IRAQ INTELLIGENCE FAILURES: "Serious Flaws" Found in British Dossier

September 2004

By Scott Stinson

The British intelligence on Iraq’s weapons capabilities used to justify the March 2003 invasion contained “serious flaws,” according to a committee charged with reviewing the assessments.

The committee, appointed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, released a July 14 report that details findings from its five-month investigation into the accuracy of British intelligence on prohibited Iraqi weapons programs prior to March 2003; any discrepancies between that intelligence and information gathered after the conflict; and, more generally, British intelligence coverage of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) trade in countries of concern.

Chaired by Lord Robin Butler, a former Blair cabinet member, the committee analyzed assessments made by the executive branch’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). Those assessments formed the backbone of a September 2002 dossier that publicly underlined the British government’s case for “stronger action” against Iraq.

In its conclusions, the committee faulted “over-reliance” on questionable human intelligence sources, arguing that the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) failed to appropriately scrutinize and validate reports from human intelligence sources. The committee also criticized British officials for not clarifying the limitations and caveats of intelligence included in the dossier.

In one of the more politically charged conclusions, the committee criticized the claim included in the 2002 dossier that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so. The committee commented that the 45-minute claim should not have been included without significant clarification. As it was written in the dossier, the claim “later led to suspicions that it had been included because of its eye-catching character,” the committee said. The 45-minute claim took center stage in the controversy surrounding the suicide of David Kelly, an arms expert drafting the dossier who reportedly told the BBC he had been ordered to include the 45-minute claim by an aide to Blair.

The committee found “no evidence of deliberate distortion” of JIC reports by government officials but did criticize the process by which the 2002 dossier was drafted. It questioned whether the JIC should have had responsibility for producing the document.

“More weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear,” the committee stated.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Blair said that the Butler report was the fourth inquiry to show the government acted in “good faith” in gathering intelligence and making its case for war. But, he admitted, “the evidence of Saddam [Hussein’s] WMD was indeed less certain, less well-founded than was stated at the time.”

Blair’s opponents in Parliament argued the report demonstrates the prime minister’s government is no longer credible. Frustrated that no blame was assigned to an individual, they called the inquiry the “no blame” report.