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Context of 'June 9, 2004: Former British Official Tells Butler Inquiry What British Government Really Thought about Iraq Prior to the Invasion'

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Diplomats working in Britain’s Foreign Office are aware that US and British statements concerning Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction are “totally implausible.” Carne Ross, a key Foreign Office diplomat, tells the Guardian in mid-2005: “I’d read the intelligence on WMD for four and a half years, and there’s no way that it could sustain the case that the government was presenting. All of my colleagues knew that, too.” (Norton-Taylor 6/20/2005)

The British government releases a dossier titled “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception, and Intimidation.” The government says the dossier is based on high-level intelligence and diplomatic sources and was produced with the approval of Prime Minister Tony Blair; it also wins praise from US Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 7, 2003). Unfortunately, the dossier is almost wholly plagiarized from a September 2002 article by university student Ibrahim al-Marashi. (Rubin 2/23/2003) Al-Marashi was doing postgraduate work at Oxford University when he wrote it. (International Policy Fellowships 10/1/2006) The article is entitled “Iraq’s Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis,” and was published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal (MERIA). (Rubin 2/23/2003) The British dossier plagiarizes two other articles as well, both from Jane’s Intelligence Review (see February 8, 2003), some of which were published as far back as 1997. MERIA is based in Israel, which even moderate Arabs say makes it a suspect source, and all the more reason why the origin of the information should have been cited. (White, MacAskill, and Norton-Taylor 2/7/2003) MERIA, an Internet-based magazine with about 10,000 subscribers, is edited by Jerusalem Post columnist Barry Rubin. (Davis 2/8/2003) Rubin will responds dryly: “We are pleased that the high quality of MERIA Journal’s articles has made them so valuable to our readers.… As noted on the masthead of each issue and all our publications, however, we do appreciate being given credit.” (Rubin 2/23/2003) Al-Marashi, currently working at California’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies, describes himself as an opponent of Saddam Hussein’s regime: “As an Iraqi, I support regime change in Iraq,” he says. (Reuters 2/8/2003; Lawless 2/7/2007)
Article Used Information from 1991 - He examined Iraq’s secret police and other, similar forces in detail, using captured Iraqi documents from the 1991 Gulf War and updating that information to be more timely. (al-Marashi 9/2002) The dossier contains entire sections from al-Marashi’s article quoted almost verbatim, including typographical errors contained in the original. When asked about the plagiarism, al-Marashi says he was not approached by the British government for permission to use his work. “It was a shock to me,” he says. Chris Aaron, editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review, says he had not been asked for permission to use material from his article in the dossier. The dossier uses the three articles to detail methods used by the Iraqi government to block and misdirect UN weapons inspectors’ attempts to locate weapons stockpiles in Iraq. The dossier claims that while the UN only has 108 weapons inspectors inside Iraq, the Iraqi government has 20,000 intelligence officers “engaged in disrupting their inspections and concealing weapons of mass destruction.” The dossier claims that every hotel room and telephone used by the weapons inspectors is bugged, and that WMD-related documents are being concealed in Iraqi hospitals, mosques, and homes. Powell will cite the dossier as part of his presentation to the UN detailing evidence of Iraqi weapons programs (see February 5, 2003). (Lawless 2/6/2003; BBC 2/7/2003) When the media exposes the origins of the dossier, Blair officials will concede that they should have been more honest about the source material (see February 6, 2003).
British 'Inflated' Some Numbers, Used More Extreme Language - Al-Marashi, who learns of the plagiarism from a colleague, Glen Rangwala (see February 5, 2003), says the dossier is accurate despite “a few minor cosmetic changes.” He adds: “The only inaccuracies in the [British] document were that they maybe inflated some of the numbers of these intelligence agencies. The primary documents I used for this article are a collection of two sets of documents, one taken from Kurdish rebels in the north of Iraq—around four million documents—as well as 300,000 documents left by Iraqi security services in Kuwait.” (BBC 2/7/2003) Al-Marashi and Rangwala both note that the dossier uses more extreme language. “Being an academic paper, I tried to soften the language” al-Marashi says. “For example, in one of my documents, I said that [the Iraqi intelligence agency known as the Mukhabarat] support[s] organizations in what Iraq considers hostile regimes, whereas the [British] document refers to it as ‘supporting terrorist organizations in hostile regimes.’” (White, MacAskill, and Norton-Taylor 2/7/2003; Lyall 2/8/2003)
Third Attempt to Pass Off Old Information as New Evidence - This is the third time in recent months that Downing Street has tried to pass off old, suspect information as damning evidence against Iraq. In September, it released a 50-page dossier, “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government,” that used years-old information from the Foreign Office and British intelligence to make its case (see September 24, 2002); UN inspectors and British journalists visited some of the “facilities of concern” and found nothing (see September 24, 2002). In December, Downing Street released a 23-page report, “Saddam Hussein: Crimes and Human Rights Abuses,” that was heavily criticized by human rights groups, members of Parliament, and others for reusing old information. When that dossier was released, the Foreign Office put forward an Iraqi exile who had been jailed by Hussein for 11 years. The exile displayed handcuffs he said had been placed on him while in captivity. Afterwards, the exile admitted that the handcuffs were actually British in origin. (White, MacAskill, and Norton-Taylor 2/7/2003)
Dossier Product of Heated Debate - The Observer writes of the current “dodgy dossier” that discussions between Blair’s head of strategic communications, Alastair Campbell, foreign policy adviser David Manning, senior intelligence officials, and the new head of British homeland security, David Omand, resulted in a decision to “repeat a wheeze from last autumn: publishing a dossier of ‘intelligence-based evidence,’” this time focusing on Iraq’s history of deceiving weapons inspectors. The dossier had to be released before chief UN inspector Hans Blix could make his scheduled report in mid-February. The previous dossier, about Iraq’s dismal human rights record, had led to what The Observer calls “several stand-up rows between Omand and Campbell, with the former accusing the latter of sprinkling too much ‘magic dust’ over the facts to spice it up for public consumption.” That dossier left “the more sensationalist elements” in the forward, but for this dossier, “there was no time for such niceties. Led by Campbell, a team from the Coalition Information Center—the group set up by Campbell and his American counterpart during the war on the Taliban—began collecting published information that touched on useful themes.” Al-Marashi’s work became the central piece for the cut-and-pasted dossier, which The Observer says was compiled so sloppily that, in using the al-Marashi report and one of the Jane’s articles, two different organizations were confused with one another. (Hinsliff et al. 2/9/2003)

Former British official Carne Ross tells the Butler inquiry, which is investigating the British government’s use of intelligence during the lead-up to war with Iraq, that during his tenure as Britain’s key negotiator at the UN “at no time did HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] assess that Iraq’s WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests. On the contrary, it was the commonly-held view among the officials dealing with Iraq that any threat had been effectively contained. I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed).… With the exception of some unaccounted-for Scud missiles, there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material” being stockpiled or produced by Iraq. “There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbors or the UK or the US,” he adds. Ross also says in his testimony that British officials warned their US counterparts that toppling the Iraq government would result in chaos. “At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that ‘regime change’ was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.” The Foreign Office will warn Ross that if he goes public with his testimony he will be charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act. (Independent 12/15/2006; Brown and McSmith 12/15/2006; Norton-Taylor 12/16/2006)

Bart Ross.Bart Ross. [Source: America's Most Wanted]Chicago police say that the murders of the husband and mother of a judge who ruled against white supremacist group the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After and February 28, 2005) may have been committed by a man with no connections to the group. Bart Ross of Albany Park, Illinois, shoots himself in the head during a routine traffic stop, dying minutes later. In his suicide note, Ross claims responsibility for the double murder of US District Judge Joan Lefkow’s husband and mother. However, police decline to claim that Ross is definitely the shooter. “We’re satisfied there is information in the letter that would point to Ross being in the Lefkow house that day” of the slayings, says Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline. The suicide note includes details of the shooting “that were not out in the media.” However, Cline says, “While we do characterize [Wednesday] night’s developments as significant, we are not prepared at this time to definitely say any one person is responsible for these homicides. This case is by no means closed.” Other documents retrieved from Ross’s minivan recount his bitterness and hatred for Lefkow and other judges, stemming from court dealings he has had over a medical condition. Police refuse to call any of the documents a “hit list,” though the documents include the names of several judges and lawyers. Lefkow dismissed a lawsuit by Ross last September. The day of the murders, Ross was served an eviction notice by Cook County deputies. Police are searching for DNA and other forensic evidence to tie Ross into the murders; Cline says, “We are attempting to learn as much as we possibly can about Bart Ross’s history—who he was, who he was associated with, and what he was doing in the days leading up to and following the Lefkow murders.” Local television station WMAQ receives a handwritten letter, signed Bart A. Ross, claiming that the author broke into the Lefkow home at 4:30 a.m. with the intention of killing the judge and anyone else in the house. According to the letter, the writer waited all day in a basement utility room before shooting the husband, Michael Lefkow, when Lefkow discovered him hiding in the room. The writer claims to have then shot the mother, Donna Humphrey, after she heard the gunshot and called out to her son-in-law. The writer says he then waited for the judge to come home, but left hours before she arrived later that evening. Police sources say they believe the letter to be legitimate. WCOTC leader Matthew Hale has been a prime suspect in soliciting the murders; Hale’s attorney Glenn Greenwald reveals that six to eight weeks before the murders, Hale’s mother asked him to pass what was clearly a coded message from Hale to a WCOTC follower. Greenwald says he refused because he did not understand what Hale was saying in the note. (Chicago Tribune 3/10/2005)

The British government embellished intelligence used to justify the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, according to Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector. Blix, who led the UN search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq until June 2003, says a later discredited dossier on Iraq’s weapons programs had deliberately embellished the case for war. Tony Blair’s government published a dossier before the invasion that claimed Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and could deploy some within 45 minutes, but the dossier turned out to be riddled with errors and deliberate falsehoods. Blix says, "I do think they exercised spin. They put exclamation marks instead of question marks." Blix says that as a result, Blair and Bush had "lost a lot of confidence" once failures in intelligence were exposed. Britain’s dossier on Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction was criticized by a 2004 official British inquiry into intelligence on Iraq. Though the inquiry’s head, Lord Butler, did not fault Blair’s government, he criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on “seriously flawed” or "unreliable" sources. Butler’s review concluded that the dossier, which helped Blair win the support of Parliament to join the US in the conflict, had pushed the government’s case to the limits of available intelligence and left out vital caveats. Blix says that if UN inspectors had been allowed to carry out inspections "a couple of months more," intelligence officials would likely have drawn the eventual conclusion that Iraq had no weapons stockpiles and that their sources were providing poor quality information. (Associated Press 3/12/2007)


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