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UK Investigates Iraq War: US is silent

David Gardner: UK investigation into Iraq war reveals British intelligence did not support invasion of Iraq

Sept. 13
TRNN The former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, said she told former Prime Minister Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein was not “an important sponsor of terrorism directed at Britain” before Britain joined the US in the invasion of Iraq. In her testimony before the Privy Council Iraq War Inquiry, she said the theory that Saddam’s regime would bring together international terrorism and WMDs in a threat to western interests “certainly wasn’t of concern in either the short term or the medium term to my colleagues or myself.”

Manningham-Buller said MI5 intelligence indicated that a war in Iraq would escalate the threat from al Qaeda, and that she communicated this to Blair before the invasion.

David Gardner, foreign affairs editor of the London Times, told TRNN that her testimony disproves the argument given by former President Bush, and repeated in news media, that intelligence from all international sources indicated that Saddam Hussein controlled weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and posed a significant threat.

In an interview with The Real News Network, Gardner recounts the testimony of Carne Ross, the First Secretary ambassador to New York who resigned over the war in Iraq, that the consensus of the intelligence he received indicated that Saddam Hussein “posed no significant threat” and that the current strategies of containment were working.

Gardner said it is surprising that President Obama’s administration is not holding a similar inquiry that would hold the previous administration accountable for “the abusive executive power that was involved.”

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. On July 20 of this year, Baroness Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, made some startling testimony at the Iraq Inquiry going on in the UK.


UNIDENTIFIED: From what you said earlier about the relatively small amount of resource that your service was required to give, before 2003, to monitoring Iraqi intelligence and potentially terrorist activities in this country, and your very large focus on al-Qaeda, there is an implication that you did not at that time see Saddam Hussein’s regime as an important sponsor of terrorism directed at least against this country.


UNIDENTIFIED: Does it therefore follow from that that you don’t subscribe to the theory that at some point in the future he would probably have brought together international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in a threat to Western interests?

MANNINGHAM-BULLER: It’s a hypothetical theory. It certainly wasn’t of concern in either the short term or the medium term to my colleagues or myself.

UNIDENTIFIED: Overall, looking at the sort of two, three, four years after the conflict began in 2003—and you’ve referred to the consistency of JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] reports on this—to what extent did the conflict in Iraq exacerbate the overall threat that your service and your fellow services were having to deal with from international terrorism?

MANNINGHAM-BULLER: Substantially. We felt we had a pretty good intelligence picture of the threat from Iraq within the UK and British interests, and, you’ll see from that letter, we thought it was very limited and containable.


JAY: So, according to the former head of MI5, not only did they not think there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; she told Prime Minister Blair that was the case before Britain joined the United States and went to war. Why does all this matter? Well, first of all, politicians who made that decision are yet to be held accountable. And (asks our guest I’m about to interview) are they doing the same thing again when it comes to Iran? Now joining us from London is David Gardner. He’s the foreign affairs editor for The Financial Times in London. He’s also author of the recent Last Chance: The Middle East in the Balance, published in 2009. He now joins us from London. Thanks for joining us, David.


JAY: So, first of all, talk about what the baroness had to say and the significance of it.

GARDNER: The way I saw it, and I think the way it should be seen, it was a very clear bell cutting through all this rather pointless noise which was coming out of this inquiry. And what it said was the advice was clear there was no significant threat, and the advice was abundantly clear on the possible consequences—on, rather, the likely consequences, the almost certain consequences of invading Iraq, which was that this would proliferate the phenomenon of jihadism and significantly increase the security risk to the UK. Lady Manningham-Buller said, if memory serves: that not only brought us the attacks on the public transport system here, on the metro and on the buses and so on five years ago, but 15 other significant plots, whereas almost none of that had previously existed.


UNIDENTIFIED: [inaudible] your view was that a war in Iraq would aggravate the threat, from whatever source,—


UNIDENTIFIED: —to the United Kingdom. How did you communicate this view to the prime minister?

MANNINGHAM-BULLER: It was communicated through the JIC assessments, to which I fed in.


GARDNER: So a very significant raising of the threat level. She also said, in the context of Iraq, on the ground in Iraq, that I suppose we gave Osama bin Laden his jihad.


MANNINGHAM-BULLER: And, arguably, we gave Osama bin Laden his Iraqi jihad.


GARDNER: And I think that’s true. It was something I said personally would happen, before the invasion.

JAY: Now, if I understand correctly that Prime Minister Blair asked her to come up with some kind of intelligence that would beef up the case for weapons, and she refused—.

GARDNER: She did indeed,—


MANNINGHAM-BULLER: My recollection, I’ve got two points, I think. First is we were asked to put in some low-grade, small intelligence to it.


GARDNER: —to beef up the September 2002 government document making the case for war, what became known subsequently as the Dodgy Dossier. And they didn’t, because we didn’t think it was reliable is what she said. So they refused, yes, absolutely.

JAY: One of the main defenses of the Bush administration, with some support from some of the leadership of the Democratic Party at the time, was that all the intelligence agencies everywhere in the world thought the same thing. In fact, it’s—Sunday morning television shows, it’s been the mantra of leadership of the Republican Party: well, everyone thought so, so we thought so, too. But it turns out not everyone thought so.

GARDNER: Yes, we’ve been hearing that tune a lot in the past week, as you can probably guess, with the launch of Tony Blair’s memoirs. It’s constantly repeated that no insignificant [sic] intelligence service in the world believed other than that Saddam had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Personally, I don’t believe that. I’ve spoken to a lot of intelligence people who say that’s bogus in a variety of intelligence organizations. I just don’t think it holds water. And there were other bits of testimony in the same month preceding Lady Manningham-Buller. The guy in charge of the Iraq file at the British delegation to the UN in the preceding, I think, five years, name of Carne Ross, who resigned from the Foreign Office over the Iraq war, he said very clearly in his testimony—and he said this to a previous inquiry—that the advice and consensus of the intelligence that he received during the entire time he was in that job was that Saddam posed no significant threat, and secondly, that the containment of Saddam was working. A separate question was the cost of this to the Iraqi population. But thirdly, he said that any attempt that he and American colleagues made to try and tighten and narrow the focus of containment—there were a number of specific examples that he put forward, such as seizing Saddam’s bank accounts in Jordan—none of these were taken up, discussed. Zero interest was shown in them, despite the consensus that containment was working and he did not present a significant threat to anybody, in fact, except his own people.

JAY: And we know that in the days immediately following 9/11 events, the Bush administration was already focused on Iraq, even though their intelligence people had already discounted any Saddam Hussein al-Qaeda links in all of this. But I was kind of taken by the fact that the baroness’s testimony barely broke into news in the United States, given the extent, the investment the Bush administration has made into this idea that everybody was in on this, agreed with this intelligence. But also, what did you think of Obama’s speech just a few days ago when he talked about end of the combat mission in Iraq? He talks about how this war began as an effort to disarm a state, essentially adopting the Bush narrative and this idea that there actually was such intelligence.

GARDNER: He did lean—whether this was an attempt to be bipartisan with other aims in mind, more domestic aims, I have no idea. But he did lean—you’re right, I think—towards the Bush narrative and paid him the compliment that he did everything that he—misguided as he was (not his words), but he did it out of a sense of commitment to country and American security and so on. It is—I mean, they have a lot to answer for, these people. I mean, they—on both sides of the Atlantic. I mean, they were cherry-picking and customizing dubious morsels of intelligence, often stuff that was being fed into this special office set up in the Pentagon by equally dubious people like Ahmad Chalabi, that rather sort of silky weaver of neocon dreams.

JAY: It’s something that there’s an inquiry going on in the UK about the road to war in Iraq, because there’s next to nothing going on in the United States. The Obama administration has not wanted to open up this can whatsoever. There’s been no accountability. But there’s at least a conversation going on in the UK about are these war crimes. You would have thought there would have been some motivation on the part of the Obama administration to hold the previous one accountable, even for pragmatic political purposes, but they’ve completely shied away from it on every level. What’s your take on that?

GARDNER: In the American system, it wouldn’t just be the White House that turned out to be complicit in all this, would it? You know, Obama himself voted against the war, but who voted for it? Who, for that matter, voted or let through on the nod stuff like rendition? Would somebody like Nancy Pelosi come out of this particularly well, for example? I don’t know what the motivation it is [sic], but you’re right, it is a little bit puzzling. Given the abuse of the executive power that was involved, it is a puzzle, yeah.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about Iran and whether history is repeating itself. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with David Gardner on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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David Gardner is International Affairs Editor at the Financial Times. He was born in
Brussels and educated at Stonyhurst College and St John’s College, Oxford. He joined
the Financial Times in 1978 and has worked mainly as a foreign correspondent or
writer on international affairs. His assignments include: Mexico & Central America
correspondent, European Union correspondent, Middle East Editor, South Asia
bureau chief. He was the FT's Chief Leader Writer and Associate Editor from 2006
until this year. In 2003 he won the David Watt political journalism prize for his
writing on the Arab world. He is the author of the recent “Last Chance: the Middle
East in the Balance” (published by I. B. Tauris in the UK and Palgrave Macmillan in
the US), which in April was long-listed for the 2010 George Orwell book prize for
the art of political writing. He was made a Senior Associate Member of St Antony’s
College Oxford in 2008, and is an associate editor of Europe's World, the pan-
European policy journal published out of Brussels. David Gardner has lectured at
think-tanks, foundations and universities in Europe, the Middle East and the US, and
is a frequent broadcaster on radio and television.