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February 8, 2003: British Press Blasts ‘Dodgy Dossier’

The London Times pens a scathing editorial regarding the so-called “dodgy dossier,” a report on Iraqi attempts to deceive UN weapons inspectors recently released by the British government, which was quickly proven to be plagiarized from out-of-date articles from publicly available sources (see February 3, 2003). The editorial sarcastically envisions the scene in Downing Street in the weeks before the dossier’s release, with frantic staffers saying: “What do you mean, there’s no smoking gun? Haven’t MI6 [British intelligence] got anything? No photographs? No defectors? TB [Tony Blair] is expecting a dossier next week. We promised. He said the Americans liked the last one—quoted everywhere, robust stuff, saved the CIA from having to go public with any sources. So they want another one—Colin Powell’s thinking of a spot of show and tell at the UN (see February 5, 2003), and wants to point to independent work by the Brits. So, we better get something—and quick.… Well, one of you had better put something together. Get on the Internet. Just type in ricin and Iraq and see what you find on Google. 20 pages, at least. By tomorrow.” The editorial notes that while “[g]overnmental plagiarism is nothing new… plagiarizing intelligence is more difficult. There isn’t much of it around. And the best is all secret—not easy for a media studies undergraduate to prise out of GCHQ overnight. But what TB wants, TB gets. A Downing Street unit is there to provide it. And as any student knows, extracts from American social anthropology dissertations add the required note of pedantic obfuscation to any jejune essay, with a provenance that is virtually undetectable. What better way to triple the value of intelligence assets with a thesis from California? It was regrettable that the author had so obvious an Arab name: far less convincing as a footnote than a reference to the trajectory of a military satellite. But perhaps the report could simply say it was a mix of private and public. Isn’t that the normal pattern nowadays?” [London Times, 2/8/2003] The Observer writes a similarly harsh editorial, noting that such “[d]eception can only corrode public trust,” and apparently coins the term “dodgy dossier.” The Observer editorial calls the dossier “an Internet cut-and-paste exercise largely lifted from a Californian post-graduate thesis focused on evidence from the invasion of Kuwait 13 years ago” and “sprinkl[ed with] unfounded exaggerations… inserted to strengthen the claims made in the thesis.” The editorial says: “Plagiarism is not the main issue. The central issue is that of public trust. At best, this episode demonstrates incompetence and the failure to oversee the most important claims which the government puts into the public domain. At worst, a deliberate attempt to hoodwink and mislead the public will undermine trust in anything the government says about the Iraqi threat at this vital time.… It is not only the government which has access to the Internet. Every claim made will be scrutinized more closely, and by more people, than ever before. Nothing will corrode trust more than to be caught out trying to insult the intelligence of the British public.” [Observer, 2/9/2003]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Colin Powell, Blair administration, Observer, London Times

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

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