Thursday, March 12, 2009

DIS (and anyone else!) memos FOI released

Page last updated at 18:07 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Inquiry calls over Iraq dossier

Documents showing intelligence chiefs were urged to make a key dossier on the Iraqi threat as "firm" as possible have led to new calls for a war inquiry.

Intelligence head Sir John Scarlett was pressed in an e-mail to make analysis of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as "authoritative" as he could.

Details of this e-mail were released under a freedom of information request.

The Conservatives said the evidence was "damaging", while the Lib Dems said it showed the UK was "duped" into the war.

Critics of the war say the dossier, published in late 2002 as US pressure on Iraq was growing, was "sexed up" to press the case for military action against Saddam Hussein.

The Cabinet Office said the documents had been made available to the Hutton and Butler inquiries which examined the government's use of intelligence in the run-up to the war.

"Lord Butler and Lord Hutton confirmed that all intelligence judgements were made solely by the Joint Intelligence Committee with no political interference," a spokesman said.

'Absolute clarity'

Other documents released on Thursday appear to highlight concerns within British intelligence agencies about the dossier and its claims about the advanced state of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capability.

The dossier, published in September 2002, contained the controversial claim that Iraq could use biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes of being ordered to do so.

As head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Sir John Scarlett - now head of M16 - was responsible for putting together the document - which the then prime minister Tony Blair used as part of his case for action against Iraq.

In an e-mail to Mr Scarlett on 11 September, Desmond Bowen - the then head of the Cabinet Office's defence secretariat - referred to a draft version of the dossier.

The e-mail was also sent to Alastair Campbell, No 10's Head of Communications, No 10 Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell and the prime minister's chief foreign policy adviser David Manning.

"In looking at the WMD sections, you clearly want to be as firm and authoritative as you can be," Mr Bowen wrote.

"You will need to judge the extent to which you need to hedge your judgements with, for example, 'it is almost certain' and similar caveats.

"I appreciate that this can increase the authenticity of the document in terms of it being a proper assessment but that needs to be weighed against the use that will be made by the opponents of action who will add up the number of judgements on which we do not have absolute clarity."


The dossier became the cause of a huge row between the BBC and Tony Blair's government following the invasion of Iraq and the failure to find WMD.

The Today programme's Andrew Gilligan reported that an unnamed senior official involved in drawing it up had told him parts of it - specifically a claim that Saddam could launch WMD at 45 minutes' notice - had been inserted against the wishes of the intelligence services even though the government "probably knew" the claim was wrong.

This led on to the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, the WMD specialist who killed himself just over a week after being named by the Ministry of Defence as the source for the BBC's report.

Lord Hutton's inquiry ruled that Mr Gilligan's report had been wrong because Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett had had ownership of the dossier and had agreed to everything included in it.

Lord Hutton also said the 45-minute claim - which was withdrawn 10 months later - was based on a report received by the intelligence services that they believed at the time to be reliable.

'Bolstering case'

Critics say too many caveats about Iraq's WMD capability were taken out of the final dossier to make the case for action against Saddam Hussein more convincing to the public.

"These minutes shed interesting light on the process by which the caveats in the Joint Intelligence Committee's original assessment of Iraq's WMD programme were stripped out of the dossier presented to Parliament and the British public," said shadow foreign secretary William Hague.

Reiterating his call for a full-scale inquiry into the origins of UK involvement in the invasion of Iraq, Mr Hague said there had a "steady stream of damaging revelations about the events leading up to the war".

For the Lib Dems, foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said the documents "confirm the widely held suspicions that leading officials and political advisers close to Tony Blair were deliberately tweaking the presentation of the intelligence to bolster the case for war on Iraq".

The government has always maintained Iraq was a serious threat and it believed at the time that it had WMD capability.

Other e-mails released on Thursday showed that certain intelligence officials complained of "iffy drafting" in the dossier.

In one e-mail, an unnamed official says: "I note that the paper suggests that Saddam's biotech efforts have gone much further than we ever feared."

The official then refers to the claim that Iraq had "assembled specialists to work on its nuclear programme" and added: "Dr Frankenstein, I presume?"

The Cabinet Office said it could not disclose which agencies the officials cited worked for but said they were in "sensitive posts".

The documents were released after Information Commissioner Richard Thomas backed an FOI request to publish them.

Intelligence agencies were concerned about Iraq WMD dossier, emails reveal

British intelligence agencies were concerned that the Government's notorious dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction exaggerated the threat, secret emails have revealed.

Last Updated: 2:03PM GMT 12 Mar 2009

The emails show officials complained the document suggested Saddam Hussein's biological warfare programme was more advanced than they actually believed was the case.

The officials also complained of "iffy drafting" and mocked the claims made about Iraq's nuclear programme, ironically suggesting Dr Frankenstein could have been recruited by Baghdad.

The Cabinet Office, which released the documents following a ruling by the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, would not say which agency the unnamed officials worked for, but confirmed they were in "sensitive posts".

The original FOI request asked for comments made by "the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) or anyone else" on one of the final drafts of the dossier.

The Hutton Inquiry heard evidence of the concerns within the DIS about the dossier and the content of the emails suggests the officials involved may have worked for the agency, which includes many technical experts.

One, dated September 16, states: "I note that the paper suggests that Saddam's biotech efforts have gone much further than we ever feared. Page 4 Bullet 4: '(Iraq) has assembled specialists to work on its nuclear programme' – Dr Frankenstein I presume? Sorry. It's getting late..."

Another email supports a proposed drafting amendment to the report, but adds wearily: "We have suggested moderating the same language in much the same way on drafts from the dim and distant past without success. Feel free to try again!"

Memo that told Blair aides Saddam Hussein posed no imminent threat

Paul Waugh


Intelligence experts explicitly warned Tony Blair's aides that Britain was not in "imminent danger of attack" from Saddam Hussein, a confidential memo revealed today.

The row over claims that the Government "spun" its way into war with Iraq is likely to be reignited after the release of the document by the Cabinet Office.

The memo, released after a long-running Freedom of Information battle, shows Mr Blair's officials knew seven years ago that the threat from Saddam was not immediate.

Despite the warning, the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction included a claim that Baghdad was ready to launch an attack within "45 minutes".

Lord Hutton cleared the Government in 2004 of the charge that it tried to manipulate intelligence to pave the way for war.

But today Whitehall released a memo from former Cabinet Office defence expert Desmond Bowen, who later won promotion to policy director at the Ministry of Defence, which shows he disagreed Saddam posed an immediate threat.

The September 2002 memo, written to then Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett and copied to Alastair Campbell, provides comments on an early draft of the government dossier on Iraq.

Mr Bowen wrote: "The question which we have to have in the back of our mind is 'why now?' I think we have moved away from promoting the idea that we are in imminent danger of attack and therefore intend to act in a pre-emptive self defence."

Another email published today underlines ministers' focus on how to get their message across in the media.

A memo from then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's office stresses the dossier had to be shown on the Sky News video "wall".

The email from Mr Straw's private secretary Mark Sedwill suggests the dossier needed a "very simple table".

Mr Sedwill wrote: "This should be brief enough to get onto the Sky wall ie no more than 5 bullets."

Another email, apparently from an intelligence official, says a part of the dossier on chemical and biological weapons would be "likely to give a misleading impression".

A further email, from unnamed officials, says "there is nothing we can point to that we know for sure is going to the BW [Biological Weapons] programme".

Mr Blair published the WMD dossier in September 2002, which critics believe paved the way for war the following spring.

An inquiry by Lord Butler found blunders in its compilation, with the "45 minutes" claim based on unreliable evidence.

A separate "dodgy dossier" was published in early 2003. It was discovered to have sections copied off the internet.


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