29 June 2003

[UK] Ministers knew war papers were forged, says diplomat
A high-ranking American official who investigated claims for the CIA that Iraq was seeking uranium to restart its nuclear programme last night accused Britain and the US of deliberately ignoring his findings to make the case for war against Saddam Hussein.

The retired US ambassador said it was all but impossible that British intelligence had not received his report - drawn up by the CIA - which revealed that documents, purporting to show a deal between Iraq and the west African state of Niger, were forgeries. When he saw similar claims in Britain's dossier on Iraq last September, he even went as far as telling CIA officials that they needed to alert their British counterparts to his investigation.

The allegation will add to the suspicions of opponents to the war that last week's row between the BBC and Tony Blair's director of communications Alastair Campbell was a sideshow to draw attention away from more serious questions about the justification for the war.

The comments of the former US diplomat appear to be at odds with those of the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last week, Mr Straw said the British intelligence community had not known of the forged documents' existence "at the time when [the September dossier] was put together".

The big point, in my opinion, about the flame war over the use of intelligence in the lead-up to the war was made by Sir John Stanley to Alastair Campbell before the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee:

You are a very, very skilled communicator, you are known universally as the Government's spin doctor, your business is to put the best possible presentation on the Government's policy, a perfectly bona fide role, everybody understands that, but I have to put it to you - and I do not put this to you in an offensive or personal way but in all seriousness because I share one thing in common with you, you said you were concerned to safeguard the integrity of the intelligence services and that is absolutely my position as well - as long as that policy in your paper is known, that you are in the business of making drafting suggestions to the chairman of the JIC, that Alastair Campbell's fingerprints are going to be on JIC source documents, I have to say I do not believe that is conducive to the integrity of the intelligence services.

For me, that's the heart of it. Parliaments were being given intelligence material where the data had been massaged for political advantage by people like Alastair Campbell.

No comments: