The VISIE Foundation
February 01, 2004 
Max Hastings, a British newspaper editor -- and self-described small "c" conservative -- has a very interesting piece in The Guardian reacting to the Hutton report.

For those of you who haven't been following the British side of the missing WMD saga, the Hutton report was the result of an inquiry into the death of David Kelly, a British arms control expert who tipped the BBC off to some of the various deceptions practiced by the Blair government in the run up to war, was exposed for it, and then committed suicide.

Lord Hutton's inquiry was supposed to establish the circumstances of Kelly's death. Along the way, however, it became a surrogate investigation (albeit a completely inadequate one) of the Blair government's use of intelligence to try to justify the Iraq invasion. His report, released last week, turned out to be almost a complete whitewash -- one which virtually ignored Blair's deceptions and manipulations and focused entirely on the BBC's alleged lapses in journalistic standards.

I hope to write more later about the strange duality of the WMD story on both sides of the Atlantic, but Hastings zeros in on one particular aspect: The way in which those "journalist standards" allegedly violated by the BBC can be used by the national security state to blur or conceal its own lies:

Never forget that they lie

The longer I think about Hutton, the angrier I get. It is hard to dissent from his conclusions about the BBC's failures. Yet the damage done by his grotesquely lopsided report vastly outweighs the gravity of the offence. The corporation, guilty of lapses of journalistic judgment, has been treated as if its reporter had committed perjury in a court of law. Lord Hutton seems to expect from working journalists the standards of proof he would demand from witnesses on oath. 

Lord Hutton seems unable to grasp a simple truth: all journalism is conducted against a background of official obfuscation and deceit, which does much to explain our blunders and omissions. It seems remarkable not how much journalists get wrong -- a great deal -- but that we are able to retrieve from the Whitehall swamp fragments of truth, and to present the waterlogged and bedraggled exhibits to readers and listeners.

The MO is the same here in the states. Having manipulated and bullied the intelligence community into progressively hyping its own assessment of the Iraq threat -- and then creating its own pet intelligence assessment office within the Pentagon to say what the CIA would not -- the Bush administration and it defenders have now fallen back on the narrowest possible definition of wrongdoing: Did they, in fact, tell "lies" -- statements they knew to be completely false when they uttered them?

This leaves the press -- or that part of it that actually seeks to get at the truth -- in a classic Catch-22. It is difficult, and usually impossible, for journalists to prove definitively that a public official is lying, in the specific sense that the White House or 10 Downing Street now want to frame the debate. The obstacles are particularly formidable when the government is completely controlled by one party -- which is all the time in Britain and presently the case in America. The government, quite simply, has the field tilted almost entirely in its favor, especially in national security matters. As Hastings notes:

We must resort to a cliche: news is what people do not want found out. Ministers perceive it as their responsibility to conceal unwelcome tidings. From their own standpoint they are right. But our job, as journalists, is to circumvent the dobermanns, Campbell and his tribe. 

One of Lord Hutton's most telling lines suggests distaste for the fact that Dr David Kelly's meetings with journalists in general and Andrew Gilligan in particular were "unauthorised". Most Whitehall and Westminster reporters find it hard to recall when last they discovered anything of public interest from "authorised" encounters. They are dependent for almost all significant insights upon private conversations with people who would suffer heart failure if their dalliance with the media was known.

On the other hand, the propaganda machine will relentlessly spin the argument that anything less than specific, documented proof of a concrete, official lie is meaningless -- "mere supposition," or some such dismissive phrase. And the journalistic conventions being what they are (this side says X, the other side says Y) those sorts of stories generally disappear fairly quickly into the roaring white noise that increasingly passes for public discourse in the multimedia age.

The mistake made by Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter -- if, indeed a mistake was made -- was to push beyond the "safe" boundaries of conventional national security reporting, beyond the generalities about "manipulating intelligence" or "stovepiping conclusions," and accuse the Blairites of a specific, tangible act of deceit -- that is, of inserting a completely bogus claim (that Saddam had the ability to deploy chemical weapons on 45-minutes notice) into an otherwise carefully hedged dossier prepared by the spooks on Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee.

Now the evidence that Blair's propaganda team had its fingers all over the various Iraq materials released by the government in the run up to war is overwhelming. It's even been extracted from the documents themselves, by people who know a lot more about Microsoft Word than 10 Downing Street apparently ever managed to absorb. There's also considerable evidence that the conclusions in the supposedly "sexed up" September dossier were carefully shaped by the Prime Minister's office, using the usual techniques of bureaucratic manipulation. Finally, it appears the sexy "45 minute" allegation was based on a single, highly untrustworthy source, and that the Blairites (perhaps under pressure from their Washington counterparts) lobbied the JIC very hard for its inclusion in the dossier.

All of this, however, has been obscured by the relentlessly single-minded focus on the specifics of Gilligan's story -- specifics which Lord Hutton, the accidental judge in a completely tangential inquiry, has now deemed refuted. And, of course, the Blair government is claiming complete vindication, and pressing home its war of annihilation against the BBC's editorial independence.

All in all, it's a vivid demonstration of the tremendous pressure on mainstream journalists to avoid controversy, to hedge conclusions, to remains safely within the limits of "he says X, the other guy says Y" reporting. In other words: to play it safe.

Hastings quotes a wonderful passage from an article published some years back in the British Journalism Review:

"Virtuous journalism is a weedy growth ... It tends to be weedily unsystematic. Virtuous journalists are more likely to hang around... than to practise any form of 'precision journalism'. Journalism is not art, it is not science; neither is journalism scholarship, although the accomplishments of journalists, purposeful and accessible, often outdo the investigations of scholars... Journalists are free to be amateurs, to be interested, to practise... the art of the scavenger."
That is, I think, one of the best descriptions I've ever read of what journalism can and should be. Unfortunately, it's also completely incompatible with the modern reality of corporate media control. And, it seems, incompatible with future role of government-sponsored news organizations like the BBC.

Update 3:45 PM ET: I forgot to say thanks to Simeon for pointing me to Hastings' piece.

Posted by billmon at February 1, 2004 01:29 PM | TrackBack
Superb post. What a writer you are.
I can't think how a remedy for the predicament of mainstream journalists might be found. Are there any ideas? Big grants to journalists? Where would the money come from? I don't know much about this except that I hate the problem.
Posted by: jed at February 1, 2004 02:32 PM 
Gilligan's accusation that Number 10 was responsible for shoving the 45 minute claim into the dossier was based on a single dubious source- how eerily similar to Number 10's use of the claim, which was also based on a single (much more) dubious source. The principal difference, of course, being that Gilligan's claim led to a news program, while Number 10's led to a war.

The Hutton Report is truly an abomination.

Posted by: alma hadayn at February 1, 2004 02:35 PM 
I think the Hutton report may well turn out to be an accidental good thing. If it was designed to validate Blair (he's certainly been all happy and smiley since the reports been out), the obvious bias of the report is doing nothing except to fuel increased calls for a full investigation of the "intel failure" (not that Blairs even admitted it yet). This time it will be a real investigation into the governments claims and not the limited death of Kelly remit - stay tuned
Posted by: xxx at February 1, 2004 02:53 PM 
I wouldn't argue at all with the broad thrust of your argument, Billmon. The government did lie to get us into war. It lied about WMD; it lied about UN cover; it lied -- perhaps most of all -- about our relationship to the Americans. Quotes germane to this are here.

But, though it shames me to say it, Gilligan was a bad journalist, and Today was a badly edited programme. He knew what the rules were. We all do. He broke them. He broke them in a really bad way, which is to illustrate a largely true story with false detail to add verisimilitude. It was these false details which gave the only novelty to his story. 

About nine months before that row, the Today programme had started to attack theCatholic church in this country over child abuse,a subject on which I have a professional interest (one of my gigs is writing a column about religious stories inthe news). The story here was similar. The broad thrust was certainly true -- there had been Catholic paedophile priests, and not enough had been done to stop them. But it wasn't news. The bits the programme drove as news weren't true, and hadn't been properly checked out. It really was quite shocking. I've been a journalist for 20 years now, and I know -- as you must -- that it's not just governments who lie to us all the time. Everyone does. Even people who hate governments lie to us. 

I don't mean by saying that Gilligan was wrong to imply that the government was right -- whch seems to have been the leap made by Lord Hutton. But too many opponents of the war assume that because the governmetn was wrong, Gilligan was right. He wasn't. He was unprofessional and so were his superiors. If they hadn't fucked it up, the BBC wouldn't be in this mess. 

Posted by: Andrew Brown at February 1, 2004 02:55 PM 
In general, you're correct about the difficulty of proving a "lie." But as I have written in Left I on the News, there is one way in which there is absolutely no doubt that Bush (and many others in his administration) was lying, and it's exemplified by this quote:
"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
No one could possibly claim there was "no doubt" about these claims. Maybe they thought it was likely, even highly likely. But it was the assertion that there was "no doubt" about these claims which was so essential to convincing Congress and the American people to back the war (to the extent they did). And there can be no doubt that that "no doubt" claim was a lie, pure and simple.
Posted by: Eli Stephens at February 1, 2004 03:17 PM 
Superb post. The most disappointing thing for me has been to see Tony Blair revealed as just another lying scheming politician. I'm glad the British public appears not to have been fooled by the Hutton report. 

I especially liked the backstory about Microsoft word- what a wicked web we weave indeed. 

Posted by: four legs good at February 1, 2004 03:54 PM 
It was the assertion that there was "no doubt" about these claims which was so essential to convincing Congress and the American people to back the war (to the extent they did). And there can be no doubt that that "no doubt" claim was a lie, pure and simple.

I certainly agree. But we can already see the administration's fallback position: We relied on the intelligence, and it's not our fault that the spooks got it so wrong. So Bush's "no doubt" language becomes like Blair's "45 minutes" language -- a classic example of circular bureaucratic fingerpointing.

We know it's bullshit, and I suspect most of the reporters covering the story know it's bullshit. But the journalistic conventions make it very difficult to say it's bullshit. 

Posted by: Billmon at February 1, 2004 04:06 PM 
An excellent piece indeed.
It's pretty obvious in the American media climate, that this administration and its pulpit bulldogs are controlling the debate, setting the rules, and, as Rumsfeld is famous for, asking the questions it wants to answer. Can we scour over years worth of newsbites to find the words "imminent?" is it a lie if they believed it? What's the difference if we went to war to rid Iraq of a dictator, or rid that dictator of his weapons of mass destruction? I'm currently without a democratic candidate that's willing to call a duck what it is, and i'm hoping that's going to change really soon.
Posted by: monkeywrench at February 1, 2004 04:09 PM 
The most disappointing thing for me has been to see Tony Blair revealed as just another lying scheming politician.

I think the British have known this for quite some time...Blair love on the left seems to be a wholly American phenomenon.

Posted by: John at February 1, 2004 04:22 PM 
In a related development, some have voiced criticism of the emperor's new wardrobe. 


Today, Emperor's spokesman Scott McClelland replied, "I'm glad you asked that question, Bill. This must be the silly season! Why, just look at the ugly sweaters and fake casual clothing of the so-called clothes horses over there on your left. I think the question that needs to be asked is, "Who the hell made YOU hosers the supreme fashion gods?"

BILL O'REILLY: Folks, Scott makes a really good point. If only these guys could come up with some decent new clothes for themselves instead of the same old polyester leisure suits they've worn year-in, year-out for the past thirty-five years, I think people in this kingdom would take them a lot more seriously. They should remember that before they start criticizing our Emperor's custom-tailored wardrobe, especially in a time of war. Shame on them!"

Posted by: glenstonecottage at February 1, 2004 04:25 PM 
I apologize for being a little off topic, but in the constant discussion about the administration's numerous deceptive statements-and there really is here an embarassment of riches-one major issue seems to be overlooked: according to repeated and explicit statements by the President the war was a bad idea.

The President said on November 21, 2002 that the "world will be better off" if Saddam Hussein disarms peacefully according to his agreement with the UN. Another day he said that his "first choice" was not war, but the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. There were many, many similar statements (I found a bunch on in Nov 2002 alone). Since that disarmament actually happened a decade earlier, it follows that according to Bush the war was bad, regardless of whether Bush believed it to be the case at the time.

Why does the entire media, even the WMD critics, keep letting him get away with saying that the war was justified on other grounds w/o reminding him of his repeated statements to the contrary? 

Posted by: alma hadyan at February 1, 2004 04:46 PM 
Fortunately, the Hutton report being so laughably one-sided, a large number of Britons aren't buying it. Far from gloating (as they were initially), the Blairites are now quite glum, the subject of much ridicule. Things are still sticky for Phoney Tony.
Posted by: Bollox Ref at February 1, 2004 04:50 PM 
The question to be resolved seems to me to be was it Tenet's intelligence operation or Douglas Feith's which came up with the "no doubt" claim. Folks who have been paying attention will no doubt conclude the latter; but, from all the discussions I've heard over the weekend, the mainstream press appears to be unaware of Feith's existence. A dishonest (Huttonish) investigation will focus on the CIA, an honest one will grill Feith. We'll see.
Posted by: M. Tullius at February 1, 2004 05:08 PM 
Nice to know this is on the radar that side of the pond. 

If the British press has any say in the matter, this ain't over yet. Of the four main national broadsheet newspapers, two are baying for blood (the Indy and the Grauniad called it a whitewash immediately). In between gloating over the misfortunes of the beeb (which it has hated for some time), the Torygraph (which Hastings edited for years) is also making very disapproving comments at the report's deference to the Blair government. Even the Murdoch-owned Times is making disgruntled noises.

Back while the inquiry was taking evidence we had pages and pages of coverage every morning in the press, dissecting the previous day's testimony. Those of us that read a lot of it are having serious difficulty matching up what we saw with the final report. 

It shows in the polls, too[1] - We are not amused. In fact, many of them are showing Blair's approval going DOWN in the aftermath of the report.

[1]Yeah, it's a BBC report. But they're summarising polls that were commissioned by a bunch of unrelated newspapers.

Posted by: blufive at February 1, 2004 05:11 PM 
All I can say is great piece Billmon. Youyr writing is a pleasure to read. And I think I can say that you, sir, are what I call a real journalist. (I hope that is not an insult to you!)
Posted by: Alexander at February 1, 2004 05:31 PM 
*** Newsflash ***

Bush orders intelligence inquiry, and appoints Lord Hutton as its head.

Posted by: Michael at February 1, 2004 06:18 PM 
Terrific post, as usual.

Especially relevant is the parallel between the now completed whitewash of Blair via an indictment of the BBC and the proposed whitewash of Bush via a kangaroo kongressional inquiry of the US intelligence establishment. Keeping the focus on the impact of this on journalism (already in a miserable state in the US) is rather depressing.

But keep in mind that there are perhaps a few genuine patriots at the CIA who are becoming (I imagine!) even more pissed off as they are now blamed for telling Bush precisely what they were ignored and insulted for refusing to tell him. And some of these people are not likely to take this all with the kind of resigned grace of a BBC executive. At least I hope not. We'll see.

Posted by: richard at February 1, 2004 06:30 PM 
Wow, Billmon, you picked it up, I'm honoured!

The mess at the BBC is truly horrific, not least because the departed bosses had a good rep Netastically speaking:

It's not looking good for any of the BBC right now - least of all for its scraggy Internet end. Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies were two of the BBC's Secret Masters who got the Net at least partially. It was Dyke who geed up the Creative Archive, that theoretical GPLing of times past; it was Davies who pushed the Directors to consider using the Net as a serious part of the BBC's public service. Years of careful tutoring by the quiet tech advocates in the syrupy slow world of the Beeb - gone. ( Jan 30th edition)

10,000 BBC employees bought an advert in a major national newspaper on Saturday to express their anger (ok, they called it "dismay") about what has happened:,6903,1136298,00.html

This is after spontaneous demonstrations at BBC offices all around the country in support of ousted boss, Greg Dyke.

I know it's being played out overseas (eg in Canada's Globe and Mail) as though the BBC has "apologised unreservedly" (via one of its governors, Lord Ryder, a former Tory party chief whip), but BBC staff do share that view to put it mildly.

Nor does the appointment of Mark Byford as acting BBC director-general inspire much confidence - he's reportedly a close friend of the UK Defence Secretary, Geoff "Buff" Hoon.

(For anyone who wants to look at the disparities between the Hutton evidence and report and draw their own conclusions:

Posted by: simeon at February 1, 2004 06:39 PM 
Oh the impropriety!

“God save the Queen” and as for Lord Hutton, well, that’s different. 

It seem that the winds are starting to change (at least, I pray) and the coming storm requires a reining in of protection around Saint William Jefferson Clinton, who has tried his hardest to stay above the fray, but many in the Senate and House seem not to hold “certain” truths to so be self evident about the Bush clan’s need for it’s clandestine “preemptive war”.

I noticed this interest conversation today on that fair and balanced online transcript with Ex-Majority Leader Lott, Rockefeller on 'Fox News Sunday.

WALLACE: But, in fact, wasn't regime change a policy of this government starting in the late '90s under Bill Clinton? 

LOTT: And the Congress voted for that. 

ROCKEFELLER: But with a difference. Regime change did not mean the way, what I would call the neoconservatives — and Senator Lott will not be happy about that. 

LOTT: Well, I'm not one of them. 

ROCKEFELLER: No, you're not one of them. But you won't be happy that I said it. 

WALLACE: You're just a conservative, right? 

LOTT: Right. I'm not a new conservative. 

ROCKEFELLER: In other words, they wrote President Clinton on January 1, 1998, and it was Rumsfeld and it was Wolfowitz and it was Cheney's top guy and it was everybody that runs the Defense Department basically. And they said, "Diplomacy isn't working, let's go in there. Let's take them out militarily."

That was not Clinton's policy. Regime change to him meant, you know, a revolution by the people, a quiet action, something of that sort. It was not a military attack.

WALLACE: But, Senator, let me ask you, in October of 2002, as you were explaining your vote — because you voted for the authorization of force — here's what you had to say: "I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat. Saddam's existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to America now." 

What did you base that on?

ROCKEFELLER: I based it upon the intelligence, which was clearly flawed. And I have since said that that was a wrong vote and, as far as I'm concerned, it's a wrong war. 

Posted by: Cheryl at February 1, 2004 06:42 PM 
Hutton report is a joke (bad one)...
Old as it is Britain should be ashamed of what a joke of a state it became nowadays...
If it's not tragic this would make a whole world laugh to death...but it's tragic...

I am getting specially angry when someone use this expression : that people should be quiet about lies and wrong doing of their leaders and governments "especially in a time of war. Shame on them!" I can’t imagine BETTER time to reveal the truth about what they are doing then time of war and I find it SUPER PATRIOTIC to be able and courageous enough to fight for your country to get back on a right track while it is away off… 

Posted by: vbo at February 1, 2004 07:28 PM 
A history of Hutton's life, from Bloody Sunday cover up to Pinochet affair to Iraq war lies
Who is Hutton?
Posted by: Joe at February 1, 2004 07:55 PM 
The more I read about the entire Iraq affair, the more I am inclined to delve into historical records.

Why react in shock and awe? Has anyone here read Halberstram's account of the overthrow of Abens in Guatemala during the Fifties (in the eponymous book)?

Has any punishment or opprobrium been cast on the Dulles brothers? Or to bring it more up to date, Kissinger or MacNamara? 

You act as if the Iraq affair was a departure from SOP, instead if being precisely the SOP, with a few minor variations. 

The reason why Kerry is successful over Dean is in good part because the majority of this country is knowingly complicit in the crimes of its administration, now as it was then.

It is not enough to have a Daniel Ellsberg; you also have to have the collective will to face up to what you've done.

I once throught America might have changed, but I now fear it has not.

I realize this is hardly helpful or constructive, quite the opposite in fact, and I'm sorry.

Posted by: Lupin at February 1, 2004 08:15 PM 
“I realize this is hardly helpful or constructive, quite the opposite in fact, and I'm sorry.”
I don’t think so. It is helpful and constrictive to realize the truth of who we are, who we were, what we and our ancestors have done wrong cause that’s the way to catharsis…Same on individual level…
I know it’s so bloody hard…and it’s specially hard when time-distance is not long enough. But that’s the only way to do it… 
Posted by: vbo at February 1, 2004 08:27 PM 
correction: that should read "but BBC staff do NOT share that view to put it mildly." (sorry)
Posted by: simeon at February 1, 2004 08:31 PM 
Alas I agree with Lupin here.

Hutton report is a joke. How anyone can come to such conclusions after having hearings which provided such blatant evidences of lies and deceit from Bliar New Tory administration is beyond my understanding.

Posted by: ClulessJoe at February 1, 2004 08:34 PM 
The United States is a nation of accomplices.
Posted by: Proto-Troll at February 1, 2004 08:58 PM 
"Has any punishment or opprobrium been cast on the Dulles brothers?" 

Bonesmen always get away with it.

Posted by: paranoia is awareness at February 1, 2004 09:33 PM 
“The United States is a nation of accomplices.”
As I said earlier it’s not that ONLY American nation is like this…we are not that different after all …Germans…Serbs…Americans…under the wrong leadership and exposed to this kind of propaganda any nation will act practically the same way.
Problem is that post WWII Americans tend to think of them selves as of the perfect nation and they give them selves rights that do not belong to them ( or any other nation)…They believe they are here to lead the world . It is OK (someone always has a leading role) but one thing is to lead and the other is to FORCE others in to your direction. 
Posted by: vbo at February 1, 2004 09:50 PM 
I don't know that Hutton's report is such a piece of crud, because I haven't read it. Isn't it really just stating that the UK government did not play a role in Kelly's death and that the BBC aired a badly sourced story, so badly sourced that it was against BBC policy to air the report in the manner it was, with such sweeping statements about Blair's gov't?

If that is the case, I fail to see how it actually exonerates Blair of anything. Just because the BBC aired a flawed news report doesn't mean Blair or members of his gov't did not lie about WMD. Why is it being said that it makes Blair innocent of taking Britain to war under false pretenses?

Posted by: Brian Bell at February 2, 2004 12:09 AM 
It is hard to prove the President or his administration knowingly lied ???
Consider Condi "We had no way of knowing they would use planes as weapons" Since proven to be a lie. We knew this in 1990
Consider the Uranium story, Condi again, "Nobody at the top knew it was false". Proven to be a lie, the CIA warned the Whitehouse twice the Niger story was shit
The Banner on the Carrier, Bush said "well, you know, that was put there by the crew" proven to be a lie. the banner was made by the Whitehouse Advance Team.
it is not hard to prove these people liars. Just ask them direct questions. When the choice is incompetence or fraud, these people try to convince you they are incompetent
Which begs the question, Who wants to vote for an incompetent President?, George Bush wants you
Posted by: Free American at February 2, 2004 12:09 AM 
the Bush administration and it defenders have now fallen back on the narrowest possible definition of wrongdoing: Did they, in fact, tell "lies" -- statements they knew to be completely false when they uttered them?

First of all, it doesn't matter if Bush knew he was making false statements or whether he was reading from a bit of paper someone handed him. False statements were made. A country was invaded based on those false statements. People died, more people were maimed, lives were destroyed. And Bush is responsible, not the fellow who handed him the bit of paper. He is responsible because he made the statements, he told everybody to trust him, he insisted that he knew the truth. And he is responsible because that's his job. 

Second, Bush now says that "he wants to know the facts". So when he assured everybody that he knew how many liters of Sarin or VX Saddam had, he didn't actually know the facts. Because if he did he wouldn't be asking about them now. So he was consciously lying. 

Posted by: Al at February 2, 2004 01:54 AM 
My daughter has an American friend who spent some time with us two years ago. Confronted with negative opinions (and hard facts, such as the American patronage of the military dictatorship we used to have) about her own country both in conversations and in the Brazilian newspapers, she got into the habit of reading exclusively American newspapers over the Internet. You see, it's not that Americans are misled by the media, but rather that the American media gives them what they want to hear. As we say here, it takes two to dance a tango. Mr Bush is a dangerous acute symptom which, with any luck, will be removed in the forthcoming elections, but the underlying pathology will remain. 

Speaking of which - and complementing Lupin's comment, which I endorse wholeheartedly - I saw a few days ago that Mr McNamara, still in the process of punishing himself, had expressed strong criticism against the current administration: "It's just wrong what we're doing. It's morally wrong, it's politically wrong, it's economically wrong." I thought that would surely make the news, but I was wrong as well.

As to the current buzz about WMD and who might have lied about them, I believe there is a logical flaw here that so far has gone unexplored. Either (a) Mr Bush went to war based on unreliable information, which means that he wouldn't have done it otherwise, or (b) he was deeply concerned with the plight of the Iraqi people and thought Saddam should be removed for humanitarian reasons, which means he would have done it anyway. When you use both at the same time, you are clearly lying in at least one of the accounts.

Posted by: Pedro at February 2, 2004 03:34 AM 
"he wants to know the facts". 
What a comedy...and even more hilarious when they say 
"independent" investigation....
Posted by: vbo at February 2, 2004 06:33 AM 

Are we all mad, or is it Hutton?

Henry Porter, a leading writer and journalist specialising in intelligence affairs, watched the Hutton inquiry unfold in the summer. In this searing indictment, he argues that the law lord's findings clearly contradict the evidence he heard

Sunday February 1, 2004
The Observer

It is a sublime irony that the process which vindicated Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, the intelligence services and Whitehall now threatens to become an even bigger problem for the Government precisely because Lord Hutton handed it such a clear victory over the BBC.

While Campbell gloated and Ministers tried to draw lines under the affair, a rumble of anger spread through the public because the average citizen has grasped several important facts since last summer:

1. Forget weapons of mass destruction - barely a rack of stink bombs has been found in Iraq.

2. Dr David Kelly died because he was treated shabbily after speculating how and why faulty intelligence led us to war.

3. Despite all its errors and incompetence, the BBC has done more than most to ventilate the political use of intelligence prior to the invasion.

Quite simply, Hutton did not, in the legal phrase, take due cognisance of the obvious: the political and journalistic cultures of Britain were both responsible for Kelly's death. Anyone who paid attention to the inquiry understands that, and even the intelligence services are open-mouthed at Hutton's credulity when it came to assessing the motives and methods of the political establishment. Hutton's inquiry and report are so distant as to appear unrelated. Those who read the daily transcripts wonder at the law lord's spectacular failure to represent the balance of evidence heard in Court 73 and ask themselves if there is not some kind of cognitive dissonance at work.

Was it their lack of judgment, or a failure of process, that caused the report to appear without, for example, giving due weight to Newsnight reporter Susan Watts's evidence that Kelly had made allegations to her - as well as Andrew Gilligan - about Campbell's role in preparing the September dossier; without underlining Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's inconsistent testimony; without highlighting the grave doubts expressed by Kelly's colleagues at defence intelligence about the dossier; without asking the Prime Minister to account for his remarks on a plane trip immediately after Kelly's death; and without inquiring to any significant degree how Tom Baldwin of the Times acquired Kelly's name? Are we mad, or is it Lord Hutton?

At the heart of the process is a mysterious lack of logic. On the one hand Hutton spent weeks listening to evidence about the preparation of the Government's case against Saddam in the September dossier, but when it came to writing his report he rejected the need to address the issue of the dossier's truth. 'A question of such wide import ... is not one which falls within my terms of reference.'

Two points need to be made:

1. If he was not going to rule on this, why go into the facts at such length?

2. The truth of the dossier's contents is the essence of the circumstances of Kelly's death because that issue propelled the BBC and Campbell to escalate their running battle to open war. Owning the truth was what that was all about.

But maybe the illogicality of Hutton is not really that mysterious.

Maybe we were all taken in by the manner of the classics master and the gentle probing of his nice-looking protégé, the counsel for the inquiry James Dingemans. Certainly, the comparison between the report and the transcript published reveals an editing process that is every bit as good as Campbell's.

On pages 118 and 119 of the report, Hutton reproduces some of the evidence given by Dr Brian Jones, of the Defence Intelligence Staff, in relation to claims made in the earlier drafts of the dossier. What he does not include is the following exchange about doubts expressed by a chemical weapons expert in the defence intelligence staff that were rejected.

DINGEMANS: 'And those concerns had not been accepted?'

JONES: 'Some had, but there were significant ones that had not been.'

DINGEMANS: 'And how did your chemical weapons expert feel about that?'

JONES: 'He was very concerned.'

A few lines later Hutton says he does not want Jones to go into security matters and the following exchange takes place.

JONES: 'My Lord, they were about language, but language is the means by which we communicate an assessment so they were about the assessment.'

HUTTON: 'Quite, yes.'

JONES: 'So they were really about a tendency in certain areas, from his (the CW expert's) point of view, to shall we say over-egg certain assessments in relation of production of CW agents and weapons since 1998.'

Of course, Hutton could not include every transcript, but it's significant that he did not use Jones's comment in relation to the claim that WMD could be launched within 45 minutes. 'My concerns,' said Jones, 'were that Iraq's chemical weapons and biological weapons capabilities were not being accurately represented in relation to the available evidence. I was told that there was no evidence that significant production had taken place either of chemical warfare agent or chemical weapons - some of the detail of the 45 minutes that we had seen was causing us problems.'

Nor did Hutton include Jones's suspicions about a secondary source on the 45-minute claim who might have been 'trying to influence rather than inform', or the evidence of Mr A, a serving member of defence intelligence, who said: 'The perception was that the dossier had been round the houses several times in order to find a form of words which would strengthen certain political objectives.'

In the entire 700-page report there is not a quotation that better encapsulates the issues at stake. It seems extraordinary that while all the fire was trained on the BBC, this crucial element was excluded. Jones and Mr A establish without doubt that the September dossier didn't command consensus right down the line.

There is no adequate explanation for Hutton's omission, other than that his inquiry was unconsciously skewed in favour of the Government.

It is astonishing that Hutton includes much evidence in his report to expose the behaviour of Ministers, spin doctors and civil servants, but then refuses to draw conclusions which stare him and us in the face. For instance, it is unclear that Campbell was in charge of the editing process that produced the September dossier and that he was aided by civil servants, including the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee. John Scarlett, who obliged him by shepherding dubious intelligence into the dossier.

On page 133 we have Campbell's minute to Scarlett of 17 September. 'Please find below a number of drafting points. As I was writing this, the Prime Minister had a read of the draft you gave me this morning, and he too made a number of points.'

That, in essence, was the editorial board for the dossier speaking and even Hutton acknowledges that the Prime Minister's unwavering focus on the need for a strong dossier may have 'subconsciously influenced' Scarlett and the JIC.

Time and again Hutton lets the political and Whitehall establishments off the hook. On 18 September, 2002, Scarlett held a meeting attended by members of the Number 10 press office in which it was agreed that ownership of the dossier lay with Number 10. This appeared to confirm that the dossier was an Alastair Campbell production.

Scarlett was subsequently asked to account for this minute, which seemed from the outside as though he was covering his rear end in the time-honoured fashion of the Civil Service. His unconvincing reply was that 'ownership' was to enable the practical arrangements over printing and publication to be handled by Number 10. It is difficult to escape the feeling that if a member of the BBC had come up with such a feeble explanation it would have been given much greater prominence in Hutton's report than Scarlett's wriggling received.

Scarlett's role in the Kelly affair is intriguing. The former MI6 man is the nexus of so much that went on before and after the war. It is widely believed in MI6 and defence intelligence that he compromised the traditions of the JIC's independence by accepting the commission for the dossier from Number 10 without apparent demurral and that he allowed the 45-minute claim to be made in language that was not justified by the available intelligence. Even the MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, accepted it was valid criticism that the 45-minute claim was given undue prominence.

Feelings in MI6 are considerably sharper. There is a sense that MI6 was badly used by Number 10. The JIC is not just intended as the provider of intelligence assessments for policy-makers; it also acts as a bulwark between the spies and their political masters. Contrary to popular belief, spies are not always confident of their sources and they do not like to be compelled to express certainty when sources may have hidden motives.

Scarlett is held in MI6 to have aban doned that principle in order to provide what the Prime Minister wanted.

Why? The most frequent answer is that Scarlett, effectively passed over when Dearlove became C, has ambitions to succeed him when he retires. The job at the JIC was an opportunity to impress Blair and the dossier a way of showing his loyalty.His behaviour during the row between Number 10 and the BBC last summer displays a certain zealotry. In a 'restricted' letter to Sir David Omand, head of Security and Intelligence at the Cabinet office, published by Hutton, he wrote: 'Conclusion: Kelly needs a proper security style interview in which all these inconsistencies are thrashed out.'

Hutton makes nothing of this because he has ruled that, in talking to Watts and Gilligan, Kelly was in breach of the Civil Service code of procedure. But to the people in the intelligence services the memo has a very chilling note. Security-style interviews are intended for embezzlers and traitors; not someone who may have overstepped the mark with a reporter.

If the fuss over Hutton's report dies down and there is no further inquiry into the intelligence which led 45,000 British troops into Iraq, Scarlett is regarded by some former colleagues as a strong candidate. They hope that if this is the case he will revert to the Vauxhall Cross culture and leave the fanatical atmosphere of the Number 10 cabal behind.

Equally, the momentum of feeling against Hutton may in the end harm anyone who contributed to the September dossier. Even though he has been largely vindicated by Hutton, Scarlett looks like damaged goods.

There is a sense that both the JIC and MI6 have to regain their self-possession and independence after the debacle of the last 18 months. For it is clear that defence intelligence scientists were not the only ones worried about the intelligence on Saddam's weaponry. The most senior members of the apparatus wondered at the wisdom of attacking Iraq and at the evidence of its hostile intentions.

Let's not forget the memo sent from some part of the intelligence apparatus - probably the JIC - on 11 September, 2002, to MI6 and defence intelligence. 'Unsurprisingly,' it begins, 'they (Number 10) have further questions.' It ends: 'I appreciate everyone, us included, has been around these buoys before, particularly item 4 ( chemical and biological weapons) but Number 10 ... want the documents to be as strong as possible.'

There is an air of desperation about that email, which is surprising, given the view then that Saddam was a clear and present danger. Taken with the emails pinging between such Number 10 people as Campbell, Philip Bassett, Godric Smith and Jonathan Powell on the dossier's wording and content, it provides the clear impression that there was very little more to include in the dossier and that its impact would be left to the wordsmiths. As Robin Cook wrote on Friday: 'I am left uneasy by the number of emails that reveal so many occasions when Number 10 requested a change in the drafts and the JIC submitted.' Cook knows about these things because as a former Foreign Secretary he is well acquainted with the JIC and its relationship with MI6. The signs of people desperately making a case are obvious to him.

So it is not just the BBC which has suffered institutional harm. The Cabinet Office, JIC, MI6 and the Prime Minister's office have all sustained injury from a furious effort to produce the September dossier and the equally furious effort to triumph in the dispute with the BBC. Boundaries were trampled and lines of responsibility blurred in a drive to push Britain to war. These things do not necessarily recover of their own accord. Someone is going to have to pull the JIC out of the clutches of politicians and re-establish it as one of the most envied analytical bodies of the intelligence world.

The BBC is a surprising victim. Of course, Andrew Gilligan was a fool. Of course, Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies should have investigated Gilligan before they addressed the Government. But that is the extent of their crimes.

Compared to the invasion of a sovereign territory on flawed intelligence they are minor. The issue now is not whether Campbell lied; it is whether he and Blair got it wrong and skewed the processes of government to forge the dossier that took us to war.

As to Brian Hutton, former law lord and Diplock judge in Ulster, it is difficult not to level a great deal of criticism at him. Admittedly, he was faced with a bewildering array of evidence that included statements from the most powerful people in the land. But at some stage he needed to draw back, taking into consideration the motives and allegiance that exist between people roped together at the summit of British life.

The British people understand that Kelly's death was caused by much more than a reporter's cock-up and the corporate arrogance of the BBC. That explains the anger and dismay at Hutton's verdict. It just wasn't fair.

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