Since the Skripals were poisoned a year ago, it has been boom time in the media for the ever-present ‘anonymous intelligence sources’ and their offerings of juicy, unverifiable tidbits.
This shadowy character has found willing journalists happy to feed on uncheckable information which can be attributed to something as nebulous and authoritative-sounding as an “intelligence source.” It’s an extremely convenient ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine’ relationship.
Every Skripal-linked allegation about poisoned steering wheels, doorknobs and gifts sent from home started life as a tempting nugget from a spy with no name.
The anniversary of events in Salisbury is clearly a useful landmark for leaky intel operatives wanting to keep the pressure up, and they’ve been out in force.
The Press Association (PA) has been quoting an anonymous “source” as saying: “The intelligence agencies have been investigating unusual and increased activity at the Russian Embassy in Kensington in the days leading up to and after the attack on the Skripals.”
Leaking information to a news agency is particularly potent because it is repeated far more widely. The Guardian is one outlet to hang its hat on PA’s Skripal story, but it has also been the target of ridicule after using anonymous sources in November to claim that “Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.” To this day no one, including the Guardian, has been able to verify that.
Meanwhile, over in Britain’s Mail on Sunday, another anonymous intelligence source was accusing Russia’s ambassador to London of being a former KGB spy.
And in the Sunday Mirror, “sources” were telling the paper that the hunt is on for “five more suspects” linked to the Skripal poisonings.
It’s all completely unverifiable, as is so much of the claim and counterclaim over what happened in Salisbury. The full truth may never be discovered if the intelligence services don’t spend less time leaking and more time investigating.
Unnamed intelligence sources were also wheeled out by the Sunday Times over the weekend, warning that Russian mercenaries were trying to cause turmoil in Libya. Yes, the same Libya which descended into turmoil in the first place thanks to a Western bombing campaign. Even more amazing than what intelligence sources seem to know, is what they don’t seem to know.
Stories involving Russia commonly use the ‘anonymous intelligence source’ for a number of reasons. Firstly, in the minds of a Western audience conditioned by a certain worldview, Russians are all spies – those two words are synonyms, so it all sounds true enough that it need not be questioned.
Secondly, a lot of the accusations aimed at Moscow are hard to verify with hard facts, for reasons that can be speculated upon.
And thirdly, Russia has become so demonized, that even if a story is outlandish, untrue or even just simply hypocritical, no journalist will lose readers or the backing of their boss for printing it anyway.
How do I know all this? An anonymous intelligence source told me so.
By Simon Rite