Saturday, September 06, 2003

The Americans and the British used different mechanisms to create the sets of lies which were presented to their respective countries and which served as the justification for the attack on Iraq. We have seen how the Bush neocons used the Office of Special Plans to isolate the Iraqi defector lies from the scrutiny of real intelligence experts in the CIA or DIA. In Britain, the procedure was somewhat different. The trick was to create the illusion that the 'dodgy dossier' which served as the justification for the war was totally the creation of the joint intelligence committee (JIC) chaired by John Scarlett, and thus had the benefit of being the creation of intelligence experts supposedly untainted by political concerns. Both Blair and Campbell have insisted that the JIC had 'ownership' of the dossier, and that Blair was effectively just the messenger for the objective intelligence information contained in the dossier. As the Guardian reports, it appears that the reality was quite different than the testimony of both Blair and Campbell. Treasury solicitors (who are handling the legal presentation of the government's case) have at the last minute released a memo of minutes dated September 18 of a meeting chaired by John Scarlett in September 2002, together with an unconvincing cover letter trying to explain why this document has been withheld until now. The minutes, together with the testimony of Blair, Campbell, and Dr. Jones, make it clear what actually happened:

  1. The minutes say, under the heading 'Ownership of the dossier', "Ownership lay with No. 10". The cover letter said:

    "I have spoken to John Scarlett about the reference to ownership of the Dossier. He has confirmed that he had ownership of the Dossier until the approved text was handed to No 10 on 20 September. Thereafter, arrangements for publication and presentation to Parliament were the responsibility of No 10."

  2. Dr Brian Jones said (here, at section 128, lines 7 to 14):

    "The impression I had was that on about 19th September, as it may have been the 20th September, as it were, the shutters were coming down on this particular paper, that the discussion and the argument had been concluded. And it was the impression that I had, at that time, that our reservations about the dossier were not going to be reflected in the final version."

  3. Alastair Campbell said (here, at section 11, lines 5 to 11):

    "The decision was taken, either at that meeting or certainly by the 9th, that John Scarlett, I think if we go on to the 9th, I mean he talked about - he used the word 'ownership', that John Scarlett felt he ought to have ownership of the dossier. And I emphasised, and this was spelt out in the minute that I circulated following these meetings - "

    and (section 11, lines 17 to 21):

    " I emphasised that the credibility of this document depended fundamentally upon it being the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee; and that was the touchstone of our approach right through this from that moment."

    and (section 16, lines 12 to 18):

    ". . . at one point I offered John Scarlett, a member of my staff, if he wanted it to help him write it. John Williams was volunteering for the job; so was somebody else at the Foreign Office. John Scarlett was absolutely clear the word was 'ownership', he wanted ownership of the dossier and the best way to have that was to write it."

    and, referring to an agreement made at a meeting on September 9, 2002 (sextion 19, lines 17 to 19):

    "The agreement was that John Scarlett would be in sole charge of the writing of the dossier and that we, at No. 10, would give him whatever support he asked for."

    and referring to a memorandum dated September 9 from Campbell to Scarlett (section 21, lines 3 to 15):

    "The purpose of the memorandum is to ensure that everybody on that copy list, which basically means anybody of significance to this process in all of the relevant Government departments and all of the agencies, understands that this is a new project and that it is being led and directed by John Scarlett, and the JIC. And I make the point that the work - that its credibility depends fundamentally upon that. It also makes the point that it is a new dossier, and I say: 'Therefore, the rush of comments on the old dossier are not necessary or totally relevant. People should wait for the new one, which will be more detailed and substantial.'"

  4. Tony Blair said (here, section 4, lines 1 to 5):

    ". . . it had to be a document that was owned by the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Chairman, John Scarlett. That was obviously important because we could not produce this as evidence that came from anything other than an objective source."

    and (sections 5 to 7):

    ". . . it was important that it made the best case that we could make subject, obviously, to it being owned by the Joint Intelligence Committee and that the items of intelligence should be those that the agencies thought could and should be included. So if you like it was a process in which they were in charge of this, correctly, because it was so important to make sure that no-one could question the intelligence that was in it as coming from the genuine intelligence agencies, but obviously I mean I had to present this to Parliament. I was going to make a statement. Parliament was going to be recalled. We were concerned to make sure that we could produce, within the bounds of what was right and proper, the best case.

    LORD HUTTON: So you would agree, Prime Minister, that the wording that 'No. 10 through the Chairman want the document to be as strong as possible within the bounds of available intelligence' is a fair way of putting your view and the view of your staff in No. 10?

    A. Provided that is clearly understood as meaning that it is only if the intelligence agencies thought both that the actual intelligence should be included and that there was not improper weight being given to any aspect of that intelligence. In other words, given that the process was that they had to decide what it was we could properly say, then obviously we wanted to - we had to make this case because this was the case that we believed in and this was the evidence that we had, because all of this stuff was obviously stuff that had come across my desk.

    LORD HUTTON: And that is conveyed by the words 'as strong as possible within the bounds of available intelligence'?

    A. Yes"

    and (section 14, lines 5 to 8):

    "Q. Were you aware at the time about any unhappiness amongst members of the Intelligence Services with the process by which the dossier was being produced?

    A. Absolutely not, no."

    and (sections 17 and 18):

    "Can I just emphasise again, the whole purpose of having the JIC own this document was in order to provide the absolute clarity and certainty - whatever discussions were going on as to how you presented it - that in the end they were perfectly happy with this. And I think it was - it was certainly part of our conversation in the early December period that for very, very obvious reasons it was essential that anything that we said in the course of my statement or in the dossier we could hand on heart say: this is the assessment of the Joint Intelligence Committee."

Blair and Campbell had a problem. They needed a dossier sufficiently strong to monger a war on Iraq, but lacked objective intelligence evidence to justify this war. Unlike the Americans, they did not have a constant source of lies from Iraqi defectors and dissidents to construct their fables about Iraq (I would really like to see the communications between Blair and Bush on how their joint propaganda campaign was going to work). Blair needed the dossier to appear to be objective, so he had it written by Scarlett, representing an objective intelligence point of view. The problem was that Scarlett had to run things by a group of tough-minded experts, including David Kelly, and these experts would take out all the good parts that Blair would need in order to have his war. The strategy was for Scarlett to write drafts taking comments from both the politicians and the intelligence experts. However, on the critical issues, particularly concerning chemical and biological weapons and the 45-minute claim, he would delay incorporating the objections and comments of the experts. They were led to believe that the process was ongoing, and these comments would appear in later drafts. Suddenly, at exactly the time when the dossier appeared in the form that the politicians felt they needed to justify a war, the shutters came down. 'Ownership' of the dossier transferred immediately to Blair's office, and it became frozen at that point, without benefit of some of the most important comments by the experts. This bit of trickery allowed Blair and Campbell to maintain the lie that the dossier was completely the product of intelligence experts, while at the same time ensuring that the experts didn't remove the parts that Blair felt he needed to lie to the British people about Iraq. It is an impressive bit of misdirection. David Kelly's objections to the dodgy process which resulted in the dodgy dossier effectively led to his death