'Collective' Misjudgements, the Butler Report finds 'Serious Flaws' in the UK's Iraq intelligence, July 14, 2004
The Butler Report, released on July 14, 2004 is available at: http://www.butlerreview.org.uk/. The Butler Committee consisted of the Right Honourable Sir John Chilcot GCB, Right Honourable Ann Taylor MP, Lord Butler of Brockwell KG GCB CVO (Chair), Right Honourable Michael Mates MP, Lord Inge KG GCB DL. The Liberal Democrats refused to participate in the Committee, due to its somewhat limited terms of reference.
According to the BBC, the Reports main findings were as follows:
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Thank you for coming to this press conference on the Report of the Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction which I have chaired and which the Government has published today. May I introduce my colleagues …
2. We were appointed as a Committee of Privy Counsellors on 3 February and were asked to report by the Parliamentary Summer Recess which we have managed to do. This is a period of just under 6 months. We were asked to follow, in terms of procedures, the precedent of the Falkland Islands Review under Lord Franks in 1982. That Review was completed in an almost identical period.
3. When we were appointed there was much comment on the supposed narrowness of our terms of reference compared with Franks, in particular that our terms of reference did not cover the reasons for going to war. It seems to have been forgotten that Lord Franks was not asked to consider, and did not consider, whether it was right to go to war to recover the Falklands.
4. It is true that, unlike Franks, our terms of reference covered only one aspect of events leading up to the Iraq war, and that is the collection, assessment and use of intelligence. In another respect, our terms of reference went much wider since we were asked to consider the general issue of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in countries of concern and on the global trade in such weapons.
5. This wider context not only enabled us to look at the issue in the round but also enabled us to examine, and to some extent tell the story of, the activities of our intelligence agencies in countries where things have gone better than they did in Iraq.
6. We welcomed this because all members of the Review Committee, through our different backgrounds, know a good deal about the work of our intelligence community and we admire it very much. When attacks on UK interests are not foreseen, intelligence gets the blame. When there are successes in countering such attacks - as there very frequently are - nobody gets to hear about them. We have great admiration for the bravery and professionalism of the people who serve in British intelligence, and for the degree of teamwork in the British system which is the envy of many other countries. There has probably never been a period in peacetime when intelligence work has been more difficult and more important to all our safety than it is at present.
7. As it happens there have been recent developments in counter-proliferation in respect of countries of concern, and to some extent in counter-terrorism, when what was previously hidden has come to light. We tell at least some of the story of the contribution of intelligence to these successes in Chapters 2 and 3 of our Report. There is more we could have told if doing so would not have damaged continuing operations.
8. Now to the Report itself. We hope that the table of contents will enable you to find your way round it easily. For those of you who have to read it quickly there is a final Summary of Conclusions which brings together the main conclusions in (I hope) a coherent way. But I emphasise that these conclusions should be read in the context of the sections to which they relate. They should be treated as signposts not substitutes for reading the earlier sections.
9. Before describing the main chapters and our conclusions I highlight one or two points in the introduction. First, it has been the job of the Iraq Survey Group in Iraq, not ours, to discover whether there are Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. The ISG has not reported yet. We have been in touch with them informally and we have given [para 474] our broad judgement of what the outcome is likely to be, but it is they, not we, who are the authority on this.
10. The second is that we have not commented on the performance of the intelligence machinery in other countries. In the United States there is a parallel Commission, as well as the Congressional Intelligence Committees.
11. Third, while there is much material which we have not been able to include, we have prepared a Report which is published in full, including an unprecedented amount of intelligence material. There are no asterisks. Moreover, we believe that what we have been able to publish gives Parliament and the public a fair view of the issues we were asked to cover.
12. Fourth, we think that a lot of confusion arises from the language used on this subject, and from the term "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in particular. So we have tried to avoid this phrase in the body of our Report, referring instead to the type of weapon by its name in each case. I will now try to stick to that in the rest of this presentation.
13. Chapter 1 of the Report describes the nature and use of intelligence, including its pitfalls. We hope that readers will find this interesting. We feel that the character and limitations of intelligence need to be better understood and this is essential background for what is said in the rest of the Report.
14. Chapters 2 and 3 are an account of the material we are able to publish on the role of intelligence in respect of the AQ Khan network, Libya, Iran, the proliferation activities of North Korea, and counter-terrorism; and the conclusions we draw from those. As I have said, we believe that these are creditable and impressive stories. We hope that they will give readers a glimpse of just a fraction of the work intelligence does in trying to make the world a safer place.
15. Now Iraq. We have two chapters on Iraq - one dealing with the role of intelligence in the period leading up to the Iraq war and the second with specific issues which have been the subject of public attention.
16. In the general chapter on Iraq we start from the end of the first Gulf war and look at intelligence between then and the departure of the UN inspectors in 1998. We do so in order to examine how that intelligence influenced the assessments in the later period and our conclusions are set out in paras 207-9.
17. On the period up to 1998 we draw four main conclusions - first of effective work carried out by IAEA and UNSCOM, which was however not complete because of inability to account for all Iraq's previously estimated stocks. Secondly, a progressive reduction in JIC estimates of Iraq's capabilities up to 1994/95. Thirdly, following the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamil, which prompted Iraqi declarations of programmes previously concealed, growing suspicions between 1995 and 1998 of what Iraq might be continuing to conceal. And fourthly more assured JIC assessments of Iraq's nuclear capabilities than of its chemical and biological capabilities. The latter are, of course, easier to conceal.
18. In the period 1998-2002, the weapons inspectors were no longer in Iraq and intelligence sources were sparse, particularly on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes. Following the inspectors' departure, some of Iraq's suspected remaining facilities were attacked through the bombing operation, Desert Fox. The policy was one of containment of Saddam, against a background of continuing suspicion and fears on the part of the Government that the international will to retain sanctions was weakening [paras 213-217].
19. There was limited intelligence suggesting Iraqi attempts to expand its missile programme, to lay the foundations of a revived nuclear programme, and to develop facilities which could be used for chemical and biological programmes. In the background, there was the well-established history of Iraq's weapons programmes from well before the first Gulf war and their use in action both against Iran and Iraq's own people. More immediately, there was growing intelligence and consequent concern about proliferation in other countries as well, for example the expanding information about the extent of the AQ Khan network. This led to fears of what one witness called a "creeping tide" of proliferation [paras 255-257].
20. Then 9/11 happened, followed by coalition action in Afghanistan, President Bush's axis of evil speech, and growing evidence of United States focus on Iraq. This led to reassessment of the British Government's policy towards Iraq in early 2002 and to the conclusion that stronger action (not necessarily military action) needed to be taken to enforce Iraqi disarmament [paras 259-269].
21. This conclusion was not based on any new development in the intelligence picture on Iraq [paras 284-285]. At that stage there was no recent intelligence that by itself would have given rise to a conclusion that Iraq was of more immediate concern than the activities of some other countries. The British Government, as well as being influenced by the concerns of the US Government, saw a need for immediate action on Iraq because of the wider historical and international context, especially Iraq's perceived continuing challenge to the authority of the United Nations. The breach of UN Resolutions also provided a basis for action but, if it were to take the form of offensive military action, it was recognised, first, that the United Nations Security Council would need to be convinced that Iraq was in breach of its obligations; second, that such proof would need to be incontrovertible and of large-scale activity; and, third, that the intelligence then available was insufficiently robust to meet that criterion. This was in March 2002.
22. During the spring and summer of 2002 [paras 270-281, 289-306], further intelligence came in and the tone of JIC judgements became firmer but successive JIC assessments warned that intelligence remained limited, particularly on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes. A dossier began to be prepared, first covering four countries of concern and then concentrating solely on Iraq. Other issues occupying the intelligence agencies, the JIC and the Departments during this period included terrorism, the activities of the AQ Khan network and the tension between India and Pakistan.
23. In response to Parliamentary and public concern that there was a growing prospect of military action against Iraq, the Prime Minister announced on 3rd September 2002 that the Government would publish what subsequently became known as the dossier [paras 313-314]. This was published on 24th September in time for a debate on Iraq for which Parliament had been recalled. The dossier broke new ground in three ways: the JIC had never previously produced a public document; no Government case for any international action had previously been made through explicitly drawing on a JIC publication; and the JIC had never been used in such a public way. The immediate response to this dossier was that it was cautious, even dull. It gained attention through later events, and particularly from the fact that, contrary to the expectation reflected in it, military forces entering Iraq did not find significant stocks of chemical or biological weapons or evidence of recent production of such weapons.
24. We have examined the dossier very carefully. In our Report we take the unprecedented step of publishing as an Annex the relevant sections of the three key JIC assessments preceding the dossier, alongside the dossier itself and the Prime Minister's accompanying statement in the House of Commons so that comparisons can be drawn about whether the dossier fairly represented the intelligence. Our own conclusions [paras 460-469] are:-
25. Between September 2002 and the outbreak of war, the intelligence community turned their attention to Iraqi plans for deception and concealment and to providing information to UNMOVIC in their searches for hidden programmes and weapons; and also to contingency planning for war. We were surprised that, as the generally negative results of UNMOVIC inspections became apparent in early 2003, there was no re-evaluation of the quality of UK intelligence.
26. We examined the extent to which intelligence played a part in the Attorney General's opinion of 7 March 2003 on the legality of the war [paras 374-379], which we have read. That opinion turned predominantly on legal argument. The only relevance of intelligence is that the Attorney General advised that, in the absence of a further United Nations Resolution, the Prime Minister needed to be satisfied that there were strong factual grounds for concluding that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that it was possible to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-co-operation with Resolution 1441. The Prime Minister, in reaching his view, took account of false statements and omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to Resolution 1441 and Iraq's failure to comply with, and co-operate fully in, its implementation. He also took account of the intelligence picture and information from other sources, including UNMOVIC [paras 384-385].
27. It is not for us to comment on the legal merits of the Attorney General's opinion. We took evidence from Ms Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a former deputy legal adviser in the Foreign Office, who resigned over this issue, and satisfied ourselves that her disagreement related to the legal arguments and not to intelligence [paras 376].
28. Following the war, and of course unknown to those concerned at the time, doubts have arisen about a high proportion of human sources whose intelligence helped to underpin the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments and the Government's September 2002 dossier. The details are set out in paragraphs 410-412 of our Report. We have considered why these problems have arisen.
29. The overall problem was of course that Iraq was a very difficult target. Not only was it a closed and highly secretive society but Saddam had effective and ruthless counter-intelligence and ghastly punishments for those suspected of collaborating. Nevertheless, the difficulties which have emerged were not, in the UK's case, the result of over-reliance on dissident and emigré sources which SIS have a policy of avoiding. One reason may have been the length of some of the reporting chains - the "Chinese whispers" problem. Another may have been that otherwise reliable agents were reporting on areas outside their usual territory. A third reason may have been that, because of the scarcity of sources and the urgent requirement for intelligence, more reliance was placed on untried agents than would normally be the case.
30. However, even taking these factors into account, we conclude that part of the problem arose from weaknesses in the effective application by SIS of its validation procedures and in their proper resourcing [paras 413-423]. The Chief of SIS acknowledged, that one problem may have been a shortage of experienced case officers following the budget reductions in the SIS in the 1990s. Another reason may be organisation changes which reduced the independence of those within SIS who validate human sources. At all events this problem needs to be given attention in the light of experience in Iraq and we hope that the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee will monitor progress.
31. As regards assessment of intelligence, we detected a tendency for judgements to be too influenced by past underestimates as well as by Iraq's previous record, and its programme of deceit and concealment. But we found no evidence of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence nor for that matter of assessments being influenced by the policy concerns of senior members of the JIC.
32. The Report then covers a number of specific issues in relation to intelligence on Iraq on which our conclusions can be summed up as follows:-
33. Chapter 7 of the Report then draws out general conclusions about counter-proliferation policy and the implications of what we have found for the UK machinery of Government.
34. We have so far identified one error in the Report. As the text indicates, we received evidence from Mr Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector, but he is not included in the list of formal witnesses in Annex A. I apologise for that.
35. I hope that the Report speaks for itself and that these comments have been helpful in leading you through it. We have all agreed that we will be giving no media interviews after this Conference. So if there are questions, I will take them now.
Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Statement by Prime Minister Tony Blair, in the House of Commons, July 14, 2004
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on the report published by Lord Butler earlier today.
Lord Butler's report is comprehensive and thorough, and I thank the members of his Committee and their staff for all their hard work in compiling it. We accept fully the report's conclusions.
The report provides an invaluable analysis of the general threat in respect of weapons of mass destruction and the potential acquisition of WMD by terrorists. Although it devotes much of its analysis to Iraq, it also goes into detail on the WMD threat posed by Iran, Libya, North Korea and A.Q. Khan. Some of the intelligence disclosed is made available for the first time and gives some insight into the reasons for the judgments that I and other Ministers have been making. I hope that the House will understand if I deal with it in some detail.
The hallmark of the report is its balanced judgments. It specifically supports the conclusions of Lord Hutton's inquiry about the good faith of the intelligence services and the Government in compiling the September 2002 dossier, but it also makes specific findings that the dossier and the intelligence behind it should have been better presented, had more caveats attached to it, and been better validated. It reports doubts that have recently arisen on the 45-minute intelligence, and says that in any event that should have been included in the dossier in different terms. However, it expressly supports the intelligence on Iraq's attempts to procure uranium from Niger in respect of its nuclear ambitions.
The report finds that there is little-if any-significant evidence of stockpiles of readily deployable weapons, but also concludes that Saddam Hussein did indeed have
"the strategic intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes, including if possible its nuclear weapons programme, when United Nations inspection regimes were relaxed and sanctions were eroded or lifted."
"In support of that goal, was carrying out illicit research and development, and procurement, activities, to seek to sustain its indigenous capabilities."
"Was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than permitted under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions".
Throughout the past 18 months, and throughout the rage and ferment of the debate over Iraq, there have essentially been two questions. One is an issue of good faith-of integrity. This is now the fourth exhaustive inquiry that has dealt with the issue. This report, the Hutton inquiry, the report of the Intelligence and Security Committee before it, and that of the Foreign Affairs Committee before that, found the same thing. No one lied. No one made up the intelligence. No one inserted things into the dossier against the advice of the intelligence services. Everyone genuinely tried to do their best in good faith for the country in circumstances of acute difficulty. That issue of good faith should now be at an end.
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But there is another issue. We expected-I expected-to find actual usable chemical or biological weapons shortly after we entered Iraq. We even made significant contingency plans in respect of their use against our troops. UN resolution 1441, in November 2002, was passed unanimously by the whole Security Council, including Syria, on the basis that Iraq was a WMD threat. Lord Butler, in his report, says:
"We believe that it would be a rash person who asserted at this stage that evidence of Iraqi possession of stocks of biological or chemical agents, or even of banned missiles, does not exist or will never be found."
However, I have to accept that, as the months have passed, it has seemed increasingly clear that, at the time of invasion, Saddam did not have stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready to deploy. The second issue is therefore this: even if we acted in perfectly good faith, is it now the case that in the absence of stockpiles of weapons ready to deploy, the threat was misconceived and therefore the war was unjustified?
I have searched my conscience-not in a spirit of obstinacy, but in genuine reconsideration in the light of what we now know-to answer that question. My answer would be this: the evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was indeed less certain and less well founded than was stated at the time. However, I cannot go from there to the opposite extreme. On any basis, he retained complete strategic intent on WMD and significant capability. The only reason why he ever let the inspectors back into Iraq was that he had 180,000 US and British troops on his doorstep. He had no intention of ever co-operating fully with the inspectors, and he was going to start up again the moment the troops and the inspectors departed, or the sanctions eroded. I say further that if we had backed down in respect of Saddam, we would never have taken the stand that we needed to take on weapons of mass destruction, we would never have got the progress on Libya, for example, that we achieved, and we would have left Saddam in charge of Iraq, with every malign intent and capability still in place, and with every dictator with the same intent everywhere immeasurably emboldened.
As I shall say later, for any mistakes made, as the report finds, in good faith, I of course take responsibility, but I cannot honestly say that I believe that getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. Iraq, the region and the wider world are better and safer places without him. [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. The House wants to hear the statement. I will move quickly on any Member who interrupts the Prime Minister. I say the same about the Leader of the Opposition-I will not tolerate any interference in his speech. Let us hear the statement; the House wants to hear the statement.
The Prime Minister: The report begins with an assessment of intelligence and its use in respect of countries other than Iraq. It points out that in respect of Libya, the intelligence has largely turned out to be accurate, especially regarding its nuclear weapons programmes. Those are now being dismantled. In respect of Iran, the report says that it is now engaged with the International Atomic Energy Agency, although there remain
"clearly outstanding issues about Iran's activities."
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On North Korea, the report concludes that it
"is now thought to be developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons as far away as the continental United States and Europe."
The report goes on at paragraph 99 to say:
"North Korea is a particular cause for concern because of its willingness to sell ballistic missiles to anyone prepared to pay in hard currency."
The report also discloses the extent of the network of A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani former nuclear scientist. The network is now largely shut down through US and UK intelligence work, Pakistani co-operation and the dialogue with Libya.
The report then reveals for the first time the development of intelligence in respect of the new global terrorism that we face. In the early years, for example, the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment of October 1994 said that the view was that the likelihood of terrorists acquiring or using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons was, while theoretically possible, highly unlikely. However, as the name and activities of Osama bin Laden became better known, the JIC started to change its assessments.
In November 1998, the JIC assessment said that Osama bin Laden
"has a long-standing interest in the potential terrorist use of CBR materials, and recent intelligence suggest his ideas about using toxic materials are maturing and being developed in more detail . . . There is also secret reporting that he may have obtained some CB"-
chemical and biological-
"material-and that he is interested in nuclear materials."
In June 1999, its assessment said:
"Most of UBL's planned attacks would use conventional terrorist weapons. But he continues to seek chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material and to develop a capability for its terrorist use."
By mid-July 1999, the view had hardened still further. The assessment said:
"There have been important developments in"
"terrorism. It has become clear that Usama Bin Laden has been seeking CBRN"-
chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-
"materials . . . The significance of his possession of CB materials is that, in contrast to other terrorists interested in CB, he wishes to target US, British and other interests worldwide."
A series of further assessments to the same effect was issued in January 2000, and again in August 2000 and January 2001. To anyone who wants to know why I became increasingly focused on the link between terrorism and WMD, I recommend reading that part of the report and the intelligence assessments received.
It is against this background of what one witness to Lord Butler called the "creeping tide of proliferation" that the events of 11 September 2001 should be considered. As the report rightly says, following 11 September, the calculus of the threat changed. I said in this House on 14 September 2001:
"We know, that they"
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"would, if they could, go further and use chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction . . . We have been warned by the events of 11 September, and we should act on the warning."-[Official Report, 14 September 2001; Vol. 372, c. 606.]
I took the view then, and I stand by it now, that no Prime Minister faced with this evidence could responsibly afford to ignore it. After 11 September, it was time to take an active, as opposed to reactive, position on the whole question of weapons of mass destruction. We had to close down the capability of the rogue states-usually highly repressive and unstable-to develop such weapons and the commercial networks, such as those of A.Q. Khan, helping them. Again, my clear view was that the country where we had to take a stand was Iraq.
Iraq was the one country to have used WMD recently. It had developed WMD capability and concealed it. Action by UN inspectors and the IAEA had, by the mid to late 1990s, reduced this threat significantly, but as the Butler report shows at paragraphs 180 to 182, by the time the inspectors were effectively blocked in Iraq, at the end of 1998, the intelligence assessments were that some chemical weapons stocks remained hidden, that Iraq remained capable of a break-out chemical weapons capability within months, had a biological weapons capability-also with probable stockpiles-and could have had ballistic missiles capability in breach of UN resolutions within a year.
This, of course, was the reason for military action, taken without a UN resolution, in December 1998. Subsequent to that, the report shows that we continued to receive JIC assessments on Iraq's WMD capability. For example, in respect of chemical and biological weapons, in April 2000 it said:
"Our picture is limited. It is likely that Iraq is continuing to develop its offensive chemical warfare . . . and biological warfare . . . capabilities."
In May 2001, in respect of nuclear weapons, its assessment was that:
"Our knowledge of developments in Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile programmes since Desert Fox air operations in December 1998 is patchy. But intelligence gives grounds for concern and suggests that Iraq is becoming bolder in conducting activities prohibited by"
UN Security Council resolution
"687. There is evidence of increased activity at Iraq's only remaining nuclear facility and a growing number of reports on possible nuclear related procurement."
Then in February 2002, the JIC said:
"Iraq . . . if it has not already done so, could produce significant quantities of BW agent within days."
The report specifically endorses the March 2002 advice to Ministers, which stated that although containment had been partially successful and intelligence was patchy, Iraq continued to develop WMD. It said:
"Iraq has up to 20 650km range missiles left over from the Gulf War. These are capable of hitting Israel and the Gulf states. Design work for other ballistic missiles over the UN limit of 150km continues. Iraq continues with its BW and CW programmes and, if it has not already done so, could produce significant quantities of BW agents within days and CW agent within weeks of a decision to do so. We believe it could deliver CBW by a variety of means, including in ballistic missile warheads. There are also some indications of a continuing nuclear programme."
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The point I would make is simply this: the dossier of September 2002 did not reach any startling or radical conclusion. It said, in effect, what had been said for several years based not just on intelligence, but on frequent UN and international reports. It was the same conclusion, indeed, that led us to military action in 1998, to maintain sanctions, and to demand the return of UN inspectors.
We published the dossier in response to the enormous parliamentary and press clamour. It was not, as has been described, the case for war, but it was the case for enforcing the United Nations will. In retrospect, it has achieved a fame it never achieved at the time. As the Butler report at paragraph 310 states:
"It is . . . fair to say at the outset that the dossier attracted more attention after the war than it had done before it. When first published, it was regarded as cautious, and even dull. Some of the attention that it eventually received was the product of controversy over the Government's further dossier of February 2003. Some of it arose over subsequent allegations that the intelligence in the September dossier had knowingly been embellished, and hence over the good faith of the Government. Lord Hutton dismissed those allegations. We should record that we, too, have seen no evidence that would support any such allegations."
Indeed, the report says at paragraph 333 that in general the statements in the dossier reflected fairly the judgments of past JIC assessments.
The report, however, goes on to say that with hindsight making public that the authorship of the dossier was by the JIC was a mistake. It meant that more weight was put on the intelligence than it could bear, and put the JIC and its chairman in a difficult position. It recommends in future a clear delineation between Government and JIC, perhaps by issuing two separate documents. I think this is wise, although I doubt that it would have made much difference to the reception of the intelligence at the time. The report also enlarges on the criticisms of the ISC in respect of the greater use of caveats about intelligence both in the dossier and in my foreword, and we accept that entirely.
The report also states that significant parts of the intelligence have now been found by the Secret Intelligence Service to be in doubt. The chief of the SIS, Sir Richard Dearlove, has told me that it accepts all the conclusions and recommendations of Lord Butler's report that concern the service. The SIS will fully address the recommendations that Lord Butler has made about its procedures and about the need for the service properly to resource them. The service has played, and will continue to play, a vital role in countering worldwide the tide of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, its successes are evident in Lord Butler's report.
I accept the report's conclusions in full. Any mistakes should not be laid at the door of our intelligence and security community. They do a tremendous job for our country. I accept full personal responsibility for the way in which the issue was presented and therefore for any errors that were made.
As the report indicates, there is no doubt that at the time it was genuinely believed by everyone that Saddam had both strategic intent in respect of WMD and actual weapons. I make this further point. On the sparse, generalised and highly fragmented intelligence about al-Qaeda prior to 11 September, it is now widely said that
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policy makers should have foreseen the attacks that materialised on 11 September 2001 in New York. I only ask: had we ignored the specific intelligence about the threat from Iraq, backed up by a long history of international confrontation over it, and that threat later materialised, how would we then have been judged?
I know that some will disagree with this. There are those who were opposed to the war, remain so now, and will for ever be in that position. I only hope that now, after two detailed parliamentary Committee reports, a judicial inquiry more exhaustive than any has ever been in examining an allegation of impropriety against Government, and now this voluminous report, people will not disrespect the others' point of view, but will accept that those who agree and those who disagree about the war in Iraq hold their views not because they are warmongers on the one hand or closet supporters of Saddam on the other, but because of a genuine difference of judgment as to the right thing to have done.
There was no conspiracy. There was no impropriety. The essential judgment and truth, as usual, does not lie in extremes. We all of us acknowledge that Saddam was evil and his regime depraved. Whether or not actual stockpiles of weapons are found, there was not and is not any doubt that Saddam used weapons of mass destruction and retained every strategic intent to carry on developing them. The judgment is this: would it have been better or more practical to have contained him through continuing sanctions and weapons inspections, or was this inevitably going to be, at some point, a policy that failed; and was removing Saddam a diversion from pursuing the global terrorist threat or part of it?
I can honestly say that I have never had to make a harder judgment. But in the end, my judgment was that after 11 September, we could no longer run the risk-that instead of waiting for the potential threat of terrorism and WMD to come together, we had to get out and get after it. One part of that was removing the training ground of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The other was taking a stand on weapons of mass destruction, and the place to take that stand was Iraq, whose regime was the only one ever to have used WMD and was subject to 12 years of UN resolutions and weapons inspections that turned out to be unsatisfactory. Although in neither case was the nature of the regime the reason for conflict, it was decisive for me in the judgment as to the balance of risk for action or inaction.
Both countries-Afghanistan and Iraq-now face an uncertain struggle for the future, but both at least now have a future. The one country in which you will find an overwhelming majority in favour of the removal of Saddam is Iraq. I am proud- was proud and remain proud-of this country and the part it played, especially our magnificent armed forces, in removing two vile dictatorships and giving people oppressed, almost enslaved, the prospect of democracy and liberty. This report will not end the arguments about the war, but in its balance and common sense, it should at least help to set them in a more rational light; and for that we should be grateful.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): In his statement, the Prime Minister relied on a finding in the report relating to the good faith of the Government in paragraph 310. The Prime Minister read it out, and it refers specifically to allegations that the
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intelligence in the September dossier had knowingly been embellished, and it agrees with Lord Hutton on those allegations. It does not refer to other findings in the report; it does not refer to what the Prime Minister said; it does not give the Prime Minister a defence. In January this year, the Prime Minister said:
"The issue vis-à-vis my integrity is: did we receive the intelligence and was it properly relayed to people?"
The question that arises from that statement is: was the intelligence given to the Prime Minister accurate, and did he give an accurate account of it to the country? Let us examine, on the basis of the Butler report, what the intelligence services told the Prime Minister, and then what he told the country.
On 15 March 2002, the Joint Intelligence Committee said:
"Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction . . . and ballistic missile programmes is sporadic and patchy."
I repeat, "sporadic and patchy". On 21 August 2002, the JIC said that
"we have little intelligence on Iraq's CBW doctrine, and know little about Iraq's CBW work since late 1998".
"we have little intelligence . . . and know little".
On 9 September 2002, the JIC said: "Intelligence remains limited." I repeat: "Intelligence remains limited." That is what the JIC told the Prime Minister, so let us look at what he told the country.
The Prime Minister, in his signed foreword to the September 2002 dossier, said:
"I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current."
He also said that
"the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons."
I repeat that the Prime Minister said that he was in "no doubt", and that the intelligence was "beyond doubt".
On 24 September 2002, the Prime Minister told the House that the picture painted by the intelligence services was "extensive, detailed and authoritative"-not "sporadic and patchy". Is that not why Lord Butler concludes that it was
"a serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations of the intelligence underlying some of its judgements were not made sufficiently clear"?
Is that not why Lord Butler concludes that the failure to include the limited intelligence base on which some of those assessments were made was "significant"? Is that not why Lord Butler concludes, specifically in relation to the language used by the Prime Minister, that it may have reinforced the impression that
"there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgements"
in the September dossier than was, in fact, the case.
I return to the central question: was the intelligence given to the Prime Minister accurate, and did he give an accurate account of it to the country? It is now clear that in many ways the intelligence services got it wrong, but their assessments included serious caveats, qualifications and cautions. When presenting his case to the country, the Prime Minister chose to leave out those caveats, qualifications and cautions. Their qualified
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judgments became his unqualified certainties, and the question that he must answer today is: why? He has said that mistakes were made and he accepts responsibility, but it is not a question of responsibility-it is a question of credibility. I hope that we will not face in this country another war in the foreseeable future, but if we did and this Prime Minister identified the threat, would the country believe him? [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. I want the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) to be quiet. If there is any breach of the rules of the House there is a danger that the House will be suspended, which means that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will have to wait until I recall it, so bear that in mind. I do not expect the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) to interfere either.
Mr. Howard: If we faced such a prospect, and the Prime Minister asked the country to rely on intelligence, would it have confidence in him? If he said that in his judgment war was necessary, would the country trust him? The issue is the Prime Minister's credibility. The question that he must ask himself is: does he have any credibility left?
The Prime Minister: Let me first deal with the issue of good faith. The right hon. and learned Gentleman supported the war-indeed, he supports it still.
Mr. Howard: On the basis of what you said.
The Prime Minister: Oh, is that reason? Let us just look at that for a moment. Was the right hon. and learned Gentleman duped into supporting the war by me? Let me quote something that the shadow Foreign Secretary said six months before the dossier was published:
"The Iraqi threat is indisputable. Horrific weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a despot who will use them or give them to others to use in every part of the world."
A few months later, before the dossier was published, he said:
"We know there are weapons of mass destruction."
The Leader of the Opposition made a speech to Murdoch's News Corporation in March this year, after the Hutton report, after all the arguments about the intelligence, and I managed to get hold of a copy. He said
"The war against Iraq was necessary. It was just. It was, indeed, arguably overdue."
He went on:
"The British Conservative Party has been consistent in its support for the British Government"-
that was in March this year, not March last year-
"and for our armed forces, over the war in Iraq. Indeed"-
he went on to boast-
"Tony Blair would not have won last year's vote in the House of Commons . . . which gave him the mandate to go to war, without the support of the Conservative Party."
So let us have no more of him being tricked into
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supporting the war by me. The fact of the matter is that he thought it was right then and he thinks even now, does he not, that it was right to go to war?
Mr. Howard: Answer the question.
The Prime Minister: Go on-just a nod of the head will do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks even now that it was right to go to war, does he not? So let leave aside his usual opportunism and understand that we both agreed that Saddam was a threat, we both still think Saddam was a threat and we both think the war was justified. Let us therefore concentrate on making Iraq better, not on point-scoring that has nothing to do with the central issues.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): As the Prime Minister rightly acknowledges in his statement, whatever views we all took about the war, there is no doubt, given the importance of this report and others and his statement this afternoon, that nothing will ever be able to erase the loss of British military life and the loss of life of innocent Iraqi civilians.
Our fundamental disagreement, as the Prime Minister knows from the time that he announced the setting up of Lord Butler's inquiry, remains. We argued from the outset that we wanted the political judgments that informed the decision that the Prime Minister took to go to war to be placed properly under the microscope. As we have seen from the very thorough and detailed piece of work that Lord Butler has produced, that was not possible within the remit set. However, what is possible within the remit and the words that Lord Butler has chosen to use in his report is to pose some direct questions to the Prime Minister arising from it, not least because the Prime Minister said in response to me when he made his statement setting up the inquiry that on the issue of political judgment
"to subcontract to some committee the issue of whether it was right or wrong to go to war is not merely wrong: ultimately it is profoundly undemocratic."-[Official Report, 4 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 755.]
Lord Butler states in chapter 5 on page 99 that
"from the evidence which has been found and de-briefing of Iraqi personnel it appears that prior to the war the Iraqi regime . . . did not, however, have significant-if any-stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment, or developed plans for using them."
As the Prime Minister says he accepts the report in full, he must accept that observation. Can he therefore square his acceptance of that observation with his own words in the introduction to the dossier, in which he wrote:
"I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons"?
Does not Lord Butler's conclusion, which I quoted, reinforce what the Prime Minister had said much earlier, in 1998, when he argued that the policy of containment was working?
In chapter 7, on page 141, Lord Butler points out:
"These international agencies"-
that is, UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency-
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"now appear to have been more effective than was realised at the time in dismantling and inhibiting Iraq's prohibited weapons programmes."
He goes on:
"The value of such international organisations needs to be recognised and built on for the future, supported by the contribution of intelligence from national agencies."
If the Prime Minister accepts the first part of that observation, as he has acknowledged, what steps will he take to make sure that the conclusion is followed, to underpin those international organisations for any similar events in future?
Moving away, as we did, from the containment policy at the time of the September 2002 dossier, huge focus was placed on the 45 minutes claim. I take issue with the Prime Minister when he says this afternoon that that dossier assumed importance after the event. Surely he, like the rest of us, remembers, for example, well-publicised events such as tanks being deployed at Heathrow airport and the newspapers being full of the 45 minutes warning. That was the context at the time.
Lord Butler says of the 45 minutes claim:
"the JIC should not have included the '45 minute' report in its assessment and in the Government's dossier without stating what it was believed to refer to. The fact that the reference in the classified assessment was repeated in the dossier later led to suspicions that it had been included because of its eye-catching character."
If the Prime Minister accepts that conclusion, could he tell us who bears the ultimate responsibility for the claim's inclusion and its highlighting in that way?
Finally, in chapter 5 at paragraph 465, Lord Butler states:
"We conclude that it was a serious weakness that the JIC's warnings on the limitations of the intelligence underlying its judgements were not made sufficiently clear in the dossier."
That goes to the heart of the matter for many, many people. The legality of the war was a key issue. The advice of the Attorney-General has been looked at, as well as the advice-at times conflicting-from within the Foreign Office. It is acknowledged that twice in the past such advice has been made public. Is it not time that all of us were able to see the full advice tendered by the Attorney-General?
Lord Butler speaks of a collective failure on the part of the Joint Intelligence Committee, but if that collective failure applied to the JIC, did it not also apply to the key political players in and around No. 10 Downing street at the time?
The Prime Minister presides, we are told, over a Cabinet process of informality on such important issues. If he accepts the report's conclusions and recommendations, does he have any procedures in place, or is he planning any changes to his management of Cabinet government for such an important issue as war and peace? Surely we have a right to be told that.
Inevitably, Lord Butler and his colleagues, deep and elaborate though their task has been, have not been able to address the fundamental question that many of us wanted to have addressed from the start: what was the key reality of the political judgments that led us to this war? When the Prime Minister now says that the outcome was desirable, albeit arrived at by insufficient conclusions and methodology, surely that is not a
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satisfactory way to proceed. Congress is continuing to try and get to the bottom of these matters. Surely the British Parliament should be seen to do better as well.
The Prime Minister: First, I shall deal with one or two of the individual points.
With reference to the tanks at Heathrow, I am not sure what point the right hon. Gentleman was making, but I can assure him that the reason we took that action, as has already been explained, is that we were advised to take that action. It was for no other reason than that. If we had ignored that advice, we would have been behaving very irresponsibly.
On containment, yes, there was a policy of containment in respect of Saddam. People were always extremely doubtful whether it was working and became increasingly doubtful after the bombing of Baghdad in 1998. Yes, I and others wanted containment to work and at times believed it could work, but the evidence that we have now indicates almost certainly that it was not working. That is why I come back to the point about balance. At each stage, the right hon. Gentleman takes certain parts out of the Butler report and says that Lord Butler found that there was no threat from Saddam in respect of WMD. [Interruption.] That is what he tried to imply.
As I pointed out to the House, however, it is clear that Lord Butler reached no such conclusion. Indeed, he said that it would be rash to draw any conclusion, even about WMD missiles in Iraq at the moment. He said, first, that Saddam plainly had the strategic intention of resuming the prohibited weapons programme; secondly, that Saddam was carrying out illicit research, development and procurement activities in support of that programme; and thirdly, that Saddam was developing ballistic missiles with a range longer than that permitted under the relevant UN resolutions.
I shall quote what the right hon. Gentleman said in the Western Morning News two days after we published the dossier. He said that there was
"no killer fact"-
in the dossier-
"more a confirmation of what we already knew."
Everybody believed the same thing about WMD and it would be wrong to suggest that the dossier somehow altered his perception. He was not persuaded by the dossier and voted against the war, which is why I at least have some time for his objections, as opposed to those raised by the Leader of the Opposition.
On the basis of the Butler report, the right hon. Gentleman must accept that Saddam still remained a threat of some sort, and I think that he does accept that. I think that he accepts that it was important to put back the inspectors into Iraq, and I also think that he accepts that the inspectors would never have been anywhere near Iraq but for the presence of US and British troops. The issue is whether we should have waited longer. [Hon. Members: "Yes."] I shall deal with that head on.
In March 2003, I made strenuous attempts to get a second UN resolution. I did so on the basis that we had to go through all Saddam's areas of non-compliance-it was clear that he was not complying-set them out in
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the prescribed form in a UN resolution, and then combine that resolution with an ultimatum to Saddam that either he did those things or we would take action. If we had managed to secure that resolution, I agree that we would have had more time, but the plain fact of the matter was that we could not get agreement in the Security Council resolution to any form of ultimatum in any set of circumstances.
In March 2003, we knew that Saddam was a threat and that the troops were the only reason why he had allowed the inspectors in, and we were left in a situation in which we could not obtain agreement on an ultimatum to him to comply with the UN inspectors. As I explained to the House at the time, we had a choice: we could either back down and not have inspectors backed by troops with an ultimatum or stick with it and see it through, and I still believe that we did the right thing in seeing it through.
I want to make one final point. As many people do, the right hon. Gentleman talked about the murder of innocent civilians in Iraq. That point is occasionally presented as if the civilians who have died and who are dying in Iraq are somehow dying as a result of coalition action. We are not killing civilians in Iraq, terrorists are killing civilians in Iraq. What is more, thousands of people were killed in Iraq year in, year out under Saddam. The best judges of the best interests of civilians in Iraq are Iraqi civilians themselves, and they are the ones who congratulate us most on getting rid of Saddam.
Source: for further text of this Debate, see the UK
Parliament website at:
© 2003 The Acronym Institute.