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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


May 31, 2003

British Spy Chiefs Warned Blair About Bogus Iraq Intel

'Revealed: How Blair used discredited WMD "evidence"' (6/01/03 - The Independent [UK])

From The Independent, June 1, 2003:

UK intelligence chiefs warned claim that Iraq could activate banned weapons in 45 minutes came from unreliable defector.

Tony Blair's sensational pre-war claim that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction "could be activated within 45 minutes" was based on information from a single Iraqi defector of dubious reliability, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

British intelligence sources said the defector, recruited by Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, told his story to American officials. It was passed on to London as part of regular information-sharing with Washington, but British intelligence chiefs considered the "45 minutes" claim to be unreliable and uncorroborated by any other evidence. How it came to be included as the most dramatic element in the Government's "intelligence dossier" last September, making the case for war, is now the subject of a furious row in Whitehall and abroad.

The armed forces minister, Adam Ingram, admitted last week that the information had come from a single source. But Downing Street denied a report that the claim made its way into the dossier only after politicians rejected a more cautious draft prepared by the intelligence services and demanded that it be "sexed up".

Coming in the same week that the United States Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said Iraq might have destroyed its banned weapons before the war, the row has called into question the entire Anglo-American case on WMD. The failure to find such weapons has led to demands in the US and Britain for inquiries into whether the public was misled.

On Wednesday, the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee will meet behind closed doors to examine the Government's WMD claims, but it is not expected to have full access to the intelligence seen by ministers.

Irritated by the latest row about Iraq's missing weapons, which has overshadowed his six-day foreign tour, the Prime Minister has promised to bring out another dossier. Mr Blair said that he had seen some of the information obtained from Iraqi scientists now under interrogation, which proved that Saddam Hussein had an arsenal of dangerous weapons.

In an interview in St Petersburg with Sky News, being broadcast today, he said: "What we are going to do is assemble that evidence and present it properly to people. We are not going to give a running commentary on it. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of potential WMD sites that are still being investigated. We have only just begun."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman vehemently denied yesterday that there was or had been any conflict between the Government and the intelligence services over Iraq, and claimed that leaks were probably coming from minor officials who did not have great inside knowledge.

President George Bush went further on Polish television, saying two trailers found laden with equipment in northern Iraq were proof of the existence of WMD. US intelligence agencies claim they were biological weapons production facilities. Mr Bush said: "Those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons - they're wrong. We found them."

The Prime Minister insisted that the information in the British dossier "is intelligence that comes through our Joint Intelligence Committee". He said: "It's not invented by politicians and it's not invented by our security service. Everything was cleared by the Joint Intelligence Committee, and was their judgement - not my judgement, or another politician's judgement."

But one intelligence source said: "The '45-minute' remark was part of the American intelligence input into the dossier. It was being treated cautiously by the British, but it was alighted on by the politicos and blown out of proportion." Intelligence circles remain confident that evidence of WMD will soon be found.

Controversy reigns over the work of a special unit within the Pentagon, created by Mr Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, which enthusiastically promoted the Iraqi National Congress's WMD claims over the scepticism of others, notably in the CIA. Yesterday The Guardian said the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, met his American counterpart, Colin Powell, in February to discuss their concerns about the quality of information on Iraq's banned weapons, and the claims being made by their respective political masters. The Government said the meeting never took place.

[Read the source...]

Related Article:

From The Guardian, 5/30/03:

MI6 led protest against war dossier
Agencies kept quiet on claims over al-Qaida links and forgeries to avoid embarrassing PM

Downing Street's determination to use intelligence to bolster its case for war against Iraq provoked a fierce debate in Whitehall last autumn. Many in the intelligence community, including MI6 and GCHQ, the government's eavesdropping centre, were against publishing a dossier spelling out their assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

They were concerned that MPs and journalists would say the dossier, which was sanitised, contained little that was new. They feared there would be demands for the disclosure of more intelligence-based information.

Above all, they were concerned that Downing Street would use the intelligence agencies to justify a pre-emptive strike against Iraq in the face of widespread opposition at home. Downing Street needed intelligence for political reasons.

The intelligence community's worst fears about this unprecedented use of their information were fully realised. The dossier may have been based on intelligence as Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's communications chief, insisted yesterday; the question was how the words were used and dressed up.

In the foreword to the dossier Mr Blair said it "discloses that [Saddam's] military planning allows for some of the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them".

What the dossier actually says is that "intelligence indicates that the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so".

Yesterday, Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "That was said on the basis of security service information - a single source, it wasn't corroborated." Intelligence officials said yesterday that whether the claim came from a single source, or many, was a red herring.

What mattered was the reliability of the source. That claim, like all the others in the dossier, was based on intelligence assessments with all the caveats that implies. In this case, it was based on the assumption - which now seems highly unlikely - that Saddam's forces had drums of chemical or biological weapons close to missile batteries.

Intelligence is an imprecise art but Downing Street wanted certainty to back up its case for war. The intelligence agencies' anger was heightened in February when another "intelligence" dossier put out by Downing Street contained information lifted from academic sources and included a plagiarised section written by an American PhD student.

Compilers of the documents included members of Mr Campbell's staff and the Coalition Information Centre, a propaganda body set up in the Foreign Office. Intelligence officials, including John Scarlett, chairman of Whitehall's joint intelligence committee, were reported to be furious. It was a "serious error", a Whitehall source said yesterday.

The intelligence agencies - unused to the limelight, although certainly accustomed to being used for political ends - could not stand up to Mr Campbell, let alone to the prime minister. Their situation was further complicated by tensions with their counterparts in the US about the nature of the threat posed by Iraq and al-Qaida. They strongly contested American claims - put about notably by the highly politicised agency set up by the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, called the Office of Special Plans - of links between al-Qaida and Baghdad.

Mr Blair went further than the agencies wanted by suggesting to MPs that such links could exist. They had to keep mum because they did not want to embarrass the prime minister. They also were under pressure from the Foreign Office not to upset Britain's relations with the US.

But the agencies, and MI6 in particular, were themselves vulnerable to allegations of "doctoring" or manipulating intelligence. The September dossier claimed that there was intelligence that Iraq "has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa".

The claim was seized on by the media. But investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear inspections body, soon discovered that documents purporting to show that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger were forged. Whitehall officials admit they were forged. Mr Blair, so far, has not.

The episode encouraged the scepticism of Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector, about intelligence he was given by western agencies during his visits to Iraq. Whitehall sources yesterday described the government's dossier as based on earlier information and reflecting a current view that, as one put it, the Iraqis "were up to something".

A source said: "It may take several months to decide what the Iraqis were doing". He added that something had to be found if only for political reasons - to support Mr Blair.

The issue presents the intelligence agencies with an important test of their credibility as well as the government's case for pre-emptive military action against Iraq, analysts said yesterday. That action was widely opposed in Whitehall.

Peter Hennessy, professor of modern history at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, and a close watcher of Whitehall said: "If ever we needed a vivid example to show the indispensability of politically neutral crown servants, this is it."


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