Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Ninth Report

The background

The history of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction

8. The Government's dossier of September 2002 sets out in detail Iraq's history of production, use and concealment of chemical and biological weapons, and its pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme.[6] A study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, produced shortly before the Government's dossier, was largely consistent with the Government's assessment of Iraq's WMD history,[7] as was a CIA dossier produced the following month.[8] In its use of such weapons against its own people, in its defiance of a series of mandatory United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and in its attempts to frustrate the work of UN arms inspectors in the 1990s, the Iraqi regime's record was clear for all to see.[9]

9. As a former Chief Inspector with UNSCOM in Iraq, Terence Taylor had first hand experience of the regime:

The Iraqi regime was repeatedly found to be acting in bad faith, doing the minimum necessary to give a semblance of co-operation and making admissions only when it was certain that UN inspectors had uncovered the truth. This was the case from 1991 through to 2003 during two generations of inspection efforts.[10]

Mr Taylor continued:

In UNSCOM's final report of 1999 the then Executive Chairman concluded that Iraq continued to hide substantial information about prohibited programmes and probably continued to develop them. Subsequently an independent panel of international experts headed by Ambassador Amorin endorsed this opinion. What is more UNMOVIC reviewed this evidence at the start of their work and came to the same conclusion.[11]

10. Dr Gary Samore served in the Clinton administration and produced the IISS Report of last September. He told us that

Everyone believed during the 1990s that Iraq's refusal to co-operate with the inspectors, both UNSCOM and the IAEA, and their persistent efforts to conceal and deny and only admit when pressed to the wall were an indication that Iraq was trying to preserve some undetermined capability and that that reflected Baghdad's view that the possession of or the ability to pursue nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long range ballistic missiles was essential to Iraq's strategy and defence needs. Certainly if you look at the history of the Iraqi efforts going back to the mid 1970s there does appear to be a very persistent effort on the part of the Saddam Hussein regime to develop and master those capabilities.[12]

11. The picture painted in the Government and IISS dossiers of 2002 is little different from that set out in a much shorter document released by the Government in 1998, prior to Operation Desert Fox. The 1998 'dossier' stated that

Some CW agents and munitions remain hidden. The Iraqi chemical industry could produce mustard gas almost immediately, and limited amounts of nerve gas within months ... Saddam almost certainly retains BW production equipment, stocks of agents and weapons. In any case, Iraq has the expertise and equipment to regenerate an offensive BW capability within weeks. If Iraq's nuclear programme had not been halted by the Gulf conflict, Saddam might have had a nuclear weapon by 1993. If Iraq could procure the necessary machinery and materials abroad, it could build a crude air-delivered nuclear device in about five years. Iraq could design a viable nuclear weapon now.[13]

12. Much of what is known about Iraq since the withdrawal of UNSCOM in 1998 and the subsequent bombing campaign, known as Operation Desert Fox, has necessarily come from intelligence activity. In his foreword to the September 2002 dossier, the Prime Minister acknowledged the challenge Iraq posed in terms of acquiring hard intelligence: "Gathering intelligence inside Iraq is not easy. Saddam's is one of the most secretive and dictatorial regimes in the world."[14] Dr Gary Samore said that "The record of Western intelligence agencies collecting information on Iraq's various weapons programmes is very poor."[15]

13. As a former Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook knew well the difficulties faced by the intelligence agencies:

… often when you are told a piece of information you are left with very real doubts over why you are being told that information. Are you being told it to mislead you? Are you being told it by somebody who actually wants to be paid but may not actually turn out to be reliable; or is not somebody—as I think was the case with some of the Iraqi exiles pursuing their own political agenda—who wants you to hear what suits them? All these questions and motivation form very great difficulty over making your assessment of intelligence. I hope I have made it clear throughout all of this I do not criticise the intelligence services whom I think have tried very hard to do their best in extremely difficult circumstances. In fairness to the intelligence community one should recognise that Iraq was an appallingly difficult intelligence target to break. We had very little access to human intelligence on the ground and no hope whatsoever of putting in Western agents.[16]

14. Mr Cook also suggested that the United Kingdom may have been over-reliant on intelligence supplied under the sharing arrangements with its allies:

I would be astonished if it [the reliance of the September dossier on intelligence supplied by the US] was not immense. The United States and the United Kingdom have a unique intelligence relationship which has probably never existed in any period of history, in which on our side we have full transparency and we strive to secure full transparency on their side. Therefore, it is often difficult when you look at intelligence assessments to spot which raw data was originally gathered by the United Kingdom and which was originally gathered by the United States. As a rough rule of thumb, and it is very rough, we tend to be rather better at gathering human intelligence; and, although we have an excellent GCHQ station, the Americans are even more formidable in technological ways of gathering intelligence. That said, neither of us really had much human intelligence inside Iraq. The Americans were drawing heavily on exiles who were inside America.[17]

15. We conclude that it appears likely that there was only limited access to reliable human intelligence in Iraq, and that as a consequence the United Kingdom may have been heavily reliant on US technical intelligence, on defectors and on exiles with an agenda of their own.

How the intelligence system is intended to work

16. The United Kingdom's intelligence machinery is well established. Raw intelligence from human and technical sources is gathered by the security and intelligence agencies. The agencies assess the quality and reliability of the intelligence,[18] before passing information to the assessments staff located in the Cabinet Office, who pull it together for consideration by the Joint Intelligence Committee.[19] The JIC, on which the various providers and consumers of intelligence are represented, then draws on the intelligence to produce its assessments, which are intended to be an aid to policy making by Ministers.[20]

17. The JIC meets weekly.[21] According to one of its former Chairmen, Dame Pauline Neville Jones, the JIC's priorities and work programme are determined by the strategic priorities of the Government and of its allies.[22] Dame Pauline depicted "a structure which works within a framework of agreed priorities and an agreed work programme."[23]

18. Intelligence and JIC assessments are just two of the sources available to FCO officials and Ministers when making foreign policy decisions. There are many open sources of information, from published journals to academic studies, of which considerable use is made.[24] Diplomatic reporting from United Kingdom Posts abroad is also used, although since 1990 this important source was not available in respect of Iraq.[25]

19. In the following sections of this Report, we consider whether the system just described worked as intended in the period leading up to military action in Iraq. We focus on the two documents about which serious allegations have been made: Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, dated September 2002, published on 24 September 2002, prior to the major debate that day in Parliament, which had been recalled to debate the Iraq crisis; and Iraq—its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation, the infamous 'dodgy dossier', dated January 2003, released on the Prime Minister's return from a visit to the United States on 3 February 2003.

6   Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, available at For a wider discussion of the weapons of mass destruction issue, see the Eighth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1999-2000, Weapons of Mass Destruction, HC 407 Back

7   Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Net Assessment, The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 9 September 2002 Back

8   Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, United States Central Intelligence Agency, October 2002 Back

9   Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, 2002-03, Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, HC 196 Back

10   Ev 3 Back

11   Ev 4 Back

12   Q 161 Back

13   Paper on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programmes deposited in the House of Commons Library by Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett and Doug Henderson, 10 November 1998. Back

14   Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government Back

15   Q 209 Back

16   Q 23 Back

17   Q 33 Back

18   Q 341 (Dame Pauline Neville Jones) Back

19   Q 74 (Clare Short) Back

20   Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government, Chapter 1, para 3 Back

21   Q 341 Back

22   Q 338 Back

23   Q 341 Back

24   Q 741 Back

25   Evidence submitted to the inquiry into Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism (not yet published). Back

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Prepared 7 July 2003