How 'patchy' intelligence became proof Saddam possessed WMD

Click to follow
Indy Politics



Mobile biological weapons laboratories

What Butler says: We consider that it was reasonable for the JIC to include in its assessments of March and September 2002 a reference to intelligence reports on Iraq's seeking mobile biological agent production facilities. But it has emerged that the intelligence from the source, if it had been correctly reported, would not have been consistent with a judgement that Iraq had, on the basis of recent production, stocks of biological agent. If SIS had had direct access to the source from 2000 onwards, and hence correct intelligence reporting, the main evidence for JIC judgements on Iraq's stocks of recently produced biological agent, as opposed to a break-out capacity, would not have existed.

What it means: The intelligence services made a hash of this: there was, in fact, no mass threat. Making a hash of it, though, meant that the spectre of Saddam was falsely inflated.

The 45-minute claim

What Butler says: The JIC should not have concluded the "45-minute" report in its assessment and in the Government's dossier without stating what it was believed to refer to. The fact that the reference in the classified assessment was repeated in the dossier later led to suspicions that it had been included because of its eye-catching character.

What it means: The 45-minute claim was added to make the case for war look better, and it was wrong to use it without making it clear that it never referred to anything more than battlefield munitions. Had it done so, of course, it would have underlined the fact that the threat to anyone outside the immediate battlefield in question was nil. That would have meant no arresting headlines, and, indeed, would have changed the whole way the nation perceived Saddam Hussein's potency.

Plague and dusty mustard

What Butler says: Plague and "dusty mustard" were just two of the many biological and chemical threats on which the intelligence community had to keep watch in the period before the 1991 Gulf war and subsequently. The intelligence on their availability to Iraq in 1990 and 1991 rested on a small number of reports and the evidence derived from the examination of munitions. There were grounds for scepticism both about the reports' sources and their quality. Nevertheless, we conclude that the Government was right in 1990 and 1991 to act on a precautionary basis. We find it harder to understand the treatment of their intelligence in the ensuing period. "Dusty mustard" disappears from JIC assessments from 1993 onwards. By contrast, although little new intelligence was received, and most of that was historical or unconvincing, plague continued to be mentioned in JIC assessments up to March 2003. Those fluctuated in the certainty of judgements about Iraqi possession of plague between "possibly" and "probably". We conclude that, in case of the plague, JIC assessments reflected historic evidence, and intelligence of dubious reliability, reinforced by suspicion of Iraq, rather than up-to-date evidence.

What it means: The evidence on plague and dusty mustard was old and unreliable. So why was it thrown in?

The Joint Intelligence Committee

What Butler says: We see a strong case for the post of chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee being held by someone with experience of dealing with ministers in a very senior role, and who is demonstrably beyond influence, and thus probably in his last post.

What it means: Without quite saying so, Lord Butler is suggesting that John Scarlett, whom he goes out of his way so strongly to endorse as the next chief of MI6, was not quite up to his current job as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. In a delicious moment at yesterday's understated press conference (pictured above), Lord Inge broke the silence of the other panel members to make clear that he believed PR and intelligence should be kept quite separate. A rather old-fashioned suggestion, it would appear.

Brian Jones

What Butler says: Dr Jones was right to raise concerns about the manner of expression of the "45-minute" report in the dossier, given the vagueness of the underlying intelligence. Dr Jones was right to raise concerns about the certainty of language used in the dossier on Iraqi production and possession of chemical agents. We recognise that circumstances arise in which it is right for senior officials to take a broad view that differs from the opinions of those with expertise on points of detail. We do not, however, consider the report held back from Dr Jones and his staff (which Dr Jones' superiors regarded as justifying the certainty of the language in the dossier) was one to which such considerations should have applied.

It was understandable that SIS should have wanted to give greater than normal protection to the human intelligence source on this occasion. But a problem arose because it was kept from the relevant DIS analysts who had a wider perspective. It would have been more appropriate for senior managers in the DIS and SIS to have made arrangements for the intelligence to be shown to DIS experts rather than making their own judgements on its significance.

What it means: Extra material which transformed the dossier in the days leading up to its publication on 24 September was withheld from the intelligence experts, Dr Jones and his team of analysts. This was a mistake and, guess what, it meant that the case for war, as it appeared, was stronger than it should have been.

Sources of intelligence

What Butler says: Validation of human intelligence after the war has thrown doubt on a high proportion of those sources and of their reports, and hence on the quality of the intelligence assessments received by ministers and officials in the period from the summer of 2002 to the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq.

What it means: An extremely serious charge. The so called top-secret sources used by MI6 to make a whole array of claims, from the 45 minutes to chemical weapons, proved to have been untrustworthy. Hearsay was presented as intelligence to show Saddam Hussein was a current and imminent threat. MI6 had to withdraw intelligence claims made by one of its main new sources after the dossier was published because it was so unreliable.

Aluminium tubes

What Butler says: The evidence we received on aluminium tubes was overwhelmingly that they were intended for rockets rather than a centrifuge. We found this convincing. Despite this, we conclude that the JIC was right to consider carefully the possibility that the tubes were evidence of a resumed nuclear programme, and that it properly reflected the doubts about the use of the tubes in the caution of its assessments. But in transferring its judgements to the dossier, the JIC omitted the important information about the need for substantial re-engineering of the aluminium tubes to make them suitable for use as gas centrifuge rotors. This omission had the effect of materially strengthening the impression that they may have been intended for a gas centrifuge and hence for a nuclear programme.

What it means: Again, an "omission" with the effect of boosting the case for war. The aluminium tubes in question, what were they? They were for use on the battlefield, and not for making a nuclear bomb.


MARCH 2002

Plan to produce a paper on the weapons capabilities of George Bush's so-called axis of evil is dropped, but it is decided that work on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction should continue, with a view to possible publication. The Joint Intelligence Committee at this time admits its knowledge of Saddam Hussein's arsenal is "sporadic and patchy".


After the Foreign Office sends its first draft to No 10 in June, and the JIC admits it has little knowledge of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, MI6 first comes up with raw intelligence on 45-minute claim. It later turns out that the key conduit of this claim was Iyad Allawi, now Iraq's interim Prime Minister.


Draft of dossier is sent to Mr Blair's director of communications, Alastair Campbell. He demands a "substantial rewrite ... as per TB's discussion". Separately, the Joint Intelligence Committee drafts its assessment of the 45-minute claim. Refers to "forward deployed sites".


The 45-minute claim makes its first appearance in new draft of dossier. Crucially, it cuts out reference to battlefield weapons, leaving an impression that it refers to strategic missiles instead. At this point, the JIC is admitting "intelligence remains limited".


Another draft of the dossier produced. The DIS discusses the new dossier in a "rushed" meeting. Brian Jones, head of WMD branch, and his chemical expert express concern over its contents. Several analysts say the 45-minute claim is "too strong". David Kelly, right, who is later to commit suicide fearing he is about to be unmasked as the BBC's source suggesting the dossier was "sexed-up", attends meeting and later advises on list of amendments to dossier. Mr Jones lists his concerns in a letter to his boss, P Roper, director of intelligence, science and technical. Mystery surrounds what Mr Roper, who was new to the job, did with the list. Jonathan Powell, the Downing Street chief of staff, e-mails Alastair Campbell: "Alastair, what will the headline in the [Evening] Standard be? What do we want it to be?"


Mr Scarlett forwards the finished dossier to Mr Campbell. Comments by Mr Jones and DIS not acted on. Mr Jones writes to complain formally to Tony Cragg, then deputy chief of defence intelligence.


Dossier is published. The foreword, by Mr Blair, contains the claim: "[Saddam's] military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them."

In contrast to the JIC's doubts just two weeks earlier, Mr Blair tells Parliament the threat is "serious and current". He says: "What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons."

This all needs to be the true picture, as believed at the time, for the war on Iraq to be legal. The story appears in the Evening Standard under the headline "45 minutes from attack". Neither the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, nor Mr Scarlett tries to correct the impression that the claim relates to long-range missiles. Nor do they when The Sun publishes a similar version the following day.


Second dossier on Saddam's regime is published. It is later revealed that key passages in it were copied from a PhD thesis that was 12 years old.


War begins. At about 02.30am (GMT), America launches its first series of air strikes on Iraq.


The first British soldier is killed in combat in Iraq; Sergeant Steven Mark Roberts, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was shot trying to calm rioting Iraqi civilians at Zubayr, near Basra, in southern Iraq.

So far, 60 British personnel have died, with more than 1,000 non-Iraqis killed, including more than 600 US servicemen. Although thousands of Iraqis have died in the war, the total is unknown. The Allies never bothered to count them.

14 JULY 2004:

No weapons of mass destruction were found, despite the Iraq Survey Group spending 15 months scouring the country.

Lord Butler produces his report with its tightly defined remit focusing on the quality of intelligence. He is specifically excluded from examining the role of politicians and the use they made of that intelligence. But his narrow terms of reference do not dissuade him from recommending that the imminent elevation of the JIC chairman John Scarlett to MI6 chief should go ahead. Compare and contrast with George Tenet, the CIA chief who has quit in the aftermath of America's similar massive intelligence failures.

Although couched in the language of the British establishment, Lord Butler demolishes the weapons dossier, which served two functions, giving the war legal legitimacy, and swinging a reluctant nation behind the war. It has since swung back.

Mr Blair, welcoming Lord Butler's report, shrugs off the doubts over WMD and focuses instead on regime change; broadly, he is unrepentant that Saddam is gone, an ends-justify-the-means argument. He hopes (again) to draw a line under the affair; two by-elections today are his first test of that approach.