Sunday :: Jul 11, 2004

Britain's Butler Report Soon to be Released


by Mary

Bush's buddy Tony Blair must be waiting anxiously for the outcome of the Butler inquiry. The Butler inquiry is a comprehensive review of what went wrong with the British Intelligence and what were the mistakes that took Britain to war over a non-existent threat.

Unlike the Senate Intelligence Report released this week, the Butler report covered not only the problems in the intelligence agencies, but also the role of the Iraqi dissidents like Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi, the current Iraqi PM, and even went into the role of Blair and his office in instigating the war against Saddam. In the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, only the intelligence agencies were examined; with the role of the Iraqi dissidents and Bush's administration part in leading the country to war to be covered and reported on after the election.

Today's Guardian has a very long and comprehensive report on the Butler report and what the tea leaves say it will cover. Unlike the Hutton report which largely absolved Blair and his office of stretching the truth and any culpability in the death of Dr. David Kelly, this report is expected to be much harsher on Blair and his men.

Here are some of the more fascinating sections from the Guardian article.

The terrifying arsenal - detailed in two government dossiers - was not there. [ed: Sept 2002 dossier, Feb 2003 dossier] Butler's five-strong team will aim to answer the crucial questions: how, why and by whom was the nation led to believe that it existed?

The reverberations will be felt for years to come. 'It's like a small nuclear device going off under Whitehall and Vauxhall Cross [the headquarters of MI6],' said one retired senior diplomat. 'There'll be an initial shock-wave ... but the fall-out will last for decades.'

...The trail that Butler has followed leads back to the summer of 2002, when a senior officer in Saddam's army first contacted an Iraqi opposition group based in London. He had information, it seemed, of huge importance. Iraqi commanders, the officer told the Iraqi National Alliance [ed: the group Iyad Allawi headed], could mount a WMD attack in 45 minutes. In fact, they could probably do it in 20.

The source was introduced by a dissident group with a clear agenda. The claim was based on Soviet operational manuals and - crucially - was true only for weapons used on the battlefield, not for strategic long-range weapons that could have reached British military bases in Cyprus or strike Israel. Importantly, the source made clear that the timings were only hypothetical. He could not say if the weapons actually existed.

Yet, within three months, the '45-minute claim' was splashed over newspaper front pages around the world. Stripped of context and caveats, the claim featured four times in the government's dossier on WMD, published by Blair in September 2002 to help persuade the public of the case for war.

Butler's report is expected to examine the three crucial stages in the process through which the 45-minute claim - and other such material - passed. The first involves the collection of raw information from the field; in the second, it is sifted by specialists who pass on their analysis to their customers, the government; and in the third - the stage pioneered by Blair - it is passed by politicians to the public.

...Most of the intelligence in the September 2002 dossier dated back to the 1990s. Stockpiles of weapons that had existed during the first Gulf war were still unaccounted for. The consensus among UN inspectors and the spies was that Saddam had hidden much of it. 'Everyone working in the field was convinced that Saddam was hiding something. The question was how much,' said one former UN inspector. 'That was the conventional wisdom. Few questioned it.'

Yet they should have. A US Senate inquiry into intelligence gathering - the probe that first forced a reluctant Blair to set up his own version - concluded in its withering report last week that a mindset developed that, instead of questioning the existence of the weapons when they proved elusive, intelligence services simply tried harder to find them, in a bid to discover the nature of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's infamous 'known unknowns'.

In fact, it now appears that Saddam probably destroyed [ed: link] any remaining stocks of WMD in the mid-1990s when he realised that holding such weapons was counter-productive, that it threatened his grasp on power by drawing international ire.

...Disastrously, analysts on both sides of the Atlantic never recognised this. They unwittingly reinforced each other's mistakes, leading to what last week's Senate committee report called an erroneous 'group think'. To compound the error, a controversial special intelligence cell, the Office of Special Plans, was set up by Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, finding raw intelligence that reinforced the prevalent idea that Saddam was hiding a WMD programme. Their conclusions were fed directly to senior figures in the US administration. Some of the material was also passed back to Britain. Even indirectly, the conclusions drawn by the Bush administration heavily influenced their British counterparts.

...And as contributions flooded in from across the Middle East and Europe, the exact origin of some of the material became confused. Information was corroborated by its own, often dubious, origin. [ed: link] 'If the British threw us a bad source, in the end it was still a bad source. That could lead to you getting a false confirmation and that is the worst that could happen in intelligence,' said Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst.

...There are also signs that, when Butler turns to examine the final marketing of the dossier to the nation, he will be harsher than Hutton - seen by many at Westminster as naive in his understanding of spin. Last month, Butler invited reporters to testify on whether they had been encouraged by government to emphasise particular bits of the dossier, including the 45-minutes claim.

Downing Street has insisted for almost a year that, even if the claim was dubious, it was not a core part of the case for war. Yet at least one newspaper is thought to have told Butler that it saw a copy of the dossier with sections - including the 45-minutes claim - helpfully marked in highlighter pen.

Butler is also thought to be focusing particularly closely on the Prime Minister's foreword to the report, regarded as the most vulnerable to criticism because it was so unambiguous. Butler is also understood to have studied repeated rumours that the JIC blocked attempts by Downing Street to include a strongly worded conclusion to the report.

Blair has come under even more pressure when it was revealed that MI6 backed away from believing Saddam was actively trying to build new banned weapons systems. Instead, all they were ready to do was to support that he might still be hoarding old systems.

As in the US, the damage to the spy agencies and credibility of the governments is vast. Most experts agree that it will take decades to get past the errors that led to a war in Iraq based on false pretenses.

Mary :: 2:08 PM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!