Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Are we nearly there yet?

Are we nearly there yet?
And so, I guess it will go on ... (are we nearly there yet).
Here's what John Rentoul has replied to my reply to his reply to my book that hasn't been published yet and which he hasn't read but promises to:
"For those who do not remember, Gilligan made three allegations in the scripted version of his report on 29 May 2003 -
• that the dossier was, in words attributed directly to Gilligan’s source, “transformed in the week before it was published, to make it sexier”;
•that this transformation “took place at the behest of Downing Street” – Gilligan’s words paraphrasing his source, and elaborated by him in the Mail on Sunday, 1 July 2003, putting Alastair Campbell’s name in his source’s mouth;
•the forty-five minutes statement, in words attributed to Gilligan’s source, “was included in the dossier against our wishes, because it wasn’t reliable; … we believed that the source was wrong. Most people in intelligence weren’t happy with the dossier, because it didn’t reflect the considered view they were putting forward”.
John goes on to remind us that:
 "The Hutton inquiry found that the dossier was not “transformed” in the last week. Nor was it true that “most people in intelligence” were unhappy either with the forty-five minutes point or with the dossier generally. The intelligence services corporately, in the form of the Joint Intelligence Committee, approved the dossier and approved the wording of the forty-five minutes point, however much a few individuals at a lower level, including David Kelly, may have disagreed with its inclusion."
Where to start?
I know it's hard ... but look, let's try to deal with what is ... not what we'd like to be.
In the last week of the dossier's production, the JIC's downbeat conclusion was dropped (a Downing Street staffer first suggested this, followed by an FCO spin doctor - suggestions finally "agreed to" by Alastair Campbell, as he records in his diary).
At the same time, Campbell and Blair decided to add a foreword, drafted by Campbell, which was significantly more alarming than the excised conclusion. Sadly, for those who would deny it, the documentation is unequivocal that this "sexing up" (if no other) happened in the last week of the dossier's production.
Meanwhile, in that last week the intelligence analysts were trying as hard as they could to get the 45 minute claim taken out of the dossier or, if that wasn't possible, to ensure that the reservations they and others in intelligence had about it were included alongside the stark claim.
Other "transformations" in that last week included changes to the text made at Jonathan Powell's and David Omand's suggestions and the excision of the word "programmes" from the dossier's title, "transforming" it from "Iraq’s Programmes for Weapons of Mass Destruction" to "Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction".
All these changes - made at Downing Street's behest - happened after the JIC members had "silently" signed off the text of the dossier ... that's to say, they never met as a body to approve the text. That text was circulated on the understanding that members would cry foul if there was anything there to which they objected.
Wording
They didn't object. But as it happens, the man who mattered most - Sir Richard Dearlove - cared little about the actual wording of the dossier - he made that clear from the outset. Indeed, he delegated the final read of the text to a subordinate.
He cared principally, and quite rightly, that nothing in the dossier should jeopardise his agents or operations.
Contrary to John's assertion, he thought the wording was a matter for the Prime Minister, his staff and the JIC chairman, John Scarlett.
Irrespective of Lord Hutton's conclusions - and I explain at length in the book why he was mistaken - the only facts we have argue strongly that the dossier was, as Dr Kelly alleged "“transformed in the week before it was published, to make it sexier” and that "transformation ... took place at the behest of Downing Street".
Fine to believe that was the right thing to do - not so fine to pretend it didn't happen and that what Dr Kelly told Gilligan and others was wrong.
Reliable?
As to the 45 minute claim, Dr Kelly reflected to a number of journalists - not just Andrew Gilligan - the view throughout the intelligence community that the 45 minutes claim "wasn't reliable". We now know beyond argument that Dr Kelly was correctly reporting what everyone in intelligence, from Sir Richard Dearlove down, knew of the claim's limitations.
The JIC drafting team struggled with the intelligence analysts through several iterations of the wording of the claim - but in the end, the decision was made to include a cropped version of the intelligence in a wording that gave the public no hint of those limitations.
And those who decided to do that knew what they were doing - again, anyone is at liberty to think it was the right thing to do but not to assert that it didn't happen.
Now ... this is getting really rather dull and I'm getting slightly embarrassed at the number of times I'm finding myself saying 'read the book'.

2 comments:

Andrew Simon said...

Are we nearly there yet?

Yes, maybe. John Rentoul's "Iraq, Again" item has now disappeared from his own and the Independent (blogs) front page, although the actual posting is still available at its original page link. Perhaps he had second thoughts about whether he had overstepped the mark in some way - making the overall score Kevin Marsh 2 - John Rentoul 0. The current four comments he has attracted, reading: "To rely on the flawed logic of the Hutton enquiry as a fig leaf for your puppet master really smacks of desperation."; "Fair and balanced like Fox News! Rage on Rentoul, rage on!"; "Fudge, fudge, and yet more fudge. WMDs turned up anywhere yet?"; and "There he goes again. Sad to watch." - might seem to confirm that this was in fact the case!

Andrew Simon said...

Update:

JR has republished his piece, now with a different text and title, Iraq, if you can bear any more.