Passing the buck

Passing the buck

Passing the buck

In March 2012 Capita signed the landmark deal pledging to overhaul and improve recruitment across the armed forces in a £1.3 billion recruiting partnership project. In 2019 it was recognised that this had failed but was the failure down to Capita alone, or is the way the MoD looks after its veterans a serious factor in a recruits decision not to proceed? Philip Ingram highlights how the MoD is just passing the buck, making someone else responsible for the people it has broken.
The Armed Forces strategy published in November 2018 was designed to fix the incoherent approach to veteran’s support across the country and set the foundations for a bright future. But has it, or is it perpetuating the issues, just more clearly?

The Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust is the independent Trust that manages the Armed Forces Covenant Fund of £10 million per annum that is there to support our veterans but where does it go, what does it do and what is the strategy behind it?

The new Armed Forces strategy says, “It is right that we as a nation – government, charities, business and the wider public – support and empower those who have served us in our Armed Forces. We have a long history of doing this in the UK, and it remains our duty to support those who step up to serve this country.”

“Each nation within the UK will assess how they deliver the Strategy in line with local needs and delivery mechanisms.” This means differential treatment depending on local resources and priorities, it is a post code lottery for standards of help and support.”

The Strategy recognises potential issues when it says, “veterans often receive support from many different organisations, across the public, private and charitable sectors. Each time Veterans engage with a new service provider, they may have to repeat their circumstances and historic experiences.”

“This Strategy takes account of the fact that Veterans exist within a wider community of family and friends. It also considers the families of those who have died whilst serving.” Yet Veterans UK and many of the charities will not deal with third parties so where does the ability of the wider community and family come into play, how is this supposed to happen?

It’s legal

The strategy goes on to say, “the Armed Forces Covenant, which was enshrined in law in the Armed Forces Act (2011), has at its core the principles that Service Personnel, Veterans, and their families are not disadvantaged by their Service and that special provision is made for those who have sacrificed the most, including the injured and the bereaved.” So, by failing the Armed Forces Covenant the MoD must be liable for those failures and is leaving itself wide open to class actions for its continued failings.

It adds, “while the Ministry of Defence does provide some services directly to many Veterans, most services accessed by Veterans are delivered by wider public services. The type and remit of provision offered by each public body reflects its wider role within the public sector. The Ministry of Defence has a shared moral obligation and leadership role for Veterans’ issues, delivered by the Minister for Defence People and Veterans on behalf of the Secretary of State for Defence, and in practice the responsibility is delivered across governments. The Ministerial Covenant and Veterans Board agrees priorities and coordinates activities for the UK Government, working with the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and government in Northern Ireland to enable the best outcomes for Veterans wherever they are in the UK.”

In reality this process is so far above the delivery of support and is then added to a long list of priorities and coordinated activities that it get lost in the sea of reality. There is no consistency across the country, between charities or agencies, there is no handover mechanism to ensure a continuity of care once one funding line is finished, there are no coherent mechanisms to manage complex cases. Yet, the MoD had held its high level meetings, so responsibility has been passed.

The Veterans Strategy goes on to say, “public sector services are delivered to Veterans by a combination of local authorities, devolved government and the UK Government, creating a complex picture across the UK.” But no element takes responsibility for coordinating that delivery between the elements of what the MoD calls a ‘complex picture’, what hope is there for a veteran to do so?

In what can only be described as management buzz word babble it says, “the establishment of clearer, consistent principles and aims across the UK will help to ensure that a Veteran’s experience remains consistent with that of the other citizens.” But what is different is no other citizens have been by dint of their employment put in such situations as one of their job roles is to lose their life if necessary, veterans are not just like other citizens in many ways! There seems to be no Role for the MOD?

The Strategy outlines “The role of the charitable sector” when it says, “the UK has a strong and vibrant Armed Forces charitable sector, which supplements the core essential services provided by the public sector, by providing additional and/or bespoke services. Charities provide specialist services for Veterans and the bereaved on a range of issues (including: information helplines, healthcare, and housing) throughout the UK, based on their own organisational eligibility criteria.” Then we have the role of the Private sector but nothing on the role of the MoD? That is a clear derision of responsibility. No-where does it outline where distressed veterans can guarantee to get coherent help across organisations and agencies.

To try and deal with the issues surrounding the £1.3 Billion wasted by the Capita saga, and their woes may not be of all of their making with such a clear example of MoD not caring for service leavers, the military are spending millions on new recruiting campaigns that on the surface are brilliant, but one negative story wasted a large percentage of that recruiting spend.

We have a Veteran’s strategy that passes the buck, we have controversy over legacy prosecutions, we have books, Double Crossed, by Brian Wood MC, The Battle Within by Neil Spencer and Broken By War by Anthony Lock, all recently published and highlighting failings by the MoD.

According to ITV, “71 serving military personnel and veterans who took their own lives in 2018 following mental health struggles. The death toll exceeds the number.” That statistic of more than one per week continues and last weekend the friend of a veteran on crisis reached out to the wider community after hitting silence with veterans charities and failure by the NHS. Hopefully that individual wont become another statistic, but there are plenty more who will.

The result of the strategy is we have wounded service personnel falling in their current field of battle, and believe me having suffered it is a field of battle, being left whilst the MoD, charities, public sector agencies either walk by and don’t notice or debate who should do what and write papers about it whilst spending more on trying to recruit their replacement than they are spending on dealing with veterans. Newtons law is for every force there has to be an equal and opposite force, well for the recruiting and retention force, the Veterans Strategy is the opposite force, except it is stronger and growing!

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

It should have been a strategic gift, an assassination attempt using an agent that as we have heard from Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the MoD, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), said was a military-grade novichok nerve agent, which could probably be deployed only by a nation-state. Instead, we are being led a merry dance in information terms regarding the burden of proof and apportionment of blame.

The Russians, who I more firmly than ever assess were behind this attack have a doctrine of маскировка (maskirovka), literally masking. This was defined in the International Dictionary of Intelligence from 1990 as the Russian military intelligence (GRU) term for deception and if we are ever seeing a deception operation in play today just look at all of the Russian statements around every reason why everyone else was to blame for the Salisbury attack.

Looking at what we the public know and the thinking behind it means there can be only one guilty party. That guilt is based on an intelligence assessment and intelligence is not an exact science.  In fact, to make an intelligence call, very often you are working only on a balance of probabilities rather than what a court of law would require with a ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ call.  Intelligence does not, and rarely is as certain.  That is why it is a professional business and why, when amateurs or politicians, such as happened in the ‘dodgy dossier’ case for the Iraq war, think they can amend carefully worded assessments, they get it wrong in a spectacular way.  We have not seen and won’t see the publication of a political interpretation of the intelligence, we have seen a political statement of what the agencies assess.

Intelligence looks at two things, capability and intent, and Gary Aitkenhead, a MoD employee, has clearly outlined the capability side of the argument.  Often scientific analysis can identify not just the lab was an unusual substance is made but the individual who made it; that is clearly not the case with this novichok compound. However, it is not the remit of DSTL to comment on intent.

The theories I outlined in my blogs here: and here:  continue to hold accuracy and I continue to believe that on the balance of probabilities, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin ordered this assassination attempt using novichok. He did it for a number of reasons including sending a powerful message to anyone who opposes him and remember this happened 14 days before the Russian Presidential election and to stick a proverbial 2 fingers up at the West, he wanted the world to know it was probably him hence the choice of a novichok agent, as he would have known it would be traced back to him. This was a political attack rather than an assassination attempt; the means required the assassination attempt.

So why do I call this a British Military failure? Earlier this year Robert Hannigan, the ex-director of GCHQ, said of the Russian threat in an interview, ‘We didn’t see Russian use of disinformation coming‘.  Combine this with the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Gordon Messenger telling The Times that the need to win the information war concerns him more than the latest model of tank, fast jet or warship.

He said, hardware still has a role but wants to see an evolution in the military mindset about the importance of using data to help defeat and destroy an enemy. “We have to wake up to the idea that our ability to turn data into information advantage, our ability to respond faster through cleverer decision-making which is enabled by the flow of information, is actually frankly as important if not even more important than whether our tanks out-range an anti-tank missile.”

These statements clearly demonstrate a naivety with the UK’s senior defence decision makers and a failure to remember what they have been expensively taught at military staff colleges. General Messenger will be staff college trained and educated as a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies, an elite course tailored for those heading to the top, both courses will have taught the importance of маскировка (maskirovka) and its use by the Russians as well as its historical underpinning by the ancient Chinese General and Philosopher Sun Tzu in the 6thCentury. The military mindset should be there already.

How can defence have forgotten what is taught and allowed Gary Aitkenhead to give a very public interview where only the most naïve wouldn’t have realised the potential implications and the information operations gift it would give Russia? Yet it happened in a vacuum of zero MoD pre and post-interview messaging to reinforce the MoD’s part in the wider government intelligence assessment process.

This is a basic tactic that the MoD should have deployed yet instead we have silence. That silence is tantamount to providing an advantage to another state to cause harm to the UK. It has and will continue to embolden the Russian маскировка (maskirovka) campaign and cause the UK political damage domestically through naïve anti-government groups and internationally to those who want to keep Russia onside for a bit at least.

In law, often doing nothing is as much a crime as committing the criminal act if it is known about. Here we have the MoD knowing a statement from a MoD official, will likely cause national harm, yet it does nothing. That is the failure and that failure needs to be held to account. We don’t need an enemy with capability anymore, intent is good enough, we give them the capability.

It is akin to the MoD making IEDs for terrorists to use, it is wrong and has to stop. So, either CDS has failed or he has been ordered by his political master not to do anything, one or other must account for damaging the nation.

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Offficer who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE