Derek Pasquill: The whistleblower who wanted to be caught (PA)
Derek Pasquill was a Foreign and Commonwealth Office man to his core. He was born to a diplomat father and service wife, weaned in its embassies, trained in its boarding schools and polished by its fine minds until he was ready to represent liberal Britain to a hostile world. The FCO was the only institution he really knew, and he took its benevolence for granted. His mother was German and his parents did not want to spend their days at drinks parties with cliquey expats who would not treat the overwhelming majority of their compatriots as their social equals, let alone foreigners. They toured his father's postings instead. When he was on holiday from his English boarding schools, they took him to the Roman ruins at Baalbek in Lebanon and the palaces of Ctesiphon, Iraq. Pasquill had an isolated but privileged childhood and he looks back on it with gratitude. His whole life had been leading him towards a career in the diplomatic service. It was his natural home.
Today, the FCO views him as the most devastating whistleblower in its recent history. Between August 2005 and January 2006, he leaked 40 bundles of documents. So many papers poured out in brown envelopes and email attachments that his contact, my then colleague on the Observer Martin Bright (now the political editor of the Jewish Chronicle), begged him to slow down.
"Traitors," "moles," "double-agents": we think we know how the story of an establishment renegade runs from the betrayals of the Cold War. Yet although the characters are the same — the Whitehall mandarins who cannot believe that one of their own would betray them, the public schoolboy who learns to despise his class — the story's moral could not be more different.
The FCO was not and is not standing up to the totalitarian ideas of the Islamist extreme Right, as it stood up to the totalitarianism of the socialist extreme Left in the second half of the 20th century. On the contrary, the establishment has appeased political Islamism abroad and interfered in the domestic affairs of its own country by mounting a covert operation to aid and abet it at home.
Pasquill betrayed the institutions of liberal democracy by standing up for liberal democracy. He defended it from its enemies, who were not only in far-away countries but closeted in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street and the offices of Whitehall. As striking a difference between Pasquill and the establishment renegades of the 20th century (indeed, from every other whistleblower I have known) is that he wanted to be caught. He wanted the police to take him to the cells and arraign him at the Old Bailey for breaking the Official Secrets Act. He did not regard jail as a punishment he hoped to avoid, but sought out the risk of imprisonment the better to highlight the scandal. When the police came to his Pimlico home, he admitted everything. In truth, they did not have a hard job finding him. By the end, he was sending documents from his work email to his home computer and the dullest copper in England could have collared him.
"The Observer and the New Statesman were printing my revelations," he told me, "but they were not having an effect. I thought that being caught would be useful because the FCO would have to prosecute. That was part of my strategy, to get publicity in open court; to make people realise how bad it had got. What is so maddening about our attitude to radical Islam is that it is a classic example of group-think. Cognitive dissonance is stopping serious engagement. Leaking documents was my attempt to break the dissonance, my form of engagement."
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