The John Williams draft dossier

In February 2008, the Foreign Office was forced to release an early draft of the September 2002 dossier that had not been seen – or was ignored by – previous inquiries. The draft was written by John Williams, the then press secretary to Jack Straw at the Foreign Office, sometime between 7 and 9 September 2002. It is the first full-length draft of the September dossier (there were previous drafts before the publication of the document was announced) and pre-dates the document that the government had previously claimed was the first draft.

The John Williams draft dossier (pdf file)

The significance of the draft

The main significance of the document is that it shows that government communications officials – or spin doctors – were heavily involved in drafting the dossier, incuding its “judgements”, which were presented as if they were those of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). This was one of the main allegations in the dispute that arose between the BBC and the government shortly after the war. It also shows that the government’s claim that the first full draft of the dossier was produced by JIC chairman John Scarlett on 10 September 2002 was false.

Who commissioned the draft and when was it written?

Because the government attempted to conceal from previous inquiries both the existence of the Williams draft and its significance, it remains unclear who asked for the draft to be produced and when. The draft that was released under the Freedom of Information was identified by a reference in an email dated 10 September 2002 to “John’s draft of 9 September”. However, both the Foreign Office and Williams have stated that it was produced over the weekend of 7-8 September.

This is the relevant extract from Williams’ statement to the Inquiry:

16. During our preparations for the UN General Assembly, I was invited to a meeting by Alastair Campbell to discuss the intended dossier [5 September 2002]. Media specialists in this subject believe there were a number of meetings, but I recall only the first. It was clear that no decision had been taken about who would produce the dossier. John Scarlett said intelligence had no experience of writing documents for publication and would need the help of a ‘golden pen’. He turned to me. Alastair Campbell did not take this up. At the end of the meeting, I asked Alastair what his intention was. He said he was inclined to give the task to the No 10 Strategic Communications Unit.

17. When I reported this verbally to the Foreign Secretary and Michael Jay [6 September 2002], they were clear that the dossier must be produced by the Foreign Office, not Number Ten, and I should be the ‘golden pen’. I was still sceptical of the whole idea, but we were where we were, and the dossier was going to happen. I had little time before going to the UN, which was a higher priority to me, so I asked John Scarlett, in view of his ‘golden pen’ comment, if he would like to give me the material he intended to use, so that I could show him how to produce it in publishable form. I did this over the weekend [7-8 September 2002]. It was a routine job of taking the strongest points and putting them in an executive summary, while taking care to reflect their content accurately, and introducing them with the sort of language the at was familiar from speeches and interviews given by the PM and Foreign Secretary. I felt the result was underwhelming, commenting to colleagues that there was nothing much new in it. My feeling that this was not a good idea persisted, but the PM had ruled, and I was relieved to hear that No 10 had decided that John Scarlett himself would write the dossier, by which time I was in New York.

18.Some journalists have detected similarity between the shape of my effort and the finished product, but it would havebeen surprising if an organisation which had never produced a public document not taken some pointers from a professional.

Dates in [square brackets] are not in the original but are based on linked documentary evidence.

The influence of the draft on the Scarlett draft

The government has denied that the Williams draft played any part in the iterative drafting process of producing the dossier, i.e. that its text was not taken forward into subsequent drafts, such as Scarlett’s draft of 10 September. However, this claim is entirely untrue. Large elements of the Williams draft, including both his instructions and changes that can be seen to have followed his instructions, can be found in the Scarlett draft. Paragraph 18 of Williams’ statement to the Inquiry (above) acknowledges that this is the case.

The most significant influence that the Williams draft had on the Scarlett draft that followed it is that Scarlett adopted the “judgements” from the executive summary, which Williams has acknowledged (above) having drafted. These were presented as judgments of the JIC.

This document presents a comparison between the (existing) intelligence content of the Williams draft, the “judgements” he based on this, the intelligence claims in a draft of the dossier’s WMD section produced on 9 September, and the draft circulated by John Scarlett on 10 September.