Ten pressing questions and, after a fashion, ten answers

On Tuesday, 'The Independent' outlined the key issues Alastair Campbell had to address over the war. How satisfactory were his replies?

By Ben Russell, Political Correspondent

26 June 2003

Question: Could you explain your role in overseeing the Government's dossiers outlining the case for war?

Answer: Mr Campbell said work on the first dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was led by the Government's Joint Intelligence Committee and the chairman of the JIC had responsibility for it.

He said he had "several discussions" with the chairman of the JIC about "presentational issues" on the first dossier on Iraq's weapons. He made "drafting suggestions" but insisted they were minor. He said they "were for the JIC chairman to accept or reject as he saw fit".

He took full responsibility for the February "dodgy" dossier. He proposed and commissioned the paper from the cross-government Communications and Information Centre.

Verdict: Mr Campbell has taken the responsibility for mistakes in the preparation for the February "dodgy" dossier and apologised using parts of an academic article lifted from the internet, although he insisted that neither he nor Mr Blair had been aware of the problem until he saw reports on Channel 4 News.

Question: Was the first dossier delayed because intelligence failed to provide evidence that justified war?

Answer: Mr Campbell said the September dossier had been put together "over many months" and was "a serious, thorough piece of work, setting out why it was so vital to tackle Saddam and weapons of mass destruction."

He told MPs he had not seen any intelligence that suggested Saddam's regime was not an immediate threat.

Verdict: Mr Campbell was not pressed on the issue. MPs need to see secret JIC briefings to confirm what evidence of the threat posed by Saddam was available and when.

Question: Were you aware of any pressure placed on the security services to play up incriminating evidence?

Answer: No. Mr Campbell said: "I emphasised at all times ... that nothing should be published unless the JIC and the intelligence agencies were 100 per cent happy."

Verdict: The issue hinges on the word of Mr Campbell, Tony Blair and Britain's intelligence chiefs against that of Andrew Gilligan, the BBC's defence correspondent.

Question: Did you have a role in exaggerating the threat from Iraq, including the warning that WMD could be launched in 45 minutes?

Answer: Mr Campbell angrily denounced as a "lie" the claims reported by the BBC that he "sexed up" the dossier to exaggerate the "45 minute" claim.

He said: "It existed in the first draft and ... that part of the paper stayed like that.

"I am saying in relation to that, if it is good enough for the JIC, it is good enough for me."

Verdict: If the "45 minute" claim was in the original JIC draft and remained unchanged, the BBC's story claiming it was exaggerated is hard to sustain.

Question: Why do you think so much old information in the dossier was passed off as new intelligence?

Answer: Mr Campbell insisted the dossier was based on the current assessment of the JIC. He said: "The JIC put together its best assessment of that situation. It made the best case - our best assessment of the state of ... WMD."

Verdict: Questions remain over how up to date British intelligence was on Iraq.

Question: Why was a JIC report that played down the threat suppressed?

Answer: Mr Campbell said it was "not for me to know" whether the Prime Minister had seen such information.

Asked if intelligence agencies had produced a six-page dossier in March 2002 saying there was no new evidence of a threat from Iraq, Mr Campbell said: "Not that I have seen."

Verdict: Remains unclear.

Question: Why was the second "dodgy" dossier "sexed up" using a 10-year-old thesis found on the internet?

Answer: He said an article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, published in 2002, had been "simply absorbed into the briefing paper without attribution". Officials then assumed the material was "government-sourced".

Verdict: The affair appears to be the result of a disastrous blunder by an official within the government machine.

Question: Why was a claim of "aiding" opposition groups changed to "supporting" terrorist groups?

Answer: Mr Campbell said material gleaned from academic articles had been supplemented with more recent intelligence, which "rendered the account more accurate".

He said the overall accuracy of the document had not been seriously challenged.

Verdict: Only the Government's intelligence on Iraq will show whether the changes were justified.

Question: Why did you admit to the JIC that this document did not meet the "required standard of accuracy"?

Answer: Mr Campbell said the JIC had not been asked to sign off the "dodgy" dossier, which he said was a "briefing paper". He admitted that sources were not properly acknowledged. "The Prime Minister ... was content with the paper. What he is not content with, and nor am I, was the fact that in its production a mistake was made."

Verdict: The Government has admitted the dossier should not have been published.

Question: Were you part of a small Downing Street coterie making war policy while bypassing Cabinet?

Answer: Mr Campbell told MPs that he and other advisers close to Mr Blair had held many meetings with the Prime Minister, but insisted that Mr Blair and senior ministers took all the key policy decisions. He said: "The decisions were being taken by the Prime Minister and by ministers."

Verdict: The reply will not end fears that unelected advisers play a pivotal role at the heart of Mr Blair's government.

c 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

Original URL: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=419083

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