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Brutal for Blair – and Straw, Sun says

by Chris Ames

The Sun (on Sunday) says:

TONY Blair and Jack Straw will be savaged in a long-awaited report into the Iraq War, sources revealed last night.

The ex-PM “won’t be let off the hook” over claims he promised America he would send our troops in a year before the 2003 invasion.

And harsh criticism will be aimed at ex-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw over the disastrous post-invasion stewardship of Basra and southern Iraq. An ex-minister with knowledge of the report’s findings said: “It will be absolutely brutal for Straw.”

We have to be careful of course about what axe an ex-minister with knowledge of the findings has to grind. Is it someone who himself – or herself – is due to be criticised and wants to make sure attention is focussed on other culprits?

Here are some more of the Sun’s claims, perhaps with different sourcing:

Mr Blair will be lambasted for over-egging the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, a source who has spoken to two of the report’s authors claims.

Ex-spy chief Sir Richard Dearlove will also be rapped for letting Mr Blair and his aides put a “gloss” on intelligence about the Iraqi tyrant’s doomsday weapons.

An insider says the report will slam Mr Blair for telling US President George Bush a year before the war that he would support military action.

He said: “It is clear that he did commit himself to Bush at an early stage and didn’t want to be seen as letting him down.”

This led to a “gloss given to intelligence assessments” and the claim in a dodgy dossier that Saddam could attack British targets at 45 minutes’ notice.

Of course, to anyone who has followed all the evidence, all of this is obvious, It’s always been a question of whether Chilcot, like the Butler review on which he collaborated, will pull his punches.


What is Dearlove up to?

by Chris Ames

The Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary says:

As the publication date of the Chilcot report into the Iraq war approaches with an urgency that makes Godot look punctual, a timely resurgence from Sir Richard Dearlove yesterday. The former MI6 chief appeared from the shadows earlier this week to compare offering visa-free access to Turkish immigrants with “storing gasoline next to the fire”. But is he simply warming up for a bigger story?

The Londoner is told that Dearlove, who was in charge of the British Secret Intelligence Service during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is said to be putting the finishing touches on a book about that difficult period of British history. The report is due in July, after a seven- year wait, and we hear that Dearlove, who is not expecting to come off well in the proceedings, will publish his version of events soon after.

Dearlove has previously threatened to use his memoir to retaliate against Chilcot:

A former head of MI6 has threatened to reveal explosive new details behind the ‘dodgy dossier’ scandal if he objects to the long-awaited findings of the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq War.

Sir Richard Dearlove, 68, who provided intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that was apparently ‘sexed up’ by Tony Blair’s Government, has spent the last year writing a detailed account of events leading up to the war. 

He had intended to keep his work under lock and key and made available only to historians after his death.

But now Sir Richard has revealed to The Mail on Sunday that he could go public after the Chilcot Inquiry publishes its findings.

It seems Sir Richard may not like what Sir John will say. So kind of Sir John to give him advance notice so he can prepare his retaliation.

But, as I’ve said before, how dare Dearlove keep things back from Chilcot? Or, to put it another way, what can he have to say that he wouldn’t have already used in his own defence?

The Inquiry will publish the pre-war Cabinet minutes in full – or will it?

by Chris Lamb

The Information Commissioner has issued a Decision Notice for my third request for the Cabinet minutes of 13 and 17 March. He backs the Cabinet Office’s rejection of the request under of Section 22 (i) of the FoI Act.

Section 22 (i) states that information is exempt from disclosure if;

(a) the information is held by the public authority with a view to its publication, by the authority or any other person, at some future date (whether determined or not),

(b) the information was already held with a view to such publication at the time when the request for information was made, and

(c) it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information should be withheld from disclosure until the date referred to in paragraph (a)

The grounds cited for this exemption are that, when the request was made, an agreement had already been made between the Cabinet Office and the Inquiry that the minutes could be published.

The Commissioner decided that the content of what had been agreed for disclosure essentially covered what I had asked for in my request.

The Cabinet Office explained that the information in the minutes which relates to Iraq is intended for publication by the Iraq Inquiry. It explained that on 22 January 2014, the Cabinet Office wrote to the Chilcot Inquiry confirming agreement to the publication by the Chilcot Inquiry of “the ’full extract’ from the 13 March 2003 and 17 March 2003 Cabinet Conclusions. In the case of the 17 March 2003 document, this amounted to the whole document (Iraq was the only topic discussed on 17 March 2003)”.


Prime minister hints at shabby EU referendum fix

by Chris Ames

The Guardian reports that:

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will not be published until after the EU referendum, Downing Street has confirmed.

Other papers have picked up on David Cameron’s comments at PMQs today that ‘the Chilcot report will come not too much longer after’ the EU referendum on 23 June but the Guardian says that:

Downing Street sources later confirmed that July was the most likely timing for the publication.

It’s not clear whether this “most likely” is the basis for “confirmed” or an elaboration but what is more of a concern is why the Prime Minister has this information.

Last month I wrote on Comment is Free and here:

Penrose also said that Chilcot would give a firmer timetable for publication after [national security checking], but has suggested that this will still see publication in June or even July. He said the delay will not be because of the EU referendum, but because the report’s size means “it will take a number of weeks to prepare it for publication”. Has William Caxton been engaged to do the work, or should we be suspicious of some shabby fix?

The Inquiry has made clear that it will not be commenting until national security checking has been complete but it has not yet made any announcement and no date has been set. Obviously the absence of a date doesn’t mean they haven’t told No 10 that publication will be some way off.

I asked the Inquiry’s spokesman if he would comment on the appropriateness or accuracy of the No 10 briefing but he declined.

Should we be suspicious that the timing of the Inquiry’s report is not independent of government after all?

I think so.

National Security Checking begins today

by Chris Ames

I understand that the National Security Process will begin today, not last week as many people, including myself, were assuming.

But, because the process appears to involve officials visiting the Inquiry at some point today, rather than the report being sent to the government, it may be that the finishing touches are still being put to the report.

Note that Sir John’ Chilcot’s letter last October referred to officials being given ‘confidential access to the report’. The report will remain in the hands of the Inquiry throughout.

Publication is still going to be in June or July,

No further forward

by Chris Ames

Today’s debate on the National Security Checking process does not appear to have taken us beyond what has already been reported this week – that publication of the report is more likely to be delayed by the preparation of the report for publication rather than the checking process or the EU referendum.

Cabinet Office minister John Penrose told MPs:

we expect the inquiry’s report to be ready for national security checking in the week beginning 18 April—that is, some time next week. Once Sir John indicates that that is the case, the work will begin. As the Prime Minister promised, it will take no longer than two weeks.

Once that is done, the inquiry team will prepare the report for printing and publication. I should make it clear that at that stage, even when the national security checking process is complete, the report will still be in Sir John Chilcot’s hands and will not be released to the Government until everything is ready. The inquiry team has said that it will complete the remaining work as swiftly as possible, and Sir John Chilcot indicated in his letter to the Prime Minister last October that he expects publication in June or July this year.

He also said:

I want to reassure everybody, in Parliament and elsewhere, that the process will not and cannot be used to redact or censor material that does not need to be secret, or that might prove embarrassing to Ministers or officials from the time covered by the inquiry. I am also pleased to inform the House that I understand that the inquiry team expects to announce a firmer publication date soon after the national security checking process is complete


I should also reassure the House that I have checked with senior officials in the Cabinet Office and been assured that nothing in the rules of purdah for the EU referendum could provide a reason to delay the publication of Sir John’s report once he delivers it to the Government. We will therefore publish the report as soon as it is delivered to us in its final form by the inquiry team, whenever that may be.

This last commitment does not even appear to be dependent on the government getting the report before the summer recess, although that seems almost certain now,

Meanwhile, the Guardian speculates about what the report might say, although this also seems to get us no further forward:

Senior military figures may be singled out for criticism in the long-awaited Chilcot report into the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which is due to be handed to Downing Street next week.

This is almost meaningless. The ‘may’ is speculative, while ‘singled out’ is contradicted by the rest of the piece and contradicts a controversial story six months ago that blame would be spread ‘far and wide’.

It seems that:

Ministers in focus will be the former defence secretary Geoff Hoon, former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and former international development secretary Clare Short, as well as Blair.


The Chilcot report is certain to point to Hoon’s instruction to the then chief of defence staff, Lord Boyce, to delay military preparations so as not to alert parliament and the public, that war was a given, as one well-placed source put it to the Guardian.

So we’re back to ‘far and wide’, with ministers as likely to be criticised as generals, and no further forward.

Commons to debate national security checking

by Chris Ames

Tomorrow (Thursday) the House of Commons will debate a motion on the national security checking process that is due to begin next week, and specifically the motion:

That this House calls on the Government to conclude the National Security checking of the Iraq Inquiry report as soon as possible in order to allow publication of that report as soon as possible after 18 April 2016, and no later than two weeks after that date, in line with the undertaking on time taken for such checking by the Prime Minister in his letter to Sir John Chilcot of 29 October 2015.

Tory MP David Davis, one of those putting forward the motion, is quoted in heraldscotland as saying:

A lot of the reason it’s delayed already is haggling over what they can and can’t use. If they weren’t security clearing at that time, I don’t quite know what they think they were doing.

There’s really no argument for it taking any more than two weeks.

I think we’ll win the battle. If not, frankly, there will be an uproar.

Labour MP Paul Flynn is quoted as saying:

This is an attempt to keep it outside of the referendum and the political fallout from both sides.

I think they could publish it ahead of the referendum, but they won’t.

We all want to get things settled and to be informed and to know the truth about these events which took place, in our lifetimes.

The delay is sinful, damaging and wicked. The debate will be a chance to get some answers from the Government.

The trouble is, the Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend the government is still saying it can complete national security checking in two weeks and that any subsequent delay will be because of a tortuous printing process, rather than the EU referendum.

Perhaps the debate will clarify this.

EU referendum may delay Inquiry report

by Chris Ames

The Telegraph reports that:

David Cameron is set to postpone publication of the Iraq War inquiry report until after the EU referendum, leading to accusations that he is deliberately postponing controversial announcements.

Senior Government sources confirmed that it is likely to be published after the June 23 vote, despite the fact it will be handed to ministers next month. Mr Cameron had previously suggested that he wanted to publish the report within two weeks of receiving it.

The prospect of a further delay was last night condemned by families who lost loved ones in the conflict amid accusations that the Government is attempting to avoid anything which could turn the public against them.

It’s no surprise and has been hinted at before. The usual pre-election Purdah rules will be applied in the run-up to the referendum.

But it gives the lie once again to David Cameron’s claim that the timing of the report’s publication is not something he can control.

As the Telegraph reports:

Matthew Jury, a solicitor representing the families of servicemen and women who died in Iraq, added: “The inquiry is meant to be independent. Once the report is completed and delivered, whatever the reason, the Government should have no right to delay its publication.

“The Cabinet’s Office only job is to use every reasonable effort and resource to ensure the report is published as soon as is possible.

“The Government has no right to pick and choose the date of publication to suits its own political agenda, whatever that might be.

On the other hand, it’s just a question of holding back the report until after the election, there should be plenty of time to publish the report before the Summer recess.

Cabinet Office dates dossier wmd draft

by Chris Ames

A year ago, I made a freedom of information request to the Cabinet Office to find out more about who wrote certain drafts of the dossier. It’s a long story but it has finally elicited some new information that clarifies something that has been baffling me for years, i.e. going back to the Hutton Inquiry.

I asked which draft dossier (or section thereof) was circulated with a handwritten note by John Scarlett dated 6 September 2002, which was at an early stage of the re-writing of the wmd dossier published later that month.

It always appeared as if the document circulated with the note was a version of the wmd section of the dossier headed “Section 6” that was adjacent to the note on the Hutton Inquiry website.

But if this document was produced and circulated on 6 September 2002, that didn’t seem to fit with other evidence about the drafting of the dossier. Various other documents released to me under FOI, including documents dated 9 September, contain comments with page and paragraph numbers referring a draft dossier said to represent the state of drafting on 5 September.

However, the Cabinet Office has told me that the document circulated by Scarlett was indeed the “Section 6” on the Hutton website. This fills in a few gaps in the chronology.

For a start it does show that comments from the Defence Intelligence Staff were on a draft dossier that had already been superseded.

But foreign office spin doctor John Williams was aware when he produced his ‘9 September’ draft, which the Cabinet Office persuaded Lord Hutton was not relevant, that the wmd section had been updated. He wrote: “I don’t propose to rewrite this until I take delivery of the new version.

The new wmd section was produced very soon after it was identified as section 6 of a newly structured dossier at a meeting on the afternoon of 6 September. The document is very similar to the earlier draft except that the historical parts have been removed.

It was also produced and sent soon after the DIS sent over a form of words describing illicit revenue generation and wmd funding at 15.29 on 6 September. The same words appear in the draft.

It isn’t clear who made the handwritten changes to the draft but both they and the typed changes can be found in the 10 September draft dossier attributed to Scarlett, along with elements of Williams’s drafting.

The remaining hole in the story appears to be Williams’ rewrite of the intelligence section.



Is Sir Jeremy Heywood at the centre of blocking my FoI request?

by Chris Lamb

In drafting my case for appealing the Information Commissioner’s decision backing the Cabinet Office’s refusal to disclose the official advice and discussions around the setting up of the Iraq Inquiry, I have been presented with the task of fleshing out the meaning of the so-called “chilling effect”.

The alleged “chilling effect” of the disputed information – deterring the candour of civil servants in offering advice to ministers in future and driving decision making into backroom, unrecorded channels – is the key reason put forward by the Cabinet Office, and accepted by the Information Commissioner, for blocking this request.

Reputable academic commentators on the “chilling effect” – such as the Constitution Unit at University College, London – have described it as a very slippery concept and have found very little evidence to suggest that it exists at central government level. The Constitution Unit, in surveying civil servants, has found that adhering to conventions based upon civil service professional ethics – such as being impartial and objective and recording decisions – takes precedence over a so-called “chilling effect”.

My task in searching out meaning for “chilling effect” in relation to the information I was requesting was made particularly difficult because neither Cabinet Office correspondence or the Information Commissioner’s Decision Notice offered clues to work out answers for the most basic questions. Logically, one would ask who, or which civil servants stand to be “chilled” by the discosure; how and why would they be?

The appeal process, through the First Tier (Information) Tribunal, has not been more helpful in this respect.

I have been forced to argue my case against a wholly abstract “chilling effect”, operating upon unspecified civil servants – except for the known quantity that they are central government senior civil servants – with next to no evidence explaining the how and why. All the Information Commissioner’s Office and Cabinet Office have to say of the matter is that if I knew the content of the information I would understand the “significant and notable” chilling effect accorded to it, but as I do not know unfortunately I cannot understand this.

It appears an information blocking fait accompli. Readmore..