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CIA Director George Tenet later recalls that, at some unspecified time during this day, a commercial passenger jet on its way to Britain behaves suspiciously, raising fears that al-Qaeda might have launched a two-continent attack. Aircraft are equipped with a device called a transponder, which transmits information to controllers on the ground, such as the plane’s flight number, altitude and speed. But this plane is emitting all kinds of “squawks,” with its transponder going off and on. Tenet calls Richard Dearlove, his counterpart at the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), to inform him of what is going on. Eventually, according to Tenet, the problem is resolved, and it turns out to have been caused simply by the transponder being faulty. (Lane, Phillips, and Snyder 9/17/2001; Tenet 2007, pp. 166)
Despite the restrictions on air travel following the previous day’s attacks, one private plane is allowed to fly from Britain to the United States. On it are Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British secret intelligence service (MI6), and Eliza Manningham-Buller, the deputy chief of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5. In his 2007 book At the Center of the Storm, CIA Director George Tenet will admit, “I still don’t know how they got flight clearance into the country.” Manningham-Buller and Dearlove dine for an hour-and-a-half with a group of American intelligence officials at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Tenet 2007, pp. 173-174; BBC 12/4/2007) In addition to Tenet, the US officials at the dinner include James Pavitt and his deputy from the CIA’s Directorate for Operations; A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s executive director; Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center; Tyler Drumheller, the chief of the CIA’s European Division; the chief of the CIA’s Near East Division; and Thomas Pickard, the acting director of the FBI. Also part of the British delegation is David Manning, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s foreign policy adviser, who was already in the US before 9/11. (Powers 7/2/2007) The British offer condolences and their full support. The Americans say they are already certain that al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, having recognized names on passenger lists of the hijacked flights. They also say they believe the attacks are not yet over. (Tenet 2007, pp. 174; BBC 12/4/2007) According to Drumheller, Manning says, “I hope we can all agree that we should concentrate on Afghanistan and not be tempted to launch any attacks on Iraq.” Tenet replies: “Absolutely, we all agree on that. Some might want to link the issues, but none of us wants to go that route.” (Hosenball 10/30/2006; Powers 7/2/2007; Norton-Taylor 8/4/2007)
British Intelligence Chief Sir Richard Dearlove and other top MI6 officials attend an annual CIA-MI6 summit to have candid talks on the issues of counterterrorism and Iraq. CIA Director George Tenet had tried to cancel the summit, but the British, set on getting a better feel for the agency’s intelligence on Iraq and Bush’s Iraq policy, were insistent that the summit take place. Tenet reluctantly agreed to have the meeting, provided that it was held at CIA headquarters. The meeting is held on a Saturday and lasts almost the whole day. At one point during the meeting, Tenet and Dearlove leave to have a private discussion. While it has not been reported what Tenet tells Dearlove during the one-and-a-half-hour long chat, Dearlove’s statements to other top British officials a few days later (see July 23, 2002) make it clear that after the summit he is convinced the US has little evidence to support the allegations they are making about Iraq and that the decision has already been made to invade. (Risen 2006, pp. 183-184)
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; Conason 5/6/2005; Daniszewski 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. (Norton-Taylor and Wintour 5/2/2005; Daniszewski 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. (Strobel and Walcott 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.” (Norton-Taylor and Wintour 5/2/2005; Daniszewski 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.” (Daniszewski 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.” (Norton-Taylor and Wintour 5/2/2005) The minutes do not provide any indication that officials discussed how war might be avoided. (Conason 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.
Around midnight, CIA Director George Tenet calls CIA official Tyler Drumheller at home and asks for the phone number of Richard Dearlove, the British intelligence chief. Tenet wants to get Dearlove’s approval to use British intelligence in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003). Drumheller takes the opportunity to remind Tenet that the source for the alleged mobile labs, Curveball, is not reliable. “Hey, boss, you’re not going to use that stuff in the speech… ? There are real problems with that,” Drumheller asks. Tenet, distracted and tired, tells him not to worry. (Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 184; Warrick 6/25/2006) Tenet will later deny having such a conversation with Drumheller, writing: “I remember no such midnight call or warning.… Drumheller had dozens of opportunities before and after the Powell speech to raise the alarm with me [about Curveball], yet he failed to do so.” (Unger 2007, pp. 283)
An elite group of British academics, journalists, and politicians joins forces in a new political think tank named after the American politician and neoconservative icon Henry “Scoop” Jackson. The Henry Jackson Society (HJS), whose motto is “Project for Democratic Geopolitics,” advocates an interventionist foreign policy to spread democracy. Its supporters include many influential personalities known for their support of the Iraq War, as well as their pro-American and pro-Israel stance. Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, is one of the signatories of its manifesto. James Woolsey, Richard Perle, and William Kristol are among its “international patrons.” (Clark 11/21/2005; Pollard 11/27/2005; Lloyd 12/2/2005)