Jack Straw admits that war dossier was ‘embarrassing’
By Paul Waugh
The Downing Street dossier alleging Iraq could deploy biological weapons within 45 minutes was re-drafted several times to “present the best case” against Saddam Hussein, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, admitted yesterday.
In the most detailed government comments to date on the nature of the September dossier, Mr Straw told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that it went through “a number of drafts”.
He denied allegations by the BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, the document had been “sexed up” or “transformed” at the request of Number 10. But Mr Straw did reveal the dossier had “started life” early last September and had undergone presentational changes, including the addition of Tony Blair’s foreword making claims about Baghdad’s weapons capability. “My colleagues suggested there should be a foreword,” Mr Straw said.
“It went back and forth several times ... it is an iterative process where various drafts are shared and documents go through all sorts of drafting. I make comments, officials make comments. “It is not a question of someone saying ‘this must go back’. It is, here is a document, does it present the best case of evidence that was being sourced and adjudicated by others, namely the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee)?” he said. Peter Ricketts, the former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee and now a senior Foreign Office official, also told the MPs that the JIC “took ownership” of the September dossier and approved it.
But, when asked directly by Donald Anderson, the chairman of the committee, if the “ambiguities” of normal intelligence reports had been “altered”, Mr Ricketts ducked the question. He insisted the JIC had approved the document in its name.
During his appearance before the select committee, Mr Straw staunchly defended the September dossier and the dossier produced in February. He said he had no doubts about the authenticity of the first document, despite the fact no weapons of mass destruction had been found and claims about Saddam acquiring nuclear material from Niger were proved to be forgeries.
“Some of what is in here has been proved by events, none has been disproved,” he said. It was “nonsense” to suggest the whole burden of the Government’s case against Saddam rested on the 45 minute claim, he added. “Neither the Prime Minister nor I have ever used the word ‘immediate’ or ‘imminent’ in relation to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. What we talked about in the dossier was a ‘current and serious threat’ which is very different.” “We didn’t use the phrase immediate or imminent because it means ... as it were, about to happen today or tomorrow. We didn’t use that because frankly the evidence didn’t justify it.” Mr Straw said war was justified by the “bigger picture” of Saddam’s weapons violations, but he made clear he wanted to distance himself from the 45-minute claim. —Independent
How Campbell’s staff left their fingerprints on the dossier
“Iraq - Its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation”, published by the Government in January, was quickly dubbed the “dodgy dossier” after a Cambridge academic, Dr Glen Rangwala, pointed out that it had been cobbled together from published articles and a 12-year-old student thesis. However, what did not emerge until yesterday was that it was possible to detect the names of the last four people to have worked on the dossier. The version posted on the internet carried a “revision log”, easily viewed by those who know their way around Microsoft Word, showing the last 10 revisions made to the document. All four of the people named in the log worked for the Communications Information Centre (CIC), a Downing Street unit set up under Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister’s director of communications, to put the Government’s case for the Iraq war. Around Whitehall the four have been linked to the dossier ever since it came out, but Mr Campbell is said to have insisted on appearing before the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee today to clarify their involvement. How he will explain the electronic evidence is not clear.The four names - Paul Hamill, John Pratt, Alison Blackshaw and Murtaza Khan - were put to the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, when he appeared yesterday. Sir John Stanley, Tory MP for Tonbridge and Malling, told the committee that Dr Rangwala had informed him just before the hearing of the detailed “computer trail” for the dossier. —Independent