Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 640-658)


19 JUNE 2003

  Q640  Chairman: Again, that is not the question. You were asked did anyone else suggest that information had been misused by governments?

  Mr Wilkie: No-one has voiced that in ONA.

  Q641  Mr Illsley: Mine is a very narrow question. You mentioned a few minutes ago that the allegation that uranium was being purchased from Africa was known to the Australian intelligence services back as far as 2001, did you not?

  Mr Wilkie: No. There has been some media reporting on this that has been reasonably accurate. The CIA had sent someone to Niger in early 2002 who had gone back and reported that they had concerns about the claims. My understanding is that information was shared through the normal intelligence sharing arrangements between the countries, so it was known in ONA and would have been known, I assume, in your own intelligence services. The 2001 reference was to the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency had some concerns about the claims of that vast quantity of piping since late 2001.

  Q642  Mr Illsley: We have heard a lot of evidence about the claim of 45 minutes, which I do not want to go back into, but could it be that this document has been compiled from pieces of intelligence which are quite old? I draw attention to the 45 minutes claim because we have heard conflicting evidence that perhaps weapons were deployed in the first Gulf War in 1991 and it occurs to me that perhaps this document has drawn on pieces of intelligence which are quite old. Would that be possible?

  Mr Wilkie: It is possible. I am speculating now. It may be claims like the 45 minutes were as much a reference to Iraqi army war fighting doctrine as reality. If people ask me what the proof is, if that was an accurate comment then I would have expected coalition forces to have found weaponised chem bio agents.

  Q643  Mr Maples: One of the things you said very early on was that this document does not read like a JIC assessment, it reads more like a marketing document or a political document, which in a sense it is because it was published by the Government but, we are told, based on the JIC assessments. What is quite interesting is that before the Desert Fox operation at the end of 1998 the Government, the Foreign Office, also published an assessment which was much shorter, a three page assessment, of Iraq's then weapons capability and what struck me was that the tone between the two documents was very different. I would just like to read you the passages on chemical and biological weapons and I would ask you how they strike you. "Iraq would be capable of regenerating a chemical warfare capability within months. Some CW agents and munitions remain hidden. The Iraqi chemical industry could produce mustard gas almost immediately and limited amounts of a nerve agent within months. This and some deionisation could be done covertly." On BW: "Saddam almost certainly retains some BW production equipment, stocks of agents and weapons. In any case, Iraq has the expertise and equipment to regenerate an offensive BW capability in weeks". Whereas this document says: "Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents". They are separated by four years but I wonder whether the tone of the 1998 document that I have read to you sounds more like a JIC assessment than the 2002 document? It sounds more qualified to me.

  Mr Wilkie: I would agree, there is a different tone to it, yes.

  Q644  Mr Maples: You think that to talk about "could" and "has the capability to have some ingredients or store some weapons he made before" is perhaps a more realistic assessment?

  Mr Wilkie: Yes.

  Q645  Mr Maples: You said you saw some of the raw intelligence that went into Australia's assessment of this, which was presumably very similar to the intelligence that went into this. Are any of your misgivings about this document, and presumably whatever the Australians used, based on what you saw as evidence? You said you think this document goes beyond the intelligence evidence. Is that based simply on the fact that it does not sound like a JIC document to you, or is it based on having seen some of the raw intelligence yourself and therefore believing that this document goes beyond that?

  Mr Wilkie: I did see some raw intelligence which led me to create that term "garbage-grade". It just looked like nonsense being said by someone trying to win favour with someone or trying to encourage a US intervention. In regard to the post-1998 material in here, what strikes me is just how much reference there is to facilities and so on, they keep saying they are being rebuilt but do not present any intelligence or any case to take it from "it has been rebuilt and is probably producing castor oil" to "it is producing agents and those agents have been weaponised at this site and they are being moved to these areas and so on".

  Q646  Mr Maples: The key phrase in the Executive Summary, it seems to me, is: "As a result of the intelligence we judge that Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents". That goes considerably beyond the 1998 statement. What I am trying to get from you is did you see the intelligence of what collectively we think has happened between 1998 and 2002 and in what sense does it either justify or not justify the statement that "Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents"?

  Mr Wilkie: I do not believe that there was adequate hard intelligence to justify the claim.

  Q647  Mr Maples: This is intelligence that you saw?

  Mr Wilkie: Yes. Sorry, the turn of phrase was?

  Q648  Mr Maples: ". . . continued to produce chemical and biological agents".

  Mr Wilkie: I do not believe there was enough evidence to prove that they were producing chemical and biological weapons.

  Q649  Mr Maples: When you say you do not believe, the evidence that you saw would not justify that?

  Mr Wilkie: What I saw did not convince me that was the case. What is my evidence? The fact that I am not concocting this just now, I said this on 11 March when I resigned, I went public then with my judgment about how I thought WMD was being overplayed. The other important bit of evidence was—I was waving this around earlier—if that was accurate I think we would have found something by now.

  Q650  Mr Maples: What I want to understand is whether your judgment that this goes beyond what was justified by the intelligence is based on having seen the intelligence or simply that the tone of this is rather different?

  Mr Wilkie: No, no, I am sorry. It is an informed judgment based on me having seen intelligence and I now judge that that statement was overstating it. Can I just say something in fairness to the intelligence. I am sure you all know this but intelligence is not an exact science, there is a certain amount of black magic and black art and at some point someone has got to sit down and say, "I have read all this and I judge this". I am not necessarily criticising the intelligence official who said, "I judge that", I am saying I judge something different.

  Q651  Mr Maples: But your assessment, your judgment of this document and your actions were based not on a feeling that this does not sound right but were based on having seen hard intelligence information which you believed did not justify the political conclusions that were being reached?

  Mr Wilkie: Yes.

  Q652  Mr Maples: I do not want to put words into your mouth, correct me if I am wrong, but it was on the basis of that that you resigned your job and your career.

  Mr Wilkie: Yes.

  Q653  Mr Maples: You have given up your career because you believed that the raw intelligence that was available did not justify the political conclusions that were being based on it?

  Mr Wilkie: I am happy for you to put those words in my mouth because that is what I would say. My decision to resign was based on my judgments that were informed by my access to hard intelligence and assessments provided by ONA and ourselves.

  Q654  Chairman: I think the Committee would sympathise with anyone who resigns on a point of principle like yourself, but you concede that you did not see all the evidence?

  Mr Wilkie: No, I did not see all the evidence. I do not think anyone has seen all of it, the database is huge.

  Q655  Chairman: You concede that you were effectively a lone voice in the intelligence establishment in Australia?

  Mr Wilkie: As far as I am aware, yes.

  Q656  Chairman: Your judgment differed from that of your superiors?

  Mr Wilkie: Yes.

  Q657  Chairman: Perhaps I could refer you to the dossier, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, which you have in front of you. If you would look at the Executive Summary, paragraph six was the key judgment: "As a result of the intelligence we judge that Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents". You dispute that?

  Mr Wilkie: I dispute that.

  Q658  Chairman: If you would turn over the page, you see under seven: "These judgments reflect the views of the Joint Intelligence Committee". So you also differ in your judgment not only from your own Australian intelligence community but from the British intelligence community?

  Mr Wilkie: Absolutely.

  Mr Maples: I would just say it does say "reflect", it does not say "are the views of the JIC".

  Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Wilkie.

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