues... the recent case of David Kelly was a perfect illustration of someone who ended up caught in the crossfire between politics and the media... Peter Brambleby, as a public servant, had no democratic legitimacy... it was advice I would give to others in similar situations."
This latest example of top-down bullying of those who raise legitimate concerns in the NHS reveals Labour's desperation to make PFI work at all costs. While safety concerns were suppressed, former health secretary Alan Milburn was paid handsomely to speak at a "strategy seminar" in the south of France, as guest of Financial Securities Assurance, the bankers who remortgaged the Norfolk and Norwich PFI.
Which is nice.
Aaronovitch Watch comment:
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...
Bit late, but a few rambling afterthoughts:
Further to the ludicrous 'house of cards' model [EDIT - the idea that one whistleblower's evidence would always bring down a conspiracy, rather than being dismissed in any one of a variety of ways] - and Phil,Bensix on bumping people off [EDIT - read the thread]: the inescapable fact is that if, say, the CIA wanted to do that to some defenceless shmoe, they could relatively easily make it look like accident or natural causes.
Unless they are after implausible deniability, i.e. making it fairly - but not rankly, MSM-acknowledgably, obvious as a warning to others.
Another inescapable fact: spooks, strategists etc. are sneaky like that. It's their job.
Implausible denial not only ensures the warning gets across, but intensifies it, since it's not just 'we will kill you' but 'and look how blatant we can be about it'. If one were to accept that David Kelly was killed, then the sub-hypothesis that there was an element of deliberate implausibility would be a live one.
To add a complication consonant with the subject matter, blatantness can actually work to reduce the likelihood of (official) detection. See 'Intelligence and the Problem of Strategic Surprise' by the great theorist of strategic deception, Michael I Handel.
He proposes this (ceteris paribus/pro tanto) 'paradoxical' generalisation: The greater the risk, the less likely it seems to be, and the less risky it becomes.
Another complication is that implausibility can be dog-whistled, and of course sending different messages is even easier when it's a question of being plausible to the (low) standards of a domestic/local audience, while having foreign, and more sophisticated, audiences get the message loud and clear.
Talk about stuff like this inevitably starts sounding a bit febrile, but any discussion about general aspects of CT qua CT must discuss general aspects of conspiracy, or it is just hot air.
7/27/2010 10:00:00 PM