(Four updates below – a fifth added on January 23rd, 2012)
Back in July this year I was contacted by a journalist from a new ITV documentary series with the titillating title Exposure. I answered the email and then had a phone conversation with the reporter about the project she was working on.
The project, which apparently was chosen as the first of six documentaries touted as ITV’s answer to BBC’s Panorama, will be/was broadcast on September 26th. Judging by what I have read about it, Exposure looks like it will be an eminently missable series to watch, or rather not watch.
The entire programme is based around a claim that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi decided earlier this year to send over £1 million to Republican dissidents in Northern Ireland in an effort to cause trouble for Cameron’s government, one of the leading lights in NATO’s bombing campaign against the then Libyan leader.
The programme claims that a Libyan government courier flew into London carrying a suitcase packed with two million dollars (wrapped in plastic the programme says, in one of those little credibility-adding details in a story that is otherwise distinctly lacking in plausibility) destined for the dissidents’ war chest.
The Libyan courier hid out in one of Gaddafi’s London homes, a luxury property in Knightsbridge, before delivering the suitcase to a businessman and IRA dissident sympathiser.
An enticing tale, yes? But who was the source? Well it turns out someone in MI6 told the programme all about this extraordinary plot. Will we be told the name of the MI6 man or woman? We’ll see but I doubt it. Will he or she be interviewed and the claim subjected to proper scrutiny? Again I doubt it but we’ll see.
I certainly hope that the source is quizzed as one of the questions I would like to see put is whether this claim is really just a piece of black propaganda put about to justify a regime-change bombing campaign by the MI6 person’s employer, to wit the Cameron government.
Will Exposure have other evidence to back up this claim or will the rest of the programme consist of lurid archive of IRA bombs and shootings from the days when Gaddafi did arm and fund the Provos, archive designed to make the current claim all that bit more believable?
Going back to that phone conversation with the journalist from Exposure. Flattering me with praise for my book ‘A Secret History of the IRA‘, the journalist suggested that I could be flown over to London where I would be interviewed by the programme makers.
But it did not take long before it became clear I was not saying what the journalist wanted to hear. Did I not think that Gaddafi had made the Provisional IRA a really potent threat, that the weapons he provided were amongst the deadliest available (i.e. and would do the same therefore for the dissidents)?
Well, I replied, there’s no doubt that he gave them lots of weapons, some of which like Semtex explosives did make a big difference, but some were duds or next to useless, like the SAM-7 missile launchers which turned out to be so outdated the British counter measures easily neutralised them, or the Dushkie machine guns which were so heavy they were completely unsuitable for guerrilla warfare. I had written in ‘A Secret History…’ that many of Gaddafi’s weapons had come from the back shelves of his stores and I still believe that.
And then, I added, there was an irony about Gaddafi’s support for the IRA, it had actually if unintentionally helped foster the burgeoning peace process. So in a sense, Gaddafi was, loathe that he would be to admit it, one of the midwives to the process. I explained: the interception of the gunrunning ship Eksund in the autumn of 1987 robbed the IRA’s planned Tet-style offensive of its vital surprise element. The loss of this potentially valuable military card gave added value to the then infant peace process which eventually became the Provos’ only game in town. If Gaddafi hadn’t sent the Eksund it wouldn’t have been caught and the Adams camp in the Provos would not have been suddenly strengthened.
Meanwhile the earlier arms shipments from Libya, which had not been betrayed and were now stored in dumps around the country, gave the Sinn Fein leadership a priceless card to play in the subsequent peace negotiations – i.e. decommissioning – thereby making the peace process even more enticing to the Provos. So in these ways Gaddafi had unwittingly helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
Needless to say with each point I made the prospects of me being flown to London diminished visibly. The killer came when I suggested that the programme’s source in British intelligence had a dog in the fight – the need to blacken Gaddafi and justify his overthrow – and therefore his or her word about the former Libyan leader funding the dissidents had to be taken with a spoonful of salt unless it could be verified independently. Maybe I will regret writing this and tomorrow I will read that the MI6 claim has been stood up in some convincing way. But I am not holding my breath.
There was a time, pre-Margaret Thatcher, pre Murdoch, pre-deregulation, when British television documentaries were the best in the world, when each week the viewer had a tantalising choice of good programmes to watch like This Week, World In Action, Weekend World, First Tuesday & This World whose coverage on the Troubles, incidentally, became invaluable as Section 31 bit deep into the Irish media.
That was the golden age of British television, now long gone, sadly missed and badly needed. How sad that Exposure chooses as its flagship programme a tawdry piece of government black propaganda tarted up as journalism. The Director of Television for the ITV network, Peter Fincham, had this to say about his new strand, Exposure: “It will be investigative current affairs of a sort that has been an ITV tradition.” And I am the King of Siam.
And, no, I never did get that trip to London. Wonder why?
It seems I was wrong about Exposure. Wrong in the sense that I completely underestimated the idiocy of the programme-makers. The two links highlighted, first here and then here, tell the sad story. You really couldn’t make this stuff up! What was that Peter Fincham was saying about Exposure following ITV’s “tradition” of investigative current affairs? Hat-tip to Eamon Lynch and Cormac Lucey.
It seems that shooting down a helicopter was not the only footage lifted from that computer game. Love to be a fly on the wall in Exposure’s office today.
Exposure’s shoddy journalism is now getting coverage in the mainstream British press. Any chance that MI6’s role in this shabby affair will come under the spotlight? Don’t hold your breath.
AND NOW THE LIE
In response to the embarrassing disclosure that claimed footage of the IRA shooting down a British helicopter with Gaddafi-supplied weapons had actually been lifted from a computer game, ITV has taken refuge in a porky. This is what the Guardian reported today: “An ITV spokesman said: ‘The events featured in Exposure: Gaddafi and the IRA were genuine but it would appear that during the editing process the correct clip of the 1988 incident was not selected and other footage was mistakenly included in the film by producers. This was an unfortunate case of human error for which we apologise.'”
In other words the editor reached for the wrong tape and no-one noticed. Well, I can remember the incident and the film quite distinctly and this cover story cooked up by ITV just doesn’t wash. I remember it because at the time Danny Morrison told me of his anger when he saw the IRA film and realised the cameraman had botched the job and squandered a wonderful opportunity to land a really impressive propaganda coup. Danny was of course the IRA’s….sorry Sinn Fein’s publicity director at the time so I guess he knew that whereof he spoke.
The ambush of the helicopter took place in South Armagh and the presence of the cameraman was evidence that this had been a carefully planned event, long in the making. The only problem was that the guy chosen to film it was a plonker. The IRA squad opened fire on the chopper, which as I remember it was flying very low at the time – either it had just taken off or was about to land – and apparently winged it, forcing it to the ground. But the cameraman missed the whole thing. His lens was instead focussed on the masked gunman firing their weapons which included a lumbering Dushkie machine gun.
So a carefully staged event designed to demonstrate that the IRA now ruled the skies over South Armagh & that at long last the much-cherished goal of downing a hated British helicopter had been achieved instead became embarrassing evidence of the allure exerted by masks and guns on the Provo psyche. Understandably Morrison was, I recall, fuming at the cameraman.
So the other “correct” footage of the IRA shooting down a helicopter with Gaddafi’s guns was nothing of the sort; it was just another film of IRA gunmen firing at an unidentified target, the sort of footage which Danny & his minions produced by the mile every year.
That is why, I strongly suspect, the real footage was not used and instead the programme-makers at Exposure reached instead for the sexier, more dramatic computer game. I don’t believe it happened by accident. I suspect it was quite deliberate.
OfCom which regulates British television has slated the producers for their use of bogus footage. Their comments can be read here.