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June 19, 2005

Michael Smith of the "Sunday Times" Chats Online

Michael Smith of the "Sunday Times" chats online about the Downing Street Memos. He is particularly hard on those like Michael Kinsley who claim that the head of M.I.6 was simply reading the newspapers and listening to "the usual freelance chatterboxes," and on those like Mark Memmott who claim that saying that intelligence was "fixed" meant merely that it was "'bolted on' rather than altered." Smith finds the "self-serving nonsense from people who should know better in some, and it is now only some, of the U.S. media" to be "frankly depressing":

The Downing Street Memo: Michael Smith, Reporter, Sunday Times of London, Thursday, June 16, 2005:

Two top-secret British documents that were leaked to the press recently suggest that the Bush administration "fixed" intelligence about Iraq and that actions at the United Nations were designed to give legal cover to British Prime Minister Tony Blair before an invasion to oust Saddam Hussein .

Michael Smith, a reporter for the Sunday Times of London, has led the coverage, starting with his report of the so-called Downing Street Memo on May 1.

Smith was online Thursday, June 16, at 10 a.m. ET to discuss the Downing Street Memo and his reporting.

Michael Smith: I think it is clear from the documents themselves that the whole [Iraq] venture was widely viewed [in Britain] as being highly dubious with no certainty of what would come out of it. The administration ensured that it only got the answers it wanted... ignored the advice they were getting on the likely cost or managed to filter it out with this highly pressurized regime of come up with the right answers, or we will be on your back...

Michael Smith: ...there was a feeling of "well we said that way back when."... "We have said this before, if you the reader didn't listen well what can we do", seemed to be the attitude.... The attitude they have taken is just flat wrong.... It is one thing for the New York Times or The Washington Post to say that we were being told that the intelligence was being fixed by sources inside the CIA or Pentagon or the NSC and quite another to have documentary confirmation in the form of the minutes of a key meeting with the Prime Minister's office. Think of it this way, all the key players were there. This was the equivalent of an NSC meeting.... They say the evidence against Saddam Hussein is thin, the Brits think regime change is illegal under international law so we are going to have to go to the U.N. to get an ultimatum, not as a way of averting war but as an excuse to make the war legal, and oh by the way we aren't preparing for what happens after and no-one has the faintest idea what Iraq will be like after a war. Not reportable, are you kidding me?...

Michael Smith: I personally believe there are grounds for [impeachment of Bush] but not... in the memos we've seen.... If the Brits said that there weren't enough preparations in place for what comes after, what was the reaction back in Washington? Who was it who overruled the arguments coming out of London?...

Michael Smith: I think Blair will go.... I personally think Bush is much more at risk.... There is no doubt in my mind that the administration lied and distorted the truth, one Congress begins to realise the scale of it, Bush could be in serious trouble....

Michael Smith: [T]here are other facts you still don't know and the media should be using these public documents as a base from which to find them out because it is those facts that will really damage Bush....

Michael Smith: [T]hat meeting [is the equivalent of] an NSC meeting. That is its significance, that is its equivalent. It is highly damning and some of the self-serving nonsense from people who should know better in some, and it is now only some, of the U.S. media is frankly depressing....

Michael Smith: There are number of people asking about fixed and its meaning. This is a real joke. I do not know anyone in the UK who took it to mean anything other than fixed as in fixed a race, fixed an election, fixed the intelligence. If you fix something, you make it the way you want it.... [A]s for the reports that said this was one British official. Pleeeaaassee! This was the head of MI6. How much authority do you want the man to have? He has just been to Washington, he has just talked to George Tenet. He said the intelligence and facts were being fixed... cooked to match what the administration wanted it to say to justify invading Iraq....

Michael Smith: [L]ook I am not some mealy-mouthed left-wing apologist. I vote Conservative in elections for parliament and Liberal-Democrat (the term Liberal does not have the same connotations over here) in the local elections. I actually backed the idea of the war. I have just finished a book on an American military unit which is very admiring of that unit. I cant go into details as it is not published until March. I am just a reporter doing my job.... The information in the documents is damning enough. I don't believe that Republicans want US soldiers to die for no good cause in an insurgency that could have been avoided anymore than Democrats do. This isn't about politics. It's about common sense and honesty....

Michael Smith: Thank you for giving me the chance to answer this question. I am very pro-defence you're right. All right-thinking people should be. Saddam Hussein might not have been the threat he was painted but there are plenty out there who would be given the chance.... Bin Laden is a legitimate target, Iraq, even an Iraq led by Saddam Hussein, was not. This was an illegal war but the most criminal part of it all was the lazy, arrogant way they went into it. (British tanks crossing the start lines, in a war being fought about WMD, did not even have any chemical or biological filters fitted because the Ministry of Defence failed to buy them in time.) Just look at all those memos again.... Just look at the lack of preparation, look how right all those experts who said it would all turn out badly were and then wonder how many British and American soldiers died because those politicians were too arrogant to take the advice of the experts...

Posted by DeLong at June 19, 2005 10:36 PM