By Chris Ames
Observations on WMD
Alastair Campbell placed the September 2002 WMD dossier in the hands of the propaganda unit that later produced the plagiarised “dodgy dossier”, the New Statesman can reveal.
New evidence shows how the government misled both the Hutton Inquiry and the Butler Review about the genesis of the dossier. There was an even earlier version of the document than Foreign Office press secretary John Williams’s “missing” draft, whose existence was revealed in the NS last November/
The revelations have prompted fresh calls for the government to come clean about the document that took Britain to war in Iraq.
The new evidence is the full text of a letter that the government sent the Hutton Inquiry when it was forced to hand over the John Williams draft, having initially sought to conceal it. Conservative MP John Baron has obtained a copy of the letter under the Freedom of Information Act. Foreign Office minister Kim Howells had previously sent Baron a redacted copy of the letter with four and a half lines of text blacked out on the grounds that it was “sensitive”.
The newly disclosed text reveals that Williams wrote his draft on 7 and 8 September 2002 , based on an electronic copy of an even earlier document sent to him by the Coalition Information Committee (CIC). That document “held text on Iraqi WMD drafted by the [Joint Intelligence Committee] assessments staff” as well as historical material from the Foreign Office. This shows that the CIC was initally responsible for incorporating the two strands of material into a single document, following Campbell’s first meeting to plan the dossier on 5 September.
The CIC was a propaganda unit set up by Campbell to promote UK involvement in US-led wars. This is the first time that the CIC has appeared in the evidence trail for the September dossier.
According to the new letter, the Williams draft of the WMD dossier was “rapidly overtaken. Instead it was decided to make a fresh start under John Scarlett’s direction” on 9 September. But government witnesses later told the Butler Review that it had been “agreed from the outset” that the JIC would be responsible: “From then on, the dossier was in the ownership of the JIC generally and of its Chairman in particular….”
The revelation that the dossier was from the outset in the ownership of Campbell’s propaganda unit is the final nail in the coffin of the government’s claims that it was produced by the JIC. There is no evidence that the committee itself was ever asked to produce or approve the dossier. It was Scarlett who did both.
The government refuses to publish the Williams draft, in spite of a ruling from the Information Commissioner. It has stated that it does not contain the notorious 45 minutes claim. But this is because Williams’ source material — the early JIC drafts of the WMD text — did not include the claim.
It is also clear that Williams remained heavily involved even after the task of writing the dossier was given to Scarlett. The 45-minute claim was inserted in Scarlett’s draft after Williams and other spin doctors at that meeting saw a formal JIC paper that cited it. According to Scarlett, Williams provided “considerable help” towards his draft.
Williams has told me that he does not dispute attending the meeting but that he was not involved in inserting the 45 minutes claim. In June, I made a Freedom of Information request to confirm his attendance and find out what his contribution was. As we go to press, the Cabinet Office has failed to answer this request.
The new letter also confirms that the government initially withheld the Williams draft from the Hutton Inquiry and tried to conceal its existence. The Inquiry solicitor had to ask the Cabinet Office twice to hand it over.
Williams was one of the first witnesses at the Inquiry, on 14 August 2003. He failed to mention that he had produced an early version of the dossier. By the time Alastair Campbell gave evidence five days later, an email had emerged that referred to “John’s draft of 9th September”. We now know that this was Williams’ draft. Campbell was repeatedly asked what this referred to but repeatedly denied any knowledge. Asked whether there was a dossier on 9 September, Campbell stated unambiguously: “No, there was not.”
In fact, Campbell’s diaries for September 2002, which were before the Inquiry but not published at that time, reveal that he was fully aware of Williams’ draft. He wrote on 9 September that Scarlett agreed with him that the Foreign Office was trying to take over the dossier. It appears that this is a reference to Williams, rather than the CIC, which, although it was based in the Foreign Office, was answerable to Campbell. Campbell’s diaries also reveal that while the September dossier was being produced he commissioned the CIC to produce the later “dodgy” dossier. Clearly the CIC was Campbell’s preferred creator of dossiers.
When Scarlett gave his Hutton evidence on 26 August he was also asked about “John’s draft”. He said he was “virtually certain this is a reference to work put forward by John Williams…on his own initiative.” Although Scarlett tried to paint Williams’ efforts as a sidetrack, stating that he circulated the draft to “No. 10 inter alia probably”, Howells has recently disclosed that “Williams provided his document to Scarlett.”
For the whole of the first stage of the Inquiry, the government did not provide a copy of the draft to Hutton. But its existence had now been noticed by the BBC’s legal team, who asked for a copy. The draft was eventually sent to the Inquiry on 12 September 2003, after the solicitor to the Inquiry had asked for it on two occasions.
What happened next remains a mystery. It is unclear whether the solicitor sent the Williams draft on to the BBC but there is no copy of it in the Corporation’s Hutton archive. It was certainly not sent to BBC Journalist Andrew Gilligan, who was separately represented at the Inquiry. Gilligan has told me that
The Williams draft would have long been in the public domain had the government not initially withheld it from Hutton. Only documents submitted during the first stage of the Inquiry were routinely posted on its website. After that, papers were only published if they were raised in evidence. Because the government concealed the Williams draft for so long, it was not automatically published. If it was not sent to the parties to the Inquiry they could not raise it in evidence. In fact, the document had already been discussed. Its very existence, which Campbell had expressly denied, was evidence that the government was engaged in a cover-up.
It is clear that the government went to significant lengths to cover up the truth about the dossier’s genesis. But it has been aided by Hutton’s failure to disclose relevant information. The Williams draft proves that the 45 minutes was the “not in the original draft”, as Gilligan alleged, and Hutton should have passed it to all parties to his inquiry.
It appears that Hutton also failed to look into the CIC’s role and kept evidence of it to himself. But this evidence raises the possibility that the dossier was produced under the auspices not of the JIC but of a propaganda unit answerable to Campbell.
Baron told the New Statesman: “Britain went to war on a false premise, and this latest revelation underlines the fact that spin doctors were involved from the outset in the production of the dossier and the presentation of the case for war in Iraq — a war which, in its aftermath, is still costing British and Iraqi lives. I shall be asking further questions when parliament returns as to why the involvement of the CIC in the production of the dossier has been concealed.”