By Annie Machon & Ray McGovern
Ten years ago today Prime Minister Tony Blair assembled at Downing Street UK Ministers for defense and foreign policy together with top military and intelligence officials for a briefing on how the U.S. planned to “justify” attacking Iraq. Blair had just sent MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, to Washington, to get the inside perspective from his counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet, who briefed President George W. Bush several times a week.
Dearlove and Tenet met privately at CIA Headquarters on Saturday, July 20, 2002. We know what Dearlove told Blair and associates about what he heard from Tenet, because the official minutes of the July 23 briefing were leaked to the press (the minutes are now known as the “Downing Street Memo”). Dearlove is quoted as saying that Bush had decided to remove Saddam Hussein by launching a war that would be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.”
How to bring that off? Dearlove adds matter of factly, “The intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.” He is referring to an agreement in April 2002 between Tony Blair and George Bush during a stay at the latter’s Texas ranch in Crawford, where Blair pledged UK support for invading Iraq.
The minutes show that then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed that Bush had decided on war, but warned that stitching together justification would be a challenge, since “the case was thin.” There is no sign in the minutes that anyone hiccupped — much less demurred — at Blair’s determination to join Bush in launching the kind of “war of aggression” outlawed by the post-world war Nuremberg Tribunal and the UN treaty.
In late summer 2002, the synthetic threat from Iraq was “sexed-up” by a well-honed US-UK intelligence-turned-propaganda machine. The spin was endless: headlines screaming “45 minutes from doom”; the lies about Saddam reconstituting Iraq’s nuclear weapons program; and yellow journalism about the “yellowcake” uranium Iran was said to be seeking from darkest Africa.
UK citizens were spoon-fed the fake intelligence of the September Dossier and then, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy” Dossier, based on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Internet, together with unverified, raw intelligence that turned out to be false — all presented by spy and politician alike as hot, ominous intelligence.
So was made the case for war. All lies; hundreds of thousands dead, wounded, maimed, and millions of Iraqi refugees; yet no one held to account.
Sir Richard Dearlove, who might have prevented all this had he the integrity to speak out, was allowed to retire with full honours and became the Master of a Cambridge college. John Scarlett, who as chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee signed off the fraudulent dossiers, was rewarded with the top spy job at MI6 and knighthood. George W. Bush gave George Tenet the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award. Shameless.
The latest UK investigation into the Iraq war debacle, the Chilcot Inquiry, has yet again delayed the publication of its report, as the key communications between Blair and Bush are being withheld for
all-too-familiar “national security” reasons. But some new insight into the April 2002 deliberations in Crawford, Texas, emerged from an unguarded slip of honesty by Blair before Chilcot in January 2011, in which Blair shed light on one key factor behind the decision to remove Saddam Hussein:
“As I recall that [April 2002] discussion, it was less to do with specifics about what we were going to do on Iraq or, indeed, the Middle East, because the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time. I think, in fact, I remember, actually, there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis, the two of us [Bush and Blair], whilst we were there. So that was a major part of all this.”
Intelligence Crossed the Line
A decade ago, the men in charge of British intelligence acquiesced in their information being politicized — the cardinal sin in intelligence work — in order to grease the wheels for an unnecessary war. They helped their political masters mainline unassessed, raw intelligence and forged documents into the body politic, with disastrous consequences for the world.
And nothing is learned, nothing changes. In face, current MI6 chief John Sawers seems to be taking his cue from Dearlove and Scarlett.
Just last week Sawers, who succeeded Scarlett as head of MI6 three years ago, gave a remarkable speech in which he not only bragged about MI6’s operational role in thwarting Iran’s alleged attempt to develop a nuclear weapon, but also asserted that Iran would have the bomb by 2014. Shades of MI6’s pandering to policy in 2002.
That pro-Israel “neo-conservatives” in the US, along with the Israeli government, are pushing hard for attacking Iran is abundantly clear. Never mind that the entire US intelligence community’s considered and unanimous view is that Iran has not yet decided to produce a nuclear weapon. Yet, now we have the head of British intelligence parroting the hyped-up rhetoric of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters regarding the “danger” from Iran.
The role of the British intelligence is to provide non-“fixed” information to its government — data based on carefully assessed and verified reporting. MI6’s role is not to act as a political cheerleader for the pre-determined aggressive policies of foreign powers. As we have seen with Iraq, incalculable human tragedy can result when intelligence is “fixed” around the policy.
Annie Machon, former MI5 intelligence officer
Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst