Examination of Witnesses (Questions 786
WEDNESDAY 10 MAY 2000
786. Welcome. You start off really well in that
nobody preceding you actually believed you told lies so at least
there has been progress in the last 20 years. Thank you very much
for coming. I am sorry we kept you waiting. First of all, could
I ask you to set the scene as to what you were actually up to
during the conflict.
(Mr Pitt-Brooke) Perhaps I could start.
I am now the Director General of Corporate Communications in the
Ministry of Defence which means I have overall responsibility
not only for our press office operation and all of our PR activity
but also for the PR operations of the Army, Navy and Air Force,
the uniformed as well as civil service, a new position in the
Department. It was a position created last June. I arrived about
two days after the bombs stopped falling so although I am closely
involved in the follow-on work and in getting ready for "next
time", I was not involved in the day-to-day business of the
events we have been talking about today but Oona very much was
involved in that and perhaps she could introduce herself.
(Ms Muirhead) I am Oona Muirhead and I was at the
time called Director of Information Strategy and News. I took
up my post in 1997. You might, Mr Chairman, want me to talk about
the restructuring we did at the time because I think it was pertinent
to the way we approached the operation in Kosovo itself. During
the operation in Kosovo I was the chief person in the back behind
the scenes really trying to make sure that the system worked and
that our media operation operated effectively and efficiently.
I do not know if you want me to say a little bit what our aims
were in that media operation.
Chairman: Mr Viggers wants to ask a personal
787. The Civil Service sometimes rotates its
people through treasury posts, public relations posts and so on.
Are you professional public relations people or are you professional
(Mr Pitt-Brooke) Neither of us are professional public
relations people. We have both had conventional careers in the
fast stream and have done a range of jobs accordingly in private
offices and so on.
788. Before they moved you into information,
I shall not use the word that immediately springs to mind, before
they moved you into your jobs did they do what the Foreign Office
does before you go off to Iran and learn the local language? Did
they give you any courses before you took up the post or did you
simply move from one job into something absolutely different?
(Ms Muirhead) That is what normally happens but actually
in my case in 1997 it was slightly different in that I was brought
in in September to look at the organisation which I was then going
to run and be part of and I was asked to look at it critically
and make recommendations for how it should be restructured so
I had a period of a few weeks where I was talking to the people
in the existing organisation at that time and then I made recommendations
as to how the organisation should change and what the new aims
and objectives of the organisation should be. I had a bedding-in
period which was extremely valuable but after that it was largely
learning on the job with obviously some professional help in terms
of training courses but also relying and drawing very much on
the professionals around me.
789. I keep banging on about the Falklands but
it was apocryphal, I would have hoped, in the handling of the
media because the MoD took such a beating around the head and
quite deservedly so. They commissioned studies from King's College
London and they had a full inquiry (not just one session) into
what could have been a failure but the war ended before credibility
had been lost. Do you go back far enough? You do not but as part
of the folk memory what lessons were derived from the Falklands
War and the Gulf War so when the next one came along it was clearly
done more professionally than it had been even in the Gulf and
certainly infinitely more professional than the rather pathetic
endeavour in the Falklands War which were seen to be grossly inadequate.
(Ms Muirhead) I was certainly in the Ministry of Defence
in the Falklands War but, as you rightly surmise, I was not involved
in operations. There is obviously a lot of folklore that resides
around the corridors of the Ministry of Defence from that. I was
however involved in the Gulf War on the operational side in the
Ministry of Defence main building and I think we did take a number
of lessons from the Gulf War as well as the Falklands and we sought
to apply those in particular during my time in my post as the
Director of Information Strategy and News in relation to our operations
in Iraq in 1998.
790. Nobody put their hands up to being responsible
for psychological operations in 1982. Would they normally fall
within your remit or is that quite a separate structure?
(Ms Muirhead) It is a slightly complicated answer
because it depends what you term "psychological operations"
and it is not a term we use any more in the Ministry.
791. What is it called now?
(Ms Muirhead) "Information support" but
if I could characterise it as two key activities, one of which
is to seek to defeat your enemy by directing operations directly
at your enemy and his military structure and hierarchy and the
second is to get on board on side with you the population in the
area in which you are operating, so that for example in Bosnia
the military conducted psychological operations using a particular
group of people, but there were others who were doing the public
information job and were also contributing to the overall aim
of explaining to the people of Bosnia why we were there, that
IFOR and SFOR were completely impartial, etcetera, etcetera. In
a sense we were all contributing to the same aim but there may
be different parts of the organisation that do it.
(Mr Pitt-Brooke) Could I say something about this
process of learning lessons from previous campaigns. It is part
of my own role and it is a very pertinent point at the moment.
We hope to get it better every time against the background of
a media climate that is changing all the time because of the technology,
because of the issues of tempo that Jonathan Marcus mentioned
earlier and the demands of the news organisations and so on. We
have a small operation going on at the moment, Sierra Leone, in
which we are having to address some of the issues we are talking
about. We hope our performance there is better than it was last
time but when that is over we will review that process yet again
so we are very much in a never-ending process of learning.
792. We had as an adviser in those distant days
Harry Chapman Pincher, the famous Express journalist, and
he found out something quite interesting, that there was a study
on how to handle the media during a small War but it was filed
away and was not recovered or discovered until two-thirds of the
way through the conflict. That is the level of the professionalism
that pertained at the time. Obviously the Ministry of Defence
realised events were turning sour two years before the war started.
Did you have in the Ministry of Defence a series of files, if
you have files any more, on how to handle the media in the event
of a war whatever name it goes under, in Bosnia or Kosovo, so
when the war came along you had your plans and you knew exactly
how to proceed?
(Ms Muirhead) One thing we certainly have had since
the Gulf War is what we call the Green Book which is the guidelines
drawn up jointly by the Ministry of Defence and the media side
on workingrelationships between the Ministry of Defence and the
media in times of tension, crisis and war and thatis certainly
something that has been a Bible andsomething that has never been
filed away but has been constantly on the shelf ever since the
Gulf War. It was produced, as I say, jointly.
793. We would love to have a copy of that if
the journalists and hacks can have it.
(Mr Pitt-Brooke) Oona said it was on the shelf, but
it was off my shelf on Monday morning because we were discussing
precisely what kind of arrangements we might achieve for deploying
journalists in support of operations in Sierra Leone. It is a
794. So it gets down to the level of journalists,
it is not just a deal struck between editors?
(Mr Pitt-Brooke) Not at all.
(Ms Muirhead) In fact, might I say that for the period
between the beginning of 1988 until I left my post it was in my
tray because we had had dialogue with the media on a very regular
basis about what arrangements we would set in hand if and when
time came to deploy into theatre. So it really is a document that
795. Did you have dummy runs before the War
started? Did you have people simulating ministers and chiefs of
(Ms Muirhead) Of course the Ministry of Defence has
a series of exercises and there is always a media input into military
exercises. What I would say is we tend to do it as part of the
normal exercise programme.
796. The Ministry of Defence works by planning
and training. That is the way the Ministry of Defence operates
in every field so when the situation comes along they have some
kind of formulated plan they can put into effect rather than starting
from scratch but of course it also needs to have personnel. Do
you have the planning and training and personnel so you can put
into operation any predetermined plan?
(Ms Muirhead) I think we are getting much much better.
We have much more of a detailed plan and much more idea of where
the personnel are going to come from than previously. Might I
say that prior to operations relating to Iraq in 1998 each of
the Services had probably taken a slightly different approach.
I think the Army in particular had done an awful lot because of
their experience in Bosnia and therefore they had done an awful
lot of training of spokesman, of escort officers, of people who
would be involved in handling and having a relationship with the
media in times of tension and crisis. That probably was not quite
so true for the other two Services because they had not had that
experience in Bosnia (and Mr Pitt-Brooke can obviously talk a
lot more about this than I) and what we are now seeking to do
is to ensure that evenly across the board that there is identification
of manpower, training of manpower, making sure the equipment is
there and ready to fly at very short notice.
(Mr Pitt-Brooke) That is precisely right. The central
lesson I think we learn from every media campaign during every
operation is this area ofactivity gets more important every time.
We have got to make sure that we apply to the task in hand sufficient
quantity and quality of resources for all manner of things. This
needs people to accompany journalists and broadcasters into the
area of operations, people to run our new Internet set up, which
is a brand new area of activity, people to write articles and
do the 1,001 things 24 hours a day required of us. We are investing
a lot time and effort at the moment in the selection and training
of those people so that when next time occurs, and I am sorry
it is a phrase I will probably use a lot, we have a cadre of people
who are instantly available trained to the same standardArmy,
Navy, Air Force, civiliansequipped in the same way, working
under the same doctrine and procedures who can be deployed wherever
necessary (as of last week in Sierra Leone) as well as augmenting
the staff we have got dealing with these matters here in Whitehall.
We are making great progress in this area.
797. Where will these people be coming from
when the next time occurs?
(Mr Pitt-Brooke) As well as the people who are working
in those areas full time in peace time, if I can so characterise
it, we have to identify from elsewhere within the Ministry of
Defence and the armed forces people who are suitable and trained
who can be moved across from their day jobs to these activities
798. Those are currently serving personnel in
the armed forces.
(Mr Pitt-Brooke) Some of them are. Some of them are
reserves who are specialists in civilian life in this area of
activity. Others are civil servants who work elsewhere in the
Ministry of Defence who will come in as augmentees.
799. Does NATO have the equivalent of your Green
(Ms Muirhead) I am not sure that I am wholly qualified
to answer that question. I do not know the answer.