The incidental death of a weapons inspector

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

On 7 July the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee (FASC) published its report on ‘The decision to go to war in Iraq’. Commissioned by Parliament, the FASC had inquired into ‘whether the Foreign Office had presented accurate and complete information to Parliament in the period leading up to the decision to go to war in Iraq.’ This is what passes, in the British Parliament, for in-depth investigation into the farrago of lies which constituted the government’s ‘intelligence reports’ leading to war with Iraq. The FASC reached its lamentable conclusions by a whisker of the chairman’s casting vote: that neither the Foreign Secretary, nor the Prime Minister, nor his ‘Special Adviser’ Alastair Campbell (nor indeed anyone now or ever associated with the Labour Party) had ever misled Parliament. Everyone else was deeply sceptical. The questions looked set to run and run...until a decoy was introduced. Meet Dr David Kelly.

That may be the last you will hear in the media of the FASC’s Ninth Report of the Session 2002-3. But its conclusions, fudged though they are, are very revealing of government turpitude. The government only published two ‘intelligence’ dossiers in the lead up to the war in Iraq: both of them deserving the ‘dodgy’ epithet attached to them. Most people would think such a history of ‘dodginess’ significant.

In September 2002, Jack Straw (incidentally, flanked at the press conference to unveil it by none other than Dr David Kelly) published a dossier alleging that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of producing nuclear weapons, had attempted to buy yellow cake uranium from Niger, and could launch weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes notice. There was, in fact, no evidence that Iraq had a nuclear weapons programme at all. The Niger allegations were based on crudely forged documents (see ‘Lies, damn lies and more lies’, FRFI 173) and the 45-minute strike capability was simply a lie. A lie that found its way into the dossier’s foreword, was repeated in Parliament by the Prime Minister and then appeared in US President George Bush’s State of the Union speech. This lie served its purpose; going to war was an urgent matter that could not wait for pettifogging in the United Nations Security Council or adherence to international law. Saddam Hussein had to be stopped.

The loyal FASC would not go so far as to call the dossier a lie. They did, however, think that the 45-minute strike capability claim should not have been included in the foreword, and reflected that it was ‘very odd’ that the government could not substantiate its claim to have ‘other evidence’ for the Niger uranium allegation.

The second dossier, published in February 2003, turned out to be a plagiarised article by an Iraqi exile from Middle East Review of International Affairs based on evidence from the first Gulf War, 11 years before, cobbled together with already published reports from Jane’s Weekly. The production of this ‘dossier’ was Alastair Campbell’s idea.

Campbell was apparently responsible for a committee called ‘Iraq Communications Group’ and an autonomous group within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office called the Coalition Information Centre (CIC). CIC produced the February dossier at the behest of the Iraq Communications Group, claiming that it was based on ‘intelligence’. In fact it was nothing of the sort: it was simply old information and lying propaganda. For instance, where the original author had written about the Iraqi intelligence agency ‘aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes’, Campbell’s committee had changed it to read ‘supporting terrorist organisations in hostile regimes’. This dossier was produced without any ministerial oversight, signed off by Campbell, touted around in Washington by Tony Blair, and published to Parliament claiming to be ‘compiled from intelligence reports’.

The FASC report found that the February dossier was ‘almost wholly counter-productive’. In fact it was an embarrassment. It also found that the ‘degree of autonomy given to the Iraqi Communications Group chaired by Alastair Campbell and the Coalition Information Centre which reported to him, as well as the lack of procedural accountability, were contributory factors to the affair of the “dodgy dossier”’. For a tame committee this was criticism indeed.

This is all you need to understand why Alastair Campbell blew his top while giving evidence to the FASC inquiry. When in trouble create a diversion. That diversion was Campbell’s ‘anger’ over BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan’s claim on the Radio 4 Today programme that an intelligence mole had said the government had ‘sexed up’ the September dossier knowing that the 45-minute capability claim was dubious. Campbell declared war on the BBC and demanded an apology, aided and abetted by a Prime Minister, ‘deeply hurt’ at being called a liar, and various ministers in the firing line like Hoon (MoD) and Ben Bradshaw (Environment). Attention was immediately deflected to forcing Gilligan to reveal his source, away from the real issue of government lies in the lead up to the war. Everyone knew that the 45-minute claim was dubious (to say the least), but that had ceased to be an issue.

Within a day of the publication of the FASC report, the MoD announced that it had found the mole and offered enough hints to ensure that the press could identify him as Dr David Kelly, Chief Scientific Officer at the MoD, senior adviser to the proliferation and arms control secretariat and to the Foreign Office’s non proliferation department. He had also been a senior UNSCOM inspector in Iraq from 1994 to 1999. The MoD now threw him to the hyenas.

Despite the fact that the FASC had already published its report, it summoned Dr Kelly to give evidence on 15 July. Once again they did Campbell’s dirty work: attempting to refute Gilligan’s claim. All the failed-politicians-turned-bullies that inhabit Select Committees, turned their fire on Kelly. This was ‘the high court of Parliament and Kelly must answer’: was he Gilligan’s main source? He said he thought not. Blair demanded that the BBC name their source. Blair-loyalist Ben Bradshaw, clearly at home with Star Chamber tactics, announced that until proved otherwise Dr Kelly would be guilty. On 18 July David Kelly was found dead.

The BBC and Gilligan then revealed that Kelly was indeed the main source. This immediately let the Government off the hook. Blair was able to breathe again: either Dr Kelly had lied to the Select Committee, or Gilligan had. The government could either blame the BBC or a dead man. A judicial inquiry could safely be called into the circumstances of Dr Kelly’s death. Everyone can respectfully vow to behave better and carry on behaving as they always have. For the time being the gambit has worked. Geoff Hoon may lose his job, and Campbell may follow, but no one is paying any more attention to those weapons of mass destruction that have failed to show up in the Iraqi desert.

Carol Brickley


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