The public deserves answers about the UK’s new opposition leader and his relationship with the British national security establishment, including the MI5 and the Times newspaper, his former role in the Julian Assange case and his membership in the intelligence-linked Trilateral Commission.
By Matt Kennard
Dear Sir Keir,
Congratulations on being elected the new leader of the Labour Party. I have been researching your former role as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales. I wrote to you with some questions recently but received no reply, so I am now writing you an open letter to pose five critical questions which I believe are in the public interest:
Why did you meet the head of MI5, the domestic security service, for informal social drinks in April 2013, the year after you decided not to prosecute MI5 for its role in torture?
When and why did you join the Trilateral Commission and what does your membership of this intelligence-linked network entail?
What did you discuss with then US Attorney General Eric Holder when you met him on 9 November 2011 in Washington DC, at a time you were handling the Julian Assange case as the public prosecutor?
What role did you play in the Crown Prosecution Service’s irregular handling of the Julian Assange case during your period as DPP?
- Why did you develop such a close relationship with the Times newspaper while you were the DPP and does this relationship still exist?
1. Why did you meet with MI5 chief for social drinks the year after you decided not to prosecute MI5 for its role in torture?
As Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from November 2008 to October 2013 you had the ultimate decision on which criminal cases should be prosecuted. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is intended to be independent of the police and government, including the security services.
In 2010 and again in 2012, you made the controversial decision not to charge an MI5 officer for his role in torture. The following year, your register of hospitality while head of the CPS included an entry from 16 April 2013 noting “drinks” with Sir Jonathan Evans, who was then director-general of MI5.
The value of the hospitality you received is listed as “unknown” and MI5 is not mentioned, indicating this was a social meeting. Formal meetings for the DDP are registered by the CPS separately under “meetings with external organizations,” which would include MI5.
Such social drinks appear to be unusual for the DPP. I analyzed the three years of hospitality records for the period after you stood down from the CPS. They clearly show your successor as DPP received such no hospitality from a sitting intelligence chief — or any formal meetings with them.
In that year’s register, your meeting with Evans was the only hospitality you received which you left blank in the section that asks whether it was accepted or not. It is not known if your hospitality drinks were covered by MI5 or Evans personally. Evans has not responded to questions I posed about this meeting.
In November 2010, you concluded as the DPP that there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute an MI5 officer, known as Witness B, for his role in the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed.
Jonathan Evans then released a statement declaring: “I am delighted that after a thorough police investigation the CPS has concluded that Witness B has no case to answer in respect of his interviewing of Mr. Binyam Mohammed.” He added: “I regret that he has had to endure this long and difficult process.”
Mohamed had been arrested in Karachi, Pakistan in April 2002 and interrogated for a week allegedly with various torture techniques. Mohamed said that as well as being interrogated by his American captors, Witness B had also taken part. It was later revealed that MI5 knew he was being mistreated before an officer was sent to Karachi to question him.
Mohamed was then transported to Morocco by the CIA and again interrogated by Witness B, despite MI5 claiming it did not know his whereabouts in the north African country.
Mohamed eventually spent seven years at Guantanamo Bay, the detention facility run by the US on Cuba, before being released without charge and receiving a secret payout from the US.
Your decision not to prosecute was surprising: it was reported, for example, that MI5 telegrams to the CIA demonstrated that British intelligence officers fed the US information on Mohamed when he was allegedly being tortured in Morocco.
Evans’ relief was understandable. The CPS’ role also involved attempting to trace responsibility for Witness B’s actions further up MI5’s chain of command. It is likely that Evans, who joined MI5 in 1980, played a role in the Mohamed case as it unfolded. In September 2001 Evans had become director of international counter terrorism at MI5 and was in this position when Mohamed was snatched, tortured and rendered by the CIA, with MI5 involvement.
It is not known if Evans would have been criminally liable if the prosecution had gone ahead, but he later had to defend MI5 from accusations of a cover-up in the Mohamed case after Lord Neuberger, then President of the Court of Appeal, said there was a “culture of suppression” in the agency.
Allegations made by Mohamed concerning the role of MI6, Britain’s external intelligence service, meant a “wider investigation” continued after your 2010 decision. This included new allegations by another detainee about British involvement in torture at Bagram air base in Afghanistan.
In January 2012, however — after 30 months of investigation — you decided against prosecuting anyone from MI5 or MI6 for their role in torture. You said at the time that there was evidence showing that MI5 “provided information to the US authorities about Mohamed and supplied questions for the US authorities to put to Mr Mohamed while he was being detained.” But you also concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prove to the standard required in a criminal court” that any spies provided information when they “knew or ought to have known that there was a real or serious risk that Mr Mohamed would be exposed to ill-treatment amounting to torture.”
Evans left MI5 a week following his drinks with you. The day after Evans left the service, you announced you would also leave the CPS. You went on to become a Labour MP at the 2015 general election, while Evans is now Baron Evans of Weardale after prime minister David Cameron made him a life peer in 2014.
2. When and why did you join the Trilateral Commission?
You are a member of the Trilateral Commission, an organization which was set up in 1973 by American billionaire David Rockefeller, who was then chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan Bank. Its stated aim was to be a “discussion group” to “foster closer cooperation between Japan, Western Europe and North America”. Today, its membership rolls include senior figures from the US national security establishment such as former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former US director of national intelligence, John Negroponte.
Other members are John M. Deutch, former head of the CIA and Jami Miscik, a former deputy head. Declassified documents reveal that Rockefeller had close ties to the CIA. Many titans of the American business world such as Andrew Liveris, former chief executive of Dow Chemical Company, are also members.
The Trilateral Commission also includes several high-profile British figures such as Lord Kerr, a former ambassador to the US, who sits on its executive committee. Another prominent member is Vivienne Cox, who is on the board of BG Group, the oil and gas multinational, and who previously served on the board of Britain’s Department for International Development. The former head of MI5, Stella Rimington, previously sat on the board of BG Group. Brian Gilvary, chief financial officer at BP, and Sir John Kingman, chairman of Legal & General, are also members.
According to the Trilateral Commission’s membership list from last year, you are the only serving British member of parliament who belongs to the commission. The same list, however, notes four “former members” who are now in “public service”, one of whom is also British: the Conservative MP, Rory Stewart, who a security source told the Daily Telegraph was an MI6 officer before he moved into politics.
The Trilateral Commission clearly has access to the highest level of the British intelligence establishment. At a Commission meeting in London in 2017, Eliza Manningham-Buller — Sir Jonathan Evans’ predecessor as head of MI5 — chaired a discussion on “cyber security” with Sir David Omand, former director of GCHQ, the UK’s surveillance agency. In 2018, Sir John Scarlett, former head of MI6, spoke at the Trilateral Commission’s plenary meeting in Singapore.
The Trilateral Commission is a secretive organization whose meetings are strictly off-the-record. I have been unable to find any public mentions you have made of your membership of it.
3. What did you discuss with US Attorney General Eric Holder when you met him on November 9, 2011 in Washington DC?
Analysis of your available business expenses at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the 22 months from January 2012 to when you left in October 2013, shows you undertook five international work trips, two of which were to the US.
In November 2012, you spent £6,807.59 on a first-class plane ticket to Washington DC for an “official meeting” but the register does not indicate how long you spent in Washington or who this meeting was with.
In September 2013, the month before you left the CPS, you spent £4,085.15 on another first class flight to Washington DC for a “conference.” For three nights in the US capital you expensed £1,050.73 for accommodation and food. I could find no evidence of what this conference was or who you met with on this trip.
I have also obtained US government files revealing that you were also in Washington DC on November 9 2011 when you met with US Attorney General Eric Holder and five other officials from the US Department of Justice. Also present was Gary Balch, UK Liaison Prosecutor to the United States.
At this time the CPS which you headed was handling the complex legal case surrounding WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.
The year previous to your meeting, Holder had stated that he had given the go-ahead for a number of unspecified actions as part of a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. “I personally authorized a number of things last week and that’s an indication of the seriousness with which we take this matter and the highest level of involvement at the Department of Justice,” he said.
Three weeks after your meeting with Holder, the attorney general met with the then British home secretary, Theresa May, alongside three other DOJ personnel, two of whom had been in the meeting with you.
4. What role did you play in the CPS’s irregular handing of the Julian Assange case?
Under your leadership, the CPS’s handling of Assange’s proposed extradition to Sweden to face questioning about sexual assault allegations was marred by irregularities. Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi has spent years in a protracted legal process with the CPS to access information on its handling of the case.
The CPS has admitted destroying key emails relating to the Assange case, mostly covering the period when you were director.
A CPS lawyer working under you also advised the Swedish authorities not to visit London in 2010 or 2011 to interview Assange. An interview in the UK at that time could have prevented the long-running embassy standoff. An email from a lawyer in the CPS extradition unit on 25 January 2011 cautioned: “My earlier advice remains, that in my view it would not be prudent for the Swedish authorities to try to interview the defendant in the UK.”
Documents from the CPS also show that Swedish prosecutors attempted to drop extradition proceedings against Julian Assange as early as 2013 when you were still the DPP. A CPS lawyer handling the case commented on a 2012 article which suggested that Sweden could drop the case, saying: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!.”
Your personal role in these deliberations is not known. Neither is the relationship, if any, between the US and the CPS in the Assange case.
The CPS has been less than forthcoming about the information it possessed. In April 2013, the same month that you and Sir Jonathan Evans went for drinks, the CPS rejected Assange’s request for the personal data it had on him “because of the live matters still pending.” Even GCHQ, the UK’s largest intelligence agency, had granted Assange’s request for the personal information it held on him; this revealed one of its officers calling the Swedish case a “fit-up”.
5. Why did you develop such a close relationship with the Times newspaper while you were the Director of Public Prosecutions and does this close relationship still exist?
During your time at the CPS, you developed a particularly close relationship with the Times, a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch. In the space of two months in 2011, you accepted hospitality from three of its journalists, meeting for lunch or interviews with Francis Gibb, Sean O’Neill, and David Leppard. In December of the same year, you attended Christmas drinks at the Times.
There is no record that you accepted hospitality from any other newspaper during your time at the CPS. In April 2012, you also met with Times editor James Harding to discuss CPS media prosecution guidelines, and the following month with John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times.
You met Leppard — the journalist who broke the notorious fraudulent story on former Labour leader Michael Foot being a Soviet agent of influence — for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien on 2 June 2011. Six weeks before, on 14 April 2011, you had lunch with Sean O’Neill.
While you were in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, the Times played a key role in sabotaging his attempt to become prime minister, functioning as a key publication for leaks from serving intelligence and military officials presenting the Labour leader as a threat to national security. The former head of MI6, John Scarlett, joined the board of the Times in 2010, the year after he left the Secret Intelligence Service.
One Times scoop on which your lunch partner Sean O’Neill was lead reporter was published on 27 February 2016 and titled, “How leadership is taking its toll on ‘paranoid’ Corbyn”.
O’Neill and his co-author deployed anonymous briefings from shadow cabinet members to paint a picture of an overwhelmed Corbyn unable to handle the job of leader. “Shadow cabinet members complain that their meetings lack structure, discipline and direction,” they wrote. One shadow cabinet member told them of Corbyn: “He just lets people talk, but it often meanders pointlessly. If there’s a row it ends up in the media but more often the discussion just wanders off”.
Four months after this article appeared in the Times, you resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, citing the “need for a much louder voice on the critical issues” and airing your “reservations” about Corbyn’s leadership and the need for a change of leader.
To the surprise of many, you wrote your first national media article after being elected Labour leader in the Sunday Times, which was behind a paywall.