20/11/2003 The Americans are preventing the British and other key allies in the war on terrorism from seeing intelligence that could save lives, a US conference on military intelligence has been told.Around the League - On Top of their games this weekend
British and Australian officers working in allied command centres during the war in Iraq were not allowed access to the intelligence they needed to do their job, one Australian complained. RAF and RAAF officers were asked to leave the room during briefings, though some of the information they were prevented from seeing had been provided by the British or Australian intelligence services.
"They gave us stuff and we labelled it secret and then they weren't allowed to see it," said Col Allen Roby, director of the US air force intelligence directorate, one of a number of speakers and delegates who complained about the issue. The US military's failure to share intelligence fully with its major allies dominated the conference after it was raised by Wing Commander Alex Gibbs, a member of the air attache's office at the Australian embassy in Washington.
It was easy to spot the British and Australian officers working in the allied combined air operations centre in Saudi Arabia during the Iraq war because they had to have an American sitting alongside them accessing the computer, he said. The British and Australian officers had to ask an American to search the databases and tell them what they were allowed to know, one USAF delegate confirmed. "You could look over his shoulder but you couldn't touch the keyboard."
Maj-Gen Tommy Crawford, commander of the US air force intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance centre, confirmed to the conference that the problem still existed, adding that it also affected other close US allies such as Canada. Responding to a series of questions from American delegates clearly unable to comprehend the policy, Gen Crawford insisted that it was not a problem dictated by the Pentagon and that Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, wanted it changed.
"It is a damn silly policy and there are two ways round it," he said. "We can get this policy changed or we can make Britain, Australia and Canada the 51st, 52nd and 53rd states. The way to do business is to get this policy changed." America's failure to share intelligence with its partners has caused extensive problems on a series of recent operations from the conflict in Bosnia to the current occupation of Iraq.
Dutch infantry patrolling the Iraqi-Saudi border twice threatened to withdraw this year after the Americans refused to give them imagery from Predator unmanned aerial vehicles because it was deemed too secret to be passed to a Nato ally. Paradoxically, away from the battlefield, such information is routinely shared among America's allies at Nato headquarters. There is no need to protect the source since the capabilities and existence of UAV's such as the Predator have been widely publicised.
The problems in Iraq are even more difficult to comprehend given that the CIA and MI6 freely shared information from top-secret sources within the Iraqi military when there were clear problems of source protection. The intelligence that was not being shared appeared to be largely aerial imagery from satellites, manned aircraft or UAVs.
The Americans have a history of sharing intelligence only when they have something to gain, leading the parliamentary intelligence and security committee to express concern over the lack of British involvement in the latest US spy satellite programme.
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