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Ian Locke ponders on how careless we have been in the past in the wake of the Matrix-Churchill Iraq supergun affair.

The British government is on the receiving end of the Scott enquiry arising from the collapse of the trial, in November 1992, of members of the Matrix Churchill machine tool company charged with breaches of arms export controls. The supply of arms, or elements which contribute to their manufacture, have long had a murky history. During this century the Nobel brothers, Basil Zaharoff and Adnan Khashoggi have, amongst others, all inspired close scrutiny. Their backers have often faced similar enquiries, one of the most notable occasions being the US hearings into profiteering by the 'Sphinx of Wall Street', J. P. Morgan, after the First World War. In an unfortunate, and short-lived, moment of self-deception Alfred Nobel once proclaimed, 'My factories may end war sooner than your peace conferences'. That he was wrong was not implicitly his fault. The perception of a world of science was alien to many Victorians, even the better educated.

The marvel of its apparent beneficent properties and its sheer mystery., removed science from sordid everyday existence, in much the same way as the edifice of the church had impressed the public mind in the preceding centuries. That the public was none the wiser to either its direction or moral purpose proved an oversight. While ' adjustments to Western education sought to correct this . ignorance, the devolution of scientific knowledge was baulked by vested interests, among them, needless to say, were the arms manufacturers. In the 1960s such scientific and artistic knowledge was re-named 'intellectual property' to cover the world of ideas and intangibles, including software. Such material was a component of the unrevealing epithet 'invisibles' in the balance of trade.

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