Monday, 24 October 2016

Secret Stuff

JB writes: In Cristobell’s admirable blog recently I made a brief reference to  GA’s “mistaken” view that the British security services were involved in the first investigation.  That drew forth a certain amount of steam behind the ears in response, demanding evidence for my opinion.
Well, naturally, I wasn’t going to give anything to an anonymous poster – that’s why we don’t have comments on the Bureau – that might be used to spread discord but, on reflection, I’m willing to enlarge a little on my view. The libel trial is, after all, over now and there is nothing wrong with disagreement. In addition, anything that further convinces the usual suspects that I am working for the McCanns is a Good Thing.
A word about my knowledge of the intelligence services. It is the same, roughly, as that of anyone who reads the careful but pretty voluminous information about them published since the war. I have, in addition, had very brief contact with one agent and one officer when I was very young and knew the family of the head of one of our agencies (not the head himself) some decades ago. But nothing written here derives from that.

As far as I know the claims, at root, derive from misunderstandings. The first relates to the Wikileaks document. I wrote about it years ago and drew down a storm of criticism and really rather filthy abuse from readers of the Joanna Morais blog.
Here is an extract from Sic Noticas, Tuesday, 14 December 2010.
Pedro Mourinho:  Goncalo Amaral…is with us live. (…)A very good evening to you Dr.           Goncalo Amaral.
Goncalo Amaral:  Good evening.
P.M:  Is there any novelty for you in the documents now released by WikiLeaks?
G.A:  No, in reality the only news is the document disclosure itself, since as for the evidence - the indicia - that is in the process. The cooperation and collaboration with the English police is public knowledge and is in the process. The results are there, therefore there isn't anything new.
P.M:  So, for you, it isn't news that it was the British police that found* the evidence that has... would have incriminated   Madeleine's parents?
*A pause here. This is a complete mistranslation from the English to the Portuguese. How many times this mistranslation had been used to GA before I do not know: perhaps it all derives from a common document. The WL cable never said anything about the British police “finding” evidence. It said, of course, “developed”. All the important evidence was “found” by the Portuguese police, with the exception of the dog evidence, in which the British, working to Portuguese requirements, featured and the results of which they helped develop.

GA: No, I didn't say that. It's not news with regard to the evidence. Now, as to the proof held by the British police, I don't know what they are referring to. There was cooperation and collaboration, the evidence and indicia are in the process thus... I don't know, someone should say what the evidence is; perhaps someone from the British police should say it. All the same, it was the cooperation between the British and Portuguese police that arrived at the proof that is in the process. 
The Wikileaks despatch was critically important, and acknowledged as such at the time,   because it confirmed that the claims made by and on behalf of the parents – that it was the wicked PJ alone who were fixated on the McCanns, while  the sensible, non-sardine-eating British cops had no time for that nonsense –  were, surprise, surprise, completely untrue.
But to my extreme puzzlement GA didn’t see the despatch that way at all, and more’s the pity because it was a vindication for him. Instead, and somewhat oddly, it triggered an expansion of his views about British machinations behind the scenes, including his beliefs about satellite images being held back for possibly sinister reasons.
G.A:  As I said before, the investigation is an investigation that is interrupted, an investigation that needs to be concluded. I believe that it is possible to make progress, if it wasn't for lack of political will; now with political will, based on this note - which is only a note as you said, but remains an important note nevertheless between two ambassadors, from one ambassador to the US State Department, that must have the weight that it has. Hopefully now, it will also be disclosed those photos, those satellite images that we believe to be in the possession of the US authorities, that we, the Portuguese police mentioned first, and also requested, a request that was denied to us.
P.M: In your understanding, what could those satellite images reveal?
G.A: They can reveal who was the person that carried the child on that night on its way to the beach. According to an Irish couple's statement, with an alleged 80% certainty, it was Gerald McCann himself. That could be the confirmation of that Irish couple's statement.
P.M: And those images exist?
G.A: We believe that, yes. In fact, the McCann couple themselves, said, a few months ago, that they also searched for them; that they don't exist, someone else later stated that they don't exist. It's possible that the site that has divulged the cable might also be able to release those images. That would be interesting.
P.M: In your opinion, if they exist, why weren't they yet revealed?
GA: *Well, probably because they are a secret of state somewhere... In fact, the whole investigation was a state secret in England. I remind you that there is documentation in that sense, referring that it is a state secret. We do not understand why it is considered as a state secret. In question is the disappearance, and the likely death of a child, and we still fail to understand why that is considered as state secrecy.
*This paragraph expresses the nub of the misunderstanding. The phrase "in fact" is not followed by any supporting evidence for the conclusions. 

P.M. You have spoken before about the 'political will'. Do you consider that there was a connivance of the British government, with the McCann couple, knowing that the London authorities - and at least we now have that certainty - were indeed aware of the evidence uncovered by the police of their own country? What I want to ask you, in your opinion, in the scope of this document, is, if we can understand a little bit better the manner in which the McCanns left the country?                                                             
G.A: I apologize for stating the obvious, but they have left the country by airplane. And they were well received back in England. What we became increasingly aware was the political influence, of the intervention of the British prime minister at the time, Gordon Brown, of the conversations that he allegedly had with our own prime minister, in October, at the Lisbon Summit - if they indeed spoke on the subject or not, we weren't there to listen. Some say they did, others say they didn't; but a fact remains, and this was the result: there was a point that the British police officers working on the case had to sign a document as if they belonged to the secret services, requesting their confidentiality so they wouldn't speak about the case. Definitely something strange, not usual under other circumstances. Thus, from then on, and with other elements - that would be too lengthy for us to be detailing here now - remains no doubt that a political intervention, practically, archived the case.
The apparent misunderstanding of the despatch and the paragraphs above, the last of which has no connection to the ambassador's despatch,  are the basic “evidence” given by GA for state secrecy and the involvement of the security services. (The minor comments made at other times about  “people on the tarmac”, what might have been said by someone to Martin Grime and the taxi service provided by Special Branch are not worthy of consideration).
It just doesn’t hack it, I'm afraid.

I am unaware of the existence of a document that British officers had to sign about secrecy, by the way, even though that great authority on the McCann case, Paolo Reis,  claimed there was  one. If somebody lets me know about it I’ll have a look. But if it exists it certainly won’t confirm the existence of “state secrecy” in the McCann case, if only because GA refers to it as merely “requesting confidentiality” and throwing in the phrase “as if they belonged to the secret services” is a bit naughty, isn't it?
Certainly as late as December 2010  GA had the wrong end of the stick about the Official Secrets Act which all UK police, as well as many other public servants, had to sign up to at the beginning of their careers. He was, for example, unaware that his lawyer’s demand for attendance of the McCanns’ Scotland Yard liaison officer in Portugal as a defence witness at the Lisbon HR libel trial would be worthless precisely because of the routine confidentiality that applies in all British  cases, at home or overseas. The officer was not forbidden to come because of the case but because of the law but GA, when it was explained to him, didn't see it that way.   
The "state secrecy" that so troubled GA - in this case the relevant provisions of the Official Secrets Act - was to do with nothing more than the problems of information received during investigations and the necessity of protecting people from the effects of premature or unjustified release of information. That, it should be remembered,  is a problem for Portugal as well – as the final libel trial judgement made very clear in great detail. The two countries deal with the same problem in different ways and one of them, the Portuguese way, was set to cost GA a quarter of a million euros or more before the appeal saved him: so far no evidence has emerged to show that the British legal approach to secrecy in police investigations has cost him a penny.    
GA’s belief that there was something extra-secret at work in the McCann case justifying the likelihood of “MI5” – we all know that “MI5” wouldn’t have been working overseas, but that’s just trivia – or other intelligence agencies being involved might have merit but he has provided no facts to back it up.
He was speculating about overseas matters outside his normal area of expertise. In the absence of any evidence one can only accept his claims because of who he is and what he has done. But that isn't enough. It never is.

As I've said, it will all come out in the wash.