Dennis Hans: African Uranium, The Scarlett Dossier
African Uranium and the Scarlett Dossier:
Britain’s top spooks are mightily confused about what they know — or
even think they know.
By Dennis Hans
Suppose you wrote what you claim to be the “definitive biography” of George Washington. In the Introduction you say that it is your “judgment” that George Washington chopped down the cherry tree. Early in Chapter 3, however, you say you “know” he chopped down the cherry tree. Later in Chapter 3, you say meekly that “there is intelligence” he chopped down the cherry tree. And to top that, you release the first draft of the biography, where you wrote that you “know” Washington not only chopped down the cherry tree but sold it to a house builder. You don’t “suspect” it. You didn’t “hear rumors” to that effect. You “know” it. Yet you say nothing of the sale in the final draft.
It would be clear to competent historians that you had not written a “definitive biography,” and that you don’t know what “know” means. You would be a laughingstock.
That verdict should apply to the British officials who wrote or signed off on the September 24 dossier, “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” — particularly those portions that deal with the alleged pursuit of African uranium.
The principal author is John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). But he had considerable help from his intelligence colleagues as well as officials of the Blair administration, though communications director Alastair Campbell insists that this was “presentational” advice and not pressure to “sex up” the dossier, as some have alleged.
Drafts dated September 10/11 and 16, along with the published dossier, are now available in PDF format at the Hutton Inquiry website: ( http://www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk/content/evidence_dos.htm). A comparison of the drafts’ shifting accounts of Iraq’s alleged pursuit of African uranium shows why so many Brits no longer trust their prime minister or their intelligence services.
The September 10/11 Draft
In the first draft, dated September 10/11, “SECTION 6” “sets out what we know of Saddam’s chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, drawing on all the available evidence.” The third bullet in the list of “main conclusions” about “what we know” states that “Uranium to be used in the production of suitable fissile material has been purchased from Africa” (p. 29). That is not a reference to purchases from Niger in 1982 of uranium that was sealed by the IAEA in the 1990s and monitored by that body. The context as well as the verb tense makes it quite clear that this concerns alleged Iraqi efforts of 1999-2000.
So the Brits not only “know” that Iraq has been seeking uranium, they know it made a purchase. On p. 29, that is. Over on p. 37, in the same section, we learn “there is compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
So the Brits no longer know if anything was purchased, and they’re not even certain Iraq made an attempt. There is only “compelling evidence” — not knowable proof — that Iraq sought, not bought, uranium.
JIC chairman Scarlett appears confused. Let’s turn to p. 6 of his “Executive Summary” to clear the air. Here a more cautious Scarlett is not talking about what the JIC “knows” but merely what “Recent intelligence” “indicates”: Iraq “has purchased large quantities of uranium ore, despite having no civil nuclear programme that would require it.”
So there was a purchase after all — but only if what recent intelligence “indicates” did, in fact, transpire. The JIC no longer “knows” that a deal was consumated — unless, that is, Scarlett penned the cautious Executive Summary first, and that genuine proof reached the JIC later, when Scarlett was working on p. 29, allowing him to confidentally assert that uranium “has been purchased.” In the highly unlikely event that that is what happened, Scarlett apparently forgot to fix pp. 6 and 37, so it would be in accord with what was now “known.”
If you’re wondering what Britain’s spymasters are basing these conflicting claims on, the likely answer is garbage spoonfed them by Italian intelligence. No, not the forged documents. Rather, written and/or oral summaries of the claims made by the source who allegedly passed the forgeries to the Italians in late 2001. This, I strongly suggest (I sure as heck don’t “know” for an absolute fact), is the “secret” intelligence the Brits refuse to divulge. (For discussion, see my essay “Mama Mia, What a Con!” here: http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0307/S00150.htm.)
The September 16 Draft
Turning to the September 16 draft, we first notice that the “Executive Summary” pages are missing. That’s because the Blair government, as of August 25, has declined to turn them over to the Hutton Inquiry. But the rest of the draft is available, and Scarlett returns to the important topic of what British intelligence “knows.”
In “CHAPTER 3: THE CURRENT POSITION: 1998-2002,” uranium has been promoted to a bullet under Point 1, which tells us “what we now know” about Saddam’s WMD programmes: “Uranium has been sought from Africa. . . .” (p. 15).
Lo and behold, we learn on p. 25 of the same chapter that Scarlett isn’t quite certain, as he repeats the September 10/11 line that “there is compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply…” That is, the Brits don’t “know,” but they have reason to believe.
This time we can’t turn to the Executive Summary to break the tie, as the government is withholding it.
The September 24 Dossier
Turning to the published dossier, dated September 24 (available in non-PDF format here: http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iraq/2002/iraq-020924-usia01.htm), we see some carryover from the previous draft. Thus, Chapter 3 tells us “what we know” about the WMD programmes, with a list of nine “main conclusions.” The fourth repeats that “Uranium has been sought from Africa. . . .”
The most obvious flaw in the list of “what we know” is that it presents as established fact statements the Brits may suspect are true, but certainly don’t “know.” Properly interpreted, the list is evidence not of Iraq’s capabilities, actions and intentions, but of a JIC policy of saying “we know” when the JIC doesn’t know, so as to lend undeserved credibility to the claims.
Later in Chapter 3, the “compelling evidence” of September 16 has been downgraded. Not only is the evidence not “compelling,” it’s not even “evidence”! The statement now reads, “But there is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Moving to the Executive Summary, Point 6 begins, “As a result of the intelligence we judge” that, among other things, Iraq has “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it.”
To be fair to Scarlett, when he wrote “we judge,” he was not saying “we know.” What does it mean that “we judge”? Does it mean that no one on the JIC knows Iraq recently sought African uranium, but that a majority “think” Iraq did? So, for example, if there are 11 members of the JIC, the vote could have been zero for “know,” six for “think so,” and five for “doubt it.” The Hutton Inquiry needs to establish exactly what is meant by that particular “judgement” in the Executive Summary.
In any event, the published dossier, carefully reviewed by the best and brightest of the British intelligence and the Blair administration’s communications staff, presents three different interpretations: a “judgment” in the Executive Summary, a statement of fact in Chapter 3, and a vague “there is intelligence” claim in Chapter 3. Take your pick.
Before you pick, remember that the folks primarily responsible for the dossier, Scarlett and the JIC, claimed to know for a fact two weeks before the publication of the dossier that Iraq had recently purchased uranium in Africa.
Blair’s September 24 Speech
You can guess which interpretation Blair picked for his address to Parliament on the day the dossier was published ( http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page1727.asp).
Blair boldly declared, “we now know the following.” He then laid out a list of everything “Saddam has bought or attempted to buy” that could be used in a uranium enrichment program. “In addition, we know Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful.”
Notice how Blair lends credibility to his assertions of what “we now know” by acknowledging something “we do not know.” Who wouldn’t trust a man who’s willing to admit when he doesn’t really “know”? Back on September 24, 2002, not many. Today, quite a few.
Here’s hoping Lord Hutton “knows” which questions he must pose to John Scarlett and Tony Blair.
©2003 by Dennis Hans
Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Prior to the Iraq war he published “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’” ( http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/02/12_lying.html) and “The Disinformation Age” ( http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0303/S00011.htm). He can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu