Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Ninth Report

The 45 minutes claim

61. The Committee has for some time been conducting a major, ongoing inquiry into Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, in which it has included discussion of the legal and moral case for military action against the Iraqi regime.[93] A further Report of that inquiry will be published shortly. This separate inquiry into The Decision to go to War in Iraq was prompted by specific concerns that Parliament had been misled by the Government when being asked to approve military action against the Iraqi regime in March 2003. Allegations to that effect received wide coverage in the print and broadcast media in early June 2003, including a claim by BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan that a source within the intelligence community had told him that the September dossier had been changed in the week before publication, by the insertion of the suggestion that Iraqi forces were able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of receiving an order to do so. We consider this and Mr Gilligan's other allegations below.[94] In this section, we focus on the credibility of the 45 minutes claim, as it was made in the dossier.

62. The FCO told us that the intelligence on which the claim was based came from "an established, reliable and longstanding line of reporting."[95] The raw intelligence was received by the Secret Intelligence Service in August 2002, and was assessed by the JIC in early September.[96] It was included in the first draft of the dossier after responsibility for preparing that document had passed from the FCO to the JIC Chairman, dated 10 September.[97]

63. It is known that the claim rested on a single source.[98] It appears that no evidence was found which corroborated the information supplied by the source, although it was consistent with a pattern of evidence of Iraq's military capability over time.[99] Neither are we aware that there was any corroborating evidence from allies through the intelligence-sharing machinery.[100] It is also significant that the US did not refer to the claim publicly.[101] Of course, if a single source is reliable, then corroborating evidence, however desirable, may not be necessary.[102] To test the credibility of the claim, we asked not only the Foreign Secretary and his officials but independent, expert witnesses to explain what it might mean.

64. The language used in the September dossier is precise: "we judge that Iraq has … military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, including against its own Shia population. Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them."[103] In supplementary written evidence, the FCO clarified that this wording was based on a JIC assessment that "some CBW weapons could be delivered to units within 45 minutes of an order being issued."[104] Mr Straw went into further detail on the provenance, interpretation and treatment of this claim in private session.

65. Terence Taylor told us that

I would read it—and of course I do not know where the intelligence came from and I do not know about its accuracy—that that would have been based on the Iraqis having ready-filled biological and chemical weapons. The fact that they would have filled munitions would not surprise me.[105]

Mr Taylor went on to say that

I think it is a normal practice for countries that have weapons of this type, special weapons, that there would be deep storage. When it came to possibly being used in a conflict, they would be moved to hides and temporary locations, probably being moved around, taking account of the deployment of the artillery. So, both would be moving and, so at a certain point through special instructions, then there would be a convergence and the two would come together and be useable. I would find that sort of timing not to be unusual. I would think it probably could be credible.[106]

66. Andrew Gilligan reported the view of his source that the original source in Iraq of the 45 minutes claim referred mistakenly not to conventional battlefield weapons systems, but to missiles:

My source … believed that that single source [in Iraq] had made a mistake, that he had confused the deployment time for a conventional missile with the deployment time for a CBW missile. He did not believe that any missiles had been armed with CBW that would therefore be able to be fireable at 45 minutes' notice. … That original source of the 45 minute claim, he was the one that spoke about missiles.[107]

However, it is significant when considering the reliability of Mr Gilligan's source that his evidence was directly contradicted by the Foreign Secretary and by William Ehrman, the FCO's representative on the JIC, who told us that the original source of the claim had referred not to missiles, but to weapons.[108]

67. Dr Inch played down the significance of the claim:

If you have your shells, bombs or missiles filled with chemical and they are ready for release, it does not seem to me to make any difference whether it is a chemical weapon or conventional artillery. It is ready to be fired. … I do not understand why it was put in. I cannot see the significance of it other than saying that it is a terrible situation. If you are at war, all weapons have to be deployable fairly quickly—unless they were suggesting at that stage that the chemicals were stored way back and that they had to be brought up.[109]

68. Writing in the Times, Bronwen Maddox argued that "it was simply stupid of Blair" to have included the claim in the dossier, adding that

In one sense, the allegation is simply a banal military estimate of the length of time for a launch command to pass down the chain. It is plausible that the Intelligence services made such a claim. But it is hard to imagine that any Intelligence agent would have intended that calculation to be presented as flamboyantly as it was in the dossier, dominating the short foreword with its drama to justify the claim of imminent threat.[110]

69. Jack Straw told us

I do not happen to regard the 45 minute statement having the significance which has been attached to it, neither does anybody else, indeed nobody round this table, if I say so with respect. It was scarcely mentioned in any of the very large number of debates that took place in the House, evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, all of the times I was questioned on the radio and television, scarcely mentioned at all.[111]

This answer begs the question why the 45 minutes claim was highlighted by the Prime Minister when he presented the dossier to the House, and why it was given such prominence in the dossier itself, being mentioned no fewer than four times, including in the Prime Minister's foreword and in the executive summary? We have not seen a satisfactory answer to that question. We have been told that the entire document, including the executive summary, was prepared by the Chairman of the JIC, except for the foreword, which he approved.[112] We note with disappointment that we were unable to find out why Mr Scarlett chose to give the 45 minutes claim such prominence, as we have been prevented from questioning him.

70. We conclude that the 45 minutes claim did not warrant the prominence given to it in the dossier, because it was based on intelligence from a single, uncorroborated source. We recommend that the Government explain why the claim was given such prominence.

71. We further recommend that in its response to this Report the Government set out whether it still considers the September dossier to be accurate in what it states about the 45 minute claim, in the light of subsequent events.

Andrew Gilligan's allegation

72. The central charge, originally made by Andrew Gilligan's anonymous source, is that the dossier was "sexed up" on the instructions of Alastair Campbell. It is worth noting that similar reports of unhappiness among the Intelligence Services were appearing elsewhere around the same time. These are set out in detail in the BBC's letter to the Chairman of the Committee.[113] They include articles in The Observer of 24 February, the Independent on Sunday of 27 April, The Guardian of 30 May, The Times of 30 May, the Washington Post of 30 May, The Observer of 1 June. It may be that Mr Gilligan's source was not the only person talking to journalists.

73. In her evidence, Dame Pauline Neville Jones told us in relation to people in the Intelligence Services talking to the press "There clearly was turbulence inside the machine".[114]

74. Mr Gilligan described the source for his story as:

one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up the dossier and I can tell you that he is a source of longstanding, well-known to me, closely connected with the question of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, easily sufficiently senior and credible to be worth reporting.[115]

We consider below questions about Mr Gilligan's source, and about the relationship between the security and intelligence services and the media.[116]

75. As we have noted above, there had been earlier drafts by the FCO, before the JIC assumed responsibility for the document.[117] Mr Gilligan suggests that it was at this point that the dossier was "sexed up", shortly before publication, by the insertion of the 45 minutes claim:

… only a few weeks before the publication of the September dossier, … Whitehall officials had been describing it to the press as rather uneventful. … then three weeks after that the dossier appeared and it was more revelatory than those accounts had it. So something had changed in that three week period.[118]

Andrew Gilligan also said:

The source's claim was that the dossier had been transformed in the week before it was published and I asked, "So how did this transformation happen?", and the answer was a single word, which was "Campbell". … He also said that Downing Street officials, he did not name anybody else, had asked repeatedly if there was anything else [in addition to the 45-minutes claim] that could be included on seeing the original draft of the dossier which was considered dull.[119]

76. Mr Straw denied this:

There had been previous drafts and this particular draft, which I think started its life sometime in early September, went out, it went out for comment and I had a look at it. The thing I can say perfectly publicly is that I thought it should make more reference to earlier inspections because having read this document I thought it should have a wider audience, referring to UNSCOM's final report of uncompleted disarmament tasks through late 1998, things like that, suggestions. I think one of my colleagues suggested that there should be a foreword. That is what happens. I think the implication of what Mr Gilligan was saying was that the judgments were changed, but that was not the case.[120]

77. Alastair Campbell himself, Jack Straw and senior FCO officials who were closely involved in the preparation of the dossier all denied in evidence to us that the dossier had been materially changed by Mr Campbell.[121] In particular, they deny that the 45 minutes claim was inserted by him or at his request, pointing out that it first appeared in a JIC assessment discussed at a meeting on 9 September and then in the first JIC draft of the dossier, dated 10 September, and that this was the first draft seen by Mr Campbell.[122] Mr Campbell has told us in terms that "It (the 45 minutes claim) was not inserted at my request."[123] If Mr Campbell is not correct in making this statement, then he and all those who have made similar statements, from the Prime Minister[124] through the Foreign Secretary to the Chairman of the JIC are in contempt of Parliament. We cannot believe that this is so. We conclude that Alastair Campbell did not play any role in the inclusion of the 45 minutes claim in the September dossier.

78. Mr Campbell supplied us with a list of changes to the September dossier which were requested by him, some of which were made and some not.[125] The first thing we note from this paper is that Mr Campbell actually chaired the planning meeting which took place on 9 September. This was surprising, because we were told by a FCO official, albeit one who had not attended the drafting meetings, that they had been chaired by the Chairman of the JIC.[126] We are concerned that a meeting to discuss a document which Ministers had asked the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee to prepare was chaired by the Prime Minister's Special Adviser.

79. We conclude that it was wrong for Alastair Campbell or any Special Adviser to have chaired a meeting on an intelligence matter, and we recommend that this practice cease.

80. Mr Campbell tells us that he underlined the importance for the credibility of the document that it should be, and be seen to be, the work of the JIC. He states that he emphasised "it goes without saying that nothing should be published that you (the JIC Chairman and the Intelligence Agencies) are not 100% happy with."

81. The first draft of the document as prepared by the JIC Chairman reached Mr Campbell the following day. He tells us he made no comment on it. He received a further draft on 17 September. Mr Campbell has listed the comments which, to the best of his recollection and that of the Chairman of the JIC, he made on this draft.

82. Speaking about the generality of his comments, Mr Campbell told us that "I know the accusation is I sexed it up, I think this is sexing it down".[127] On the whole, the effect of his comments was, so far as we can tell, neutral. Some aspects of the draft he suggested should be toned down, some he asked to be explained more fully. Accepting his list as being as full and as accurate as he and the JIC Chairman can make it, we find that in only one case did Mr Campbell seek to interfere with the draft in a substantive way, by seeking to have the issue of aluminium tubes included in the executive summary. But in this he failed.

83. Mr Campbell received a final draft of the dossier on 19 September, five days before publication. He has told us that neither he nor the Chairman of the JIC can recall that he made any further comments. Mr Straw told us that "Let me make clear, nobody 'sexed-up' or exaggerated that September dossier, no-one at all, and that includes Alastair Campbell."[128]

84. We conclude that on the basis of the evidence available to us Alastair Campbell did not exert or seek to exert improper influence on the drafting of the September dossier.

85. Jack Straw told us that there had been no formal complaints from members of the security and intelligence services about the content of the dossier.[129]

86. We conclude that the claims made in the September dossier were in all probability well founded on the basis of the intelligence then available, although as we have already stated we have concerns about the emphasis given to some of them. We further conclude that, in the absence of reliable evidence that intelligence personnel have either complained about or sought to distance themselves from the content of the dossier, allegations of politically inspired meddling cannot credibly be established.

Did the dossier exaggerate claims?

87. If the dossier did misrepresent the true situation on Iraq's WMD, there are two possible explanations: either the intelligence was faulty (or misinterpreted in good faith); or it was deliberately exaggerated. The first of these possibilities was considered by Dame Pauline Neville Jones:

… I do wonder whether one does not need to go back not only to the question of how the material was handled when it came to the compiling of evidence for public consumption but also how reliable the base was underneath.[130]

88. Former Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie described intelligence supplied by Iraqi groups "desperate to encourage intervention in Iraq" as "garbage grade".[131] Dr Gary Samore, too, was sceptical about the reliability of information provided by defectors:

I think that any information you get from defectors should be automatically suspect because defectors have such a strong interest in making up stories or exaggerating stories, if not for political reasons then perhaps for reasons of personal gain. You have to start with the assumption that anything you get from a defector is probably not accurate. Having said that, there are occasions when defector information proves invaluable when there are bona fide people who come out of programmes and provide extremely important information. That was certainly the case for Iraq in the early 1990s. There were a couple of defectors who came out of the nuclear programme and provided very detailed and accurate information that helped the IAEA to crack the secret of Iraq's nuclear programme.[132]

89. This is particularly worrying, when set against the evidence to this Committee of former FCO Minister Ben Bradshaw last April:

There are limits, as you will understand, to some of the evidence that we can put in the public domain, not least because the bulk of the evidence that we have since the weapons inspectors left, by the very nature of their not being there, is based on intelligence, is based on defections and is based on what we know the Iraqi regime has tried to import.[133]

90. We conclude that without access to the intelligence or to those who handled it, we cannot know if it was in any respect faulty or misinterpreted. Although without the Foreign Secretary's degree of knowledge, we share his confidence in the men and women who serve in the agencies.

Was the language appropriate?

91. Another question which arises, and which has been asked quite separately from Mr Gilligan's accusations, is whether the language employed in the dossier was more assertive or more tendentious than that which is normally associated with a JIC assessment. If it was, that would lend credence to the view that the dossier was the object of political interference, or at least pressure.

92. Dame Pauline Neville Jones was Chairman of the JIC in the early 1990s. She characterised the traditional JIC approach to drafting in the following terms: "If there is a bias in the system the bias is towards care, which means you are cautious, which means, if anything, you are conservative."[134] Dame Pauline highlighted the danger that information can become propaganda: "Clearly there is a very fine line between showing the evidence and making a case. It is where showing the evidence turns into making the case where the system has to take a very, very strong grip on itself."[135] Andrew Wilkie, who had seen other JIC papers but who accepted he was a lone voice in the Australian intelligence community,[136] believed the dossier had been exaggerated: "I think this document is a step beyond what I would expect the JIC to produce. … It is too unambiguous. It paints too confident a picture of Iraq's WMD programme."[137] Andrew Gilligan, who claimed to have seen a number of JIC Reports—although with one exception they were old and already in the public domain—told us that "It is as much a matter of language, phraseology … an intelligence report of any description is pretty unexciting to be honest. It is couched, it is full of caveats, it is full of conditionals."[138]

93. Gary Samore said that

Certainly in the Institute dossier we were a bit more cautious in saying "probably" and trying to explain on which basis we had reached that conclusion but I think that the kind of confidence that you just described in the British Government dossier was very widely shared in western intelligence agencies.

94. We note that the paper published by the FCO on 10 November 10 1998 in advance of Operation Desert Fox and which clearly draws on intelligence material, uses much less certain language. In paragraph 9 it states "The Iraqi chemical industry could produce mustard gas almost immediately and nerve agents within months"; and "Saddam almost certainly retains some BW production equipment, stocks of agents and weapons." The WMD dossier states (in paragraph 6 of the Executive Summary) "As a result of intelligence we judge that Iraq has: …continued to produce chemical and biological agents." The dossier is much more certain.

95. In her evidence, Dame Pauline Neville Jones told us "If you put those two statements together one is a much more active statement than the other…" and "those two statements are justified but can only be justified by a change in the situation."[139]

96. We also note a difference in wording between the body of the dossier and the Executive Summary. The Executive Summary states in paragraph 6 "As a result of the intelligence we judge that Iraq has … continued to produce chemical and biological agents". The main text states "The JIC concluded that Iraq had sufficient expertise, equipment and material to produce biological warfare agents within weeks …" and "… the JIC assessed that Iraq retained some chemical warfare agents, precursors, production equipment and weapons from before the Gulf War. These stocks would enable Iraq to produce significant quantities of mustard gas within weeks and nerve agent within months."[140] The wording of the Executive Summary is again stronger than the main text.

97. This occurs again in relation to the 45 minute claim. The Summary states in paragraph 6 "As a result of intelligence we judge that Iraq has … military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons … Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them." The main text states "Intelligence indicates that the Iraqi military are able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so."[141]

98. In significant respects the Executive Summary is stronger than the main text.[142]

99. On the other hand, the immediate past Chairman of the JIC, Peter Ricketts, "[did] not find anything in the language of [the dossier] at all surprising in terms of the judgments that the JIC reach."[143] And Dr Tom Inch thought the dossier was if anything less assertive than he would have wished: "I found that there were too many weasel-words in the report, as I read it. They could do this or they might do that and so on, rather than saying that the evidence was hard."[144]

100. We conclude that the language used in the September dossier was in places more assertive than that traditionally used in intelligence documents. We believe that there is much value in retaining the measured and even cautious tones which have been the hallmark of intelligence assessments and we recommend that this approach be retained.

Did the September dossier present complete and accurate information?

101. We summarised the weapons of mass destruction claims made in the September dossier (and those made in the IISS publication) in our Report of last December on Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism.[145] Then, we concluded that "evidence of Iraq's retention and continued development of weapons of mass destruction is compelling, and a cause for considerable concern" and we commended the Government for producing the dossier.[146]

Robin Cook was in no doubt that the dossier had overstated the case:

The plain fact is a lot of the intelligence in the September dossier has turned out in practice to be wrong. I think it is important that we fasten on how wrong it was, why it was wrong, and were there other parts of intelligence around which might have suggested more caution?[147]

Even Jack Straw would have preferred the judgments and the claims in the dossier to have been better supported:

I was satisfied that the available intelligence justified the judgments that were made. Would I, in an ideal world, have preferred more intelligence? For sure, because the only reason we had to rely on intelligence was because of the highly secretive and mendacious nature of the Iraqi regime.[148]

The need to ensure that evidence is up-to-date was emphasised by Dame Pauline Neville Jones:

I would have wanted to go back a bit to see the consistency of the evidence and whether we really had an audit trail of evidence that did not have breaks in it so that you did not somehow suddenly get a period when those previous judgments did not seem to be supported or where there were gaps in the picture, because that would have made me worry.[149]

102. Former UN arms inspector Terence Taylor had no doubt that Iraq retained WMD:

… there was substantial, I would say overwhelming, evidence, a mountain of evidence, that Iraq had research, development and production facilities and useable weapons and almost certainly operational biological and chemical weapons. If I were sitting in a position in early March 2003, that would be a conclusion and I think I would be irresponsible if I came to some other conclusion.[150]

103. Mr Taylor was of the opinion that the dossier was substantially accurate:

In its main substance, it seemed to me to be very accurate. Of course, I was not party to intelligence information myself, so I was judging it from open sources and from what I knew and from what I could judge. I suppose it is fair to say that I am an insider in many ways and, having studied the information in detail, I think that in main substance, the UK Government's dossier was correct.[151]

104. When asked whether he thought Iraq had continued to produce chemical or biological weapons after 1998, Dr Tom Inch, a Deputy Director of Porton Down in the early 1990s, was more circumspect: "I do not think that there is any compelling evidence to say that they did, but again there is no compelling evidence to say that they did not." Andrew Wilkie, who claimed to have had access to relevant intelligence, said that

… what we have found so far is much closer to my claim that it was a disjointed and contained WMD programme and not the sort of big national programme that was sold to us as the justification for the war. … in retrospect it [the September dossier] is a lousy document because this document led us to expect that the troops would go into Iraq and encounter and uncover a huge WMD programme.[152]

105. Dame Pauline Neville Jones also had doubts:

I do not draw the conclusion because they have not been found they will not be found or do not exist. I am surprised they have not been found … . What I cannot help feeling is if they had been more operational they would have found something by now.[153]

106. A member of the Cabinet until the decision to go to war was taken, Robin Cook told us that "frankly I am rather surprised we have not discovered some biological toxins or some chemical agents. Indeed, in my resignation speech I said they probably are there. The position actually has turned out to be even less threatening than I anticipated at the time I resigned."[154]

107. Dame Pauline Neville Jones agreed that the absence of significant weapons finds in Iraq increases the cynicism of the British public as to the motivation behind the decision to go to war, saying: "That is why it is very important to establish what went on."[155] We conclude that continuing disquiet and unease about the claims made in the September dossier are unlikely to be dispelled unless more evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programmes comes to light. We recommend that the Government in its response to this Report set out whether it still considers the September dossier to be accurate in respect of material in it not already referred to in our earlier recommendations above, in the light of subsequent events.

93   Seventh Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-02, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 384, and Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2002-03, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 196 Back

94   See paras 72 to 86 Back

95   Ev 10 Back

96   HC Deb, 4 June 2003, col 193. Back

97   Ev 10 Back

98   Ev 61 Back

99   Ev 61 Back

100   Q 736 (Jack Straw) Back

101   Ev 61 Back

102   Q 322 Back

103   Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, Executive Summary, para 6 Back

104   Ev 55. See also Q 305 Back

105   Q 303 Back

106   Q 304 Back

107   Qq 461, 481 Back

108   Qq 1281-1284 Back

109   Qq 259, 262 Back

110   Honesty or judgement: Blair fails on one or the other, The Times, 5 June 2003 Back

111   Q 737 Back

112   Qq 732, 775, 1187 Back

113   Ev 53 Back

114   Q 382 Back

115   Q 418 Back

116   See paras 150 to 154 below Back

117   See para 26 above Back

118   Q 517 Back

119   Q 457 Back

120   Q 810 Back

121   Qq 811 (Peter Ricketts), 1007 (Alastair Campbell) Back

122   Ev 10; Q 1218 (Jack Straw) Back

123   Ev 10 Back

124   HC Deb, 4 June, col 149 Back

125   Ev 10 Back

126   Q 1250 (William Ehrman) Back

127   Q 980 Back

128   Q 1292 Back

129   Qq 734, 1201, 1291 Back

130   Q 365 Back

131   Q 595. See also Ev 4 Back

132   Q 168 Back

133   Seventh Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2001-02, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 384, Q 292 Back

134   Q 341 Back

135   Q 361. See also Q 100 (Clare Short) Back

136   Qq 592, 655 Back

137   Q 618. See also Q 635. Back

138   Q 512 Back

139   Q 362 Back

140   Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessement of the British Government, para 3 Back

141   Ibid., p 19, para 5 Back

142   For a full comparison of the summary and the main text, see Appendix 2. Back

143   Q 808 Back

144   Q 227 Back

145   Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2002-03, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 196, paras 89 -95 Back

146   Ibid., para 96 Back

147   Q 34 Back

148   Q 772 Back

149   Q 368 Back

150   Q 307 Back

151   Q 297. See also Q 336. Back

152   Qq 600, 617 Back

153   Q 371 Back

154   Q 21 Back

155   Q 372 Back

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