Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Secrets

Police drop probe into colonel arrested for allegedly leaking civilian casualty figures

By Jason Lewis
28th February 2009

Former BBC journalist Rachel Reid denied having an affair with Lt Col McNally

Former BBC journalist Rachel Reid denied having an affair with Lt Col McNally

Police have dropped an investigation into a British colonel who was arrested in Afghanistan for allegedly leaking secret civilian casualty figures to a female human rights worker.

Special Branch officers had been examining claims that Lt Col Owen McNally gave confidential information to Rachel Reid, a Human Rights Watch researcher.

At the same time, an internal Nato report, which casts new doubt on military claims about the number of civilians killed, has been passed to The Mail on Sunday.

Lt Col McNally was arrested by military police last month and flown back to Britain to face allegations that he had breached the Official Secrets Act.

The divorced colonel, who ran Nato’s civilian casualty tracking cell in Kabul, was said to be ‘close’ to the charity worker, whose organisation claims civilians killed

in Afghanistan far exceed the military figures.

Ms Reid, who is a former BBC journalist, described the ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ whispers about her as a ‘vicious slur’ and last month she denied having an affair with Lt Col McNally. Last night, a Scotland Yard spokeswoman confirmed it would not be pursuing a case against the career soldier.

But the Nato document passed to The Mail on Sunday raised further questions about the military’s assessment of the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan.

The report, from the secret Nato Joint Operations-INTEL Information System (JOIIS), includes detailed maps of insurgent attacks and reveals that these increased by a third last year.

It also reveals that roadside bombs and resulting casualties are up by about 30 per cent in the past 12 months.

Crucially, the document shows the UN consistently claiming more than double the number of civilian deaths admitted by the military. Last year the military reported 1,300 deaths and the UN 2,120.

A Nato source stated that its records only included deaths it had been able to verify. An MoD spokesman said its own inquiry into Lt Col McNally was continuing.


Now Colonel is accused of giving '3,000 Afghan deaths' details to UN

By Jason Lewis
09th February 2009

A British colonel arrested for allegedly leaking secret Afghan civilian casualty figures after befriending a woman human rights worker is said to have given similar help to a second female aid worker.

The new allegations centre on a senior United Nations official who this week will publish a damning report claiming that 3,000 innocent people were killed by both sides in Afghanistan last year – many by British and American military strikes.

The report will disclose a 45 per cent increase in civilian deaths in the past year – mainly caused by Nato troops calling in airstrikes against the Taliban – after detailed briefings by the officer.

Lt Col ‘Seamus’ McNally is being investigated over claims that he gave confidential information to Human Rights Watch researcher Rachel Reid.

However, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Lt Col McNally also gave detailed help to Irish-born Norah Niland, the UN’s chief human rights officer in Kabul. There is no suggestion that he broke any rules in doing so.

Ms Niland is barred from talking to the Press but a senior UN official confirmed that she had been ‘friendly with Seamus – but nothing more’.

Last week it was revealed that Lt Col McNally faces allegations that he breached the Official Secrets Act by giving confidential material to Ms Reid.

It was alleged that Ms Reid, a former BBC journalist, received the information after they became ‘close’. Ms Reid described the claims as a ‘nudge, nudge – wink, wink’ leak and a ‘vicious slur’ which suggested ‘I had some kind of “relationship” with McNally’.

The UN official, who asked not to be named, said of the help given to Ms Niland: ‘The front door of the UN and the backdoor military compounds in Kabul are opposite each other and we all knew Seamus well. He gave us regular formal briefings on civilian casualty figures – that was his job.’

The UN report is expected to show that about 1,000 civilians were killed by international and Afghan forces last year, including more than 500 who died in airstrikes. The UN said 1,523 civilians were killed by both sides in 2007.

Another senior Kabul source questioned what Lt Col McNally had done wrong if he had revealed casualty details. The source said: ‘Are the British military saying that there are two sets of figures – one sanitised for the “hearts and minds” campaign and another more damning set of statistics showing that we are responsible for killing thousands of innocent people? Is McNally being investigated for revealing the truth?’

The Ministry of Defence was refusing to discuss the issue last week. It merely said Lt Col McNally was being returned to Britain for questioning.