Friday, December 15, 2006

British Intelligence Knew There Were No WMD's In Iraq

One of the biggest belated "justifications" for the war in Iraq is the oft-repeated claim that every major intelligence agency believed that Saddam had WMD's. Therefore when no such weapons were found, that can't be held against the Bush and Blair administrations because they had to work with what they believed to be true.

Newly revealed evidence from the UK proves that claim to be a flat lie.

Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN during the run-up to the invasion, testified to that lie in his evidence to Britain's Butler Inquiry but his evidence has until now been supressed by the UK Foreign Office. They threatened him with prosecution if he blew the whistle. Now, however, key members of parliament have called the Foreign Office's bluff and released the transcript of Ross' testimony. Here's the relevant section, all emphasis is mine:
am in the Senior Management Structure of the FCO, currently seconded to the UN in Kosovo. I was First Secretary in the UK Mission to the United Nations in New York from December 1997 until June 2002. I was responsible for Iraq policy in the mission, including policy on sanctions, weapons inspections and liaison with UNSCOM and later UNMOVIC.

...I read the available UK and US intelligence on Iraq every working day for the four and a half years of my posting. This daily briefing would often comprise a thick folder of material, both humint and sigint. I also talked often and at length about Iraq's WMD to the international experts who comprised the inspectors of UNSCOM/UNMOVIC, whose views I would report to London. In addition, I was on many occasions asked to offer views in contribution to Cabinet Office assessments, including the famous WMD dossier (whose preparation began some time before my departure in June 2002).

During my posting, at no time did HMG assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests. On the contrary, it was the commonly-held view among the officials dealing with Iraq that any threat had been effectively contained. I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed). (At the same time, we would frequently argue, when the US raised the subject, that "regime change" was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.)

Any assessment of threat has to include both capabilities and intent. Iraq's capabilities in WMD were moot: many of the UN's weapons inspectors (who, contrary to popular depiction, were impressive and professional) would tell me that they believed Iraq had no significant materiel. With the exception of some unaccounted-for Scud missiles, there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW, BW or nuclear material. Aerial or satellite surveillance was unable to get under the roofs of Iraqi facilities. We therefore had to rely on inherently unreliable human sources (who, for obvious reasons, were prone to exaggerate).

Without substantial evidence of current holdings of WMD, the key concern we pursued was that Iraq had not provided any convincing or coherent account of its past holdings. When I was briefed in London at the end of 1997 in preparation for my posting, I was told that we did not believe that Iraq had any significant WMD. The key argument therefore to maintain sanctions was that Iraq had failed to provide convincing evidence of destruction of its past stocks.

Iraq's ability to launch a WMD or any form of attack was very limited. There were approx 12 or so unaccounted-for Scud missiles; Iraq's airforce was depleted to the point of total ineffectiveness; its army was but a pale shadow of its earlier might; there was no evidence of any connection between Iraq and any terrorist organisation that might have planned an attack using Iraqi WMD (I do not recall any occasion when the question of a terrorist connection was even raised in UK/US discussions or UK internal debates).

There was moreover no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or US. I had many conversations with diplomats representing Iraq's neighbours. With the exception of the Israelis, none expressed any concern that they might be attacked. Instead, their concern was that sanctions, which they and we viewed as an effective means to contain Iraq, were being delegitimised by evidence of their damaging humanitarian effect.

I quizzed my colleagues in the FCO and MOD working on Iraq on several occasions about the threat assessment in the run-up to the war. None told me that any new evidence had emerged to change our assessment; what had changed was the government's determination to present available evidence in a different light. I discussed this at some length with David Kelly in late 2002, who agreed that the Number 10 WMD dossier was overstated.
(David Kelly is the weapons expert who a year later committed suicide when he was named as the source of a BBC report saying Downing Street had "sexed up" the WMD claims in a dossier.)

Mr Ross goes on to describe the war as illegal by international law and states his clear and uniquivocal opinion that action to end Saddam's sanction-busting would have been cheaper, effective and would have seriously undermined Saddam's regime - but that such actions were never even considered by the US and UK.

Damning stuff. Direct testimony from a government official at the heart of the run-up to war. On its own it would be remarkable. Put it together with everything else that has been revealed - especially the original "Downing Street Memos" which this testimony corroborates - and its a smoking gun.

I wonder if this story will make a stir in the U.S. and if so whether it will alter the Democratic Party leadership's opinion that investigative hearings shouldn't be pursued?

(Hat Tip: Kat, the one-woman news service.)

Update David Corn is on this one too.
It is indeed rather devastating. This story is a reminder (hint, hint, congressional Democrats) that even though the Senate intelligence committee and a White House commission (a.k.a. the Silberman-Robb commission) examined U.S. intelligence failures regarding the Iraq's supposed WMDs and the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, there is plenty more to probe - particularly how the Bush administration represented (that is, misrepresented) the intelligence and how administration officials made the decision to lead the United States into the debacle in Iraq. Of course, as the co-author of a book on this subject, I have a particular interest. But there's been no greater strategic U.S. blunder in years. The public deserves a full accounting...

...Imagine if US officials were as candid. The Democrats about to take over the House and Senate intelligence and foreign relations committees ought to compel such candor.

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