Hutton Report: Government not cleared
The Prime Minister must have thought that all his Christmases had come at once when he heard what was in the Hutton report.
He was cleared of the charge of including the 45-minute claim in the September dossier, knowing it to be “wrong”, as alleged by Andrew Gilligan on the Today programme on 29 May 2003. That was hardly a surprise, since he had already been cleared by the Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) in its report of 11 September 2003.
Not only that, Hutton declared that the dossier as a whole was not “sexed up”, by which he meant that it was not “embellished with items of intelligence known or believed to be false or unreliable to make the case against Saddam Hussein stronger” (Paragraph 228(8)).
On the basis of this, the Government declared itself completely innocent of all charges of mishandling the intelligence on Iraq’s so-called “weapons of mass destruction”, not just in the September dossier but in everything it said and wrote in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.
In announcing the Butler inquiry to the House of Commons on 3 February 2004, Jack Straw said that “the question of whether intelligence was mishandled in terms of propriety or dishonesty was dealt with comprehensively by Lord Hutton”, and the Government was declared innocent – and therefore that the Butler inquiry didn’t need to revisit that issue. The next day in the Lords, the Prime Minister’s old flatmate, the Lord Chancellor declared:
Hutton did not establish any such thing, nor did he say he had done, nor could he have done. He did say that the dossier was not “embellished with items of intelligence known or believed to be false or unreliable”. He also said:
“I am satisfied that Mr Scarlett, the other members of the JIC, and the members of the assessment staff engaged in the drafting of the dossier were concerned to ensure that the contents of the dossier were consistent with the intelligence available to the JIC.” (Paragraph 228(7)).
Perhaps, he was a tiny little bit naïve in believing that the dossier was intelligence-driven, rather than driven by the Prime Minister’s requirement that it be “convincing” (to quote from an e-mail from Campbell to Scarlett on 17 September 2002).
Be that as it may, he never said that Scarlett and his colleagues were successful in ensuring that the contents of the dossier were consistent with the intelligence. Plainly, they weren’t. We know that from last September’s ISC report, which detailed a number of serious flaws in how the intelligence was presented in the September dossier, including in the Prime Minister’s foreword.
Unlike Hutton, the ISC had access to all the relevant intelligence and therefore, unlike Hutton, it was in a position to judge whether the contents of the dossier was an accurate reflection of the available intelligence. And it found it wasn’t in a number of respects.
Have the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Chancellor forgotten about these flaws, which misled the Prime Minister, never mind the public?
Hutton did not have access to all the relevant intelligence, so there was no way he could have “established that the intelligence we had was properly presented in our dossier”, as the Lord Chancellor said he did.
The Government maintains that John Scarlett was the author of the dossier, and that it was approved by the JIC, and that they were free from political pressure in compiling it. Scarlett has confirmed that this was so. If so, he and the other members of the JIC should have resigned immediately the ISC report was published, because it proved they were grossly incompetent.
They produced a dossier that seriously misrepresented the intelligence available at the time, and exaggerated the threat from Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons. As a result, the public (and, we now know, the Prime Minister) was seriously misinformed on matters relating to peace and war. There could hardly be a more serious charge, yet these people, unlike Andrew Gilligan, are still in their highly paid jobs. They should go.
Of course, it may be that they were (subconsciously?) following orders from their political masters to make the dossier “convincing”. But, unless they are prepared to plead that defence, they should go, and go now.
What did the ISC say they got wrong? Specifically, the report was critical of the way the dossier presented:
The ISC said the authors of the dossier should have made clear that the 45-minute claim referred to battlefield weapons, not missiles capable of hitting Cyprus:
“The dossier was for public consumption and not for experienced readers of intelligence material. 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. As the 45 minutes claim was new to its readers, the context of the intelligence and any assessment needed to be explained. The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions 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.” (ISC report, paragraph 112)
Think of the difference it would have made if Scarlett and the JIC had made it clear that the 45-minute claim applied to battlefield weapons. First, the Prime Minister would not have been confused (at least not on the 45-minute claim). Second, it’s unlikely that the public would have been misled by lurid “Brits 45 minutes to doom” headlines, predicting the slaughter of British holidaymakers on beaches in Cyprus.
The September dossier made extravagant claims, not only that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and weapons-related material, and various delivery systems, left over from before the Gulf War, but also that it had re-established facilities to produce these weapons (and was trying to re-establish its nuclear weapons programme). So, it was not just a matter of getting rid of the remnants manufactured before the Gulf War: Iraq was producing more weapons today, and therefore the threat from Iraq was increasing all the time.
For example, there was a bald claim in Blair’s foreword that “Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons”. The ISC made it clear that this certainty was not justified by the intelligence. This could give the impression that “Saddam was actively producing both chemical and biological weapons and significant amounts of agents”, the report said (paragraph 110).
In fact, according to the ISC, the JIC did not know what agents had been produced and in what quantities, and what quantities, if any, had been put into weapons (in paragraph 58, the report says that “there was no evidence of munitions being filled with chemical agents since the first Gulf Conflict”). The JIC had merely assessed, based on intelligence, that production of some kind had taken place.
The ISC concluded that “this uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view of Saddam’s chemical and biological capacity”.
This failure to reflect in the dossier the almost non-existent intelligence of current production of agents and weapons is of major importance. If, as seems to be the case, Iraq did not revive its production of chemical and biological agents and weapons after the first Gulf War, then, in so far as there was a threat from Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons in 2002, it was from material left over from before the first Gulf War, and deemed “unaccounted for” by UN inspectors. In other words, the threat was not growing, as the Government maintained, but diminishing as the old material degraded into harmless sludge.
Few strategic weapons
The ISC report (paragraph 111) also criticised the dossier for not making it clear that the most likely chemical and biological munitions to be used against Western forces were battlefield weapons rather than strategic weapons, and that although there was a possibility that Cyprus could be hit, there was none at all that London could be hit.
The report revealed (paragraph 83) that the first draft of Blair’s foreword had said that Iraq could not hit London (at least not with a nuclear weapon). It contained the sentence:
“The case I make is not that Saddam could launch a nuclear attack on London or another part of the UK (He could not).”
That sentence did not appear in the published dossier. The ISC concluded:
“It was unfortunate that this point was removed from the published version of the foreword and not highlighted elsewhere.”
As for hitting Cyprus, Iraq had at most 20 al Hussein missiles capable of doing that. This was the number unaccounted for by UN inspectors. But, if they existed at all, they had been hidden away since 1991, and therefore there was a question mark over their operability.
The September dossier claimed (page 22) that Iraq had a variety of delivery systems for chemical and biological agents, including free-fall bombs delivered from aircraft and aircraft/helicopter-borne sprayers. But, given the US/UK domination of the skies over Iraq, the ISC says it would be “difficult” for munitions of any kind to be delivered from the air (ibid, paragraph 47). Nowhere, in the dossier was that made clear either.
The dossier didn’t come within an ass’s roar of accurately reflecting the intelligence as of September 2002. The ISC said so. And it’s a pound to a penny that, had Scarlett and the JIC produced one that did, it would never have seen the light of day, because it wouldn’t have been “convincing”.
If, as Scarlett says, he and the JIC were not subject to political pressure in drawing up the dossier, then the only possible conclusion is that they were grossly incompetent. They made a pig’s ear of a straightforward job of taking the JIC assessments about Iraq’s so-called “weapons of mass destruction” and turning them into a document that the public could understand.
Hutton did not challenge the ISC’s conclusions that the dossier was not an accurate reflection of the intelligence as of September 2002, let alone the reality in Iraq. Futhermore, he accepted that Scarlett and the JIC were free agents in its production. So, mass resignation is the only honourable course for them.
As it is required to do by law, the Government has now produced its official reply to the ISC report. It summarised the ISC’s criticisms in paragraph 12, dismissing them as details:
“[The ISC] believes (paragraphs 110 and 111) that the uncertainty over Saddam’s chemical and biological capacity should have been highlighted to give a balanced view; that the nature of the threat should have been more clearly spelt out, in particular that Saddam was not considered a current or imminent threat to mainland UK; and that the most likely chemical and biological munitions to be used against Western forces were battlefield weapons (artillery and rockets) rather than strategic weapons. The Committee also notes (paragraph 112) that, as the dossier was for public consumption and not for experienced readers of intelligence material, the context of the intelligence on the 45 minutes claim should have been explained, in particular the fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield.”
The Government’s response in the following paragraph was:
“The Government believes that the dossier did present a balanced view of Iraq’s CBW capability based on the intelligence available.”
That is a pathetic failure to address the ISC’s closely argued criticisms. This was followed by:
“The dossier made clear (paragraph 14, page 16) that the withdrawal of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) had greatly diminished the ability of the international community to monitor and assess Iraq’s continued efforts to reconstitute its programmes.”
That’s beside the point. The ISC did not criticise the lack of intelligence, or the inaccuracy of the intelligence as of September 2002. It criticised the fact that the dossier did not reflect accurately the intelligence that did exist.
It’s a bit rich for the Government to be lamenting the lack of intelligence from Iraq since UNSCOM was withdrawn. The dearth of intelligence was self-inflicted: Clinton and Blair were personally responsible for it by bombing Iraq in December 1998. UNSCOM (and IAEA) inspectors had to be withdrawn for their own safety. The bombing, and the withdrawal of the inspectors, was done without the consent of the Security Council.
(It is interesting to note that the Government response refers to the “withdrawal” of UNSCOM from Iraq, unlike the dossier which talks about “the effective ejection of UN inspectors” in December 1998).
Paragraph 14 says:
“The dossier did not seek to address military scenarios in which Saddam Hussein might consider the use of CBW.”
The obvious question is: why did it not seek to do so and how could it provide adequate information to the public about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons without doing so? A key question always was: in what circumstances would Saddam Hussein use his chemical and biological weapons, assuming he had some to use? In particular, would he use them only if his regime was threatened?
In fact, as revealed by the Hutton inquiry, earlier drafts of the dossier did “seek to address military scenarios in which Saddam Hussein might consider the use of CBW”, and gave the strong impression that he would use them only if his regime was under threat. However, understandably, the Prime Minister had “a bit of a problem” with that, since it gave the politically inconvenient impression that Saddam would only use chemical and biological weapons if attacked. And, at the request of his Chief of Staff, Scarlett excised that bit (having reviewed the intelligence, of course).
So, it cannot be denied that:
“The dossier did not seek to address military scenarios in which Saddam Hussein might consider the use of CBW.”
The Prime Minister insisted that it be so, because otherwise the dossier would have had to admit the obvious fact that Saddam Hussein would be much more likely to use any chemical and biological weapons in his possession if he was attacked than if he was left alone. And there’s only one conclusion from that, and it’s not that we should invade Iraq.
Paragraph 14 continues:
“[The dossier] accurately reflected the intelligence available at the time, which indicated that Iraq could deliver CBW by a variety of means including battlefield munitions, such as artillery, mortars and rockets, as well as by ballistic missiles. It did not seek to address which method of delivery Iraq was most likely to use.”
Again, the obvious question is: why not? Iraq had thousands of battlefield weapons, capable theoretically of projecting munitions filled with chemical and biological agents, and at most 20 al-Hussein ballistic missiles capable of hitting Cyprus. Isn’t it just possible that the public would have been better informed if, as the ISC suggested, the dossier has made it clear that the most likely chemical and biological munitions to be used against Western forces were battlefield weapons rather than strategic weapons?
Of course, had it done so, the public might have come to the politically inconvenient conclusion that providing British forces stayed away from Iraq, they would most likely be safe from Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons.
In Paragraph 15 the Government responds to the ISC’s criticism that the dossier should have made it clear that the 45-minute claim applied to battlefield weapons. It says:
“The Government understands the reasoning behind the Committee’s view (paragraph 112) that the presentation of the 45 minutes issue in the dossier, which was compiled for the public and not for experienced readers of intelligence material, allowed speculation as to its exact meaning. However, the Government notes that the dossier did not say that Iraq could deliver chemical or biological weapons by ballistic missiles within 45 minutes.”
Indeed, and nor did it say that the claim referred to battlefield weapons, which – let’s take this very slowly – was the reason why there was speculation, and why the Prime Minister got confused.
In fact, Downing Street did much better than saying in the dossier that Iraq could deliver chemical or biological weapons by ballistic missiles within 45 minutes - it sub-contracted the job to the Sun.
Paragraphs 20-21 deal with intelligence assessments from October 2002 to March 2003, which were concerned with the inhibiting effects of UN inspections on the production and storage of chemical and biological agents and munitions. In its original report, the ISC referred to JIC assessments from this period, which indicated that the presence of UNMOVIC and IAEA was having such effect. In its response, the Government agrees:
“The Government accepts that the inhibiting effect of the UN inspections was relevant and takes careful note of the Committee’s findings. The JIC Assessments produced in October and December 2002 and again in March 2003 reflected this point. In December 2002 the JIC specifically pointed out that Iraq’s ability to use CBW might be constrained by the difficulty of producing more whilst UN inspectors were present. In March 2003 it stated that intelligence on the timing of when Iraq might use CBW was inconsistent and that the intelligence on deployment was sparse. Intelligence indicating that chemical weapons remained disassembled and that Saddam had not yet ordered their assembly was highlighted. The JIC also pointed out that other intelligence suggested that the 750km range Al Hussein ballistic missiles remained disassembled and that it would take several days to assemble them once orders to do so had been issued.”
That blows a very large hole in the Government’s case for terminating the inspection process, and invading Iraq in March last year. Understandably, the Prime Minister chose to keep the House of Commons in the dark about the inhibiting effects of inspections when it voted for the invasion on 18 March 2003.
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