31 January 2004
See also, "Who Is Hutton?"
Friday January 30, 2004
Tony Blair's government is heralding the Hutton report as a victory, since it absolves it of any wrongdoing regarding the "sexing up" of intelligence about the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The Hutton report was released at the same time as the former head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, testified before the US Congress that there appear to be no WMD in Iraq, and that the intelligence was "all wrong". Given this, the Hutton findings have taken on an almost Alice in Wonderland aura. By focusing on a single news story broadcast by the BBC, Hutton has created a political smokescreen behind which Blair is seeking to distract the British public from the harsh reality that his government went to war based on unsustained allegations that have yet to be backed up with a single piece of substantive fact. Lord Hutton was in a position to expose this; he chose not to. It is left to the public, therefore, to carefully examine his report, looking not for what it contains but for what is missing.
A review of testimony submitted to the inquiry elicits a single reference to Operation Rockingham, a secretive intelligence activity buried inside the Defence Intelligence Staff, which dealt with Iraqi WMD and activities of the UN special commission (Unscom). This acknowledged that Rockingham managed the interaction between David Kelly, the weapons expert whose suicide led to the Hutton inquiry, and the UN. But Lord Hutton dug no further into this. If he had, some interesting insight would have been provided on several issues of concern, including the possibility of the "shaping" of UN intelligence data by Rockingham to serve the policy objectives of its masters in the Foreign Office and the joint intelligence committee.
Dr Kelly became Rockingham's go-to person for translating the often confusing data that came out of Unscom into concise reporting that could be forwarded to analysts in the British intelligence community, as well as to political decision-makers. Rockingham was in a position to know that, increasingly, the facts emerging from inside Iraq supported Baghdad's contention that there was no longer a biological weapons programme in Iraq, or any hidden biological weapons or agents.
But this data received little or no attention inside Rockingham. Dr Kelly was not only an active participant in the investigations in Iraq, but also a key player in shaping the findings to the British government. He was also one of the key behind-the-scenes advocates of the government position. For some time, the government had allowed him unfettered access to the press, where he spoke, often on the record, about his work with Unscom.
Any probing of Rockingham by Lord Hutton would have exposed it for what it had become - a big player in the shaping of information regarding Iraq's WMD inside the government and, through its media connections, in shaping public opinion as well.
Given Rockingham's penetration of Unscom at virtually every level, there existed a seamless flow of data from Iraq, through New York, to London, carefully shaped from beginning to end by people working not for the UN security council, but for the British government. Iraq's guilt, preordained by the government, became a self-fulfilling prophesy that only collapsed when occupied Iraq failed to disgorge that which Rockingham, and the rest of the UK intelligence community, had said must exist.
· Scott Ritter was formerly chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq