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Profile: John Scarlett

Positions that John Scarlett has held:

  • British Chairman of the joint intelligence committee

John Scarlett was a participant or observer in the following events:

Top British officials attend a meeting to discuss Britain’s potential role in the Bush administration’s confrontation with Iraq. According to the minutes of the meeting, transcribed by Matthew Rycroft, Sir Richard Dearlove, head of the British intelligence service, MI6, says that during his last visit (see July 20, 2002) to Washington he noticed a “perceptible shift in attitude. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.” Furthermore, he states, Bush’s National Security Council indicated it “had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record.” He also noted that there “was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.” [United Kingdom, 7/23/2002; Salon, 5/6/2005; Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2005] Foreign Minister Jack Straw appears to agree with Dearlove’s assessment, saying that it seems clear that President Bush has already decided on using military force to depose Saddam Hussein. But Straw notes that the Bush administration’s case against Saddam was “thin.” The Iraqi leader “was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran,” the minutes say, summarizing his remarks. [Guardian, 5/2/2005; Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2005] There is no indication in the minutes that anyone present at the meeting disputed Dearlove’s or Straw’s observations. [United Kingdom, 7/23/2002] Furthermore, the account provided by the intelligence official and Straw are corroborated by a former senior US official who is later interviewed by Knight Ridder. It is “an absolutely accurate description of what transpired,” the official will say. [Knight Ridder, 5/2/2005] Straw proposes that the next step would be to “work up an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors,” which “would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.” [Guardian, 5/2/2005; Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2005] Britain’s attorney general, Lord Peter Goldsmith, warns that “the desire for regime change [is] not a legal base for military action,” the minutes say. But Blair says that “it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2005] Finally, the officials agree that the British government “should continue to work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action” but “not ignore the legal issues.” [Guardian, 5/2/2005] The minutes do not provide any indication that officials discussed how war might be avoided. [Salon, 6/10/2005] The minutes of this meetings will be revealed by the British Sunday Times three years later (see May 1, 2005). Commonly referred to as the “Downing Street Memo,” the minutes will re-spark the controversy over politicized intelligence.

Entity Tags: Richard Wilson, Michael Boyce, Peter Henry Goldsmith, Richard Dearlove, Jonathan Powell, Geoff Hoon, Jack Straw, Alastair Campbell, Francis Richards, Sally Morgan, John Scarlett, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The first draft of the British intelligence dossier entitled “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” (see February 5, 2003) is circulated. The principal author is John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), and therefore the report comes to be known as the “Scarlett dossier.” Scarlett had considerable input from intelligence officials and Downing Street officials, including communications director Alastair Campbell, who will later insist he gave nothing more than “presentational” advice and did not pressure Scarlett to “sex up” the dossier. (Campbell’s claim will be challenged when evidence is later produced that shows senior press official John Williams helped Scarlett write the dossier—see February 18, 2008.) Section 6 of the first draft states flatly that “Uranium to be used in the production of suitable fissile material has been purchased from Africa.” The context of the section makes it clear that the reference is not to uranium purchased by Iraq from Niger in 1982 and later sealed and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is clear that the reference is to the supposed uranium deal from 1999-2000. That deal was clearly never made, and allegations to the contrary were based upon fabricated documents. Fabricated evidence or not, the dossier states that not only was Iraq seeking uranium, but that uranium “has been purchased.” Eight pages later, the dossier claims that “there is compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” a significant language shift—from flat certainty to an assertion of “compelling evidence.” And in the executive summary, Scarlett writes that “recent intelligence… indicates” Iraq “has purchased large quantities of uranium ore, despite having no civil nuclear programme that would require it.” The document’s claims fluctuate from one section to the next. [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003] The final version will be released later in the month, and include the same vagaries of language (see September 24, 2002).

Entity Tags: John Scarlett, International Atomic Energy Agency, John Williams, Joint Intelligence Committee, Alastair Campbell

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The second draft of the “Scarlett dossier” (see September 10-11, 2002) on Iraqi WMD is circulated. As with the first draft, the language of exactly how certain British intelligence is about the Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see Before September 2002) varies from section to section. One page states flatly that “[u]ranium has been sought [by Iraq] from Africa,” but another page says there is “compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply” of uranium. Such language shifts (similar to those in the first draft) may mean little to the lay reader, but are very significant within the intelligence community. In the first draft, principal author John Scarlett’s executive summary added to the confusion by saying that “recent evidence… indicates” Iraq has tried to purchase uranium from Africa, an even less certain phrasing. But this draft’s executive summary will be redacted from public view. [Common Dreams (.org), 8/26/2003]

Entity Tags: John Scarlett

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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

British Foreign Minister Robin Cook is personally given an intelligence briefing by John Scarlett, head of the British joint intelligence committee. Cook later says in his diary that Scarlett’s summary was “shorn of the political slant with which No. 10 encumbers any intelligence assessment.” After the meeting with Scarlett, Cook concludes that “Saddam probably does not have weapons of mass destruction in the sense of weapons that could be used against large-scale civilian targets.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Robin Cook, John Scarlett

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Leader of House of Commons Robin Cook meets with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and has the “most revealing” discussion about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons arsenal. During the exchange Blair essentially acknowledges that Saddam does not have weapons of mass destruction that could be used against his enemies like the US or Britain. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003] Cook says to Blair: “It’s clear from the private briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities. But he probably does have several thousand battlefield chemical munitions. Do you never worry that he might use them against British troops?” Blair responds, “Yes, but all the effort he has had to put into concealment makes it difficult for him to assemble them quickly for use.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: John Scarlett, Robin Cook, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Robin Cook (see March 17-18, 2003) publishes portions of a diary he had kept when he was Tony Blair’s foreign minister. The published memoirs reveal—among other things—that Blair had intentionally misled the British population. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] The diary reveals how before the war intelligence provided to Cook by British intelligence chief John Scarlett indicated that Saddam Hussein probably did not have weapons of mass destruction that could be used to attack the US or Britain. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] Cook’s entries also show that before the war, Blair did not believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be used to attack the US or Britain. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Guardian, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004] Additionally, the diary shows that Tony Blair ignored the “large number of ministers who spoke up against the war.” He says that the officials in the foreign ministry were consistently opposed to the invasion of Iraq. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Robin Cook, Tony Blair, John Scarlett

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

New evidence emerges proving that, despite earlier denials, a senior press officer was closely involved in writing the British government’s September 2002 dossier that claimed Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see September 24, 2002), a claim then known to be false. John Williams, then the director of communications at the Foreign Office, was granted access to secret intelligence as he helped prepare an early draft of the dossier (see September 10-11, 2002). Williams was a former political editor of the Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper. According to a document that until now has been suppressed by the Foreign Office, Williams was given the same access to classified information as the primary author of the dossier, then-Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett. The Foreign Office document is only now being made available because an information tribunal reviewing pre-war intelligence ordered its release. Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the Williams document was not used as the basis for the “Scarlett dossier.” However, during the Hutton inquiry, Scarlett referred to the “considerable help” Williams had given him in writing the dossier. Additionally, Williams took part in Cabinet Office meetings on the dossier. The document refers to Iraq having missiles capable of “threatening NATO,” including Greece and Turkey, a claim repeated in the published dossier. It also states that there was “compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” That phrase was used in all three drafts of the dossier, though it was well known by that time that the claims of Iraqi-African uranium deals were based on forged documents. Some of Williams’s more extravagant language was not used. His draft begins: “Iraq presents a uniquely dangerous threat to the world. No other country has twice launched wars of aggression against neighbours.” Someone else wrote in the margin: “Germany? US: Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico.” William Hague, the Conservative Party’s shadow foreign secretary, says the Williams document is “further evidence that spin doctors, not intelligence analysts, were leading from the first in deciding what the British people were told about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” [Guardian, 2/19/2008]

Entity Tags: David Miliband, John Scarlett, William Hague, Joint Intelligence Committee, John Williams

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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