20 August 2005

Washington rorted the ISG interim report

The Bush administration has justified the greatest intelligence failure of modern times by blaming it the intelligence bureaucracy for misleading intelligence. Bush came into office committed (if not publicly) to invading Iraq. He demanded intelligence from the CIA and other US security agencies. They gave him intelligence which supported his policy. Mysteriously, Bush is now horrified that they gave him in the intelligence he wanted. The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has now dealt with the issue of what Australia knew and when we knew it.

As usual, information known to the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs mysteriously failed to reach any minister. They really should beef up their management skills. After all, it's not as though the Howard government would have objected to being told about US efforts to interfere with the ISG report. The Man of Steel would certainly have mounted the nearest pig and flown to Washington to make an immediate protest.

Iraq really seems to have generated an unusual level of mysterious failures.

4.7 Mr Barton explained that the external pressure being applied on the team was to prepare a report that did not honestly reflect the evidence they had gathered—that matters were not to be included in the report because they were 'too politically difficult'.5 He told the Committee:

I was responsible for the coordination and oversight of the March report. It was circulated to capitals for comment, and I received feedback from Washington, London and Canberra. The comments from Canberra were constructive and largely editorial and caused me no difficulty. London, however, suggested that we add certain material. I believe these additions were designed to leave the impression that WMD might yet be found. This would have been contrary to our views. The CIA also sent suggested amendments. Many of these were quite useful, but there were two amendments that were blatant attempts to change our findings.

To the credit of Charles Duelfer, the head of the ISG, these attempts at changing the nature of the report were rejected. Nevertheless, it was still a poor report in that it did not say what by this time we knew… In my view the report was symptomatic of a wider malaise in the ISG. At that time there was no real objectivity in the investigation and it seemed to me that a lot of the direction, particularly in the chemical and biological areas, was coming from Washington.6

Barton was one of several protest resignations over US interference in the interim report. We are asked to believe that the resigning officers did not tell the government why they were resigning. The committee found:

4.28 In addressing the terms of reference, the committee is unable to find sufficiently strong evidence to suggest that the ISG was unable to report frankly and fearlessly on what they had found. Mr Barton's evidence indicates that there were attempts to influence the ISG but there is no corroborating evidence.

4.29 From the evidence, it is clear that Mr Barton and Dr Gee discussed their concerns about the work of the ISG with the Australian Representative and Mr Quinn in Baghdad. Evidence also shows that Mr Barton raised concerns about the function of the ISG and its March report with government officials on his return to Australia in March 2004.

4.30 According to the evidence, it is likely that Dr Gee may also have alerted officials to similar concerns on his return a few weeks earlier. Dr Gee would not appear before the committee to confirm, deny or comment on Mr Barton's claims and would not provide the committee with a copy of his letter of resignation which allegedly referred to his dissatisfaction with the influence being exerted on the ISG. Government officials similarly refused to comment on Dr Gee's letter of resignation or on the meetings held between Dr Gee and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and between Mr Gee and the Secretary of Defence and other officials regarding his letter of resignation.

4.31 It is unclear how the Department of Defence or the Department of Foreign Affairs responded to information provided to them suggesting that influence was exerted on the ISG when preparing its March report. The silence from both departments indicates that there was no follow–up.

Just another footnote to the strange history of how the Global War on Terror mysteriously turned into the Global War to establish an Islamic Republic of Iraq.

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