BBC World Service and Afghanistan
Today's Daily Telegraph makes a number of serious accusations against the BBC World Service and its staff, claiming a leaked US intelligence document suggests our Afghanistan team are part of a "possible propaganda media network" and that BBC employees may have al-Qaeda sympathies.
While I accept that the wording of the intelligence document is not entirely clear, I would strongly disagree with the Daily Telegraph's interpretation of it.
There is a danger that an entirely false impression is created which could have serious consequences for the BBC team who risk their lives daily in reporting from Afghanistan.
There is no evidence - past or present - against members of its staff in relation to supposed al-Qaeda sympathies and we have received no approaches from any security agencies.
This is the full quote from the leaked document:
"The London (UK) number 004420752xxxx was discovered in numerous seized phone books and phones associated with extremist-linked individuals. The number is associated with the BBC. (Numerous extremist links to this BBC number indicates a possible propaganda media network connection. Network analysis might provide leads to individuals with sympathetic ties to extremists or possibly possessing information on ACM [Anti-Coalition Militia] operations.)"
The reference to "network analysis" seems more likely to be a suggestion that intelligence officers should look for other suspects in possession of the phone number than a suspicion that there were BBC employees sympathetic to the extremist cause. In that context, the suspected "propaganda media network" would clearly relate not to the BBC but to a network of extremists who have a BBC number in common.
The BBC Belfast newsroom, where I worked in the 1980s, used regularly to receive claims concerning terrorist violence from extremists. By any reasonable interpretation, if a number of those extremists were then caught in possession of the BBC newsdesk number an intelligence report on the subject would have been more likely to conclude that the extremists were part of a network rather than the BBC was part of such a network.
Because of the BBC's prominent and trusted role in Afghanistan, due to the reliability and impartiality of our journalism, all sides in the conflict regularly contact the BBC to pass on information and give their side of the story. Of course we test all such information rigorously, especially that from extreme organisations.
Today I have written to the editor of the Daily Telegraph pointing out this alternative explanation of the leaked document.
Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News.