The similarities between Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, and a character in a new spy series are uncanny. So why is the BBC denying it?
Now determined to turn western public opinion against Usman. And to force both the UK and US administrations into withdrawing their support for him." Now, if you substitute the very real Uzbekistan of President Karimov for the fictional Tyrgyzstan, you get a description of me precise in every detail. Uniquely so; there is nobody else that description remotely fits. There are other coincidences. When I was ambassador, the Uzbek prime minister was named Usmanov. James Sinclair is an anglicised Scot like me. I live in Sinclair Gardens. Sinclair's wife has the common Uzbek name of Saida. I have an Uzbek partner. Like me, his tipple is neat scotch (not as common as you might think). Both "Tyrgyzstan" and Uzbekistan are in Central Asia; both have major US airbases threatened by a change of allegiance of the dictator. Both are described by the US and UK as "an ally in the war on terror" and "a backdoor to Afghanistan". Both have perpetrated a large-scale massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators.
Fine by me. I like the series, and Sinclair is well played (by Alex Jennings). I have received scores of emails from viewers, mostly complete strangers, commenting on the series, often asking me about its accuracy. So I was surprised to hear the BBC was not just denying the character was based on me, but denying it vehemently, as though it were an appalling accusation. A journalist had inquired on my behalf, and received rebuttals from both the press department and a producer.
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Some of the things that the BBC asserted in reply to the inquiry were simple nonsense. It claimed that many ambassadors had resigned over human rights, not just Craig Murray. In fact, the only other example is David Gladstone, about 25 years ago - and he wasn't in a "stan". The BBC even denied knowing that I had written a memoir, Murder in Samarkand. That is very strange, because the BBC had it in manuscript and I had formal meetings with the BBC drama department over the film rights.
What do I think of the series? The atmosphere is nothing like that of any embassy; Foreign Office house style is much more ponderous. We do not sit in rooms whose walls are inexplicably all made of glass, surrounded by scores of flickering screens.
But that is to carp. This is important television. It touches on some of the most profound themes of our worrying times. In the first two episodes we have seen persecution of Muslims, attacks on civil rights, US support of dictatorships, false-flag war-on-terror operations, out-of-control private military companies, distorted intelligence and a very powerful statement against the death penalty.
Since resigning, I have spent the past two years in draughty halls speaking to small audiences about just these issues, and despairing as to how you reach a mass audience in these days of desocialised consumers sitting in front of their televisions. This series does it.
Bewildered as to why the BBC was denying the obvious connections, I spoke with a senior BBC contact. They sounded about as nervous at speaking with me as my FCO friends, but told me that The State Within had terrified the BBC top brass because of its attack on the special relationship and the war on terror. They dreaded the government's reaction. An edict on the line to take had therefore gone out to all, including the actors: The State Within is purely entertainment, with no political meaning and has no relationship to any real people, places or incidents.
But it has. The programme's plot begins and ends with a terrorist bomb blamed on the "Islamic Movement of Tyrgyzstan", which turns out to be perpetrated by others entirely. In Murder in Samarkand, I detail bombings blamed by Colin Powell on the real Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. A British embassy investigation proved these were not to be what they seemed to be.
Getting my book published involved tough negotiations between the publisher and the FO, determining what could be published without the government taking legal action. My conclusions on who was behind those bombs were scrubbed out. But I managed to slip past the censors: "It is instructive to read Graham Greene's great novel The Quiet American and acquaint yourself with the historical truth behind it." Greene's novel hinges upon a real event - a terrorist bomb planted by the CIA and blamed on the Viet Cong.
In fact, the world of The State Within is more real than you might imagine. There may yet be a story twist to please the conservatives. But already the BBC has produced something brave, relevant and timely, worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Edge of Darkness. It is just too scared to admit it · The State Within continues tonight on BBC1 at 9pm.
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