Iraq dossier WAS sexed up, says intelligence chief
Crispin Black: Who’s telling the truth - the Army general or Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell?
In previously confidential evidence released yesterday by Sir John Chilcot's Iraq Inquiry, a senior military spook directly contradicted Alastair Campbell's endlessly repeated mantra that he had not beefed up the "dodgy dossier" on Iraq "to make a case for war".
Major General Michael Laurie, who was director general of intelligence collection at the Defence Intelligence Staff in 2002-2003, emailed the inquiry in January 2010 in response to Campbell's evidence of two weeks earlier.
"He [Campbell] stated that the purpose of the dossier was not to make a case for war; I and those involved in its production saw it exactly as that, and that was the direction we were given.'
It gets worse: "... It was clear to me that there was direction and pressure being applied on the Joint Intelligence Committee and its drafters."
And there's a wow finish: "In summary, we knew at the time that the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence, and that to make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence the wording was developed with care." What the rest of us would call "sexing up", I suppose.
Both men cannot be telling the truth.
The Iraq Inquiry has been the cause of much cynicism. Its five members, chosen by then prime minister Gordon Brown, are the usual establishment trusties.
Sir John Chilcot, its chairman, comes from a background in the Home Office with its knee-jerk belief in the probity of the intelligence services.
Shockingly, another panel member is Sir Lawrence Freedman. As Professor of War Studies at the prestigious King's College, London and official historian of the Falklands campaign, he is well qualified for the role. But as the author of Tony Blair's 1999 'Chicago speech' which set out the philosophical basis for Western humanitarian interventions abroad he has no business on the panel at all. Even a Banana Republic would baulk at such a conflict of interest.
None of the members has much forensic ability. A trained interrogator or at least a QC would have made mincemeat of many of the witnesses. To be fair, Sir Roderic Lyne, a former ambassador to Russia, hits his stride from time to time.
But in a curious way its not-very-forensic questioning has made shifty witnesses look even shiftier. Sir John Scarlett, Blair's chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and Sir David Manning, Blair's foreign policy adviser, both cut poor figures. Blair himself, at least in his second appearance, looked very nervous.
It has other good things going for it, serendipitous rather than by design, but effective nevertheless. No one on the panel wants to end up a laughing stock like Lord Hutton. Most importantly it appears to be working like a cold case inquiry. The chief conspirators have stuck to their well-rehearsed stories.
But individuals who at the time felt powerless to oppose the Alastair Campbell/John Scarlett intimidation and were ashamed of their inaction now feel free to speak up. Gen Laurie seems to have been pushed over the edge by Alastair Campbell's "je ne regrette rien" monologue.
The political background has, of course, changed too. The two men who run the country both have an interest in uncovering the truth.
Nick Clegg and his party opposed the Iraq expedition all along the way. He has used his considerable influence to make the Inquiry more open.
David Cameron, interestingly, was the man chosen by the then Tory leader Michael Howard to read Lord Hutton's report into the death of Dr David Kelly and the allegation that the government had "sexed up" the intelligence on Iraq and its WMD.
Cameron was given access, alone, to a single copy in the Cabinet Office a few hours before its publication. His ability to master a complex brief quickly was as admired then by his boss as it is today by the civil servants in Number 10. Imagine his horror when he realised, reading against the clock, that the report was a dud. Howard struggled to land any blows in the Commons and Blair returned to Number 10 grinning.
What was going on in the government and the upper echelons of the intelligence establishment in the run-up to intervention in Iraq has been obvious to most for some time. The intelligence was fitted around what Tony Blair and his henchmen wanted. Those that played ball got promoted. John Scarlett subsequently became chief of MI6. David Manning became ambassador to Washington. Those that didn't were marginalised like the DIS or disgraced like David Kelly or sacked like Andrew Gilligan at the BBC.
But despite what Gen Laurie has revealed, Blair and Campbell and their 'mates' are going to be difficult to pin down.
Blair and his inner circle may have been surrounded by the communications paraphernalia of the 21st Century but like a Stone Age tribe or a Mafia board meeting they never wrote anything down. It's Gen Laurie's word against Alastair Campbell's and nothing more for now. ·
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