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Iraq's WMD: The big lie?

The justification for War
With the resignation of David Kay from the Iraq Survey Group, the pressure could not be greater on Blair to explain where he got the idea that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

By Neil Mackay

You'd be forgiven for thinking that David Kay was personally out to get Tony Blair. On Wednesday, when the Hutton report is published, the question everyone will want to know is did Blair and his Cabinet lie about the threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD)?

The answer according to Kay, who resigned last week as head of the Iraq Survey Group, which had the job of finding WMD, is that there aren't any, and none have been manufactured since 1991. For Blair, his statement was the equivalent of slashing a boxer's achilles tendons minutes before he gets into the ring for the fight of his life.

What Kay has concluded after nine futile months seems to tally with the overall gist of Andrew Gilligan's broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme when he reported that the government had "sexed up" the case for war. So the key question now is: was Blair given unreliable and over-egged information by the intelligence services, or rather did he have the intelligence services "sex-up" or selectively cherry-pick information to suit his case for war?

In answer to this question, the Sunday Herald has heard from dozens of senior members of the intelligence community who passed their views on to us through a highly-respected go-between involved with British intelligence.

The views include those from:

l The Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), which helped supply intelligence for Blair's disputed September 2002 WMD dossier;

l The Joint Intelligence Organisation, which includes John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) – the body which liaises between the intelligence services and the government and which was supposed to have sole control of the drafting of the dossier – and the JIC's support staff;

l And MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, the main agency responsible for gathering the intelligence which went into the dossier.

The Sunday Herald has been told that the reason the intelligence community wants to speak out now is to get their defence in first before the expected attack from politicians.

They know that Lord Hutton will apportion blame to the Ministry of Defence, Number 10, Blair's former spin-doctor-in-chief Alastair Campbell, the BBC, its reporter Andrew Gilligan and even Dr David Kelly. And when that happens, the politicians, keen to save their jobs and reputations, will try to blame the intelligence community for giving them duff information.

This is not a mea culpa from the intelligence community, instead it is a warning that they are not prepared to be the whipping boy for the failure to prove the case for war, the death of David Kelly and the quagmire that the government is now in over the lack of WMD in Iraq.

The key points the intelligence community now wants placing on the record are:

Firstly, there was a problem with Iraq, particularly over the interpretation of the WMD issue. Many said they had been openly sceptical about the presence of WMD in Iraq for years. There was a systematic failure, they believe, in the way intelligence was interpreted. This was because they were under pressure to provide the government with what it wanted, namely that Iraq possessed WMD and that it posed a clear and present danger.

Secondly, they say intelligence was "cherry-picked" about Iraq: that damning intelligence against Iraq was selectively chosen, whilst intelligence assessments, which might have worked against the build-up to war, were sidelined. The government was looking for anything that would cast Iraq in a negative light.

Thirdly, they claim that a political agenda had crept into the work of the intelligence community and they found themselves in the position of taking orders from politicians. When asked if direct lies were told to the British public, the answer was that the intelligence they supplied was one- sided and produced on demand to politicians.

Fourthly, the intelligence community got into the habit of making worst-case scenarios and these were used to make factual claims by politicians. The intelligence community accepts that intelligence was used for political ends. But they also understand that intelligence is not supposed to help politicians justify their actions as that distorts the nature of what intelligence work is about.

While they believe they are not in the firing line over Hutton, they also realise that they are going to have to think long and hard about the future of British intelligence. They stressed that they accepted that there would be changes in the way British intelligence operates, adding that they wanted changes in order to maintain their integrity.

The intelligence officers seemed justified in getting their first strike in when, on Friday night, Donald Anderson, a Labour loyalist and chair of the foreign affairs committee, attacked British intelligence in the wake of the resignation of David Kay. Anderson admitted that it looked "increasingly forlorn" that any WMD stockpiles would be found . When asked, however, if he thought this was a failure by politicians or by the intelligence services, he said: "I think more likely the latter. Remember that both the President and the Prime Minister relied on the intelligence that was available. And indeed the world community appeared to accept this because in the UN Security Council resolution 1441 on November 8 it was accepted that Saddam Hussein was a danger to world peace, he was ordered effectively to co-operate, he did not co-operate and it seems now rather puzzling that if it be the case, as it is likely, that there was no such weapons available, that he did not put his hands up immediately. This does raise very important questions about the quality of that intelligence."

Does it raise a question about the intelligence service or does it actually raise questions about the politicians who were forcing the intelligence services to jump through hoops and spin the facts on matters of national and international security? What the large group of intelligence officers who passed their feelings to the Sunday Herald say is not entirely new. It is potentially crippling for Blair given the timing of their comments, but the concept that politicians were ordering that intelligence be twisted for political ends regarding Iraq has been aired before.

In fact, in June last year the Sunday Herald revealed that Britain ran a covert "dirty tricks"operation designed specifically to produce misleading intelligence that Saddam had WMD in order to give the UK an excuse to wage war on Iraq.

Scott Ritter, the former UN chief weapons inspector and US military intelligence officer, said that Operation Rockingham was established by the Defence Intelligence Staff – a part of the intelligence service involved in the compilation of the September 2002 dossier on Iraqi WMD – within the Ministry of Defence in 1991. It was set up to "cherry-pick" intelligence proving an active Iraqi WMD programme and to ignore and quash intelligence which indicated that Saddam's stockpiles had been destroyed or wound down.

When Kay resigned on Friday, he left with this parting shot: "I don't think they (WMD) existed. What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War and I don't think there was a large-scale production programme in the 1990s."

The day before, US Vice-President Dick Cheney was still claiming that Saddam had been a legitimate threat. "We know … that prior to our going in that [Saddam] had spent time and effort acquiring mobile biological weapons labs," Cheney said, reiterating a long-discredited claim that military trailers found in Iraq were mobile bio-weapons labs. In fact, the labs were, according to British weapons experts who examined them, used for producing hydrogen to fill artillery balloons.

The man appointed by the CIA to replace Kay, Charles Duelfer, a former UN weapons inspector, said earlier this month that he did not believe banned weapons would ever be found. Still the British and US administrations are sticking to their claims. White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said: "We remain confident that the Iraq Survey Group will uncover the truth about Saddam's regime, the regime's weapons of mass destruction."

A spokesman for Tony Blair said: "It is important people are patient and we let the Iraq Survey Group do its work. There is still more work to be done and we await the findings of that. But our position is unchanged."

Few are buying these claims. John Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said: "It increasingly appears that our intelligence was wrong about Iraq's weapons, and the administration compounded that mistake by exaggerating the nuclear threat and Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda. As a result, the United States is paying a very heavy price."

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram says Kay's resignation and comments "raise very serious questions about the Prime Minister and why he told us what he did last year and after the war about WMD. It is important if we are to be able to rely … on the word of the prime minister in relation to intelligence, that we now find out what the basis of his comments were, and we need a public inquiry to do that." The LibDem foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell added: "It is pretty extraordinary that first Hans Blix … David Kay and now David Kay's successor have all effectively said the same thing. There needs to be an inquiry to consider whether we went to war on a flawed prospectus."

So, just as Hutton is about to announce the findings of his investigation, there is a rising clamour for yet another inquiry – this time not dealing with the death of just one whistle-blowing government scientist, but rather with the deaths of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children and hundreds of American and British troops.

FOUR QUESTIONS

FOR HUTTON

must answer

1Did the government ‘sex up' the September 24 dossier justifying war against Saddam Hussein?

We know the document was changed by John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, at the suggestion of Blair's spin-meister Alastair Campbell and other aides. Campbell suggested 15 changes, including one to a passage claiming Iraq "may be able" to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, which he described as "weak". Scarlett changed it to "are able to".

2 Did the BBC Today reporter Andrew Gilligan exaggerate comments made by Kelly and was the BBC wrong in standing by them?

It is not clear whether Kelly specifically blamed Campbell for inserting the 45-minute claim, as Gilligan claimed. It is known that BBC executives had reservations about Gilligan's use of language and that the board of governors defended the report without knowing of those reservations. However, it is also clear that most of the claims in Gilligan's report have been shown to be true.

3 Was David Kelly given adequate protection by his superiors after he told them he had talked to Gilligan?

Richard Hatfield, MoD personnel director, said he had given "outstanding support" to Kelly. Kelly himself told journalist Nick Rufford that he had been "put through the wringer" by Hatfield and other MoD officials. It's clear that while Kelly had been warned that the media were likely to name him as Gilligan's source, he was not told that a decision had been taken to confirm his name to any journalist who put it to the MoD.

4 Who was responsible for the strategy of confirming Kelly as Gilligan's source?

Campbell and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon wanted his name out. Sir Kevin Tebbit, the MoD's most senior civil servant, told the inquiry the PM approved the strategy . Blair had earlier denied authorising Kelly's naming but later said he took ‘‘full responsibility'' for the government's decisions.

25 January 2004