The secret first draft of the Iraq WMD dossier written by Foreign Office spin doctor John Williams has finally been published after a ruling back in January under the Freedom of Information Act.
The document contains an early version of the executive summary of the next draft, which was attributed to Intelligence chief John Scarlett. The document places a spin doctor at the heart of the process of drafting the dossier and blows a hole in the government’s evidence to the Hutton Inquiry.
Last month the Foreign Office was ordered by the Information Tribunal to hand over the Williams draft, which I first requested under the Freedom of Information Act in February 2005.
From the time that the row first erupted over Andrew Gilligan’s allegations that the dossier had been sexed-up, the government has claimed that Scarlett’s draft, produced on 10 September 2002, was the first full draft and produced without interference from spin doctors. But the Williams draft, dated a day earlier, shows that spin doctors were sexing up the dossier at the time the notorious 45 minutes claim was included.
Initially the government withheld the draft from the Hutton Inquiry. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s director of communications, denied its existence. But when Scarlett admitted that Williams had done some early drafting, the BBC asked to see it.
The government then supplied a copy of the draft to Lord Hutton but told him that it was “not taken forward” because a “fresh start” was made with Scarlett’s draft. Confirmation that Scarlett took up elements of Williams’s drafting shows that the government misled Hutton.
Williams did not include the 45 minutes claim in his draft but it is now clear that he did not have access to the intelligence on the claim at the time. However, it has recently been confirmed that Williams attended the meeting that produced Scarlett’s draft.
At this meeting, he and other spin doctors saw the intelligence assessment that contained the claim. Scarlett’s draft then included it for the first time. When he sent his draft to Campbell, Scarlett wrote of “considerable help from John Williams”.
The draft also shows that Williams was responsible for a number of key changes that strengthened the dossier’s claims. His executive summary claimed that Iraq had “acquired” uranium. Previous versions only alleged the material had been “sought”.
Scarlett’s draft also alleged that Iraq had got hold of uranium, stating that it had “purchased” it.
Williams appears largely to have been working on a version of the dossier that was produced during the summer of 2002, before Tony Blair announced in September of that year that a dossier would be published.
He appears not to have made substantial changes to the body text of the document’s section on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) but it is clear that he was aware that this section was being rewritten. In fact, the WMD section contains a comment: “I don’t propose to rewrite this until I take delivery of the new version.” This shows that Williams intended to continue to rewrite the dossier.
Subsequent versions of the dossier show that the executive summary expressed its claims about Iraq’s WMD more strongly than the main text. In many cases, including the 45 minutes claim, the main text was then brought into line with the executive summary.
The involvement of spin doctors in drafting the summary process suggests that they led the sexing up of the dossier.