22 July 2004

Inquiring minds

weapons intelligence 'thin
An inquiry into Australia's spy agencies has found that intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was "thin, ambiguous and incomplete".

Prime Minister John Howard says the report finds Australia's spy agencies are performing well but the Opposition says it proves the Government took Australia to war in Iraq on faulty intelligence.

Mr Howard has released the unclassified version of the report by former diplomat and intelligence chief Philip Flood.

The report raises concerns about intelligence on weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war and says the agencies failed to rigorously assess them.

Mr Flood partly blames systemic weaknesses in spy agencies.

Cabinet considered the report on Monday and has agreed to all of its key recommendations.

The Government cited weapons of mass destruction as a major reason for Australia going to war in Iraq and Mr Howard says he does not regret his decision to go to war.

"The world and the Middle East and Iraq are better places because Saddam Hussein has gone," he said.

The Man of Steel is of course contradicted by his own words out of his own mouth:

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 humaritian 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.

That one is now apparently a noncore statement of deeply held principle (something he doesn't believe anymore). The Man of Steel has finally uttered the real justification for Australia's participation in the enterprise of Iraq:

: "The decision we took was justified both on the assessments we received from our intelligence agencies and the other policy considerations including our alliance with the United States that I outlined at the time. I do not retreat in any way from the Government's decision. If I had my time again I would take the same decisions, the World, and the Middle East, and Iraq are better places because Saddam Hussein has gone.

The Flood report actually does nothing of the kind the Man of Steel proclaims. What it does say is:

There has been a failure of intelligence on Iraq WMD. Intelligence was thin, ambiguous and incomplete. Australia shared in the allied intelligence failure on the key question of WMD stockpiles, with ONA more exposed and DIO more cautious on the subject. But many of the agencies' other judgments have proved correct. Overall, assessments produced by ONA and DIO on Iraq WMD up to the commencement of combat operations reflected reasonably the limited available information and used intelligence sources with appropriate caution.

The lack of comprehensive assessment, which might have been achieved by production of a National Assessment or an Intelligence Estimate to support ADF deployment considerations, was regrettable. Such comprehensive reporting may have helped to clarify a complex and fragmented picture. The limited analysis of the significance of Iraq's WMD in terms of the threat that Iraq posed also impacted on the utility of the assessments.

The two agencies' key judgments were largely consistent until late January 2003, when ONA assessed that Iraq must have WMD, while DIO continued to assess that the intelligence on the issue was inconclusive. But differences in style, including ONA's lesser use of detail and qualification, led to an implicit difference in assessments from late December 2002. On the key points of Iraq's possession of WMD, and the significance of its concealment and deception activities, ONA judgments were expressed with fewer qualifications and greater certainty than those of DIO.

Meanwhile the Butler Report in the Uk has managed to totally exonerate everyone except for the interesting fact that Blair now claims he didn't get the memo telling him key intelligence findings had been withdrawn.

No respite for Blair as MPs reopen intelligence inquiry

The inquiry into the flawed intelligence which led Britain to war in Iraq on false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction is to be reopened by a Labour-led select committee.

The Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs (FAC) agreed at a meeting behind closed doors to write to Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, with a series of questions, including whether he told the Prime Minister that the intelligence had been withdrawn in July last year, because it was no longer judged to be credible.

The Independent also learnt that the Prime Minister's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) agreed at a separate private meeting yesterday to look into the revelations in the Butler report that MI6 had withdrawn the intelligence underpinning the WMD claims.

The decision by the two committees to pursue the unravelling of the evidence surrounding the Government's Iraq dossiers was a fresh blow to Mr Blair after surviving Tuesday's Commons debate on Iraq. He was hoping to draw a line under the row for the summer, but it is now certain to continue rumbling until the party conferences in the autumn.

The Government also will be alarmed to discover that Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the FAC, may also have lost the Labour majority on the committee after two Labour MPs who have been highly critical of the Government - Eric Illsley and Andrew Mackinlay - refused to vote with the Labour majority.

The Labour MPs on the committee tried to stop it pursuing the inquiry beyond writing to Mr Straw. However, in a split vote, it was agreed to use an expert to investigate the disparities in the evidence to Hutton and that taken by the committee in private session from Mr Straw. Mr Illsley and Mr Mackinlay abstained in the vote, allowing the opposition MPs on the committee, including the Liberal Democrat David Chidgey, and Andrew Mackay, a former Tory whip, to inflict a four-three defeat.

The US 911 commission will report shortly. It will be interesting to see if that report proves equally thin, ambiguous and incomplete. More lots later when I've done a mountain of reading.

Troppo Armadillo | The Naive and Sentimental Politics Lover is a deal pithier than I am.

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