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How the Iraq war battered our trust in “experts”



The Iraq war’s damage to public trust in experts has consequences right up to today

Twenty years after the invasion of Iraq, politicians continue to repeat the errors of the past by taking information from security briefings that they want to hear.

Ahead of the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation, US and UK politicians used some of the intelligence gathered by western security agencies to suggest that the local population would predominantly welcome external military powers as liberators. But it quickly became apparent this was a mistake and that the fighting capability of those who would resist had been underestimated. A long and bloody insurgency followed.

Fast forward to 2022 and we saw Russian president Vladimir Putin acting under the apparent belief that his conquest of Ukraine would also be simple, and meet with little resistance from a weak defence force. Western intelligence reports have since highlighted how Putin and his advisers significantly underestimated Ukraine and made poor judgements about their own intelligence information.

The public, however, at least in western countries, appears to have become much more sceptical of politicians armed with intelligence from experts. As well as the thousands of deaths, trillions of dollars of expense and irreversible changes to national and international politics, this arguably remains one of the legacies of the Iraq war.

Intelligent lessons

The conflict taught the public valuable lessons about intelligence. A review by Lord Butler and the Chilcot inquiry that followed the war showed that intelligence is never certain. Intelligence agencies provide “best truths” to politicians, who then take decisions.

The Iraq war made secret intelligence a topic for discussion in homes across the world. A publicly accessible version of the intelligence picture was presented to the public by UK prime minister Tony Blair. This was a groundbreaking decision and one that defined Blair’s career.

The weaknesses in the intelligence dossiers, once exposed, also appeared to undermine public support for the conflict. In contrast, the public continued to strongly support the armed forces and particularly those injured and killed in action.

In parallel a public narrative developed that experts were often wrong, and politicians could not be trusted. The idea that experts are not to be trusted has become ever more repeated in recent years, through the Brexit debates and governmental responses to the pandemic.

However, the failings in the communication and use of intelligence data does not mean security services were to blame for the war.

True, some of the vulnerabilities in western intelligence reporting seemed farcical when exposed to public scrutiny. The information from an informant known as Curveball – an Iraqi expatriate – was used by the US in making the case for war in the UK, despite German and British reservations. Curveball’s information later emerged to be inaccurate.

Terrorist warning

But in other areas it appears intelligence services provided nuanced information and accurate warnings. For example, UK intelligence chiefs warned ministers that the conflict would increase the terrorist threat.

Others within defence intelligence warned that once the first phase of the conflict against regular Iraqi armed forces were complete that a long-running insurgency would follow. Commanders in the British army warned that without direct investment into the Iraqi city of Basra and surroundings that this area would become radicalised.

Some key assumptions around Iraq’s chemical weapons programme were clearly unhelpful. But the agencies were arguably also right to feel bruised that the blame for the war landed with them, when they had no way of changing government policy.

The leaks and publication of intelligence related to Iraq brought with them the era of the armchair expert and the conspiracy theorist. Many academics argued that this openness in intelligence would produce a mature public debate. But the weaknesses in the intelligence undermined the idea that governments are a source of truth.

Deep dive investigations and conspiracies have surrounded the death of biological weapons expert and UK government advisor David Kelly in 2003. Kelly’s untimely death has been the subject of official and unofficial investigations and spurred a cottage industry in speculation.

Kelly died after he was publicly revealed to be a confidential source for BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan’s assertion that part of the government’s intelligence dossier on “weapons of mass destruction” was fabricated. His death was officially ruled a suicide.

This was confirmed by the Hutton inquiry and again by a later inquiry by the attorney general. But public suspicion about Kelly’s death persist with books and a TV drama .

More broadly, Iraq resulted in a loss in public support for British involvement in war, which was seemingly conditional on how people viewed the purpose of the conflict and prospects of victory.

This view will in part be shaped by their trust in the initial intelligence and in whether they believe governments tell the truth. As debates around the pandemic have shown, once trust has gone it is hard to get back.

Intelligence agencies did change the way they operate in response to criticisms over Iraq. Agencies spent more time and resource on ensuring they had more evidence for their claims and were more careful with wording claims. This was a necessary change for the intelligence community, but did not address how politicians use intelligence. Without that change, the world is still vulnerable to misread and misunderstood intelligence assessments.

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Top travel tips to avoid jet lag



These travel tips will help you reduce jet lag the next time you travel abroad

We all love a holiday but, unfortunately, when you’re travelling long distances it often comes with a side of jet leg.

So what causes it and are there any ways to avoid that drowsy feeling?

After years of lockdowns and travel restrictions, people are finally back in the skies and venturing to destinations right around the world.

The term “jet lag” describes the physical and cognitive symptoms people experience when traveling quickly across several timezones.

Before you leave, you’re synchronised to your local time and once you enter a new timezone, your body’s rhythms are thrown out of whack.

The experience of jet lag varies between people because we all have our own internal rhythm.

Most have a natural daily cycle of about 24.2 hours.

But some people have slightly longer cycles than others, and this could play a role in how a person experiences jet lag.

Research shows if you have a longer cycle you might adjust quicker to westward travel.

We also get a little less resilient as we age, so the older you are, the worse the jet lag may be.

So does the direction of travel matter? Scientists think so.

Many people find westward travel easier. This is when you, essentially, gain time.

But that’s not always possible – so here are some tips to help you through the pain, or even avoid it, in the first place:

1. If you’re trying to shift your body clock, you should start on the plane. Do this by setting your watch to your destination’s timezone and line up your activities, like sleep and meals, accordingly.

2. Next, keep your caffeine and alcohol intake low on the journey to help aid both sleep and hydration.

3. When you arrive, try your absolute best to sleep during the local night time and rest during the day as needed.

4. You can take a nap – but make sure it’s 30 minutes or less.

5. If you’re prone to or experience tummy trouble while traveling, stick to small meals and only eat when you’re hungry.

6. Finally, you should also expose yourself to sunlight throughout the day when adjusting to your new timezone.

Happy travelling! #trending #featured

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Young people join protest in France against pension reforms



Young people are taking to the streets in France as Macron pushes ahead with raising nation’s retirement age

Huge crowds have gathered in France in recent weeks to protest a controversial rise in the country’s pension age by two years to 64.

Some of the marches have turned violent.

While the reform is most relevant to those approaching retirement, many young people are also taking to the streets.

But why might that be?

The French youth have joined the protests in growing numbers since the government bypassed parliament to push the plans through.

Every night for the past few weeks, 18-year-old Charles Chauliac has been making his voice heard. Not just for his parents, but for himself.

“I am against this reform simply because I have two parents who are killing themselves at work and damaging their health and I don’t want to see them die at work. My father, he works every day, he gets up to get on the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle airport at 5 a.m. to load the planes. I find it difficult to imagine myself at 64 getting up at 3 a.m.”

Chauliac is part of groups started by university students to organize unauthorized demonstrations, which are usually carried out in the evenings.

While a few protesters have been seen torching bins and throwing rocks at police, Chauliac insists he hasn’t.

Opinion polls show a wide majority of voters are opposed to the pension bill.

They are further angered by Macron’s leadership style and the government’s decision to skip the parliamentary vote.

“For young people like me, we grew up with the hope of being able to influence our society. And when we see that decisions are made without consulting the people who make up this society, that takes away the possibility of being able to change things.”

Many students, like Chauliac, have been joining private groups on social media which help students mobilize for spontaneous protests.

He says they help prevent the groups being noticed by police.

But does Chauliac worry about the repercussions, should the demonstrations get out of hand?

“I wonder about that, because I know what can happen to us too, we see the images and we see what happens to fellow protesters, but that wouldn’t prevent me from demonstrating, because I’m so outraged that it surpasses potentially endangering myself.”

Macron recently said he would press ahead with the reforms.

Unions have called for regional action, and the continuation of nationwide strikes and protests. #trending #featured

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Facial recognition has been used a million times by U.S. police



Controversial facial recognition has been used a million times by police to help track criminals

As facial recognition becomes more prominent, the founder of tech firm Clearview says his company has run nearly a million searches for U.S. police.

It’s also been revealed the company has scraped 30 billion images from platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, taken without users’ permissions.

The company has been fined numerous times in Europe and countries like Australia for breaches of privacy laws.

In the U.S., critics say the use of Clearview by authorities puts everyone into a “police line-up”.

The company’s high-tech system allows law enforcement to upload a photo of a face and find matches in a database comprising of billions of images it has collected.

It then provides links to where matching images appear online.

The tool is considered to be one of the world’s most powerful and accurate.

While the company is banned from selling its services to most U.S. companies, there is an exemption for police. #trending #featured

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