Nerve agent attack in UK: analysis

Article published in The Daily Express, 14 April 2010.  © Richard Kemp 

The UK National Security Adviser, Mark Sedwill’s, conclusion that ‘it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible’ for the nerve agent attack against the Skripals reads at first glance as less than conclusive. But for years I was responsible for writing such letters and in reality the words ‘highly likely’ mean that Sedwill is certain of Russian culpability. No matter how strong the intelligence, it is rare for it to be described as fact, as the nature of intelligence means there usually has to be some possibility of error.

Sedwill’s letter draws on secret intelligence, diplomatic reporting and open source material analysed by the Joint Intelligence Organization (JIO), a Cabinet Office body whose responsibility is assessment of intelligence independent of the agencies that collect it.

The JIO produced the dossier used by Tony Blair to justify war against Iraq, and some people see that as a reason not to believe the government over the Skripal case and over the assessment of Assad’s culpability for the chemical weapons attack in Douma.

But if anything the Iraq precedent — in which errors were made both in the intelligence and its presentation — means an error is much less likely today. The JIO and the intelligence agencies all underwent wide-ranging reforms over many years to avoid repetition of what happened with Iraq.

The only fact that Sedwill’s letter points to is the nature of the nerve agent used, Novichok, confirmed through scientific analysis by both Britain’s experts and the OPCW. For everything else, he relies mainly on secret intelligence. And although Sedwill has taken the unusual step of revealing some extremely sensitive intelligence we can be sure there is more material, too sensitive to be spelt out in a public document.

Sedwill’s intelligence shows that Russia produced Novichok and lied about it in their declaration on joining the Chemical Weapons Convention. It also shows Russian trials that included using chemical weapons on door-handles to assassinate people — the method seemingly used against the Skripals. On motive, cyber intercepts confirm Russian intelligence interest in the Skripals going back to 2013. Continue reading


Yes, says Colonel Richard Kemp, Ex-chairman of the Cabinet Office’s COBRA Intelligence Group

Article published in The Daily Express, 9 April 2017. © Richard Kemp 

If the latest chemical attack in Syria is verified, the US should hit back and Britain must play a leading role.

President Trump’s cruise missile strike following a Sarin nerve agent attack one year ago failed to deter Assad which means much stronger action is needed this time.

Russia’s presence makes the risks of escalation greater. Assad is counting on that to deter Western retaliation.

We should not fear Russia but we should avoid hitting their forces on the ground in Syria.

Why should we take such risks? As a permanent member of the UN Security Council we have global responsibilities – including prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.Rightly outraged by Russian use of nerve agent against one person in Britain, we cannot confine ourselves to ineffective speeches in the Security Council while the world’s most violent despot gases hundreds of his own people.

There are even bigger stakes. President Obama’s failure to enforce his red line against Syrian chemical weapons use in 2013 emboldened not only Assad but also Russia.

The bravest and the best

Article published by Israel Hayom, 1 April 2018. © Richard Kemp 

Are we no longer allowed heroes? The 2017 film Churchill is nothing less than a character assassination of the man who led Britain to victory in World War II. The movie 7 Days in Entebbe, released last week in Israel, gives similar treatment to the hero of the dramatic rescue, Lieutenant Colonel Yoni Netanyahu. The film is based on a book about the raid by the distinguished British historian Professor Saul David.

Incredibly, in an interview last week, David seemed to suggest that the German terrorists at Entebbe played a greater role than Netanyahu in saving the hostages’ lives. He claims they had second thoughts, deliberately sparing the hostages when they could have killed them.

Why? Because they had developed empathy for their captives and ‘it wouldn’t have looked good for Germans to kill Jews again, after the Holocaust’. Look good to whom? It doesn’t add up. They had seized Jewish hostages at gunpoint, conducted a ‘selection’ chillingly reminiscent of Auschwitz, and were members of a rabidly anti-Semitic terror group, the Revolutionary Cells.

Meanwhile, David dismisses Netanyahu, claiming his research shows he ‘was not a central figure in the planning of the operation’. Yet Netanyahu’s Sayeret Matkal comrades who were there describe him as ‘the father of the operation’, confirming that he did in fact plan the rescue in meticulous detail after being given orders by Brigadier General Dan Shomron, the overall commander, to take over the airport terminal and release the hostages.

In trying to second-guess Netanyahu’s actions at Entebbe, David shows that even the most assiduous academic cannot necessarily perceive the reality of close military combat. He says: ‘Ultimately, the operation succeeded thanks to luck more than anything else.’ This is blatantly wrong. But David should not be surprised that luck played a part. Anyone who has experience in battle knows how crucial it is – one of the most successful commanders of World War II, General George S. Patton, even nicknamed his US 3rd Army ‘Lucky’.

Combat is all about creating luck and getting on top of chaos. As we say in the British Army, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Continue reading

Aussie Diary

Article published in The Spectator Australia, Saturday 17 March 2018.  © Richard Kemp 

He died in 1900, but my great grandfather, Archibald Richardson, outback explorer and early Rockhampton pioneer, is even today spoken of with respect in central Queensland. To me though he is a grave disappointment. I’ve been bragging about being descended from a criminal transported to the Australian colonies. But I learn from the Rockhampton Historical Society that Richardson made the journey of his own volition, destroying any street cred I had down under.


Shortly after I arrive in Sydney news breaks that Israeli intelligence foiled an Islamic terror plot to blow up a passenger plane flying out of here last year. I know of many other times Israeli intelligence has saved the lives of Australians – as well as Brits, Americans and Europeans – in our cities and on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The Israelis are not alone in their impressive track record against jihadists. The ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence system enables seamless cooperation between Australian, New Zealand, British, US and Canadian services. Asio and Asis, like their MI5 and MI6 counterparts in the UK, have prevented many more terrorist plots than have succeeded.


In TV and radio studios I’m asked the question: what do we do about Islamic State returners? My answer is the one I give in Britain: ban them. They chose to join an orgy of mass murder, torture and rape in the Middle East; let the ones we cannot kill with airstrikes rot there rather than return and threaten people here. To snowflakes who complain this breaches their human rights, I reply that no sane government would allow the rights of these savages to take priority over those of their innocent Australian victims.


Europe could learn a thing or two from Australia about putting a stop to the mass illegal immigration that jihadist groups use as a Continue reading

Vladimir Putin’s aggression that must be choked

Article published in The Daily Express, Wednesday 7 March 2018.  © Richard Kemp 

We do not yet know who poisoned Colonel Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. But there are many similarities with the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko on the orders of the Russian government in 2006.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described Skripal and other spies exchanged in a swap with the West as ‘traitors’ who ‘will kick the bucket’.

He said they ‘betrayed their friends; their brothers in arms. Whatever they got in exchange – those 30 pieces of silver – they will choke on them’.

It is Putin’s aggression that must be choked. In 2014 he annexed the Crimea, territory of another sovereign state.

Today he poses such a threat to Nato members in the East that Britain and her allies are compelled to deploy forces to the Baltic states and the Black Sea to deter him.

Russia’s intervention in Syria has kept in power a murderous regime that most Western and Arab governments and the Syrian people want removed.

Russia is also backing Iran, the greatest threat to world peace and the number one state supporter of terrorism.

Whatever you may think of President Trump, unlike his predecessor he is prepared to support his allies and stand up to those who threaten them.

But Britain, Europe and the free world must pull their weight too. Not only by force, but also by diplomacy. President Putin is entering another election, which he is set to win.

Russians are football mad and looking forward to the World Cup.

We should cancel it and relocate to a nation that does not sanction the murder of its citizens overseas, rattle its nukes, support a genocidal war criminal, back ayatollahs who seek to foment conflict across the Middle East, annex sovereign territory and threaten violence against its neighbours.

Such a message to the Russian people and to the president whom they continue to support in droves may be even more powerful and cost less blood than the alternative that is bound to come sooner or later.


Failure to support Israel against Iran could end in war

Article published in The Times, Monday 12 February 2018.  © Richard Kemp 

At 4.25am on Saturday the Israel Defence Forces shot down an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace, then destroyed its command post and attacked 12 Iranian and Syrian air defence targets in the largest offensive launched by the country in Syrian territory since the 1982 Lebanon war.

All this for a drone? Although a serious act of aggression by Iran, the drone is the tip of the spear. Iranian leaders have long made clear that they intend to annihilate the Jewish state. As I have seen on the ground in the region last year, and during years studying secret intelligence on Iran, they put their money where their mouth is, financing and directing Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank, building an arsenal of 150,000 missiles in southern Lebanon and funding terrorist attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world. According to Israeli intelligence Iran has 82,000 fighters under its control in Syria. It is building a permanent military presence there to establish a corridor via Iraq to Israel’s borders.

This is part of a wider Iranian plan not just to besiege Israel but also to achieve ascendancy over the Sunnis, including de facto control of Lebanon, increased dominance in Iraq, the destabilisation of Yemen, attacks on Saudi Arabia and aggression against international navies in the Gulf. Iran’s project has been largely facilitated by President Obama’s Middle Eastern policies, including his nuclear deal, which emboldened the ayatollahs and released billions of dollars to fund their aggression while paving the way to a nuclear-armed state.

Iran’s latest aggression against Israel could well lead to another conflagration. The IDF is braced for retaliation, mobilising forces and reinforcing air defences along the Syrian and Lebanese borders. Israel is not looking to escalate but Iran could be and a mistake or misreading by either side could trigger open war.

For years Israel has warned of the consequences of Tehran’s aggression, which could result in civilian deaths on a huge scale. Although President Trump is holding Iran to account, Israel’s warnings have been largely ignored by the West and the United Nations. Britain and the European Union could play an effective role in containing Iranian aggression but their answer is appeasement. Instead of sanctioning Iran and supporting Israel they mouth platitudes about restraint by both sides, which further emboldens Tehran. They prioritise saving the flawed nuclear deal that provides cover for their unprincipled trade links with Iran over saving the lives of innocent people.

We must end this appeasement and ban Hezbollah

Article published in The Times, 23 January 2018. © Richard Kemp 

Hezbollah is the most powerful terrorist organisation in the world. Yet Britain has proscribed only part of it: its military wing. This Thursday the MP Joan Ryan will lead a parliamentary debate aimed at designating the whole organisation, as the US, Canada and the Netherlands already do. Her chances are slim. The film Darkest Hour has reminded us of British ministers’ penchant for appeasement and, like Churchill, that is what she’s up against.

Hezbollah, the creation of Iran, emerged onto the world stage in Beirut in 1983, killing 241 US Marines and 58 French paratroopers in the most devastating terrorist attack before 9/11. Since then it has attacked in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East and planned strikes from Cyprus to Singapore. Last summer US authorities charged two Hezbollah terrorists with planning attacks in New York and Panama. Hezbollah is fighting to keep Assad in power in Syria and maintains an arsenal of 100,000 rockets in Lebanon, pointed at Israel.

During the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hezbollah was involved in Iranian-directed bombings that killed well over 1,000 British and US servicemen. Despite this, in Britain and elsewhere in Europe Hezbollah can freely raise funds for terrorism. Its supporters flaunt their assault rifle-emblazoned flags on our streets. They maintain sleeper cells in this country: planning, preparing and lying in wait for orders to attack.

When I worked for the Joint Intelligence Committee I monitored Hezbollah’s activities. I knew there was no division into peaceful and warlike elements. The regional states don’t buy it either; the Arab League designates the entire organisation. Even Hezbollah’s leaders don’t make any such pretence. In 2009 its deputy secretary-general confirmed that it was one unified organisation. Continue reading

The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Why No Peace?

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 17 January 2018. © Richard Kemp 

The critical question of why the Middle East seems unable to achieve peace has just been rigorously considered again, this time by Michael Calvo, an international lawyer, in an important new book, The Middle East and World War III: Why No Peace? It is worth being read by all political leaders, academics, journalists, students and anyone who wants to understand why there is no peace and what may happen.

The book analyzes why the Israeli-Palestinian/Arab/Muslim conflict has not been resolved, in spite of the Oslo Accords and many years of active involvement by the European Union, individual European states, the US, Russia and the United Nations.

The long-term Palestinian use of terror, for instance, looked at chronologically:

to achieve Palestinian political goals, to influence Israeli politics, to favour a given Israeli candidate for the post of Prime Minister, to compel the Israeli government to conceal more land, to prevent a final peace settlement by maintaining a state of conflict that could eventually lead to total war, to erode Israeli and American resolve and to demonstrate to the Arab population that peace is not an option and that the existence of the Jews on their land cannot be recognized.

Some of the attacks occurred just when foreign representatives landed in Israel, ‘to prevent the revival of the peace talks’. Jason Greenblatt should take that into consideration.

There is, according to Calvo, also a psychological and religious preparation for armed conflict with Israel, the manipulation of the media and of minds, the practical preparation of the armed conflict and its planned outbreak, as well as its control by the Palestinian leadership. The terrorists are elevated to heroes and role models. Palestinian policeman, armed individuals, adolescents and adults, sometimes a father or even a mother of young children, are ready to kill Jews by any means and even to blow themselves to pieces for their cause to reach paradise. But they were not born jihadists. They were, and are still being, incited to become jihadists. Continue reading

The British Army has always been the best in the world so we should target Call of Duty fans … not Bawl of Duty

Our Defence Secretary needs to act decisively to preserve the British Army’s credibility

Article published in The Sun, 11 January 2018. © Richard Kemp 

Man for man, the British Army has always been the best in the world. Today this proud reputation is under threat.

Numerically at its weakest since Napoleonic times, politicians are now increasingly infecting it with dangerous political correctness.

This includes David Cameron’s decision in 2016 to allow women into the infantry.

Today the Army faces a manning crisis, with 4,000 fewer regular troops than needed and a failure to come close to filling the ranks of the reserves.

How is this being tackled? By even bigger doses of political correctness. The latest recruiting campaign focuses exclusively on minorities.

An MoD insider admitted yesterday that this is all about meeting quotas for black, Asian, minority ethnic and female recruits.

It is right that the Army reflects the make-up of the society it fights for.

But that is very much secondary to the overriding need to be fully manned by battle-ready combat troops. While these adverts may have a marginal effect on recruiting minorities, they will not appeal to the majority of potential recruits.

These are young people who want challenge, action and adventure and who are willing to fight for their country.

What will appeal to them are images of tough military training, troops leaping from helicopters, skiing, sky-diving and mountaineering. Continue reading


Letter to the editor of The Times, published 11 January 2018. © Richard Kemp

The British Army’s new recruitment campaign is about meeting quotas for minorities, as an MoD source quoted in your report (Jan 10) admits, rather than dealing with its manning crisis (“It’s fine to cry, Army tells new recruits”, Jan 10).

The army should reflect the composition of society, but that is secondary to the need to have a fully manned, battle-ready force. These adverts may have a marginal effect on recruiting minorities but will not appeal to the majority of potential recruits, who are willing to fight, seek adventure and are attracted by images of a combat force in action. There is no shortage of such young people out there, including among minorities. What prevents them from joining up is not concern about whether they can pray or will be listened to but the army’s overly bureaucratic, “civilianised” recruiting organisation that places undue focus on political correctness and too often acts as a barrier to enlistment.

Colonel Richard Kemp
Former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, London SW1

Security – Defence – Intelligence – Counter Terrorism