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THE IRAQ WAR -- PART III: Shaping the Debate

U.S. and British Documents Show Transatlantic Propaganda Cooperation

Joint Drafting & Editing of White Papers “Fixed the Facts”

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 330

Edited by John Prados and Christopher Ames

Posted - October 4, 2010

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John Prados - 202/994-7000

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Washington, D.C., October 4, 2010 - For nearly a year before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair collaborated closely with the George W. Bush administration to produce a far starker picture of the threat from Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) than was justified by intelligence at the time, according to British and American government documents posted today by the National Security Archive.  

With the aim of strengthening the political case for going to war, both governments regularly coordinated their assessments, the records show, occasionally downplaying and even eliminating points of disagreement over the available intelligence. The new materials, acquired largely through the U.K. Freedom of Information Act and often featuring less redacted versions of previously released records, also reveal that the Blair administration, far earlier than has been appreciated until now, utilized public relations specialists to help craft the formal intelligence “white papers” about Iraq’s WMD program. 

At one point, even though intelligence officials were skeptical, the British went so far as to incorporate in their white paper allegations about Saddam’s nuclear ambitions because they had been made publicly by President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

The documents also show that:

  • From early 2002 both governments were seeking regime change, but Prime Minister Blair and his officials were very conscious of the need to make a case for war, based on claims about Iraqi WMDs.
  • From March 2002 – the very beginning of the process – the U.S. and U.K. administrations were concerned to achieve consistency in their claims about Iraqi weapons, often at the cost of accuracy. In the spring of 2002 the two countries began to produce in parallel the white papers on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that they published that fall. At least two drafts of the respective white papers were exchanged from either side in order to avoid providing grist for “opponents of action.”
  • Officials working on the parallel papers took part in a number of secure video conferences to avoid inconsistencies between the documents. Both sides accelerated the drafting of their white papers in September 2002 as part of a coordinated propaganda effort.
  • Officials re-drafting the U.K.’s white paper or “dossier” in September 2002 were told to ensure that it “complemented” rather than contradicted claims in the U.S. document. A draft of the U.K. dossier was brought to Washington by intelligence chief John Scarlett for U.S. input.
  • In addition, U.K. officials examined the draft U.S. white paper closely and sought to match its claims. The U.S. paper has been described by one of its authors as intended “to strengthen the case of going to war with the American public.”
  • The U.K. white paper was amended to incorporate a number of claims about Saddam’s alleged nuclear ambitions that intelligence officials found questionable but were included because President Bush and Vice President Cheney made public reference to them, for example the allegation that Iraq could obtain a nuclear weapon within a brief one- or two-year timeframe.
  • The U.S. paper, which had omitted the same claims from an early draft, also included them after the President and Vice President’s public references to them.
  • In addition, the U.K. dossier was heavily influenced by Blair advisers and public relations experts, including Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications. Its drafters were also willing to change it to fit in with public statements from British government advisers, whether or not those statements were true.


Analysis: Shaping the Debate
By John Prados and Christopher Ames*

The documentation posted today by the National Security Archive shows that, apart from any intelligence errors that may have been made, the two governments co-ordinated efforts to present propagandistic charges as “intelligence.” While criticisms of the respective governments’ “white papers” have previously been made, no previous account has shown the degree to which the need jointly to make a persuasive case was permitted to infect intelligence processes on both sides of the Atlantic.

From March 2002, officials from the two governments discussed the need for “information” to be produced in support of plans for regime change in Iraq, leading to parallel white papers in the fall of that year. While it was the British government that pushed hardest for efforts to manipulate political and public opinion – making this a condition of its participation in war – the Bush administration went furthest in making exaggerated claims about Iraqi WMD, which the British duly matched. But the process also worked the other way.

This analysis is based on documents obtained on both sides of the Atlantic, through freedom of information releases, leaks and publications, plus official inquiries into the conflict, as well as testimony to the ongoing U.K. Iraq Inquiry under Sir John Chilcot. The collation and cross-referencing of this evidence shows for the first time the extent to which, in their public statements, the two countries “fixed the facts and the intelligence around the policy” of regime change.

The evidence we present includes new and significant documents obtained under the U.K.’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and declassified documents obtained by the Archive. We also use some of the many documents disclosed to and published by Lord Hutton’s 2003 inquiry into the death of government scientist Dr. David Kelly. The significance of many Hutton Inquiry documents has not been fully understood and some were originally published in an expurgated form. We have obtained unredacted versions of some of these documents and other evidence that the British government sought to conceal. This evidence shows that British communications and policy officials were concerned to make as strong a case as possible that Saddam had WMDs, irrespective of doubts about the intelligence, and to ensure that their claims would not be seen as contradicting those of Bush administration officials. The British government also provided evidence – albeit often partial and misleading – to an inquiry by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee; to an inquiry by its own Intelligence and Security Committee; and to an inquiry in 2004 into the use of intelligence led by another British peer, Lord Butler. Our evidence from the US includes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 inquiry. In addition, we have first-hand information from sources on both sides of the Atlantic with first-hand knowledge of the production of both white papers and of the attempts to co-ordinate them.

Our evidence also includes the “Downing Street papers”, leaked to U.K. newspapers and published on the internet. Many of these same documents have been supplied to the Chilcot Inquiry but have not been declassified and the British government has not allowed their publication. Nevertheless testimony at the Inquiry confirms their authenticity. These materials show the extent to which the Blair government was conscious not merely of a perceived need to support the Bush administration desire for regime change in Iraq but of the need to win the propaganda war.

Other EBBs in this series have shown that in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, hawks in the Bush administration wanted to launch an attack on Iraq, with no evidence that it was involved. Prime Minister Blair is credited with talking Bush out of such an action and persuading him to focus on Afghanistan and Al Qaeda. However, it has been suggested that this was at the price of a commitment to “come back to Iraq” at a later stage. (Note 1)

In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush listed Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, as part of an “an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” In February 2002, Britain began to produce a white paper, which was already called a “dossier.” This was initially based on four countries alleged to be in possession of or developing WMD. But as we have shown in part two of this series, evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry confirms that by March the Blair government was aware that the U.S. administration was determined to overturn Saddam’s regime and felt that it had no choice but to support this policy. According to evidence from Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett, the task of producing this paper was given to the JIC assessments staff.

The JIC provides assessments to the British government much like the national intelligence estimates (NIEs) developed in the U.S. Its structure is different from the U.S. system, and consists of responsible officials from various government departments, chaired by a senior official of the Cabinet Office whose title and status derives from this important role. Assessments are drafted by a cadre of government analysts (the assessments staff), supervised by the chairman’s deputy. This might be the equivalent, in the U.S. system, of having NIEs written by a few CIA analysts supervised by the deputy national security adviser then cleared by a subcommittee of the National Security Council. In actuality, in the U.S. the NIEs are compiled by experts from inside and outside of the intelligence community, selected and supervised by officers who hold portfolios on a senior body, the National Intelligence Council whose assessments are meant to be utterly unaffected by U.S. policy considerations. The NIE papers are then reviewed a board of directors of the intelligence agencies.  

On March 5, 2002, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw published an article in the Times of London said to be based on data from the intelligence agencies, which claimed that “evidence has been building up that the threat from Iraq's weapons programmes is growing once more.” (Note 2) The next day the Guardian newspaper reported that “Britain and the US are engaged in a joint strategy designed to apply pressure on Saddam Hussein to allow UN weapons inspectors into Iraq while preparing public opinion for military action against the country.” (Note 3) The paper said: “The British government is planning to release a dossier, based on intelligence information, on Iraq's attempts to produce weapons of mass destruction and develop long-range missiles.”

Behind the scenes, the policy that was already being put into effect was being formally elaborated. A U.K. Cabinet Office paper dated March 8, 2002, which has since leaked, purported to discuss the respective options of tightening the existing policy of containing Saddam, as against regime change, but appears to have been designed to advocate the latter, while using the former as a pretext. The document assessed that “continuing containment is an option” but did not assess the case for regime change, other than to state, “The US has lost confidence in containment.” It then discussed how regime change might be achieved. Among elements of a staged approach to achieving this were efforts to build a coalition and obtain United Nations support, including “sensitizing the public: a media campaign to warn of the dangers that Saddam poses and to prepare public opinion both in the U.K. and abroad.”

On March 11, 2002, six months to the day since the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Cheney met Tony Blair at Downing Street. As we set out in our parallel 2002 EBB, Cheney was on a tour of European and Middle Eastern countries to see what their tolerance was for action against Iraq. Jonathan Powell, Prime Minister Blair’s chief of staff, told the Chilcot Inquiry: “The action was about -- yes, about replacing Saddam.” (Note 4) At the subsequent press conference, Blair said: “no decisions have been taken on how we deal with this threat, but that there is a threat from Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction that he has acquired is not in doubt at all.” (Note 5) This warning concerning a “threat” was entirely in line with the proposal in the Cabinet Office paper that the public should be given notice of the “danger” from Iraq. Nevertheless Blair’s certainty cannot be reconciled with the caution in the Cabinet Office paper that “our intelligence is poor” and the assessment that the policy of containment meant that “Saddam has not succeeded in seriously threatening his neighbours.”

Blair was already spinning the WMD issue. His claim that no decisions had been taken on Iraq was no more truthful. The very next day, his chief foreign affairs adviser, Sir David Manning, accompanied by Britain’s Washington Ambassador, Sir Christopher Meyer, met US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for a discussion which set the tone for US/U.K. interaction on Iraq for the next year. After the meeting, Manning sent a memorandum to Blair. In one sentence it shows Blair’s unequivocal support for removing Saddam, tempered only by the need to “manage” domestic opinion: “I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States.” (Note 6)

Efforts to manage parliamentary opinion were proceeding that very day. At a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Straw gave Labour MPs a briefing paper on Iraq co-written by Michael Williams, one of his special political advisers. The paper alleged that “if Iraq’s weapons programmes remain unchecked, Iraq could redevelop offensive chemical and biological capabilities within a very short period of time and develop a crude nuclear device in about five years”. (Note 7)

The next day, Foreign Office non-proliferation official Tim Dowse sent Williams a memo (Document 1) complaining that his department had not been forewarned about the paper and that it differed in one important respect from the government’s well-established pubic line. For Iraq to build a bomb required that controls (i.e. U.N. sanctions) should be lifted, “in other words, we believe that at present the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme is not ‘unchecked’.” Dowse pointed out that this line was also included in what he called “the draft public dossier on ‘WMD programmes of concern.’” He wrote: “We clearly will now have to review that text, to avoid exposing differences with your paper.” Dowse, who would be involved in finalising the dossier six months later, signalled his willingness to change its claims to bring them into line with claims from spin doctors that were known to be false.

Ambassador Meyer further stressed British support for regime change and the need to make the public relations case at a meeting with U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on March 17. According to Meyer’s account of this discussion, Meyer makes reference to British plans to produce a white paper..  He told Wolfowitz that the “U.K. was giving serious thought to publishing a paper that would make the case against Saddam.”  The reference to what subsequently became known as a “dossier” followed from the British need to get public opinion on board. “If the U.K. were to join with the U.S. in any operation against Saddam,” Meyer wrote, “we would have to be able to take a critical mass of parliamentary and public opinion with us.” (Note 8)

Scarlett told the Chilcot Inquiry that “in mid-March,” that is, exactly when Meyer and Manning were meeting Wolfowitz and Rice, “it was decided, as a policy decision, to proceed not with the four country paper, but with a draft on Iraq alone.” That paper would cover Iraq’s supposed WMDs as well as the regime’s history of defiance of the U.N. and human rights abuses. It was shelved at the end of the month, Scarlett testified, apparently on grounds that the moment was too early politically, and the evidence remained too weak. (Note 9)

In a letter to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw dated March 22, 2002 (Document 2), the Foreign Office’s Political Director, Peter Ricketts, wrote: “I am relieved that you decided to postpone publication of the unclassified document. 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. But even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts: the programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up….”

Rickett’s letter shows  that, in the prelude to Blair’s visit to Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch in April 2002, the U.K. government concentrated on the need to make WMDs, rather than regime change, the focus of public policy pronouncements, even if war was the end result. Ricketts, furnishing advice for Straw to give the prime minister, argued that “Bush would do well to depersonalise the objective focus on elimination of WMD, and show that he is serious about U.N. Inspectors as the first choice means of achieving that.” But Ricketts points out that “we are still left with a problem of bringing public opinion to accept the imminence of a threat from Iraq. This is something the Prime Minister and President need to have a frank discussion about.”

It remains unclear exactly what was said during the frank discussion at Crawford and to what extent Blair committed the U.K. to taking part in an invasion of Iraq (see part two of this series). A Cabinet Office paper produced in July 2002 states that Blair agreed to go to war on certain conditions, which included the point that “efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion.” (Note 10)

After the summit, U.K. military officials were integrated into US planning, and propaganda efforts began on both sides of the Atlantic. Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications and strategy and a close confident, took stock of Britain’s propaganda campaign. According to Campbell’s published diaries, (Note 11) on April 23 he and Scarlett met with other officials “to go through what we needed to do communications wise to set the scene for Iraq, e.g. a WMD paper and other papers about Saddam.”

Only two weeks later, on May 8, 2002, the Bush administration commissioned its own white paper. This would be produced under supervision of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and issued in the name of CIA Director George Tenet. We will refer to it as “the CIA paper.” According to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) 2004 report, (Note 12) after a meeting of the NSC deputies committee, an assistant to John McLaughlin, the deputy director of central intelligence, asked Paul Pillar, the National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for the Near East and South Asia, to begin work on this CIA paper. Its initial draft was ready by May 22. As the NIO, Pillar exercised a supervisory role over line analysts in the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence (DI) who performed the major effort on this paper according to the SSCI report.

The DI analysts were from its Near East and South Asia office and were primarily expert in political and military trends, not weapons of mass destruction, yet the content of the CIA paper mostly covered those weapons. Reviewing the product, Pillar was concerned at the weak summary section on WMD, and with the use of the intelligence community’s corporate pronoun “we” for a document the CIA was merely preparing—at that time supposedly to be issued by the United States government. Pillar feared the agency being dragged into political advocacy.  At this stage Pillar went back to McLaughlin for guidance on who, specifically, was to be its corporate sponsor. The CIA was then cast in that role. The second key development was that the draft white paper was circulated for comment among key officials of the Bush administration. For example, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith commented on it during the summer. His suggestions all went toward sharpening its charges against the Saddam Hussein regime.

In a 2006 television interview, (Note 13) Pillar questioned the propriety of producing this paper and expressed regret over his involvement. He said that the document was “published for policy advocacy purposes. This was not informing [a] decision. What was the purpose of it? The purpose was to strengthen the case of going to war with the American public.” According to the SSCI report, NIC staff then worked intermittently on it for “the next several months,” although Pillar has told the authors that for most of that time it was “lying fallow.” (Note 14)

During the summer, work on the U.K. white paper continued. On June 6, 2002, the Cabinet Office circulated a new draft dossier (Document 3), dated June 3 and “produced by CIC.” The CIC, or Coalition Information Centre, was a transatlantic organization, with offices in London and Washington, set up following the 9/11 attacks to provide propaganda in support of the invasion of Afghanistan. The U.K. branch was based in the Foreign Office but it reported to Alastair Campbell at Downing Street. This document is highly significant in that it establishes not only that the U.K. dossier was being actively drafted during the summer of 2002, but that the CIC was carrying out the drafting, or at least assembling the three elements into a single document.  Although the CIC is known to have produced the February 2003 briefing paper on Iraq’s “Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation” (Note 15) (known as the “dodgy dossier”),  its involvement in drafting the September 2002 WMD dossier has not previously been disclosed.

It appears that at this stage it had not been decided whether to publish the various elements of the dossier as separate papers or a single document. The CIC draft is virtually identical to a draft dated June 20, 2002, (Note 16) that was supplied to the Hutton Inquiry bearing the heading “one document version,” while another text, described below, on which the first complete draft dossier (Document 6) was based, bears the heading “two document version.” A State Department memo in September 2002 (Document 8) refers to the British “tossing out the first draft they shared with the USG some time ago.” This evidence indicates that a draft of the U.K. dossier produced in the summer – or perhaps even earlier – was shared with the U.S.

As a previous Archive EBB has shown, a further version of the CIA paper was produced in July 2002. It appears that the drafters of the British dossier saw a CIA draft at around this time. An email sent between British officials in September 2002 (Document 12) refers to “the earlier version” of the CIA paper. Coordination of the British dossier and the CIA paper clearly indicates the collaborative nature of the process and the joint intention of Prime Minister Blair and President Bush to produce the strongest possible allegations against Iraq as a means of influencing American and British public opinion.

The centrepiece of the “Downing Street documents”  and the one from which they take their name, is a “minute” or record of a meeting at 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002. This leaked document provides significant insight into the attitude of the Bush administration to regime change, the “UN route” and propaganda efforts – and into the British response to US views. At the meeting, Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of SIS, reported on his recent visit to Washington: “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record.” (Note 17)

Dearlove appears here to be differentiating between the Bush administration’s intention to use claims about Iraqi WMD, linked to the terrorist threat, to justify an invasion and it unwillingness, or at least that of the NSC, to widen the propaganda focus to historical issues such as those around human rights. The assessment that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy may have been a reference to the CIA white paper, whose redrafting at that time is consistent with Dearlove’s assessment that military action was now seen as inevitable in the US.

In response to this assessment from Dearlove, the Blair government planned to use Secretary of State Colin Powell to persuade the US to go to the U.N. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the meeting that “he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin.” In spite of these doubts, Blair decided that Britain would support plans for regime change, as long as the US had a workable military plan, and would focus its efforts on persuading Bush to take “the UN route” and on securing international support.

Significant though the Downing Street minute is, the Cabinet Office briefing paper (Document 3) that was produced in advance of the meeting is equally important. It records retrospectively that at Crawford Blair had agreed to support military action against Iraq “provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through the U.N. weapons inspectors had been exhausted.” In addition, the paper shows the Blair government’s unremitting focus on a transatlantic propaganda campaign. It 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.” A further comment illustrates that war was not a possible outcome but an inevitable one: “Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein.” Not coincidentally, the Bush administration created its own White House Information Group to shape the public’s perceptions of Iraq during this same timeframe.

The Cabinet Office briefing paper also demonstrates that Prime Minister Blair gave inaccurate testimony to the Butler Inquiry in 2004 when he said, regarding August and early September of 2002, as noted in its report: “The Prime Minister described to us his impression of a growing media picture of military action being imminent, and of a growing clamour for information from the media and from Parliamentarians about why the Government thought that military action was necessary. That led him to conclude that there was a need to put fuller information about Iraq’s nuclear, biological, chemical and ballistic missile programmes into the public domain.” (Note 18) Blair went on to say, however, that this led to a telephone call to Bush at the end of August in which he told the President: “we have got to put this in the right place straight away ... we’ve not decided on military action.” In fact it was not a media “clamour” for more facts but a determination to shape press coverage and public opinion that drove the Blair government’s “information campaign.” 

Evidence remains insufficient to specify the extent to which Blair persuaded Bush, or whether the U.S. and U.K. were equally fixed on propaganda efforts. By early September, both sides had begun finalizing their respective white papers. Paul Pillar has told the authors that in his view, “The White House called for release of the paper when it did because that's when it hoped it would furnish the most support for its pro-war sales campaign.” On September 3 Blair announced at a press conference in his parliamentary constituency in the North East of England that the British paper would be now published. (Note 19)

At a meeting chaired by Campbell on September 5 officials discussed how the document would be produced and by whom—specifically what input the government’s spin doctors and the US would have. It was agreed (Document 5) that the dossier would involve a “substantial rewrite, with [John Scarlett] and Julian M [Miller, Scarlett’s deputy] in charge, which JS will take to US next Friday [September 13]”.

Why was a major redrafting of the document needed at this point? Dr. Brian Jones, who was at that time a senior manager of the WMD section of the Defence Intelligence Staff of the Ministry of Defence has told the authors that when he learned of the white paper publication plan in mid-September, the link with the increasing rhetoric at the end of August from Bush administration officials like Cheney suggested to him that things were moving faster: “By now it seemed likely to me that the dossier was about justifying probable military action against Iraq on the basis of its possession of WMD and being a threat to UK.  I thought it highly improbable that the new intelligence purporting to make the case that had not been possible up to that point should arrive so conveniently.” (Note 20)

In spite of Scarlett being placed “in charge” of the dossier, the first substantial rewrite was actually produced by John Williams, press secretary to Straw, and circulated on September 9 (Document 6). This text is of immense significance. It is the first complete draft of the dossier produced after Blair’s announcement and was undoubtedly part of the iterative process that led to the published document, as the presence of Williams’ drafting suggestions in a subsequent draft shows. Because it predates Scarlett’s version the next day, its existence contradicts the Blair government’s subsequent claim that the Scarlett draft was the initial text of the dossier written in September 2002. Williams’ paper constitutes evidence that the spin doctors participated from the very first stages of the British drafting process.   

Public relations experts like John Williams played a major role in “sexing-up” the British government white paper but the Bush administration also made a significant contribution, publicly and privately.  The drafters of the parallel white papers exchanged further drafts of their respective documents during September. Paul Pillar reports that officials, mainly at the analyst level, held a number of transatlantic videolink conversations to discuss them. Pillar says this type of co-ordination was not out of the ordinary but the level of attention given was higher because the intelligence papers were to be published: “it behooved both sides to avoid the embarrassment of any obvious inconsistencies between the two.  I don't think there was ever any expectation of achieving complete conformity, and in any case the scope and organization of the papers always were somewhat different. On points on which the analysts, after discussion, still disagreed, it was considered acceptable for one side to include something in its paper and for the other side simply not to say anything at all in its own paper about the report or topic in question.  What both sides wanted to avoid was any outright contradiction.” (Note 21) This was the theory, but the evidence shows that the British thought it necessary to ratchet up their claims to match the U.S. ones, in spite of the Bush administration’s predilection, known to the British, for “fixing the facts.”

On the weekend of September 7-8 2002, Blair met Bush at the President’s Camp David retreat and persuaded him, against the wishes of the Cheney-Rumsfeld wing of the administration, Cheney in particular, to take “the UN route” to regime change. (Note 22) On the morning of September 8 the New York Times published an article claiming that “Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium.” (Note 23) This story was apparently based on information that was planted by the administration, but did not disclose that some intelligence analysts had serious doubts that the tubes were part of a nuclear weapons programme (Note 24)– and in fact doubted that Iraq had such a programme. During that day a number of administration figures, including Cheney, cited the report on television as evidence of the need to tackle Saddam.

Iraq’s attempts to purchase “specialised aluminium” (the correct British spelling) were already cited in early drafts of the U.K. dossier but it is clear that some British analysts also doubted the tubes’ relevance to a possible nuclear programme, because they would need to be substantially re-engineered. (Note 25) Foreign Office non-proliferation official Tim Dowse, told the Chilcot Inquiry: “At one point we, I think, were not intending to make any reference to them in the dossier.” But, he explained “Vice-President Cheney made some public comments on US television related to the aluminium tubes and we felt that it would look odd if we said nothing on the subject.” (Note 26) In an echo of his memo from March 2002 (Document 1), Dowse again showed his willingess to amend the dossier to match public statements, whether or not those statements were true.

Dowse’s comments constitute explicit evidence that the British dossier consciously mirrored U.S. claims, while documentary evidence confirms that this was British policy. In London on the morning of September 9, Campbell met Scarlett – and Williams. In a subsequent memo (Document 7), Campbell informed Scarlett, based on what had been discussed at Camp David, that the U.S. planned to produce its own series of dossiers. He told him: “I am confident we can make yours one that complements rather than conflicts with them.” This particularly telling sentence reflects an intention to mirror the US, while Campbell’s use of “we” shows that the white paper was to be a joint effort between Scarlett and the propagandists.

On the afternoon of September 9, the first meeting of the dossier drafting group was held, with Williams and other public relations specialists present. (Note 27) According to the British government’s version of events, (Note 28) it was following the discussion of a formal JIC assessment at this meeting that the notorious claim that Iraq could launch WMDs within 45 minutes was picked out and added in the next draft dossier, issued under Scarlett’s name late on September 10 (Document 11).  In a covering memo, addressed to Alastair Campbell (Document 10), Scarlett acknowledged that Williams had provided “considerable help” with his draft and would continue to contribute from New York, where he had accompanied Foreign Secretary Straw to attend ceremonies marking the first anniversary of 9/11 and the U.N. General Assembly on September 12.

In his memo, Scarlett asked Campbell and others for comments on his draft dossier. Cabinet Office official Desmond Bowen responded the next day (Document 13): “In looking at the WMD sections, you clearly want to be as firm and authoritative as you can be. You will need to judge the extent to which you need to hedge your judgments with, for example, ‘it is almost certain’ and similar caveats. I appreciate that this can increase the authenticity of the document in terms of it being a proper assessment, but that needs to be weighed against the use that will be made by opponents of action who will add up the number of judgments on which we do not have absolute clarity.” This instruction explains one of the failings that post-war inquiries found in the U.K. white paper. The 2004 Butler inquiry concluded that: “it was a serious weakness that the JIC’s warnings on the limitations of the intelligence underlying its judgments were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier.” (Note 29) Bowen’s memo suggests that the absence of such caveats was quite deliberate.

It was during his set-piece speech at the U.N. on September 12, 2002, (Note 30) that President Bush committed the US to “the UN route,” to the relief of the Blair government. It is clear from Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack, the Bush administration’s court history of these events, that Secretary of State Colin Powell had to fight hard to obtain Bush’s approval for a U.N. option and that Vice President Dick Cheney fought that decision every step of the way. (Note 31) The new evidence suggests that the Blair government counted on Powell to fight this battle, and it is also evident that a principal British aim at the Camp David summit on September 7 was to seal the deal. This puts new light on the sudden “leak” on September 8 of the “mushroom cloud” rhetoric and aluminum tube charges made in concert by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice. Their gambit may have had the object of creating an element of fear so great as to preclude Bush taking the U.N. route. In any case, Woodward also establishes that the U.N. option kept disappearing from the rewrites as Bush’s U.N. speech was prepared, and it disappeared again—at the U.N.—as the speech was fed into a teleprompter for the president. We know now from the new evidence (Documents 15, 16) that the British government—intensely interested in Bush’s course and sure to object at the absence of the supposedly agreed U.N. option—was denied advance knowledge of the contents of the president’s speech. This completes a chain of events that suggest what happened to the Bush speech was purposeful, not an accident. If true, this highly disturbing pattern indicates a different backstory: that Cheney operatives made a last-ditch effort to wreck the U.N. path by conspiring to prevent the decision to make the Bush speech and even its delivery.

Bush’s speech, meanwhile, also included a claim that Saddam might produce a nuclear bomb within a year if he acquired fissile material. This timeline was apparently news to the drafters of the first published U.S. dossier, “A Decade Of Deception and Defiance,” (Note 32) which appeared simultaneously with Bush’s exhortation. That paper cited a recently released report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, rather than giving the U.S. government’s own estimate of the worst case nuclear timeline.

John Scarlett was in Washington on September 12 seeking the views of American officials on his draft dossier (Document 11). He met with Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, plus CIA and NSC contacts. An email on the dossier sent to Campbell on September 12 (Document 12) includes the line: “Clearly John will be speaking to [the] US.” It is not entirely apparent whether this refers to Scarlett or Williams (who was at the U.N. with the British delegation at this time). Nevertheless this evidence demonstrates that British representatives intended to discuss the text and presentation of their dossier with the Bush administration.

Present evidence remains insufficient to specify exactly what U.S. officials said about the British dossier. One issue known to have been discussed is the claim that Saddam had sought uranium from Niger. The CIA expressed doubt regarding this charge. Here it appears that American officials attempted to persuade Britain to tone down its claims or remove them altogether. The draft that Scarlett took to Washington bore the claim that the material had been “purchased” (following an even stronger charge in the Williams draft that uranium had been “acquired”). The British Foreign Office told a 2003 parliamentary inquiry (Note 33) that “the CIA offered a comment noting that they did not regard the reference to the supply of uranium from Africa as credible.” (emphasis added).  A July 2003 statement by then CIA director George Tenet (Note 34) confirmed that the agency had expressed reservations about the inclusion of “reports of Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium in Africa.”The CIA’s evidence, revealed in the Plame-Wilson affair, was that Nigerien ore production went entirely to the nations which owned the consortium mining the uranium. There were doubts regarding documents fabricated to indicate an Iraqi ore deal, and the CIA objection was sufficient to induce the British to weaken, but not eliminate, the allegation in their dossier. The intent to influence public opinion is manifest in the fact that the Bush White House then used the British dossier’s charge as the basis for repeating the claim in the 2003 Bush State of the Union speech—repeating an allegation the CIA itself refused to support. This instance demonstrates that the British made actual changes in their dossier as a result of U.S. objections, but also that they were unwilling to give up making the basic allegation.

The British government told the (parliamentary) Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry (in 2003) that its claim had been based on two pieces of intelligence, received in June and September 2002, respectively. (Note 35) But it seems the claim was initially included in the white paper on the basis of the first of these reports: John Scarlett later told the Hutton Inquiry that “further intelligence” on the issue was received between the drafts of September 16 and September 19. (Note 36) It is clear that at least one of these pieces of intelligence was compromised by association with the forged documents obtained from an Italian source by the U.S. and given to the International Atomic Energy Agency in early 2003. But the other intelligence—on which the British government still relies—has also been revealed as having come from Italy. (Note 37) It seems inconceivable that Italy would pass intelligence of this potential significance to Britain without sharing it with the United States. This raises the possibility that U.S. intelligence, unlike the British, may have seen and discounted the second report. It is possible that the same or other U.S. officials may have ensured the information was given to Britain in order for it to be used in the U.K. dossier.

On September 9, 2002, Nicolo Pollari, chief of SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service, met Stephen Hadley, deputy to Rice at the NSC. Two days later, White House speechwriters were told that the NSC had “new intelligence” on the uranium issue but CIA approval for the claim to be made in a speech by President Bush was given and then rescinded. It was immediately after this that Britain received its second piece of intelligence. Whether this was engineered by NSC officials must remain a matter of conjecture.  The new intelligence still failed to persuade the CIA. Yet a few months later, in a similar maneuver, the NSC staff relied upon the appearance of the charge in the British dossier as their basis for including it in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech. Top leaders were clearly prepared to cull the most extreme formulations of the intelligence to fuel their charges against Iraq.

In spite of the CIA’s “reservations,” in his January 2003 speech, President Bush made a reference to the dossier’s conclusion: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” (Note 38) This claim, which became notorious as the “sixteen words,” was included in the face of a CIA refusal to authenticate the information, in a precise reversal of the process. The play-by-play in the “sixteen words” claim has been documented in CIA official statements and in congressional testimony. (Note 39)

For the most part, in September 2002 the U.S. claims regarding alleged Iraqi weapons were stronger than the British. As officials rewrote Scarlett’s draft dossier in London, they paid close attention to public statements from the Bush administration and to what they identified as the latest draft of the forthcoming CIA white paper. British officials overtly sought to match U.S. claims. At lunchtime on September 13 officials discussed apparent differences between U.S. and U.K. estimates of how long Iraq would need to design and build a nuclear weapon if it did not acquire fissile material from abroad. The U.S. estimate – set out in the July draft CIA paper – was that this could not happen until late in the decade, while Britain judged it would take at least five years, but – as Tim Dowse had emphasized six months earlier – would be possible at all only if trade sanctions against Iraq were removed or broke down. British officials could see that a difference between the two allies over the effectiveness of sanctions would become apparent, “depending on the actual text of the US NIE/White paper.” One official wrote: “I’m not sure that the differences will be that great. Remember US and U.K. signed up to maintaining sanctions. US can hardly do that and then turn round and say that they are having no effect.” (Document 12)

Further significant evidence that British officials were seeking to match their claims with those of the U.S. appears in an unpublished document whose existence was revealed when the Cabinet Office released a list of documents considered for disclosure under FOI. Among these is an email dated September 13 “covering a copy of a Bush speech to compare with UK dossier claims.” (Document 15) The Cabinet Office has confirmed (Document 16) that the speech in question was one given by Bush at the United Nations on September 12. Comparison with the Scarlett draft of September 10 will show that Bush’s new worst-case nuclear timeline – where Iraq would acquire fissile material from abroad – contradicted the estimate (“at least two years”) for the same scenario in Scarlett’s draft dossier. Later on September 13 Alastair Campbell was shown a new version. According to Campbell’s note to Scarlett four days later (Document 19), the timeline in that draft had been shortened to “1-2 years”. The Cabinet Office has been unable to explain the change. The plausible conjecture is that British officials compared their dossier to Bush’s U.N. speech and ensured that the former complemented the latter.

By the evening of Friday, September 13, British officials had a copy of “the latest US Doc. Summary + nuclear section.” An email sent at 7:54 p.m. (Document 17) forwarded that document. Internal evidence identifies this as the draft of a CIA white paper, one more recent than the July version, making it at least the third iteration of the paper. An email reply the following Monday makes what appears to be a wording suggestion for the U.S. paper. Although this is a technical point, it demonstrates that the transatlantic exchanges on the respective drafts were a two-way process.

On the U.S. side, Pillar told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Note 40) that during the “several months” of intermittent drafting, he and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the paper’s summary was “somewhat weak” and required a “full-blown” judgments section. The re-energized work on the CIA paper was managed by Pillar’s deputy. The compilation of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on this subject began on September 12, after a series of congressional requests. Because it primarily concerned weapons of mass destruction, at that point the manager of the CIA paper worked closely with the National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear programs, Robert Walpole, who was himself managing the NIE drafting. Walpole held a more alarmist view of Iraqi weapons developments. Quotations from Walpole in the SSCI report read as if he had very much a proprietary attitude toward the contents of the CIA white paper. For example, Walpole told investigators that he considered including a section in the paper on Iraqi use of and doctrine for WMD but rejected it because it would “basically be telling Saddam what we think he is thinking,” and “that just didn’t seem smart at that point.” (Note 41) Evidence of coordination between the CIA and the British dossier drafters resides in the fact that the British were aware of the preparation of an Iraq NIE within 48 hours of when its drafting began.

Meanwhile, a new version of the U.K. dossier circulated on September 16. Evidence to the Hutton Inquiry shows that it was the dossier drafting group, packed with public relations specialists, who gave this document the review that the Joint Intelligence Committee would normally have provided. At a drafting group meeting on September 17, representatives of the Defence Intelligence Staff raised serious concerns about some claims, which they felt were overstated. Their concerns were dismissed. In fact, as has now been revealed by Brian Jones, the responsible office chief of the Defense Intelligence Staff, the British foreign intelligence unit (SIS) suddenly surfaced a mysterious “Report X” at that meeting—one that SIS itself refused to defend elsewhere—that was used to derail intelligence staff objections to the claim that the Iraqis could deploy WMDs within 45 minutes. (Note 42) It is perplexing that this report as well as the “new intelligence” on Nigerien uranium should have suddenly materialized within this very short timeframe when British analysts were concerned that the data did not support the claims being made in the dossier. Yet a subsequent  JIC meeting on September 18 barely looked at the text of the dossier. JIC members were sent a further draft the next day with a 3:00 p.m. deadline for comments. This did not apply to prime ministerial aides Alastair Campbell or Jonathan Powell, both of whom successfully lobbied for changes after this time. A final draft was produced on September 20, in which the title suddenly changed from “Iraq's Programme for Weapons Of Mass Destruction” to “Iraq's Weapons Of Mass Destruction.”

That dossier was published on September 24 (Document 20). Prime Minister Blair presented it to the House of Commons. The paper included the shortened nuclear timeline plus other dubious assertions about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs – including the reference to aluminum tubes and the “uranium from Africa” claim.

At the CIA, Robert Walpole’s work on the National Intelligence Estimate dovetailed neatly with the British process. Walpole circulated an initial draft of the Iraq NIE on September 23, and on the 25th he convened an all-day session of analysts to scrub its contents. In this case the substantive experts who contributed the bulk of the writing were analysts of the Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) of the Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, a unit that combined a great deal of expertise, and focused on weapons of mass destruction, but one that was involved in at least one other manipulation during this same timeframe. While WINPAC officials did not believe in the “uranium from Africa” reports, they had no difficulty with aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds. The NIE sailed through to completion. Its revised draft went out on September 26, and the paper was approved by the National Foreign Intelligence Board on October 1 and printed the same day. 

The CIA white paper was published several days later (Document 21). It had been moving forward in tandem with the NIE. The major weakness was felt to be in its summary, or “key judgments” section, much as the British drafters had focused so hard on their own dossier summary. Robert Walpole was at the center of that CIA effort. With the NIE already underway it was decided simply to bolt its judgments onto the white paper as the unclassified key points. Walpole decided what material to integrate and how to do it. As the SSCI report has described, the CIA white paper was shorn of the caveats that were included in the NIE. The paper presented its projections as statements of fact, very much like the U.K. white paper.

The more deeply the processes of creating the government reports on the alleged Iraqi threat are reconstructed—on both sides of the Atlantic—the more their products are revealed as explicitly aimed at building a basis for war. In the light of a decision process in which no serious consideration was given to any course other than war, the question of whether American and British leaders set out to wage aggressive war has to be squarely faced.


Read the Documents

Document 1
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, memo from Tim Dowse, Head of Non-Proliferation Department, to Michael Williams, special adviser to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, March 13, 2002
SOURCE: U.K. FOIA disclosure

Dowse complains that his department was not told in advance of a briefing paper on Iraq that Foreign Secretary Straw had given to the Parliamentary Labour Party. He points out that the paper went against the government’s established line by stating that Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program was “unchecked,” but adds that the early draft of the British government’s dossier will have to be reviewed “to avoid exposing differences with your paper.”

Document 2
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, letter from Peter Ricketts, Political Director, to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, March 22, 2002
SOURCE: The Downing Street Documents.

This is a response to Straw’s request for input into a letter that he would send to Prime Minister Blair (also leaked), giving advice on how to handle the forthcoming Crawford summit. Ricketts argues that “Bush would do well to depersonalise the objective focus on elimination of WMD, and show that he is serious about U.N. Inspectors as the first choice means of achieving that.” But Ricketts points out that “we are still left with a problem of bringing public opinion to accept the imminence of a threat from Iraq. This is something the Prime Minister and President need to have a frank discussion about.” The letter records the decision to shelve the white paper on Iraq’s WMD and Ricketts’ view that the evidence is far from convincing.

Document 3
Covering note and draft U.K. white paper: “British Government briefing paper on Iraq -  03 June 2002”
SOURCE:  U.K. FOIA disclosure

This is the earliest publicly available version of the document that became the U.K. “dossier” on “Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction” published in September 2002. It was described in a covering note as a “consolidated draft of Iraq papers as produced by CIC.”

On many issues, its claims were significantly less strongly worded than in the published version. On Iraq’s alleged nuclear program, the draft dossier notes that: “So long as sanctions continue to hinder the import of such crucial goods, Iraq would find it difficult to produce a nuclear weapon. After the lifting of sanctions we assess that Iraq would need at least five years to produce a weapon.”  It adds: “Progress would be much quicker if Iraq was able to buy suitable fissile material.” The draft refers obliquely to Iraq’s attempts to acquire: “specialised aluminium [British spelling] which is subject to international export controls because of its potential application in gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium.” However, the draft makes no reference to alleged Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium.

Document 4
CIA/National Intelligence Council draft white paper, “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs” July 2002
SOURCE: Douglas Feith Papers
(The Feith Papers are declassified documents posted at Douglas Feith’s website)  

This is the initial available draft of the paper eventually published by the CIA in October 2002, but it is known that there was at least one earlier draft. Its summary of claims is relatively weak, certainly compared to the published paper. The draft bears close similarities to the U.K. white paper from the previous month. It says that “The acquisition of sufficient fissile material is Iraq's principal hurdle in developing a nuclear weapon. Iraq is unlikely to produce indigenously enough weapons-grade material for a deliverable nuclear weapon until mid-to-late in the decade. Baghdad could shorten the acquisition timeline significantly if it were able to procure fissile material abroad.” The draft does not mention aluminum tubes, other than a reference to “dual-use procurement activity,” or alleged Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium.

Document 5
Email exchange, Downing Street Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell-Communications Director Alastair Campbell September 5, 2002, 2:41 p.m.
SOURCE: The Hutton Inquiry

The British prime minister’s chief of staff and his communications director exchange emails on the results of the day’s meeting to review the draft U.K. dossier, with Alastair Campbell reporting that JIC chief John Scarlett and his deputy Julian Miller will be in charge of the rewrite. This exchange makes plain that Scarlett is “in charge” from the outset, although it is unclear exactly what level of control this phrase signifies. The exchange also shows that Scarlett will take the British draft to the U.S. and discuss it with Bush administration officials as part of his rewriting process.

Document 6
Foreign and Commonwealth Office draft U.K. dossier by John Williams, FCO Communications Director (undated, believed to have been presented September 9, 2002)
SOURCE: U.K. FOIA disclosure

This is the first full draft of the dossier to be produced after Prime Minister Blair’s announcement on September 3 that one would be published. The draft’s significance is firstly that it was actually written not by an intelligence expert but by the head of the Foreign Office’s communications department—which handles speech writing and the press—in spite of a decision that Scarlett would be “in charge” of producing the white paper. Its importance can also be judged by the fact that Blair aide Alastair Campbell denied all knowledge of this version at the Hutton Inquiry. When asked whether there was a dossier on September 9, he replied: “No, there was not.” (Note 43) The date the document was actually produced is unclear. It certainly existed by September 9 since the paper was identified in an email (Document 9) sent on September 10. However, the British government has said that this paper was written over the weekend of September 7 and 8.

This paper contains the initial version of what became the published dossier’s executive summary, which includes a bullet-point list of claims implicitly attributed to the JIC. It covers an account of Saddam’s regime and a section on his WMD “programmes.” Williams did not rewrite the latter section, but said: “I don’t propose to rewrite this until I take delivery of the new version.” This reflects his knowledge that Scarlett’s staff were revising the section based on the latest intelligence and for public consumption. It remains unclear whether this actually happened.  But if Williams did produce a version of the dossier’s WMD section that included the totemic 45 minutes claim and fed into Scarlett’s “first draft” and subsequent ones, the accusation that public relations officials had “sexed-up” the dossier would be conclusively proven.

The document carries the heading “JIC Two Document Version 24 July 2002”, which was carried forward from the electronic file on which Williams based his draft. Because he did not rewrite the WMD section, the paper appears to show what that looked like two months earlier, in July 2002. Most of its claims on nuclear issues match the June 2002 versions. However, this draft refers for the first time to Iraq’s alleged attempts to acquire uranium from abroad. It states that there was “compelling” evidence that Iraq had “sought the supply of significant quantities” of the substance.  The appearance of this claim in a July document indicates that it was incorporated soon after the British government received the first (June 2002) of two items of intelligence that it later asserted it had based this claim upon.

The bullet-point early in this paper in fact asserts that Iraq had actually “purchased” uranium. Like the June documents, this version includes a reference to “specialised aluminium,” and contains the same nuclear timeline of five years after the end of sanctions, except that “Progress would be much quicker if Iraq was able to buy suitable fissile material.”

Document 7
Memo from Alastair Campbell to John Scarlett, September 9, 2002
SOURCE: The Hutton Inquiry

This document is most significant for what it shows about Downing Street’s request that the U.K. dossier should match US claims: “They intend to produce a series of dossiers, starting with one of Saddam's record of defiance of the U.N., to be published alongside President Bush's speech on Thursday. They will then roll out several reports in the coming weeks. I am confident we can make yours one that complements rather than conflicts with them.” The British government has presented this document as supporting its contention that John Scarlett took full “ownership” of the dossier after the meeting whose outcome it records. But the word does not appear in the memo. This memorandum shows, in addition, that the Blair government had advance knowledge of Bush administration propaganda measures other than the CIA white paper, further indicating the closeness of their cooperation.

Document 8
Department of State, Memo, Beth Jones-Marc Grossman, September 8, 2002
SOURCE: FOIA Release to the National Security Archive

This memorandum was sent to prepare Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman for his meeting with Scarlett set for 2:00 p.m. on September 12. It states: “John Scarlett is traveling to Washington to consult with the NSC and CIA about the U.K.’s dossier on Iraq, to be released in the coming weeks. The dossier apparently has been completely reworked since the USG last saw it and he should be sharing the new draft with his intelligence community contacts here.” The document also reveals that a pre-September draft of the dossier was shared with the US. It states: “The British have completely re-written their dossier on the Iraqi threat, starting from scratch and tossing out the first draft they shared with the USG some time ago.”

Document 9
Email Downing Street press officer Daniel Pruce- FCO press officer Mark Matthews, September 10, 2002, 12:25 PM (CAB 11/0021)
SOURCE: The Hutton Inquiry

This email reveals the existence and significance of the draft dossier written by press officer John Williams. It refers to “John’s draft of 9th September,” indicating that a dossier existed before the paper John Scarlett wrote on September 10, which the British government has claimed was the initial version. The email also contradicts the U.K. government’s subsequent claim that the Williams draft was put aside when Scarlett took over the dossier on the morning of September 9. Daniel Pruce was a public relations expert who attended drafting group meetings starting at that time.  The Williams draft appears to have been presented as the working paper at that first meeting. Pruce’s extensive commentary and suggestions for changes would have been redundant had the document already been cast aside. Pruce refers to “John's further draft tomorrow.”  It is clear that a revision was anticipated, confirming Williams’s place in the iterative drafting process. It is also significant that Pruce sent these comments to Matthews, whom Williams had offered to Campbell four days earlier to work full time on the dossier.

Document 10
Memo, John Scarlett-Alastair Campbell, September 10, 2002 
SOURCE: The Hutton Inquiry

This memo covered the draft that John Scarlett circulated on September 10. It states that the document has been significantly recast, “with considerable help from John Williams and others in the Foreign Office.” Scarlett adds, “I know that John Williams is also looking at the text, and may offer further views from New York.” This shows how close the media relations experts were to the process, with Williams reviewing the text even before 10 Downing Street had seen the document. The memo includes an explicit request for comments: “we have now reached the stage where it would be helpful to have your advice on presentation.”

Document 11
Cabinet Office, draft U.K. dossier (untitled), September 10, 2002
SOURCE: The Hutton Inquiry

This document includes the initial appearance of the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. A comparison between it and the September 9 draft shows that large elements of John Williams’ text made their way into Scarlett’s paper, which the British government has claimed was free of such influence. Some of this material became Scarlett’s executive summary, with bullet-point assertions now implicitly presented as JIC judgments.

On one issue the Scarlett draft represents a slight toning down compared to the earlier Williams text. On “uranium from Africa” it stepped back from the allegation that the material had been “acquired,” merely contending that uranium ore had been “purchased.”

Document 12
Cabinet Office, exchange of emails between Joint Intelligence Committee assessments staff and MoD Defence Intelligence Staff September 13, 2002, 11-11:30a.m.
SOURCE: U.K. FOIA disclosure

This exchange shows that the British were aware within 48 hours that the CIA had begun preparation of an NIE.  As they redrafted their own dossier, British officials were very conscious of the need to ensure that U.S. and U.K. claims about Iraq’s alleged efforts would complement rather than contradict, as Downing Street had requested and as it anticipated in publication of the CIA white paper. In the first message, timed at 1:21 p.m., an official says: “[redacted] makes a very good point about how comparisons of the U.K. and US positions on nuclear estimates could have fallout(!) in terms of follow on questioning about the effectiveness of sanctions. (Depending of the actual wording of the US NIE/White paper).” The reply, timed at 1:36 p.m., says: “Agree – no sign of anything being published yet on any US site – once it appears we will need to look at specific wording and go forward. Suspect however there will be a significant difference in the U.K./U.S. views on the effectiveness of sanctions.” An email at 2:58 p.m. says: “I’m not sure that the differences will be that great.” These emails provide additional evidence on the depth to which British officials were following Bush administration arguments on Iraq and attempting to make their own claims consonant with the American ones.

Document 13
Cabinet Office Minute, Deputy Head of Cabinet Office Overseas and Defence Secretariat Desmond Bowen-John Scarlett, September 11, 2002
SOURCE: U.K. FOIA disclosure

This document responds to John Scarlett’s explicit request on September 10 (Document 10) for comments on his draft. Desmond Bowen’s advice highlights the balancing act British officials were attempting between providing “a proper assessment” and pumping up the arguments to be used against “opponents of action.”  “In looking at the WMD sections, you clearly want to be as firm and authoritative as you can be. You will need to judge the extent to which you need to hedge your judgements with, for example, ‘it is almost certain’ and similar caveats. I appreciate that this can increase the authenticity of the document in terms of it being a proper assessment, but that needs to be weighed against the use that will be made by opponents of action who will add up the number of judgements on which we do not have absolute clarity.”

Document 14
Email Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman Godric Smith-Alastair Campbell, September 12, 2002, 2:08 p.m.
SOURCE: The Hutton Inquiry/U.K. FOIA disclosure

This email was submitted to and published by the 2003 Hutton Inquiry in expurgated form but an unredacted version obtained under the U.K. Freedom of Information Act furnishes additional evidence of coordination with the Bush administration. Smith, who was one of Blair’s official spokesmen, informed Campbell that Scarlett’s deputy had phoned to say he “would like to come and show someone the latest thinking on the dossier.” The previously redacted sentence reads, “Clearly John will be speaking to US.” It appears that this is a reference to Scarlett as the email was sent on the day that the JIC chairman was in Washington discussing the dossier with U.S. contacts (Document  8), but this is not certain as John Williams was also in the U.S. at this time.

Document 15
Information Note, U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office,
SOURCE: U.K. Cabinet Office

This item comprises a list of documents that the U.K. information commissioner had ruled should or should not be released. Among those documents, as described by the commissioner, is “an email covering a copy of a Bush speech to compare with U.K. dossier claims; an attachment, ‘What’s Iraq Up to—Past and Present Intelligence,’ dated Sept 13, 2002.” The list demonstrates that the Blair government made a specific effort to compare the Bush U.N. speech with the claims in its forthcoming dossier.

Document 16
Cabinet Office Freedom of Information Disclosure, October 2009
SOURCE: U.K. FOIA disclosure

This disclosure confirms that the speech circulated by email on September 13 (Document 15) was that given by Bush to the U.N. General Assembly on September 12, 2002.

Document 17
Email exchange between Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence officials, September 13 – 16, 2002
SOURCE: U.K. FOIA disclosure.

In the first of these emails, timed at 7:54 p.m. on September 13, one official, presumably with the JIC assessments staff within the Cabinet Office, sent a scan of “the latest US Doc. Summary + nuclear section” to a colleague in the Defence Intelligence Staff of the Ministry of Defence. It is clear that this was a current version of the CIA white paper, one more recent than the July text, making it at least the third draft. The official wrote: “Please note on the very last page of the hard copy document there is a reference to neutron generators. This was in the earlier version.” (This reference can be found on the very last page of the published U.S. white paper but on the penultimate page of the July 2002 draft.) A reply three days later provides further evidence that the CIA draft had been amended since July. A reference to a MiG 21 (aircraft) is said to be in the “Last para” of page 21. This is the case in the published document but in the July version the reference occurs at the top of the page. Both positional changes result from the text moving approximately half a page down. The reference to the MiG is also significant because here it is evident that a British official is suggesting a change to the U.S. document. He writes: “add ‘aircraft’ after MiG 21.”

Document 18
Cabinet Office, draft U.K. white paper, September 16, 2002
SOURCE: The Hutton Inquiry

This item shows the evolution of the British white paper. It is the text that succeeds Scarlett’s September 10 draft, though there is evidence of at least one intervening version. As Alastair Campbell’s subsequent note to Scarlett shows (Document 19), it follows a (still unreleased) draft which Campbell read on September 13, a paper that apparently contains a worst-case Iraqi nuclear timeline of between one and two years.

The September 16 text represents a significant strengthening of the U.K. dossier’s claims, in particular the addition of a new raft of “judgments” in the executive summary. Scarlett’s September 10 draft had divided its summary of claims into those expressed as judgments and others said to be less strongly “indicated” by intelligence. The September 16 draft arbitrarily upgraded this whole latter group into judgments as well, including as bullet points the “45 minutes” claim and the “uranium from African claim.” Given the CIA’s doubts, the new draft stated that the uranium had been “sought” but a presentational change framed this claim with significantly greater confidence.

Document 19
10 Downing Street, memo from Alastair Campbell to John Scarlett, September 17, 2002
SOURCE: The Hutton Inquiry

This memo confirms the existence of an intervening draft paper, which Alastair Campbell saw on September 13, following a telephone call the previous day (Document 14). Campbell worried that the text included a genuine JIC assessment which projected that even after sanctions ended, it would take Iraq at least five years to develop a nuclear weapon. He wrote, referring to Scarlett’s deputy: “The nuclear timelines issue is difficult. I felt it worked better in the last draft Julian showed me: namely ‘radiological devices’ in months: nuclear bomb 1-2 years with help; 5 years with no sanctions.” Thus the shortening of the worst-case nuclear timeline in the U.K. dossier happened quickly, as early as the day after Bush’s United Nations speech.

Document 20
British Government, dossier on “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction,” September 24, 2002
SOURCE: U.K. government publication

The document that Tony Blair presented to parliament on September 24 made the case, as he put it, for dealing with Iraq’s WMD—and in reality for going to war. Blair’s foreword to the dossier asserted that intelligence had “established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein had and was continuing to develop WMD, including weapons that could be launched within 45 minutes. The paper was declared to be based on authentic assessments from within the British intelligence community. Evidence shows it was heavily influenced both by propagandists like Alastair Campbell and John Williams, and by the Bush administration.

The most important criticism that has been leveled against the published British dossier is that for the most part its claims were false. But it must be said that its errors were the product of external influences on its authors, leading to significant changes during drafting, both in terms of its specific claims and of the certainty with which they were advanced.

The assertion that Iraq had “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” remained in the summary, presented as a JIC judgment. But after late doubts about the aluminum tubes, apparently due to exchanges over intelligence channels, that issue was removed from the executive summary and toned down elsewhere. A qualification from a genuine JIC assessment was added, that “there is no definitive intelligence that it is destined for a nuclear programme.” But the claim was still misleading. The 2004 Butler Review, which largely pulled its punches, made its strongest criticism on this issue, saying that “the omission from the dossier of the fact that the tubes would need substantial re-engineering before they could be used materially strengthened the impression that they were suitable for gas centrifuge use.”

On the nuclear timelines, Campbell did not succeed in having the genuine JIC assessment removed from the paper. But the text of the projection—that it would take Iraq "at least five years,” even after the end of sanctions—was buried deep in the body of the dossier. The nuclear section was the only place where standing JIC assessments were presented separately from the dossier’s claims. This allowed the genuine timeline to be undercut by what was added after Bush’s U.N. speech: “We therefore judge that if Iraq obtained fissile material and other essential components from foreign sources the timeline for production of a nuclear weapon would be shortened and Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon in between one and two years.”

Document 21
CIA white paper, “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs,” October 4, 2002
SOURCE: U.S. Government publication

The CIA paper was published two days after the NIE that was being prepared on the same subject. By comparison with the July draft, it had been significantly strengthened. The worst-case nuclear timeline of “within a year” had been added, along with reference to the aluminum tubes. Both changes followed public pronouncements from the two most senior members of the administration. On the nuclear scenario, the paper judged that “Without [weapons-grade fissile] material from abroad, Iraq probably would not be able to make a weapon until the last half of the decade.” A rare qualification—applied to a negative—plus the awkward grammar of “last half” opened the door to an uncomfortable late twist in which five years for nuclear development (putting a weapon at 2007 or later) became as little as two-and-a-quarter (any time after 2005—the “last half”). The suggestion that this could be achieved in spite of sanctions was retained, and remained out of step with the British assertion that it could not. But in the British dossier Campbell had buried that well enough to ensure that the two white papers were seen to complement each other.



* Dr. John Prados is a Senior Archive Fellow, independent historian and prize-winning author of many books on U.S. foreign and national security policy, including Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War (New York: The New Press, 2004). He is co-director of the Archive’s Iraq Documentation Project, authoring hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests relating to Operation Iraqi Freedom and its consequences, and director of the Archive’s Vietnam Project, which has produced two large microfiche and electronic document collections through the publisher ProQuest. Chris Ames is a British freelance investigative journalist specializing in issues around the run-up to the Iraq war. He is the editor of the Iraq Inquiry Digest Web site, a project to monitor and comment on the ongoing Iraq Inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot, and creator of the Iraqdossier.com Web site, which tracks the drafting of the UK white paper. He has used the UK Freedom of Information Act to uncover a number of previously concealed documents relating to the British government's September 2002 white paper or "dossier" on "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction." This includes previously undisclosed drafts of the dossier written by communications officials and many of the materials in this publication.

1. The Observer, 4April, 2004 (citing Vanity Fair article).

2. Removing the Threat of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, ' 5 March 2002, The Times

3. “Britain and US prepare public for Iraq strikes”,  The Guardian 6 March 2002,

4. Jonathan Powell Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, January 18, 2010, p. 18

6. Memorandum from David Manning to Tony Blair March 14 2002, http://www.michaelsmithwriter.com/memos.html

8. Letter from Christopher Meyer to David Manning March 18 2002 http://www.michaelsmithwriter.com/memos.html

9. John Scarlett Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, December 8, 2009, p. 26.

10. Cabinet Office briefing paper : Conditions for Military Action, July 21 2002

11. Alastair Campbell Diary, April 23, 2002. Alastair Campbell, The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries. London: Hutchinson, 2007, p.  618

12. Senate Intelligence Committee “Report on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq…” July 7 2004 p 287

13. Frontline/The Dark Side June 2006
Transcript at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/darkside/interviews/pillar.html

14. Email interview with Chris Ames May 24 2010

15. Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation, 10 Downing Street, February 2003
The “dodgy dossier” initially became more controversial than the September WMD dossier, with which it is often confused, when it emerged that large parts of it had been copied, without attribution, from an article in a journal.

16. Draft UK white paper: “British Government briefing papers on Iraq – One document version 20 June 2002

17. 10 Downing Street, minute from Matthew Rycroft, July 23 2002.  (See EBB No. 238, Docunment 14)

18. Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Chairman: The Rt Hon The Lord Butler of Brockwell,
House of Commons July 14 2004

19. Transcript, Tony Blair Press Conference, September 3, 2002

20. Email interview with Chris Ames, June 17 2010

21. Email interview with Chris Ames May 24 2010

22. Manning told the Chilcot Inquiry that he was surprised that Cheney was at Camp David: “My conclusion at this point was that the President wished to expose the  Vice-President to the arguments in favour of going the UN route.” Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, November 30, 2009, p. 24

23. Michael R. Gordon And Judith Miller, New York Times, September 8 2002

24. Senate Intelligence Committee “Report on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq…” op.cit pp 87-118

25. Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction op. cit., pp 131-132

26. Tim Dowse Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, November 25, 2009, p. 72

27. Email from Philip Bassett to Alastair Campbell 9 September 2002 11.21

28. House of Commons, Select Committee on Foreign Affairs report, “The Decision to Go to War in Iraq, paragraph 77. HC 813-1, July 3, 2003

29. Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction op. cit., p 149

31. Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004, pp. 148-153, 180-185.

33. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “Further Memorandum: Letter To The Chairman Of The Committee From The Secretary Of State, 28 July 2003” published by the House of Commons, Select Committee on Foreign Affairs

34. Statement by George J. Tenet Director of Central Intelligence, July 11, 2003

35. Intelligence and Security Committee, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments, Presented to Parliament by the Prime Minister September 2003

36. John Scarlett Testimony to the Hutton Inquiry, September 23, 2003, am.

37. Chris Ames, “How the War Was Spun,” New Statesman, January 31 2008

39. Tenet Statement, July 11, 2003, op. cit.

40. Senate Intelligence Committee “Report on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq…” op. cit p 287.

41. SSCI Report, p. 289.

42. Brian Jones, Failing Intelligence: The True Story of How We Were Fooled into Going to War in Iraq. London: Biteback Publishing, 2010, pp. 79-89, especially 83, 89.

43. Alastair Campbell Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry August 18 2003, morning session.


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