June 10, 2003
Key Watergate figure John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, has drawn much attention in the last few days by writing that, “In the three decades since Watergate, this [problem of possibly doctored intelligence on Iraq] is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison. If the Bush Administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be ‘a high crime’ under the Constitution’s impeachment clause.” (Dean has even appeared on MSNBC television arguing along these lines, although the interviewer seemed skeptical and pointedly reminded him how popular the president is.)
If indeed WMP are not soon found (or convincingly planted), that process of presidential embarrassment might be abetted by developments in the United Kingdom, which, after all, is the only other significant member of what in Orwellian speech is termed “the Coalition.” It’s also, for many Americans, the best liked of foreign countries. It’s the Mother Country, it’s the Beatles, it’s Austin Powers. So what happens there is more important to us than what happens in, say, France.
The British public has all along been far more opposed to the Iraq war than its U.S. counterpart, even as Blair (I suspect, in some fear and trembling) agreed to respect the “special relationship” by breaking with world opinion in backing the war-plan and, unlike the other “Coalition partners,” actually contributing thousands of troops. Support went a bit over 50% just on the eve of the invasion because many Brits were convinced that Saddam indeed posed an immanent threat to the Western world. But now disillusionment and anger have superseded naivety, and Blair may have to pay for his Faustian pact.
It’s happening very fast. A most interesting aspect is the role of the “intelligence community.” (Gotta love that expression.)
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A brief chronology of the Row (surely with some significant omissions).
May 29: While Prime Minister Tony Blair is in Iraq, some Labour Party members react angrily to Donald Rumsfeld’s comment in New York that maybe the Iraqis had destroyed their weapons of mass destruction before the Anglo-American invasion.
Jeremy Corbyn, Member of Parliament for Islington North, says Blair and Bush should be tried by international criminal court for embarking on an “illegal” conflict. Robin Cook, former cabinet minister and Leader of the House of Commons who had resigned in protest just before the war began, states Rumsfeld’s comments blow “an enormous gaping hole through the case for war that was made on both sides of the Atlantic.” Former Labour MP Tony Benn states: “I believe the Prime Minister lied to us and lied to us and lied to us.”
Kenneth Clarke, former Conservative Chancellor, says the lack of the WMDs raise questions of trust in the Government. (In Kuwait, Blair says, “I have no doubt we will find weapons of mass destruction.”)
May 30: Guardian reports that MI6 and GCHQ (the government’s eavesdropping center) had opposed publication of the government’s dossier in September 2002, indicating that Iraqis could “deploy chemical weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so.” Intelligence agents thought the source was unreliable, but “could not stand up to” Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of strategy and communications and closest adviser, and the staff of “the Coalition Information Centre, a propaganda body set up in the Foreign Office.”
June 2: At a press conference, Blair denies former cabinet minister Clare Short’s accusation that “I made some secret agreement with George Bush back last September that we would invade Iraq in any event at a particular time,” says it is “completely and totally untrue.” Says an “international survey group” will begin accumulating evidence in Iraq prior to the production of a definitive report on the Iraqi WMDs. Promises to publish new dossier of evidence when research completed. “I simply ask people to just have a little patience.”
MP Malcolm Savidge, one of 73 MPs who signed a Commons motion calling for the evidence on weapons of mass destruction to be published in full, states: “I cannot conceive, in fact, of a more serious accusation than that Parliament and the people could have been misled into being brought into a war on false pretences. That to me is more serious than Watergate.”
Daily Telegraph notes “signs of a rift between ministers and the intelligence services.”
June 5: Writing in the London Telegraph, Ibrahim al-Marashi, US-based academic whose research, published 12 years earlier, had been used without acknowledgment in a UK intelligence document in February, says Downing Street “plagiarised and manipulated” academic material by inflating figures and exaggerating Iraq’s weapons capability.
Lord Healey, former chancellor, deputy leader of the Labour Party, member of the House of Lords, calls on Tony Blair to resign if weapons of mass destruction are not found in Iraq.
In an appearance before Commons, Blair vehemently denies any intelligence had been doctored. Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith declares, “The truth is that nobody believes now a word of what the prime minister says” and that accusations about cooking of information undermine the credibility of British intelligence services. Demands Blair publish any new information about Iraqi WMDs.
Commons leader and Blair intimate John Reid blames “rogue elements” in the intelligence services for an effort to undermine Blair and Campbell.
June 6: Blair agrees to cooperate with an investigation into intelligence regarding Iraqi WMDs by an 8-person Intelligence Security Committee that reports to the Prime Minister, not Parliament. Liberal Democrats in Commons demand an independent parliamentary inquiry.
Major Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies, says “The [British] intelligence community is leaking like a sieve because at the end of the day their credibility is on the line. Something is going to blow very shortly. Blair is going to be lucky to survive” (quoted in Sydney Morning Herald, June 7).
June 7: 62% of Britons polled say Blair government “untrustworthy” (Times Online).
June 8: Scotsman reports first Blair dossier on Iraq’s WMDs (October 2002) was “almost entirely put together from information freely available on the internet;” says “The revelation is hugely embarrassing for the Prime Minister”
Independent reports that “Cabinet bruiser John Reid was instructed by Downing Street to make his now famous attack last week [June 5] on ‘rogue elements’ within the security services.” Campbell “wanted the attack launched on Wednesday morning because Mr Blair was due in the Commons that afternoon to take Prime Minister’s Questions”
Paper notes Reid’s “comments have angered senior figures in the intelligence community, who see them as an attack on their profession. They are hoping that the Prime Minister will disown his minister, compelling Dr Reid to apologise Intelligence officers are holding a ‘smoking gun’ which proves that they were subjected to a series of demands by Tony Blair’s staff in the run-up to the Iraq war. The officers are furious about the accusation leveled by the Leader of the Commons, John Reid, that ‘rogue elements’ are at work in the security services. They fear they are being lined up to take the blame for faulty intelligence used to justify the Iraq war. The intelligence services were so concerned about demands made by Downing Street for evidence to use against Iraq that extensive files have been built up detailing communications with Mr Blair’s staff [emphasis added].”
British press widely cites New York Times article casting doubt on the purpose of the “mobile labs” found in Iraq. Observer says it “has established that it is increasingly likely that the units were designed to be used for hydrogen production to fill artillery balloons, part of a system sold to Saddam by Britain in 1987.” Notes that the CIA and Federation of American Scientists doubt Bush administration assertions that they are mobile germ warfare labs. MI6 is ordered to conduct an urgent review of the facilities.
Telegraph reports “senior intelligence officers were furious that randomly assembled material had been combined with MI6 intelligence reports by the coalition information center The information was not put through the normal checks in Whitehall, including the approval of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), chaired by John Scarlett, before it was published. One highly placed intelligence officer disowned the document at the time, saying: ‘We are not responsible for this bastard offspring.'”
Government denies a report that Sir Richard Dearlove, chief of Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of the domestic intelligence service MI5, had threatened to resign over the issue.
British press reports Campbell has written Dearlove apologizing for discrediting the service with the issuance of the February dossier mixing materials from Marashi’s thesis with material from MI6.
Downing St. denies an apology, but says Campbell “assured the heads of (security) agencies that far greater care would be taken on work that could impact on their own reputation or work” in future.
Senior members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee say they will summon Campbell, Blair, and Jack Straw (the Foreign Secretary) to give evidence to the committee on this issue. All will also be asked to give evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee.
A senior Whitehall (Foreign Office) official is quoted in the Telegraph: “[The dossier] devalued the currency, there is no question about that. There is a dispute about who saw what. But it is clear that the Joint Intelligence Committee was not involved. It was a monumental cock-up.”
Independent reports Lianne Seymour, widow of a 27 year old British commando killed in the Iraq war has accused Tony Blair of “deceiving” her husband with misleading claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
David Clark, in the Mail: “During my four years as a Foreign Office adviser, I read [joint intelligence committee] assessments on a weekly basis… I saw nothing to persuade me that Saddam posed the sort of imminent threat that might require an immediate military response… [Its] conclusions are always carefully hedged. I remember feeling frustrated that the assessments… contained so many caveats and qualifications that it was often impossible to know what to make of them.”
Sunday Herald reports on “Operation Rockingham,” created by British intelligence after the Gulf War to create “a fake picture that Saddam was armed to the teeth” and so justify his overthrow. Cites former arms inspector Scott Ritter: “We were all subject to a programme of mass deception, but now the lie has been exposed. In practice, Rockingham was dangerous.” Ritter offers to testify before Parliament about the operation.
June 10: Guardian notes that, “The debunking of the Bush administration’s pre-war certainties on Iraq gathered pace yesterday when it emerged that the CIA knew for months that a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida was highly unlikely.”
Daily Telegraph reports that Blair is unlikely to appear before Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee to discuss his role in the preparation of the dossier on Iraq’s WMD. Blair spokesman states the prime minister and his officials do not normally do so. Iain Duncan Smith requests Campbell be made available for questioning by MPs, writes to Blair that “It would be quite incredible if any inquiry into Downing Street’s use of intelligence material did not take evidence from Mr Campbell” But the newspaper says Campbell “is prepared to defy a summons from MPs to give evidence”
At a news conference, Blair declares, “There is not a shred of evidence that we have doctored or manipulated intelligence.”
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At present the Senators Joseph Biden and Richard Lugar are content to opine that, even if we Americans were lied to, it doesn’t really matter, since we’ve freed the world of a tyrant. But if we see Blair fall, while U.S. troops are falling in ongoing battle day by day, they may see the lies differently. Then we’ll see whether the manipulated, mindless, “nuke ’em all” flag-waving nationalism so widespread in this country for almost two years will suffice to preserve the administration.
In a column on the LewRockwell.com website, conservative commentator Jim Grichar predicted the following. “If Blair is booted out over his lies on Iraqi WMD—and make no mistake, he had the same weak intelligence evidence the U.S. had on Iraq—expect ‘Dubya’ to break into a real hard sweat [If] Bush is known to have knowingly and deliberately lied—that is, run his own Intel-gate—he could be in real political trouble.”
Maybe in this case Dr. Faust, having made his pact with Mephistopheles, will bring the latter down and get “cooked”(to use Dean’s term) right along with him.
GARY LEUPP is an an associate professor, Department of History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program.
He can be reached at: email@example.com