Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 580-599)


19 JUNE 2003

  Q580  Chairman: Thank you. Like other ONA analysts you had access to a range of current and stored intelligence reporting on Iraq, but on Iraq's WMD programmes access within ONA to some important relevant material was restricted, "those with access to that material did not include all those on the watch office roster and did not include Mr Wilkie".

  Mr Wilkie: It is correct that a very small amount of intelligence was not included in my compartment, if you are familiar with that term, but the rest was.

  Q581  Chairman: So the purport of this is that in the one report you produced in December you were mainly concerned about the matters, until your travel leave, and then from 27 February until your resignation on 11 March you had access to much information but not to the most sensitive.

  Mr Wilkie: Not that very small amount of some of the most sensitive.

  Q582  Chairman: But you did not have access to the most sensitive?

  Mr Wilkie: Yes.

  Chairman: Thank you. I think that probably covers the background of it. Mr Maples?

  Mr Maples: Perhaps we could ask Mr Wilkie to state his own credentials for the Committee.

  Q583  Chairman: What are your credentials in respect of Iraq?

  Mr Wilkie: I would appreciate the opportunity just to say something in addition to that letter from my former employer.

  Q584  Chairman: Yes. It is only fair that you be allowed to say that. I understand that you have a written statement which might take ten minutes. That is not the practice of the Committee, as was the case with the former Foreign Secretary, for example, but that statement could be added to the documentation in the Committee's ultimate report[2]If there are just one or two matters from that, that you would like to highlight, as long as it is brief we are prepared to hear that.

  Mr Wilkie: In fact, I will put the statement to the side. I would just draw on a couple of points from the first page or so in response to that letter from the Office of National Assessments.

  Q585  Chairman: Go ahead.

  Mr Wilkie: Most of what it includes is accurate. However, it does not include a number of things which, when considered, give quite a different impression for the Committee about what my association with the Iraq issue was. For a start, because of my military background—I was 21 years in the army finishing as a lieutenant colonel of infantry—I was expected in ONA to be familiar with any issue that was likely to result in a war. For that reason, even though I was working as a transnational analyst, I covered Kosovo and I covered Afghanistan.

  Q586  Chairman: What was your military role in those conflicts?

  Mr Wilkie: I was employed as a military strategic analyst effectively in the strategic analysis branch, not the transnational issues branch. Hence, it was in that role that I was on standby to work on Iraq. I have also worked specifically on weapons of mass destruction, which I think is a very important point that has been omitted from that letter. Specifically, in 1998 I prepared the ONA assessment for government on WMD in terrorism and I attended the Quadripartite Working Group on WMD held in the UK at Cheltenham, at GCHQ. More recently, I represented ONA at the Annual Australian Intelligence Agency's WMD Working Group held at the Australian Secret Intelligence Service's training facility. Finally, in my role as the senior transnational issues analyst I had access to virtually all of the Iraq database because my work involving global terrorism and people movements was very related to Iraq. I would not wish that single report I wrote to be under-estimated. That was the benchmark report for the Australian Government on the potential humanitarian implications of a war in Iraq, which required me to explore in some detail Saddam's regime and what his capabilities were, including his weapons of mass destruction capability. It was not just talking about refugee flows, it was talking about how the war might be fought and, hence, what the humanitarian consequences might be as it played out.

  Q587  Mr Pope: Mr Wilkie, you said in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that: "The fictions about Iraq's weapons programmes could be a best selling fairytale". In the British Government's assessment, which I am sure you are very familiar with, the British Government came to the conclusion that: "Iraq has a usable chemical and biological weapons capability in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 687, continues to attach great importance to the possession of WMD, has ballistic missiles, has the capacity to deliver chemical, biological agents". How is it that all of the United Kingdom's intelligence services working together have come to that conclusion and you have come to a completely different one?

  Mr Wilkie: Mr Pope, I found, and I still find, the British Government's September dossier fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons. Specifically, the way it has attempted to fill the intelligence gaps on Iraq with a number of what I would call finely tuned assumptions that seem to match the British Government's pre-determined commitment to support a war. In particular, the dossier makes something of that range of WMD-related materials that were unaccounted for at the end of the UNMOVIC process. Just talking specifically about that for the moment, if I could, I think over-playing the unaccounted for weapons was quite misleading because, for a start, there is still a question mark over exactly what was unaccounted for. I do not think UNSCOM ever tried to say "there are exactly X tonnes of precursor" or whatever, all they were trying to say was "We cannot account for it". When you consider that not even the Iraqis know what they have produced, the Iraqis do not know what they used in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, they could not quantify what they had destroyed out of the UNSCOM process, I think there is a great question mark over exactly what was there. Even if there was something left of that unaccounted for material, I would dispute the assertion in the dossier that much of that even exists to this day. I am sure you will appreciate that the ability to produce very pure chemical and biological agents and the ability to stabilise it are critical elements of having this stuff survive for any period of time and the Iraqis had a terrible track record of trying to produce pure agents. I do not believe that the assertion in that dossier is accurate or is substantiated by hard evidence, that is a better way to put it. The assertion that the Iraqis had perfected the art of stabilisation of chemical and biological agents I think is an unsubstantiated assertion. That is the first intelligence gap, what could not be accounted for. I think the other important intelligence gap is what mischief the Iraqis might have got up to in the period between the inspectors leaving and that four years before the new lot of inspectors arrived. Much is made in that dossier of the rebuilding of facilities that had been associated with the WMD programme. Much has been made of new facilities that had been built. I do not think it presents any sort of credible argument or produces any sort of hard evidence that these facilities actually went the next step and started producing chemical and biological agents.

  Q588  Mr Pope: It is a public document, so it is not going to be possible to put in it the raw intelligence data. Can I just quote one line because I think this is an interesting point. It says: "Intelligence has become available from reliable sources which complements and adds to previous intelligence and confirms the Joint Intelligence Committee assessment that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons". That is on page 18 of the report. The allegations here are of the utmost gravity. I just want to know what your view is. Is it your view—I do not want to put words into your mouth—that the British Parliament was lied to by the Government to persuade a reluctant Parliament to vote for a war, or is it that the intelligence assessments that the Joint Intelligence Committee made were themselves inaccurate? Both of those are really serious charges.

  Mr Wilkie: You have touched on a number of important points there and I will probably lurch straight to your final point about what do I think happened. I am not saying that Iraq did not have a WMD programme. There is so much evidence that has been accumulated over so long that I do not think there is any doubt that Iraq had some sort of WMD programme. The day I resigned on 11 March, I went on the public record and said a lot of things, including the fact that I judged Iraq's WMD programme to be disjointed and contained. The issue here is how big was the programme, what did the intelligence agencies think the scale of it was, what did they tell government and what was government saying publicly. I think there are a number of parallels between the way it was handled in the UK and the way it was handled in Australia. In both countries the intelligence agencies quite rightly judged that Iraq had a WMD programme. I think they generally provided a reasonably measured assessment of what the scale of that programme was. They may have over-estimated it to a point, and I suppose the fact that nothing has been found so far does suggest that they did over-estimate it to a point. In fact, when I said it was disjointed and contained maybe even I over-estimated, and I thought I was being the minimalist. I think the problem was the way that the British and Australian Governments took those reasonably measured assessments and exaggerated them for their own purposes. Words used, such as "massive programme, imminent threat", I do not believe were words ever offered to governments by their intelligence agencies.

  Q589  Mr Pope: What then is the motive of these governments? When they first said on 18 March they would commit our troops into war, and American troops entered as well and Australian forces, and some of those troops did not come back, I voted for it on the basis that Iraq had a weapons of mass destruction programme which was a credible threat to the region and to my own country and it needed disarming by force. Clearly you do not share that assessment. I cannot imagine any country, let alone the United States, Australia and the UK, would enter into a war lightly. What do you think their motive was?

  Mr Wilkie: This really does go to the heart of it, I suppose. I have taken a fairly hard line position on this and I feel this very strongly. I felt it strongly enough that three months ago I walked out of a job I loved, I have been ostracised by people, including some of my friends, and three months later I am unemployed and here in London trying to explain myself. It has been very difficult for me. There has been no good side to this for me. I believe that in Washington, London and Canberra, the governments exaggerated the WMD threat to mask their real reasons for going to war. These are views that are based on the sort of assessments I read and the raw intelligence I read and so on, I did not make these up. I believe that the US was most interested in going to war in Iraq for a range of strategic reasons, such as rearranging the Middle East and moving the centre of gravity from the country with the most amount of oil to the country with the second most amount, trying to safeguard their global ascendancy, stamping their authority on the Middle East to try and gain access to strategic oil reserves. I think there was a range of US domestic reasons. The Republicans had done so well in the US mid-term elections on the back of dealing with the Iraq issue. Let us not forget that the history here is since the 1991 Gulf War there had developed in America a very strong underlying anti-Iraq sentiment, the government was pushed into a corner and sooner or later had to deal with. I think in Australia, the government was motivated more by supporting the US at any cost, more so interested in that than in WMD. I am not suggesting for a moment that WMD is not an issue. WMD was an important consideration in all three capitals. All I am saying is it was not the only consideration, it was not the most important consideration, and the resort of all three governments to use WMD and links with terrorism as the two main pillars of this war was misleading. Remember that in the UK and in Australia, intelligence agencies were not just providing intelligence assessments on Iraq, they were also providing the three governments with assessments on Washington. It is no secret that we inform our governments about each other to help our decision making. There was no secret in Parliament House in Canberra, and I do not believe there was any secret here in London, about what the broad range of drivers were behind the US desire to go to war. When you superimpose that understanding of what Washington was wanting to do over my other claim of exaggerating the WMD issue, frankly I think it looks a little mischievous.

  Q590  Sir John Stanley: Mr Wilkie, in your interview on the Today programme in this country on 4 June you said: "I am satisfied that governments have exaggerated Iraq's WMD capability. Governments in all three capitals have exaggerated Iraq's links with al-Qaeda. The governments in all three capitals have exaggerated both the general risk of WMD terrorism as well as the specific risks of Iraq passing WMD to al-Qaeda. The governments have exaggerated what their intelligence communities have offered them". Do you have a copy with you of the September assessment?

  Mr Wilkie: The dossier? No, Sir John.

  Q591  Sir John Stanley: But you are obviously very, very familiar with it indeed.

  Mr Wilkie: Yes, I am.

  Q592  Sir John Stanley: If wonder if we can have a copy in front of you. Obviously we cannot go through this page by page inviting you to substantiate your accusation of exaggeration, although if you wish to do that on a paragraph by paragraph basis I am sure the Committee would be interested to receive your memorandum. Just taking the Executive Summary, the Executive Summary, as far as I can see having just reread it very quickly, does not make any reference to the phrase that you used, "massive programme". It talks about a "current threat" and I know the words "imminent threat" have been used by some British politicians, but I am not sure that the phrase "imminent phrase" actually appears in this document. Certainly I do not see any reference to "massive programme". Just taking the couple of pages of the Executive Summary, could you tell us what is the wording there that you feel is unjustified against your information as to what intelligence was available?

  Mr Wilkie: Okay. Before I look specifically at the Executive Summary, Sir John, I just want to remind us all that there was an awful lot more to the three governments trying to justify this war than just this dossier. In fact, I think the most emotive statements were probably oral statements in our Parliaments and so on, people standing up and saying what they said. One of my concerns with this is this has been marketed effectively as the product of the Joint Intelligence Committee. When I read this, and I have seen a number of JIC papers—in fact JIC papers often come to ONA in draft for comment by us to help in the process of developing the JIC, I think it is a good process—it is very, very different from the sort of measured position that would be put forward by the JIC or any other intelligence body. The JIC is made up of the heads of a number of agencies, so by design it is seeking to achieve a compromise amongst a number of organisations. JIC papers, as you are probably aware, are full of terms like "could" or "uncorroborated evidence", "suggests" or "probably". Contentious issues are either dropped or they are heavily qualified, there is a certain style to it, whereas this is almost like a business development professional has been involved or a marketing professional because all of those qualifications are dropped out. This goes to the heart of my claims about exaggeration.

  Q593  Sir John Stanley: Could I ask you to go back to my question, if you would be kind. This is a very important document for the Committee. You made this accusation of exaggeration and this is the base written document of the British Government, this was the one and only document which was an authentic document and stated to be derived from JIC sources, unlike the "dodgy dossier". From the Executive Summary, what wording in this do you consider is an unjustifiable exaggeration against the intelligence that you knew?

  Mr Wilkie: I will ask for a moment just to read and think, if you do not mind. I am sure you will appreciate that this is a very quick look.

  Q594  Sir John Stanley: I assume before making the claims you have made you studied the document minutely. I hope so.

  Mr Wilkie: The front end of it is loaded with historic information. That is a little misleading to say, and it is not just in this document but elsewhere and, in fact, my own Prime Minister used the term, "Iraq has form. It has fired ballistic missiles at countries, it has used chemical weapons on Iran and on the Kurds" and so on. That front end is referring to an Iraq of pre-1991, an Iraq that was virtually a different country from the Iraq we were facing in March 2003, a country with a genuine national WMD programme and that was acting terribly belligerently. It leads you along a little when you start like that. I know you have to start with history, I do not have a problem with you starting with the history, but it does tend to lead you along a little, just like in this document in a number of places all of the boxes and so on that talk about, "This is how you make a bomb, this is what bombs can do" and there is a photo in here of the gassed Kurds and so on. It is leading people to a certain conclusion. In paragraph four—

  Q595  Chairman: Of the Executive Summary?

  Mr Wilkie: Of the Executive Summary. There is reference there to the intelligence that obviously cannot be revealed in the document, and obviously it cannot be revealed in the document. This is one area in which I think the coalition case against Iraq has been flawed in that there has been a reliance on what I have described in the Australian media as "garbage-grade" human intelligence from Iraqis opposed to the regime desperate to encourage intervention in Iraq. I saw at ONA human intelligence being used and attention being paid to it when on other issues it would have been discarded as uncorroborated, as questionable and so on. The reason this is relevant to your question, Sir John, is here is a simple statement saying, "We have got all of this intelligence".

  Q596  Sir John Stanley: Are you claiming that the British Government in this context was using garbage-grade human intelligence as well as the Australian Government?

  Mr Wilkie: No. All I am saying, Sir John, is that in Washington, in London and in Canberra, the intelligence agencies encountered an awful lot of this garbage-grade human intelligence, which in some cases was clearly garbage and produced by people who were trying to encourage an intervention in Iraq. When you have got intelligence agencies under pressure to come up with a smoking gun, there is a temptation to pay more attention to this than you perhaps should. It has been well reported in the media how Mr Rumsfeld set up his own intelligence body in the Pentagon who were perhaps paying too much attention to this. I think some of the garbage-grade human intelligence contaminated the assessments in London and Canberra. I am not at all critical of the intelligence agencies, I think they did a pretty good job on this subject in the face of some political pressure, they did a pretty good job of sifting through this and coming up with reasonably measured intelligence assessments on Iraq. My problem is that those assessments were always a step short of the comments being made by the political leadership in London and in Canberra, there was a gap between the two. If I could go on to paragraph six, the first dot, the statement there that Iraq "continued to produce chemical and biological agents". That links through later in the paper to a number of references, as I said earlier, to the rebuilding of a number of chemical and biological facilities and some new ones. I do not believe there is a case presented in there that these places were actually producing anything. In fact, there is a lot of the word "could", "it could produce that, it could produce this". When I cross-reference that point I have just made with the Fallujah II castor oil and phenol plant, not far from Baghdad, the weapons inspectors in late 2002—there is a lot in here talking about Fallujah II—not long after this was published said that the Fallujah II plant was not functioning. There is another reference in here to—I cannot recall off the top of my head—a serum laboratory. There is media reporting that the day this dossier was released journalists went to that laboratory, were shown around it by the Iraqi Government and, again, it was not functioning; they described the fridge as being empty. I think we are being asked to take a leap of faith from that statement, "they are producing it". There is a gap between that and the claims that some of these facilities have been rebuilt. Even in your document you make the point, quite rightly, that all of these plants that are built are all dual use facilities. For example, at Fallujah II it was castor oil for brake fluid, serum laboratories try and develop things for agriculture and so on. While I am picking flaws in this document, I think the way it has treated dual use facilities is one of the flaws. It is no good to say that this country has a range of dual use facilities. I could get in a cab and within a few miles of this building I could probably find dozens of dual use facilities. I could find hospitals with laboratories, I could find industrial plants that can make chemicals, within not many miles of here I could find stockpiles of chlorine, the critical ingredient of some chemical agents. Just as there is a disconnect in this document between "these facilities have been built" and the claim that they are making weapons, there is also a gap between "there is a range of dual use facilities and material in Iraq" and "it is being used to make weapons".

  Q597  Sir John Stanley: I think also when you jump into your cab you might be saying to yourself, "At least in this country, as in my own country, we do not have a government which goes around using WMD against its own people" and that is rather different from a country like Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

  Mr Wilkie: Sir John, of course you are quite right. This is probably the point I want to emphasise, a very important point: I am not pro-Saddam obviously. Saddam is an evil man, he had to be dealt with. My concern is that we were too quick to go to war before all of the other options had been exhausted. We spent years trying to get Hans Blix back into Iraq and no sooner had he got there than we were trying to get him out. We were left with a feeling that—

  Q598  Andrew Mackinlay: We wanted him in unconditionally.

  Mr Wilkie: Sorry?

  Q599  Sir John Stanley: Just continue briefly on the Executive Summary.

  Mr Wilkie: I will come back to the 45 minutes issue.

2   Ninth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2002-03, The Decision to go to War in Iraq, HC 813-II, Ev 4. Back

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