Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1040-1059)


25 JUNE 2003

  Q1040  Mr Chidgey: You are aware that in evidence yesterday the Foreign Secretary—I think his phrase was that the document did make "the best case"?

  Mr Campbell: It made the best case, our best assessment of the state of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction—

  Q1041  Mr Chidgey: Not the best case for going to war?

  Mr Campbell: It is not that sort of document.

  Mr Chidgey: Thank you.

  Q1042  Ms Stuart: Mr Campbell, may I refer you to your own statement in submission to the Committee? You say in opening that the overall strategy for Iraq was laid down by the Prime Minister?

  Mr Campbell: And other Cabinet members.

  Q1043  Ms Stuart: And others, yes, "from where I sat". Can I go just a little bit further, and precisely where you did sit? Did you sit in on those meetings only wearing the hat of Director of Communication, or would you in that process have an input into policy and strategy?

  Mr Campbell: No. In relation to policy, as I say in the note, policy decisions are taken by the Cabinet headed, as you know, by the Prime Minister. Now I was involved in a lot of the discussions about policy and strategy on Iraq and I am there as an adviser to the Prime Minister.

  Q1044  Ms Stuart: In that context, if I follow up a submission made by Mr Pope and drawing reference to Clare Short's evidence, she drew the conclusion from the information she had been given and discussions within the Cabinet that it was quite clear that the decision was made by the international community or others that we would go to war in February and March, and that from about September onwards the rest of it was simply preparing the country for that fact. How would you assess that statement?

  Mr Campbell: I reject it. I was with the Prime Minister, for example—I cannot remember exactly which weekend it was—when he seemed to spend literally into double figures of hours on the telephone to I think at the time the leaders of Mexico and Chile and others seeking to keep the whole issue of the United Nations' route as a way of avoiding conflict, and that was the strategy at that time. Equally, however, the Prime Minister made clear before that in his phrase the United Nations had to be the place where this was resolved, not avoided as an issue. I just do not recognise this characterisation of the Prime Minister as somebody who had taken a prior decision and that then we were all just—not just me but the intelligence agencies and everyone else—pawns in his game to take the country into a war with George Bush. I do not recognise that. On the contrary, I saw somebody who was working round the clock, flat out, trying to keep this thing on the United Nations' route as a means of avoiding conflict. Clare Short has to speak for herself in relation to what her impression was of what the Prime Minister was doing at the time but, as she said, I spent a lot of time with the Prime Minister and that is the Prime Minister I saw. Again, I just think that sometimes people make assumptions about not just this Prime Minister but any senior politician that they are acting out of some terrible motive, and it is nonsense. I have seen the Prime Minister now in relation to several conflict situations where he is very, very conscious of the responsibility of saying, "We are going to send British forces into military action and some of them may die". Now, the idea that you just do that glibly or that you try and "sex up" a dossier as a way of trying to persuade the public that you should do it actually—I know scepticism is fine but are we really so cynical that we think a Prime Minister, any Prime Minister—forget the fact it is Tony Blair, any Prime Minister—is going to make prior decisions to send British forces into conflict and would not rather avoid doing that?

  Q1045  Ms Stuart: I think it would be useful to have your interpretation of this but can I come back to the second dossier and again your own evidence on this where you make reference to how you commissioned that dossier back in January, which was then subsequently used as a briefing for six journalists on the way to the United States? What were the instructions as to the purpose of this second dossier back in January? What did you tell them to prepare? For what?

  Mr Campbell: As you say, I deliberately, both in giving evidence to you and in my paper—as far as I am concerned the dossier was the WMD dossier of 2002. The purpose of the briefing paper that we commissioned in January was to get our media to cover this issue of the extent to which Saddam Hussein was developing his programme of concealment and intimidation of the United Nations' inspectors because, if you remember, at the time there was a lot of discussion "Why is it so hard for the inspectors to get in and find these weapons?", and in a sense this was a part of that answer. It actually was not the full answer. As I have said in my paper to you, I never envisaged this as being a significant thing, and I can send to you the coverage at the time. It was minuscule. It got a few paragraphs in the Sunday papers, it got no broadcast coverage, it was only when this Mr al-Marashi issue came to light on my train journey from Gateshead that it started to get any coverage at all, so it was intended—it was a tactical decision, if you like, in relation to giving it to those journalists as opposed to any other group of journalists or putting it out on the website or whatever we might have done. This was just a decision taken at that time just as the Prime Minister was going to see George Bush, but it was never meant to be a huge deal. I always felt that the information within it that they would find interesting, which, indeed, was the case, related to the fact that there was this ratio of 200:1—200 Iraqi agents to every UN inspector—and also some of the things they were doing in relation to bugging and following and organising car crashes and all the rest of it was interesting but it was not making the case for war, and I think in relation to both of these documents all of these facts were well known when it came to the most important debate in Parliament about committing British forces; all these issues were well known by then. People knew by then that something had gone badly wrong in relation to the second document and as I recall it, in relation to the first, nobody in that debate raised the issue of the 45 minutes point. So this idea that we had pumped this out as the most significant piece, if we had we had done it pretty badly because it did not appear to resonate with members of Parliament at all.

  Q1046  Ms Stuart: But what I am still not clear about is you must have given some indication of what you wanted this document prepared for. It then ends up being in the House of Commons and it is being referred to by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Are you suggesting that any MP would have been able to know the difference between the significant one—

  Mr Campbell: No.

  Q1047  Ms Stuart: Yet he quoted it so it was taken seriously?

  Mr Campbell: Okay. To answer your question directly, what was it intended for, it was intended to generate some media discussion and debate about this issue. Why was it so hard for the UN weapons inspectors to do their job? That is what it was for, and I think I probably have to take some responsibility for Colin Powell raising it because when we were out in Washington I gave a copy to my opposite number, and I suspect that is possibly how it got into, as it were, the American system. I do not think there has been quite the fuss there that there has been here, I have to say.

  Q1048  Ms Stuart: On the bottom of page 6 of your submission you say, again in relation to the second dossier: "The changes were made because the officials making them believed they rendered the account more accurate". Now my understanding of a process which would render something more accurate would indicate you go back to source. How else do you know the changes you are making would make it more accurate?

  Mr Campbell: No. The point I am making on page 6 of my note is that those commenting upon it were not aware of who the source was and in any event, within that document, there was government-sourced material so, for example, in relation to some of the changes that were made, as I say, in some cases as has been pointed out there have been changes that you could argue make the situation more dramatic, for want of a better word. In others, Mr al-Marashi's paper has suggested there are more Iraqi agents involved in certain operations than our experts believed to be the case, so again this was, as it were, "sexed down" rather than up.

  Q1049  Ms Stuart: But I think I still have a slight difference with your definition of how you render something more accurate because if I render it more accurate then I go back to check my sources and change my wording rather than—

  Mr Campbell: No. The point I am making is that the CIC asks for these various pieces of work, all sorts, whether it is an article or a briefing paper or whatever, they go in and somebody puts together a draft; it absorbs part of this material without attribution and, as I said before, that was the mistake. The attribution was not put on to it as it should have been. Now, had those then looking at this known that was where part of this source material came from, you are quite right, you could have got on the phone and said to Mr al-Marashi, "Look, you say in your paper this. Would you mind if we use this?", and judging from his evidence he might well have said "No", in which case that would have been the end of the matter. Had he said "Yes", you might have said, "Well, it says this, we have information based on—whatever it might be, intelligence or whatever—that, in fact, it is this. Is that something you would think is right or wrong?" Or what you might do, and this I do not think would have detracted anything from the paper at all because, as I say, nobody seriously challenged most of the content, is say to him, "Could we use it simply with your name attached to it?"

  Q1050  Mr Illsley: Just following on from that I am going to challenge some of the serious content of it. The one thing that we have received evidence on in this Committee which is worrying me from start to finish is the quality of the intelligence material which you have obviously worked with and which has gone into the document.

  Mr Campbell: On the second dossier?

  Q1051  Mr Illsley: Yes. I am just going to follow on from what my colleague, Gisela, was speaking about. There is a section at the beginning of the document, page 3, which relates to Hans Blix and the UNMOVIC team and the document says that, "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 giveaway". That was in the second document published on 30 January. On 14 February, two weeks later, Hans Blix told the United Nations, "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 Iraqi site knew in advance that the inspectors were coming". Now, granted that was two weeks after your document was published but it tends to suggest that some of the intelligence you were working with or which had been provided to you was either out of date or wrong.

  Mr Campbell: Well, in relation to that, again, all I can say is that this, from my perspective doing the job I do, came to light through one of the chief intelligence agencies. It was their intelligence.

  Q1052  Mr Illsley: I am not disputing that.

  Mr Campbell: I know there was some co-operation between Hans Blix and the intelligence agency but I am not aware of what Hans Blix would or would not know about—what he said is not inconsistent with the idea that there was a significant campaign of intimidation and deception. That was the point the document was meant to make. In other words, when they get these welcoming parties, is that because they know where they are going and they have managed to clean up the place they are going to? I think that is partly the point that is being made. Now that has come, as I say, as intelligence, and the issuing agency was the SIS.

  Q1053  Mr Illsley: As I say, I am challenging the content of the document because, in my opinion, I do not think it is a document that adds anything to the argument basically and I think the whole thing is a complete mess—but anyway. Coming back to the point about intelligence, did you see raw intelligence material that security services had or were you provided with assessments from the senior intelligence community?

  Mr Campbell: In relation to this?

  Q1054  Mr Illsley: In relation to the first dossier now. In general, the intelligence you were able to see up to September before and after, did you see raw intelligence or was this material provided to you as assessments from the intelligence services?

  Mr Campbell: Again, I am not sure how much or how little of this I am supposed to divulge but I certainly saw the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments on which the September report was based.

  Q1055  Mr Illsley: Did you ever have any discussions with the intelligence services as to the quality of the material that was coming your way? Were you happy with it? Did you ever pass any comment on it? I think you said to one of my colleagues earlier that if the head of intelligence service said this was a kosher piece of information, that was fine by you. Did you ever argue with them? Challenge them?

  Mr Campbell: It was not a question of arguing. On that Iraq Communications Group that I chair, as I said in my note, there is a senior representative of the SIS—in fact, two—so you have discussions with them the whole time, and often if at a particular time as a communications strategy might be evolving there is a particular theme that you were seeking to pursue, there are people within the intelligence services who will just—and I am not saying these are full-time presentation people—think "Well, I know that No 10 has got an interest in this particular theme at the moment, might this be something they might be interested in? Should I discuss it?" They might come and see me and say "Look, this has come from this or that", but I think I probably have to leave it there in relation to what they showed me and how we discuss it.

  Q1056  Mr Illsley: Does nothing occur that would have led anybody within the intelligence services to resent your involvement or your presence on these committees, and I am thinking now in terms of the Gilligan argument and the leaks from intelligence sources pointing the finger at you for everything?

  Mr Campbell: The BBC's defence correspondent came here and talked about his weird and wonderful meetings with his source, and that may be the person he knows within the intelligence community. I do not know who that is, I do not know how serious a person it is or how senior. All I know is that the people that I deal with and have dealt with now over some years in several very difficult sets of circumstances like Kosovo, like Afghanistan, like Iraq, I find of the highest professionalism and, in many instances, the highest bravery. Now it is not a question of me just saying, "Well, if it is good enough for him it is good enough for me". You form judgments about people over time and, as I say, the people that I have dealt with on this are the people in the leadership of the intelligence community who, I think, are people of very high standard.

  Q1057  Mr Illsley: But you are adamant that you never throughout the whole of this went to the intelligence services and rejected a piece of evidence that they put forward, enhanced it, exaggerated it, doctored it?

  Mr Campbell: Absolutely not and there are many reasons why I wanted to come to the Committee and I agree with some of the comments that have been made in recent weeks and I think it would have been very odd to have done this inquiry had I not—that is something we can discuss but I felt that from the start—but one of the reasons from my own perspective, because the truth is, if you are in my position or even more if you are in the Prime Minister's position, lots and lots of things get written about which are completely untrue, and to be perfectly honest 95% of them do not matter a damn and are forgotten the next day, but I think to say, not just in the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph but on the BBC, that I was involved conniving with the intelligence agencies to do this—I just cannot think of a more serious allegation than that, and to have a culture that says, "Well, it is just another story. Who cares? What are you bothered about?"—and, as I think I explained to you in my note, I have been trying to get an acknowledgement from the BBC that this story is wrong for weeks. I have a sheaf of correspondence with them about it. Now, what are you supposed to do?

  Q1058  Mr Illsley: That is the point I am going to come on to in a second. I think we could place on record here as well that perhaps your presence would not have been required had this Committee's request for scientific intelligence material been agreed to by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. We could have satisfied ourselves had we seen that information.

  Mr Campbell: Can I just say on that, in relation to the scrutiny of the intelligence services for which the Prime Minister has ministerial responsibility, there have been a lot of changes and developments on that but it is fair to say that that particular one, to go back to your point, is a bit above my pay grade.

  Q1059  Mr Illsley: Just on the question of the evidence, we did hear in relation to journalists and intelligence sources, were we to believe what we were told the other day, that every major newspaper has two or three, perhaps even four, contacts within the intelligence agencies; that they have got each other's telephone numbers, and they have easy access to information. Do you believe that, given your background as a journalist and given your position over the last few years working with the intelligence agencies, or do you accept that there is that amount of leakage of material to journalists?

  Mr Campbell: No. There are systems, and again it is probably not for me to explain them in detail but there are systems, that allow the press to make inquiries of the intelligence community but this picture that was painted by one of the witnesses last week of intelligence agencies wandering all round London meeting BBC correspondents—

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