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It is now self evident that there has been a major break down in trust between the main Intelligence gathering services and Tony Blair's Cabinet with accusations coming from certain Ministers that elements within SIS (MI6) have been deliberately leaking comments to the National Press with the intention of undermining the Governments position on Iraq and the senior management of those same services now believed to have demanded assurances from Downing Street that intelligence supplied for use in official documents will not be 'doctored' for political reasons in the future. ~ It could appear to be nothing more than a proverbial 'storm in a teacup' as generations of Government ministers have misused intelligence material for their own political purposes, often for party advantage and even occasionally in an attempt to either save or advance their own careers. However, this time the fault lines potentially run very deep. The Intelligence services are in effect claiming that their information has been used in dossiers solely designed to mislead the general public into accepting the justification for a War with Iraq which has not only devastated a third world country, inflicting thousands of casualties, but indeed cost the lives of over thirty British servicemen. ~ More 'dodgy' dossiers from Downing Street.
The accusations run in parallel with a growing belief among some expert observers that Britain and the United States had made the decision to invade Iraq more than a year ago and that everything emanating from both The Whitehouse and Downing Street since then has been designed purely to hide that fact from the media and to hoodwink the voters on both sides of the Atlantic. In conversations with sources close to both MI6 and GCHQ it has been confirmed to me that at no time did they believe that there was conclusive evidence that Iraq had an advanced WMD program or that there were operationally weapons beyond a few hundred crude Chemical warheads for free-fall bombs or short range elderly missile systems. ~ The claim that these and indeed far more advanced weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes did not originate in any form of official intelligence report from either Vauxhall Cross or Cheltenham. The suggestion that Civil Servants in the Cabinet Office doctored the intelligence material from the Joint Intelligence Committee to provide ammunition for the Prime Minister stands as a dramatic condemnation of present political standards if proven to be true.
It is certainly true however, that quite junior Civil Servants were responsible for the scandalous Iraqi Intelligence Document which later proved to be no more than a combination of open-source information thrown together with material lifted verbatim from an American students thesis based itself on twelve year old intelligence. In the case of the dossier on WMD released last September it is understood that all available intelligence from both MI6 and GCHQ was provided to the Current Intelligence Groups dealing with the Middle East and WMD/Proliferation and reporting to the Joint Intelligence Committee in the Cabinet Office. ~ At some stage between this point and the presentation of the completed dossiers it appears that important intelligence material was altered or additional unverifiable information was added. The completed dossiers were either then not cleared for accuracy by the Intelligence Community or any protests they might have made about the changes were ignored by the Cabinet Office. This apparently occurred after the SIS had been asked by Cabinet Office officials on a number of occasions to re-phrase certain politically important passages. It was the failure of the analysts at Vauxhall Cross to play ball with the Prime Ministers constant demands for a more positive input that probably led to the decision to include material from other and more helpful sources.
The Cabinet Office now a US 'mouthpiece'?
It has been very strongly suggested to me that the Joint Intelligence Committee which receives a considerable input from US Intelligence sources also obtained information believed to have come from Iraqi exile groups that went a long way to confirm the strongly held US contention that MI6 and GCHQ were taking an over-cautious line on Iraqi WMD. This information suggested that the threat was indeed a 'clear and present danger' to the West as a whole. This may have been all the encouragement that officials close to the Prime Minister needed to 'slant' the documents towards a tougher and far more pro-American line on the Iraqi question. ~ Sources both within the US and British Intelligence communities have however raised considerable doubt over the authenticity and value of the information acquired by the JIC from Iraqi exiles, particularly as the most likely source turns out to the Iraqi National Party of Ahmad Chalabi, a long term asset of the CIA. It has again been forcefully put to me by reliable sources close to MI6 that this additional material which so effectively undermined the more reasoned and questioning stance taken by British Intelligence had been supplied to Chalabi's organization by the CIA themselves and that its veracity was therefore seriously compromised. ~ Chalabi’s claims about Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons were passed to Downing Street through a special secret unit set up by Donald Rumsfeld to "review" intelligence reports from the CIA and other US spy agencies who had cast doubts on the existence of such weapons. In the run-up to war, Rumsfeld ordered the unit to "re-examine information provided by Iraqi exiles and to evaluate warnings of the threat posed by Iraqi ties to Al Qa'ida and Saddam’s efforts to develop illegal weapons". The information was to be given the same credibility as from intelligence sources.
Blair's relationship with the Intelligence Services seriously damaged
Downing Street apparently did not officially tell Britain’s intelligence chiefs that Chalabi was the original source of the claim that Saddam had weapons which could be launched in 45 minutes. The British Government was seriously misled by the Americans and were apparently unaware that Chalabi's information had probably been planted on him in the first place by US agents. Neither Downing Street's duplicity over the dossiers or its immense gullibility has further endeared it to either Sir Richard Dearlove of MI6 or David Pepper of GCHQ, both of whom may have indeed considered the matter so serious as to have raised the threat of resigning in protest. ~ The Lord Healey believes the Prime Minister might be forced resign if it is proven that he deliberately mislead Parliament and the British people over the issue of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, so be it. However, the degree of damage done to the reputation of the Cabinet, the JIC and indeed their relationship to the British Intelligence Community is potentially immense. The fall-out from this affair could seriously disturb the hugely important UKUSA Intelligence community and will do little to improve the effectiveness of the War against Terrorism. Perhaps most serious of all for the Prime Minister is that it raises a major issue of trust in the British Governments stance during the run-up to any further conflicts with Iran, Syria or North Korea.
Richard Bennett Media. [email protected] Copyright Richard Bennett Media 2003. For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .