In the Heat of the Moment

Speaking at Bristol University, MI5 chief Jonathan Evans has raised more questions than he has answered when he says his agency has never condoned torture but had no choice but to use Al-Qaeda-related intelligence generated by partner agencies overseas who did employ torture. Clearly, he is right when he argues that MI5 would have been negligent, if it had not acted on such intelligence, but exactly what did MI5 know about (and when did it know of) the abuses and torture employed by U.S. agencies, for example?

Were British officers ever present when torture was employed? There have been claims they were. And how did MI5 change operational principles when it was clear that the U.S. was employing torture? Evans does not clarify that in his speech. Further, were the British intelligence agencies collusive in renditions?

Full transcript here.

UK Newspapers Take a Pounding

The UK’s national newspaper circulations fell badly in September. The Guardian and Independent fell 9.7 per cent and 15.6 per cent year on year respectively. But the biggest loser among the quality dailies was my old paper The Times, down 10.4 per cent. Despite its international brand name, the Independent has a circulation way below 200,000. Is it time it followed the example of the Christian Science Monitor – namely, be exclusively an online product and focus solely on international news? When is it going to close its sister Sunday newspaper, a paper that adds little to its brand and doesn’t help with the finances?

The circulations for the once excellent indigenous Scottish qualities make for grim reading. Another one of my old papers, Scotland on Sunday, twice the UK newspaper of the year, has seen its circulation halved in less than a decade. Both the Scotsman and the Herald are selling fewer copies than some major regional English dailies. Andrew Neil did not help the commercial cause of the Scotsman Group when the Barclays Brothers were the owners: telling the Scots they are a miserable lot and should be more like the English tends not to boost newspaper sales over the border. But, of course, it is not all Neil’s fault: the Internet reaper is doing its bits in Scotland, too. Clearly the only way forward for the Herald and Scotsman Groups is somehow to bridge the west-east cultural divide in Scotland and to merge.