Today should be an important day for those of us who want to know the truth about the Government’s September 2002 Iraq dossier – the document that took us to war. The NS is publishing my follow-up piece to Martin Bright’s story last November about the secret first draft, written by former Foreign Office spin doctor John Williams.
At the same time, the Information Commissioner is finalising his ruling on whether the draft should be released. And my website, iraqdossier.com, which tells the whole story of how the dossier was sexed-up, is launched.
The gist of today’s NS piece is that the notorious “45 minutes claim” was, as alleged, added to the dossier late and following spin doctor involvement and that it could well be in the Williams draft. Specifically, it was inserted “immediately after” a drafting meeting on the afternoon of 9 September 2002 when the uncertain intelligence on the 45 minutes was seen by Williams and others, who were cleared to see intelligence with the purpose of deploying it in the dossier.
What more do you want? Oh yes – it appears that Williams produced his draft after the drafting meeting, in which case it would have been the first to include the claim.
Let’s get the red herrings out of the way first. The story has been put about that Williams produced his draft “on his own initiative” (or, according to Williams, was directly asked to do it) and that it was on a “parallel track” to the draft Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman John Scarlett produced on 10 September. I defy anyone to look at Daniel Pruce’s (also at the meeting) 10 September email with “quick thoughts on John’s draft of 9 September” and Scarlett’s own 10 September citation of “considerable help from John Williams” and say that the parallel track story stands up.
At the Hutton Inquiry, Williams entirely omitted to mention the drafting meeting or that he had produced his own draft of the dossier. Alastair Campbell expressly denied that there was a dossier on 9 September and stated that he did not know whether the meeting had gone ahead. The latter is somewhat surprising given that Campbell had chaired a “planning meeting” that morning and subsequently set out in a minute how the dossier would be assembled that afternoon.
Now, I’m not going to call anyone a liar on the NS website (although my own is a different matter). So let’s take Campbell at his word: he didn’t know when he kicked off his campaign against Andrew Gilligan and the BBC that the 45 minutes had gone into the dossier only after it was discussed at a meeting attended by various spin doctors, including Pruce, who “represented” him. He didn’t know that Williams had produced his own draft of the dossier the day before the one on which the government has based its case from the outset.
In that case, what I would ask Campbell is this: how did/does he know that one of those spin doctors wasn’t responsible for the inclusion of the claim? How did he know that Gilligan’s story was “a lie” – something he “told the Foreign Affairs Committee” more times than I can be bothered to count? Interestingly, an analysis carried out by the Hutton Inquiry shows that intelligence chiefs only agreed that Campbell could deny responsibility for the inclusion of the claim if he added the much-repeated qualification “against the wishes of the Intelligence Agencies”.
The onus must now be on Campbell (and the government) to prove that the spin doctors did not insert the 45 minutes claim. If he cannot, he owes Andrew Gilligan, David Kelly (or rather, his family), the BBC and, well everyone really, a very large apology.
The government can start to prove it has nothing to hide by releasing the Williams draft. Continuing to suppress it merely increases suspicion that it is a smoking gun, as Williams himself “has observed”. The draft could prove that Williams inserted the claim although, given what we know about the process, it cannot prove that the spin doctors were not “involved”. What it could also “establish beyond doubt” is that the parallel track story is a red herring – that the draft was the forerunner of the Scarlett draft and that claims of Scarlett’s “authorship” and “ownership” were just spin to cover up spin. It can prove that when Scarlett “told Tony Blair” that Williams and other spin doctors were “involved” in the drafting, he meant actually drafting the document.
Many people now realise that the true story of the dossier’s genesis – that the spin doctors were on the inside of the process – changes everything. Claims (false, as it happens) that the JIC “approved” the dossier would just make it worse: were the spin doctors putting words in the mouth of the JIC?
But many people in the mainstream media still don’t get it. This is where I’d like to end with a word of praise to embarrass Martin Bright (and thank him for lending me his blog). There are journalists who just spin what they have been told and journalists who look beyond the spin. Martin is firmly in the latter camp. There are journalists – and I have spoken to some of them – who as good as say “if we didn’t spot this, there can’t be anything in it”. Martin is too good a journalist to say that.