Twenty Years since my Resignation: some hard lessons

It is twenty years since I resigned from the Foreign Office over the Iraq War. I remember well the day I wrote to the Foreign Secretary, attaching my secret evidence to the Butler Inquiry as the reason. The government had lied about Iraq’s WMD (which I had worked on for many years), ignored alternatives to war (which I had advised upon) and had broken the UN resolutions that I had helped negotiate. The Foreign Secretary didn’t reply though the Foreign Office did offer me psychological counselling.

I have been reflecting on this experience. My conclusions are harsh:

1. The liars and criminals get away with it. Witness the rehabilitation of Blair and Campbell, those directly responsible. Campbell, I see, is now slated to present Channel Four’s general election coverage. Advisers from the Blair Institute work with governments (some not so nice) around the world, and in Keir Starmer’s team.
2. The ones who tell the truth pay the price. I lost my career, pay and index-linked pension. When my evidence became public, I was personally attacked in national media, including by the Foreign Secretary. I was threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. Former colleagues, some friends, repudiated me. Meanwhile the officials who went along with the lies and kept their mouths shut kept their jobs and prospered. My boss, for instance, knew everything I did but did nothing. Others now have knighthoods and are running ministries, or are senior ambassadors.

I am of course bitter about this, but I have worked hard not to let that bitterness guide my life and have used my anger to fuel new ventures. Others, above all the Iraqi people, have suffered far worse. My colleague, the weapons expert David Kelly, died because of the lies.

My greater concern is that the disincentives to blow the whistle on government dishonesty remain immense. The threat of prosecution continues under the draconian Secrets Act. Losing your income and profession is a big deal. In this way, government bullies and controls those who might reveal its lies. I am thinking today, for instance, of the Foreign Office legal advice on arms sales to Israel, which the government has refused to reveal. Transparency and thus accountability are the victims.

One thing that can be done is to make it easier to blow the whistle and not force those who do so to pay such a heavy price. I am thinking about this, including the possibility of suing the government, now that my evidence has been vindicated by the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry report, though it is probably too late. I told the truth, the government lied. If you have any thoughts, please share – probably best by direct message or email.

All these years later, I remain glad that I did what I did, difficult though it has sometimes been. I’m not seeking praise (or criticism), just pointing out some hard truths about truth-telling. I know this isn’t the normal LinkedIn fare, but screw it. I need to tell it.

Footnote: you can see my evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry in the National Archives here: