There’s a scathing piece about the competence of MI6 in today’s Guardian by Sir Peter Heap, once our (main) man in Brazil. Heap’s distinguished career in the Foreign Office has evidently exposed him to some bits of prime silliness by the spooks.

A taster:

As a diplomat who worked in nine overseas posts over 36 years, I saw quite a lot of MI6 at work. They were represented in almost all of those diplomatic missions. They presented themselves as normal career diplomats, but often, indeed usually, they were a breed apart. And it normally only took the local British community a few weeks to spot them. “That’s one of your spies,” they would say at an embassy social function. “Spies, what spies?” we would reply. “You’ve been watching too much television.” But they were usually spot on.

In one capital, the MI6 officers rarely wore suits to the office while the rest of us did. “Why?” we asked. “Because we would stand out when we go outside the capital to meet our contacts,” they would reply. Maybe they scarcely noticed that they already stood out pretty distinctly in the city. If the local expatriates could identify them in weeks, it presumably only took hours for a hostile intelligence service to spot them, even if they did not know them by name already.

Sexing up Spaghetti

by Tom on October 2, 2003

I’m moving from one software job to another, and during the period of my notice (just ended, thanks for asking) I was placed on documentation duty. It has been my proud responsibility over the last month or so to attempt to capture, in flowing English prose and naturally UML, the state of the pile of mouldering spaghetti that my erstwhile employers like to call their ‘system’. Feh.

I’m pleased but quite surprised to be able to say that I managed to avoid the temptation to get all Borgesian on their asses by making the whole thing up. That would have been much more fun than what I ended up doing, but a bit too cruel to my successor.

Anyway, I particularly enjoyed a conversation on my last day with a colleague who is Spanish, and whose written English is excellent, but who relies a bit too much on the free newspaper ‘Metro’, given away on the tube in the morning, for his education in the vernacular.

He asked me if one particular document I had prepared had been ‘sexed up’. When I’d picked myself up off the floor and wiped away my tears, I denied the charge indignantly. (It is impossible to sex up a description of spaghetti.)

BBC journalists really do need to show more care about introducing this kind of thing into the language. They just don’t know how much trouble they end up causing.


WHAT’S MISSING? [Jonah Goldberg]

Oh, I know: Character assasination. If something similar to this Joe Wilson flap (and I still believe it deserves only flap status) occured during the Clinton years, we’d be hearing a barrage of attacks on Wilson’s motives — not just from barking dogs like Conason, but from the White House too.


The White House encouraged Republicans to portray the former diplomat at the center of the case, Joseph C. Wilson IV, as a partisan Democrat with an agenda and the Democratic Party as scandalmongering. At the same time, the administration and the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill worked to ensure that no Republicans in Congress break ranks and call for an independent inquiry outside the direct control of the Justice Department.

“It’s slime and defend,” said one Republican aide on Capitol Hill, describing the White House’s effort to raise questions about Mr. Wilson’s motivations and its simultaneous effort to shore up support in the Republican ranks.

“Slime and defend.” Boy, it sets your patriotic heartstrings a-quivering to hear that, doesn’t it? I guess this guy kind of looks like an elephant if you squint hard enough.

Andrew Northrup weighs in:

For all other Americans out there, please take a picture of this, because this is how your government, executive and legislative, responds when confronted with information that top officials have acted criminally against the interests of the country: they do nothing. And then, months later, when a shitstorm erupts, they try to shoot the messenger. Party uber alles. This is who is running the War on Whatever. Again, pay really close attention here, voting public, because there’s going to be a test on this in 13 months.

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A modern-day pogrom

by Chris Bertram on October 2, 2003

Hysterical use of language alert: “Rachel Cooper in the Spectator”: , reacting to the suggestion that British universities admit student from rough state schools with lower A-level scores than their peers from expensive private schools:

bq. Professor Schwartz is happily preparing the ground for a pogrom of the privileged children whose successful grades are the product not only of their hard work and ability, but also the school they attended.

Those pogroms aren’t what they used to be you know.

Not as smart as I thought I was

by Daniel on October 2, 2003

My education is clearly sadly lacking

Meanwhile, as a break from the hysterical, obsessive and politicised world of weblog disputes, I decided to have another look at an uncontroversial, scientific topic like John Lott’s research into gun control. And I discovered that I have been quite appalingly conned by two institutions that I thought I could trust. Instapundit has printed a letter from someone called Benjamin Zycher, a “Senior Economist”[1] at the Rand Corporation, supported by Raymond Sauer, a professor at Clemson University. Zycher says, and Sauer supports him in saying that the Ayres and Donohue paper on Lott’s work is all wet.

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Someone else’s fantasy

by Maria on October 2, 2003

Well, first off, I think I can always be relied on to lower the tone of CT. And since I’m in the middle of a nightmare flat-moving extravaganza this is probably all I’ll have to say for a while.

I’ve started getting text messages from a french mobile number I don’t recognize. One from the other night started;

“J’ss tte nue, tu vns ch moi ce soir?…”

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by Ted on October 2, 2003

* Liberal Oasis has a series of quotations from John Ashcroft, who turns out to be a huge fan of special prosecutors.

* A story about the ties between Ashcroft and the administration:

“On Wednesday, Justice Department officials would not rule out the possibility of Mr. Ashcroft appointing a special counsel, or recusing himself from the case.

“We’re leaving all legal options open,” said Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman.

And the associate of Mr. Rove said of the attorney general, “He’s going to have to recuse himself, don’t you think?””

* And, via Unfogged, this story would appear to assuage remaining good-faith doubt about whether Plame was undercover or not. (Bad-faith doubt, of course, is more tenacious than Jason Voorhees.)

“Valerie Plame was among the small subset of Central Intelligence Agency officers who could not disguise their profession by telling friends that they worked for the United States government.

That cover story, standard for American operatives who pretend to be diplomats or other federal employees, was not an option for Ms. Plame, people who knew her said on Wednesday. As a covert operative who specialized in nonconventional weapons and sometimes worked abroad, she passed herself off as a private energy expert, what the agency calls nonofficial cover.

But that changed over the summer, when her identity as a C.I.A. officer was reported in a syndicated column by Robert Novak.”

Note: this story also does a number on the “everyone knew she was C.I.A.” defense.


by Ted on October 2, 2003

My conscience has been telling me that I should write about something in addition to Ambassador Wilson’s wife. So here are a few thoughts:

* Ross from Bloviator has two posts (here and here) about the growing population of Americans without health insurance. 2.4 million more people were uninsured in 2002 than in 2001.

“The CBO believes that in looking at 1998 data from two different studies (the last best data sets available) between 21-31 million people (~9%-13% of the nonelderly) were uninsured for the whole year, 40 million or so (~18% of the nonelderly) were uninsured at the time of the 1998 Census “snapshot,” and about 60 million people a year (~25%) went uninsured for at least part of the year.”

* I’m not a huge fan of the Chemical Brothers, but I think that their video for “Let Forever Be” is one of the five best I’ve ever seen. Maybe even three best.

* I think that Arthur Silber has a good take on Rush Limbaugh’s alleged drug abuse. I wouldn’t cheer a sting operation to catch an ordinary citizen who was abusing pain pills. And if the sting was conducted by the National Enquirer (I can’t tell from the Drudge headline), that’s really, really low.

Too hot for NZ

by Kieran Healy on October 2, 2003

Daniel will be pleased to note that his post discussing the Ambassador’s wife who must not be named was judged by the content filter on Canterbury airport’s coin-operated Internet terminal to contain material of an adult nature unsuitable for a public environment. If only Karl Rove had been using one of these things when he sold Wilson’s wife down the river.