2 March 2004

WMD inquiry 1

The committee exonerates the government of sexing-up intelligence (although with qualifications):

5.20 The statements by the Prime Minister and Ministers are more strongly worded than most of the AIC judgements. This is in part because they quote directly from the findings of the British and American intelligence agencies. In particular, in the 4 February 2003 speech to the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister quoted the findings of Joint Intelligence Committee of the UK and the key judgements of the National Intelligence Estimate of the CIA. In both of these documents the uncertainties had been removed 36 and they relied heavily on the surge of new and largely untested intelligence, coming, in the US at least, from Iraqi defectors. 37 These dossiers comprised stronger, more emphatic statements than Australian agencies had been prepared to make. See paragraph 5.13 above for details of the statements. 38

The committee does not have the powers of the UK and US inquiries and saw only a selection of the Australian assessments of overseas intelligence. (Para 2.1) The Intelligence Services Act 2001 should be amended to give the committee the same powers as the UK Intelligence and Security Committee. The Australian committee has the same limitations about ministerial vetting but not the same right to see any and all papers. The Uk has the same intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US as Australia so arguments that the Australian intelligence agencies have obligations to their overseas counterparts do not hold water.

The parliamentary committee also found (boldface mine):

5.16 Therefore, the case made by the government was that Iraq possessed WMD in large quantities and posed a grave and unacceptable threat to the region and the world, particularly as there was a danger that Iraq?s WMD might be passed to terrorist organisations.

5.17 This is not the picture that emerges from an examination of all the assessments provided to the Committee by Australia?s two analytical agencies.

Claiming Saddam's alliance with al-Qaida would lead to terrorists acquiring MDs was a major part of the prime minister's advocacy for war. As Tom Allard writes:

We don't know exactly what the Australian intelligence agencies thought about this danger, but material from overseas spy services suggests this is where the case for war was most exaggerated. Moreover, this overseas intelligence was passed to Australian agencies and relayed to the Howard Government, albeit by way of summary.

Even before the war, the CIA warned publicly that the danger of WMD falling into terrorist hands would increase should the conflict take place.

After the conflict, a British parliamentary inquiry by its intelligence and security committee (ISC) revealed British intelligence services had the same concerns.

Britain's powerful joint intelligence committee (JIC) told the Blair Government that there was no intelligence that Iraq had supplied al-Qaeda with chemical or biological weapons.

The ISC then revealed "the JIC assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, not necessarily al-Qaeda".

In addition, the JIC said the threat of terrorist activity - which it ranked as a greater danger to global security than Saddam Hussein - would actually increase after the war.

In an address to the nation on the eve of the war, Mr Howard said: "Far from our action in Iraq increasing the terrorist threat, it will, by stopping the spread of chemical and biological weapons, make it less likely that a devastating terrorist attack will be carried out against Australia."

Of course, on 14 March the Man of Steel also said:

Well I would have to accept that if Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn't justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime. I've never advocated that. Much in all as I despise the regime. But what I was really trying to say today and perhaps it has had some effect is that I get a bit tired of the humanitarian argument all being on the one side. It's about time that the humanitarian argument was put into a better balance and people understand what a monstrous regime we are dealing with.

All of this becomes even more tenuous in the absence of any actual WMDs. As far as I know the Man of Steel has never proclaimed the danger that terrorists might get hold of dozens of weapons of mass destruction related activities.

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