Live Blog – 25 November 2009

Wednesday 25 November 2009

(There were two evidence sessions today, scheduled for 10:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 17:00.)

Topic: Weapons of Mass Destruction

Sir William Ehrman, Director International Security, Foreign Office, 2000-2002

Tim Dowse, Head of Counter Proliferation, Foreign Office, 2001-2003

This afternoon’s hearing, as it happened

15.15 Sir John wraps up – asked witnesses for any final points they want to make. None made. Tomorrow is about foreign policy.

15.10 Sir Lawrence – when (David) Kay resigned how did that go down? Ehrman – we weren’t going to jump to conclusions. Talk about the US wanting the ISG role being swapped to fighting terrorism. Saddam’s strategic interest was not known prior to ISG final report. Hussein Kamal “coloured” approach by revealing Iraq deceptions.

15.05 Sir John – did Iraq’s declaration support ISG findings? Nothing overtly CW or BW was found. Dowse – assessments were made on “balance of probabilities”. Has anything turned up since Dec’04. No. Dowse also believed items would be found. Sir Lawrence – talks about “clutching at straws”. Ehrman recalls intelligence being withdrawn.

14.55 Sir John – states Charles Duelfer changed focus to regime intent. Agreement. Missiles – work on ranges up to 1000Km. Dowse says ISG generally supported UK assessment on missiles (not Scuds??). Munition (small) finds were lost leftovers. There was a JIC assessment comparing finds with claims in Dec ’04.

14.45 Sir John – ISG efforts? Dowse – we put in 100 experts. The US frustrated efforts by not sharing intelligence but this was overcome. Was the ISG up to the task? Dowse – difficult to say but it probably was. How were ISG interim key findings received? We should not declare success too rapidly. Trailers occupied a lot of attention. Lengthy discussions. UK EXPERTS INITIALLY THOUGHT THEY FOR WERE BW??? Dowse doesn’t know what the hydrogen was for (it was for artillery spotting balloons).

14.35 Should Ministers have been alerted to the possibility that nothing was there? No real answer. Sir John – was there a plan for disposing of found WMD after the war? Dowse – there was a US plan. UK concerns were more about exploiting finds. UK wanted to send UNMOVIC back in after the war. We thought at that time there was a real possibility of WMD items being found. Sir John – was there surprise at the lack of finds in Iraq? Dowse – Yes. Ehrman – Yes, surprise and concern.

14.30 Sir Lawrence – Did UK accept IAEA verdict on no nuclear in Iraq? Dowse – we didn’t disagree. Could the US administration be convinced of the case? Ehrman – I don’t know – we didn’t get that far. We can’t comment on US support to UNMOVIC but they did do so. 128 unresolved issues. Sir Lawrence – could there have been an alternative hypothesis that nothing was there? Low-level reports contradicted this. “Background music”.

14.20 Ehrman – the French thought action would damage Iraq but this didn’t sway the Govt here. Sir Roderick – purpose of tests? Ehrman – to win the support from other UN members. Nature of UNMOVIC support for tests – not clear but was discussed. Intel supplied about sites – Ehrman – it was a question of UNMOVIC choice.

14.10 Dowse – Blix was “carefully neutral”. Sir Lawrence – Blair’s “palpably absurd” statement. Dowse – I didn’t know he was going to say that. Baroness Prashar asks for clarification on cooperation issue. Ehrman – repeats himself from earlier. Sir Roderick – also continues from this morning – Dowse – low level of expectation. Track record went against Iraq.

14.05 Sir John Chilcot – resumes. Sir Lawrence – back to cooperation. Ehrman – the threat of force was needed. Other countries wanted something solid to be convinced of the case. 19 sites were suggested to UNMOVIC, 10 were investigated. No silver bullet. Dowse – results at four – illegal imports but no WMD items. Blix said “not a game of hide and seek”.

Archived Comments

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 3:03pm

Was there ever a British weapons expert called David Kelly, who was found dead on 17 July 2003? Prior to his death, didn’t he confirm that the mobile labs were not biological weapons facilities? Not a mention, as yet, from the committee. No recollection from the witnesses.

By John Bone

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 3:21pm

“Did UK accept IAEA verdict on no nuclear in Iraq? Dowse – we didn’t disagree.” If I remember rightly, certain government ministers said that the IAEA had got it wrong. There was talk of there being other evidence about nukes (though it has never been explained what this evidence was). Am I misunderstanding what Dowse is saying here? It seems to me that he saying something very different from what Ministers were saying to the public.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 3:30pm


I think Ministers were hanging onto their ‘independent’ evidence that support the Niger yellowcake claims. I think that the Butler report left this unresolved.

By david damant

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 3:36pm

Surely Saddam had plenty of time between the first suggestion of an invasion and the invasion itself to hide/destroy any WMD in a forward position ( and he had them and used them in attacking Iran and the Kurds) ? And to kill any inconvenient witnesses.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 3:55pm


That’s probably true if you believe that Saddam still had the weapons after 1998. There’s no evidence I can find to support this. The Iraq Survey Group under Charles Duelfer said that it was all almost certainly destroyed in the early ’90s.

By John Bone

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 4:33pm

“Independent evidence”? This seems to suggest that Ministers and the civil service were working from different sets of evidence.

By andrewsimon

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 10:38pm


The civil service (outside of No 10) probably didn’t know that the other Niger evidence even existed.

This morning’s hearing, as it happened

13.05 Baroness Prashar asks about cooperation. Relies – some is not the same as complete. The six tests would have only demonstrated partial cooperation.

12.55 Sir Lawrence – al Samoud destruction? Ehrman – it just proved he (Saddam) was lying because he had prohibited weapons. Ehrman – six tests – this didn’t happen because second resolution wasn’t passed. Dowse – tests were designed to be challenging but credible benchmarks. Sir Roderick – question about time – did the inspectors have enough time? – Ehrman – never enough time without cooperation.

12.50 Dowse – we thought the things could be found with application of more vigour. Sir Lawrence – basis of assumption – should there have been another assessment/stocktake? Ehrman – no contrary information. Reports that chemical weapons had to be assembled. Warheads issue? Ehrman – 1441 tests – belief that these weren’t met. Reliance on UNMOVIC reports. 10th March battlefield intelligence. About use rather than possession.

12.45 Sir Lawrence were these realistic demands? Ehrman – in my view yes. Dowse – interviews would be a “key” benefit. Al Samoud motors issue. Blix said there were practical problems, we agreed but thought they could be overcome. Sir Lawrence – Powell’s claims discounted? Dowse – we thought this was reliable re BW production trailers and intercepts. Information supplied and inspectors “botched”.

12.35 Sir Lawrence – 1441 and material breach. Dowse – political and legal differences. Ehrman – did he produce an accurate declaration? No – missiles and nuclear failings. Al Samouds again. Saddam did not meet the tests. In our view he did not meet it on the declaration and on cooperation. Dowse – passive vs active cooperation. No interviews without minders. U2s. Grudging compliance.

12.25 Debate about UNSCOM and UNMOVIC. No trust in Iraq. Cooperation was the test. Dowse – There was confidence in Blix. Concerns about numbers and expertise of inspectors. Similarly about security. Sir Lawrence – US lack of faith? Dowse – US didn’t believe that they were strong enough or could produce the evidence. State Department did seem to want to make the inspections work.

12.15 Dowse – difference in US/UK positions. No conclusion against nuclear purpose. Chilcot – briefings – PM satisfied as to authority of dossier claims? Panel – not aware of anything contrary. Sir Roderick – effect on Saddam? Sanctions had not prevented development of missiles (talking about al Samouds again – not WMD?)

12.05 Dowse – Meetings about wording and content of executive summary. Dr Kelly produced section on history of inspections. Chilcot – no need to go over previous inquiry concerns. Looking back what could have been changed? Ehrman – can’t answer that. Chilcot – aluminium tubes – something about a need to be re-engineered? Dowse – there was a debate about this. Sir Lawrence – Cheney was on one side of the argument. Were you aware of the strength of this debate. Dowse- no, more in public domain since.

11.55 John Chilcot – resumes – dossier – purpose? – general effect? To present the Govt’s case. Dowse – Govt has an obligation to explain policy. Ehrman – I had no involvement. Dowse – process began in March ’02. His department was involved. September drafting was “hurried”.

11.40 Sir Roderick – removal options? discussed by Ministers? Ehrman – unless Saddam changed his attitude fundamentally it was hard to see how removal of threat could be achieved. 10 minute break.

Comment from Chris Ames:

It is very noticeable that when Ehrman referred to “the” reduced tolerance of Iraq’s wmd post 9/11, the panel didn’t challenge him on his use of the word “the”. Yesterday, Peter Ricketts, referring to his letter to Straw of March 2002, said “I said: ‘The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein’s work in the weapons of mass destruction programme, but our intolerance of them post-9/11.’ That’s what I said in a note to Jack Straw in 16 March 2002 and I think the “our” in that sentence is as much America as — perhaps more America than the UK.” So he was indicating the the key change was the US view.

11.35 Dowse – Dossier circulated widely to Middle East countries. Iran added to knowledge. No high confidence that sanctions regime would be maintained. Ehrman – alternative to containment was “removal”. After 9/11 tolerance for containment diminished.

11.25 Dowse – document for Parliament re deception – unclassified JIC paper which drew on intelligence. Talk about Bin Laden. Proliferation concerns – intelligence needed to assess.
Baroness Prashar asks about differences of view. Dowse – fudges a bit? Sir Martin – Iraq priority? Dowse – alongside Iran and Libya. Sir Roderick – Iraq assessment validity? – Ehrman – No challenge of picture up to 2003. Threat to neighbours? Kuwait (obviously). Other nations hoped for P5 unity.

11.15 Chilcot asks about intelligence gaps – Ehrman – unanswered questions from UNSCOM – huge gaps there. Foreign Secretary’s briefs – through 2002 intelligence patchy, sporadic. December 2002 – did not know level of Iraq’s stocks. Straw pressed IAEA and UNSCOM to take scientists out of Iraq for interview. JIC reporting did not heighten threat. Dowse – reporting tended to confirm expectations.

11.10 Ehrman – No contradictory intelligence until 2003 – Chilcot asks about Ministers briefs – Ehrman – 5 ways – JIC assessments, notes and policy papers (interdepartmental), individual intelligence reports to Straw, meetings with ABC(?) heads, lastly many office meetings. Dowse – 2001-2 to Robin Cook – ad-hoc reporting and briefs. No radical change of picture.

11.00 Up till now Sir Lawrence was asking questions – no other committee has spoken yet. Sir John begin – …WHEN UNSCOM WAS THROWN OUT OF IRAQ(!!) Discrepancies – search for new intelligence? Ehrman – some and not much – Saddam’s priority was to get out of sanctions. Chilcot – states that Saddam was trying to portray strength as far as Iran was concerned and is agreed with..

10.50 Ehrman – Not a huge amount of intelligence 1992 onwards. Dowse – there was a document that showed more chemical weapons produced than declared. Preconceived assumptions – we should not have done that. Breakdown in challenging assumptions – this was a failure. Ehrman – a clear threat but not immediate.

10.45 Dowse – BW – only known about after Hussein Kamal’s defection – no certainty that UNSCOM had found everything. Sir Lawrence says there was hard evidence about delivery development (these were al Samoud’s though).

10.35 Dowse – BW and Chemical – means of delivery mostly destroyed. Scuds – some may remain – makes same claims as dossier. 45 minutes – says exactly same as Dr Kelly did. Multi barrelled artillery? No insight after ’98.

10.30 Ehrman – The US placed more emphasis on claims of links between Saddam and Al Quada. Assessments said Saddam could gain a nuclear bomb in 5 years. Would not happen under sanctions.

10.25 Sir Lawrence – Was Iraq effectively contained? Not much chance of nuclear. Concerns about pursuit of CW/BW. Stocks? Missiles – discrepancy in missile numbers. No connection with 9/11. No evidence of WMD being passed to terrorist groups.

10.20 Iraq was known for prior use, but there was a defensive defence for this. Ehrman – talking about Iran’s missiles now. Sir Lawrence wants to discuss Iraq.

10.15 Nuclear weapons were the biggest issue. Sir William states that weapons falling into terrorist hands were a serious concern. Both speakers – Libya and Iran concerns were ahead of Iraq.

10.10 Sir Lawrence asks about Govt concerns. Mr Dowse defines WMD and conventions. Concerns about various countries.

10.05 Sir John opens – not doing detail in this session but will examine the overall situation.

Archived Comments

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 11:02am

Will someone whisper to Chilcot that UNSCOM was not “chucked out” of Iraq in 1998, but withdrawn by the Special Commission, as shown by this extract from the UN’s chronology?


4 Nov 1998 The Executive Chairman informs the Council (S/1998/1032) that, as a result of Iraq’s actions, the Commission is not in a position to provide the Council with any level of assurance of Iraq’s compliance with its obligations not to retain and not to reestablish proscribed activities.

5 Nov 1998 Security Council resolution 1205 (1998) unanimously condemns Iraq’s actions and demands that Iraq rescind immediately and unconditionally its decisions of 31 October and 5 August.

10 Nov 1998 The Executive Chairman decides to remove all of the Commission’s personnel from Iraq. He explained the circumstances surrounding the decision in a letter to the President of the Council dated 11 November (S/1998/1059), indicating that the prime consideration which motivated the decision and the speed at which it was executed was the safety of the Commission’s staff in Iraq. The entire UNSCOM contingent withdrew from Iraq to Bahrain on 11 November.

13 Nov 1998 The Secretary-General wrote to the President of Iraq appealing to Iraq to resume cooperation with the Special Commission and IAEA (S/1998/1077, annex I).

14 Nov 1998 The Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq responded to the Secretary-General’s letter of 13 November to the President of Iraq noting that in the light of the Secretary-General’s letter under reply and assurances from a number of members of the Council, the leadership of Iraq had decided to resume working with the Special Commission and IAEA and to allow them to perform their normal duties.

15 Nov 1998 Press Statement by the President of the Security Council in which the Council takes note of Iraq’s statement of 14 November to cooperate fully with the Special Commission and the IAEA. The Council members underline that their confidence in Iraq’s intentions needs to be established by unconditional and sustained cooperation with the Special Commission and the IAEA in exercising the full range of their activities. The Council members also reaffirm their readiness to proceed with the comprehensive review once the Secretary-General has confirmed, on the basis of reports from the Special Commission and the IAEA that Iraq has returned to full cooperation on the basis of resolution 1194 (1998) and the Council President’s letter of 30 October to the Secretary-General (SC/65/96-IK258).

3 Dec 1998 The Special Commission submits the first of a series of weekly reports on its activities during the period 17 November to 2 December 1998. The report covers inspection activities during that period and also provides an account of correspondence exchanged with Iraq regarding matters such as the provision of documents, clarifications on a number of points previously raised with Iraq and asking that Iraq provide new substantial information on its biological weapons programme.

9 Dec 1998 The Special Commission submits its second weekly report to the Security Council describing monitoring activities and the difficulties encountered in the course of those activities, including blockage at a site.

15 Dec 1998 The Special Commission reports to the Security-General concerning UNSCOM’s activities and the status of Iraq’s cooperation with the Commission in the period since 14 November 1998. The Executive Chairman concludes that Iraq did not provide the full cooperation it had promised on 14 November 1998 (S/1998/1172)

16 Dec 1998 The Special Commission withdraws its staff from Iraq.

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 11:21am

Will no one ask the witnesses about Curveball? Was his “intelligence” shared with the British?
This was another “dodgy” dossier.

The official US inquiry by Mr Robb and Judge Silberman reported to President Bush on 31 March 2005 found that “The October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate failed to communicate adequately to policymakers both the [intelligence] Community’s near-total reliance on Curveball for its biological judgments, and the serious problems that charcterized Curveball as a source.”

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 12:34pm

Ehrman says Iraq hadn’t signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. In fact, the founding Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Jose Bustani, was dismissed from his post on 23 April 2002, following a sustained US campaign against him. Mr Bustani commented “I am blamed for seeking Iraq’s membership of the Chemical Weapons Convention …”

By Tony Simpson

Submitted on 2009/11/25 at 12:50pm

In what respects were the Iraqi declarations of its WMD of December 2001 deficient? Ehrman mentioned engines, but what about WMD? Large parts of the declaration were withheld from non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Colin Powell’s dodgy file of chemicals, which he waved about at the UN Security Council, was based on Curveball’s baseless “intelligence”. Curveball was in Germany.

Back to What we’ve learnt