Sunday Herald - 08 June 2003 Revealed: the secret cabal which spun for Blair
BRITAIN ran a covert 'dirty tricks' operation designed specifically to produce misleading intelligence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction to give the UK a justifiable excuse to wage war on Iraq.
Operation Rockingham, established by the Defence Intelligence Staff within the Ministry of Defence in 1991, was set up to 'cherry-pick' intelligence proving an active Iraqi WMD programme and to ignore and quash intelligence which indicated that Saddam's stockpiles had been destroyed or wound down.
The existence of Operation Rockingham has been confirmed by Scott Ritter, the former UN chief weapons inspector, and a US military intelligence officer. He knew members of the Operation Rockingham team and described the unit as 'dangerous', but insisted they were not 'rogue agents' acting without government backing. 'This policy was coming from the very highest levels,' he added.
'Rockingham was spinning reports and emphasising reports that showed non-compliance (by Iraq with UN inspections) and quashing those which showed compliance. It was cherry-picking intelligence.'
Ritter and other intelligence sources say Operation Rockingham and MI6 were supplying skewed information to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) which, Tony Blair has told the Commons, was behind the intelligence dossiers that the government published to convince the parliament and the people of the necessity of war against Iraq. Sources in both the British and US intelligence community are now equating the JIC with the Office of Special Plans (OSP) in the US Pentagon. The OSP was set up by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to gather intelligence which would prove the case for war. In a staggering attack on the OSP, former CIA officer Larry Johnson told the Sunday Herald the OSP was 'dangerous for US national security and a threat to world peace', adding that it 'lied and manipulated intelligence to further its agenda of removing Saddam'.
He added: 'It's a group of ideologues with pre-determined notions of truth and reality. They take bits of intelligence to support their agenda and ignore anything contrary. They should be eliminated.'
Johnson said that to describe Saddam as an 'imminent threat' to the West was 'laughable and idiotic'. He said many CIA officers were in 'great distress' over the way intelligence had been treated. 'We've entered the world of George Orwell,' Johnson added. 'I'm disgusted. The truth has to be told. We can't allow our leaders to use bogus information to justify war.'
Many in British intelligence believe the planned parliamentary inquiry by MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee will pass the blame for the use of selective intelligence to the JIC, which includes senior intelligence figures .
Intelligence sources say this would be unfair as they claim the JIC was following political instructions. Blair has been under sustained criticism following allegations that intelligence on the threat from Iraq was 'sexed up' to make it more appealing to the public.
The rebel Labour MP and Father of the House, Tam Dalyell, said he would raise the Sunday Herald's investigation into Operation Rockingham in the Commons on Thursday and demand an explanation from the government about selective intelligence. Ritter has also offered to give evidence to parliament.
Both the MoD and Downing Street refused to comment on Ritter's allegations about Operation Rockingham, saying they did not make statements on intelligence matters.
British and American intelligence analysts have also come forward to dispute claims made by President Bush that two military trailers found in Iraq were bio-weapons labs.
news in focus: Blair's secret weapon How damaged is the government? Why America is waking up to the truth about WMD Sunday Herald - 08 June 2003 Blair's secret weapon
It was in the immediate aftermath of the first Gulf war and Britain knew even then that Saddam Hussein would one day have to be deposed. Allied forces had stopped short of ousting the Iraq dictator, but the British government was convinced it would one day have to finish the job.
The problem was how to convince the world that even a defeated Iraq still posed a serious threat. The answer came in 1991, with the setting up of a secret military intelligence operation whose existence has only now been uncovered by the Sunday Herald in the wake of damaging claims that Tony Blair and George Bush exaggerated intelligence reports to justify their invasion of Iraq this year.
The covert project was called Operation Rockingham and it was designed specifically to 'cherry-pick' information which pointed towards Saddam having a WMD stockpile that he could use imminently. Right up until the outbreak of war, the staff of Operation Rockingham, which was set up by the defence intelligence staff within the Ministry of Defence, deliberately overlooked 'mountains' of reports and intelligence documents which pointed towards Saddam destroying his arsenal and instead used 'selective intelligence' from just a tiny pool of data to create a false and misleading picture that the Iraqi ruler was a direct threat to the West.
Proof of Operation Rockingham came to light in a Sunday Herald investigation and its existence was backed up in a series of astonishingly frank interviews with Scott Ritter, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq who served on the staff of General Norman Schwarzkopf -- who led the allied forces in the first Gulf war -- before joining the UN weapons inspections team, Unscom. Ritter was also a US military intelligence officer for eight years. His claims about Rockingham are supported by UK parliamentary documents and briefings with other British intelligence sources.
'As inspections developed throughout the 1990s it became clear that Unscom were accomplishing a great deal,' said Ritter. 'This became a liability for the UK and the US. Because of the level of Iraqi disarmament, France, China and Russia began talking about lifting sanctions. This wasn't what Britain and America wanted to hear -- they wanted sanctions and regime change.
'Operation Rockingham became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections. They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, even though Unscom was showing the opposite.'
Operation Rockingham began to liaise with Unscom -- ostensibly it was there to share intelligence with the weapons inspectors from within the United Kingdom spying community, but it soon became clear that this covert operation had a hidden agenda: deliberately creating a fake picture that Saddam was armed to the teeth.
Ritter added: 'Operation Rockingham cherry-picked intelligence. It received hard data but had a pre-ordained outcome in mind. It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD.' Staff once connected to Rockingham are now thought to be involved in the new Iraqi Survey Group which has been sent to Iraq in a bid to find WMDs.
To back up claims that Operation Rockingham was deliberately 'cherry-picking' intelligence and producing misleading reports, Ritter described how its staff blatantly ignored proof of Saddam's compliance. 'Britain and America were involved in a programme of joint exploitation of intelligence from Iraqi defectors. There were mountains of information coming from these defectors, and Rockingham staff were receiving it and then selectively culling reports that sustained the claims that weapons of mass destruction were in existence. They ignored the vast majority of the data which mitigated against such claims.
'In theory, Rockingham wasn't dangerous,' Ritter said, 'in theory, it was a clearing house for intelligence. But what is dangerous is the policy behind Rockingham. When I was an intelligence officer, I didn't tell my commander what he wanted to hear, I told him what the facts were. In combat, we have an old saying -- if you lie, you die.
'Operations like Rockingham become a danger to democracy if they lose their integrity. They are behind the scenes, in the shadows and away from public scrutiny. When a government is corrupt by way of such a policy, the public has a hard time holding the government accountable. We were all subject to a programme of mass deception, but now the lie has been exposed. In practice, Rockingham was dangerous.'
Ritter insists that the intelligence officers involved in cherry-picking selective intelligence were acting directly on political orders. 'In terms of using selective intelligence,' Ritter said, 'this policy was coming from the very highest levels.'
The only written reference to Operation Rockingham is found in a 1998 British parliamentary report. In it, Brigadier Richard Holmes, who was giving evidence to the defence committee, refers, in an off-the-cuff aside, to Operation Rockingham and linked it to Unscom inspections in Iraq.
Some of the Rockingham staff were military officers, others came from the intelligence services, such as MI6, and others were civilian ministry of defence personnel. From 1991 to 1998 it had three chiefs, one man and two women. Anyone who headed up Rockingham was guaranteed a very senior intelligence job after their stint on the operation.
Its tactics, according to Ritter, included leaking false information to the weapons inspectors, and then using the resulting inspectors' search as 'proof' of the weapons' existence. 'Rockingham was the source, in 1993, of some very controversial information which led to inspections of a suspected ballistic missile site,' said Ritter. 'We went to search for the missiles but found nothing. However, our act of searching allowed the US and UK to say that the missiles existed.'
He said the Rockingham team 'played (the inspectors) like fiddles', adding: 'Rockingham was spinning reports and emphasising reports that showed non-compliance and quashing those which showed compliance.'
The rebel Labour MP and father of the house, Tam Dalyell, is to raise the Sunday Herald's investigation into Operation Rockingham in the Commons on Thursday during a defence debate and demand an explanation from the government about the use of selective intelligence. Ritter has offered to give evidence to the British parliament.
Both the MoD and Downing Street refused to comment on Ritter's allegations about Operation Rockingham, saying they didn't make statements on intelligence matters. However, a number of British intelligence sources have spoken to the Sunday Herald about the operation. One said: 'I'd like to know if troops were sacrificed because we kept hyping up weapons of mass destruction.'
MI6, according to both intelligence sources and Ritter, were also involved in 'selective intelligence gathering'. However, referring to Operation Rockingham, Ritter said: 'MI6 were more honest ... However, they did have a bevy of human intelligence sources who were handpicked to sustain the concept of WMD. Other sources who contradicted evidence about WMD were ignored. Only data which sustained the myth was used.'
Ritter's revelations come at the worst of times for the US and UK. In America, the Senate and House of Representatives are preparing for a series of hearings into alleged manipulation of intelligence which deceived the US public into backing war, and in the UK, Blair is under fire following sustained claims by the intelligence sources that his government 'spun' intelligence to persuade parliament and people to support war.
A pre-war report by America's defence intelligence agency has also come to light which concludes there was 'no reliable information' that Iraq had chemical weapons. It dates from September 2002 when US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was publicly claiming Saddam had huge WMD stockpiles. It says there is no proof 'on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons or whether Iraq has -- or will -- establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities'. President Bush has vowed that America will find WMD in Iraq. Rumsfeld said on Thursday that he's confident his pre-war claims will be proved -- even though he claimed the previous week that Saddam might have destroyed all his WMD before the war.
The current UN chief weapons inspector, Dr Hans Blix, has also added to the woes of Bush and Blair by saying that the allies 'jumped to conclusions' that Iraq posed a security threat. At an appearance before the UN security council on Thursday, he added: 'It is not justified to (conclude) that something exists because it is unaccounted for.' Blix said there was no evidence that Saddam continued with his banned weapons programme after the 1991 Gulf war.
Blix later attacked the credibility of US-UK intelligence saying: 'We went to a great many sites that were given to us by intelligence, and only in three cases did we find anything -- and they did not relate to weapons of mass destruction. That shook me a bit ... I thought 'My God, if this is the best intelligence they had and we find nothing, what about the rest?''
Both Ritter and British intelligence sources said the selective intelligence gathered by Operation Rockingham would have been passed to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) which was behind the dossiers published by Tony Blair and his government, claiming Iraq had WMDs. The most contentious parts of the government's case for war was that Iraq could launch WMDs in just 45 minutes and that Saddam tried to buy uranium from Niger. Intelligence sources say the 45 minutes claim was inserted at Downing Street's behest to make the document 'sexier' and the International Atomic Energy Agency has said the uranium claim was based on forged documents.
British intelligence sources have equated the JIC with the Office of Special Plans (OSP), an intelligence agency set up inside the Pentagon by Rumsfeld. It has been accused of gathering selective intelligence at the request of its political masters to build a misleading case for war. Ritter says Operation Rockingham was supplying the JIC with intelligence reports, together with MI6. One British intelligence source said: 'The JIC is, in my view, the mirror organisation of the OSP. They both did the same thing. The JIC was receiving information from all the intelligence agencies.'
Blair said during Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons on Wednesday that the intelligence dossier published in September was 'based, in large part, on the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee'. He also said the claim that Iraq was trying to get uranium from Niger was 'judged by the (JIC) at the time to be correct'. Intelligence sources say the Niger claim emanated from Italian Intelligence. The Italians had apparently been asked to help the US and UK make the case for war and passed the document to the British. 'I don't know whether the Italians were involved in the forgery, or if they purchased the forgery, but everyone knew it was nonsense,' an intelligence source claimed.
In the Commons, Blair added that there was 'no attempt by any official or minister ... to override the intelligence judgements of the (JIC), including the so-called 45 minutes, a judgement made by the [JIC] and by them alone'. Intelligence sources say the 45 minute claim was linked to the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the controversial Iraqi opposition-in-exile organisation. If any connection to the INC was proved, it would completely discredit the 45 minute claim as no intelligence agency could withstand allegations that the INC would have exaggerated, and possibly distorted, information in order to secure the fall of Saddam. A UK intelligence source described the 45 minute claim as 'bollocks' and Ritter said the vast majority of information stemming from the INC was 'fabricated'.
As part of the inquiry into the nature of the intelligence leading up to the Iraq war, Blair has promised to give parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee 'all JIC assessments' and allow MP committee members to interview those 'who drew up the JIC report'. The Prime Minister has continually passed responsibility for the nature of intelligence to the JIC saying: 'The intelligence that formed the basis of what we put out last September, that intelligence came from JIC assessment.'
Blair, however, has refused to grant an open, independent judicial inquiry. One British intelligence source added: 'The JIC briefed the PM. I think it will be the spooks who take the fall for this.' The JIC is composed of senior members of all the UK's intelligence services. 'They were charged to get specific intelligence on WMD and to make a case for war,' a source said. 'But they were doing that on the say-so of politicians.'
Ritter insisted that Unscom destroyed most of Iraq's WMDs and doubts Saddam could have rebuilt his stocks. He says 90 to 95% of Iraq's WMD were destroyed by inspections and believes the remainder were either used or destroyed during the first Gulf war. Despite describing himself as a card-carrying Republican who voted for Bush, he has called the president a 'liar' over Iraq. This is his summation of the allied case for war: 'Not one single piece of information was proved,' said Ritter. 'We went to war based on garbage.'
Sunday Herald - 08 June 2003 How damaged is the government?
Tony Blair can deny until the sweat drips from his shirt that he did not not spin intelligence reports to strengthen his case for war against Iraq. He can give as many assurances as he likes that the inquiries he has announced will be assisted in all ways. John Prescott can unleash countless tirades that the PM does not tell lies. The truth is Blair is enmeshed in a culture of mistrust that is damaging him.
As one Labour back-bencher put it: ''There is one thing Blair knows he needs to recover from this mess and that is reputation, reputation, reputation. Because without it, the party may finally come to realise they need an alternative leader. So far that idea is so alien to the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party that they have gone along with everything Tony has thrown at them. Without his reputation intact, even his record of success in delivering victory at elections becomes a lost memory.'
Iraq has already proved a difficult electoral battlefield for New Labour and the continuing failure to uncover WMD is likely to widen splits in the party that had to be papered over in the run up to last month's elections.
Now, at a time when activists need re- assurance to reinvest lost belief in the party, any loss by Blair over his ability to be at least seen as honest, can only be disastrous. National executive member Tony Robinson has warned that even though membership numbers are not falling, activists who routinely attend meetings and campaign for the party are no longer showing up.
While the modernising wing of the party won't admit it, good news at the moment is thin on the ground. For Pat Hewitt, the trade and industry secretary, this points to a need for a change in the way the party conducts its politics and in the current issue of Progress, Labour's fanzine of Blairite modernisers, Hewitt warns of the consequences of losing public trust. She says the party needs to prove that it is on the side of the people, and if it fails to do so it 'will be painted as the party of technocrats and managers, indistinguishable, as in Orwell's Animal Farm, from the establishment we worked so hard to overturn'.
The branding of Blair as a liar over Iraq, placed against this kind of internal worry over trust, puts the real concern over finding WMD in perspective. So while cabinet office minister Douglas Alexander warns of a sterile public debate turning people off politics and demanding that ''pro gressive governance must engage and enthuse'', the immediate hurdle of Blair's perceived honesty and the potential damage that may emerge from the Iraq inquiries must be overcome first.
Yet it is the unsigned editorial of Progress which points to something even the pragmatists in Downing Street may yet come to accept: and that is that the debate over Iraq within the party came too late. And if that really is the case, part of the process now engaging Blair is that many people are simply trying to refight a battle they lost months ago by allowing the prime minister to deliver -- almost unchallenged -- his own reasons for going to war, thus leaving many in his party -- as Progress points out -- feeling 'sidelined'.
For now, though, the blood of Tony Blair remains well out of range, even if the chasing political pack is in no mood to lose the scent of a kill.
When Blair published the government's 50-page dossier on Iraq's WMD on September 24, the UK intelligence assessment contradicted the Pentagon intelligence version of 'no reliable information'. The picture the prime minister said had been presented to him by the Joint Intelligence Committee (made up of the heads of the UK's three intelligence and security agencies, the chief of defence intelligence and senior officials from key government departments) had, he said, 'become more not less worrying'. The dossier disclosed that Saddam's military planning 'allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them'.
Last week Blair strongly denied that the 45 minute claim had been inserted into the dossier at the behest of Number 10. He told the Commons during prime minister's questions: 'The claim that 45 minutes provoked disquiet in the intelligence community, who disagreed with its inclusion in the dossier -- again this is something that I have discussed with the chairman of the JIC and that allegation is also completely and totally untrue.'
Yet the clarity of Blair's denial and his dismissal of the allegations of political interference which aimed to justify going to war against Iraq, has not silenced his critics.
The commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt General James Conway, last week said bluntly that the inability to so far uncover any WMD inside occupied Iraq pointed to one conclusion. Conway said: 'We were simply wrong.'
For Robin Cook, who resigned from the cabinet on the eve of war, a similar mea culpa along the same lines as Conway's is what is now required. But indications are that Cook and other critics will have to wait. Cook asked the foreign secretary Jack Straw to accept that 45 minutes had simply proved to be inaccurate. But Straw would not oblige. 'I do not accept that because we have not yet been able to find physical evidence of the possession, that therefore these weapons do not exist. It flies in the face of all the other evidence.'
Straw, a lawyer to trade, will know that 'evidence' is what makes or breaks any case and that the power of any evidence lies in its ability to convince a jury about who exactly is telling the truth.
An independent judicial inquiry into the alleged political manipulation of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war, may be the preferred option of those who believe Downing Street has misused its power. But so far that call has been halted. In its place are two inquiries: an investigation by the Intelligence and Security Committee who have been given a promise by the prime minister that all documents and open access to intelligence personnel will be granted if asked for. Equally the Foreign Affairs Select Committee will meet and take evidence in public and will, according to one source, 'have all the airs and graces of openness while quietly having all the manners and sanctity of respect that comes from knowing that defence of the realm remains paramount'.
What neither UK inquiry will, of course, have control over is what happens in Washington. There the Senate committee is unlikely to be over-concerned with the political fall out in Britain were it to draw out anything that would embarrass Downing Street. One of the committee's organisers said: 'We have a job to do here. And we will do it. And that job does not mean we need to be overly concerned about what they are thinking back in England.'
Running parallel with the Senate inquiry is the prospect of a CIA investigation also aiming to discover if intelligence reports were distorted to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
The political irony is that London appears to have more to lose than Washington should these investigations uncover any lies. A recent Gallup poll in the US says 67% of US citizens believe Bush is not a liar on the issue of WMD and 70% believe things are going well or moderately well in Iraq. Bush wanted regime change in Iraq and that is what he got. The US electorate seem to accept that.
In Britain things are more complicated. Those complications increased last week with the intervention of John Reid, the leader of the house, who accused 'rogue elements' inside the security services of undermining the government.
Though Reid wouldn't spell it out, the political historians got the message that traditionally British intelligence personnel lean to the right and as they were alleged to have done against Harold Wilson in the 1970s, so too could they attempt to destabilise another Labour administration.
Yet Reid's attack was widely interpreted as almost friendly fire. Wasn't his the kind of accusation you make when you've run out of excuses? If it was, we are likely to hear a lot more from bruiser Reid. Attack as they say is the best form of defence.
Sunday Herald - 08 June 2003 Why America is waking up to the truth about WMD
THE leak of part of a Department of Defence report has added fuel to the firestorm over Bush administration claims about the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The top-secret report by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) last September concluded that it could find no evidence of chemical weapons activity in Iraq. 'There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons,'its one-page summary said.
The leak has put the White House on the defensive as controversy over the non-discovery of WMD grows.
Hours after the report summary -- written by Defence Department in-house intelligence experts -- was leaked, the head of the DIA was dispatched to deny it contradicted the Bush administration's warnings of a dire, imminent threat to the US from Iraqi chemical weapons.
DIA Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby said the report showed his agency 'could not specifically pin down individual facilities operating as part of the WMD programs'. Pressed to explain the discrepancies between the report and administration claims, he said the report was 'not in any way intended to portray the fact that we had doubts that any programme existed, that such a programme was active, or that such a programme was part of the Iraqi WMD infrastructure'.
The leak appeared to catch the White House by surprise. One official said: 'Look, we are not the only people who claimed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The rest of the world, including the UN Security Council, believed it too. The only person who claimed that Saddam didn't have weapons was Saddam.'
But the belief Saddam had stockpiled weapons -- and the imminent threat they posed -- was the core reason cited by Bush during his historic address to the UN last September. He cited evidence of a massive WMD programme, which he said was based on US intelligence and laid down an ultimatum to the UN: either disarm Saddam, or the US will. Asked whether Bush was aware of the DIA report when he warned the UN about the threat , the official declined to comment, saying it was 'unclear' whether Bush or any senior members of the administration had seen the report. It would, however, be unusual if Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the most vigorous supporters of the war, had not read a report issued by his own in-house intelligence agency on the very issue upon which the war was predicated.
The alacrity of the White House response to the leak suggests it now believes the issue is a political danger for the President . Bush faces increasing pressure from influential lawmakers like Democratic senators Robert Byrd and Bob Graham who demand to know whether the administration manipulated intelligence to make the case for war.
That doubts about Iraqi weapons existed as far back as a year ago raises a number of unanswered questions . There is growing unease on Capitol Hill, as even Republican lawmakers feel the issue is a symptom of the massive increase in power Rumsfeld has awarded himself at the expense of the CIA and the Department of State.
'The basic problem here is that the office of the secretary of defence has become too powerful,'Patrick Lang, a former senior official in the DIA told the Senate. Others, including retired CIA analyst Larry Johnson, have publicly criticised CIA director George Tenet for allowing Rumsfeld to annex the CIA's role. 'Tenet sided with the defence crowd and cut the legs out from under his own analysts,'Johnson said.
Senior CIA officials have distanced themselves from Rumsfeld's claims that WMD posed an imminent threat. They say these claims are based on information passed directly to Rumsfeld's office by Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and a Pentagon favourite to become the next Iraqi leader. But the CIA regarded his sources as deeply suspect and said his claims were largely based on hearsay from other defectors with vested interests in regime change.
The big question now is: was Bush was duped himself, or did he dupe the people into believing war was necessary? Some Democrats, sniffing blood, are poised to attack. Bob Graham, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has claimed that before the war the administration embarked on 'a pattern of hiding information'. Classified evidence that supported its claims about weapons was made public, he said. 'But as a member of the Intelligence Committee I saw much evidence that didn't support its case,' he added. 'That evidence was never declassified. '
Tracey Schmitt, a Republican spokeswoman, dismissed Graham's comments. 'Senator Graham sounds increasingly more like a conspiracy theorist than a presidential candidate,'she said.
But even as CIA and Senate investigations into the quality of intelligence used in the build up the war in Iraq get under way, officials are denying that top members of the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, pressured the CIA into coming up with intelligence that would bolster the administration's case. It has been claimed by CIA officials that Cheney made repeated visits to the CIA to discuss intelligence about Iraq -- a highly unusual move for a vice-president. 'The vice president values the hard work of the intelligence community, but his office has a practice of declining to comment on the specifics of his intelligence briefings,' his public affairs director responded.