“Credible Open Source Reporting”, the Intelligence Services and Scottish Independence

I write as somebody who held Top Secret clearance for 21 years, with extensive daily use of Top Secret material that entire time, and the highest possible specific codeword clearance above Top Secret for 11 years. I personally conducted for the FCO the largest “action on” operation in GCHQ history. (“Action on” is the process of declassifying top secret material for, in my particular case, government to government use). I have also given evidence in person in a three hour appearance before Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee.

The BBC has all morning been trailing the imminent report by the Intelligence and Security Committee as showing Russian interference in the Scottish referendum campaign according to “credible open source reporting”. It is hardly a surprise that Westminster has weaponised its report to attack not the British Establishment but Scottish Independence.

“Credible open source reporting” is a piece of formal security service intelligence assessment jargon. It is very important you know exactly what it means. It means material not from secret human intelligence or from communications intercept, but material which has been published, in the media or academia. Stuff that is as available to you or I as it is to the intelligence services. Not intelligence material at all. Nothing to do with the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The last high profile deployment of the “credible open source reporting” formulation was the dirty dossier on Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction, where the PhD thesis of Ibrahim al-Marashi was the source for untrue claims about Iraqi WMD. Al-Marashi, now a Professor, states his work was distorted and altered to suit the agenda of the Iraq War.

Mr Marashi’s student thesis, Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation, was not only plagiarised. It was also altered, as the British government and intelligence establishment sought to strengthen what in truth was uncertain evidence about Saddam’s efforts to develop WMD.

The point of “open source reporting” is that it is published and we can all see it. We could have seen al-Marashi’s PhD thesis. But Blair’s Iraq Dossier did not give the name of the source. It did not say “according to the student Ibrahim al-Marashi”. It said “Intelligence services say that credible open source reporting says…”.

“Credible open source reporting” is a propaganda formulation designed to fool you and give a false imprimatur to any dubious piece of published work.

So the grand Intelligence and Security Committee will not say “According to the article in the Herald by the Russophobe nutter David Leask and the publicity seeking Jennifer Jones”… It will say “According to the intelligence services, credible open source reporting says…”

But actually it is absolutely no more than the former. Dressed up falsely as “intelligence”.

All of Scotland must ask. “Open source reporting. Can I see it then?”.

Yet our so-called journalists are all parroting “open source reporting” without one of them asking where it is.

UPDATE – we now have the report itself. A footnote gives the justification for its “credible open source reporting” on Scottish Independence. It is incredibly flimsy:

44 For example, it was widely reported shortly after the referendum that Russian election observers had suggested that there were irregularities in the conduct of the vote, and this position was widely pushed by Russian state media. We understand that HMG viewed this as being primarily aimed at discrediting the UK in the eyes of a domestic Russian audience. More recently, we note the study by Ben Nimmo – #ElectionWatch: Scottish Vote, Pro-Kremlin Trolls, 12 December 2017.

Yes, that is Ben Nimmo, £5,000 a month consultant to the Integrity initiative, and his identification of scores of ordinary Scottish tweeters as “Kremlin trolls”. You will recall that one sure sign of a Kremlin troll according to Nimmo was use of the phrase “cui bono”. Nimmo was Leask’s source for the Herald article I quoted above.

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