Once more, I think that D2D can fairly claim to have been in the vanguard of those who were annoyed at the fact that the 25,000 litres of anthrax we were promised have proved so elusive. If I could be bothered searching through other people’s comments sections, I could probably find a reference to myself also saying that the main intelligence mistake being made was the age-old one of setting too much store by the tales told by defectors, as defectors are known to be in the habit of telling you what they think you want to hear; I’m sure I said it. Anyway, I have two suggestions for anyone wanting to keep the levels of outrage boiling over:
One is a suggestion for some enterprising news media organization; The Independent appears to be going in for silly stunts like this instead of writing proper headlines. What I’d like to have is some kind of visual clue as to what the physical size of 25,000 litres of anthrax is; perhaps somebody could go down to a Sainsbury’s depot and take a photograph of 12,500 two litre bottles of Coca-Cola or something. As far as I’m aware, a one metre cube is 1,000,000 cubic centimetres (100x100x100) and a litre is 1000cc. So you can fit 25,000 litres of anthrax into 25 cubes one metre on each side. A London bus is (I guesstimate) four metres high by three metres wide by ten metres long, which is 120 metre cubes. So, based on a calculation which took me precisely five minutes (three of which were spent asking people how many cc there were in a litre), I estimate that Saddam was alleged to have roughly a fifth of a Routemaster full of anthrax; say the size of a largish minivan. That’s quite a lot of stuff to hide from spy satellites which can read number plates, even in a country “the size of France” [c]. I suppose in principle they could have handed a beer can full of anthrax to everyone in a football stadium, but then this would hardly have been “ready to use within 45 minutes”.
For reference, I went on holiday to France last year, staying in a rented villa outside Biarritz that was roughly the size of three Routemaster buses. Based on “intelligence reports” established by phoning the proprietor ahead of time, I managed to find it in a mere six hours despite the fact that my key “source” was unreliable on a number of important points, such as which exit from the fucking autoroute he was near. Granted, the target was considerably bigger than the anthrax stash, but there’s only one of me and besides, I doubt that the inspectors have to make stops to cheer up a screaming baby. The point I am trying to make is that, after a mere four of these six hours, Mrs. Digest was loudly denouncing my abilities and, specifically, strongly suggesting that I’d never actually phoned the bloke like I said I was going to and was making it up as I went along. If I’d raised the objection that “you can’t expect me to find such a comparatively small and easily concealed object immediately in a country the size of France”, I daresay I might not be alive today.
If it was six weeks later and we were still motoring round the Pyrenees aimlessly keeping an eye out for anything looking likely and all we’d turned up was a recently disinfected public toilet that sort of looked like it might have been rented out to foreigners once, I think any divorce court in the land would have taken it as read that my claim to have “solid information” about our holiday home was an outright lie. As I’ve said before, if you try to analogise these great matters of state to your daily life, it makes it a lot easier to work out whether what you’re being asked to believe is credible or not. I want my 25,000 litres of anthrax right now, served a la Basquaise, or I want my Prime Minister’s resignation for having misled the House of Commons1. It was a specific claim and it has to be backed up specifically or not at all. In other words, I am unlikely to look favourably on any candidate causus belli which contains fewer actual toxic germs than my breadbin.
Second up, I have a practical suggestion for our politicians which is so brilliant I confidently expect it to be made policy immediately. Readers with long memories, or who read the big and boring newspapers will recall that not so long ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle in relation to the published report and accounts of Enron, Worldcom and other companies whose names I forget. It was all very traumatic at the time, and people were merrily chucking around phrases like “crisis of confidence in company accounts”. So it was decided that what was needed (alongside a few high-profile perp walks) was a loyalty-oath session. Every CEO of every quoted company was told by the SEC that they would have to step up and personally certify the accounts of their company as being absolutely hunky-dory in every particular. Most of them did it (or restated their numbers and then did it) and it did wonders for the world. The National Association of Stock Dealers thought it was such a spiffing idea that they’re recommending something similar as an annual event for their member firms, where the CEOs will personally certify that their internal controls are completely up to scratch and nothing bad could ever happen. I can only marvel at the massive levels of confidence in stock market that the proliferation of loyalty oaths will generate; we may have to rename the University of Michigan’s famous survey the “Consumer Arrogance Index” as mere confidence will be too measly a baseline. But anyway.
Given that, wouldn’t it do wonders for your confidence in the probity of our political process and allay some of those nagging doubts if Messrs Blair, Bush and Aznar were to roll their right sleeves up, make a small incision with a suitably sharpened quill and sign their names (or make their marks), in blood, at the foot of a parchment transcript of Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations? They could even make it into a televised ceremony, though of course they’d be well advised to hold it in the Azores again since locations with more readily available transport connections do tend to attract protestors like flies these days. I know I’d tune in to watch, and frankly that’s more than anything on telly other than the auction channel can claim these days.
1Once again, in case anyone feels like waiving their Parliamentary privilege to sue me, I reiterate that the issue of “lying” is not germane here and I don’t need to accuse anyone of lying to make this particular claim. Thomas Dugdale resigned over the Crichel Down affair when he had misled the House while acting completely in good faith.