Centre for Research on Globalisation
Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation


Behind Tony Blair's Fabricated Intelligence on WMD

Operation Rockingham:

A Secret Operation of British Intelligence

www.globalresearch.ca 31  July 2004

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/THU407A.html

Operation Rockingham

by Rowena Thursby

31 July 2004


Britain's Defense of Intelligence Staff's Deputy Chief John Morrison was dismissed in July from his post as chief investigator to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) for his derisive comments on BBC's Panorama, about the manipulation of intelligence.  DIS is the key intelligence unit of the Department of Defense.

Of Blair's "serious and current threat" regarding Iraq's WMD, Morrison asserted on BBC network television:  

"You could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall". 

"…In moving from what the dossier said Saddam had, which was a capability possibly, to asserting that Iraq presented a threat, then the Prime Minister was going way beyond anything any professional analyst would have agreed."

All the more curious then that it was Morrison who set up Operation Rockingham in 1991. 

Morrison referred to it protectively as a "tiny cell" set up to offer UN weapons inspectors accurate intelligence regarding WMD.  

Possibly Rockingham started out with honourable intentions, but then morphed into a propaganda monster - making both Morrison and Kelly distinctly uncomfortable.  It is interesting to observe how this transformation coincided, in the closing months of 2002, with the creation of its counterpart in the US:

Rumsfeld's "Office of Special Plans". 

The general consensus seems to be that the US defence secretary couldn't count on the CIA or the State Department to provide a pretext for war in Iraq. So he created a new agency that would tell him what he wanted to hear.  It seems the Brits, preferring to be a tad less obvious, decided to apply a little nip and tuck to their "tiny" Rockingham cell. 

With this double-headed Hydra in operation, how could we fail to go to war? 


The ISC published in September 2003 under parliamentary auspices, a report entitled Iraq Weapons of Mass Destruction, Intelligence and Assessments (click to read full report in pdf)   

The Guardian, July 29, 2004

Sacked for telling the whole truth:

Morrison has paid for criticising Blair but Butler's report backs him

by  Richard Norton Taylor

Lord Butler, whose withering report on the abuse of intelligence about Iraqi weapons has still not been fully appreciated, passed the baton for others, notably elected members of parliament, to grab. Few have dared to. Instead, it was left to a former senior defence intelligence officer to pick it up, and take the blame.

John Morrison has been sacked from his post as adviser to the parliamentary intelligence and security committee for being rude to Tony Blair. Commenting in a personal capacity on Panorama earlier this month he discussed Blair's claim that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed a "serious and current threat" to Britain. "When I heard him using those words," Morrison told the programme, "I could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall."

And raspberries going around Whitehall there were. Well before the invasion of Iraq, I reported widespread opposition in Whitehall to military action. Former chairmen of the joint intelligence committee have criticised the way their successor John Scarlett was "starstruck" by Downing Street, allowing it to influence the wording of the discredited dossier on Iraqi weapons. Butler and his committee damned the dossier, but said that Scarlett should not be blamed and should be allowed to take up his job as head of MI6.

Blair had the final say over Scarlett's appointment, though Downing Street insists that he was selected by an independent board headed by the prime minister's security and intelligence coordinator, Sir David Omand. Omand was the man who sanctioned the sacking of Morrison.

Morrison took the rap because he was honest enough to tell the truth and name Blair. And there is plenty in the Butler report to back him up. Yet in all the words written about the report, the evidence pointing at Blair and his acolytes in Downing Street has been largely ignored.

For example, Butler states: "We believe that it was a serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations of the intelligence underlying some of its judgments were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier." And who was responsible for that? The evidence to Lord Hutton's inquiry, and that accumulated by Butler, make it clear that the answer lies in Downing Street.

It is not a coincidence that the passage in Butler quoted above immediately follows a quote from Blair in the Commons in which he said the picture painted by the intelligence services in the dossier was "extensive, detailed and authoritative".

There is another hitherto neglected, but perhaps even more significant, passage in the Butler report. It refers to the later advice of the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, that the UN resolutions were enough to justify an invasion of Iraq. Butler adds that this did, however, require the prime minister, in the absence of a further UN resolution, to be satisfied that "there were strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations . . . and that it was possible to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-cooperation with the requirements of security council resolution 1441".

This, Butler makes clear, Blair singularly failed to do. The Butler committee expresses its "surprise" that neither policymakers (ie, ministers) nor the JIC looked again at the quality of the intelligence about Iraq in the crucial weeks of early 2003 after the UN inspectors' failure to find any banned weapons became apparent.

Moreover, the Butler report makes clear, "officials" - they are not named but certainly they must have been senior advisers to the prime minister - cautioned that for Goldsmith and Blair to rely, as they did, on an earlier UN resolution to claim Iraq was in breach of its international obligations, the proof "would need to be incontrovertible and of large-scale activity".

We know not only that it was nothing of the kind, but that Blair did not even bother to find out. He also says he did not bother to ask whether the notorious 45-minute claim referred only to short-range battlefield weapons, which might have been used against his invading troops but did not threaten British interests in the slightest.

And on September 12 2002, he was told by Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, that a new source - since discredited - made claims about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programme. But, says Butler, Dearlove "also said . . . that the source remained unproven", something Blair did not want to hear.

The Butler report may not be read on the beaches this summer. But it must not be forgotten. Blair has a lot more to answer for when he returns from holiday.

Richard Norton-Taylor is the Guardian's security affairs editor


Selected Quotes and Excerpts on Operation Rockingham:

Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Rockingham

Operation Rockingham is an intelligence unit whose existence was revealed in June 2003 by the Scottish Sunday Herald . Based mainly on an interview with former US military intelligence officer and chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter , investigative journalist Neil Mackay describes the function of Operation Rockingham as producing misleading intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction , which could be used as justification for action against Iraq. Set up in 1991 by John Morrison , the deputy head of the British Ministry of Defence Defence Intelligence Staff , the Rockingham cell was at the center of various British and US intelligence organisations collecting information on Iraq's WMD .The unit dealt with intelligence obtained from a variety of cources, including Iraqi defectors and the UN arms inspections organisation in Iraq UNSCOM , which Rockingham had penetrated. According to Scott Ritter the unit amassed evidence selectively, with government backing, for political goals:

"Operation Rockingham cherry-picked intelligence. It received hard data, but had a preordained outcome in mind. It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD... It became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections. They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite."

For example, Rockingham would leak false information to weapons inspectors but then use the inspections as evidence for WMD: "Rockingham was the source of some very controversial information which led to inspections of a suspected ballistic missile site. We ... found nothing. However, our act of searching allowed the US and UK to say that the missiles existed."

The intelligence unit is thought to include military officers, intelligence services representatives as well as civilian Ministry of Defence personnel. The British weapons expert David Kelly , played an important role in Operation Rockingham. Ritter describes him as "Rockingham's go-to person for translating the data that came out of Unscom into concise reporting"

The day before he died, Kelly described his role in Operation Rockingham to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee  :

"Within the defence intelligence services I liaise with the Rockingham cell." Although this evidence was given in secret, a transcript was released to the Hutton Inquiry . (1) ( http://www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk/content/isc/isc_1_0003to0035.pdf )

The only other public mention of "Operation Rockingham" was by Brigadier Richard Holmes while giving evidence to the defence select committee in June 1998. (2) ( http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199798/cmselect/cmdfence/868/8070107.htm )

It is thought that "Operation Rockingham" assumed a central role within the UK intelligence system in building the case that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities constituted a threat to the UK and the US. In the US, the Office of Special Plans , a Pentagon unit created by Donald Rumsfeld , worked towards a similar purpose.

The report published by the Butler Review in July 2004 dedicates a page to Operation Rockingham (p.104). After its creation 1991 within the DIS,

"Rockingham was responsible for briefing some of the personnel who formed part of UNSCOM and IAEA inspection teams. It processed information received as a result of the inspections,and acted as a central source of advice on continuing inspection activity. Rockingham also advised FCO and MOD policy branches on the provision of UK experts from government and industry to work with UNSCOM and the IAEA as members of inspection teams. Rockingham included an officer detached to Bahrain to staff an organisation known as GATEWAY to co-ordinate briefings to,and debriefings of, inspection team members as they deployed to,and returned from,Iraq." After being reduced to one member of staff in 1998, it was again expanded "provide UK support to UNMOVIC ".

"No official feedback from UNMOVIC was offered, nor expected. Rockingham did not brief or debrief individual inspectors. It did, however, continue to provide UNMOVIC and the IAEA with all-source UK intelligence assessments of the extent of Iraq's nuclear,biological, chemical and ballistic missile programmes, and information about sites of potential significance. It acted as the focus for the work tasked by the JIC on the analysis of the Iraqi declaration of 7 December 2002" (i.e. the 12,000-page weapons declaration handed over by Iraq as required by UN resolution ). After the 2003 Iraq war, Rockingham worked with the Iraq Survey Group .



According to reporter Neil Mackay of the Sunday Herald, Operation Rockingham was "a covert 'dirty tricks' operation" set up by the British Ministry of Defence in 1991 and "designed specifically to produce misleading intelligence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction to give the UK a justifiable excuse to wage war on Iraq."

Scott Ritter described it as an operation "to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite." [1]

British Parliament, House of Commons , Examination of witnesses, Wednesday, 24 June 1998. Brigadier Richard Holmes, Brigadier John Smales, and Mr. John Tesh.

Question 1456: (Brigadier Holmes) "Small numbers, mainly specialists, serving Operation Warden, which is deterrent forces covering Northern Iraq; Operation Jural, which is the no-fly zone over Southern Iraq; and occasionally Operation Rockingham, which is UNSCOM inspections in Iraq itself. So it is mainly specialists and the chap who caught my eye is an officer on UNSCOM inspections in Iraq."

Source: http://www.disinfopedia.org/wiki.phtml?title=Operation_Rockingham

David Kelly:

"Within the defence intelligence services I liaise with the Rockingham cell."

Scott Ritter:  


"Operation Rockingham [a unit set up by defence intelligence staff within the MoD in 1991] cherry-picked intelligence.  It received hard data, but had a preordained outcome in mind.  It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD...  It became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections.  They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite."

“Kelly became Rockingham’s go-to person for translating the data that came out of Unscom into concise reporting.... Kelly had a vested interest in protecting his image, which centred around his exposure of an Iraqi bio-weapons programme that had to continue to exist for him to continue to hold centre stage.”

Michael Meacher:  

I believe it [Rockingham] had a key role in seeking to handle intelligence to provide the 'right' material for its political masters.  (See article below).


Statements from Michael Meacher regarding Operation Rockingham (see Guardian articles below):

'I'm also a believer in the cock-up theory'

Matthew Tempest

The Guardian, July 29, 2004

Michael Meacher courted much controversy with his 'difficult' questions about 9/11 and the war on terror, but, he tells Matthew Tempest, he is absolutely not a conspiracy theorist

......Since writing an article for the Guardian last September, detailing unanswered questions about the events of September 11 2001 and the predetermination of the US to go to war in Iraq, Meacher has faced a torrent of abuse and derision beyond that borne by most mainstream politicians.

The US embassy in London dismissed the article as "monstrously offensive" and Meacher as not being "serious or credible", while many journalists found his arguments unconvincing and even deranged.

Despite this, Meacher is unrepentant about airing his concerns. "That analysis has been confirmed. In the past nine months [his unanswered questions] have proved both logical and correct. I'm not aware of a word that has not been accepted.

"Indeed, some of it has been confirmed - for instance, Paul O'Neill's account of his time serving Bush, where he reveals that Iraq regime change was a priority from day one of the administration."

......More recently, Meacher wrote another high-profile piece in the Guardian demanding to know the truth about Operation Rockingham, an intelligence cell mentioned to the intelligence and security committee by weapons expert Dr David Kelly the day before his death.

Meacher alleged, on the basis of the evidence of former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, that the previously unheard of unit was designed to spread misinformation about Iraqi WMD capabilities.

On page 90 of Lord Butler's inquiry into intelligence failures over Iraq is a five-paragraph explanation of Operation Rockingham, calling it a briefing and liaison unit for the Unscom inspections. Meacher believes the explanation is there as a result of his probing.

"It's a pedestrian few paragraphs, but I've seen it and I'm glad it's there and it shows that they've taken it [the article] on board. I believe it [Rockingham] had a key role in seeking to handle intelligence to provide the 'right' material for its political masters.

"Obviously that will be denied, and I'm not expecting Butler to prove it, but I suspect the reason that they felt the need to include it [the explanation] is because of the article."


The very secret service

David Kelly referred obliquely to Operation Rockingham. What role did this mysterious cell play in justifying the Iraq war?

Michael Meacher
Friday November 21, 2003
The Guardian

David Kelly, giving evidence to the prime minister's intelligence and security committee in closed session on July 16 - the day before his suicide - made a comment the significance of which has so far been missed. He said: "Within the defence intelligence services I liaise with the Rockingham cell." Unfortunately nobody on the committee followed up this lead, which is a pity because the Rockingham reference may turn out to be very important indeed.

What is the role of the Rockingham cell? The evidence comes from a former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter, who had been a US military intelligence officer for eight years and served on the staff of General Schwarzkopf, the US commander of allied forces in the first Gulf war. He has described himself as a card-carrying Republican who voted for Bush, but he distinguished himself in insisting before the Iraq war, and was almost alone in doing so, that almost all of Iraq's WMD had been destroyed as a result of inspections, and the rest either used or destroyed in the first Gulf war. In terms, therefore, of proven accuracy of judgment and weight of experience of the workings of western military intelligence, he is a highly reliable source.

In an interview in the Scottish Sunday Herald in June, Ritter said: "Operation Rockingham [a unit set up by defence intelligence staff within the MoD in 1991] cherry-picked intelligence. It received hard data, but had a preordained outcome in mind. It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD... It became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections. They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite."

Rockingham was, in fact, a clearing house for intelligence, but one with a predetermined political purpose. According to Ritter, "Britain and America were involved [in the 1990s and up to 2003] in a programme of joint exploitation of intelligence from Iraqi defectors. There were mountains of information coming from these defectors, and Rockingham staff were receiving it and then selectively culling [picking out] reports that sustained the [WMD] claims. They ignored the vast majority of the data which mitigated against such claims."

Only one other official reference to Operation Rockingham is on record, in an aside by Brigadier Richard Holmes when giving evidence to the defence select committee in 1998. He linked it to Unscom inspections, but it was clear that the Rockingham staff included military officers and intelligence services representatives together with civilian MoD personnel. Within, therefore, the UK intelligence establishment - MI6, MI5, GCHQ and defence intelligence - Rockingham clearly had a central, though covert, role in seeking to prove an active Iraqi WMD programme.

One of its tactics, which Ritter cites, is its leaking of false information to weapons inspectors, and then, when the search is fruitless, using that as "proof" of the weapons' existence. He quotes a case in 1993 when "Rockingham was the source of some very controversial information which led to inspections of a suspected ballistic missile site. We ... found nothing. However, our act of searching allowed the US and UK to say that the missiles existed."

A parallel exercise was set up by Donald Rumsfeld in the US, named the Office of Special Plans. The purpose of this intelligence agency was the provision of selective intelligence which met the demands of its political masters. Similarly, in the case of the UK, Ritter insists that Rockingham officers were acting on political orders "from the very highest levels".

Both Ritter and British intelligence sources have said that the selective intelligence gathered by Operation Rockingham would have been passed to the joint intelligence committee (JIC), which was behind the dossiers published by the UK government claiming Iraq had WMDs.

The significance of this is highlighted by Tony Blair's statement: "The intelligence that formed the basis of what we put out last September... came from the JIC assessment." So Rockingham was an important tributary flowing into the government's rationale for the war.

This shoehorning of intelligence data to fit pre-fixed political goals, both in the US and the UK, throws new light on the two most controversial elements of the government's dossier of September 2002. One was that Iraq could launch WMD within 45 minutes. Was this "sexed up" on the orders of No 10 or - derived allegedly from an Iraqi brigadier via an informant - did Rockingham put a gloss on it to please its political masters? The other highly contentious item in the dossier was that Saddam tried to buy uranium yellowcake from Africa. How did material that the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded on February 4 was a blatant forgery come to be included in President Bush's January 28 State of the Union address? And, since the British were named as the source, why did MI6 not spot this outlandish forgery? In fact, they alleged that the Niger claim came from another independent source, which has never been identified. Could this be because this disinformation served the Rockingham purpose only too well?

It is not only the massaging of intelligence that seems to have gone on, but also the suppression of the most reliable assessment of the facts. David Kelly, we now know, had been advising privately prior to the war about the likelihood of Iraqi WMD. He told the foreign affairs select committee: "I have no idea whether there were weapons or not at that time [of the September 2002 dossier]". And to the intelligence and security committee the next day he added: "The 30% probability is what I have been saying all the way through ... I said that to many people ... it was a statement I would have probably made for the last six months." Yet this view from the leading expert within government never saw the light of day. Why not?

If the tabloid headlines the day after the September dossier was published had read: "Blair says only 30% chance Iraq has WMDs" rather than "Brits 45 mins from doom" (the Sun), would the Commons vote still have backed the war? Rarely can the selective use of information have had such drastic consequences. If there is one conclusion which must flow from the Hutton revelations, it must surely be the demand for a full-scale independent inquiry into the operation of the intelligence services around the top of their command and their interface with the political system.

· Michael Meacher was environment minister, 1997-2003.

Email this article to a friend

To become a Member of Global Research

To express your opinion on this article, join the discussion at Global Research's News and Discussion Forum , at http://globalresearch.ca.myforums.net/index.php

The Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) at www.globalresearch.ca grants permission to cross-post original Global Research (Canada) articles in their entirety, or any portions thereof, on community internet sites, as long as the text & title of the article are not modified. The source must be acknowledged as follows: Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) at www.globalresearch.caFor cross-postings, kindly use the active URL hyperlink address of the original CRG article. The author's copyright note must be displayed. (For articles from other news sources, check with the original copyright holder, where applicable.). For publication of Global Research (Canada) articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: [email protected]

For media inquiries: [email protected]

© Copyright Rowena Thursby, 2004, articles and excerpts: Wikipedia and The Guardian, 2004. For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement.