Why did the September 2002 dossier overstate the case for Iraq’s alleged possession of wmd?

“From my perspective, post-Camp David, that was when the real kind of the work on the September dossier really stepped up. So I was very much engaged in that.”
Alastair Campbell at the Inquiry

It has now been accepted that the dossier that Tony Blair presented to the UK Parliament on 24 September 2004 overstated the case that Iraq possessed and was continuing to develop wmd. A number of claims that the dossier asserted had been established “beyond doubt” turned out to be untrue.

Was the dossier intended to make a case for war?


The Butler Review found no evidence that the dossier was intended to make a case for war, as opposed to dealing with the issue of Iraq’s alleged wmd, but this ignores clear evidence in the Downing Street documents and other published documents that the government planned a propaganda campaign to convince the British public of the need to take military action.

In a memo to Tony Blair on 19 July 2002, his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, proposed a “road map to getting rid of Saddam”. This included the suggestion: “We need to make the case. We need a plan and a timetable for releasing the documents we have prepared on human rights abuses, WMD etc.” Tony Blair wrote on the memo: “I agree with this entirely”.

A Cabinet Office briefing paper dated 21 July 2002 entitled “Iraq: Conditions for Military Action” invited ministers to “Agree to the establishment of an ad hoc group of officials under Cabinet Office Chairmanship to consider the development of an information campaign to be agreed with the US”. It noted: “Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein.” Publication of the dossier was announced on 3 September 2002.

Did the dossier accurately reflect the intelligence reports and assessments on which it was said to be based?


Although Tony Blair claimed that the dossier would “disclose” the pre-existing assessments of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), the document itself makes clear that it is a second-hand account of the JIC’s views. In fact it was amended during drafting to make this clear. The Butler Review found that the claims set out in the dossier went to the limit of the intelligence on which it was said to be based but did not ask why it set out to re-interpret that intelligence rather than simply replicating the JIC’s existing assessments.

An analysis (pdf file) of the dossier’s drafting shows the changes made during the process and the extent to which the dossier’s claims different from existing JIC assessments.

Were specific claims deliberately misrepresented?


A number of specific claims in the dossier have attracted controversy:

    The “45 minutes” claim

    The claim that Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon in as little as a year

    The “Uranium from Africa” claim

    The claim that Iraq was continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons

    The claim that Iraq had developed mobile biological weapons laboratories.


What role did spin doctors play in the drafting of the dossier?


The claim that the dossier had been “sexed-up” as a result of interference from government spin doctors was dismissed by the Hutton inquiry (at least as far as the inclusion of the 45 minutes claim was concerned) but evidence has since emerged that spin doctors were more heavily involved than was admitted. The Foreign Office has concealed the role of its Coalition Information Centre propaganda unit and its press secretary actually wrote the first draft of the dossier, which was disclosed in 2008. Read more

Was JIC chairman John Scarlett objective?


Although the government has portrayed John Scarlett as a neutral and objective figure, it is clear from the Downing Street documents and other evidence that from the Spring of 2002 he was heavily involved in plans to develop a propaganda campaign to persuade British public opinion of the need to take military action against Iraq. Read more

Was there dissent from intelligence experts and how was it handled?


Evidence emerged at previous inquiries that intelligence experts, particularly those at the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS), objected to the certainty with which the dossier made its key claims about Iraq’s alleged wmd. The government claimed that these were isolated incidents and that the dissent was fully aired an appropriately dealt with through the JIC process. new documents have been disclosed suggesting that there was widespread scepticism among DIS staff over the dossier’s claims.

What was the role of the JIC in the dossier?


The government claimed that the dossier was produced and approved under normal JIC processes and this was accepted by previous inquiries. However, there is a significant weight of evidence to suggest that the JIC – as opposed to its chairman John Scarlett – had little involvement in the dossier and never discussed or approved it as a committee.

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