Saturday 4 March 2023

Materially Assist

A few years ago I was approached by some of the bravest people I have ever had dealings with. These were deeply-experienced chemical warfare inspectors working for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a UN agency which tracks the use of poison gas in warfare, by going to the scene.

They were quietly furious their painstaking work was being misrepresented and twisted by their superiors. I wrote this story. It was highly inconvenient to the British, French and US governments, who would all have liked the inspectors to have produced a different result. I felt their wrath, being falsely attacked by a choir of government toadies as a ‘war crimes denier’ and other things. But that was it, then.

Now, I strongly suspect that under the new National Security Bill I could have been prosecuted for this, as it could have been claimed my reports might (as the Bill says) ‘materially assist a foreign intelligence service’. Yes, it is that vague. Lord Sharpe of Epsom says it is ‘almost inconceivable that genuine journalism would be caught within the threshold for criminal activity’. I don’t believe him. Nor should you.

What Ministers say in Parliament has no effect on the way such laws are used. This is a nasty catch-all Bill, and if Parliament had any guts, it would be thrown out.