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Context of 'Late May 2003: 45-Minute Claim Sourced by ‘Unreliable’ Iraqi Defector, Britain Admits'

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Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence.Photo of aluminum tubes intercepted by Western intelligence. [Source: CIA]The final, published report from British intelligence about Iraq’s WMD programs is released. Prepared by Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett and known as the “Scarlett dossier,” it contains much the same vagaries of language that the previous draft versions contained (see September 10-11, 2002 and September 16, 2002).
Contradictory Claims about African Uranium - Chapter 3 tells the reader “what we know” about Iraqi WMD, including the statement that “Uranium has been sought from Africa.” Unfortunately, the first and second drafts’ language clearly indicated that British intelligence does not “know” anything about the uranium deal, but merely believes the claim to be true. Author Dennis Hans writes in 2003, “Properly interpreted, the list is evidence not of Iraq’s capabilities, actions, and intentions, but of a JIC policy of saying ‘we know’ when the JIC doesn’t know, so as to lend undeserved credibility to the claims.” The language of the final draft contradicts the claim of established fact; later in Chapter 3, the “compelling evidence” of earlier drafts has been downgraded to merely stating, “But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” And in the executive summary, Scarlett writes, “As a result of the intelligence we judge” that, among other things, Iraq has “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it.” The language is similar to that of the first draft, but a statement saying “we judge” is not the same as a statement saying “we know.” Hans concludes, “In any event, the published dossier, carefully reviewed by the best and brightest of the British intelligence and the Blair administration’s communications staff, presents three different interpretations: a ‘judgment’ in the executive summary, a statement of fact in Chapter 3, and a vague ‘there is intelligence’ claim in Chapter 3. Take your pick.” Prime Minister Tony Blair uses the dossier to flatly assert that “we now know the following”: that Iraq indeed tried to purchase uranium from Africa, “though we do not know whether he has been successful” (see September 24, 2002). [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003; Hutton Inquiry, 1/28/2004] Later reporting will reveal that the main source for the dossier’s Africa-uranium allegation was in fact an Italian intelligence report (see Mid-October 2001) that was based on the same set of forged documents that formed the basis of the US allegations. [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005]
'No Definitive Intelligence' on Aluminum Tube Allegations - In the section discussing Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program, the dossier says there “is no definitive intelligence evidence” that the shipment of aluminum tubes intercepted by the CIA was intended for use in an Iraqi nuclear program. This assessment of the tubes contradicts the majority view at the CIA. [United Kingdom, 9/24/2002]
'Echo Chamber,' 'Disinformation Campaign' - Former CIA official Milt Bearden will later say, “When you are playing a disinformation campaign, you’re like a conductor who can single out one note in the symphony and say, ‘Let the Brits have that.’” Author Craig Unger will note that by the time the “Scarlett dossier” is released, between the various US and British claims and the array of reports in the media, it seems as if the claims of Iraq trying to buy Nigerien uranium are coming from multiple sources, “when in fact there [is] merely an echo chamger of corroboration.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 259]
Claim that Iraq Can Launch WMD within 45 Minutes - Perhaps the most infamous portion of the dossier is the claim that Iraq can launch weapons of mass destruction against chosen targets within 45 minutes of the order being given. That particular claim was not in the drafts of the dossier, and was apparently inserted by Blair administration officials seeking to bolster the case for war with Iraq. The Blair government will later deny that assertion. [Associated Press, 2/18/2008] After it is revealed early the following year that the US had relied on intelligence based on forged documents, the British will insist that they have additional evidence to support their claims (see March 7, 2003-July 7, 2003). [Sunday Times (London), 11/6/2005]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Milt Bearden, Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, Dennis Hans, Craig Unger, SISMI, Central Intelligence Agency, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Times of London uses the recently released intelligence “dossier” from British intelligence (see September 24, 2002) to report that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has sent agents into Africa to find uranium for Iraqi nuclear weapons. The Times does not inform its readers that many British journalists were shown evidence contradicting the British intelligence claims (see September 24, 2002). It focuses on the dossier’s claim that Iraqi “agents” have secretly visited several African countries in search of uranium. Thirteen African nations produce uranium to one extent or another. A Whitehall source tells The Times that while Hussein may have attempted to find African uranium, those alleged efforts were unsuccessful. “If Iraq had succeeded in buying uranium from Africa, the dossier would have said so,” the source says. The Times reports that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from, among other sources, the Democratic Republic of Congo, though at least part of that nation’s uranium mines are currently under the control of troops from Zimbabwe. The dossier does not specify any other countries that may have been contacted by Iraq. The Times also repeats the dossier’s claim that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be launched against targets in as little as 45 minutes (see Late May 2003, August 16, 2003, December 7, 2003, January 27, 2004, and October 13, 2004), that Iraq is developing missiles with ranges of 600 miles (see January 9, 2003, January 16, 2003, February 27, 2003, March 7, 2003, and June 2004), and that Hussein may have given his son Qusay the power to order the use of those weapons. It also reports that the dossier specifically downplays suspected links between Iraq and radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda. Hussein has little sympathy for Islamist fundamentalists, The Times reports. [London Times, 9/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, London Times, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In his weekly radio address, President Bush tells the nation: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.” Many Americans are shocked and frightened by Bush’s flat litany of assertions. What they do not know is that none of them are true. The CIA had reluctantly agreed to produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq less than three weeks before (see September 5, 2002); the result is an NIE packed with half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies (see October 1, 2002). None of Bush’s statements are supported by hard intelligence, and all will later be disproven. [White House, 9/28/2002; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that the conflict seems to have gotten personal with Bush. “There’s no doubt [Saddam Hussein’s] hatred is mainly directed against us,” Bush says during the address. “There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 264]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s now-infamous claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction “within 45 minutes” is based on information gathered from a single, anonymous Iraqi defector of dubious reliability, British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram admits. According to Ingram, the defector was supplied by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. The INC defector told American intelligence agents that if Saddam Hussein gave the order, WMDs, presumably contained in missiles, could be on their way to their targets in 45 minutes. The Americans shared that intelligence with their British counterparts, but British intelligence officials considered the story to be unreliable and uncorroborated. According to The Independent, “[h]ow it came to be included as the most dramatic element in the government’s ‘intelligence dossier’ last September, making the case for war (see September 24, 2002), is now the subject of a furious row in Whitehall and abroad.” The 45-minute claim was not part of the original draft of the September 2002 dossier (see September 28, 2002), and government officials deny that the claim was added at the behest of politicians who wanted the dossier “sexed up.” Faced with thunderous denunciations from his own Labour Party and his Conservative opponents for apparently deceiving the nation about Iraqi WMD, Blair says that he has further intelligence, gleaned from former Iraqi scientists, that proves Iraq had an arsenal of WMD. He will present that intelligence in due course, he says. An intelligence source says: “The ‘45-minute’ remark was part of the American intelligence input into the dossier. It was being treated cautiously by the British, but it was alighted on by the politicos and blown out of proportion.” [Independent, 6/1/2003] Further verification of the hearsay nature of the claim comes in August, when a previously unreleased document shows that the claim came from an anonymous Iraqi source (see August 16, 2003).

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, Tony Blair, Adam Ingram

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A previously unrevealed document shows that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq could strike a target with weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to deploy was based on hearsay information. The claim had already been shown to be the product of an unreliable Iraqi defector from Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see Late May 2003), but an internal Foreign Service document released by the Hutton inquiry undercuts the original claim even further. British and US officials had stated that the 45-minute claim came from an Iraqi officer high in Saddam Hussein’s command structure; the document shows, however, that it came from an informant who passed it on to British intelligence agency MI6. The Guardian writes, “[T]he foundation for the government’s claim was… a single anonymous uncorroborated source quoting another single anonymous uncorroborated source.” Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell says: “This is classic hearsay. It provides an even thinner justification to go to war. If this is true, neither the prime minister nor the government have been entirely forthcoming.” [Guardian, 8/16/2003]

Entity Tags: The Guardian, Iraqi National Congress, Tony Blair, Walter Menzies Campbell, Ahmed Chalabi, Foreign Service (UK)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

British Prime Minister Tony Blair formally admits that he was wrong to have claimed that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of giving the order (see September 24, 2002 and September 24, 2002). Blair’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, reveals that MI6, the British intelligence agency, has formally withdrawn the claim, as well as other intelligence concerning Iraq’s ability to produce biological weapons. The claim has been heavily refuted for well over a year (see Late May 2003 and August 16, 2003). Straw refuses to say that it was a mistake to overthrow the Saddam government, saying instead that “deciding to give Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt would have required a huge leap of faith.… I do not accept, even with hindsight, that we were wrong to act as we did.” He notes that other governments, most notably the US government, were also convinced that Saddam had an array of WMD which could have been quickly deployed against targets in the region. Conservative MP Gary Streeter says the Blair administration owes the nation a “full apology”: “Not an apology for the intelligence but an apology for the way that the intelligence was conveyed by the government to the country.” [Age (Melbourne), 10/14/2004] Liberal Democrat Party leader Charles Kennedy accuses Blair of “avoiding answering” questions about the absence of Iraqi WMD. Liberal Democrat deputy leader Menzies Campbell says: “The withdrawal of the 45-minute claim drives a horse and cart through government credibility.… The building blocks of the government’s case for military action are crumbling before our eyes.” [Belfast Telegraph, 10/13/2004]

Entity Tags: Jack Straw, Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, Walter Menzies Campbell, Charles Kennedy, Gary Streeter

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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