Intelligence worries vindicated as MPs put dossier under the microscope

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NIGER

The ISC report disclosed that MI6 is still investigating the claim that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium for its nuclear programme from the west African state of Niger.

The chief of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, told the ISC that the information had come from two sources, one of them based on documentary evidence. The electronic "listening" agency GCHQ had also picked up some information about an Iraqi official visiting the country.

However in February, the International Atomic Energy Authority said that documents which it had received relating to the claim were forgeries.

MI6 was still investigating whether the documents it received were also false, although it was standing by the claim in the dossier as it still believed that its other source was reliable. The ISC concludes that "it is reasonable" to back MI6 and the Government on this point.

VERDICT

The ISC ignores the fact that the CIA warned the UK that the Niger claim was "not credible". It gives the Government and MI6 the benefit of the doubt about the mystery source for the claim. The committee appears weak in taking at face value such claims, particularly when they caused such embarrassment to President George Bush.

SADDAM'S INTENT

The ISC reveals that a JIC assessment on 9 September 2002 stated that Saddam Hussein would use WMD if threatened. "If faced with the likelihood of military defeat and removal from power, he would be unlikely to be deterred from using chemical and biological weapons by any diplomatic or military means."

A further JIC assessment on 27 November went further, stating that Saddam was prepared to order WMD missile strikes against Israel if Iraq was invaded. It said that the Iraqi dictator would use chemical or biological weapons if coalition forces approached Baghdad, if Basra, Kirkuk or Mosul fell, or if the Iraqi army rebelled.

The ISC concluded: "We note that the JIC continued to assess that Saddam had the firm intention to use CBW in the event of a conflict. It is a matter of record that no chemical or biological weapons were used."

VERDICT

In the end, Saddam did not launch any CBW strikes and only fired some al-Samoud missiles at Kuwait. The JIC's intelligence and assessment looks completely inaccurate.

PRODUCTION OF CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL AGENTS AND WEAPONS

In his foreword to the September dossier, Mr Blair stated as fact that Iraq "has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons". The ISC says that the use of the phrase, together with an absence of detail in the executive summary and main text, "could give the impression that Saddam was actively producing both chemical and biological weapons and significant amounts of agents. However the JIC did not know what had been produced and in what quantities - it had assessed, based on intelligence, that production had taken place. We believe that this uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view of Saddam's chemical and biological capacity."

The ISC reveals that by 9 September 2002 the JIC concluded that Iraq had both chemical and biological weapons capable of mounting "focused strikes" against strategic targets such as Israel or Kuwait. However the assessment did not say when the production of the weapons was supposed to have taken place, whether pilot batches of agents or weapons had been produced to test their capability, or whether full-scale production had occurred. There was "insufficient intelligence".

VERDICT

The dossier's claim about production of CBW worried Dr Brian Jones, a senior MoD intelligence officer, so much he wrote a formal minute to complain. Dr Jones told the Hutton inquiry that his own chemical weapons expert was furious at the claim. "The absence of CW agent production ... worried us. We had not seen the weapons being produced. We had no evidence of any recent testing or field trials and things like that. So that all cast some doubts in our mind on that particular piece of intelligence," Dr Jones said. The ISC's finding vindicates the worries of Dr Jones and his team.

TERRORISM

The ISC reveals the extraordinary advice given by the JIC on 10 February in a document titled "International Terrorism: War with Iraq".

"The JIC reported that there was no intelligence that Iraq had provided CB [chemical or biological] materials to al-Qa'ida or of Iraqi intentions to conduct CB terrorist attacks using Iraqi intelligence officials or their agents," the ISC states. "However, it judged that in the event of imminent regime collapse there would be a risk of transfer of such material, whether or not as a deliberate Iraqi regime policy.

"The JIC assessed that al-Qa'ida and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq. "The JIC assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, not necessarily al-Qa'ida."

Tony Blair himself told the committee: "One of the most difficult aspects of this is that there was obviously a danger that in attacking Iraq you ended up provoking the very thing you were trying to avoid.

"On the other hand, I think you had to ask the question, 'Could you really, as a result of that fear, leave the possibility that in time this developed into a nexus between terrorism and WMD ...'

"This is where you've just got to make your judgement about this. But this is my judgement and it remains my judgement and I suppose time will tell whether it's true or it's not true."

VERDICT

The advice to Mr Blair from the JIC exposes the intelligence community's long-held belief that al-Qa'ida is more of a threat to the UK than Iraq. But it also reveals that the Prime Minister was explicitly warned weeks before the war that any conflict could increase the threat posed by Osama bin Laden.

Mr Blair's failure to tell Parliament about such advice leaves him dangerously exposed. It makes a mockery of his own claim to the Commons on 18 March that the possibility of Saddam and al-Qa'ida coming together "is now a real and present danger to Britain".

UN WEAPONS INSPECTORS

The ISC reveals that a final JIC assessment on 19 March, on the eve of the coalition invasion, said that a report from a reliable source had indicated that Iraq's chemical weapons remained disassembled and that Saddam had not ordered their assembly. It also stated that Iraq "might lack warheads capable of effective dispersal of such agents".

"It is reasonable to assume [the UN inspectors] would have had some inhibiting effect on any production and storage of chemical and biological agents and munitions. We do not consider this was fully reflected in the JIC assessments, nor was it reflected in the February 2003 dossier."

VERDICT

It is clear that as late as 19 March, the UN inspectors were succeeding in containing Saddam. The suspicion will remain that the JIC and Mr Blair failed to point out such intelligence because it would undermine the case for war.

45 MINUTES THREAT

The most alarming claim made in the September dossier - that Saddam could launch chemical and biological attacks within 45 minutes - was intrinsically misleading, the ISC report shows.

The report concluded: "The 45 minutes claim, included four times, was always likely to attract attention because it was arresting detail that the public had not seen before.

"The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological weapons and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier. The omission of the context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning. This was unhelpful to an understanding of this issue.

"That the Iraqis could use chemical or biological battlefield weapons rapidly had already been established in previous conflicts and the reference to the 20-45 minutes in the JIC assessment added nothing fundamentally new to the UK's assessment of the Iraqi battlefield capability. Additionally, the JIC assessment did not precisely reflect the intelligence provided by the SIS [MI6].

"The JIC did not know precisely which munitions could be deployed from where to where and the context of the intelligence was not included in the JIC assessment. This omission was then reflected in the 24 September dossier."

Asked whether it was disingenuous of the Government to have presented the "45 minutes threat" in that fashion in the dossier, the MP James Arbuthnot, speaking for the committee, said they would not use a word as strong as "disingenuous".

VERDICT

The "45 minutes" allegation was juxtaposed in the dossier alongside details about al-Hussein II missiles which, with their range of 660km (410 miles), could hit British bases in Cyprus. This was crucial in buttressing the government claim that Iraq was a direct threat to British citizens.

However the committee points out that the 45 minutes allegation, which came to MI6 second-hand from a single source, related not to strategic missiles like al-Hussein at all, but limited-range battlefield weapons such as artillery and mortars and short-range rockets.

The report points out that there was nothing new in these claims of Iraq's ability to use chemical or biological weapons in such limited capacity.

SADDAM THREAT

The ISC report states in two separate sections that Saddam was not a current or imminent threat to mainland UK. This was actually stated in a draft of the dossier, but then taken out of the version published on 24 September.

The report said: "Saddam was not considered a current or imminent threat to mainland UK, nor did the dossier say so. The first draft of the Prime Minister's foreword contained the following sentence: 'The case I made is not that Saddam could launch a nuclear attack on London or another part of the UK (he could not) ...'

"This shows that the Government recognised that the nature of the threat that Saddam posed was not directly to mainland UK. It was unfortunate that this point was removed from the published version of the foreword and not highlighted elsewhere."

The report repeated the lack of immediate threat to this country. "Saddam was not considered a current or imminent threat to mainland UK, nor did the dossier say so.

"As we said in our analysis of the JIC assessments, the most likely chemical and biological munitions to be used against western forces were battlefield weapons(artillery and rockets), rather than strategic weapons."

VERDICT

The alleged current and imminent threat posed by Saddam was central to the decision to go to war rather than let the United Nations inspectors continue with their work. The revelation that an admission - that it was not a current and imminent threat - was taken out of the published dossier is a serious charge against the Government.

DISSENT

The failure of Geoff Hoon and Ministry of Defence officials to reveal dissent within the intelligence community over the Iraq weapons dossier led to the strongest criticism of all from the ISC.

The report stated that the committee was "disturbed" by Mr Hoon failing to set down these concerns in a letter to the committee, and the actions of his department on this matter were "unhelpful and potentially misleading".

Dr Brian Jones, then head of the scientific division of the Defence Intelligence Analysis Staff, an expert on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and a colleague who is the foremost authority on chemical weapons in the country, had written official letters of complaint about the dossier. In particular they were deeply sceptical of the claim, second-hand, from a single source, that Saddam could launch chemical and biological attacks within 45 minutes.

This was known to Mr Hoon when he appeared before the committee on 22 July. However, the report stated: "The Defence Secretary told us that 'there had been a dispute' in the context of the 45 minutes claim about whether it was better to say that the intelligence was 'showing' or 'indicating'.

"The Defence Secretary did not tell us that two members of the DIS had written with concerns. Nor did his officials, even when pressed on the matter, after the Defence Secretary had left."

The ISC was subsequently informed about the letters of complaint by Dr Jones and his colleague by Martin Howard, the deputy chief of Defence Intelligence. The report stated: "These letters had also been copied to the then DCDI, but not to the Defence Secretary or the JIC chairman."

The ISC was so concerned that they recalled Mr Hoon for further questioning. Before this appearance, the Defence Secretary supplied the committee with copies of the letters. In his evidence, he claimed that the letters "were not regarded by the DIS [Defence Intelligence Staff] as representing formal complaints about the text used in the draft dossier as the drafting process was, at the time, still continuing.

"We regard the initial failure by the MoD to disclose that some staff had put their concerns in writing to their line managers as unhelpful and potentially misleading. This is not excused by the genuine belief within the DIS that the concerns had been expressed as part of the normal lively debate that often surrounds draft JIC assessments within the DIS.

"We are disturbed that after the first evidence session, which did not cover all the concerns raised by the DIS staff, the Defence Secretary decided against giving instructions for a letter to be written to us outlining the concerns."

The committee, however, failed to take evidence from the two DIS members. The report stated: "We were told that there was further intelligence of a nature so sensitive that it was only released on a very restricted basis. We have seen that intelligence and understand the basis on which the CDI [chief of Defence Intelligence] and JIC took the view they did."

The CDI, Air Marshal Sir Joe French, told the committee: "For each paper I would have the range of specialists who have been involved in them, obviously splitting hairs on particular words. But ultimately, putting 45 minutes in a military context when this was going through, I had to make a corporate decision on which draft we would actually live with. So the fact that this discussion goes on was just a weekly event as far as I was concerned - lively debate within the DIS."

VERDICT

Although the ISC is critical of the failure by Mr Hoon and his senior officials to be candid about the two letters of protest, the report does not really address the crucial point of widespread dissension within the intelligence community.

The ISC only found out about the disquiet in the ranks because of the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly. It was at the inquiry that the seniority of those unhappy with the dossier, such as Dr Jones, emerged for the first time. These officials were deeply sceptical of the claim from MI6 that their single source for the 45 minutes claim was credible.

Dr Jones pointed out at the Hutton inquiry that the information had actually come second-hand, and that the original informant could not give basic details about whether the threat was from chemical or biological weapons, as well as the suspicion that he may have been trying to influence British intelligence rather than inform.

The committee claimed yesterday that the single source was suddenly supported by fresh intelligence so rare that only the heads of the services were allowed to see it. This has now been disclosed to the MPs in the committee, but not senior officials in the intelligence community. The very fact that the ISC has in effect dismissed the 45-minutes claim indicates that this second piece of intelligence was also less than credible.

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