Blair Testifies; British Intelligence Crisis Continues

By Boyd-Anderson, Kerry | Arms Control Today, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Blair Testifies; British Intelligence Crisis Continues


Boyd-Anderson, Kerry, Arms Control Today


WHILE THE BUSH administration faces criticism about its handling of intelligence on Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has endured a summer of political crisis over the issue. The debate has centered around a dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities the British government released in September 2002. Out of a storm of accusations that has tarnished the reputations of Blair's government and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), two facts have emerged: there were disagreements over the dossier among intelligence officials, and key Blair aides were involved in reviewing the final drafts of the dossier. The depth of the aides' involvement and the dissension among intelligence officials, however, remains murky.

The eye of the storm has recently moved before a judge. The Hutton Inquiry, which follows an investigation by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has heard public testimony into the formation of the dossier by top officials, including Blair.

The Blair government continues to deny that it ever misled parliament or the public in the months before the Iraq war. In August 28 testimony before the Hutton Inquiry, Blair vehemently denied that the government inserted information into the September dossier against the wishes of the intelligence services. If that allegation were true, "it would have merited my resignation," he said.

Several media reports in May and June helped spark the crisis by suggesting that Blair and his key aides interfered in the process of compiling intelligence on Iraq. In particular, BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan reported May 29 on the radio show "Today" that "one of the senior officials in charge of drawing up that [September 2002] dossier" on Iraq's weapons programs said the government had ordered that the dossier on Iraq "be sexed up, to be made more exciting and ordered more facts to be...discovered." The source, according to Gilligan, specifically pointed to the inclusion in the dossier and its executive summary of a statement saying that Iraq's military planning allowed for some weapons of mass destruction "to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them." The source also allegedly accused Alastair Campbell, Blair's close communications and strategy chief, of inserting the claim.

Gilligan refused to reveal his source, but on June 30, David Kelly, a top expert on biological and chemical weapons and an adviser for the Ministry of Defense, told his manager at the ministry that he had met with Gilligan May 22. The Ministry of Defense informed the Commons committee, and Kelly's name was subsequently leaked to the press. Kelly gave public testimony before the Foreign Affairs Committee July 15 and testified in private to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has also been investigating the use of intelligence on Iraq.

In his public testimony, Kelly said he did not think he was Gilligan's main source. Kelly said he did not believe Campbell had transformed the September dossier, stated that he felt the September dossier was true and not embellished, and denied that he was aware whether the 45-minute claim was added to the dossier at the last minute.

From his conversation with Gilligan, Kelly said, "I do not see how he could make the authoritative statement he was making from the comments that I made." He refused to deny categorically that he was the source, however, saying, "I do realize that in the conversation that I had there was reinforcement of some of the ideas he has put forward."

The day after his private testimony, Kelly left his home and did not return. On July 18, police found Kelly dead of apparent suicide. On July 20, the BBC stated that Kelly was Gilligan's main source.

Kelly's death and the BBC's identification of him as the main source ignited a firestorm of criticism against both the BBC and Blair. The prime minister appointed Lord Hutton to investigate the circumstances surrounding Kelly's death.

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