Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday 27 June 2003
Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Witnesses: RT HON JACK STRAW, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, MR PETER RICKETTS, CMG, Director General, Political and MR WILLIAM EHRMAN, CMG, Director General, Defence/Intelligence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.
Q1178 Chairman: Secretary of State, we welcome you today, again, together with Mr Peter Ricketts, the Director General, Political and Mr William Ehrman, who is the Director General, Defence/Intelligence. Today, Secretary of State, we are reaching the very last lap of our planned sessions, with a public session with you initially and then at an appropriate stage we shall move into private session. Clearly our aim throughout has been to examine whether the information presented to Parliament and the public in respect of the decision to go to war was accurate and complete. This was sparked by a BBC report. Perhaps it would be helpful to begin by seeing where we are now. There is some agreement, I think we all agreed when we last met, that the February 3 document was a A Horlicks@ , and you did not resile from that.
Mr Straw: Carry on and I will offer you my view in a moment.
Q1179 Chairman: Do you accept that the unfortunate consequences of the preparation of that document is that the Prime Minister inadvertently gave to Parliament not the full information in respect of the intelligence services?
Mr Straw: The February dossier, no.
Q1180 Chairman: When he reported to Parliament immediately afterwards?
Mr Straw: The point of my remarks, this was also made clear by Mr Campbell, is that we accept that the process was unsatisfactory and the result of that, so far as the 3 February document was concerned, is that there was not a proper provenance for some of the material in the document, and that includes now, as everyone knows, the fact that a large part of part two was taken from this PhD thesis and was not properly attributed. That is accepted. However, I hope that you in return will accept that in every material particular the February 3 document was and is accurate. Even where there were changes made in the text from the PhD thesis to the text that was issued those changes accurately reflected the reality. For example there was a change made from A opposition groups@ , from A Saddam Hussein was supporting opposition groups@ to A Saddam Hussein was supporting terrorist organisations@ . Saddam Hussein was supporting terrorist organisations, every member of this Committee knows that and all but one member of this Committee voted to proscribe the terrorist organisations, MEK, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah, whom Saddam Hussein was supporting.
Q1181 Chairman: The effect of that change was to dramatise the words used and that it part of the charge that it was A sexed-up@ .
Mr Straw: There has never been any claim that I have been aware of that the document issued on February 3 was on A sexed-up@ . The only reference to A sexed-up@ was made by Mr Gilligan on the Today programme on 29 May in respect of the first document and the 45 minutes, so it is very important that we do not conflate these two. For reasons that have now been explained at very great length the attribution of part two of February 3 document was dropped out as it went through processes, literally through word-processing. When others came to go through the document they thought, and maybe quite correctly, that saying that Saddam Hussein was supporting opposition groups was not actually giving the full picture. He was indeed supporting the opposition groups but the serious charge against him was that he was supporting terrorist organisations. I say again, with respect, everybody knows that. There was no A sexing-up@ of that document. What happened to that document was that the process by which it came to be produced was not satisfactory and therefore we have faced, what I have said to everybody and accept it is an embarrassment of having to explain that part of it came from a PhD thesis and from a Jane document and that was not properly attributed. It does not affect the veracity of the document. My last point on February 3 document is this, in the hearing on Tuesday I asked your colleagues if they could name or point to any part of the February 3 document which was inaccurate and as I recall the only inaccuracy that could be pointed to, substantive inaccuracy, was that at one point military security services was confused for general security services. Whatever else was the reason for making a decision to go to war it was not that.
Chairman: I am going to continue with the point of where we are. Mr Illsley on this.
Q1182 Mr Illsley: I have to challenge that because I challenged it with Alastair Campbell as well when he said that the accuracy of the document has never been challenged. Almost every page has been challenged in evidence given to the Committee, and whether it is inaccurate or out of date or whatever we can debate but some of the intelligence material contained within the document, and I think it is on page three where there are two references to the weapons inspectors having been prevented from visiting sites, having their movements known, their whereabouts monitored, having been interrupted by arguments with officials to prevent them getting to sites that was released in the document on 30 January and on 14 February, granted it is two weeks later, Hans Blix contradicted that in his evidence to the United Nations. He said: A We have not had any problems visiting sites@ . Either that evidence is out of date or it is wrong?
Mr Straw: With great respect, first of all, Mr Illsley, if the basis of you claiming that this was out of date was evidence which arose after date of publication it could not conceivably be out of date. Secondly, I am familiar with what Dr Blix said in a whole series of reports on 27 January, again on 14 February I was in the Security Council when he issued that report and again on 28 February and 7 March, and subsequently. What Dr Blix said, and I can look up what he said here and come back to it in a moment, first of all on 27 January, which was after all the most current report that we had when this was put together, Dr Blix was critical of the cooperation which he had received from the Iraqis. I will see if I can turn it up. He talked about a degree of cooperation on process but he then criticised the cooperation on substance. He said notably, this is paragraph 69 of the Command Paper I put before Parliament. He said: A Paragraph 9, the Resolution 1441, 2002 states that this cooperation shall be active, it is not enough to open doors. Inspection is not a game of catch as catch can@ . Let me also make it clear that our assessment backed up by repeated evidence put before the Security Council by the inspectors was, yes, the tactics of the Iraqis was to appear to cooperate on process but still to interfere on substance. Until quite late into the inspection process they are insisting that five Iraqi minders should accompany any Iraqi scientist who was interviewed. They refused at every stage to allow any Iraqi scientist to be interviewed outside Iraq and told those scientists if they cooperated in that way their families would be at risk. We were as certain as we could be that the premises in which the scientists were to be interviewed were bugged. There was also significant evidence of the Iraqis seeking to bug UNMOVIC's headquarters to gain advance information about sites to be visited, and of course they were always followed. There is nothing here, certainly nothing to which you have drawn my attention, which would suggest what was said here is accurate.
Q1183 Mr Illsley: We are talking about the document being inaccurate. On page three of the document the quote is: A Journeys are monitored by security officers stationed on the route if they have prior intelligence. Any changes of destination are notified ahead by telephone or radio so that arrival is anticipated. The welcoming party is a give away@ .
Mr Straw: That was absolutely true all of the way through the inspection process.
Q1184 Mr Illsley: That was published on 13 January. On 14 February Hans Blix said: A Since we arrived in Iraq we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites, all inspections were performed without notice and access was almost always provided promptly. In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraq side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming@ . The two do not stand together there, do they? There is a two week gap between the publication of the dossier on 30 January and Blix's statement on 14 February. What I am saying is I am challenging the assertion that nothing in the second document is untrue or misleading?
Mr Straw: What Dr Blix said, and I will go through other aspects of what Dr Blix said on 14 February. What he said here is entirely consistent. I also have to say to you, Mr Illsley, if the only inaccuracy you are pointing to is something which was known and was never challenged in the Security Council by any partner, that the Iraqis had an immense security apparatus monitoring UNMOVIC then again I am confident in saying there is no material fact in 3 February document that is challengeable, and it has not been.
Chairman: On those material facts the Committee will draw its own conclusions. I am just aware that there is a danger in this public session of going round and covering the same ground as last time. I hope we can all discipline ourselves to that extent to try and answer questions which have arisen from Alastair Campbell. Sir John, I think you have a point of order.
Q1185 Sir John Stanley: I do have a point of order, my point of order is that the Foreign Secretary is here to answer questions as a witness to this Committee. The Foreign Secretary is not here to pose questions himself to the Committee. Most certainly the Foreign Secretary is not entitled to deduce from the fact that the Committee choose not to answer his particular question agreement with his statement. On the specific change to which we referred, the change from A opposition groups@ to A terrorist organisations@ I just want to place on the record that as far as Members of Parliament are concerned the significance that was attached to the reference to support by Saddam Hussein's regime of terrorist organisations did not relate to organisations such as Hamas it related to the Government signing up to linkage between the Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaeda. That was a materially significant change in the document. I just want to put that on the record.
Mr Straw: I may be wrong but I do not recall that 3 February document mentions al-Qaeda.
Sir John Stanley: It referred to A terrorist organisations@ and was taken by most people in the House to suggest linkage between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.
Q1186 Chairman: We will draw our own conclusions.
Mr Straw: Just allow me to make this point, I never claimed, neither did the Prime Minister that there was any direct linkage between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime. Indeed we were both extremely careful when such claims and charges were put. It was never part of the decision to go to war, full stop. I am very happy to supply the Committee with extracts of the statements that both the Prime Minister and I made when we were repeatedly asked about whether there was any connection. I said in November 2002: A I have seen no direct evidence of the Iraqi regimes involvement in the al-Qaeda operation before September 11". The Prime Minister gave a more detailed but similar response to the Liaison Committee, you will recall this Mr Anderson, in January 2003. Mike O'Brien gave a number of such replies. We do not have to speculate about al-Qaeda, what is incontrovertible is that this statement on page nine that the Iraqi regime's external activities include, A supporting terrorist organisations and hostile regimes@ is true. The hostile regimes were one, Iran, where Iraq continued to support MEK, an extremely unpleasant terrorist organisation. Ask the Iranian Government about MEK. Secondly, the Iraqi regime was supporting three terrorist organisations operating under the territory of Israel and the occupied territories, and ask the Palestinian authorities or the Government of Israel if you do not believe me real that the Iraqis were actively supporting those organisations.
Q1187 Chairman: I am now moving to the charge in respect of the accuracy of information. This is from Mr Gilligan who met, apparently, at least he claims, a man from the services in an office and claims that the document published on 24 September was transformed in the last few weeks. We have heard evidence from Mr Campbell to the effect that the document was that of the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and remained his throughout. Do you agree that the best evidence to help this Committee in trying to ascertain whether that document was changed now we have the document itself is for us to see the original document and to see the extent to which it was changed?
Mr Straw: Chairman, we are going into private session and I am happy to share with you the details of what was in the key JIC assessment when we go into private session. You will also be beware that the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee has a complete remit on behalf of Parliament to go in and analyse all of the background intelligence documents. We have discussed that. We have been extremely forthcoming with this Committee, as it quite right, and in the private session that we are going to go into I intend to be more forthcoming. I am confident that I will be able to satisfy any questions that you have. Could I just also make this point about this claim, what Mr Gilligan claimed on 29 May was, and I quote directly from the transcript, A The Government probably knew that the 45 minute figure was wrong even before it decided to put it in [the dossier]@ . He then went on to say, A our source says that Downing Street a week before publication ordered the dossier to be 'sexed-up', to be made more exciting and ordered more facts to be discovered@ . None of those claims is true. They are all simple and straightforward falsehoods. The September dossier was written by the Chairman of the JIC and his staff. At no time did anyone wish to seek nor sought to override his judgments. There was no ordering by Downing Street or by myself or anybody in the Foreign Office for more facts to be discovered. The claim that the Government probably knew that the 45 minute figure was wrong is totally incorrect. The idea that uncorroborated evidence of a 45 minute threat was given undue prominence in the dossier at the behest of the Prime Minister C
Q1188 Chairman: That is a case which we have to examine. Would you agree that again the best evidence in terms of whether that was at the beginning the property of Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and remained his throughout is to see the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee?
Mr Straw: We have been through that and as I have said to you in private sessions, and I thought you and your colleagues had accepted this, what is unfair ---
Q1189 Chairman: We had not accepted it.
Mr Straw: This Committee is looking at the decision to go to war. I am going to make one other comment about the 45 minute claim.
Q1190 Chairman: Briefly, because we want to make progress.
Mr Straw: The simple fact of the matter is apart from anything else the 45 minute claim was a supporting fact in the decision to go to war but it was not remotely a central fact in the decision to go to war, and that is shown very, very clearly by any analysis of all the discussions and debates on whether we went to war. Yes, of course, there was some attention paid to this claim and others in September when the document was published but as the process evolved that fell way.
Q1191 Chairman: We have heard you on that. I just want to centre on this point, on the key charge of that document being transformed within the past weeks we are not going to see the various amendments to the document?
Mr Straw: Mr Campbell is also seeking to put together a very detailed letter to you. He promised you a detailed letter of the exchanges between him and the JIC. It is a very substantial piece of work, it is still being prepared. The combination of that and what I say in private session should satisfy you.
Q1192 Chairman: We are not going see the various amendments to the document. You do not think Mr Campbell's letter will answer that.
Mr Straw: What you will see is what I am able to help you with in the private session. We can get on to that in a moment. As you know, Chairman, time and again where further information is sought I have been happy to provide that. I just wanted to say about this point in the public session, about the 45 minute claim ---
Q1193 Chairman: We can come on to that and our colleagues may want to visit that. I am centring on a different point, if it be the case, and this would be very powerful argument, that the Chairman of the JIC produced the document, kept control of the document, was wholly satisfied with the end product why cannot the Committee see the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee to hear that?
Mr Straw: Because, Chairman, what you are seeking to do is embroil me in a turf war between the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee. You know as well as I do the appropriate body to deal with the details of intelligence is the ISC, they are set up by Parliament, they are colleagues of people in this room from all parties. I say to
Mr Mackinlay that Mr Mackinlay also knows that the process by which members of the ISC are chosen is a very similar process in practice.
Andrew Mackinlay: It is not, it is not, it is not.
Q1194 Chairman: What you are saying in effect is you are using this jurisdictional point to stop the Committee having what can be absolutely decisive evidence?
Mr Straw: No. I will be producing decisive evidence to you in any event, Mr Anderson. Unless you are saying that I have come here not to tell the truth but to tell other than the truth it ought to be believed.
Q1195 Chairman: I am making the simple point that the best evidence which could be before this Committee in respect of that simple point on the role of the JIC and the views of the Chairman of the JIC would be to allow us to see the Chairman. You are saying that you are not going to allow that.
Mr Straw: The key evidence, which I shall be reading to the Committee, is to compare what was said in the JIC assessment with what was in the final document.
Andrew Mackinlay: Presumably we reserve our right, sometime during these proceedings it open to us, notwithstanding what the Foreign Secretary has said, you would if motioned for us to request, or summons - I am sure of the terminology - the ball would be lobbed back into his court or the foreign secretary to either deny Parliament that opportunity or to acquiesce. I do not want to prejudge it. Am I correct in saying that is an option open to us?
Q1196 Chairman: Nothing is prejudged I just wanted to ascertain that on the face of it the Committee is being denied the best evidence because of your insistence on this jurisdictional point.
Mr Straw: Mr Anderson, it is not just a jurisdictional point, it is about which is the appropriate body to examine the Chairman of the JIC and also the heads of the agencies. I have discussed this perfectly amicably with you and your colleagues in the past.
Q1197 Chairman: We have never accepted your position
Mr Straw: I thought we had reached a common understanding about this. We have been more open with the FAC on this inquiry than any other.
Andrew Mackinlay: You have been more open. That is an entirely different issue. Mr Straw is right, to his credit he has been more open with this Committee than any other committee. I have to say we had to have two requests to see Mr Campbell, do not forget, but nevertheless those who repent at the gates of heaven... What we never conceded, and I never shall, is that the Security Intelligence Committee is an alternative to this Committee, it is a Parliamentary committee, it is created by statute, it is not a Parliamentary committee, its selection is fundamentally different to how I got on this Committee and I shall never concede that, ever.
Q1198 Mr Pope: I cannot be alone in feeling really frustrated about this, the charge that is being made by Mr Gilligan is essentially uncorroborated, we are having to take his word he has a credible source who has alleged firstly that Alastair Campbell A sexed-up@ the document and it was transformed in the week prior to publication. You are saying that it is not. Are you saying in the private session we will be allowed to see the last JIC assessments prior to the publication of the documents so that we can compare and contrast the two?
Mr Straw: I will read out to you the relevant sections of that. In addition to that what Mr Campbell is preparing, and he was working very late on this last night and again very early this morning, and hopes to try and have this with you before the session is through today, is a detailed summary of the exchanges between him and the JIC, saying: Can I suggest this? What about that? And the response from the JIC, which will give you, as it were, the most complete and accurate running commentary on that process. I wonder if I can just say this, I think in making judgments about the credibility of this source of Mr Gilligan's, I have no idea who it is, I think it is worth bearing in mind how far the senior people in the BBC are now palpably shifting from Mr Gilligan in an apparent defence of Mr Gilligan.
Richard Ottaway: You are using the Committee for propaganda.
Chairman: I end on this point, as far as I am concerned we have never yielded in respect of the fact that we should be entitled to have intelligence material which is germane to our inquiries. When the Intelligence and Security Committee was established it was said in terms by the then minister that it would not cut across the work of existing select committees.
Q1199 Mr Pope: In some sense this is a political fiasco at the moment and it is all over today's papers. There is a serious point here , which is not a party political point at all, the source Mr Gilligan quoted to us, I wanted to get to the bottom of this about Mr Gilligan's source, it seems to me that his source must be somebody fairly senior, either somebody in an intelligence agency or in another department. I just put it to you, Secretary of State, as the minister responsible for some of these agencies, it must be in the public interest to find out who the source is and get the source to either put up or shut up. At the moment there is no evidence before the Committee that is corroborated about the A sexing-up@ of the evidence. I think this is right at the root of the charges that the Government have to face. I want to get to the bottom of this, it is not about scoring party political points I want to know what the truth is: Was the evidence A sexed-up@ ? How credible is that source?
Mr Straw: We do not believe the source is credible. I will say this, what I note is that I think Mr Richard Sambrook also now has doubts about the credibility of the source because when he did an interview yesterday on the Today programme --
Q1200 Mr Maples: That is not answering the question.
Mr Straw: With great respect, Chairman, it may be that Mr Maples thinks I should not be allowed to answer it, but I will answer it.
Q1201 Chairman: I am allowing you to answer, but briefly.
Mr Straw: What I noted was that Mr Sambrook did not repeat the charges made by Mr Gilligan, which were very specific, all he said was: A There was disquiet within the intelligence service about one piece of evidence, that one 45 minute claim@ . Mr Gilligan did not say there was A disquiet@ , he made very specific charges, which are wrong, and that is one reason why the BBC does need to apologise.
Q1202 Richard Ottaway: On this point about when the 45 minute claim first appeared Mr Campbell told us not once but twice on Wednesday that it appeared in the first draft of the report, do you agree with that?
Mr Straw: The first draft of? The one produced in September, yes I think so, because we had the JIC report in early September. Mr Ottaway, the crucial point about the 45 minute claim is that it came from intelligence through the JIC, which was assessed to be credible.
Q1203 Richard Ottaway: That is not the question, there are two point here: When did it go in? Was it credible?
Mr Straw: We will deal with the narrative in the private session.
Chairman: The question put by Mr Ottaway was rather different, Mr Ottaway would you repeat it?
Q1204 Richard Ottaway: I am asking when it appeared in the draft of the September document.
Mr Straw: I can give you the date.
Q1205 Richard Ottaway: Was it in the first draft?
Mr Ricketts: It was as soon as it was received and assessed.
Q1206 Richard Ottaway: Was it in the first draft?
Mr Straw: As we will explain in the private session the drafts of information to be made publically available of some kind about Iraq went back to the early side of the summer, we have already made this clear. Then drafts of the document that was being published were being prepared. This information came to the attention of the JIC, as I recall, in early September and from that date and the assessment by the JIC that intelligence was accurately reflected in the dossier.
Q1207 Richard Ottaway: It was added later.
Mr Straw: That is what I am trying to tell you.
Q1208 Richard Ottaway: The answer is that it was added later and it was not in the first draft.
Mr Straw: Again we can go into detail.
Q1209 Richard Ottaway: This is a very important.
Mr Straw: Mr Ottoway, it is a completely trivial point, with great respect to you.
Q1210 Richard Ottaway: It is one you have spent the last 30 minutes refuting.
Mr Straw: It is not remotely material. The allegation was not that it appeared in the first draft rather than the second draft, let us be clear about that, the allegation was that the 45 minute claim was not properly sourced or corroborated and was then A sexed-up@ in the final document.
Q1211 Richard Ottaway: We will come to that. I am asking a totally different line of questioning here, did it appear in the first draft?
Mr Straw: What I am saying to you is ---
Q1212 Richard Ottaway: You can cut right through this by saying yes or no?
Mr Straw: It appeared in the first draft after the intelligence was received.
Q1213 Richard Ottaway: It was not in the first draft it was in a subsequent draft, so it was added later.
Mr Straw: That is a ludicrous way of describing it, Mr Ottoway.
Q1214 Richard Ottaway: It seems pretty reasonable, people of basic intelligence can understand it.
Mr Straw: We did not get the intelligence and it was not assessed until early September, palpably it could not have been included in earlier drafts if we did not know about it.
Q1215 Richard Ottaway: It was not in the first draft?
Mr Straw: I have answered the question, Mr Ottoway. I have given you a perfectly satisfactory answer to the question.
Q1216 Richard Ottaway: I will repeat it, was it in the first draft?
Mr Straw: I answered you, it was in the first draft after the intelligence was received, by definition it could not have been in any earlier draft.
Q1217 Richard Ottaway: Was it in one of the subsequent drafts?
Mr Straw: I have given you an answer.
Q1218 Chairman: Mr Ottoway was talking about the first draft, when was that first draft prepared by the Chairman of the JIC?
Mr Ricketts: If we go back to the beginning there were drafts discussed in March and obviously by definition there was no reference to the 45 minute in the first draft because it had not been received or assessed. The Prime Minister announced on 3 September an intention to produce a more detailed dossier drawing more fully on intelligence. The Joint Intelligence Committee then discussed drafts twice in the course of September. As far as I am aware that material was already included in those drafts because it had figured in a Joint Intelligence Committee report of 9 September.
Q1219 Richard Ottaway: Mr Campbell told us it was in the first draft, you just seem to be contradicting that?
Mr Ricketts: It does depend on your definition of first draft. If you mean March then clearly no.
Q1220 Richard Ottaway: It was decided not to publish the March draft, so there was a several months delay. The Prime Minister then said on 3 September, A I think we ought to publish this@ and a first draft was produced. Mr Campbell was implying that no one tried to get that in, it was in the first draft.
Mr Straw: No one did try to get it in.
Q1221 Richard Ottaway: I do not want a diversion on that. Mr Ricketts, was it in that first draft?
Mr Ricketts: If you mean in the first draft after the Prime Minister's announcement on 3 September my belief is that it was.
Q1222 Richard Ottaway: Was that the first draft of the September document? This is not complicated, it is not rocket science.
Mr Straw: I agree, it is not complicated, which is why I am slightly surprised you are asking a series of questions. We have already explained there was information that was coming in about Iraq over a 20 year period and that is iteratively added to. By definition the information was not in draft before we received the information, it was in draft afterwards and after it was properly assessed.
Q1223 Richard Ottaway: I do not think we can take this any further. My understanding, if I can take your joint evidence together, is a first draft was produced, but it was in the first draft after the information became available.
Mr Straw: Mr Ricketts and I have just given you the answer. Mr Ottaway, you ask your questions and allow me to give my answer in my own way, I have already provided you with a summary.
Q1224 Andrew Mackinlay: Just a quickie, the Chairman of the JIC, is he on or is he represented on the CIC?
Mr Ricketts: No.
Mr Straw: He is not directly represented on the CIC.
Q1225 Andrew Mackinlay: Indirectly?
Mr Straw: The easiest thing for us to do is to give you details about the background of who has been on the CIC.
Q1226 Andrew Mackinlay: We did that quickly. In the Independent newspapers, I think it was the Independent newspaper, they actually indicate the number of sites which are to inspected and numbers which have been inspected post-war. There were some Parliamentary replies to my colleague Harry Cohen - which I do not have in front of me - rather indicating that a lot of this work had been done. There seems to be a gulf between, if you like, the task perceived or seen and what has been reported to Parliament. Is there anything you can tell us in this public session with regard to what has been done and what is yet to be achieved?
Mr Straw: Again the numbers are obviously changing. I have a note here that as of 21 June 159 sites have been examined out of the US master list of 578 but with no confirmed results. The note goes on: A This is misleading because each known site tends when investigated to throw up several more previously unknown ones and so far 83 of these ad hoc sites have been visited. Most, if not all, of the known sites were also known to the United Nation, as the Iraqis were aware, so we should not except to find much evidence there. The Iraq Survey Group will shift to a more intelligence-led approach to counter this@ .
Q1227 Andrew Mackinlay: Indeed. For the purpose of this morning what you said, in fairness, was the process was just beginning in terms of the search. I woke up this morning to Mr Robin Cook on the radio. I think I faithfully summarise him by saying the issue is not the dodgy dossier, the issue is they have not found chemical plants, the nuclear thing was found to be a forgery and just generally they have not found any weapons of mass destruction. I would not normally be a conduit for Mr Robin Cook, and also I do not see why you should have a second bite of the cherry but it would be a great pity if we concluded our proceedings by not putting to you once more that which he uttered on Radio Four. What say you to that? I do not want anybody, whatever side of this they fall, to be able to repeat that without you being able to rebut it?
Mr Straw: You are very generous, I am grateful to you. The first thing I would say is I agreed with Mr Cook in his statement - I paraphrase but I do not think inaccurately - that the issue of the 45 minutes and still more about the provenance of the February dossier is a huge diversion. These were not remotely central to the decision to go to the war, which was the nature of your inquiry. I say that to you with respect, Chairman, historians I think would not give you an alpha marking if you suggested that Mr Gilligan's claim on the 45 minutes was the basis on which we went to war, because it was not. It is important but it is important we pin down the untruth.
Q1228 Chairman: Mr Mackinlay that has given you the opportunity to respond to your predecessor?
Mr Straw: Robin has a different view from us, his view was very honourable and he acted entirely honourably throughout. He resigned on 17 March and the vote was against the Government on 18 March. His view was that containment was working and for that reason he disagreed with the Government. I disagree with him and his judgment. I do not have any complaint, none whatever about the way he behaved, he behaved honourably and correctly throughout. My disagreement with him is, and I have said this publically and I have said it to him, the judgments I made between June 2001 and the day we went to war were based on very similar evidence and remarkably similar terms to the judgments he made when he was Secretary of State explaining the decision to go for Desert Fox in the time that it did and for a later bombing operation in 2001. I am glad to have this opportunity to say that the decision to go to war on 18 March was justified on the day it was made on the evidence that was before the House, the country and the international community on that day. Nobody in the international community disputed that Saddam Hussein had the capability for chemical and biological weapons programmes nor that he was seeking to build up a nuclear programme. No one disputed in the Security Council that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to international peace and security, because that was the phrasing used in the 1441. Nobody disputed that at all, not withstanding that he had 130 days in which to co-operate actively, completely and immediately with the weapons inspectors he failed to do so. The only question was, what do we then do in the face of that threat and that defiance? We came to the view, and I am quite clear it was justified, that the only thing to do was to, first of all, issue an ultimatum to him and if he failed to take that to take military action. I very much hope that, of course, we find further corroborative evidence about Saddam's chemical and biological capabilities and his nuclear plans, but whether or not we do the decision to take military action was justified on the date, 18 March, on the basis of perfectly public information, for example these two command papers which I published which laid out the full facts of Saddam's defiance.
Q1229 Andrew Mackinlay: I asked Alastair Campbell the other day, and I want to ask you whether you know if it is in train, basically in relation to the dodgy dossier he said that the security intelligence folk said, here is a parcel of intelligence you can put in the public domain, and it then emerged in the February dossier. I then asked him, if that is so can you highlight that for us and he was somewhat anxious about that. Can I say for the record the reason why I thought about this was because when we had Mr al-Marashi's evidence he gave evidence which he said in his estimate, and he had gone through this pretty thoroughly, he thought something up to 90 per cent of that dossier was drawn either from his work or Janes or these other publications. It does seem to me quantum is going to be important, if it is only ten per cent intelligence, if it is only 15 per cent intelligence it does alter the nature of that document. In a sense I want to put that to you in open session, is it substantial intelligence? Do you reiterate it is substantial intelligence, is it half or is it---?
Mr Straw: Mr Mackinlay, what can I tell you is as we speak this analysis is being done to highlight which parts of part one and part three were drawn from intelligence. That will be with the Committee as quickly as possible. The process of this was unsatisfactory, we have all accepted that. The differences should have been made clear. However, I would also say, and I hope the Committee are able to conclude this, that in every material particular, this document, the February 3 one, was and remains accurate.
Q1230 Mr Maples: I wonder if I can go back to the weapons of mass destruction dossier?
Mr Straw: The September one.
Q1231 Mr Maples: I want to find out the process by which the document came into being. These are not trick questions, presumably in the period between March and the decision to publish a dossier there were lots of JIC reports coming out on the state of Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction. By the time the decision was taken, just before the decision was taken to publish a document, which you told us was taken late summer, late August/early September, at that point would all of the JIC assessments about Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction have been in one JIC paper or in a lot of different papers?
Mr Ricketts: They would have been in a series of papers. The September dossier pulled together work from a number of different JIC assessments.
Q1232 Mr Maples: This was a culminative process. Each edition of the JIC paper, not the draft of this document, but the JIC assessments that were being circulated to ministers like yourselves, they did not simply build on the one before, there was a new one.
Mr Ehrman: No. The implication of that is we just regurgitated what was in earlier drafts, that is not true. Each time a JIC assessment is the done you look at the intelligence, you analyse it, you see what is new, you do not just that accept that what was in the previous one is taken as read.
Q1233 Mr Maples: Just before the decision was made to produce a document for publication there was in existence a JIC assessment, presumably the latest one at that point, which would have included everything that JIC thought was relevant about Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction for ministers to see.
Mr Ehrman: There was a series of JIC assessments which covered different aspects of the programmes.
Q1234 Mr Maples: I am confused now, I thought what you said to me is that each edition updated the previous one and made the previous one irrelevant.
Mr Ehrman: These were done over the years, not everyone covered every aspect.
Q1235 Mr Maples: At this point there would have been several JIC papers in existence which were relevant to this document. The Prime Minister in his introduction said this is based in large part on the work of the Joint Intelligence Committee, what other organs of Government were feeding in information at this point other than JIC?
Mr Ricketts: Parts two and three cover other issues where the Foreign Office took the lead in drafting them, the history of the UN weapons inspections in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
Q1236 Mr Maples: Would it be far to say that part one was based entirely on the JIC assessment?
Mr Ehrman: There is a lot of open source material, like UNSCOM reports.
Q1237 Mr Maples: No secret material available to you that did not come through JIC, it was either from JIC or it was open source material or available from UNSCOM?
Mr Ricketts: Can I make one point on the JIC process, the JIC process does not only draw on secret intelligence, the JIC papers put together secret intelligence but also publically available information, diplomatic reporting, material from a whole series of places. It gives a complete assessment, so in any JIC assessment there will be secret material but also material from other sources.
Q1238 Mr Maples: When the decision was taken in late August or early September to produce a document for publication somebody took these various JIC assessments and produced a first draft of what became this publication. What I am interested in is, who produced that first draft? Was that produced from within JIC?
Mr Ehrman: The JIC Chairman was in charge throughout September.
Q1239 Mr Maples: Presumably there was a first draft of this paper?
Mr Ehrman: If you go right the way back to March the process was that a paper was commissioned and the assessment staff even then put together a draft, that was with help from other departments.
Q1240 Mr Maples: After the decision was taken to produce something for publication presumably then a draft was produced, which then became the working document.
Mr Ehrman: Yes.
Q1241 Mr Maples: Who produced that document?
Mr Ehrman: The Chairman of the JIC was in charge throughout.
Q1242 Mr Maples: It would not just have been the JIC?
Mr Ehrman: The chairman of JIC working with the assessment staff but also there were people from other departments who came to a mass of meetings throughout that month producing that document.
Q1243 Mr Maples: I am trying to get to the first draft of it and before people started to comment on it and suggest amendments. That first draft was produced under the auspices of the Chairman of the JIC, which seems to imply it was not just JIC and its assessment staff that worked on it but that people from the Foreign Office or Ministry of Defence or Number 10 staff were involved in the preparation of the first draft?
Mr Ehrman: It then came to the JIC who saw it on a couple of occasions.
Q1244 Mr Maples: I understand that. I drew your attention the last time you appeared before us to what I perceive to be a difference in emphasis in what it says in the body of the document and what it says in the executive summary and you did not concur with me there was a substantive difference in the evidence. At what point did the executive summary start to get produced, presumably when the document was almost finalised?
Mr Ehrman: The executive summary was also produced by the chairman of the JIC and the assessment staff, so it was exactly the same process.
Q1245 Mr Maples: It was presumably produced when the main body of the document was almost finalised.
Mr Straw: I made this point in one of the many answers I provided to your Committee, there was also a conclusion but it was decided to drop that because it was just repetitive of the body of the report and the executive summary introduction.
Q1246 Mr Maples: The executive summary was also prepared in exactly the same way, it was not a bolt-on, done by somebody else afterwards, it was prepared in the same way with the JIC Chairman in charge of that process. My final question on this is were there several meetings or was most of the input of suggested amendments and changes done in writing?
Mr Ehrman: There was certainly a good many meetings but there were people from their own departments looking at graphs and sending comments in.
Q1247 Mr Maples: Did you represent the Foreign Office there?
Mr Ehrman: No, I did not represent the Foreign Office in the drafting of that document, other members of the Foreign Office were closely involved in the drafting.
Q1248 Mr Maples: In those meetings at which it was discussed were you the Foreign Office's representative at those?
Mr Ehrman: No, I was not. I became a member of the JIC in October but I was responsible for that general area before I came a member of the JIC. Many members of the Foreign Office were involved in the drafting.
Q1249 Mr Maples: Can I ask the Foreign Secretary, was he present at meetings?
Mr Straw: No, no, no. What happened so far as my offering comments on the draft was that the draft would appear in a box. I think we have given you some details about this, I will give you some more. There were a number of drafts that had been floating round from back in March, just information summarising, as it were, the case again Saddam, some drawing on intelligence, some from wholly public sources, one which I published to the Parliamentary Party, it has now been widely circulated, which was drawn almost entirely from open sources. The process of this one was it came in my box, I cannot remember on how many occasion, I offered some comments on the layout, for example I favoured the inclusion of more graphics and diagrams, and a suggestion to include in the foreword a reference to Saddam's defiance of the United Nations and his unprecedented use of WMD. For the sake of completeness you may like to know Mr O'Brien commented on setting out the context better by greater use of the UNSCOM report.
Q1250 Mr Maples: Who else was at the meetings, neither of you ever went to a meeting?
Mr Straw: I never went to a formal meeting, that would have been completely inappropriate and an interference with their process.
Mr Ehrman: It was done at the working level, chaired by the Chairman of the JIC and then came to the full JIC, as I mentioned a couple of times.
Mr Maples: That is enough for the time being.
Q1251 Mr Chidgey: Foreign Secretary, in response to a question raised by Mr Mackinlay earlier about the fact that the whole international community accepted the case as set out on the basis of the assessments of going to war on 18 March you say that you very much hope, or words to that effect, that further evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would be found in due course. What evidence has been found in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction since the end of the conflict?
Mr Straw: We can give you some details. As you know we have explained, and so did Mr Taylor in some detail, about the reasons for the delay in the Iraq Survey Group getting going. In terms of the statements made in here, how many of these ---
Q1252 Mr Chidgey: On assessment what evidence has been found of weapons of mass destruction?
Mr Straw: Illegal programmes to extend the range of al-Samoud missiles borne out by UNMOVIC findings of instructions from al Samoud. The concealment of documents associated with WMD programmes. You may have seen, we have not had a chance ourselves to fully assess it, a report yesterday by a senior scientist involved in the Iraqi nuclear programme about documentation that he had hidden in his own garden and how the Saddam regime indeed maintained a policy of trying to improve and develop their nuclear programme.
Q1253 Mr Chidgey: Can I stop you there, you are talking so far about plans, proposals and programmes. You just said they were talking about plans to develop, has there been any hard evidence found in Iraq post-conflict of the existence of weapons of mass destruction?
Mr Straw: Mr Chidgey, whether there has been a physical find of a chemical or a biological compound ready for use in some delivery system the answer to that, as you know, is no.
Q1254 Mr Chidgey: Weaponisation.
Mr Straw: Has there been significant evidence of the existence of the these programmes, including the things I have discovered and including the suspect mobile traders which are the still the subject of analysis? Yes is the answer to that. I hope that nobody here is suggesting that what the United Nations concluded, what UNSCOM and the UNMOVIC concluded was that without any peradventure at all Saddam had these programmes over many years and had failed to answer for them, but that is not true. I just say this: it would have been utterly irresponsible in the face of all the evidence, which we knew for certain, about Saddam= s programme, chemical and biological programmes, and having had a nuclear programme, his wish to re-establish that, and his abject failure to provide any credible explanations about what had happened to those programmes, for us just to have sat on our hands.
Q1255 Mr Chidgey: Thank you, Foreign Secretary, but can I just say this. As I understand it, the last evidence of the programmes of Saddam Hussein were available up until the time that UNSCOM left the country in 1998.
Mr Straw: Sorry, say that again?
Q1256 Mr Chidgey: Up until the time when UNSCOM left the country in 1998 - I think you say as much in your report - since the UN weapons were withdrawn in 1998 there has been little overt information on Iraq= s chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes@ , and from that point, and I will paraphrase, we have had to rely on intelligence and intelligence very rarely offers a complete account of activities. That is perfectly acceptable, I am not challenging that. The point I am making is it is absolutely vital to make a distinction between evidence and assessment and much of what we have discussed over these last few weeks and months is the action that we have taken n the basis of assessments rather than evidence. I put it to you, Foreign Secretary, that we have been dealing at great length with the work of the JIC and the best intelligence available which was sufficient to convince the international community of the case to go to war, but it would appear that after the event there is something lacking between the veracity of the assessments and the evidence that we are finding on the ground. I asked you earlier in the week whether any inspections have been undertaken of the sites that were mentioned in this document as being the main concerns in terms of the chemical and biological weapons potential in terms of production and you were not able to tell me then whether they had been inspected. You did mention that there were decontamination programmes possible, but we had very little on that. I would have thought that would have been the very first priority, to prove the case on the basis of evidence rather than assessment, and it has not been forthcoming.
Mr Ehrman: If I could try to answer that. Every single site in the dossier has been visited by UNMOVIC.
Q1257 Mr Chidgey: Post-war, pre-war or both?
Mr Ehrman: Pre-war. Every site that was in the dossier. I would just like to describe some of the findings that they got. All of the sites listed in the dossier were visited by UNMOVIC inspectors, and most revealed - to a greater or lesser extent - an intent to develop prohibited programmes. The dossier said that Fallujah was a facility of concern which had been rebuilt since Desert Fox, though we did not claim there was specific evidence of CW precursor or agent production. Its production of chlorine and phenol could support CW agent and precursor production. UNMOVIC declared that three pieces of equipment found at Fallujah - destroyed by UNSCOM and subsequently refurbished - should be destroyed. UNMOVIC also established that the castor oil production plant at Fallujah, which could have been used to produce ricin, had been rebuilt and expanded. UNMOVIC confirmed that equipment had been rebuilt at Al-Mamoun: two rocket motor casting chambers, destroyed by UNSCOM as being part of a prohibited missile programme, had been refurbished by Iraq. Those chambers were subsequently destroyed by UNMOVIC. UNMOVIC also confirmed that a large missile test stand had been constructed at Al-Rafah, far larger than required for Iraq= s declared missile programme. Five items of refurbished equipment, proscribed by UNSCOM as being part of prohibited CW programmes, were also found at al-Qa= qa. This was slated for destruction by UNMOVIC but they did not have time to carry that out. Iraq declared that it had restarted research and development of UDMH, which is a powerful and prohibited missile fuel, at the chemical research facility at Tarmiyah. UNMOVIC suggested that this could have been intended as part of a programme to develop a missile with a range far in excess of 150kms. That was what happened at the particular sites mentioned in the dossier.
Q1258 Mr Chidgey: The particular point I was making was about weaponising of chemical and biological weapons. You mentioned, if I remember correctly, that the capability in the phenol and chlorine plants had been re-established or existed, but you also said which could be used for chemical weapons.
Mr Ehrman: This was what UNMOVIC said.
Q1259 Mr Chidgey: That is right. I am quoting what you said. The point is that is exactly what it says here, that it could be used for chemical weapons. I am looking for hard evidence that the weaponisation had taken place and that does not seem to have been found.
Mr Ehrman: That was what UNMOVIC found from going through the sites.
Q1260 Sir John Stanley: Foreign Secretary, there are three issues I wish to pursue with you and your colleagues. The first relates to the whole issue of the uranium from Africa. That is a central issue and was a central element in the Government= s September 2002 dossier and the Government on page 27 of the dossier said, for example: A We therefore judge that if Iraq obtained fissile material and other essential components from foreign sources the timeline for production of a nuclear weapon would be shortened and Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon in between one and two years.@ Can you confirm what has appeared extensively, and this may be one for your officials, in both the British and the American press that in February 2002 - I stress 2002 - the American administration sent a retired US ambassador who had had experience of serving in Africa to Niger to investigate allegations, documents, that Niger was involved in the supply of uranium to Iraq?
Mr Straw: I am sorry, I have got no knowledge of that claim one way or the other.
Q1261 Chairman: Would one of your officials?
Mr Ehrman: I am not aware of that.
Q1262 Sir John Stanley: I find that a very, very surprising answer and it suggests to me that we do not have the appropriate officials. This is important information that has been shown extensively in the American press and also in the British press. Only as recently as June 12 in the Washington Post, this public source, it is stated: A Armed with information reportedly showing that Iraqi officials had been seeking to buy uranium in Niger one or two years earlier, the CIA in early February 2002 despatched a retired US ambassador to the country to investigate the claims@ . Indeed, that was further confirmed by Dr Glen Rangwala in the Independent on 22 June who said that he himself had met the particular former US ambassador a few days ago, and I myself have spoken to Dr Rangwala about the conversation he had. The ambassador returned to the United States in a matter of three weeks, as was reported in the Washington Post, and the article says: A After returning to the United States, the envoy reported to the CIA that the uranium purchase story was false.@ Can you, or your officials, tell this Committee at what point, given the closeness of the intelligence relationship between Britain and the United States, the British intelligence community, presumably in the United States, was informed that the CIA had made this investigation and had reported that the conclusion of the former US ambassador was that the documentation and the allegations were false? At what point was that reported to the British intelligence community?
Mr Ricketts: I cannot answer that, Sir John. I would recall that the fact that uranium - yellow cake - had been supplied from Niger to Iraq in the 1980s is a confirmed fact, so reports of continued Iraqi interest in sourcing uranium from Niger did not seem to us to be implausible.
Q1263 Sir John Stanley: That is not the point I am putting to you at all. The point I am putting to you is a very simple factual point. The former US ambassador made the visit to Africa, returned in early March after three weeks and reported to the CIA that the uranium purchase story was false. I would find it inexplicable if that particular result of the envoy= s visit was not reported to British defence liaison staff in Washington. As you are not able to give me the answer to this question, which is a very material question for reasons I shall come on to, Foreign Secretary, please could you very, very quickly tell us the answer to my question, when did the CIA report to the British intelligence community the result of the former US ambassador= s visit to Niger?
Mr Straw: I will seek to get you an answer as quickly as possible, Sir John, as I always do. I would like to say this: number one, I have learned that the IAEA ----
Q1264 Sir John Stanley: I am sorry.
Mr Straw: Allow me to say this because it is rather important. I learned that they had judged that the documentation relating to Iraq having bought yellow cake were forgeries at the Security Council when the IAEA published them.
Q1265 Sir John Stanley: I am coming on to these issues, Foreign Secretary, and please at that point give me the answers to those questions. I just want to take this issue through chronologically in my own order, if I may. That was a report made by the former US ambassador and I would find it wholly inexplicable if that was not shared very promptly with the British defence liaison staff in Washington. The question I now want to come to is what was said in the September 2002 dossier. On that particular issue, as we know, in the foreword under the name of the Prime Minister there is a reference to the fact that Saddam Hussein is continuing in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and in the bullet points: A Saddam Hussein sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it@ . Given the fact that the Niger documents were certainly at that time known to the Americans, and I believe also to British intelligence, to be forgeries, it is clear that the statement made in the September 2002 dossier was clearly based on separate intelligence in which the British Government had confidence. The point I want to put to you is that when the Prime Minister came to the House on September 24 at the time when the September 2002 dossier was published, he said: A In addition, we know that Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, although we do not know whether he has been successful@ . The question I have in my mind is why did the Government, either in the document or in what the Prime Minister said in the House, at least not put some degree of health warning over the statements that appeared in the September 2002 dossier to the effect that alongside intelligence in which the British Government clearly had confidence there were already, and had been known for some six months previously, forged documents in circulation? I have to say I am somewhat surprised that no reference was made to those forged documents in the very self-same area in which the Prime Minister was saying without qualification, without ambiguity, A we know that Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, although we do not know whether he has been successful or not@ . Why was there not any sort of health warning?
Mr Straw: Sir John, we will find out what the state of knowledge was about the story that you gave in your previous question. What I can say, however, as far as I am concerned is that I had absolutely no knowledge of any documents relating to this area being forged until the IAEA said that in one of their reports in February or March 2003. I am confident in saying that that I also speak for the Prime Minister.
Q1266 Sir John Stanley: I am not suggesting, Foreign Secretary, that you did have any knowledge but I think you will be quite interested, therefore, in the answer to the earlier question which I put to you. I am quite interested to know what was the date on which the British intelligence community were informed by the CIA that this forged documentation existed.
Mr Straw: We will find out.
Q1267 Sir John Stanley: And why, perhaps, so very, very many months elapsed even after the publication of the September 2002 dossier with these very emphatic statements when neither the Prime Minister nor yourself were informed as to the existence of the forgeries. Can I go on now beyond the September 2002 document. This issue is one which Mr Mackinlay did raise in the last session and I would like to carry it on. As you well know, the British Government was under direct United Nations obligations on Security Council resolutions to provide information that was going to be of value to the IAEA in investigating the compliance or non-compliance by Saddam Hussein with the issue of the procurement of fissile materials and materials that would be relevant to the Iraqi regime= s nuclear production. I would like to point out to you, and I have the detailed texts of the various resolutions, that not merely was the British Government under an obligation to provide that information under Security Council Resolution 1441, which of course was only passed on 8 November 2002, but the British Government was under an even stronger obligation, an even more mandatory obligation, under Security Council Resolution 1051 of 27 March 1906 in paragraph 12. The British Government clearly had strong intelligence, in its view, supporting the Prime Minister= s statement that Saddam Hussein was in the market for procuring uranium from Africa. What was the date, Foreign Secretary, on which the British Government complied with its obligations under the two Security Council resolutions and passed the firm intelligence that it had, which underpinned what was in the September 2002 document, to the IAEA?
Mr Straw: I will ask Mr Ricketts and Mr Ehrman to give more detail, but ----
Q1268 Sir John Stanley: I just want the date, I do not want a long response. I am just asking a very simple question. I am asking your officials if you cannot give the answer. I want to know, please, the date, that is all I am asking for. What was the date on which the British Government complied with its Security Council obligations to pass information on to the IAEA?
Mr Straw: I am going to give an answer and, if I may, I will give the answer in my own way. Resolution 1051, to which you referred, was passed before we came into office in March 1996, so I cannot give you the exact date. I assume, that as with every other kind of obligation, the previous government, of which I was not a member but you were, was co-operating fully with the United Nations in this particular as in others. What I also know ----
Q1269 Sir John Stanley: I am sorry, Security Council Resolution 1051 was ongoing at the time we are talking about. We are talking about fresh intelligence which came to your Government and which underpinned putting into the September 2002 dossier the detailed statements that were made in emphatic terms about uranium supplies to Africa. That intelligence was under the obligation of your Government to pass on to the IAEA. When was it done?
Mr Ehrman: The intelligence came from a foreign service and we understand that it was briefed to the IAEA in 2003.
Q1270 Sir John Stanley: What date in 2003?
Mr Ehrman: I would have to check.
Mr Straw: We will have to give it to you later.
Q1271 Sir John Stanley: That is a very, very important date, extremely important, because the dossier became available in September 2002, so how long did it take the British Government to comply with their UN obligations?
Mr Straw: We were complying with those obligations and co-operating to a very high degree, as both the IAEA, UNMOVIC and its predecessor, UNSCOM, always accepted.
Q1272 Sir John Stanley: Can I come back to you, Mr Ehrman. You said in 2003. If you know the year, surely you must know the month, Mr Ehrman.
Mr Ehrman: I would have to check the exact month.
Q1273 Sir John Stanley: If you would let us know the exact month very precisely and very quickly. This brings me to the last point I want to make on this which is that if the British Government were complying with their obligations under the United Nations Security Council resolutions then I have to say I am exceedingly surprised by the wording of Dr Mohammed El-Baradei= s statement to the United Nations Security Council on 7 March 2003. I am very surprised by the final sentence. These are the three sentences, but the final one is the significant one: A Based on thorough analysis the IAEA has concluded with the concurrence of outside experts that these documents which form the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded.@ This is the key sentence which puzzles me hugely: A However, we will continue to follow up any additional evidence, if it emerges, relevant to efforts by Iraq to illicitly import nuclear materials.@ It would appear to me, therefore, that at the time when Dr El-Baradei made that statement to the UN Security Council on 7 March the British Government at that point had still not provided the intelligence which it had, which underpinned what appeared in the September 2002 document, to the IAEA. Why not?
Mr Ehrman: I was saying that my understanding was that the intelligence was passed to the IAEA in 2003, I did not say by the British Government. My understanding is that it was by the country which had that intelligence.
Mr Straw: I make clear, Sir John, as far as ----
Q1274 Sir John Stanley: I am sorry, Mr Ehrman, if we are at cross-purposes let us just sort it out. The British Government= s statement - I quoted what the Prime Minister said in the House - A We know that Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, although we do not know whether he has been successful@ , and repeated in the dossier, in the bullet points, A sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it...@ , that was clearly British information based on British intelligence. Anyway, it is information for which the British Government is responsible.
Mr Straw: But, Sir John, ----
Q1275 Sir John Stanley: I am just asking why was that information apparently not passed on straight away to the IAEA?
Mr Straw: We will have to get you a detailed answer but may I say that my understanding throughout this, and it is something that the IAEA and UNMOVIC themselves acknowledged, was that we were indeed co-operating actively with both agencies of the United Nations. You understand the distinction, but I think people may be forgiven for thinking there has been a conflation here of the intelligence relating to yellow cake, which was the subject of the forgeries, which as I said in the session on Tuesday did not come from British intelligence. There was some inadvertent reporting that it did, but it did not. That is just a fact. We can go into more detail in private session.
Q1276 Sir John Stanley: If I may say so, that is a red herring.
Mr Straw: That is not a red herring at all.
Q1277 Sir John Stanley: I am not talking about the forged documents. The Minister has already stated that that particular documentation, that particular source material, did not come from the UK. It has been widely reported in the press that it came from Italy, I have no means of knowing whether that is the case or not. I am talking about the intelligence which underpinned the statement in the September 2002 dossier and which obviously underpinned the statement made by the British Prime Minister. Foreign Secretary, you say in your public document to us in relation to the statement on page 25 of the dossier that A There is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa@ and you go on to say: A This reference drew on intelligence reporting from more than one source@ . Fine. I am simply asking why that intelligence reporting drawing from more than one source, for which the British Government took responsibility, which the British Government used, which when the President of the United States referred to it in his State of the Union address referred specifically to the fact that it came from Britain, did not claim it came from America, that intelligence reporting was not forthwith passed to the IAEA because if it had Dr El-Baradei in his statement on 7 March could not have been referring to A continuing to follow up any additional evidence, if it emerges, relevant to efforts by Iraq to illicitly import nuclear materials@ . Foreign Secretary, we want to know when was this substantial intelligence information that underpinning the document passed on and why was there such a delay?
Mr Straw: We will get you an answer and you will then be able to assess whether there was a delay, Sir John.
Sir John Stanley: Can I now come to ----
Q1278 Richard Ottaway: Can I ask one quick question. Are you still standing by the uranium claim?
Mr Straw: What was in the document, yes.
Q1279 Richard Ottaway: What is the source of that?
Mr Straw: We will come to that in private session, Mr Ottaway.
Q1280 Richard Ottaway: Are you verifying the claim? Are you continuing to verify it?
Mr Straw: We will talk about sources in the private session.
Chairman: Sir John will continue. I want to move on to the private session very soon.
Q1281 Sir John Stanley: I have got just two more issues. The next issue I want to come to is a very crucial dimension to the 45 minute claim and it emerged in the evidence we took previously from Mr Andrew Gilligan and in answer to a question which Mr Pope posed. Mr Gilligan revealed to us that his source had said that the Iraqi intelligence source in turn from which he got his information, which was the single uncorroborated source which the Government has acknowledged underpinned the 45 minute claim rested the 45 minute claim on the use of missiles to launch WMD at a 45 minute state of readiness. Foreign Secretary, as you have clearly read the transcript, and as my colleagues will know, I came in very shortly afterwards and said if the 45 minuted claim rested on the capability of Iraq, from what I knew about this particular business that would almost certainly invalidate the 45 minute claim if it was based on delivery and 45 minute activation of missiles with a WMD capability. Foreign Secretary, when you came before us you picked up that point and you said in one of the answers you gave to me: A No reference to missiles, by the way, as some of your evidence givers have suggested, none whatever@ . In the dossier there is no reference to missiles in conjunction with the 45 minute claim, it is all in relation to weapons. That is something that could be credible if the intelligence is there. It refers, by implication, to artillery pieces and if chemical weapons are held forward that makes a 45 minute claim credible. The question I want to put to you is, therefore, there is a very, very significant word change that may or may not have taken place. The word change from A missiles@ as alleged was the intelligence information that came in from Mr Gilligan= s source, which makes the 45 minute claim non-credible, to A weapons@ , as used by the Government, which providing the intelligence is there makes the 45 minute claim credible. The question I want to put to you is, and again it may be one for your officials who may know the background in more detail, when the intelligence came in, and we have just heard in response to Mr Ottaway= s questioning that it came in in September 2002 shortly before this document was published, allegedly from an Iraqi general, as Mr Gilligan= s source said, was the wording that came in in relation to A missiles@ or not?
Mr Straw: As far as I am aware no, the intelligence related to other delivery systems.
Q1282 Sir John Stanley: I am afraid it cannot be A as far as I am aware...@
Mr Straw: Not missiles.
Mr Ehrman: The intelligence related to A weapons@ .
Q1283 Sir John Stanley: It did. From the very beginning it related to A weapons@ ?
Mr Straw: Yes.
Q1284 Sir John Stanley: So you are saying that on this particular point Mr Gilligan= s source is wrong in saying that the intelligence that came in related to A missiles@ ?
Mr Ehrman: The intelligence related to A weapons@ .
Q1285 Sir John Stanley: Thank you very much, that is a very important point that I wanted to establish. So there was no word changing that went on between when the intelligence first came in and when the dossier was published. Thank you. The final point I want to raise, Foreign Secretary, is this very important policy point. You will remember that in our earlier evidence session this week I said that A one of the central issues is whether the degree of immediacy of the threat from Saddam Hussein= s regime that was conveyed to Parliament and to the wider public was justified on the basis of the intelligence information that was available to the Government@ and you somewhat rode off with an answer to a question that I did not put to you. I never suggested at any point that the Government had used the word A immediate@ . If I can just put it in your own words. You said in your answer: A I wonder if I may be allowed to make this point in response to Sir John, so far as we can ascertain by word searches and so on, neither the Prime Minister nor I or anybody acting on our behalf has ever used the words > immediate or imminent= threat, never used those words, in relation to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. What we talked about in the dossier was a current and serious threat, which is very different.@ We can debate whether it is very different or not, but that was what you said. Then you went on to say: A The Prime Minister said on 24 September, the day the dossier was published in the House: > I cannot say that this month or next, even this year or next, Saddam will use his weapons= .@ The point I want to put to you, Foreign Secretary, is that it is true to say that the Government used the words A current threat@ , sometimes the Government used the words A present threat@ , but that was coupled on a number of occasions, including by you at one of the speeches you made outside the House and by the Prime Minister in the House and in the dossier itself, with a reference to the 45 minutes. A current threat but coupled with a 45 minutes timescale for the activation of weapons of mass destruction. If I can just quote what the Prime Minister did say, also on 24 September, in relation to the document: A It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons; that Saddam has continued to produce them; that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons which could be activated within 45 minutes@ . I think all of us who were in the House hearing the Prime Minister saying that, hearing the references to A serious and current threat@ were certainly charged with the view that this was a threat of some considerable near-term risk, even though the Prime Minister made it clear that he was not predicting when such use might be made. What I want to ask you, Foreign Secretary, is in the reply you gave to me earlier this week, I was not clear whether you were trying to row back from what the Government had said previously about the degree of immediacy of the threat following the publication of the dossier and up to the start of the war or whether your position, and therefore the Government= s position, is that you stand by exactly the terms which you expressed to the House and in the dossier as to the degree of immediacy of threat prior to the war taking place?
Mr Straw: The latter, Sir John. I would say this: of course I stand by it and I also stand by it in the context in which this was made. It is only, and the Chairman acknowledged this in his opening statement, since Mr Gilligan made these claims on May 29, which are false, that the 45 minutes has assumed any great significance at all. Of course it was part of the argument. Far from resiling from it, it was part of the argument, but it was not absolutely central in the way Mr Gilligan has claimed. The reason I did make the point I made about imminence was because the claim made, which this Committee subsequently responded to, from Mr Gilligan was that the 45 minutes was not just a detail, it went to the heart of the Government= s case that Saddam was A an imminent threat@ . There is a difference, everybody understands that, and I am grateful to you for acknowledging this, between an A imminent and immediate threat@ and the kind of threat which we described in a balanced and accurate way.
Q1286 Sir John Stanley: I did not acknowledge any substantial difference between a current threat coupled with a statement by the Prime Minister of 45 minutes away from activation of weapons of mass destruction. I just put this final point to you, Foreign Secretary. You are downplaying the significance of the 45 minutes. I put it to you as a question that it was actually very significant, not least for every Member of the British Parliament when they came to vote on March 18. I can tell you that it was a significant issue for me for this reason: every Member of the British Parliament knew when they came to vote to decide whether or not to support the Government on March 18 that if they did not support the Government and Saddam Hussein used those weapons of mass destruction held at 45 minutes readiness of activation then they would have to face their constituents as people who had not supported the Government when the Government was trying to remove those weapons of mass destruction which at that time could have caused massive casualties. I believe that was a very, very significant influence on a lot of Members of Parliament, the 45 minutes, when they came to vote.
Mr Straw: Sir John, I respect what you say. I was not downplaying it, I am just anxious that it should be put in context. I do say that it is of some interest - it will be to historians - that in the debate on 18 March and also in the 80 or 90 minute statement which I handled on 17 March I do not believe that 45 minutes claim was referred to on one occasion.
Q1287 Sir John Stanley: Can I just say why it was not referred to, Foreign Secretary. It was not referred to for the very simple reason that Members of Parliament of all sides accepted that this came from a reliable intelligence source and regarded it as not being an issue for debate. They took the Government= s word for it.
Mr Straw: By that stage, Sir John, speaking for myself, and as you will recall I made the statement on 17 March and wound up on 18 March and made a number of Speeches in the Security Council, the argument for me was based on profound concern about Saddam Hussein= s intent and capability, not least on his record of defiance following 1441. Chairman, can I just crave your indulgence now that Mr Ottaway is back in the room to give you some clarification on something he asked.
Chairman: Finish with Sir John and then you can clarify it.
Q1288 Sir John Stanley: I want to return to one question I put to you earlier this week. Can you produce any reason, other than American doubts about the credibility of the 45 minutes, why the Americans at no point ever used the 45 minutes?
Mr Straw: I do not know why they did not happen to use it. We do not have any doubt about the credibility of the assessment made by the JIC in September reflected in the dossier.
Q1289 Chairman: Can we have your response to Mr Ottaway?
Mr Straw: I have been passed a note. This is about whether the drafts were first, second or third. I have been passed a note to this effect, A I understand Mr Campbell will make it clear in the written material that he is going to provide to the Committee that the 45 minutes point was included in the first draft of the dossier which was presented to him by the Joint Intelligence Committee.@ I hope that is helpful.
Q1290 Richard Ottaway: This draft presented to him was not necessarily the first draft?
Mr Straw: That was why I was having to be conditional, because as I was seeking to explain, to be as accurate as possible, there was a whole series of draft, but it was the first draft presented to him.
Q1291 Mr Pope: I have got two really quick questions. The first one is did anybody in the SIS or the JIC object to the 45 minute claim?
Mr Straw: No.
Q1292 Mr Pope: The second question is Alastair Campbell, when he came before us earlier in the week, said that the head of SIS, the intelligence and security co-ordinator and the Chairman of JIC all authorised him - Campbell - to say that it is not true that he exaggerated or A sexed-up@ that September dossier. As the Minister responsible for those services, do you stand by that?
Mr Straw: Absolutely, 100 per cent. Let me make clear, nobody A sexed-up@ or exaggerated that September dossier, no-one at all, and that includes Alastair Campbell.
Q1293 Chairman: One point of clarification. The point was made about the delays in passing the possible information to UNMOVIC and to IAEA. I recall in the evidence of Mr Taylor he expressed certain doubts about the security procedures and leakability of those organisations. Did you share any of those doubts?
Mr Straw: For sure. Mr Taylor, I thought, was very compelling in the evidence that he gave explaining that there is an inherent problem with United Nations agencies. They are not run by a single nation state, they are run by an international organisation, so the security problems are much greater. That is acknowledged by the UN. The senior people take a great deal of care to try and ensure that the information that is passed is kept secure but there are inherently greater problems and that was recognised both by UNSCOM when it was operating up to the end of 1998 and by UNMOVIC and the IAEA. That said, Chairman, I repeat the point because it is very important, I think you will find if you ask the IAEA and UNMOVIC whether they had good intelligence co-operation from the United Kingdom, they would say yes and would compliment both the quality and the range of the material they received.
Chairman: Foreign Secretary, we have covered substantial ground. I think it is now appropriate for us to move into private session and I would propose that we have a five minute break.
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