UCL News


Press cutting: False intelligence, terror and red faces in Whitehall - 200 years ago

13 April 2007

Dodgy intelligence, fake weapons of mass destruction and red faces in Whitehall are exposed today by a leading academic in a political scandal which predates the invasion of Iraq by 200 years.

The story of spies and credulous government ministers has been unearthed in the papers of Napoleon and the British foreign minister George Canning, who authorised attacks by cannon and newly developed rockets on civilian areas of Copenhagen in 1807 … an attack which was justified against virulent opposition - including cartoons by Gillray and others - by the publishing of three alleged plots.

"The truth of these claims was taken for granted," said Dr Thomas Munch-Petersen [UCL Scandinavian Studies], whose study of the attack on Copenhagen - the first full account - is published today. "But it is now clear they were all false intelligence and that the idea of an attack on Ireland was started on its way by Napoleon himself, as a deliberately destabilising rumour." …

The reason for the attack was what Dr Munch-Petersen describes in his book, 'Defying Napoleon', as "paranoia verging on panic" in Whitehall. …

"The attack has been largely forgotten outside Denmark, and even brushed under the carpet by Britain," he said. "It's important that we put it back on the map. It has relevance today - people will see the parallels with the intelligence that led Britain to war in Iraq. That too was a pre-emptive attack based on shaky intelligence and the credulity of politicians."

Martin Wainwright, 'The Guardian'