Did the UK and US governments collude to overstate intelligence-based claims?

It is clear that British officials told their counterparts in the Bush administration that they would have difficulty persuading UK political and public opinion that military action against Iraq was necessary and asked for US co-operation in making this case. It is also clear that those drafting the UK’s wmd dossier sought to co-ordinate its claims with those of the US, although it is less clear that the US always kept to the agreed line.

The Inquiry will need to consider whether the British government made statements that it did not itself believe, based on private or public claims from the US administration.

Read an analysis of transatlantic co-operation published by the National Security Archive at the George Washington University.

Evidence of British requests to the US for assistance in making a case for war

 
Leaked documents show that British officials and politicians told their US counterparts at an early stage that UK participation in the proposed invasion of Iraq required significant effort to persuade domestic and international opinion of the necessity of the policy. In March 2002 Christopher Meyer, UK ambassador to Washington, told Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy secretary of defense, that supporting regime change “would be a tough sell for us domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe.” He told Wolfowitz about the government’s plans for a “dossier”.

Meyer’s note of the conversation records that Wolfowitz was supportive of exiled Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi who, in spite of CIA doubts, had “a good record in bringing high-grade defectors out of Iraq”. After the war it was revealed that Wolfowitz sought to bypass the CIA to put suspect intelligence into the public domain.

The July 2002 Cabinet Office briefing paper records that “When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion….”

The briefing paper also invites 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.”

Fixing the intelligence and facts around the policy

 
The Downing Street memo shows that at a meeting on 23 July 2003, Richard Dearlove, who was then head of MI6, reported that in George Bush wanted to remove Saddam “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” This analysis, from Britain’s most senior intelligence official, raises the question of why the UK continued to collaborate with the US on the public presentation of intelligence, if it knew that it was being “fixed”.

The US and UK dossiers

 

Spring and Summer 2002

Peter Ricketts’ letter to Jack Straw of 22 March 2002 records the decision to postpone the publication of the UK dossier. He wrote “My meeting yesterday showed that there is more work to do to ensure that the figures are accurate and consistent with those of the US.” It appears that Ricketts believed that UK claims should match US assessments (it is not clear whether this referred to private or public assessments) but it is not clear whether in the case of a conflict between the two, accuracy or consistency with the US should be the overriding principle.

The US-based National Security Archive has published an early version (pdf file) of the US dossier (also known as a white paper) on Iraq’s wmd that was published in October 2002. The draft dossier was dated July 2002, which means that it was being produced in parallel to the UK dossier and, as has been acknowledged by former CIA officials, pre-dated the US National Intelligence Estimate on which it was said to be based. One former senior CIA analyst who helped draft it has said that “The purpose was to strengthen the case of going to war with the American public.”
 

September 2002

On 9 September 2002, Alastair Campbell sent a minute to JIC chairman John Scarlett following Campbell’s visit to the US with Tony Blair. Campbell told Scarlett, who was at that time in charge of the UK dossier, of the US administration’s intention to produce its own series of dossiers. He told Scarlett “I am confident we can make yours one that complements rather than conflicts with them.” Both men had attended the meeting Downing Street meeting on 23 July at which Richard Dearlove had reported that in the US “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of regime change.

The government has stated that the draft produced by Scarlett on 10 September was shown to the CIA. There is also significant evidence that the drafters of the UK dossier were looking very closely at the forthcoming CIA paper and seeking to match its claims.

Between the 9 and 16 September drafts, the UK dossier’s timeline for how quickly Iraq could develop a nuclear weapon was shortened from “at least two years” to “between one and two years”. The change coincided with a speech by Bush in which he claimed that Iraq could obtain a nuclear weapon in less than a year.

George Tenet, the former head of the CIA, has confirmed that the agency questioned the claim in the draft dossier that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. The UK government told the US that it had intelligence that it had not seen, which now appears to have been intelligence from France, based on documents that were later revealed to have been forged. But it appears that the US National Security Agency was then told of new intelligence obtained by Italy’s intelligence services. Initially this intelligence was cleared by the CIA for inclusion in a speech by George Bush but this was then rescinded on the grounds that it was from a single source. Between the 16 and 19 September drafts of its dossier, the UK then received new intelligence on the issue, which is reported to have come from Italy. It appears that this was the intelligence whose use had been vetoed by the CIA and that the NSA may have arranged for it to be sent to the UK.

It has also been alleged that the CIA amended a report setting out intelligence from Naji Sabri, Iraq’s foreign minister, stating that Iraq did not have wmd. It has been alleged that the US sent the UK a liaison report that misrepresented this intelligence.
 
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