'Release dossier', ministry told

Chris Ames explains the significance of the decision to force the Foreign Office to release the secr

The Information Tribunal has today ordered the Foreign Office to release the secret draft of the Iraq WMD dossier written by former top spin doctor.

The move casts doubt over the government’s claim that the document played no part in the production of the dossier.

However, the Tribunal has allowed a handwritten note to be redacted which the Foreign Office claimed would be damaging to international relations.

The FCO has said that it is studying the Tribunal decision and declined to name the authors of the handwritten comments.

The secret draft was written by John Williams, the FCO’s then director of communications, on 7 and 8 September 2002, just days after Tony Blair announced that the government would publish a dossier of intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein threatened the world with his weapons of mass destruction.

It preceded what the government would later claim to be the first draft, written by Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett on 10 September.

I first noticed references to the Williams draft during the Hutton Inquiry, although Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former director of communications, denied outright that there was such a document.

In February 2005, I asked the FCO for a copy under the newly implemented Freedom of Information Act. When then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw vetoed my request, I complained to the Information Commissioner, who found in my favour last May. But the FCO then appealed to the Tribunal, which published its ruling this morning.

The tribunal’s decision is sceptical of the government’s claim that Williams produced his version outside the main process of drafting the dossier. It states that “information has been placed before us, which was not before Lord Hutton, which may lead to questions as to whether the Williams draft in fact played a greater part in influencing the drafting of the Dossier than has previously been supposed.”

The tribunal is also very critical of inconsistencies in the government’s evidence and repeatedly observes that the main Foreign Office witness, Stephen Pattison, its Director, International Security, “was not involved at the time and volunteered no information about the source of his information”. It stated that “it is a matter of concern that the information given to the Information Commissioner on the very nature of the information in dispute was apparently different to the evidence given to us.”

These comments relate directly to the role of the Williams draft in the production of the dossier. The FCO had told the Commissioner that Scarlett commissioned Williams to write the draft but subsequently changed its story.

The tribunal refers to Pattison’s “assertion” that the draft was “not used in the dossier drafting process.” It commented that he was “apparently unable to identify any source for the assertion quoted above among either those who were so involved or from any contemporaneous document.” It also cited evidence suggesting “that the Williams draft in fact played a more significant role in the process” than the government has admitted. This includes the covering note that Scarlett sent Campbell describing his own first draft: “This has been significantly recast, with considerable help from John Williams and others in the Foreign Office.”

The tribunal also reveals that the draft was “annotated in two different persons’ handwriting, suggesting that at least one person other than the author had reviewed and commented on it despite Mr Pattison’s statement that it was put aside the moment it was first presented.” Again here, the tribunal can be seen to be skeptical of the government’s claim that Williams’ work was not taken forward.

However, the tribunal has ordered that one of the handwritten notes should be redacted from the draft when it is published. It is clear that the Foreign Office has claimed that disclosure of this comment would be damaging to international relations, a claim that it did not make at the time of its initial refusal. The decision notice states that this issue is covered in a confidential annexe.

On the content of the draft itself, the Tribunal reveals that some intelligence-related sections of the published dossier bear a resemblance to parts of the Williams draft, although this does not “lead on easily to the conclusion that one had been based on the other”. The dossier was finally published on 24 September 2002, two weeks after Scarlett’s “first draft”, and was central to the case it made to Parliament for war in Iraq.

Responding to the Information Tribunal decision, Conservative MP John Baron said: "This decision lifts the lid on government efforts to cover-up the role played by spin doctors in producing the Iraq Dossier.

"I am now pressing the Foreign Secretary immediately to make public the Williams draft, so that we can assess for ourselves the significance of this document in the run up to war – a war which we should never had been party to.

"The Tribunal agrees that the Williams draft could have played a greater part in influencing the drafting of the dossier than the Government has so far admitted - even to the Hutton Inquiry. The Government cannot hide this document any longer."

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The secret anti-capitalist history of McDonald’s

As a new film focuses on the real founder of McDonald’s, his grandson reveals the unlikely story behind his family’s long-lost restaurant.

One afternoon in about the year 1988, an 11-year-old boy was eating at McDonald’s with his family in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire. During the meal, he noticed a plaque on the wall bearing a man’s face and declaring him the founder of McDonald’s. These plaques were prevalent in McDonald’s restaurants across the US at the time. The face – gleaming with pride – belonged to Ray Kroc, a businessman and former travelling salesman long hailed as the creator of the fast food franchise.

Flickr/Phillip Pessar

But this wasn’t the man the young boy munching on fries expected to see. That man was in the restaurant alongside him. “I looked at my grandfather and said, ‘But I thought you were the founder?’” he recalls. “And that’s when, in the late Eighties, early Nineties, my grandfather went back on the [McDonald’s] Corporation to set the history straight.”

Jason McDonald French, now a 40-year-old registered nurse with four children, is the grandson of Dick McDonald – the real founder of McDonald’s. When he turned to his grandfather as a confused child all those years ago, he spurred him on to correct decades of misinformation about the mysterious McDonald’s history. A story now being brought to mainstream attention by a new film, The Founder.


Jason McDonald French

“They [McDonald’s Corporation] seemed to forget where the name actually did come from,” says McDonald French, speaking on the phone from his home just outside Springfield, Massachusetts.

His grandfather Dick was one half of the McDonald brothers, an entrepreneurial duo of restaurateurs who started out with a standard drive-in hotdog stand in California, 1937.

Dick's father, an Irish immigrant, worked in a shoe factory in New Hampshire. He and his brother made their success from scratch. They founded a unique burger restaurant in San Bernardino, around 50 miles east of where they had been flogging hotdogs. It would become the first McDonald’s restaurant.

Most takeout restaurants back then were drive-ins, where you would park, order food from your car, and wait for a “carhop” server to bring you your meal on a plate, with cutlery. The McDonald brothers noticed that this was a slow, disorganised process with pointless costly overheads.

So they invented fast food.

***

In 1948, they built what came to be known as the “speedy system” for a fast food kitchen from scratch. Dick was the inventor out of the two brothers - as well as the bespoke kitchen design, he came up with both the iconic giant yellow “M” and its nickname, the “Golden Arches”.

“My grandfather was an innovator, a man ahead of his time,” McDonald French tells me. “For someone who was [only] high school-educated to come up with the ideas and have the foresight to see where the food service business was going, is pretty remarkable.”


The McDonald brothers with a milkshake machine.

McDonald French is still amazed at his grandfather’s contraptions. “He was inventing machines to do this automated system, just off-the-cuff,” he recalls. “They were using heat lamps to keep food warm beforehand, before anyone had ever thought of such a thing. They customised their grills to whip the grease away to cook the burgers more efficiently. It was six-feet-long, which was just unheard of.”

Dick even custom-made ketchup and mustard dispensers – like metal fireplace bellows – to speed up the process of garnishing each burger. The brothers’ system, which also cut out waiting staff and the cost of buying and washing crockery and cutlery, brought customers hamburgers from grill to counter in 30 seconds.


The McDonald brothers as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

McDonald French recounts a story of the McDonald brothers working late into the night, drafting and redrafting a blueprint for the perfect speedy kitchen in chalk on their tennis court for hours. By 3am, when they finally had it all mapped out, they went to bed – deciding to put it all to paper the next day. The dry, desert climate of San Bernardino meant it hadn’t rained in months.

 “And, of course, it rained that night in San Bernardino – washed it all away. And they had to redo it all over again,” chuckles McDonald French.

In another hiccup when starting out, a swarm of flies attracted by the light descended on an evening event they put on to drum up interest in their restaurant, driving customers away.


An original McDonald's restaurant, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

***

These turned out to be the least of their setbacks. As depicted in painful detail in John Lee Hancock’s film, Ray Kroc – then a milkshake machine salesman – took interest in their restaurant after they purchased six of his “multi-mixers”. It was then that the three men drew up a fateful contract. This signed Kroc as the franchising agent for McDonald’s, who was tasked with rolling out other McDonald’s restaurants (the McDonalds already had a handful of restaurants in their franchise). 

Kroc soon became frustrated at having little influence. He was bound by the McDonalds’ inflexibility and stubborn standards (they wouldn’t allow him to cut costs by purchasing powdered milkshake, for example). The film also suggests he was fed up with the lack of money he was making from the deal. In the end, he wriggled his way around the contract by setting up the property company “McDonald’s Corporation” and buying up the land on which the franchises were built.


Ray Kroc, as depicted in The Founder. Photo: The Founder

Kroc ended up buying McDonald’s in 1961, for $2.7m. He gave the brothers $1m each and agreeing to an annual royalty of half a per cent, which the McDonald family says they never received.

“My father told us about the handshake deal [for a stake in the company] and how Kroc had gone back on his word. That was very upsetting to my grandfather, and he never publicly spoke about it,” McDonald French says. “It’s probably billions of dollars. But if my grandfather was never upset about it enough to go after the Corporation, why would we?”

They lost the rights to their own name, and had to rebrand their original restaurant “The Big M”. It was soon put out of business by a McDonald’s that sprang up close by.


An original McDonald restaurant in Arizona. Photo: Flickr/George

Soon after that meal when the 11-year-old Jason saw Kroc smiling down from the plaque for the first time, he learned the true story of what had happened to his grandfather. “It’s upsetting to hear that your family member was kind of duped,” he says. “But my grandfather always had a great respect for the McDonald’s Corporation as a whole. He never badmouthed the Corporation publicly, because he just wasn’t that type of man.”

Today, McDonalds' corporate website acknowledges the McDonalds brothers as the founders of the original restaurant, and credits Kroc with expanding the franchise. The McDonald’s Corporation was not involved with the making of The Founder, which outlines this story. I have contacted it for a response to this story, but it does not wish to comment.

***

Dick McDonald’s principles jar with the modern connotations of McDonald’s – now a garish symbol of global capitalism. The film shows Dick’s attention to the quality of the food, and commitment to ethics. In one scene, he refuses a lucrative deal to advertise Coca Cola in stores. “It’s a concept that goes beyond our core beliefs,” he rants. “It’s distasteful . . . crass commercialism.”

Kroc, enraged, curses going into business with “a beatnik”.


Photo: The Founder

Dick’s grandson agrees that McDonald’s has strayed from his family’s values. He talks of his grandfather’s generosity and desire to share his wealth – the McDonald brothers gave their restaurant to its employees, and when Dick returned to New Hampshire after the sale, he used some of the money to buy new Cadillacs with air conditioning for his old friends back home.

“[McDonald’s] is definitely a symbol of capitalism, and it definitely sometimes has a negative connotation in society,” McDonald French says. “If it was still under what my grandfather had started, I imagine it would be more like In'N'Out Burger [a fast food chain in the US known for its ethical standards] is now, where they pay their employees very well, where they stick to the simple menu and the quality.”

He adds: “I don’t think it would’ve ever blossomed into this, doing salads and everything else. It would’ve stayed simple, had quality products that were great all the time.

“I believe that he [my grandfather] wasn’t too unhappy that he wasn’t involved with it anymore.”


The McDonald’s Museum, Ray Kroc’s first franchised restaurant in the chain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Despite his history, Dick still took his children and grandchildren to eat at McDonald’s together – “all the time” – as does Jason McDonald French with his own children now. He’s a cheeseburger enthusiast, while his seven-year-old youngest child loves the chicken nuggets. But there was always a supersize elephant in the room.

“My grandfather never really spoke of Ray Kroc,” he says. “That was always kind of a touchy subject. It wasn’t until years later that my father told us about how Kroc was not a very nice man. And it was the only one time I ever remember my grandfather talking about Kroc, when he said: ‘Boy, that guy really got me.’”

The Founder is in UK cinemas from today.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.