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Profile: Christopher Aaron

Christopher Aaron was a participant or observer in the following events:

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. [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 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). [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 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. [Guardian, 2/7/2003] MERIA, an Internet-based magazine with about 10,000 subscribers, is edited by Jerusalem Post columnist Barry Rubin. [Jerusalem Post, 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.” [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 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; Associated Press, 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. [Middle East Review of International Affairs, 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). [Associated Press, 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.’” [Guardian, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 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. [Guardian, 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. [Observer, 2/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Hans Blix, UK Security Service (MI5), David Omand, Glen Rangwala, Ibrahim al-Marashi, Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal, Jerusalem Post, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Mukhabarat, David Manning, Colin Powell, Blair administration, Christopher Aaron, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Coalition Information Center, Alastair Campbell, Saddam Hussein, Barry Rubin, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, British Foreign Office, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Jane’s Information Group, the firm that publishes the Jane’s series of journals about global military affairs, says three of its articles were used without credit in a recent dossier released by the British government on Iraq (see February 3, 2003). The articles are from July 1997, August 1997, and November 2002, according to the publishing firm. Jane’s Intelligence Review editor Chris Aaron says, “That open sources should be used to compile such a report is not in itself surprising,” noting that the dossier’s introduction acknowledged the use of some previously published material. “However, the direct copying of entire paragraphs casts some doubt on the processes used to create dossiers of this type.… [W]hen an agency produces a report for classified consumption it will usually identify the nature of the sources used. The fact that the [British] dossier does not identify the source for each bit of evidence in the report could be taken as misleading, or taken to be an effort to disguise the classified material included in the dossier. The real mistake seems to have been to copy sections wholesale, thus making it obvious which parts of the report come from open sources and which are based on information from the intelligence community.” A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair says that the central argument of the dossier—that Iraq is systematically blocking the efforts of UN weapons inspectors to locate and document Iraq’s WMD programs and stockpiles—remains unchallenged. He calls the work “a pull-together of a variety of sources,” and says government officials should have specified which sections came from public material and which were from intelligence sources. [Jane's Intelligence Review, 2/2003; Associated Press, 2/8/2003] The articles from Jane’s Intelligence Review are “Can the Iraqi Security Apparatus Save Saddam?”, published in November 2002 and written by international security expert Ken Gause, and a two-part article, “Inside Iraq’s Security Network,” published in July and August 1997 and written by Sean Boyne. [Channel 4 News (London), 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Ken Gause, Jane’s Information Group, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Blair administration, Christopher Aaron, Sean Boyne

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

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